The Corner

Books

Love Your Enemies, But Still Disagree with Them

Arthur Brooks asked an expert marriage counselor what emotion is correlated with divorce. It’s not anger. Anger, according to Brooks, is a “hot emotion that says ‘I care.’ It might not be pleasant, but it doesn’t lead to divorce.” Instead of anger, eye rolling, dismissive humor, derision, and sarcasm are much better predictors of divorce. In a word, says Brooks: “contempt.”

In his latest book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt, Dr. Brooks — president of the American Enterprise Institute, and my boss — rejects the notion that incivility and intolerance are the core problems in America today. Instead, Brooks argues that “motive attribution asymmetry” leads people to assume that those with whom they disagree are motivated by hate. This shuts off the possibility of negotiation and compromise, and breeds contempt, which Brooks defines as a combination of anger and disgust. Contempt, not only for the ideas held by those with whom we disagree, but also, and more significantly, for the people who hold those ideas.

From an essay Brooks wrote, adapted from the book:

Contempt makes political compromise and progress impossible. It also makes us unhappy as people. According to the American Psychological Association, the feeling of rejection, so often experienced after being treated with contempt, increases anxiety, depression and sadness. It also damages the contemptuous person by stimulating two stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. In ways both public and personal, contempt causes us deep harm.

The argument Dr. Brooks makes that resonates most strongly with me is first to reject the notion that disagreement is bad.

You might be tempted to say we need to find ways to disagree less, but that is incorrect. Disagreement is good because competition is good. Competition lies behind democracy in politics and markets in the economy, which — bounded by the rule of law and morality — bring about excellence. Just as in politics and economics, we need a robust “competition of ideas” — a.k.a. disagreement. Disagreement helps us innovate, improve and find the truth.

Instead, according to Brooks, we need to disagree better.

You can check out the book, Love Your Enemies, here.

Most Popular

White House

The Trivialization of Impeachment

We have a serious governance problem. Our system is based on separation of powers, because liberty depends on preventing any component of the state from accumulating too much authority -- that’s how tyrants are born. For the system to work, the components have to be able to check each other: The federal and ... Read More
U.S.

‘Texodus’ Bodes Badly for Republicans

‘I am a classically trained engineer," says Representative Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, "and I firmly believe in regression to the mean." Applying a concept from statistics to the randomness of today's politics is problematic. In any case, Hurd, 42, is not waiting for the regression of our politics from the ... Read More
Culture

Feminists Have Turned on Pornography

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the feminist movement has sought to condemn traditional sexual ethics as repressive, misogynistic, and intolerant. As the 2010s come to a close, it might be fair to say that mainstream culture has reached the logical endpoint of this philosophy. Whereas older Americans ... Read More
Elections

Put Up or Shut Up on These Accusations, Hillary

Look, one 2016 candidate being prone to wild and baseless accusations is enough. Appearing on Obama campaign manager David Plouffe’s podcast, Hillary Clinton suggested that 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein was a “Russian asset,” that Republicans and Russians were promoting the Green Party, and ... Read More
Culture

Not Less Religion, Just Different Religion

The Pew Poll tells us that society is secularizing -- particularly among the young -- and who can deny it? That is one reason that the free expression of religion is under such intense pressure in the West. But it seems to me that we aren't really becoming less religious. Rather, many are merely changing that ... Read More