Stirreth Up the People

Lindon J. Robison

Lindon J. Robison, "Stirreth Up the People," Religious Educator 25, no. 1 (2024): 61–96.

Lindon J. Robison ( is a professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics at Michigan State University and a former seminary and institute instructor.

a group of friendsIt matters who your friends are, and it matters what kind of friend you are. It matters how you spend your time and who you spend it with. Photo by Jose Maria Calsina Val,

Abstract: Relationships between people are influenced by what they share, their commonalities. Empathy is an important commonality enabling people to internalize each other’s well-being and create empathetic networks that can provide important economic and social advantages. Shared antipathy for another person or group is another commonality enabling people to create cheap networks. Cheap networks are inexpensive to create, but they are unlikely to provide the economic and social advantages of empathetic ones. Cheap networks focus mainly on defensive and destructive acts that often produce costly consequences. In addition, they can be taken over by strong leaders who use them to pursue their selfish ends. Cheap networks can be created by blaming others for unfavorable outcomes, lying, and ignoring the will of the people. This article describes and illustrates the high cost of cheap networks and how to discourage their formation using modern and Book of Mormon examples.

Keywords: welfare, consecration, charity, unity, Book of Mormon

“[Satan] stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.” (2 Nephi 9:9)

This paper is about the high cost of cheap networks, whose members are connected to each other by their antipathy for the same person or group (I refer to such networks elsewhere as cheap social capital networks). I write about cheap networks because they are ubiquitous and we need to know how to recognize and avoid them. We also need to know how to avoid creating them. To begin this paper, I describe why relationships matter, how commonalities influence relationships, the importance of relational and attachment value goods, and the economic and social advantages of belonging to empathetic networks. Then I use modern and Book of Mormon examples to describe how Satan stirs up the people to create cheap networks that often produce costly consequences. Finally, I propose that the antidote for cheap networks and their costly consequences is to build empathetic and inclusive networks, whose many social and economic advantages are widely shared.

Relationships Matter

Relationships—the ways in which people are connected—matter. They matter economically, and they influence where we work, where and what we study, where we go on vacation, how we worship, where we live, what language we speak, and who we hang out with. Regarding relationships, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland declared that “it matters . . . who your friends are, and it matters what kind of friend you are. It matters how you spend your time and who you spend it with.”[1] Significantly, the Lord described his disciples by their relationships to each other—that they are one as he and his father are one (see John 17:21).

Although relationships are unlikely to form between people who share antipathy for each other, one-way empathetic relationships do exist. In these relationships, the Lord encouraged us to love our enemies (see Matthew 5:43–45), share with those who ask (see v. 42), return good for evil even if that requires a long walk (see v. 41), give away our cloak (see v. 40), and turn the other cheek (see vv. 38–39). Consider the following examples that demonstrate the importance of empathetic relationships.

Relationships among early leaders of the Church. During the early days of the Church, relationships mattered and were key in moving the work of the Lord forward. Martin Harris, a neighbor and friend to Joseph Smith’s family, financed the first printing of the Book of Mormon and was one of its first three witnesses. Oliver Cowdery, who was also one of the first witnesses of the Book of Mormon, lived in the Smiths’ home and learned from them about the Restoration. Oliver then met and became friends with David Whitmer, to whom he described the Restoration. The news of the Restoration excited many members of the Whitmer family, including Joseph, Christian, Jacob, Peter, and John Whitmer, as well as their brother-in-law Hiram Page. Eventually these members of the Whitmer family became Book of Mormon witnesses, along with Joseph Smith’s father, Joseph Smith Sr., and brothers Hyrum Smith and Samuel Smith. After the Book of Mormon was published, Samuel Smith had lunch with Phineas H. Young and offered him a copy of the Book of Mormon. Phineas subsequently read the book, became convinced that it was true, and shared it with his father, John Young, who found it to be the greatest book that he had ever read. John then shared the book with his sister Fanny Murray. She was the mother-in-law of Heber C. Kimball, a man who eventually became an Apostle and a member of the First Presidency of the Church. Relationships, like a large gospel net, facilitated the gathering of many early converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Relationships among Christ’s disciples. Relationships mattered when Christ chose his disciples. John the Baptist, a prominent disciple of Christ, was his cousin. One of Christ’s first disciples, Andrew, shared his testimony of the Savior with his brother Peter. Andrew and Peter became two of the original twelve Apostles. Andrew and Peter likely lived in the same city as Philip, whom they introduced to Jesus. Philip accepted Jesus’s invitation to become one of his disciples and subsequently invited his friend Nathanael to come and see Jesus. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were fishing partners with Peter (see Luke 5:10), a partnership that was enhanced once they became Christ’s Apostles. Furthermore, some scholars have found evidence that Jesus’s half-brothers (or at least his close relatives), James, Joses, Simon, and Judah, may also have been called as Apostles.[2]

Relationships and increased happiness. In a seventy-five-year longitudinal study, Robert Waldinger and his colleagues repeatedly examined the same individuals over time to detect any overall changes to their well-being. Waldinger explained that “social connections are really good for us and that loneliness kills.” He went on, explaining the study’s results: “People who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected.”[3]

In the Book of Mormon, a two-hundred-year period of peace and friendly relationships existed between the Nephites and Lamanites, and “surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God” (4 Nephi 1:16); indeed, they were “rich, because of their prosperity in Christ” (4 Nephi 1:23).

Reflection. Relationships matter because we cannot get to where we want to go and become without them. We depend on relationships for what we eat, what we learn, where we live, how we worship, and whom we fight with. Most importantly, Christ taught about relationships when he commanded that we should love God, ourselves, others, and our enemies. He taught that we should build relationships by sharing with those who ask, returning good for evil, and doing for others what we ask God to do for us.[4] Indeed, the heart of gospel living focuses on building and maintaining relationships of empathy. Finally, regarding family relationships, President Russell M. Nelson taught that the earth was created so that families could be formed and sealed to each other, and that while salvation is an individual matter, exaltation is a family matter because “no one can be exalted alone.”[5]

Relationships and Commonalities

Relationships depend on what connects us, what I call commonalities.[6] Commonalities are what we have in common—our identities, values, experiences, likes, and dislikes. Related to commonalities is homophily, the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with others with whom they share commonalities. Homophily can be described by this proverb: birds of a feather flock together. Consider the nature of commonalities.

Earned versus inherited commonalities. Some relationships depend on earned commonalities such as where we work, play, or worship. Other relationships depend on inherited commonalities such as our genealogy, first language, or nationality of our parents.[7] Earned commonalities can also include covenants, commitments, and agreements that connect us to each other. In Genesis, we learn that we all share an inherited commonality: we are all created in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26–27).

