Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Aggression: a sign of the Times

In Posts on March 21, 2011 at 8:34 am

I was bummed out by a recent New York Times editorial by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman decrying “how reflexively vindictive, how un-American, one of our two great political parties has become” (guess which one), and by the 552 me-too comments from loyal readers, making it by far the most popular Times article from yesterday.

I think we need a much better understanding of our own aggression—our impulse to create threatening outgroups at almost any opportunity. Times readers tend to be educated and socially liberal, and a lot of their complaints are precisely about the bloodthirstiness of the Republican party. Given the demographics at play, it’s even sadder and more ironic when Krugman and his readers miss the underlying point: that politics are vicious because we reward viciousness. If Krugman wishes our civil discourse were less brutal, he himself could do better than prey on our love of fighting words and our easy belief in abstract enemies who wish to destroy everything we hold dear.

Just to stay positive: I have truly loved every one of the recent David Brooks editorials I’ve read (also in the Times), including this one, a quick survey of a number of broadly useful scientific concepts like “emergence” and “path dependence.” It’s a thoroughly benign article—but the comments section is, improbably, still awash in political invective. Oh well.