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Listening when it's especially hard

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As I wrote earlier this week, listening is hard. It's even more difficult when someone wants to report a problem. This comes up in all kinds of relationships, it even models software bug reporting.

Here's a scenario. A person with a missing leg says "When you push me, I fall over and that hurts." Here's a list of possible responses, from best to worst.

  1. If you understand what they're saying, just say that, literally: "I understand what you're saying." If you don't understand, then say that, but only if you really don't understand.
  2. Don't defend yourself. For example "I didn't know you only had one leg," or "I didn't know if I push you you'll fall over." The person just wants to know you heard them. You're changing the topic to something about yourself. This leaves the question of whether you understood out there, unanswered.
  3. Don't argue. "The leg you say is missing is really just shorter than the other one, it's not actually missing." We're getting very far away from "I understand what you're saying."
  4. Even worse. "It never happened" or "I didn't push you over."
  5. Worst. "What about the time you said I was stupid."

I'm sure you see the analogy to software bug reporting. We want to know that something went wrong, so we can fix it, and make the product work properly. Same thing in personal relationships. If you care about the other person, you want to know that something you're doing is trouble for them, so you can stop doing it. There really is no better way to show that you care for them than listening when it's especially hard to.

Finally, why keep the response focused on the problem?

  1. It builds trust.
  2. It encourages the other person to report other problems, so the relationship can be further optimized.
  3. It makes for a happy family!
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benzado
1 minute ago
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New York, NY (40.785018,-73.97
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There’s a Disturbing Reason Europe Has Stayed So Peaceful For So Long

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There is an ominous passage in Tony Judt’s Postwar that’s stayed with me ever since I first read it. It starts on page 27 in my edition, and since it’s near the beginning you can read the whole excerpt on Amazon if you want. Alternatively, you can buy the entire book on Kindle for $1.99, which is certainly one of the great bargains of all time.

The topic of this passage is the fate of displaced persons after the end of World War II. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but apparently the Western allies decided that the experience of World War I demonstrated that European countries simply couldn’t handle minority ethnic groups within their borders. So instead of doing the traditional thing—redrawing borders to take territory away from the losers and give it to the winners—they did something more effective. Here’s an abridged version of what happened:

With one major exception [Poland] boundaries stayed broadly intact and people were moved instead….Western policymakers…acquiesced readily enough in the population transfers. If the surviving minorities of central and eastern Europe could not be afforded effective international protection, then it was as well that they be dispatched to more accommodating locations. The term “ethnic cleansing” did not yet exist, but the reality surely did—and it was far from arousing disapproval or embarrassment.

….With certain exceptions, the outcome was a Europe of nation states more ethnically homogenous than ever before….Poland, whose population was 68 percent Polish in 1938, was overwhelmingly populated by Poles in 1946. Germany was nearly all German…Czechoslovakia…was now almost exclusively Czech and Slovak….The ancient diasporas of Europe—Greeks and Turks in the south Balkans and around the Black Sea, Italians in Dalmatia, Hungarians in Transylvania and the north Balkans, Poles in Volhynia (Ukraine), Lithuania and the Bukovina, Germans from the Baltic to the Black Sea, from the Rhine to the Volga, and Jews everywhere—shriveled and disappeared. A new, “tidier” Europe was being born.

Adapted from “People on the Move”

The main exception to this was Yugoslavia, which nonetheless survived peacefully under Tito’s autocratic rule but promptly became increasingly strained after his death and then turned into a bloodbath during the following decade. For the rest of Europe, the descent into hatred and bigotry has been slower and less dramatic, but no less real. As the “tidier” Europe invented after the war became less tidy, native populations once again became more restless and right-wing nationalist parties grew more powerful. This change has been noticeable for decades, but it was the migrant crisis of 2015 that finally tipped things back over the edge. Just as it was before the war, the problem of ethnic tribalism is worse in poorer, less traditionally democratic eastern Europe—in countries like Hungary and Poland—but it’s migrated as well to France, Austria, the Netherlands, and, most famously, Great Britain.

My aim here is modest: I mostly just want to highlight Judt’s unsparing review of postwar Europe’s solution to endless war. None of this means that Europe is hopelessly ethnocentric, or that perhaps the problem of burgeoning migration across borders should have been taken a little more seriously back in the 80s and 90s. There was, after all, every hope that things had become more civilized by the end of the 20th century. But in the same way that America has made progress against racism but is far from erasing it, it turns out that Europe is farther from erasing its own tribal past than it had hoped. If ethnic cleansing really did play a role in Europe’s unusually peaceful postwar decades, it’s perhaps not too surprising that the spirit of ethnic cleansing is on the menu again.

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benzado
2 days ago
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New York, NY (40.785018,-73.97
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Child Support Is Forever

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I know enforcement is imperfect, but child support does follow you around forever. If you owe $2500 and the Feds are aware you can't even get a passport.

A lot of pro-life men think they should have a say about whether the women they impregnate can have an abortion. And, you know, in a healthy relationship they should... a bit. Not in a prescriptive way, but in that this is the kind of thing people in healthy relationships talk about. It's her body, but you can talk about it.

They're going to love this new world in which they have absolutely no say.
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benzado
5 days ago
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New York, NY (40.785018,-73.97
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Immigrant Bashing Is All About Racism

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What is it that gets so many conservative whites so enraged about immigration? Are they afraid immigrants will take away their jobs? Or do they just not like non-white people very much?

Steven Miller, a political science professor at Clemson, decided to test this using data from election surveys going back to 1992. I don’t want to keep you in suspense, so here’s the basic answer:

Nothing related to economic anxiety has any correlation at all with attitudes toward immigration—and it never has. Going back 25 years, the correlations are barely different from zero in practically every year.¹ But the correlation with racial resentment is both consistent and sky high. If you don’t like brown people, you don’t like immigration.