Durability of commonalities. The durability of relationships depends on whether commonalities are earned or inherited. Earned commonalities require effort to maintain, and if they are neglected, they become less important for the relationship in the future. For example, if employment is a commonality and people change employment, then employment becomes a less important commonality in their future relationships. However, if the relationship depends on inherited commonalities—such as the familial ties—it will always exist, although the commonality’s importance in a relationship varies. In addition to inherited commonalities, some covenant commonalities can also be the basis for durable relationships. For example, marriage covenants can provide a lifelong connection for couples and can facilitate the creation and maintenance of long-term relationships.

The commonalities of Christ’s disciples. The relationship among Christ’s disciples depends on important commonalities: they believe alike and are not divided by competing doctrines (see Ephesians 4:14); they share their commodities with each other so that there are no poor or rich among them (see 4 Nephi 1:3); and they make covenants and promises to bear each other’s burdens and to care for, comfort, and cheer on each other in good and bad times (see Mosiah 18:9). King Benjamin, in his valedictory address, reminded his people of the commonalities he shared with them, experiencing the same manner of infirmities of mind and body (see Mosiah 2:11). Today, Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught that the major reason Christ organized his church was to “to create a community of Saints that will sustain one another in the ‘[straight] and narrow path which leads to eternal life.’”[8]

People as commonalities. Shared friends can be an important commonality that creates and sustains relationships. Suppose Person A has relationships with unconnected Persons B and C. Then Person A could act as a commonality that connects Persons B and C. Indeed, how many couples have been connected by a common friend (my wife and I, for one)? How many members joined the Church because a friend was a commonality between them and the missionaries? As discussed earlier in this paper, Oliver Cowdery was the commonality between Joseph Smith and David Whitmer; David Whitmer was the commonality between his brothers and Hiram Page; Andrew was the commonality between his brother, Peter, and the Savior; and Philip was the commonality between his friend Nathanael and the Savior.

Empathy as a commonality. The commonality most able to sustain a relationship is empathy, more important than all the commonalities that we can earn or inherit. While other commonalities wax and wane in importance, empathy and its cousins—compassion, care, sympathy, comfort, and charity, which Moroni taught “seeketh not her own” (Moroni 7:45)—will never fail to hold us together.[9] It is empathy that enables us to internalize each other’s well-being, and it is empathy that provides us with a taste of Christ’s perfect love that made it possible for him to internalize all of humanity’s conditions (see 1 Nephi 11:22).[10]

Antipathy as a commonality. If empathy is the commonality most able to sustain a relationship, then antipathy for each other is the one most able to maintain separations between people and most likely to produce defensive and destructive outcomes. However, when people share antipathy for the same person, group, or thing, their shared antipathy becomes a powerful commonality capable of creating what some call a “strange bedfellows” type of relationship.[11]

Commonalities and “us” versus “them.” To explain how commonalities can lead to the separation of people into “us” versus “them” groups, Henri Tajfel and John Turner introduced a theory of social identity. Social identity theory implies that people join social networks based on their commonalities. The networks to which people belong become important when they contribute to people’s self-esteem and sense of who they are because (1) people tend to adopt the identity of recognized network members, and (2) people tend to highlight their own positive qualities alongside the negative qualities of those not in their network. For example, the Book of Mormon describes how people separated themselves into networks based on inherited commonalities, which then created an “us” versus “them” worldview: “And the people were divided one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land” (3 Nephi 7:2).

Reflection. Relationships often begin with a commonality. If the relationship continues, then additional commonalities are likely to develop and strengthen the relationship. For example, Christ called twelve Apostles, creating a commonality among them. Then, because of their association with Christ and each other, they developed other commonalities, forging connections that even the threat of death could not break.

Empathetic Relationships and Relational Goods

Commonalities among people and groups enable them to produce and exchange commodities and relational goods. Commodities are goods whose value depends mostly on their physical properties (like size, shape, color, taste, etc.) and their ability to provide physical services. Relational goods are intangible signals that are exchanged among people and groups, satisfying emotional needs for belonging, internal and external validation, and transcendence. Relational goods can also facilitate the exchange of commodities among people and groups.[12]

Producing and exchanging relational goods. We produce and exchange relational goods when we smile at, shake hands with, hug, listen to, and include others. We can also exchange relational goods with others when we share information; identify our commonalities; recognize others’ achievements; acknowledge important events; recommend a helpful book, good restaurant, or fun activity; make introductions; offer a discount; provide comfort in a crisis; or give a carefully selected gift, especially on special occasions. Being able to exchange relational goods with loved ones is why it is so important for people to be at home and with friends and family for weddings, funerals, birthdays, holidays, and reunions. It may also explain why we never want to go on vacation alone.

Empathy and exchanges of relational goods and commodities. Feeling empathy for others makes our interest in their well-being genuine, enabling us to produce and exchange relational goods. Furthermore, when we include relational goods in exchanges of commodities, we often exchange commodities on favorable terms, which leads to the production and exchange of more relational goods and commodities in a virtuous cycle.

Measuring empathy. Although some commonalities may produce transactional relationships that join people and groups in favorable commodity exchanges, the commonality of empathy does more: it enables people and groups to simultaneously pursue their own interests as well as those of others.[13] We can measure the importance of empathy in relationships by noting the sacrifices people are willing to make for others: What are they willing to sacrifice? For how long? For how many? How free from selfishness is the sacrifice? As Jesus taught, “Greater love [empathy] has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, NIV).

Understanding empathy and the exchange of relational goods can help us better understand Christ’s ministry. For example, the Savior’s empathy for Mary and Martha led him to weep with them when their brother Lazarus died even though Christ knew he would soon raise Lazarus from the dead. Their relationships were strengthened by this exchange of relational goods (see John 11:35–44). A favorite hymn describes people who touch each other’s lives by exchanging relational goods: “What greater gift dost thou bestow / What greater goodness can we know / Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways / Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.”[14]

Reflection. The concept of exchanging relational goods is consistent with many gospel teachings. In the Book of Mormon, Alma encouraged new converts to bear one another’s burdens, to mourn with those that mourn, and to comfort those in need of comfort (see Mosiah 18:8–9). Finally, in our congregations, we encourage each other to exchange relational goods by singing words such as: “Scatter sunshine all along your way. / Cheer and bless and brighten / Every passing day.”[15] Perhaps, relational goods are the sunshine we have so long sang about scattering.

Relational and Attachment Value Goods

Attachment value goods are defined here as physical or symbolic things that have been embedded with relational goods. When this occurs, the value and meaning of things change because they become associated with the exchange of relational goods within empathetic networks. The distinguishing characteristic of attachment value goods is that their value and meaning is different from that which is established by their physical characteristics. For instance, flags (attachment value goods) are different from pieces of cloth (things). Flowers (things) won as a door prize are different from the same flowers (attachment value goods) given as a gift. Additionally, hometowns, paintings, photos, rings, rituals, celebrations, firesides, and food can all become attachment value goods if they are associated with the exchange of relational goods. Furthermore, sacred clothing, scriptures, homes, ceremonies, and the emblems of the sacrament—all sacred symbols associated with deity—qualify as attachment value goods.[16]

Empathy and the value of attachment value goods. Attachment value goods are valuable for at least three reasons: (1) they can provide people with commonalities that facilitate exchanges between them, even when they are separated by various barriers; (2) they provide incentives to preserve things with value that transcends their physical properties; (3) they can motivate us to sustain institutions upon which societies depend to perform peaceful exchanges.

