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We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition by Michael Austin
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“The first thing people usually do when they decide to reduce the outrage in their lives is stop talking about politics altogether - or at least stop arguing with people who disagree with them. This is exactly the wrong response. We are supposed to argue about politics; we're just supposed to figure out how to do it without shouting at the top of our lungs and calling each other stupid or evil.

Democracy calls us to have uncomfortable conversations. It asks us to listen to each other even when we would rather be listening to ourselves - or to people enough like us that we might as well be listening to ourselves. It is easier and more comfortable for us to live in perpetual high dudgeon inside our echo chambers than it is to have a meaningful conversation with people who disagree with us. The entire outrage industry has been designed to keep us in our bubbles, never challenged by disagreement and never required to think that we might be wrong.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“Small acts of persuasion matter, because there is much less distance between people's beliefs than we often suppose. We easily confuse the distance between people's political positions with the intensity of their convictions about them. It is entirely possible for people to become sharply divided, even hostile, , over relatively minor disagreements. Americans have fought epic political battles over things like baking wedding cakes and kneeling during the national anthem. And we once fought a shooting war over a whiskey tax of ten cents per gallon. The ferocity of these battles has nothing to do with the actual distance between different positions, which, when compared to the entire range of opinions possible in the world, is almost negligible.

None of this means that we can persuade our opponents easily. Persuading people to change their minds is excruciatingly difficult. It doesn't always work, and it rarely works the way we think it will. But it does work, and the fact that it works makes it possible for us to have a democracy.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“Can people be persuaded?' is a very different question from 'Can arguments be won?' People change their minds about things all the time, but I'm not sure that anybody ever wins an argument. Persuasion is not a zero-sum game. It occurs when somebody moves, even slightly, away from one position and toward another. It is entirely possible for two (or more) people to move closer to each other's positions during an argument without either one being able to claim victory over the other.

But we like to win, and we hate to lose, so the fact that people don't usually win arguments doesn't stop most of us from trying. And we all think we know what winning means: It means crushing opponents and making them cry. It means humiliating them in front of a crowd. And it means displaying our power and our rightness for all the world to see and acknowledge. And this means that we often end up trying to win by employing rhetorical strategies that are fundamentally incapable of persuading anybody of anything. And that looks a lot like losing.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“The actual rewards that come from arguing with other people have nothing to do with winning and losing. A good argument helps us refine our own ideas and discover where our reasoning is the weakest. Other people's opposition can help us turn our own half-formed ideas into clear assertions backed by solid reasoning. And setting our ideas and opinions against someone else's helps us know each other better, which makes us better friends. We get these benefits from arguments when we collaborate with a partner. We do not get them when we try to destroy an enemy. That is how non-zero-sum games work.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“When people say things that we find offensive, civic charity asks that we resist the urge to attribute to immorality or prejudice views that can be equally well explained by other motives. It asks us to give the benefit of doubts, the assumption of goodwill, and the gift of attention. When people say things that agree with or respond thoughtfully to our arguments, we acknowledge that they have done so. We compliment where we can do so honestly, and we praise whatever we can legitimately find praiseworthy in their beliefs and their actions.

When we argue with a forgiving affection, we recognize that people are often carried away by passions when discussing things of great importance to them. We overlook slights and insults and decline to respond in kind. We apologize when we get something wrong or when we hurt someone's feelings, and we allow others to apologize to us when they do the same.

