We are a divided country, but it may be worse than we imagined. An article in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences discussed what is called “motive attribution asymmetry.” That’s a technical term for the assumption that your ideology is based on love and your opponent’s is based on hate. Put another way: we are the good guys, and they are the bad guys.
They discovered that the average Republican and the average Democrat today are as divided as the Palestinians and Israelis. In his op-ed in the New York Times, Arthur Brooks says we see the other side as “an enemy with whom one cannot negotiate or compromise.”
He comes to this startling conclusion. “People often say that our problem in America is incivility or intolerance. That is incorrect. Motive attribution asymmetry leads to something far worse: contempt, which is a noxious brew of anger and disgust.” And it is made worse by what he calls the “outrage industrial complex” that caters to one side and criticizes the other.
When people hear about political conflicts, they often prescribe the wrong solutions. Just because we disagree, doesn’t mean we should put aside our disagreements. Arthur Brooks says we need not disagree less. Instead, we need to disagree better. Whether we are discussing politics, economics, or philosophy, we should engage in a robust “competition of ideas.” We can disagree without being so disagreeable.
He suggests two steps. First, turn away from what he calls the “rhetorical dope peddlers.” These are powerful people on your side who are profiting from the culture of contempt. Second, make a commitment never to treat others with contempt. Christians should be civil and gracious.