Attachment value goods and connections. When people cannot exchange relational goods one-on-one, they can often exchange them through their connections to the same attachment value goods, even if they are separated by time, distance, or population density. Members of the Church share attachment value for the same covenants and religious symbols, participate in the same ordinances, and believe in the same doctrines. These shared attachment value goods connect us. Similarly, attachment value objects such as family heirlooms, keepsakes, journals, trophies, and certificates allow people to exchange relational goods with those who have died. Flags, patriotic songs, pledges, and national ceremonies can connect us as citizens even though we are separated physically. School colors, songs, mascots, and the people we met at school, can all connect us to our alma maters. In the Book of Mormon, Captain Moroni connected and committed his people to the cause of freedom by creating a high attachment value good by turning his coat and an inspired saying into a flag; then he displayed his standard of freedom across the land, and the people flocked to his cause (see Alma 46). Later in the Book of Mormon, a different Moroni recorded another example of people being connected by attachment value goods: “And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls. And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus” (Moroni 6:5–6).

Attachment value goods and preservation. Because both commodities and attachment value goods are important to our well-being, and because the former satisfies physical needs and the latter satisfies socio-emotional needs,[17] goods can and should be valued for both. Consequently, preserving goods only for their commodity values would lead to a misallocation of resources. This concept was illustrated in 1823 when Moroni warned Joseph Smith that Satan would try to tempt him “to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich” (Joseph Smith—History 1:46), for their commodity value. Another example of preserving an attachment value good occurred during the 2010 Christmas season in Provo, Utah, after a fire had mostly destroyed the Provo Tabernacle. The tabernacle held great attachment value for members of the Church in the area, and had the building been valued only as a commodity, the practical economic choice would have been to raze it and repurpose the space it had occupied. However, because of the tabernacle’s high attachment value, President Thomas S. Monson announced that, at a cost of millions of dollars, the burned-out Provo Tabernacle would be reconstructed as a temple.[18] In sum, high attachment value goods are often preserved and restored even though such reinvestments cannot be justified by commodity gains.

Attachment value goods and sustainable institutions. Institutions, including laws, codes, customs, and rules, can acquire attachment value. In fact, an orderly society requires that its institutions acquire attachment value, otherwise selfish individuals would often find it to their advantage to ignore them.

In 2012, Jackson et al. reviewed the reasons people obey the law in a study on the influence of legal institutions. The traditional explanation for why people obey the law is that they want to avoid sanctions and penalties. However, according to Jackson et al., people comply with the law because they believe it is the right thing to do. Furthermore, when institutions (laws) are fairly administered in the eyes of the people, institutions (and their laws) acquire attachment value, allowing society to avoid the costs, danger, and alienation that are associated with policies based on external rules that are underpinned by deterrents.[19] Indeed, the creation of attachment value for society’s institutions may be one of empathy’s most important societal contributions.

Reflection. To satisfy our needs, we require more than commodities and bread (see Matthew 4:4). We also have socio-emotional needs that require relational and attachment value goods for our happiness.[20]

Economic Advantages of Empathy

Adam Smith described an “invisible hand of selfishness” that some have claimed produce the best good for the most people.[21] Despite these claims, there are many advantages of empathetic networks (compared to selfish ones) that are described next.

Specialization, trade, and increased productivity. In general, people are more productive when they specialize in doing what they do best and then trading for what they can no longer produce themselves. However, these practices are even more successful when people care for and have confidence in each other.[22] Perhaps this empathy is the economic advantage that accounts for the success of family-owned businesses, which employ over ninety-eight million people in the US and are responsible for 78 percent of all new job creation.[23] Additionally, when relational goods are included in commodity exchanges, network members are more likely to trade commodities—and to trade them on favorable terms.[24] This economic advantage of specialization was demonstrated during the winter of 1845 and 1846, when the Nauvoo Saints (an empathetic network) divided the workload of wagon construction into specialized tasks that many people could work on simultaneously. In this way, they were able to make nearly 1,500 wagons by Thanksgiving of 1845, and another 2,000 were partially completed by midwinter,[25] an incredible feat considering that it requires a modern wainwright with some assistants about 6–8 weeks to build a comparable wagon today.[26]

Collective action. Sometimes, many people contribute to large-scale projects whose benefits are difficult to distribute based on their individual efforts. In such cases, it may be challenging to motivate enough people to participate in the collective action. However, if members of the group internalize the benefits received by other members, then individual rewards will become less important. To illustrate, Steven Hanson and I found that classroom project collaboration increased with empathy.[27] Heber C. Kimball described the Saints’ unity and collective effort that led to the construction of the Kirtland Temple: “The whole church [was] united in this undertaking, and every man lent a helping hand. Those who had no teams went to work in the stone quarry and prepared the stones for drawing to the house. . . . Then every Saturday we brought out every team to draw stone to the Temple, and so we continued until that house was finished; and our wives were all the time knitting, spinning and sewing, and . . . doing all kinds of work.”[28]

Increased production of public goods. A public good is one whose benefits are nonexcludable (meaning that a person cannot exclude others from enjoying its benefits) and nondepletable (meaning that one person’s use of a public good does not diminish its availability for use by others). Streetlights are a good example of a public good: passersby cannot easily be excluded from their benefits, and their supply is not diminished when others enjoy the light.

Unfortunately, some people underinvest in public goods because their individual benefits are less (or perceived to be less) than their individual cost. However, when people internalize the benefits of public goods for others (that is, when they empathize with others), the additional benefits are often sufficient to make the public good investment attractive.

Many examples of empathy increasing the production of public goods exist, including among the Nauvoo Saints. Nauvoo neighbors dug drainage ditches to reduce the breeding ground for mosquitos and increase tillable land. Together, they produced plays, created schools and a university, and constructed the Nauvoo Temple.[29] Later, on the plains, they grew gardens, planted crops, and improved the trail for the benefit of those who would follow them to the valley of the Great Salt Lake.[30]

Managing common resources. The term commons (or common resource) refers to shared resources whose rate of extraction by stakeholders cannot be controlled by other stakeholders.[31] As a result, there is a tendency for common property resources to be overused and their service capacity to be exhausted. Although commons originally referred to common land, commons now generally refers to common property, which includes information, natural resources (such as clean air, clean water, and wildlife), and shared urban spaces. The failure to regulate the use of the commons is referred to as the tragedy of the commons,[32] a term that describes a condition wherein individuals are guided by their selfish interests as opposed to the interests of the group, and thus overuse and often destroy the commons resource.[33]

