The Dignity Index has released scores related to Senate candidate messages in the penultimate week of the campaign.
The FBI issued a memo last week warning of a rising likelihood of political violence. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released today says that nearly nine in ten Americans are worried about it.
What can we do?
If someone tells us the cause of violence is economic issues, or the decline of institutions, or the loss of public trust, there’s just not much we can do.
But Amanda Ripley, author of the recent book High Conflict, says, “Political speech, we know from the research, can incite violence, and it can also reduce the likelihood of violence.”
What’s the difference between speech that increases or reduces the chance of violence?
Dignity and contempt.
Throughout history, across cultures, and around the world, the language that leads to violence follows a predictable script – it descends from “those people are different,” to “we’re better than they are,” to “they’re bad people,” to “they’re evil people,” to “they’re trying to destroy us” to “we have to destroy them first.”
The threat of violence doesn’t come from disagreements; it comes from contempt.
Contempt is the problem, and dignity is the problem-solver.
This is not just good news – it’s empowering news – because it gives all of us something we can do to make a difference. Choose dignity over contempt every day in what we say, what we watch, what we read, what we post.
None of us alone can change the country, but all of us can change ourselves – at least a little. And if all of us can change a little, we can change a lot.
Evan McMullin – NBC News interview 10/16/22
“Certainly, we have in Senator Romney someone who has gotten a lot done for our state and our country working across party lines to get things done. With Senator Lee we get none of that. He sits on his hands until it’s time to vote no, and then he goes and complains about our country on cable news, and I’m just not going to do that.”
A defining feature of FOUR is mocking or attacking someone for their beliefs, their commitment, their competence, their performance – without citing specific words, actions, decisions or outcomes. “He sits on his hands until it’s time to vote ‘no’” is not a specific challenge that can be debated. “Complains about our country” suggests “Not one of us,” also a feature of FOUR. To challenge someone and still treat them with dignity means leaving out language that implies that they are reckless or lazy or irresponsible and instead makes a challenging case with fact-based specifics.
Mike Lee – Fox News Channel Interview 10/12/2022
“I am asking him here again tonight right now, Mitt if you would like to protect the Republican majority, give us any chance of seizing the Republican majority once again, getting it away from the Democrats who are facilitating this massive spending spree, massive inflationary binge, please get on board, help me win reelection.”
FOUR means contempt based on a person’s commitment, competence, performance. It is not grounded in specific claims such as “your party voted for this, which led to that, which has now resulted in this.” FOUR doesn’t criticize what you did, but “the kind of person you are.” The purpose of phrases like “massive spending spree, massive inflationary binge” is to imply that the other side is reckless, irresponsible and immature. Statements of this sort both express and encourage contempt – and make it harder to solve problems with the people you’re talking about.
Evan McMullin – Salt Lake Chamber Interview 10/13/22
“I really think the number one thing is, going back to this, the way we find common ground to solve problems. I mean we’re all familiar as Utahns with many of these examples where you have two different interests who have seemingly nothing in common and lots in difference and they find common ground to solve problems and we’ve led on so many issues in that way and I think we just need that approach, more of that approach, in Washington.”
The defining feature of SIX is to reach out to the other side and seek common interests and values and use them as a basis for cooperation. This passage from Mr. McMullin is a clear statement of support for the principles expressed in SIX.
Mike Lee – The Michael Knowles Show Podcast 10/30/2022
“When we get back, I really do think we will be on a short leash from the American people, with good reason. We will be on a short leash in the sense that people will expect us to put an end to all of the nonsense that Joe Biden is perpetrating on the American People.”
Every score from FOUR through ONE expresses contempt for the other side – but each scale point downward expresses contempt of a different intensity and focused on a different aspect of the other side. The contempt at FOUR is focused on whether you’re one of us, whether you’re working for us, whether you share values with us, and ultimately, whether you’re competent and capable like us. “All of the nonsense that Joe Biden is perpetrating on the American people,” is a charge that that President is reckless or irresponsible. It’s a way of saying “he’s in over his head” or “he doesn’t know what he’s doing.” This is the lightest level of contempt. It’s not saying he’s a morally bad person. It’s not saying that he’s evil. But it’s important to point out that contempt in any amount can be poisonous, and continuous doses can be deadly. Contempt makes it harder to talk to each other, and that makes it harder to solve problems together, and that makes it harder to hold our democracy together.
Evan McMullin – Salt Lake Chamber Interview 10/13/22
“Right now we have a senator, my opponent, who has embraced the politics of division and extremism. Who has, you know, in 12 years of service only introduced six bills that have become law. Three of them named, two of them named post offices, one of them named a veteran center and the other three were insignificant as well. We need someone who is going to go to Washington to represent our interests and to actually do the work. The job is not only to vote no on every bill and go complain about it on Fox News, the job is to actually work with Republicans and Democrats, work with one’s colleagues in the senate to solve problems.”
The sole purpose of a number of these phrases is to encourage contempt for Senator Lee. “In 12 years, he’s introduced only six bills that have become law – two of them named post offices.” “The job is not only to vote no on every bill and go complain about it on FOX News.” Mr. McMullin’s point is to say that Senator Lee is silly, that he’s not a serious person. That is a FOUR, charging someone as reckless, irresponsible or immature. To make his point with dignity for himself and his opponent, Mr. McMullin could make a short statement about his opponent’s legislative accomplishments, and then pivot to his own plans to make an impact as a Senator.
Mike Lee – Take 2 Podcast KUTV 10/18/22
“I have long been a proponent of updating and modernizing our immigration legal system, and also dealing with those who are currently here in an unlawful status in the United States. There is no group of people in that latter category more sympathetic than those who were brought here by no choice of their own but still in an undocumented status. I don’t personally know anyone in either party and either House of congress who believes the answer is mass deportation of all those who are here unlawfully who were brought here as children or as infants. I do think something has to be done about it but in order to have the consensus necessary to address it we do have to have a secure border.”
This is a clear statement on a contentious issue expressing common views across the partisan divide. This statement offers an opportunity to compare the effect of dignity with the effect of contempt. A statement of contempt spreads contempt — sympathetic listeners will feel contempt for the other side, and the other side will feel contempt for the speaker and his allies. By contrast, a statement like the one above is soothing to all sides.
About The Dignity Index project
The Dignity Index is an eight-point scale that measures what we do when we disagree. The scale ranges from one — which sees no dignity at all in the other side — to eight, which sees the dignity in everyone. Each point on the scale reflects a particular mindset, and each mindset is associated with certain beliefs and behaviors that reflect how open we are to the other side. As a broad rule, if I treat you with dignity, it means that I can see myself in you; if I treat you with contempt, it means I see myself above you.
Dignity in public debate involves making proposals, declaring values, stating goals and discussing decisions, actions, and outcomes. It includes listening carefully, and asking for more information. It means debating why something worked or didn’t work, whether it will work or why it won’t.
Contempt in public debate relies on mocking others, calling them names, attacking their motives and character, ridiculing their background or beliefs, and lumping them together in large groups under negative labels, declaring them dangerous, and blaming them for bad outcomes.
When we treat the other side with dignity, we make it easier to solve problems. When we treat others with contempt, we make it impossible to solve problems – because contempt takes away our ability to talk to each other.
Powered by UNITE, a national movement to encourage Americans to reject “us vs. them” thinking and stand together in common purpose, The Dignity Index was developed in partnership with behavioral scientists and other experts, and the demonstration project is being guided by researchers at the University of Utah. Learn more at dignityindex.us.