We need to talk
Before the first meeting with the in-laws or a new business partner, one piece of advice is often heard: better not talk politics. Otherwise the mood can quickly turn icy.
It's a shame, because politics determines everything: how we work, what we eat or how we reside. But instead of talking about climate policy, we prefer to talk about the weather. Instead of discussing the performance of our political leaders, we gossip about celebrities. Above all, we only talk about politics with people we know well and share our views.
Social media platforms have exacerbated this phenomenon. They lull us into their filter bubbles and seal us off from other ideas and views. At some point we are convinced: we are the good guys, the others are the bad guys. Through the internet, we have a connection to everyone - and yet we have stopped talking. If we still communicate, it is often to insult each other.
The Thailand Talks project wants to reverse this trend. It therefore makes possible exactly what everyone advises against: We bring together strangers with very different political views and let them discuss together - like a kind of Tinder for politics. With the difference that we bring together those who don't seem to fit together at all. At least not at first glance.
But nothing can be more rewarding than engaging with other points of view. The Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper once defined three basic principles for a reasonable discussion. First: Both sides should admit fallibility. Maybe you are right, maybe I am right - maybe even both are wrong. Secondly, the discussants should examine the arguments impersonally and rationally. Such objective discussion leads to the third principle: even if the discussants do not agree, they approach the truth as best they can.
Popper began as a philosopher of science. He postulated that scientific theories must always be open to change and error. Today, however, he is also considered one of the most important political thinkers and democracy theorists of the last century. For what applies to the sciences also applies to societies and its institutions. Instead of sticking to dogmas, it should be flexible and open to new ideas. Just as science gradually approaches the truth, so too can a society slowly evolve: not through a revolution, but a continuous process of reform.
Thailand Talks wants to help Thailand's society develop positively and not drift further apart. The organisers are concerned about parents suing their children because they hold different opinions. They are convinced that neither street fights nor court rulings can fill the social gaps - but only joint discussion can.
The model for Thailand Talks is a project in Europe. There, the open source platform "My Country Talks" has already brought together tens of thousands of people with different political opinions. Numerous friendships have emerged from the meetings. On Twitter and Facebook, the participants might have called each other names. Now they go to the football stadium or drink coffee together. Some have even got married.
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and its Thai partners are now bringing the project to Asia for the first time. And this is how it works: The media partners ThaiPBS, Voice Online, the Matter, ThaiPost, PPTV and Workpoint TODAY will embed nine different yes-no questions in their articles starting DATE. The algorithm of "My Country Talks" will then match those participants whose answers are as different as possible.
Then, on 20 of November, hundreds or maybe even thousands of Thais could meet in pairs to discuss online or - if the Corona situations allows it – offline. They will have completely contrary political views - for example on the constitution amendment the importance of religion in society or same-sex marriage.
Scientific studies show: Face-to-face meetings foster empathy and understanding. They help us to accept differences- one of the most important foundations for functioning democratic systems. But even if we can't agree, at least acceptance of other points of view grows.
Maybe different views on gay marriage or constitutions divide us. But perhaps we are united by much more than we think. Maybe we share the concerns for the future of our children and the love for our home countries. In a polarised society, such connections are often forgotten. But personal encounters can bring them back to memory and lay the foundations for a reasonable public debate
Exactly these effects were also shown in surveys of the previous participants of My Country Talks in Europe. And what is at least as important: almost all participants stated that they enjoyed the conversation with their counterpart.
So if you want to get closer to the truth, help Thailand's society to move forward and have a chance to meet your new friend who differs in political view - sign up for Thailand Talks. Have fun!