Traffic congestion exemplifies the tragedy of the commons. As more and more drivers in urban areas treat clean air as a public resource, pollution from traffic congestion contributes to over “2,200 premature deaths annually in the United States alone.”[34] In a contrary example that demonstrates the economic advantage of empathy, Nobel Prize–winning social scientist Elinor Ostrom described a time when Swiss dairy farmers employed their connections to each other (that is, their empathy) to avoid the tragedy of the commons and properly managed their common grazing land.[35]

Another way to manage a common property is to assign private property rights. In communities settled by the pioneers in the West, water was scarce but was also a common property resource; but the influx of Saints settling in Utah required a comprehensive solution that would regulate and preserve their scarce water resources in the face of the Saints’ increased agricultural activity. In response to this need, and due to their religious principles, the Saints established a water allocation system favoring the shared use of that resource, a system that was guided by the principle of beneficial use. During that time, Brigham Young stressed that the Saints as a people would have greater success in developing the valley (and managing their water) by working together rather than individually.[36] However, the beneficial use philosophy was later replaced by the West’s “first come, first served” water rights doctrine of today.[37] Unfortunately, selfish and antipathetic networks have in many cases failed to properly manage exhaustible and publicly owned natural resources. To remedy this issue, people must create incentives (such as empathy) for future users and attachment value for exhaustible resources so that our world is cared for and protected. Without these remedies—empathy for future users and attachment values for the scarce resource—we will deplete or misuse our exhaustible resources.

Reduced commodity inequality. An important economic principle teaches that consumers allocate their resources among consumption alternatives to maximize their satisfaction, sometimes referred to as utility. However, empathetic consumers will consider how much satisfaction the object of their empathy would receive from the same expenditure, and if that expenditure would benefit the object of their empathy more than consuming the commodity themselves. And if so, they will likely share. This phenomenon serves to reduce the commodity disparities within an empathetic network and is illustrated by these lyrics: “Because I have been sheltered, fed / By thy good care; / I cannot see another’s lack and I not share / My glowing fire, my loaf of bread, / My roof’s safe shelter overhead / That he too may be comforted.”[38] An example of people whose empathy led them to exchange commodities for relational goods was shown in 2020. In this instance, Americans’ desire to reduce commodity inequality led them to donate “a record $471 billion” to charities during a global pandemic in exchange for knowing that they were helping other people.[39]

Reflection. In the Book of Mormon, Alma the Younger described some of the economic advantages that existed among members of the Church because of their empathy for each other. He recorded that they labored according to their strength, they did not distinguish themselves with differences regarding the things that they possessed, and those who had more shared with those who had less, including those who were sick and afflicted. Then, because of the steadiness of the Church, the members acquired an abundance of grain, gold, silver, silk, fine-twined linen, and good cloth. In the end, these members became far happier and wealthier than those who did not belong to the Church (see Alma 1:26–31).

Stirring Up the People and Cheap Networks

One person working alone can only do so much, whereas networks of people can specialize, trade, and increase their productivity. People who feel antipathy toward each other are unlikely to form a network, much less exchange commodities and relational goods. However, when they share antipathy for the same person or group, their antipathy can become the commonality needed to build a cheap network. Consider the nature of cheap networks.

Abundantly cheap. The main resource required to create and maintain cheap networks is an object (an individual or group) who can be viewed with antipathy and related feelings of fear and disdain. Available objects include strangers, those who are different from us, those whose success can be viewed as threatening our own, and those who we believe have wronged us in the past. Cheap networks, compared to empathetic ones, are cheap because objects needed to create them are abundant and inexpensive to create.

Cheap imitations. Cheap networks are also cheap because the commodities they produce are inferior substitutes for those produced in empathetic networks. Instead of producing commodities for consumption, their focus tends to be on destructive and defensive efforts that consume resources while producing limited societal benefits. And instead of producing relational goods that satisfy the need for belonging and for internal and external validation, the networks produce exclusion and depreciate people’s worth.

Inefficient production. Cheap networks use inefficient production methods and reduce opportunities for specialization and trade by separating networks from their objects.

Being defensive without being cheap. It is likely that sometimes we will be viewed as the object of someone’s cheap network and be required to adopt defensive and destructive measures to defend ourselves. Sporting events can sometimes present such a scenario. On such occasions, we may ask if we need to form cheap networks to succeed. Captain Moroni demonstrated that such challenges do not require the formation of a cheap network. He avoided stirring up the people to form a cheap network even when he was required to fight a war to defend his people against their enemies. Instead, he united his people to defend themselves against their enemy by connecting them to each other. He inspired his people’s “hearts with these thoughts—yea, the thoughts of their lands, their liberty, yea, their freedom from bondage” (Alma 43:48).

Reflection. Sometimes cheap networks appear to be an attractive alternative to empathetic ones because they are less expensive to create and maintain. It can be costly to commit to be a friend, to provide resources in time of need, or to rescue someone in a crisis. Sometimes we may feel we lack the skills necessary to create, join, and sustain empathetic networks. Similarly, we may have experienced being disappointed by friends in the past. Still, Christlike friends, whose gentle ways strengthen our faith and enrich our days, bestow life’s greatest gift.[40] Christlike friendships are worth the effort even though they are more difficult to create and maintain than a cheap network.

Why Stir Up the People?

Because empathetic networks provide so many benefits for their members, it is hard to understand why some people pursue their alternatives: cheap networks and secret combinations. However, the Book of Mormon provides several explanations.

Following Christ’s visit to the Americas, the people had all become converted to the gospel and had become the happiest people God had created. Furthermore, they had all “become exceedingly rich, because of their prosperity in Christ” (4 Nephi 1:23). Among this people there were no envyings, contention, strifes, tumults, whoredoms, lyings, murders, lasciviousness, nor -ites (see vv. 15–17). Then Satan stirred up the people’s hearts to envy what others had; to settle scores; to get gain and power; and to maintain their popularity. Finally, he stirred up their hearts to avoid responsibility for their unrighteous acts, to exploit others, and to set themselves apart from and above others (see 4 Nephi 1:28; 2 Nephi 9:9).

Envy. Envy can be used to stir up the people against one another and create cheap networks. Envy desires what someone else has. Envy lacks the ability to find joy in the well-being and success of others. Therefore, envy leads people to create cheap networks when they recognize the advantages available to members of empathetic networks to which they do not belong and lack the requirements to join. In other cases, the disparities that exist between members and nonmembers of empathetic and cheap networks produce envy, which leads to defensive and destructive acts designed to reduce or eliminate such differences.[41] It was envy that led the brothers of Joseph of Egypt to form a cheap network and make Joseph the object of their antipathy so that they could eventually sell him as a slave (see Genesis 37:18–28).

To settle a score. Another reason people can be stirred up against each other is because of the desire settle a score. Consider Mordecai and Haman in the book of Esther. Mordecai was the cousin and guardian of Esther, who was the queen of Persia during the reign of King Ahasuerus. During this time, a man named Haman held the highest position in the king’s court; therefore, the king issued a decree that all should prostrate themselves before Haman. Mordecai refused, and Haman became full of wrath, vowing to kill not only Mordecai but all the Jewish exiles throughout the Persian empire. To save her people, Esther used her influence with King Ahasuerus to thwart Haman’s plan and save Mordecai and the rest of the Jewish exiles (see Esther 1–10). Haman’s desire to settle a score with Mordecai stirred him up to genocidal anger, causing him to create a cheap network and to make Mordecai and the rest of the Jewish exiles the object of his cheap network’s antipathy.