When people don't apologize, we still don't hold grudges or hurt them intentionally, even if we feel that they have intentionally hurt us. If somebody is abusive or obnoxious, we may decline to participate in further conversation, but we don't retaliate or attempt to make them suffer. And we try really hard not to give in to the overwhelming feeling that arguments must be won - and opponents destroyed - if we want to protect our own status or sense of worth. We never forget that our opponents are human beings who possess innate dignity and fellow citizens who deserve respect.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“Most of us don't really fear political disagreements with our close friends. We fear not being liked and respected by people we like and respect. Challenging someone's political beliefs can signal (correctly or not) a lack of respect or affection. One way to prevent this from happening is to say something like 'I think you are a great person, and I value our friendship, so when I disagree with you it's because I value your opinion and want to learn more about how you see things.' If someone manages to communicate this idea to me, then I'm probably not going to hesitate to express my real opinions about controversial issues. It also helps if we don't call each other 'stupid,' 'evil,' or 'crazy' when 'I don't quite see it that way; help me understand what you mean' will do just fine.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“When somebody summarizes an argument thoughtfully before offering a counterargument, the resulting debate tends to be more meaningful and productive. Much of what passes for argument in our society consists of people badly misrepresenting each other's arguments and responding to points that another person is not making. This inevitably leads to frustration and anger and a feeling of being rhetorically manipulated instead of honestly challenged. Correctly paraphrasing somebody's position makes it much harder to misrepresent that position while trying to argue against it.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“Arguing in good faith means being willing to consider the possibility that we are wrong and that the person we are arguing with is right. It means constantly monitoring and trying to control for our own biases. And it means being willing to revise our positions once we realize that we can no longer defend them. This doesn't require self-doubt or indecision. But it does require humility and enough respect for reality to understand that we really will be wrong from time to time. Once we admit this, we should also be able to see that always acknowledging the possibility that we might be wrong is the only way to make sure that we are always at least right about something.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“Classical philosophy holds that perpetual agreement with another person is incompatible with friendship. Because no two people can possibly agree on everything, someone who never expresses disagreement with you is acting insincerely - and true friendship requires sincerity above almost everything else.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“[Ralph Waldo] Emerson believed that any friendship worthy of the name consisted of two essential elements: tenderness, or honest affection not tied to any material interest, and truth, or a willingness to speak sincerely without fear that frankness will destroy the relationship. Simply agreeing with everything someone says is a sign not of friendship but of insincerity. 'Better be a nettle in the side of your friend than his echo,' he writes. Friendship should be 'an alliance of two large, formidable natures, mutually feared, before yet they recognize the deep identity which, beneath these disparities, unites them.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“Civic flattery - or a political culture that allows people to appear to engage in civic discourse without ever having their opinions, or even their claims of fact, seriously challenged - is ultimately more damaging to democracy than civic enmity. When we incorporate civic flattery into our personal relationships, we get shallow, insincere friendships. When we use it as the basis for political alliances, we get echo chambers. And when a skilled political manipulator flatters a large portion of the population in an attempt to acquire and consolidate power, we get perhaps the most dangerous test that a democratic society can ever face: the emergence of a demagogue.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“I am frequently surprised by how much resistance I encounter when I say that we should try to be friends with people we disagree with. Some people see it as a betrayal of their ideals. More than one of my good friends has told me something like 'You are just wrong about this. We need to call out evil when we see it, even when it hurts someone's feelings. One should always try to be civil, but there is no way that I could ever friends with someone who thinks "x." There are moral principles at stake.'

It is precisely because of the moral principles at stake that I believe we must try to be better friends with people who disagree with us. Those who have strong opinions about what should happen in a society have a moral obligation to advocate effectively for their beliefs. If I sincerely believe that something is immoral, then this belief should compel me to find the most effective way possible to keep that thing from happening.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“Finally, I must acknowledge, before anybody beats me to it, that I am not particularly good at doing most of the things that I recommend in this book. I am often outraged, I rarely resist flattery, I frequently argue in ways that are unnecessarily critical and hurtful, and I have a genuinely difficult time displaying charity or kindness. The figure I refer to as 'me' in these pages in an aspirational me and not the real thing, and anything I have learned, I have learned by doing things badly. As Robert Browning's Andrea del Sarto mused, 'Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“Not everybody believes in the possibility of political persuasion. Many people see political positions as expressions of innate personality traits - hard-wired into us either by our genes or by an irreversible process of socialization. Why should we waste time trying to be persuasive when people never really change their minds? This is a reasonable concern.

The idea that persuasion doesn't work comes from a bad application of good science. A substantial body of research suggests that our political beliefs are shaped by more or less fixed psychological characteristics ... Research like this, however, tells us about the difficulty of conversion, not persuasion. These are not the same things. We too often misrepresent the task of political persuasion by thinking of the most strident partisan we have ever encountered and imagining what it would take to turn that person into an equally strident partisan for the other side. This sort of Paul-on-the-Road-to-Damascus conversion rarely happens in politics. Most people don't change their fundamental values, and if we expect them to, we are going to be very disappointed.

But we usually don't need people to change their fundamental values in order to convince them to adopt a particular position. The fact that people have fundamental values makes it possible to persuade them by appealing to those values. But we have to find values that we really share.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“Yale political scientist Alexander Coppock conducted a series of experiments designed to measure incremental changes in political opinion when people are presented with new information about a topic. ... [H]e was able to draw four consistent conclusions about the way that our brains react to new political information:

1. Effects are nearly uniformly positive: individuals are persuaded in the direction of evidence.
2. Effects are small: changes in opinion are incremental.
3. Effects are relatively homogenous: regardless of background, individuals respond to information by similar degrees.
4. Effects are durable: at a minimum, effects endure for weeks, albeit somewhat diminished. ...

