Red Blue Dictionary | Our Methodology
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Our Methodology

Anyone can throw out opinions about political words. So what makes this effort any different from other voices out there, including the many fine examples of political dictionaries that exist already?

1. Collaboration across Deep Disagreement: Our starting assumption was that no single individual (or perspective or position) could adequately convey the nuance of meanings across words – at least not when it came to contested socio-political words. To do that right, would require, we believed, the coming together of people who hold vibrant, robust disagreements across these same issues.


2. Complexity Arising from Accountability: Compared to a set of monolithic thinkers, we have found that working across a modern day “team of rivals” (liberal, conservative, libertarian, green, leftist, capitalist, religious, secular) pressed us towards greater nuance, clarity and understanding – all the same products, of course, that emerge from in-person dialogue. In both cases, the interfacing across disagreement provides a kind of “checks and balances” that is both powerful and practical in its accountability. For instance, if the leftist writing about socialism leans a little left…well, our libertarian contributor was sure to push-back. And if the atheist view was left out of an attempt to characterize various views of birth control, their presence soon remedied the problem.


In this way, the colorful, pluralistic mix of our 35 member contributor team became the ferment out of which the actual pluralistic writing naturally emerged. Especially since blind-spots can be so subtle – leading to the subtle prioritization of one view over another – our fierce disagreements became a unique comfort in the quality of what we were trying to do together.


3. Organically Emerging Fairness: Indeed, we pleasantly surprised at how carefully and generously our collective writing acknowledges what different communities really see, feel and believe (in a way that the various people would recognize them – ‘um yes – that’s right…that’s what we believe’).   Practically, this emerges not because any one of us is so SUPREMELY fair-minded or objective – but because, hey, we’re doing this together!


4. Explicit Focus on Contested Language: While it’s valuable to compare and contrast contrasting arguments in the larger debates associated with particular ideas, whole books have already been dedicated to this already.  What hasn’t always been done is understand the various connotations, meanings, senses and emotional responses particular words elicit across various political communities. THESE differences are what we want to turn towards with our limited space.


That’s why you’ll often see us aiming not at ‘defining what it means in objective reality’ – but instead, diving right into one of the main contrasts in how that particular word is interpreted or experienced or used. Instead of trying to characterize the larger debate about a particular term, then, we’re aiming for something more bounded: the various ways that the term itself  ‘functions’ across our different communities.


5. Common Commitment to Dialogue Practice: Although an intentional gathering of any group of disagreeing, thoughtful Americans might suffice for such an experiment, we decided to specifically recruit individuals with a history of work in dialogue and deliberation itself. Our reasoning was that compared to others, these individuals had spent hundreds – even thousands of hours – in the trenches of intense, deep listening across disagreements in our country (In many cases, contributors had done this professionally). Since these practices led to a natural appreciation of nuance and complexity, we believed this experience would translate into a richer written product as well.


You will have to be the judge of that, though.  As you come to an entry, if you see a perspective or insight missing, be sure to let this know. Because for all our work, we still consider each of these entries as a “work in progress” – and your comment may be the spark for our next revision.