To get gain. Stirring up the people can be profitable. For example, the lawyers led by Zeezrom stirred up the people to riot, create disturbances, and commit wickedness to increase their income, which depended on the suits brought before them. They also stirred up people against Alma and Amulek for the same purpose—to get gain (see Alma 11:1–2, 20–25).

To get power. Stirring up the people can also result in members of cheap networks gaining power. For instance, after Lehi died, Laman and Lemuel sought for power by making Nephi the object of their cheap relationship. They then stirred up the people by telling them that Nephi had lied to them and that he now sought to lead them away into some strange wilderness so that he could make himself a king and ruler over them (see 1 Nephi 16:37–38). Nephi then recorded the following: “Yea, they did murmur against me, saying: Our younger brother thinks to rule over us; and we have had much trial because of him; wherefore, now let us slay him, that we may not be afflicted more because of his words. For behold, we will not have him to be our ruler; for it belongs unto us, who are the elder brethren, to rule over this people” (2 Nephi 5:3).

To maintain one’s popularity. Stirring up others can sometimes help people to maintain their popularity. Consider how Alma and Amulek’s preaching to the Zoramites threatened the popularity of their leaders and the destruction of their priestcraft (see Alma 35:3). Therefore, once the Zoramite leaders had identified those who had believed Alma and Amulek, the believers were cast out so that the Zoramite leaders’ popularity wouldn’t be diminished. Meanwhile, the people of Ammon “did nourish [the believers], and did clothe them, and did give unto them lands for their inheritance; and they did administer unto them according to their wants” (Alma 35:9). Despite the Zoramites casting out the believers, they still failed to stir up the people of Ammon against the believers, so the Zoramites chose instead to stir up their own people to anger against the people of Ammon. Then, to recruit more people to their cheap network, the Zoramites began to mix with the Lamanites and to stir them up also to anger against the believers. Thus the Zoramites and the Lamanites began to prepare for war against the people of Ammon and the Nephites, after having created cheap network objects of those who had opposed them (see Alma 35:10–11).

To avoid responsibility. Another purpose for stirring up the people and creating a cheap network is to shift blame to others. When Amalickiah became chief commander of the Lamanite army, he marched to the city of Nephi and pretended to be a loyal subject of the Lamanite king, providing his servants an opportunity to murder the king. However, when the true servants of the king witnessed the murder, they fled and became convenient scapegoats for Amalickiah, as well as useful objects around which he could form a cheap network (see Alma 47:1–26). Amalickiah’s servants then raised a cry: “Behold, the servants of the king have stabbed him to the heart, and he has fallen” (Alma 47:26). And when the army saw the king’s dead body, “Amalickiah pretended to be wroth, and said: Whosoever loved the king, let him go forth, and pursue his servants that they may be slain” (Alma 47:27).

To exploit others. Members of cheap relationships or networks sometimes stir up the people to exploit others. Zeniff desired to inherit the land of Nephi (the land of his fathers’ first inheritance), so he journeyed to the land of Nephi and appealed to King Laman for the opportunity to live among them. The king granted Zeniff’s request and gave him the land of Lehi-Nephi and Shilom, where Zeniff and his people lived and prospered (see Mosiah 9:6–9). Although the king appeared to be magnanimous in giving Zeniff and his people land, the king viewed them as objects of his cheap network and intended to exploit them. Later, Zeniff observed that “it was the cunning and the craftiness of king Laman, to bring my people into bondage, that he yielded up the land that we might possess it” (Mosiah 9:10). Then after twelve years, King Laman became worried about the growing strength of Zeniff and his people (see Mosiah 9:11), so he began “to stir up his people that they should contend with my people; therefore, there began to be wars and contentions in the land” (Mosiah 9:13).

To set oneself apart and above others. After two hundred years following the visit of Christ to the Nephites, some of them wanted to be different, set apart and above others. To that end, they began wearing “costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and . . . the fine things of the world. And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them. And they began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ” (4 Nephi 1: 24–26).

Reflection. The Savior distinguished his followers by their empathetic connections to each other—they were one (see John 17: 20–21). He invites all “to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:33). However, when such empathetic connections between people are not present, they often substitute them for cheap networks because they need support from others to achieve their goals, even if those goals are mostly destructive and defensive.

How to Stir Up the People

Networks are created and maintained with commonalities that facilitate exchanges. The main commonality among members of a cheap network is their shared antipathy for another person or group. Therefore, stirring up the people (creating cheap networks) requires finding or creating a person or group to be the object of antipathy. This process is enabled by (1) teaching members to blame or criticize others; (2) emphasizing conflicting commonalities; (3) creating cheap attachment value objects; (4) using secrets to create separations; (5) commodifying high attachment value goods; (6) refusing the will of the people; (7) flattering the people; and (8) lying, murdering, and employing intrigue.

Blame and criticize. To be an effective object of a cheap network’s antipathy, the object must be viewed as having committed a past wrong against the network, or it must be perceived to be a current threat that must be stopped with defensive or destructive measures. For example, during the time of Zeniff in the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites taught their children that because Nephi had wronged their ancestors, all Lamanites should hate the Nephites, and that they, the Lamanites, should murder, rob, and plunder the Nephites (see Mosiah 10:12–17). Similarly, during the two hundred years after Christ’s visit to the Americas, the apostates of the time maintained their cheap networks by teaching their children to disbelieve in Christ and to hate the believers and all their descendants (see 4 Nephi 1:38–39).

In a more modern example, George Orwell, the author of the 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, described a formalized process for stirring up the people. This process required that Big Brother, the dictatorial leader of Oceania, create a fictional enemy who the population of Oceania were taught to hate during “Hate Week.”[42] Thus, Big Brother was able to create a cheap network, one that upheld his totalitarian control, by teaching the people of Oceania to hate.

Emphasize conflicting commonalities. Another way to stir up the people is to make members of different networks focus on their networks’ commonality that conflicts with and cannot be reconciled with those of other networks. If different networks focus on their conflicting commonalities, these can become the basis for forming cheap networks and with each other as their objects of antipathy. Modern examples of conflicting commonalities between networks include the support for or opposition to abortion rights, immigration laws, the death penalty, gun rights, and limited government, to name a few.

Create cheap attachment value goods. Attachment value goods are important for cheap networks for the same reasons that they are important to empathetic ones—they provide connections when members of the network are separated by time, distance, or other barriers. One difference between attachment values of cheap and empathetic networks is their purpose. Attachment value goods of empathetic networks are designed to maintain their shared empathy. Cheap attachment value goods are intended to maintain shared antipathy toward and separation from the cheap network’s object.

