Debating Virtue, Inculcating Virtue

In David Brooks’s op-ed today, praising Alan Jacobs’s How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, he cites what I’m pretty sure is Jacobs citing me!

Brooks discusses C.S. Lewis’s essay on the Inner Ring, and how the desire to belong to a group can warp our character as we compromise to be accepted. But can we ever create groups where reshaping ourselves to belong forces us to develop virtue, not suppress it? He writes:

I’d say that if social life can get us into trouble, social life can get us out. After all, think of how you really persuade people. Do you do it by writing thoughtful essays that carefully marshal facts? That works some of the time. But the real way to persuade people is to create an attractive community that people want to join. If you do that, they’ll bend their opinions to yours. If you want people to be reasonable, create groups where it’s cool to be reasonable.
Jacobs mentions that at the Yale Political Union members are admired if they can point to a time when a debate totally changed their mind on something. That means they take evidence seriously; that means they can enter into another’s mind-set. It means they treat debate as a learning exercise and not just as a means to victory.

Jacobs’s book hasn’t been released yet, but I’ve heard from friends with review copies that I wind up cited, so I’m pretty Brooks is citing a reference to my post “Didn’t You Ever Break on the Floor?”

Candidates for office were usually also asked, “So, have you ever broken on the floor? ”  The correct answer was yes.
It wasn’t very that likely that you’d walked into the YPU with the most accurate possible politics, ethics, and metaethics.  If you hadn’t had to jettison some of your ideas several years in, we has our doubts about how honestly and deeply you were engaging in debate. […]
I’ve never been part of any other community that succeeded so well in making it safe to be wrong, but not to stay wrong.

I’ve written more about the YPU’s culture in two posts: The Gift my Weirdo Debate Friends Gave Me as well as “Didn’t You Ever Break on the Floor?”

I was just back on campus for a Fall alumni debate (Resolved: Be Humble) with my own party within the YPU, and the debate culture is still thriving.