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“Loving Your Enemies” (1957) (stanford.edu)
77 points by meri_dian 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments

I'm also reminded of C.S. Lewis here:

“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out.

Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible?

If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything -- God and our friends and ourselves included -- as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”

So somehow the "isness" of our present nature is out of harmony with the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts us. And this simply means this: That within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good.

When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it.

And conversely, within those people and nations you most love, there's some bad.

The role of the prohpet is to say both these things to their peers, who generally don't want to hear either.

"Do unto others 20% better than you would expect them to do unto you, to correct for subjective error." – Linus Pauling

>I think the first reason that we should love our enemies, and I think this was at the very center of Jesus’ thinking, is this: that hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. [tapping on pulpit] It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil. And that is the tragedy of hate, that it doesn’t cut it off. It only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe.

Many of the so called and supposedly tolerant "social justice warriors" and the "PC crowd" would do well to understand this principle.

While indeed they may have a valid point about the vile hatred which their enemies are spreading, many of them become overridden by that hatred and echo it back creating a negative feedback loop.

>And this is what Jesus means, I think, in this very passage when he says, "Love your enemy." And it’s significant that he does not say, "Like your enemy." Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something. There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me and other people. I don’t like their attitudes. I don’t like some of the things they’re doing. I don’t like them. But Jesus says love them. And love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them. You refuse to do anything that will defeat an individual, because you have agape in your soul. And here you come to the point that you love the individual who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does. This is what Jesus means when he says, "Love your enemy." This is the way to do it. When the opportunity presents itself when you can defeat your enemy, you must not do it.

As he says, you don't have to like your enemy, but you should strive to understand them and where they are coming from as a human being; rather than writing them off as irrevocably stupid and completely irrational, as is done repetitively by either side in the 2 party system.

This is not merely a religious/moral principle, but a strategic/practical one:

"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle"

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Spot on. And of course, in your example of the "social justice warriors", the same goes for people spewing hate at them, and the people hating these people, and so on...

I think in most (all?) situations when there's a movement among people in a direction which seems blatantly wrong to you, the worst thing to do is to dismiss everyone taking part in this movement as stupid and/or evil. You're not going to improve things and you'll probably contribute to make them worse.

> I think in most (all?) situations when there's a movement among people in a direction which seems blatantly wrong to you, the worst thing to do is to dismiss everyone taking part in this movement as stupid and/or evil. You're not going to improve things and you'll probably contribute to make them worse.

I think I understand the point you're making, however I think there's another side you haven't approached. Your interpretation leaves no room for the amoral — that is, it seems to make the possibly ill-fated assumption that anyone who acts in a suppressive way is acting as a misguided human rather than on baser instincts. There's a line—but where?

For instance, on the subject of climate change there are those who find themselves in positions of power and financial gain due to loosening regulations and even inflicting further damage. There are also those who vehemently oppose it for the sake of long-term survival.

I would loosely liken the case to a predator pursuing prey. They might not be seeking to devour the opposing group directly, but what they care about. The prey in this case would be unwise to delay any action on the count of understanding the predator (or their ilk) to maintain any moral high ground as the result is understood to be quickly-impending and utter doom (for all, in this instance). It seems to me that in such a case immediate and direct action is required, and the understanding and teaching must continue, but can't precede direct action out of necessity.

I'd argue the same for WWII—but that discussion would probably get out of hand fast.

When viewed separately from an emotional and rational point of view, IMHO this tension can be resolved:

- as a rational being, you should protect yourself against threats. So it is perfectly fine to fight your enemies. Important: their motivation doesn't matter in this perspective, you just defend yourself against a threat.

- from an emotional perspective, hate and good/evil dichotomy just poisons your perception. There is nothing positive about hating (except maybe that it gives you more fighting motivation).

Interestingly, by really empathizing with your enemies (e.g., understanding deeply why someone seeks power and financial gain), you usually come up with much better defense and protection strategies compared to just viewing them as evil and immoral.

Loving someone does not mean you always have to be nice to them.

"It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system."

This was a very thoughtful and well reasoned approach to the problem I posed. I appreciate it. What's more, I agree.

