Have you ever heard an argument about whether the United States should build a wall along the Mexican border? Maybe it started out with a debate about crime related to illegal immigrants. Then it pivoted to a debate about the cost of immigrants regarding social services. Then perhaps it veered over to the topic of whether a wall would even be effective at controlling immigration. Finally it morphed into an argument about Hillary Clinton’s emails. And every time one side had the advantage, did the argument simply pivot to a different axis? Arguments that ping pong between different points rarely have any hope of achieving anything.
One way to improve discussion is to try to find a crux of the debate. During a discussion, try to establish a factual question that would change a person’s mind if the answer turned out to be different than expected. This is a helpful way to bind a discussion back to reality and back to real world questions to which we might actually be able to find answers. Don’t get bogged down in a debate about whether Mexico would pay for the wall if neither side actually cares that much about the answer. Instead, look for questions at the heart of the matter. Try to come to an agreement with your interlocutor about what these questions are. Is the crux of the matter really about whether our current level of immigration makes the country stronger or weaker? If so, which metrics can we use to measure this? An approach like this can probably lead to a more collaborative and more productive discussion, as the two sides try to agree on these factors.
Even better than finding a crux is finding a double crux. The double crux is a belief that the two sides disagree about and which is essential to each side’s position. The statement above about whether immigrants make the country stronger or weaker might be a double crux. Finding a double crux is not always possible for some topics. For example, one side might care more about how many immigrants lives are improved while the other might care more about the economic or cultural effects on the United States. For a more thorough description of the double crux strategy, see this page.