This is hardly news. Liberals have been mocking “economic anxiety” as an explanation for Donald Trump’s victory ever since Election Day. Still, for something this incendiary, it’s a good idea to test it as many ways as possible and over as much time as possible. This is just one more confirmation that when Trump rails about Mexico and the wall, he’s appealing almost purely to racism, not to working-class anxiety over job loss.

It’s worth noting that this forces us to face another question: was Trump’s anti-immigrant message responsible for his victory? My take is that the evidence shows us two things:

  • “Build the wall” appealed exclusively to racist sentiment.
  • With a few minor exceptions, racist sentiment was no stronger in 2016 than any other recent year. If you dial it up, you gain some voters at the bottom but lose at least as many from the middle.

In other words, Trump’s immigration message didn’t help him and, on net, probably actually hurt him. Outside of Trump’s base, I think most people understand perfectly well that anti-immigrant sentiment is basically driven by racism, and they want no part of it. Democrats should use this to their advantage by baiting Trump into getting ever louder and more putrid about immigration. The racist core of his base is already as fired up as it’s ever going to get over this, but the rest of the country becomes queasier the more he yells about it. In the Trump era, toleration for immigration isn’t just good policy, it’s almost certainly good politics too.

¹In fairness, this doesn’t preclude the possibility that there’s some economic variable somewhere that’s related to anti-immigration sentiment. Miller was limited to what was in the election surveys, so technically we can draw conclusions only about those particular variables. But in addition to the ones I show above, there’s also no (or barely any) correlation with gender, education, income, and being unemployed. So if there is some economic variable related to being anti-immigrant, it’s pretty well hidden.

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benzado
6 days ago
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New York, NY (40.785018,-73.97
skorgu
6 days ago
GASP!
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The Worst Case is More Likely Than an Innocent Explanation

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I spent some time today making my way through Jon Chait’s feature in New York Magazine sketching out what we might call the ‘worst case scenario’ of Trump/Russia collusion. It’s quite good. You should read it. Here are a few thoughts as we get ready for the NATO Summit and Trump’s much anticipated summit with Vladimir Putin.

Chait is clear that we basically still don’t know what is at the heart of the Russia collusion story. But an extreme case of collusion, not just during the 2016 campaign but with roots back into the late 1980s is, as Chait argues, much more plausible than you might imagine – certainly much more plausible than most of the establishment media has been willing to consider. What Chait does is walk through, quite voluminously, all the different threads of evidence which collectively point in that direction.

He makes a compelling case.

My big takeaway reading his narrative is one I’ve been convinced of for months. Individually, each guilty-seeming or suspicious action, each lied about contact or unexplained meeting can be explained by some heroic theory of Trump’s idiosyncrasy. So maybe Trump didn’t have anything to hide in the Russia investigation. But the drive for control and loyalty made him take actions which made him seem guilty. Or Trump’s inexplicable obsession with and need to gratify Vladimir Putin may seem suspicious but is really just his fondness for authoritarian leaders or a need to show that he’s not cowed by the Russia probe.

Each of these theories are possible. But in each case an implausible and heroic theory is ushered in to avoid the more elementary explanation: that Trump has something to hide and some deep attachment to Putin.

It reminds me of looking at geocentric and heliocentric models of the solar system. Before the Early Modern Era, the Ptolemaic geocentric system had a great run. And it worked. It correctly predicted where given stars or planets would be in the sky at different dates and times. But to make everything work with the Earth at the center of the solar system, the standard elongated oval orbits we know wouldn’t get it down. You needed orbits within orbits and some heavenly bodies that marched in one direction and then turned and started marching in the other direction. It was highly convoluted and required a lot of astrophysical special pleading to make everything fit. If you just put the sun at the center of the solar system everything get much, much simpler.

As you probably intuited, forcing the earth to be at the center is a bit like insisting on an innocent, trail of a thousand misunderstandings and flukes explanation of all the secret meetings, pay offs, lies and coverups we see everywhere we look in the Russia story. If you consider the possibility that Trump did something very bad and is doing everything he can to hide it, suddenly a lot of facts which otherwise require all sorts of rejiggering and creative thinking just fall into place.

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benzado
7 days ago
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New York, NY (40.785018,-73.97
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We're complicit

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Back in the 90s, when Microsoft was doing horrible things to the web and hoping to get away with it, I had friends who worked there. I often wondered how they explained it to themselves. They must know that what Microsoft is doing is wrong, and those of us outside of the company don't make a distinction they would probably like us to make. I didn't see a difference between the company and the people who worked there. It was hard to reconcile the affection I felt for them personally with the actions of the company.

I mention this now, long after the events are past, because of an image and a tweet that showed that thousands of people in Brussels are marching against our president. I thought, that's cool, but soon they will be marching against the United States. They won't and shouldn't make a distinction between the country and our president, for the same reason we didn't make a distinction between Bill Gates and the people who worked at Microsoft.

When you go to Europe, there isn't a change in attitude that you can perceive. I went there when we invaded Iraq, creating the refugee crisis that is now causing so many problems there. No one seemed to blame me for what our government was doing. Same thing in June when I visited Italy. People seem to understand that Americans who travel outside the United States aren't to blame for Trump. But in fact, we are.

We could do more to stop Trump. We're all hoping to continue with our lives and careers, that somehow we'll get through this without having to give up anything as individuals. That someone else will make the sacrifice. I don't think that's how it works. We're missing chance after chance to stop this. We all have to work for each other, not just for ourselves. This is a change that Americans are not yet ready to make. I hope when and if it happens it isn't too late.

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benzado
8 days ago
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New York, NY (40.785018,-73.97
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