I think it's quite rare that people actually knowingly act amorally -- everyone tends to see themselves as the good guys, or compelled to do bad things by circumstances out of their control. You mention WWII; I have the impression that one of the factors generally considered to be behind the war were the repercussions/aggression against Germany following WWI. Dismissing every German not actively fighting back against the Nazis as "stupid and/or evil" is in my book an example of the mistaken viewpoint I mentioned earlier... but yes, these discussions tend to get out of hand :).

As you mention, sometimes action is required, and that doesn't preclude an understanding viewpoint.

>I think the first reason that we should love our enemies, and I think this was at the very center of Jesus’ thinking, is this: that hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe.

There's certainly no denying that hate tends to produce hate, or that King did a great good...but I really wonder where he got the idea that it was "at the very center of Jesus' thinking". As I read the gospels, it's very tough to come to the idea that Jesus is any kind of pragmatist. Jesus is squarely in the Divine Command Morality camp. A typical statement:

> For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38)

> I really wonder where he got the idea that it was "at the very center of Jesus' thinking"

Probably the idea that he ministered primarily to the outcasts, the sinners, the hated of society.

Indeed it is baffling to me that so many on the left and right appear to put a lot of effort into not understanding the opposing point of view.

This is particularly odd when it comes to economic liberals vs socialists. Really if you can see how someone might agree with both of these statements, then you should be able to have at least a tiny bit of understanding of both sides:

"It's not fair to take money from one person to give it to another"

"It's not fair that those with wealthy parents have all sorts of advantages compared to those with poor parents"

There are of course other bases for economic liberalism and socialism, but understanding just one such basis should be enough to keep people from saying "I don't understand how anyone could be a [libertarian/socialist] they must all be idiots!" but sadly this is a sentiment I see all too often.

Another way of looking at the two points of views is to look at what problems they purport to solve.

One example:

Socialism purports to solve the positive-feedback loop of wealth within western capitalist economies (i.e. the more money you start with, the more money you earn, on average). Inasmuch as money relates to political power, this positive feedback loop will end up being supported by the state.

Libertarianism spurports to solve problems of inefficiency of government spending and regulation. This includes the problem of regulatory capture, as that is just intentional inefficiencies caused by government regulation.

So there is some agreement that money influencing government regulation is bad between them. A pithy statement of the difference might be that libertarians try to solve the problem by banning government regulation, and socialists try to solve the problem by banning wealth. This is a severe oversimplification, so whichever half of the statement made you want to hit reply and start typing "but it's more complicated than that" is probably the side you agree with more.

Since I'm fairly cynical, I think that banning regulations and banning wealth are both impossible to accomplish, which is why I don't belong to either of these two groups. I do think though that the majority of the people who align with one of those two groups are normal people who see something wrong with the world and have good reasons to believe that this is a way to solve it.

I do believe that people will play up the ideals of these groups for their own benefit. If you manufacture widgets, then a proposed government program to buy widgets for poor people will make you a socialist for a day. If your widget factory is losing money because of environmental regulations, then all of the sudden you quote Rothbard.

As a relatively far leftist in my ideals and pragmatist in practice, fairness doesn't matter to me.

Equal access to opportunity and relative structural efficiency matter to me. If we could cut spending on SNAP/Food Stamps while encouraging nutritious diets that will reduce health issues and improve child-hood outcomes, I'd be all for it.

I look at the argument that 'taxes are theft' as dishonest because I don't agree that the revenues the wealthy enjoy are necessarily 'theirs' to begin with.

When you consider Walmart, for example, they record significant profits each year. However, they pay and structure their labor such that many of their workers require public assistance. Walmart is not realizing actual profits, they're shifting costs onto the greater society. so the solution to this problem is to levy heavy taxes on the individuals banking those profits such that the cost to society from the public assistance to Walmart labor is offset.

First of all, I did note that those were not the only bases for each side.

Secondly, how is "Equal access to opportunity" not about fairness?

Thirdly, the liberal argument for your walmart example would be that if the public-assistance programs didn't exist in the first place, then walmart would have to pay its employees more.

>Thirdly, the liberal argument for your walmart example would be that if the public-assistance programs didn't exist in the first place, then walmart would have to pay its employees more.

