I recently read Love Your Enemies (2019) by Arthur C. Brooks. The main premise of the book seems to be that Americans are addicted to outrage. Most of them want to quit, but can’t. When people know little more about another than their party affiliation, it is easy to assume motives and think the worst. Brooks claims we should not only tolerate our enemies, but love them and cherish the valuable insights they bring by disagreeing with us. The process of disagreeing peacefully is the best way to get to the best ideas.
This is the extent to which I agree with the book. Beyond this I run into problems:
Brooks claims that we all agree on the why, but not the what. We agree on the goals, but not on the best policies to get us there. This is what I used to believe. Then I made extra effort to reach out to people and allow them to explain themselves. Ten years later, it is now overwhelmingly clear to me that we agree on nothing.
I care about removing obstacles to progress. If an individual woman wants to go into business or politics or journalism or whatever, she should be able to because everyone should be able to. On the other hand, if she wants to be a full-time mother, she should be able to do that. I care about individual liberty. Other people don’t want individual women to have the option of pursuing full-time motherhood. It is as though they feel they are “letting the team down” when women on average make less money than men. That they personally are doing well means nothing. That other women that pursue wealth are doing well means nothing. That those who make less do so by choice means nothing. They care about group parity so much that they end up hating liberty. I care nothing about group parity. Don’t tell me we want the same things!
Another claim made by Brooks – so wildly false that I dropped the book in shock – Is that while people get angry disagreeing over politics, they do not get angry when disagreeing over ideas (page 297). He does not clearly define the difference between politics and ideas, but I gather that politics to him is about what party or candidate is in power, while ideas are ideas about policies or the underlying values behind those policies. These we certainly do disagree on, and these are what make me (and my opponents) several orders of magnitude angrier than I ever could be over who holds what office.
Holding that the term “free market” is inherently racist is an idea I cannot tolerate (and shouldn’t). The idea of Marxism is abominable to me. It makes me mad. At the same time, my opponents get mad at me when I espouse capitalist ideas. My opponents get mad at me when I state my idea that the word marriage is heterosexual by definition. My opponents get mad at me when I state my idea that men are not women (and vice versa). People I know have stopped speaking to me over this.
Another claim I found very confusing was his idea – based on the research of Johnathan Haidt – that the people on the other side aren’t evil; they simply have different moral foundations. What does the word “evil” mean, then? The word exists in the English language, so it must refer to something. I have always used it to refer to those operating on different moral foundations. This is the way everyone else uses it.
Another claim that I used to believe myself is that a kind word turns away wrath. Brooks gives an example of how he responded to a critical email that worked out well for him. In my life, things rarely go so smoothly. People will twist my words over and over when I am trying to be nice. I have even been charged with harassment for nothing more than offering my emotional support and friendship to someone going through a tough time. I only contacted her once! At this point, there is absolutely no loss if I just go ahead and insult people like they deserve.
On the level of national politics, being nice gets you destroyed. When Trump supporters were attacked and beaten by Antifa, unfairly targeted by law enforcement, and then watched their votes be overrun by proven fraud, they had every right to defend their lives and livelihoods by violence, yet they trusted the system and challenged the vote peacefully. As the process played out, Antifa attacked the capitol and Trump supporters were blamed for the violence anyways. There is truly nothing to lose anymore. Being nice didn’t stop the Nazis. Being nice didn’t stop the Japanese. Being nice didn’t stop the British. It won’t stop the Democrats either. Being nice has never worked in all of history.
Speaking of being nice, Brooks also cites psychological studies to make his case. He cites a study showing that nice people get ahead in the workplace and in romance, while meanies do not. I have heard of studies claiming exactly the opposite. He cites a study showing that faking a smile even when we don’t mean it can make us happier in the long run than frowning. I’ve heard this study many times before, but it seems to backfire for me and I have read other studies claiming that fake smiles are not the same as the real thing (physically) and that repressing emotion only makes it stronger. He cites a study that listing our blessings will make us more content. This doesn’t always work when our blessings only exist in relation to our troubles, and I have read studies showing exactly the opposite. It seems that for every study supporting one psychological phenomenon, there is an equal and opposite study supporting its inverse. I don’t believe anything coming out of psychology.
Brooks also seems to be of the mistaken impression that political strife today occurs because people do not know each other as whole persons first, but by their ideological labels first. This does not apply to my life. I not only knew people pretty well, I actually liked some of them and thought of them as friends, and I thought they knew me, but then they started to get into politics and turned against me.
It’s another useless book.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.