Lessons in Star-manning

Hold my Drink Podcast Blog, Episode 30

There’s a starman waiting in the sky. He’d like to come and meet us, but he thinks he’d blow our minds. There’s a starman waiting in the sky. He’s told us not to blow it ‘cause he knows it’s all worthwhile. -David Bowie

There are so many new words that are sneaking into our lexicon. It’s hard to keep up. And there really seems to be little consensus on a formal definition for emerging jargon, so what’s worse, we are using words differently. This creates yet one more challenge in how we communicate.

Let me give you an example. Just the other day, I was having a fevered text conversation with a dear friend who approaches the world quite differently from me. Thankfully, she’s one of those friends where we’ve made the very deliberate decision to dive into these divergences with curiosity and humility. In our last massive texting extravaganza, we realized we both had different definitions for racism. While we didn’t end up agreeing with the other’s definition, we both had an a-ha moment. “Oh, I see… when you say this, you mean that…” I didn’t have to agree with the definition, but now I could translate her argument.

Indeed, so much of our division seems to be a matter of translation. Yes, we are lost in translation.

I often try to stay clear of new jargon, especially when it is weaponized as slogans. Words matter. We can choose to use words to build bridges or to tear them down. Too often, we wield such power indiscriminately and the best intentions can have dangerous consequences. However, there is a host of words that recently came into my own vocabulary that I like very much. Further, I think they are words that adequately describe how we interact in the world.

The first is straw-manning. I don’t believe this to be a new word or idea, but it has become increasingly useful in my own conversations. Straw-manning has become more visible with the introduction of social media. With only so many characters with which to communicate, straw-manning is an attractive rhetorical tool. It takes the most outlandish caricature of an argument to tear it down. Angel gives the example of an anti-abortion debate – one may straw-man an anti-abortion argument by saying that anyone holding this view wants to control women’s bodies.

A more generous conversation technique would be to steel-man a position. When you steel-man, you offer the strongest presumption for an argument. Using the abortion example again, one could steel-man an anti-abortion argument saying that the reason for such a position is the belief in the value of all human life. Steel-manning doesn’t entail agreement, but it opens the door for dialogue and even constructive disagreement in giving the most charitable explanation for a position.

Enter into this new lexicon, Angel’s proposed star-manning. Star-manning takes steel-manning to the next level. To star-man an argument is to first find common ground. In the case of an anti-abortion position, one could star-man the debate to find the intersection of agreement on the value of human life. Once this foundation is established, we find the humanity in and establish compassion with those in opposition.

What a mind-blowing idea… that we could actually build on our common humanity. And yet such shocking simplicity is so rarely practiced in our social media spaces.

What a world it could be if we could find the star-man not only in the sky but also in ourselves. Isn’t all worthwhile?

In the Hold my Drink – navigating the news and politics with a chaser of civility – and Counterweight podcast, Episode 30, we speak with Angel Eduardo, who penned the idea of star-manning. Angel shares with us how he star-mans his conversations and interactions, especially in the divisive world of social media. His motto is to reject, refute and refuse bad faith actors and hostile conversations, but never reciprocate. All discussed with a chaser of civility of course, and a hot tea (in a Superman mug), a watermelon spritzer (now I sound like my mom), and a glass of white wine.

Hold My Drink welcomes all people with all kinds of beverages to join us as we discuss what it takes to imagine a new American identity, together.

Find us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or watch the conversation unfold on YouTube, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

What Angel is Reading

The Psychology of Disagreement | Julia Minson with Greg Steinbrecher, Braver Angels Podcast

Black People Are Far More Powerful Than Critical Race Theory Preaches, Newsweek, Chloe Valdary

The Racism of Antiracism: A Conversation with John McWhorter, The Unspeakable Podcast with Meghan Daum

What Jen is Reading

Canceling Categories, with Angel Eduardo, New Liberals Podcast

How to Star-Man | Arguing from Compassion, Center for Inquiry, Angel Eduardo

Why Calling Merit Erases People of Color, Newsweek, Angel Eduardo

Angel Eduardo is a writer, musician, photographer, and designer based in New York City. He is a staff writer and content creator for idealist.org, and contributes a monthly column for the Center for Inquiry called Searching for Better AngelsFind him on twitter and his official website, angeleduardo.com.