I finally realized today why politics and religion yield such uniquely useless discussions.
Then it struck me: this is the problem with politics too. Politics, like religion, is a topic where there’s no threshold of expertise for expressing an opinion. All you need is strong convictions.
Do religion and politics have something in common that explains this similarity? One possible explanation is that they deal with questions that have no definite answers, so there’s no back pressure on people’s opinions. Since no one can be proven wrong, every opinion is equally valid, and sensing this, everyone lets fly with theirs.
But this isn’t true. There are certainly some political questions that have definite answers, like how much a new government policy will cost. But the more precise political questions suffer the same fate as the vaguer ones.
I think what religion and politics have in common is that they become part of people’s identity, and people can never have a fruitful argument about something that’s part of their identity. By definition they’re partisan.
Which topics engage people’s identity depends on the people, not the topic. For example, a discussion about a battle that included citizens of one or more of the countries involved would probably degenerate into a political argument. But a discussion today about a battle that took place in the Bronze Age probably wouldn’t. No one would know what side to be on. So it’s not politics that’s the source of the trouble, but identity. When people say a discussion has degenerated into a religious war, what they really mean is that it has started to be driven mostly by people’s identities.?
什么话题会取得人们的认同，这取决于 人，而非话题本身。举个例子，两国打仗，那么参战国公民的对这场战斗的讨论既有可能会沦为一场政治口水战。但是如果这场讨论的对象是一场发生在青铜器时代 的战争，这样的情形则既有可能不会上演。无人知道他应该站在哪一边。因此政治本身并非麻烦的最终源泉，身份认同才是真正的麻烦制造者。当人们称某个讨论已经堕落成信仰之争，实际上是这个话题讨论开始被身份认同的情绪所主导。
Because the point at which this happens depends on the people rather than the topic, it’s a mistake to conclude that because a question tends to provoke religious wars, it must have no answer. For example, the question of the relative merits of programming languages often degenerates into a religious war, because so many programmers identify as X programmers or Y programmers. This sometimes leads people to conclude the question must be unanswerable—that all languages are equally good. Obviously that’s false: anything else people make can be well or badly designed; why should this be uniquely impossible for programming languages? And indeed, you can have a fruitful discussion about the relative merits of programming languages, so long as you exclude people who respond from identity.
因为此类状况出现时，人的观点立场只取决于人，而非话题本身，我们不能因为某个问题总是倾向于引起信仰之争就得出结论说，这个问题没有正确，好歹之分。举个例子，有关编程语言孰优 孰劣的问题经常就会演变成信仰之争，因为有太多的程序员把自己贴上X语言程序员眼或者Y语言程序员。这个问题有时候会使人得出这样一个结论，觉得这个问题无 法回答——每种语言都差不多。这种错误非常明显：人弄出来的东西在设计都会有优有劣；为什么当问题涉及到编程语言时，事情就变的扯不清楚？的确，只要你将 那些总是以身份立场为唯一依据的人排除在外，你是可以就编程语言的优劣问题做一个富有成果的讨论的。
More generally, you can have a fruitful discussion about a topic only if it doesn’t engage the identities of any of the participants. What makes politics and religion such minefields is that they engage so many people’s identities. But you could in principle have a useful conversation about them with some people. And there are other topics that might seem harmless, like the relative merits of Ford and Chevy pickup trucks, that you couldn’t safely talk about with?others.
一般来讲，只要你的讨论不涉及参与者的身份认同，你是可以进行一场富有成效的讨论的。之所以政治和信仰问题变成一个雷区，就是因为它涉及了太多，太深的身份 认同的问题。但是原则上你还是可以找到一些人于与他们做一些有益的对话讨论。而且对于某些会话题，讨论看起来要无害一些（像福特和雪佛莱皮卡孰优孰劣的问题）， 但是对于其他一些话题为了安全起见最好是不要讨论。
The most intriguing thing about this theory, if it’s right, is that it explains not merely which kinds of discussions to avoid, but how to have better ideas. If people can’t think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible.?
如果这种解释是对的话，我们可以得到 这一理论中最为有趣的一个结论，那就是这个理论不仅仅告诉我们那类讨论应该尽力避免，而且好告诉我们如何对某一问题找到一个更好的看法。如果人们不能对那 些已经变成他们身份认同一部分的事情有一个清晰看法的话，那么在其他条件都不变的情况下，最好的办法解决办法就是让这种身份认同牵涉的事情尽可能的少。
Most people reading this will already be fairly tolerant. But there is a step beyond thinking of yourself as x but tolerating y: not even to consider yourself an x. The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.
大多数人读这已经是相当宽容的 他们会认为 虽然自己是X 但是会宽容 Y 其实在此外还有改进的余地: 干脆不要想着自己是X. 你给自己贴的标签越多 你越傻X.
 When that happens, it tends to happen fast, like a core going critical. The threshold for participating goes down to zero, which brings in more people. And they tend to say incendiary things, which draw more and angrier counterarguments.
 There may be some things it’s a net win to include in your identity. For example, being a scientist. But arguably that is more of a placeholder than an actual label—like putting NMI on a form that asks for your middle initial—because it doesn’t commit you to believing anything in particular. A scientist isn’t committed to believing in natural selection in the same way a bibilical literalist is committed to rejecting it. All he’s committed to is following the evidence wherever it leads.
Considering yourself a scientist is equivalent to putting a sign in a cupboard saying “this cupboard must be kept empty.” Yes, strictly speaking, you’re putting something in the cupboard, but not in the ordinary sense.
Thanks?to Sam Altman, Trevor Blackwell, Paul Buchheit, and Robert Morris for reading drafts of this.