‘Know your enemy,’ as the saying goes. It’s a well known phrase, and the name of a Rage Against The Machine song. However, in a ‘cancel culture’ world, few listen, preferring to distance themselves from their ideological opponents. This includes the media that their opposition consumes.
Previous Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd on Twitter, is quick and eager to villainize the ‘Murdoch press’ and Australian journalists as ‘far-right.’
Rudd’s disdain for the journalism of his enemies is not limited to him alone. We have this interesting tweet from Jess McHugh, published by the Washington Post.
What appears to happen is that the media we consume, whether its news or the books we read, can be used to judge us. If I were to watch CNN, that is interpreted as an endorsement for everything that they say and do. After all, who can forget the ‘bookshelf police’ a few months ago? Who, in their arrogance, decided that Michael Gove owning the The Bell Curve was proof of Gove’s supposed undesirable nature.
This behaviour is a sympton of a larger problem: a society that sees little value in exposing themselves to media that disagrees with them. The problem is that by limiting yourself to people who agree with you, is that you forfeit your intellectual and moral development.
There are benefits in reading your ‘enemies.’ For one, your argumentative skills will increase. You’ll become aware of how your enemy thinks, and what logic they use to back up their claims. By exposing yourself to opinions you disagree with, you are forced to ‘counter’ them through your own reasoning. This often involves creative thinking or independent research.
Sometimes, you won’t have the perfect retort or comeback to an opposing viewpoint. When you study your enemies, you may be reminded of your own intellectual shortcomings. However, analysing the arguments of your opponents gets easier the more you do it. You may even enjoy it.
Secondly, how your enemies think may seem bizaare, offensive or strange. However, knowing what they think is a type of knowledge. Although you may dislike their opinions, they still represent someone in the world. And shutting yourself off from them, and pretending like they don’t exist won’t change anything.
Terrorism is disgusting, but reading Osama Bin Laden’s speeches helped me to accept that others in the world have twisted forms of thinking. A lesson I learned from Mein Kampf was that it’s very easy to distort rage and sadness to monstrous levels of genocide. I do not deny the evils of Al-Qaeda or Nazi Germany. Just because I read these speeches and books does not mean I believe everything that was said.
However, as awful as they are, I still got value out of them. This value isn’t easily monetized. People do not want to hear about the insights one gains from reading the works of an evil man. However, I did not read Osama Bin Laden or Adolf Hitler so I could brag or make money. I did it because I was curious and I valued my intellectual and moral development. Due to that, my knowledge of the world has increased.
It’s not good for you, or for anyone, when you close yourself off into a comfortable bubble of ignorance. Reading your enemies will often leave you offended, shocked, angry and upset. But that’s also the result of studying history. The world does not exist to make anyone feel comfortable all of the time. By reading your enemies, you will discover truths about yourselves and others.
I plan to read more from Mao Zedong and other terrible people. Yet reading your enemies is not just dictators and terrorists. The term is generally applied to those who disagree with you. Although I do not recommend treating those who think differently as ‘enemies’ it is always beneficial to leave your echo chamber, and understand your opponents.
Yes, that means buying their books or listening to their podcasts. Even if you think your opponent is a ‘bad person.’ (If you don’t want to spend money, try a library.) For example, I am no fan of Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility. Her words are divisive, patronizing and ugly. Yet it’s vital that I read her work, as she is influential and winning the hearts and minds of big businesses and governments in the United States. I must know my enemy.
Reading the writings of your enemies is not ‘evil’ or a failing on your part. It’s a sign of a curious mind that engages in strategy and intellectual development. Not only that, but it may help you see your opponents as human (which they are, whether you like it or not). Because of that, reading your enemies also contributes to your ethical and moral development.
Besides, how can you know your enemy if you don’t pay attention?
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