‘Love Your Enemies’ urges readers to meet vitriol with decency

Terry W. Hartle in The Christian Science Monitor:

Arthur Brooks is one of the limitless number of policy analysts who toil in Washington. He stands out both because he is prolific and his work has had an impact. He has already written 10 books on a wide range of subjects, served as president of the influential center-right American Enterprise Institute, and writes a column for the Washington Post. His background sets him apart. An accomplished classical musician, he spent 12 years playing in a symphony orchestra. He worked his way through college and attended Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey – not exactly a “big name” school in the corridors of power (though he did earn a Ph.D. in public policy from the Rand Institute). On a personal level, he is deeply religious (Roman Catholic) and calls the Dalai Lama a friend and mentor.

In his latest book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt, Brooks takes aim at the hypertoxic climate that affects our civic culture. His description of the current situation is essentially that “hyperbolic” public discourse driven by an “outrage industrial complex” has produced a culture of contempt that is tearing America apart.

He uses the word “contempt” deliberately because it is more than mere anger. A culture of contempt reflects a desire to “mock, shame, and permanently exclude [the other side] from relationships by belittling, humiliating, and ignoring” those with whom we disagree. “Contempt” says to others: “You disgust me. You are beneath caring about.” Brooks marshals an impressive amount of evidence to make his point. Not only is such behavior damaging to the public discourse, he writes, but it undermines the health of not only its practitioners but also of those on the receiving end. He cites research to suggest that humans are likely hard-wired to be decent and kind and to seek common ground. To him, the toxic political culture undermines our democracy and health and is contrary to human nature.

More here.