This means that people do not change their opinions dramatically in a short amount of time. But it also means that partisans don't reject good arguments and good evidence when they encounter it just because it does not conform to their worldview.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“Most of the time, we aren't really talking about the things that we think we are talking about - because most people care much more about the things beneath the surface of a conversation. This is especially true when someone disagrees with us and we feel attacked. If someone calls my view of, say, capital punishment 'stupid,' then the only argument that I really want to make in return is 'I'm not stupid.' Whatever I say next will appear to be about capital punishment but will really make the argument that I am a smart, moral person whose opinions deserve respect.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“Civic charity is easy to talk about but tremendously difficult to practice - mainly because a lot of people don't reciprocate. Some people will be rude and obnoxious and will laugh at us when we try to engage with them charitably. They will see our generosity as a sign of weakness and take advantage of our good nature to abuse us further. We will forgive them the requisite seventy times seven times, and they will keep on offending us. Charity always works this way, both the civic kind and the 'love-other-people-like-God-loves-you' kind.

We need not think, however, that we are shirking our duties or abandoning our causes when we decline to angrily denounce those on the other side or to treat them like subhuman imbeciles. Charitable engagement does not always change people's hearts and minds, but the number of times it has done so is not zero - which gives charity a better track record than anger, contempt, and derision. Ultimately, though, mature and thoughtful people do not allow the way other people treat them to determine how they treat other people; when we do this, we surrender an enormous amount of power to people who do not wish us well.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“We treat others badly not because we don't understand how people should be treated but because we don't really consider them people.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“You are wrong. You are profoundly and disturbingly wrong about a spectacularly large number of things. You accept facts that are not facts, values that are incompatible with each other, and a fair number of truly dumb ideas about how to change the world. If you ever really understood the extent of your wrongness, you would never trust another word you said.

You need not feel shamed about this. I am wrong too; everybody is wrong about a lot of things. Given the number of things that all of us believe (or do not believe to be facts, the number of things that we consider (or do not consider) valuable, and the number of policies that we think (or do not think) will work, there is no possible way that anybody is going to be right about everything - or even most things. You already accept this about 99.9999 percent of the human population. You know perfectly well that everybody else is wrong about a lot of things. And if you really think about it, you will realize that you are probably not the only person in the world who is always right.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“We are scared little mammals with millions of years of evolution telling us to scurry away from anything or anyone who threatens our well-being, but outrage culture gives us a script that we can follow: simply adopt a sneering, angry tone and repeat all of the talking points from our favorite blog or radio show while insisting that anyone who disagrees is crazy, stupid, or evil.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“For all they may talk about the people as a coherent group, demagogues are actually devoted to pitting the people against each other. Demagogues rarely create new prejudices; they amplify those that already exist, giving people permission to say things that had previously been unpopular or taboo. Much as demagogues work to weaken the rule of law, they try to weaken the social norms that enforce civic friendship, opening old wounds and encouraging the eruption of anger and hatred that have been kept below the surface by a thin but crucially important layer of civility and civic decency.

The final point is especially important. Demagogues don't simply flatter the populace. They flatter a portion of the people by attacking and demonizing everyone else. Those who stand with the demagogue become 'the people.' Everybody else becomes effectively subhuman: 'animals,' 'vermin,' 'criminals,' 'enemies of the state,' In this way, demagogues ensure that a portion of the people will always side with them against their common enemy. At the same time, they create the perception of emergency to justify their destruction of the constitutional safeguards that would otherwise check their power. A demagogue needs division the way that a fire needs oxygen. They succeed only because they are able to fan the flames.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“Ultimately, there is no way that laws or institutions can prevent a democracy from becoming illiberal. All our institutionalized protections can be undone, given enough time, by an unsympathetic majority. The constitution can be amended, new judges can be appointed, agencies can be dismantled, and freedoms can be curtailed. And once a democracy devolves into illiberal majoritarianism, it rarely stays democratic for long. 'If America ever loses its liberty,' Tocqueville prophesied, 'the fault will surely lie with the omnipotence of the majority, which may drive minorities to despair and force them to resort to physical force.' Institutions can slow down the march toward majoritarian tyranny, but they cannot stop it.

To remain truly democratic, people have to be willing to protect each other's rights and interests even when they control enough votes to do otherwise. They have to recognize each other's right to exist, express opinions, and participate fully in the political process. And they have to preserve the laws and institutions that guarantee human rights and civil liberties for everyone, not just for the ruling majority. We must have enough regard for each other that we decline to use the mechanisms of democracy to treat our fellow citizens unjustly.

