The chapter in question is entitled "Moral Imagination."
http://www.cato-unbound.org/2009/06/08/ ... -of-peace/
The way hatred blocks comprehension is by cramping our “moral imagination,” our capacity to put ourselves in the shoes of another person. This cramping isn’t unnatural. Indeed, the tendency of the moral imagination to shrink in the presence of enemies is built into our brains by natural selection. It’s part of the machinery that leads us to grant tolerance and understanding to people we see in non-zero-sum terms and deny it to those we consign to the zero-sum category. We’re naturally pretty good at putting ourselves in the shoes of close relatives and good friends (people who tend to have non-zero-sum links with us), and naturally bad at putting ourselves in the shoes of rivals and enemies (where zero-sumness is more common). We can’t understand these people from the inside.
So what do things look like from the inside? Consider a case where an interior view is available—the case of a good friend. Your friend tells you about an arrogant prima donna at work who drives her nuts, and you are reminded of an arrogant prima donna in high school—the football star, the valedictorian—who drove you nuts. With a friend this process can be automatic: you scour your memory for shared points of reference and so vicariously feel her grievance. It’s part of the deal that sustains your symbiotic relationship: you validate her gripes, she validates yours. You work toward a common perspective.
This is the work you aren’t inclined to do with rivals and enemies. They complain about some arrogant prima donna, and you just can’t relate. (Why are they such whiners?) And that’s of course especially true when they say—as a rival or enemy might—that you are an arrogant prima donna. Then you certainly aren’t struck by the parallels with that prima donna in your high school.
So too on the geopolitical stage: if you are a patriotic American, and people who are burning an American flag say America is arrogant, that prima donna probably won’t spring to mind.
This doesn’t mean you’re at a loss to explain their behavior, or totally blind to their interior lives. When you see people burning flags and they look enraged, you can, even while hating them, correctly surmise that somewhere within them lies rage. You may also grant that flag burners perceive America as arrogant. But you don’t relate to this perception, so you can still characterize them in unflattering terms. You say they are driven by “resentment” of American power and “envy” of American success. And, since envy and resentment aren’t noble motivations, the moral coloration of the situation suggests it’s the flag burners who are to blame. And because America isn’t to blame, you resist the idea that it should change its behavior.
At this point in the discussion, if not sooner, an ominous question is often asked: Wait a minute—are you saying America is an arrogant prima donna? Are you saying that America, not the flag burner, is to blame for the burning of the flags? The question has even more bite if you’re talking about terrorists: Are you saying America was to blame for 9/11? After all, that’s what it would seem like if you really got inside the mind of a terrorist.
The short answer is no. But it’s a “no” with an asterisk, a “no” in need of elaboration–and, since the elaboration is a bit arcane, I’ve relegated it to an online appendix. It’s recommended reading, because if you buy the argument it may radically alter your view of the world. But for now the point is just that the ability to intimately comprehend someone’s motivation—to share their experience virtually, and know it from the inside—depends on a moral imagination that naturally contracts in the case of people we consider rivals or enemies.
In other words, we have trouble achieving comprehension without achieving sympathy. And this puts us in a fix because, as we’ve seen, some people it is in our profound interest to comprehend—terrorists, for example—are people we’re understandably reluctant to sympathize with. Enmity’s natural impediment to understanding is, in a way, public enemy number one.
It’s easy to explain the origins of this impediment in a conjectural way. Our brains evolved in a world of hunter-gatherer societies. In that world, morally charged disputes had Darwinian consequence. If you were in a bitter and public argument with a rival over who had wronged whom, the audience’s verdict could affect your social status and your access to resources, both of which could affect your chances of getting genes into the next generation. So the ability to argue persuasively that your rival had no valid grounds for grievance would have been favored by natural selection, as would tendencies abetting this ability—such as a tendency to believe that your rival had no valid grounds for grievance, a belief that could infuse your argument with conviction. And nothing would so threaten this belief as the ability to look at things from a rival’s point of view.
In dealing with allies, on the other hand, a more expansive moral imagination makes sense. Since their fortunes are tied to yours—since you’re in a non-zero-sum relationship—lending your support to their cause can be self-serving (and besides, it’s part of the implicit deal through which they support your cause). So on some occasions, at least, we’re pretty good at seeing the perspective of friends or relatives. It helps us argue for their interests—which, after all, overlap with our interests—and helps us bond with them by voicing sympathy for their plight.
In short, the moral imagination, like other parts of the human mind, is designed to steer us through the successful playing of games—to realize the gains of non-zero-sum games when those gains are to be had, and to get the better of the other party in zero-sum games. Indeed, the moral imagination is one of the main drivers of the pattern we’ve seen throughout the book: the tendency to find tolerance in one’s religion when the people in question are people you can do business with and to find intolerance or even belligerence when you perceive the relationship to be instead zero-sum.
And now we see one curious residue of this machinery: our “understanding” of the motivations of others tends to come with a prepackaged moral judgment. Either we understand their motivation internally, even intimately—relate to them, extend moral imagination to them, and judge their grievances leniently—or we understand their motivation externally and in terms that imply the illegitimacy of their grievances. Pure understanding, uncolored by judgment, is hard to come by.
It might be nice if we could sever this link between comprehension and judgment, if we could understand people’s behavior in more clinical terms—just see things from their point of view without attaching a verdict to their grievances. That might more closely approach the perspective of God and might also, to boot, allow us to better pursue our interests. We could coolly see when we’re in a non-zero-sum relationship with someone, coolly appraise their perspective, and coolly decide to make those changes in our own behavior that could realize non-zero-sumness. But those of us who fail to attain Buddhahood will spend much of our lives locked into a more human perspective: we extend moral imagination to people to the extent that we see win-win possibilities with them.
Given this fact, the least we can do is ask that the machinery work as designed: that when we are in a non-zero-sum relationship with someone we do extend moral imagination to them. That would better serve the interests of both parties and would steer us toward a truer understanding of the other—toward an understanding of what their world looks like from the inside.
And this is what often fails to happen. The bulk of Westerners and the bulk of Muslims are in a deeply non-zero-sum relationship, yet by and large aren’t very good at extending moral imagination to one another.
So a machine that was designed to serve our interests is misfiring. The moral imagination was built to help us discriminate between people we can do business with and people we can’t do business with—to expand or contract, respectively. When Americans fail to extend moral imagination to Muslims, this is their unconscious mind’s way of saying, “We judge these people to be not worth dealing with.” Yet most of them are worth dealing with.
We’ve already seen one reason for this malfunction. Technology is warping our perception of the other player in this non-zero-sum game. The other player is a vast population of Muslims who, though perhaps not enamored of the West, don’t spend their time burning flags and killing Westerners. But what we see on TV—and what we may conflate with this other player—is a subset of Muslims who truly, and perhaps irreversibly, hate the West. We accurately perceive the stubborn hostility of the latter and our moral imagination contracts accordingly, but in the process it excludes the former.