Wisdom of Crowds
Wisdom of Crowds
How to Disagree Without Compromise

How to Disagree Without Compromise

On Gaza and Israel, some differences are irreconcilable. Can we talk about that?

America is badly polarized. It’s a fact so pervasively acknowledged that pointing it out starts to feel like saying the sky is blue. Unlike a blue sky, however, growing polarization in America presents a difficult challenge. Because America is both incredibly diverse and a vibrant democracy, polarization starts to eat away at our politics.

Many attempts have been made to deal with polarization. A lot of it has to do with putting people with diverging perspectives face-to-face in an attempt to try to find common ground. Here at Wisdom of Crowds, we have tackled the problem by taking only half of this approach: we insist that people in disagreement confront each other, but with no expectation of common ground emerging.

We frequently talk about “deep difference.” We believe it’s naive to think that through reasoned discourse we can reach compromise positions. That does violence to the power of ideas and the strength of belief. We think it’s both healthier and more realistic to acknowledge that certain differences can’t be reconciled, and to instead direct the conversation toward respectful mutual interrogation — where the discussants push each other to excavate why they believe what they believe.

Jen Murtazashvili is one person who is profoundly aligned with what we’re doing. She first came on the Wisdom of Crowds podcast in August of 2021 to talk about America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. But both Shadi and Damir had gotten to know her almost a year earlier, during the start of COVID, when she kindly invited them both to participate in an online seminar about modus vivendi liberalism. Jen’s extensive work on Afghanistan had given her cause to be suspicious of top-down thinking that nation-building requires. She understands that societies are built from the bottom-up, from local insights, from particularism. Difference can’t be papered over.

We have been planning to collaborate more with Jen’s Center for Governance and Markets at the University of Pittsburgh for some time. Today, we’re pleased to announce that collaboration is kicking off. In the coming months, you will see podcast episodes and essays that will carry the CGM logo, featuring guests and writers and thinkers that the three of us have decided we need to engage with. First principles and the spirit of modus vivendi will animate all of it.

To launch the collaboration, we wanted to have Jen on the podcast. We didn’t explicitly set out to model exactly what we hope to achieve with the collaboration. But with the Gaza War in the background, it was impossible that we wouldn’t get to discussing it. As you’ll hear below, the conversation is deeply felt and argued — and remains unresolved. That’s as it should be.

(The paywall is down on this one, so everyone can give it a listen.)

We walked away from it energized to do more. We hope, dear listeners, you feel the same way. And you join us as we continue our Governing Deep Differences project.

Required Reading (and Listening):

  • “Community Before Politics,” by Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili (Discourse Magazine).

  • “Two Friends — One Jewish, One Muslim — Have an Answer to Campus Conflict, by Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili and Abdesalam Soudi (Tablet).

  • “All Aboard the Compassion Bus — with Jen Murtazashvili,” on Ask a Jew Podcast (Apple).

  • A tweet by Senator Fetterman (X).

  • “The U.S. has more in common with South America than Europe,” by Samuel Goldman (The Week).

  • “Hamas’ Bid for Revolutionary Legitimacy,” by Damir Marusic (WoC).

Wisdom of Crowds
Wisdom of Crowds
Agreement is nice. Disagreement is better.