Another way to say this is that we must not be enemies. We must be friends.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“In fact, Aristotle didn't have a high opinion of Athenian democracy, which had very few safeguards against demagoguery or majoritarianism. A much better form of government, he thought, was what he called a 'politeia,' or a 'constitutional government.' (Roman writers translated 'politeia' as 'affairs of the state,' or 'res publica,' which gave us our word 'republic.') In this kind of society, people govern themselves through deliberations and elections, but they do so in a framework constrained by written constitutions and protections of individual rights.

The constitutional government was one of three natural forms of government, along with aristocracy (rule by the 'aristoi' or 'best people' in a society) and monarchy (rule by a single kind). Aristotle believed that each of these types of state can produce good government and human flourishing as long as they meet one important criteria: the sovereign power must display natural affection for everybody in the society. There is no structural way to guarantee that any form of government will remain conducive to human flourishing. Only 'philia politike' [civic friendship] can do that.

The absence of civic friendship turns each of the natural forms of government into a corresponding perversion. A tyranny is a monarchy in which the king feels no concern for the people. An oligarchy is an aristocracy in which the ruling class oppresses the people to serve its own interests. And a democracy is a 'politeia' in which people come together to form majorities that impose their will on minorities for selfish ends. The presence of civic friendship is more important to the creation of a just society than the form of government. Any state in which the leaders and the people take civic friendship seriously can produce justice. Any state in which people treat each other as enemies will ultimately become unjust.

In other words, good government requires justice, and justice ultimately requires that people be governed by their friends. In a democracy, where we govern each other, we must all be friends, or the system will become oppressive.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“This is how democracy dies. The great Athenian historian Thucydides showed us twenty-five hundred years ago what a democracy looks like in its death throes. It is not pretty. The following passage, from Book III of The History of the Peloponnesian War, discusses the civil war in Corcyra, Athens's key democratic ally, whose conflict with Corinth was one of the main events that propelled the Hellenistic world into war:

'Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. ... The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. ... To forestall an intending criminal, or to suggest the idea of a crime where it was wanting, was equally commended until even blood became a weaker tie than party, from the superior readiness of those united by the latter to dare everything without reserve. ... Meanwhile the moderate part of the citizens perished between the two, either for not joining in the quarrel, or because envy would not suffer them to escape.' ...

One constant in Thucydides's analysis is that democracy stops working when its people divide into tribes and treat each other as enemies. When this happens, the structural mechanisms of democracy itself amplify the enmity by giving any majority, no matter how slight, the power to inflict whatever torments its members can dream up on the minority - which they invariably do because this is how one treats one's enemies. Furthermore, intractable divisions within a society can be exploited by external forces to hasten that society's demise. People who consider their fellow citizens their enemies tend to be less discriminating about whose citizens they consider their friends.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“Russia's plan to subvert American democracy by advertising in our echo chambers could not have succeeded, however, if we had not already done most of the hard work of tearing ourselves apart. Foreign enemies did not convince us to start hating each other; we did that ourselves. We wanted to believe that candidates from the other side were murderers and child abusers and that their supporters despised their own country so much that they didn't care. For the cyberattack to succeed - and by all accounts it succeeded beyond anybody's expectations - we had to be prepared to believe the worst things about each other that a hostile foreign spy could invent.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“Anybody who spends any time at all talking about things like civility, civic friendship, and the quality of our political discourse had better be prepared to talk about Nazis. Call it the 'argumentum ad nazium,' or the 'dicto simplicihitler,' but people seem compelled to let it be known that they have no intention of trying to make friends with Nazis. This is often asserted as a decisive blow. 'Don't talk to me about civility. I don't talk nicely to Nazis; I punch them in the face.' ...

Most people who want to carve out a 'Nazi exemption' to the requirements of basic human decency - or any exemption based on a proposition-testing outlier instead of lived experience - are not really trying to to decide what to do in the unlikely event that they run into someone doing 'sieg heil' salutes in the checkout line. They want to create an exempt category and populate it with anybody they can force into the definition. This phenomenon happens across the political spectrum.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition
“All nations are fictions created by stories and sumbols that endow certain lines on a map with an almost magical significance. But the magic requires that the stories and symbols of the nation surpass the stories and symbols of the tribes that constitute it. The easy stories - the ones about how our tribe is the best and the members of other tribes aren't really people - have disastrous effects when they emerge in a diverse democratic society. Such narratives fundamentally undermine the civic relationships that make democracy work. They transfer our civic allegiance from the messy, chaotic society that is trying to govern itself to the much more controllable subset of people who look, talk, or think like we do - creating nations within nations that work like corrosive acid on the political body.”
Michael Austin, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America's Civic Tradition