Additionally, cheap attachment value goods are especially important during times of war and conflict. In such times, cheap attachment value goods are selected to frighten enemies and demean their attachment value goods. In the Book of Mormon, Gadianton robbers girded themselves with a lambskin dyed in blood to frighten the Nephites and desecrate their sacred symbol—the sacrificial blood of the lamb, which was intended to remind the righteous of Christ’s future Atonement (see 3 Nephi 4:7).

Create separations, often with secrets. While having shared antipathy is the main commonality for cheap networks, there are others. One is to make one’s membership in a cheap network a secret. A secret combination is also important to cheap network members because it helps them to avoid being punished for their crimes. Consider this example from the Book of Mormon. Paanchi wanted to be a ruler over the Nephites but was rejected by the people. After refusing to cede the election, he attempted to form a cheap network by flattering the people to install him as ruler despite being rejected by the people. For his efforts he was arrested and sentenced to death. Members of his cheap network then sent Kishkumen to murder Pahoran (the son of Pahoran), the rightfully elected governor. Afterwards, Kishkumen returned to those who sent him, and they made secret covenants not to reveal his nefarious deed, providing another commonality for their cheap network (see Helaman 1:6–12).

Convert high attachment value goods into commodities. Creation of cheap networks is often preceded by destroying the unity of empathetic networks, which is accomplished by destroying their high attachment value goods. The Book of Mormon describes such an effort. After two hundred years of peace following Christ’s visit, the people abandoned their commonality of having their goods and substance in common and subsequently used their inequality of goods and substance to divide themselves into classes (see 4 Nephi 1:25–26). Once divided into classes, it was a small step for the unbelievers to view the believers with antipathy (see v. 29) and to form cheap networks and secret combinations (see v. 42).

Refuse the will of the people. King Mosiah dissolved his monarchy and replaced it with a government of the people because he recognized the true principle “that it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right” (Mosiah 29:26). Because members of cheap networks have no attachment value for society’s rules and institutions, they are willing to ignore them and the will of the people to gain power using extralegal means. Ignoring the will of the people often requires the creation of a cheap network.

Consider the following example from the Book of Mormon: Under the leadership of chief judge Pahoran, there were some of noble birth called king-men who wanted “particular points” of the law changed, including replacing the chief judge with a king. Pahoran refused. As a result, the king-men became angry and wanted Pahoran removed from the judgement seat. Following a warm dispute, the matter was put to a vote in which Pahoran was supported. Afterward, the king-men came to view the freemen (who had supported Pahoran) as objects of their cheap network (see Alma 51:2–7). In fact, the king-men had so much antipathy for the freemen that when the king-men “heard that the Lamanites were coming down to battle against them, they were glad in their hearts; and they refused to take up arms, for they were so wroth with the chief judge, and also with the people of liberty, that they would not take up arms to defend their country” (Alma 51:13). Indeed, these king-men may have agreed with the following proverb: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” all because they rejected the laws the people had established.

Flatter the people. Flattery can be used to stir up the people to create cheap relationships and networks. For instance, the Book of Mormon records that a large and strong man named Nehor tried to form a cheap network by flattering the people. To this end, he went about preaching what he called the word of God, emphasizing that every priest and teacher should be popular, be supported by the people, and not be required to work. Furthermore, he taught that “all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need not fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men; and, in the end, all men should have eternal life” (Alma 1:4). Nehor’s flattery was successful because “many did believe on his words” and “began to support him and give him money” to support his efforts to create a cheap network (v. 5).

Lies, murders, and intrigue. Satan, the “father of lies” (2 Nephi 9:9), stirs up the people by lying to them. Lying is an appealing tool for pursuing almost any selfish goal because there are few limits on its potential for harmful and destructive consequences. For instance, when Amalickiah was rejected by the Nephites, he fled to the Lamanites and stirred them up to war. Convinced by Amalickiah, the king of the Lamanites ordered his military leader, Lehonti, to lead his armies to battle, but Lehonti refused. Amalickiah then approached Lehonti and lied about his willingness to serve under him. Next, Amalickiah poisoned Lehonti and gained command of the Lamanite army. Finally, Amalickiah returned to the king of the Lamanites and sent his servants to lie about Amalickiah’ s intention and stab the king to death. Then he lied to the king’s wife, continuing his rise to power and his creation of a cheap network through lies, murder, and intrigue (see Alma 47).

Reflection. Lacking membership in and the advantages of belonging to an empathetic network, people often seek for a substitute. The Satan-inspired substitute is a cheap network that requires an object to hate.

The High Cost of Cheap Networks

Defensive and destructive acts directed toward objects of cheap networks produce costly consequences in modern as well as in Book of Mormon times. Some of these costly consequences are listed and explained below.

Reduced trade and specialization. Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, claimed that productivity required the division of labor and specialization. However, specialization requires that people exchange what they produce for what they require but no longer produce because of their specialization. When relational “bads” (intangible signals exchanged between people that frustrate important socio-emotional needs) are included in voluntary commodity exchanges, exchanges are discouraged.

In the Book of Mormon, Lachoneus, the governor of the land of Nephi, received an epistle from Giddianhi, the leader of the Gadianton robbers. Giddianhi wrote that he and his followers would destroy the Nephites unless they gave him control of their cities, lands, and possessions. However, Lachoneus refused Giddianhi’s demands and instead ordered the Nephite people to gather and bring all their resources to the fortified land of Zarahemla. Next, Lachoneus did what potential combatants always do: he refused to trade with his enemy. Therefore, the Nephites’ refusal to trade with the Gadianton robbers prevented them from obtaining the commodities that they needed to sustain themselves (see 3 Nephi 3–4).

Production of harmful products. The absence of empathy allows selfish people to produce harmful products without concern for what the consequences might be for others. In his book on the dangers of smoking, Robert Proctor claimed that at least since 1953, there had been documents that established how cigarette manufacturers knew about the link between smoking and cancer. Yet the cigarette makers conspired to hide the fact from consumers. Furthermore, some evidence suggests that cigarette makers not only hid the risk of smoking but also made cigarettes even more addictive.[43] Tragically, even as recently as 2020, cigarette smoking was still responsible for more than 500,000 deaths globally, contributing to what the World Health Organization calls the tobacco epidemic.[44]

In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord warned the Saints that conspiring men would put profits above people’s well-being and sell them harmful substances: “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation” (Doctrine and Covenants 89:4).

War and the reallocation of resources. Cheap networks sometimes war against their objects. However, to conduct a war, groups must invest in war materials that divert resources from commodities designed to benefit consumers. For example, in 1940, the production of cars in the United States reached nearly 4.7 million, but on January 1, 1942, the government froze the sale of consumer vehicles, and automakers turned their focus to building tanks, trucks, airplanes, Jeeps, torpedoes, and even helmets. As a result, during the entire second World War, only 139 additional cars rolled off the assembly lines in the US, illustrating just how many resources were diverted from the production of consumer goods to the war effort.[45]

The Book of Mormon describes situations when the demands of war caused resources to be diverted from consumers. During one war, chief captain Moroni faced a serious supply shortage for his army, which led him to write to Pahoran, the governor of the land: “Behold, I, Moroni, am constrained, according to the covenant which I have made to keep the commandments of my God; therefore I would that ye should adhere to the word of God, and send speedily unto me of your provisions and of your men, and also to Helaman” (Alma 60:34).

