I have been giving thought to the idea of a Turing test for political ideology, which I first heard about at Daylight Atheism and you can learn more about at The Library of Economics and Liberty. The original Turing test was designed to measure artificial intelligence using a computer’s ability to mimic human thought through a series of questions and answers. An ideological Turing test would do something similar for political ideology to see how well a progressive could explain conservative ideology, or vice versa.
Now that I’m a couple of years into this blogging thing, I see that one of the major obstacles to constructive dialog is the inability of participants to articulate their opponents’ arguments or positions. Progressives are very bad at understanding conservative arguments, and conservatives are very bad at understanding progressive arguments. Given all of this, I find a political ideology Turing test to be a fascinating idea.
The process would work like the original Turing test, with a series of questions that a respondent must respond to about the opposing ideology. For example, you might ask a progressive to explain why most conservatives hold a pro-life stance on abortion, or ask a conservative to explain why most progressives tend to be pro-choice. After a series of specific questions, it would be possible to score someone on a scale of how well they can honestly represent the opposing point of view.
Scoring of the ideological Turing test would involve comparing the answers to those of true ideologues. Using the abortion example, we would examine the progressive response describing the conservative pro-life position and compare it to an actual conservative describing her own pro-life position. If the two answers are indistinguishable, you could say that the progressive truly understands the conservative position. If the progressive scores high on a whole series of questions, you could say he understands the conservative ideology.
The challenge would be to craft questions that force the respondent to truly understand motivations and driving principles instead of simply regurgitating talking points and superficial descriptions. For example, how do you ask the abortion question of a progressive and get them off of the arguments for women’s reproductive rights? And how do you avoid every conservative answer sounding like a soliloquy on limited government?
Another challenge I foresee is that I’m not sure true progressive and conservative ideologues understand their own ideology. My guess is that a significant number of conservatives would fail the Turing test for conservatism, unable to articulate the underlying principles of their ideology. Progressives would have a similar problem, knowing that they are on the left but unable to explain the foundations of their thinking or the reasons why they believe what they believe.
I really love the idea of an ideological Turing test, but I’m not sure any of us are capable of producing the questions, the answers, or the scoring methodology.