A thoughtful missive on kindness and contempt, for people on both sides of the aisle.
Divisive politicians. Screaming heads on television. Angry campus activists. Twitter trolls. Today in America, there is an “outrage industrial complex” that prospers by setting American against American.
Meanwhile, one in six Americans have stopped talking to close friends and family members over politics. Millions are organizing their social lives and curating their news and information to avoid hearing viewpoints differing from their own. Ideological polarization is at higher levels than at any time since the Civil War.
America has developed a “culture of contempt”—a habit of seeing people who disagree with us not as merely incorrect or misguided, but as worthless. Maybe you dislike it—more than nine out of ten Americans say they are tired of how divided we have become as a country. But hey, either you play along, or you’ll be left behind, right?
In Love Your Enemies, New York Times best-selling author and social scientist Arthur C. Brooks shows that treating others with contempt and out-outraging the other side is not a formula for lasting success. Blending cutting-edge behavioral research, ancient wisdom, and a decade of experience leading one of America’s top policy think tanks, Love Your Enemies offers a new way to lead based not on attacking others, but on bridging national divides and mending personal relationships.
Love Your Enemies
Are you sick of fighting yet?
I confess without shame, I am tired & sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine.—General William Tecumseh Sherman, 1865
I live and work in Washington, DC, but I’m not a politics junkie. To me, politics is like the weather. It changes a lot, people drone on about it constantly, and “good” is totally subjective. I like winter, you like summer; you’re a liberal, I’m a conservative. Furthermore, political opinions are like noses: No two are totally alike, but everyone has one. My nose is big, but its existence is utterly unremarkable—sort of like my political opinions.
My thing is ideas, especially policy ideas. While politics is like the weather, ideas are like the climate. Climate has a big impact on the weather, but it’s not the same thing. Similarly, ideas affect politics, but they aren’t the same.
When done right, policy analysis, like climate science, favors nerds with PhDs. And that’s me. I have a PhD in policy analysis; for my doctorate I studied applied microeconomics and mathematical modeling. I taught policy at a university for ten years, before becoming the president of a public policy think tank in Washington, DC, a job I’ve held for a decade. (Before graduate school, I spent twelve years making my living as a musician, but not the cool kind. I played the French horn in a symphony orchestra. So yeah—nerd-o-rama.)
Having a little distance from politics has made it so that even in the heart of DC, I don’t usually take political battles too seriously. In the 2012 presidential election season, my wife and I had a bumper sticker custom-made for the Volvo—VEGANS FOR ROMNEY—just to see the reaction of other DC drivers.
Why I love it
Living in a big city and working in software means I hear the same political opinions ricocheting off the walls again and again. A few years back I began casting about for books by conservative writers because I wanted to hear a fresh set of perspectives. It’s too easy to write off people who lead lives that I don’t understand. And iIt’s too easy to think myself justified in doing so.
Love Your Enemies is a call for a more grown-up approach to politics for everyone on both sides of the aisle. With his trademark no-nonsense style, Brooks invites us to step back from the madness and the mud-slinging of a frenetic news cycle driven by hyperbolic talking heads in the media. We may not be able to change Washington, D.C., but we can buck against the trend of villainizing anyone we don’t agree with. We should be thinking more deeply about the issues of the day, Brooks argues, and less about the latest inflammatory meme on Facebook.
I look around at the crude coarseness of our political conversations, the trifling tawdriness of what passes as news coverage on cable and the selfish solipsisms of social media and I believe that we can do better. If you, like me, are wondering how you can close the gap to those with different views from yours, with an eye towards celebrating our commonalities rather than emphasizing our incompatibilities, you should spend time with Love Your Enemies.