Displacement of people. In addition to socio-emotional distance and harm, antipathy also causes physical separation. Globally, the World Bank has reported that there are more than one hundred million people who have been forcibly displaced because of the violence, conflict, and persecution caused by cheap networks, including refugees, internally displaced people, and asylum seekers.[46]

Mormon describes the plight of the women and children who were displaced after the Lamanites defeated the Nephites in the land of Desolation and in the city of Boaz: “The Nephites did again flee from before them, taking all the inhabitants with them, both in towns and villages” (Mormon 4:22).

Commodification. Converting people and attachment value goods into commodities by exchanging them for money is referred to here as commodification and is often practiced by cheap networks.[47] Michael J. Sandel, author of What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, lists several examples of commodification, including the services of a surrogate mother, the right to tattoo a casino ad on a person’s forehead, the privilege of immigrating to the United States, admission into a university, a ticket to a congressional hearing, concierge health care, and human blood and organs.[48] In these examples, commodification is a costly consequence that is only possible when cheap networks view people and high attachment value goods as objects.

Crime. Crime is an act that disregards laws, rules, and customs that should have acquired attachment value. But because they are present in a cheap network, they become objects of antipathy instead. Crime also objectifies victims by failing to respect their rights and dignity. In 2017, one approximation of the financial cost of crime in the United States was estimated to be $2.6 trillion, and the direct financial costs to victims and taxpayers totaled $620 billion.[49]

In addition to the financial costs of crime, the destruction of specialization and trade because people fear to engage with each other is another cost. The Book of Mormon describes a time just before the destruction of the Jaredites when cheap networks led to an increase in crime and a decrease in trade: “Wherefore every man did cleave unto that which was his own, with his hands, and would not borrow neither would he lend; and every man kept the hilt of his sword in his right hand, in the defen[s]e of his property and his own life and of his wives and children” (Ether 14:2).

Unequal distribution of income and wealth. Just as membership in a resource-rich empathetic network provides significant social and economic advantages, being excluded from or denied access to those same empathetic networks imposes significant disadvantages. So significant are the disadvantages of being outside of important networks that such a condition has been referred to as the “dark side” of (social capital) empathetic networks.[50] And while being excluded from empathetic networks is not the same as being the objects of cheap networks, lacking access to empathetic networks can sometimes produce similar results. However, sometimes being excluded from a resource-rich network is not the result of the favored network but the result of other’s choices and circumstances. For example, two-parent households on average enjoy more resources than one-parent household networks. The average household income of married couples with children in 2013 was $82,000, while the average household income for a female-headed household (that is, a single-mother household) was $23,640, less than 30 percent of the household income of married couples with children.[51] According to the US Census, the poverty rate for single parents with children in the United States in 2009 was 37.1 percent. In contrast, the poverty rate for married couples with children was 6.8 percent. Other consequences for children raised in single-parent households include lower educational achievements, higher crime rates, and higher chances of becoming single parents themselves. Robert Putnam observed that growing up in an unstable home environment, often with a poor single parent, makes it almost impossible for children raised in these conditions to join the college-educated network.[52] Robert Rector called marriage one of the greatest weapons against child poverty.[53] Isaiah prophesied that in the last days, “More are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 54:1).

Sometimes, lacking resources comes from living in low-income countries. Depending on which poverty definition is used, poverty can be claimed as the most serious problem facing our world today. Using the International Poverty Line set by the World Bank and used by the United Nations of $2.15 per day is used, then about 48 percent of the world’s population lives in poverty.

Dictatorships. A dictatorship is a form of government in which one person (a dictator) or a small group of people possesses absolute power without effective constitutional limitations.[54] Nearly half of all dictatorships come to power through military coups in which the ruling government was made the object of a cheap network, justifying the power grab.[55] George Orwell describes the process of how a strong and often despotic leader becomes a dictator in his political satire Animal Farm. The book concerns a group of barnyard animals who overthrow and chase off their exploitative human masters and set up an egalitarian society under the leadership of Napoleon the pig. Originally, the animals’ motto is that “all animals are equal,” but it is eventually replaced by this motto: “All animals are equal, but pigs are more equal.”[56] Orwell wrote his book to describe the Bolshevik revolution, which was inspired by the pursuit of equality but whose cause was betrayed by a strong leader and despot, Joseph Stalin, infamous for his brutality before, during and after World War II.[57]

King Noah’s dictatorship described in the Book of Mormon is an example of absolute power. Because Abinadi threatened his power, King Noah commanded that he be brought to him so he could slay him: “For he has said these things that he might stir up my people to anger one with another, and to raise contentions among my people; therefore I will slay him” (Mosiah 11:28).

Reflection. Significant benefits accrue to members of empathetic and resource-rich networks. While creating a cheap network does connect people in cheap relationships, the value of these connections is limited to mostly defensive and destructive acts; furthermore, the concentration of power in cheap networks such as dictatorships is, unfortunately, often maintained through forceful measures.

Avoiding the High Cost of Cheap Networks

Cheap networks are ubiquitous. Furthermore, they often commit defensive and destructive acts to achieve their goals, which then creates high costs for their objects and others. An important question is, What can we do to mitigate and avoid the high costs of cheap networks? Consider some possible solutions.

Make covenants, treaties, contracts, and agreements. One practical way to mitigate and even eliminate the costly consequences of cheap networks is by creating commonalities like covenants, contracts, treaties, and agreements between cheap networks and their objects. Mitigating the consequences of cheap networks by making marriage agreements was popular among royal families of different countries, including when Catherine of Aragon (a Spanish princess) and King Henry the VIII (the King of England) married in 1509.[58]

Additionally, when people make and uphold laws (contracts), the high cost of cheap networks can also be mitigated or avoided. For example, consider Plato’s philosophy on laws. Discouraged with the reigns of absolute rulers, Plato declared that the only prospect for enduring peace and prosperity was to trust no absolute ruler and to instead create and sustain laws and institutions supported by the people. To Plato, the law alone would be able to guard against tyranny produced by selfishness and antipathy. In fact, in the Republic, he called the law an “external authority” that functions as the “ally of the whole city.” In 1797, George Washington, sympathetic to Plato’s philosophy, declined the opportunity to be an absolute ruler in the United States and instead urged the people to support the rule of law.[59]

In the Book of Mormon, agreements between different groups made it possible for many people to live in peace. For example, thirty-one years after Christ’s birth, functioning networks among the Nephites and Lamanites consisted of tribes made up of families, kindreds, and friends. Tribes agreed to avoid war and to respect each other’s property, enabling them to enjoy a degree of peace, even though the people’s hearts were turned away from God (see 3 Nephi 7:14).