This is getting off the main topic, but how do you square that with the large homeless population?

Personally, I find that to be a weakness in libertarianism.

On the other hand, one argument for it is that we have a lot of regulations; those regulations cost money. Absent those regulations, some of that value would be captured by those who are poor (either directly because fewer regulations would allow more jobs, or indirectly because fewer regulations would reduce the cost of production).

At least some regulations exist to prevent businesses from externalizing their costs; different libertarians disagree on the proper way to handle this (torts are one popular suggestion, something like cap-and-trade is another; a surprising number of libertarians are very comfortable with taxes on pollutants, provided the tax is tied to the approximate damages caused by the pollution).


Another way of saying this is that without the various welfare and social justice systems, walmart's workers would either need to be paid more to keep them healthy, or they would have to deal with constant turnover and people showing up to work sick (and thus with reduced productivity). Both situations would impose costs upon walmart without any need of taxation.

In addition, most schools of libertarianism are not opposed to workers unions as a contractual, free-market solution to workers rights. Special government protections (e.g. NLRA) or restrictions (e.g. right-to-work) of union tend to be treated with equal suspicion (though there are schools of libertarianism that are more pro- or anti- union).

You can certainly make that argument, but here's another one: Walmart is a low-margin business, so most of Walmart's revenue goes to expenses, not profits. So you could argue that government subsidies help keep Walmart's prices lower than they would be, which helps the poor people who shop there.

When tracing where the money goes, there's more than one way to do it.

Walmart chooses to be a low-margin business, it's not like they're doing it out of the goodness of their heart.

There are countless stories of them driving the profits out of their supply chain through their scale. They've driven small businesses out of the rural areas they favor as their bread-and-butter. I would conclude in my assessment that their low prices do not really serve anyone other than the Waltons who reap the billions in profits each year.

I don't look at Walmart as a net positive for society.

They also save their customers billions of dollars. (That's the flip side of running their competitors out of business.)

I would say that even by calling someone a "social justice warrior" you may have fallen into a trap, which is judging people by the first thing you see.

Due to the way social networks work, the first thing you may learn about someone is their political opinions. They might be expressed rather strongly and uncharitably. But for most people, politics is not the most important thing in their life. It's just the first thing you see of them on the Internet.

When you see someone driving badly, it's natural to assume they're a bad driver. But all you know is that they were driving badly on the day you saw them. It's fairly unlikely that they usually drive that way.

The technical term for this is Fundamental Attribution Error [1]. I find that keeping it in mind helps a fair bit with the forgiveness of strangers. It's always good to remember that you don't actually know them and that first impressions are sometimes misleading.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_attribution_erro...


I think that it is because some think that the "social justice warriors" and the "PC crowd" hold contradictory views.

While the (less extreme) homophobes and racist hold a "I don't like you, please go away. And if you could change to be more like me I will welcome you", one the other side you have "We should accept everybody, equally, regardless of whatever characteristic you may have. Except if you disagree with the previous statement."

I disagree with both ideas. But I find the former more honest and at peace with their hate than the latter.

I see it differently. Those groups in this example purport to support love and tolerance yet simultaneously hate on those on the other side. The other side appears to not even try to be tolerant, so I would think it goes without saying that they should love their enemies.

I thought it was obviously implied and also made explicit when I said they "have a valid point about the vile hatred which their enemies are spreading". Hate is obviously the problem we are discussing here, and how to deal with it effectively.

Jesus' ideology is one of submission and reward in the "next world". No wonder why it has been embraced by every political power since ancient Rome. I think that using such ideology to protest against oppression is a losing proposition. In fact, if we like it or not, it is violence that really makes the difference when people protest against something. For example, the government loves to say that it was the peaceful protest of Dr. King that made the difference in the civil rights movement. In fact, it was the fear they had of the many violent, armed black movements that were developing around the country that made any difference. Dr. King was then viewed as a public, peaceful voice to control these protestors which lead it to the victory of the civil movement. This is how the government likes people to see the history of what happened. Similarly for the struggles of the Indian people that were presented publicly just as the pacific protests lead by their enlightened leader Gandhi.

