Earlier this month, amid a particularly trying stretch on social media, I joked that I would soon be launching Ad Hominem, “a new journal of non-ideas founded in response to apparent massive popular demand. Issue One: You’re Trash.” While there never was a golden age of argument, the impersonal hyper-connectedness of the internet and the near omnipresence of our access to it have transformed the civic experience for those who remember something different.
“We have gotten habituated to penalty-free trashing of each other,” says Eric Liu, a former speech writer and policy adviser in the Bill Clinton administration.
Widespread frustration is understandable.
Still, Liu believes that “we don’t need fewer arguments today; we need less stupid ones,” a theory he first advanced in The Atlantic just prior to the 2016 presidential election, and that he continues to believe after launching and leading an effort to host more constructive civic exchanges all around the United States.
On Monday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, co-hosted by The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute, he sketched out what he now regards as best practices, drawn from insights gained through his work for the Better Arguments Project. The framework it has developed to guide local events is worth pondering.