Since this magazine started printing, about half of all editor’s notes have advocated discussion. Discussion is important. Rational arguments are paramount.

Apparently, we’re wasting our time. In 1979, American social psychologists conducted an experiment in the U.S. Participants who felt strongly for or against the death penalty were presented with evidence that contradicted their opinions. Instead of weakening the participants’ views, this contradictory evidence somehow made the participants’ views more extreme. This was not a surprising find.

Humans tend to remember facts that support our arguments and ignore facts we disagree with. Contradictory evidence usually just makes us dig our heels in. This “biased assimilation effect” is well-documented.

Strength of arguments also seems to be irrelevant. In 1998 researchers ran an experiment with college students at the University of Missouri. They presented groups of participants with arguments in favor of requiring additional exams. Students presented with strong arguments were just as unlikely to support the exams as students presented with weak, easily refuted arguments.

For a political magazine that publishes well-researched analysis of political events, this is discouraging. It’s also not surprising to anyone who’s ever had a political discussion. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve admitted I’m wrong in the middle of a discussion about an issue I care about.

There is one encouraging finding, though: a team at Harvard University found that strong arguments were more persuasive than weak arguments if, and only if, people were given time to deliberate before answering. If people were forced to respond immediately, they’d mentally reaffirm their original position, and the argument would have little effect.

In this context of irrationality, it’s not surprising that many movements across the country have turned to screaming their opinions loudly instead of wasting their time having logical, academic discussions. Their de facto, and effective, strategy is to attack their opposition using any insult, “ism,” or ad hominem fallacy available.

I don’t blame these movements. To have meaningful political discussion requires rational listeners as well as rational speakers. Calm discussion is only a viable means of change if we’re actually willing to discuss things. We have a responsibility not only to speak thoughtfully, but also to listen thoughtfully. So to borrow from what we learned in Kindergarten, “listen to others the way you’d want them to listen to you.”