Our Culture of Contempt (RP: The lethal Old World virus that infects us)

The problem in America today is not incivility or intolerance. It’s something far worse.

The problem in America today is not incivility or intolerance. It’s something far worse.

By Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute (“a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank that researches government, politics, economics, and social welfare.”) / March 2, 2019


A 2014 article in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on “motive attribution asymmetry”the assumption that your ideology is based in love, while your opponent’s is based in hate — suggests an answer. The researchers found that the average Republican and the average Democrat today suffer from a level of motive attribution asymmetry that is comparable with that of Palestinians and Israelis. Each side thinks it is driven by benevolence, while the other is evil and motivated by hatred — and is therefore an enemy with whom one cannot negotiate or compromise.


I’ll assume you are going to read the article… So, here’s more on the National Academy of Sciences article…

Motive attribution asymmetry for love vs. hate drives intractable conflict / Adam Waytz, Liane L. Young, and Jeremy Ginges / November 4, 2014 / PNAS



Many human conflicts appear extraordinarily difficult to resolve even when outsiders can see the contours of a rational resolution. Ideological opponents risk the health of their economies and their planet because they are unable to make political compromises. Ethnic and religious groups across the world engage in mass acts of violence, rejecting solutions of mutual benefit that involve sharing power, land, or religious sites. Why are so many conflicts so intractable when people on both sides could gain from a compromise?

If adversaries believe inflexibility on the other side renders mutual compromise impossible, they will be unlikely to adopt seemingly rational strategies for conciliation. In other words, the perception of conflict intractability may be an independent cause of a stalemate. Here, we identify a fundamental cognitive bias that contributes to the belief in conflict intractability, and may therefore contribute to conflict spirals

Incentivizing Accuracy

Because studies 1–4 have demonstrated that the motive attribution asymmetry is robust across populations and has significant consequences, study 5 attempts to reduce this bias and its associated consequences. In particular, this study tests whether introducing monetary incentives for accuracy reduces the tendency of American Democrats and Republicans to attribute more hate than love to the opposing party (as was found in study 1), and whether reducing this bias can improve consequential perceptions of the other party. Given that paying people has been shown to both increase and diminish empathic accuracy (29, 34), this study also provides a test of the efficacy of monetary incentives for improving interpersonal perceptions.

[RP: To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “We must all prosper together, or assuredly we shall all be poor separately."


PS You can download the 6-page report from the National Academy of Sciences website

PSS I know my way around the “Palestinians and Israelis” issue. I was raised there. I have also combated Old World Hatreds - in a militantly peaceful way — in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Take it from me, you don’t get to be the “shining city upon a hill” and have The Plague at the same time.

PSSS If you will allow me to comment… Should we leave solving this mortal historical threat in the hands of our political leadership?

Rome…had seven hills. The base of each one was stricken by the demon first, giving those who lived on the hilltops the same useless warning as the occupants of the top deck of a sinking ship.   …  In retrospect, the demon’s targets had all the evidence required to identify its carriers. They knew, as modern zoologists know, that rats are never found more than a few hundred yards from a human habitation. And they knew that the plague, like the rats, always spread outward from the harbors and the granaries.”

- JUSTINIAN'S FLEA: The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire

[RP: Here’s an interesting question: “How does becoming ‘globally agile’ contribute to combating the threat posed by ‘motive attribution asymmetry ‘?

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