Free Speech & Peace

Sarah Ruger on working together across divides

February 26, 2021

On February 17, Sarah Ruger, director for Free Speech & Peace at the Charles Koch Institute, published an op-ed in The Chronicle of Philanthropy discussing how philanthropists must work together across political divides to cure extremism. Subscribers can read the op-ed here.

From the op-ed:

No matter where else our views may diverge, we can agree that violence and extremism are never acceptable. As grant makers, our work will be more effective if we can cross political and cultural divides and focus our giving where it is likely to have the greatest impact. Based on what we know works to treat infectious disease, here are three places where grant makers can strategically direct their dollars:

Tracking and research. To treat the infection, we first need to identify where it is and how it spreads. By mapping the spread and researching its causes and cures, we can establish the extent of the challenge and discover effective cures. Organizations such as Network Contagion Research Institute, a nonprofit that tracks disinformation trends, are expanding our understanding of how propaganda, bigotry, and hate fester and grow.

Prevention. Developing intellectual and social antibodies builds up our immunity to disinformation and hate. We need to expose people directly to those with different ideas and political identities and empower them with both the space and tools to discredit ugly ideas and engage in constructive debate. For instance, Braver Angels hosts workshops to bring together people with differing viewpoints — not to develop compromise or consensus but simply to discover each other as citizens of the same republic.

Treatment. Once we have mapped the spread of the disease, we can develop sound interventions to address the current crisis and inoculate ourselves against future outbreaks. That involves working with patients when an outbreak occurs and providing a path back to wellness even for the sickest. The methods used to bring people back from cults, for example, could be a model for de-radicalization. Organizations such as Life After Hate, founded by former extremists, help people leave violent far-right groups.

Ultimately, we can’t cure intolerance by shouting at each other across a political and cultural divide. That can only happen in an environment in which people are capable of peacefully holding even the deepest differences. To win the battle against viral hate, leading thinkers and philanthropists must join with those across the culture — in politics, education, and business — to build a society-wide effort to match the efforts of those who are spreading hate and misinformation. Our institutions are ill, but not beyond saving.

The Charles Koch Institute inspires and invests in social entrepreneurs developing solutions to America’s most pressing problems. Read more about our support for social entrepreneurs committed to free speech and peace.