Your enemies aren’t always the people you think they are.

See, most people have this odd sort of assumption that one’s enemies are people one disagrees with a lot. For instance, if they’re a libertarian, they might assume their enemies are Marxists. But I’m a left-libertarian and I actually like Marx quite a lot (although I disagree with him); I have found several Communist thinkers deeply insightful and count several Marxists among my friends. I disagree with them a lot but they aren’t my enemies. Similarly, while I’m an atheist, I harbor no particular ill-will towards religious people.

My actual enemies make me ruminate for hours and hours about all the things that are wrong with their positions. I feel scared and sad and my stomach is tight when I read things they write. I want to curl in a ball and cry, or lash out and show them everything that’s wrong with everything they think. As it happens, most of my actual enemies agree with me more than the people I don’t really care about. I don’t care about redpillers; I find some of them interesting to argue with and some of them funny, but none of them threatening. But there are some anti-feminists where I have had to ban myself from interacting with them because every time I do I behave in a way I regret.

For me, when someone’s positions are far enough different from mine, I don’t think of them as being able to hurt me. Their friends aren’t my friends; no one will be cruel to me because of their arguments; they might try to get some ridiculous law passed, but while the Overton window isn’t exactly in a great place no laws that could realistically get passed are going to make my life anything less than cushy. And while I do try to care about other people, I am self-centered enough that I can only hate people who are going to hurt me, not people who are going to hurt others. So the people I viscerally hate are mostly people who agree with me about 99% of everything. And while a lot of people are different from me– obviously! Look at the amount of hate that Trump supporters get!– I think some people are the same.

And that’s scary. Naturally, people– not having access to other people’s internal state of feeling scared and sad and angry and ruminating about how terrible the other person is– use the heuristic “people who disagree with someone about a lot of things are that person’s enemies.” So people like me can get a reputation for being kind and charitable and forgiving to their enemies without actually ever being kind or charitable or forgiving to any actual enemies. When they are vicious and cruel to their actual enemies, misrepresenting their positions and insulting them personally, everyone is like “well, that guy had to deserve it. After all, so-and-so is nice to all their enemies! Therefore they definitely responded to this person in a reasonable and kind way!”

There’s no get-out-of-jail-free card here. If you’re a preacher at a church in Tennessee, you have to pray for the soul of Osama Bin Laden. If you’re a liberal in California, you have to have empathy for the Trump voter. If you’re me, you have to be kind to the person who slightly disagrees with you on an issue. When you love your enemies, you have to love the person it is hardest for you to love. Anything else is cheating.