This crosses into religious flamewar, which we really don't want on HN. Please don't do this again.


Certain parts of the government definitely were glad that MLK was promoting non violence, that is until he extended that call for non violence to the war in Vietnam.

Though I think you underestimate the mass effect on millions of americans from watching people peacefully walking down the street get beaten to a pulp by the police and gored by attack dogs while they ate their TV dinners. It was disgusting and iconoclastic to the ethos that the USA stood for freedom.

Dr. King deliberately strived to create such a violent ruckus in the hopes that it would be televised so the rest of the nation could vividly experience the reality of racism and the hypocrisy of the government. It was information warfare.

> Though I think you underestimate the mass effect on millions of americans from watching people peacefully walking down the street get beaten to a pulp by the police and gored by attack dogs while they ate their TV dinners. It was disgusting and iconoclastic to the ethos that the USA stood for freedom.

Half the country looked at that, and all they saw was a mob of _______ getting their just deserts. Why can't they shut up and go to work? What's their problem - it's not like slavery was still around.

Half the country supported the Kent state shootings.

Today, half the country opposes any protest against police violence. Sitting down? Unacceptable. Standing up? Unacceptable? March in the streets? Unacceptable. Speaking? Unacceptable. Staying silent? Also unacceptable. Perhaps a purely functional form of protest, with no observable side effects would be, but I've never heard of a successful one.

You can always find something or someone to condemn in a protest - and once you do, this justifies using violence to put it down. Collective punishment is still popular, especially when its collective punishment against a group speaking out about an uncomfortable topic.

1. Jesus' ideology was not only about reward in the "next world." NIV Matthew 10:34-36 says:

  Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to
  the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

  For I have come to turn a man against his father,
  a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law
  against her mother-in-law—

  a man’s enemies will be the members of his own
2. Martin Luther King, though flawed, made a difference. He was not just a public, peaceful voice. He put his life on the line and eventually gave his life. This resonated with many, many more people than any violence. (Note that this is the same thing Jesus did.)

3. What's your source that Gandhi was only presented publicly? Who was his puppet-master?

I am not saying that Dr. King or Gandhi were puppets in any way, on the contrary they were very important to galvanize support for their movements. But they were not the full movement. The power of the movement was in the subversion of the existing order, and these figures were the peaceful face of the whole movement. Without a fierce underlying movement they would be just swept aside like any other peaceful protestor has ever been.

There's a lot to what you say, but your "Only violence does anything" position seems quite vague and shifting, unarguable-against (unfalsifiable), and fortunately not borne out by the facts. I get a feeling of blood-lust masquerading as wisdom, but I think the world's not quite as bad or hopeless as you say.

A "fierce underlying movement"...you mean, without violent people in the same movement? No-one's saying "Gandhi was the full movement", whatever that would mean exactly. And sure, peaceful protests, civil disobedience and hunger strikes wouldn't have worked against the Nazis, but it worked against the British. (Although it doesn't sound like you would think that's right) You seem to be sweeping all situations into one basket. And in that basket, only violence works, peace never achieves anything. I don't think that's reality.

And I can prove it, I think: Watch the documentary on Gene Sharp, "How To Start A Revolution". I hadn't heard of him, which is pretty damning comment on the modern media (considering some of the people who are mega-famous). It seems he and his methods and writings were (in part) responsible for most of these peaceful revolutions sweeping the world in the last few decades, dozens of them. I'd be surprised if you can watch that (and read the associated literature) and not change your view. I found it super-inspiring. And without it, I might have been more convinced by your arguments. Although I think you in no way recognize Gandhi's actual importance in existing-order-subversion.

I think you are trying to mix several unrelated things. The amount of violence necessary to change something always depends on the amount of repression imposed. If the repression is light/inexistent, there is no need for any violence. If the enemy is an army that is coming for combat with no opportunity for negotiations, only full scale war will work. In between these extremes, several mixes of diplomacy and violence are necessary. It is just wishful thinking to believe that peaceful protests will always work, in fact in many cases this belief serves only to demonize people who are protesting for their rights.

What's your source on that?

Can non-violence not also be fierce in it's execution?

You forgot to include sources.

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