Refuse to objectify others. Another way to mitigate and prevent the consequences of cheap networks is to refuse to objectify other people or groups. A wonderful example of refusing to objectify another person occurred during a town hall meeting during the 2008 US presidential election. The two leading candidates were John McCain and Barack Obama. A woman in the audience spoke to McCain, saying, “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him. . . . He’s an Arab.” McCain refused to objectify Obama and said, “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and a US] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”[60]

Another example of refusing to objectify others occurred in the Book of Mormon in the letters written between chief captain Moroni and chief governor Pahoran. Moroni was in a difficult battle, and he had not received the necessary supplies and reinforcements for his army. Frustrated, he wrote to Pahoran, who was responsible for supplying his army: “Can you think to sit upon your thrones in a state of thoughtless stupor, while your enemies are spreading the work of death around you? Yea, while they are murdering thousands of your brethren . . . ye have withheld your provisions from them, insomuch that many have fought and bled out their lives because of their great desires which they had for the welfare of this people” (Alma 60:7, 9). Pahoran, who had been facing his own challenges and could have objectified Moroni, refused to do so. Instead, Pahoran responded as follows: “I say unto you, Moroni, that I do not joy in your great afflictions, yea, it grieves my soul. But behold, there are those who do joy in your afflictions, yea, insomuch that they have risen up in rebellion against me. . . . In your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart” (Alma 61:2–3, 9).

Include others in one’s network. Another way to prevent the formation of cheap networks or to mitigate their costly consequences is to reduce the membership requirement to join a network, which can sometimes only be achieved by changing the rules and customs. For example, the Rotary Club, once a male-only network, changed its rules to admit women to their clubs.[61] As another example, enlarging a network to include others, particularly those fleeing oppression, can also mean changing the citizenship requirements for a country. Commemorating this idea are the words of Emma Lazarus, engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”[62]

Consider an example of inclusion from the Book of Mormon. The Lamanite converts of Ammon and his brothers had repented of their sins and buried their weapons of war so that they would never again be stained by blood. But because of their conversion, they became objects of the Lamanites’ cheap network, and many converts were murdered by the Lamanites. Ammon and his brothers desired to protect their converts from the Lamanites, so they appealed to their own people, the Nephites, to provide a place for the converts of Ammon to safely settle: “And it came to pass that the chief judge sent a proclamation throughout all the land, desiring the voice of the people concerning the admitting their brethren, who were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi. And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: Behold, we will give up the land of Jershon, . . . and behold, we will set our armies between the land Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren in the land Jershon” (Alma 27:21–23).

Mormon described a magnanimous act of inclusion when the converted Nephites prevailed against the Gadianton robbers, took them prisoner—and then taught them the gospel and freed any among them who would repent and enter into a covenant to murder no more (see 3 Nephi 5:4).

Tell the truth. Lying is an easy way to form a cheap network. Therefore, confronting a lie with the truth is another way to prevent the formation of cheap networks and mitigate the negative consequences of existing ones. Consider this example from the Book of Mormon. Korihor accused the priests and teachers of misleading the people to get gain. Alma countered, You know that I have labored with my own hands to support myself and I serve the people because of my love for them (see Alma 30:29–34).

The people have a responsibility to “fact-check” to distinguish between lies and the truth. In this effort, the following fact-checking steps may be helpful: (1) know your own bias and the bias of those providing the information, (2) identify the source of the information, (3) follow up on claims and ask whether they are supported, (4) find out the age of the information, and (5) be critical of the sensational.[63]

Get out more. Part of bridging the gap between cheap networks and their objects includes increasing the contact between them. In short, the likelihood of forming cheap networks and experiencing their costly consequences could be mitigated or even eliminated if people got out and connected with each other more. In an unparalleled effort to get out more, at the end of 2022, there were 62,000 full-time missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and 29,000 LDS service missionaries serving and teaching worldwide in approximately 408 missions: 40 missions in Africa, 20 in Asia, 23 in the Philippines, 36 in Europe and Russia, 6 in Canada, 110 in the United States, 7 in the Caribbean, 19 in Central America, 32 in Mexico, 18 in Oceania, 61 in South America (excluding Brazil), and 36 in Brazil.[64] “While serving missions, they learn how to approach strangers and talk to them candidly. They learn how to connect with people and how to share and stand up for what they believe.”[65]

The Book of Mormon describes another example of getting out more regarding the sons of Mosiah and the Lamanites. Because of their empathy for the Lamanites, the sons of Mosiah appealed to their father for permission to serve a mission among the Lamanites. The sons of Mosiah hoped that through their efforts to get out more and connect with others, they could eliminate the contention between their peoples because “they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble” (Mosiah 28:3).

Reduce inequality and unfair access to resources. One of the most important differences between members of cheap networks and their objects is income and wealth. Income and wealth differences combined with inherited commonalities can be a potent brew that produces cheap network objects. Amy Chaus book World on Fire describes the consequences of an economically successful, strong ethnic minority network that was objectified by many cheap networks.[66] At the time she wrote her book, the Chinese community in the Philippines comprised one percent of the population while controlling 60 percent of the economy. In Indonesia, the Chinese minority comprised three percent of the population but controlled 75 percent of the economy. Other examples of economically strong ethnic minorities controlling disproportionate amounts of resources include Europeans throughout Latin America and Africa; Israeli Jews in Israel and the Middle East; Jewish-Russian Oligarchs in post-Communist Russia; Croats in the former Yugoslavia; Indians in East Africa; Lebanese in West Africa and Mexico; and the Yoruba, Igbos, Kikuyus, and Tutsis in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Rwanda.[67]

Within empathetic networks, there are no poor among them (see Moses 7:18). To this end, in 2022 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated over $1 billion for global humanitarian aid.[68] Still, the Lord’s standard for equality in earthly goods is high. To Joseph Smith, the Lord revealed: “For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things” (Doctrine and Covenants 78:6).

Maintain trading relations. Lastly, people and groups can mitigate the formation of cheap networks and avoid their costly consequences by maintaining trading relationships with others, even (and especially) with objects of existing cheap networks. Take, for example, Thomas Friedman’s 1996 proposal of the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention, in which he claimed (incorrectly) that no two countries with McDonald’s franchises had ever gone to war with each other. Friedman hypothesized in his theory that “countries with middle classes large enough to sustain a McDonald’s have reached a level of prosperity and global integration that makes warmongering risky and unpalatable to its people.”[69] Unfortunately, Friedman’s theory failed to account for Valdimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine in 2022; however, it did correctly account for McDonald’s subsequently withdrawing all franchises from Russia.[70]

In the Book of Mormon, Helaman recorded that for a time, “There was peace in all the land, insomuch that the Nephites did go into whatsoever part of the land they would, whether among the Nephites or the Lamanites. And it came to pass that the Lamanites did also go whithersoever they would, whether it were among the Lamanites or among the Nephites; and thus, they did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and to sell, and to get gain, according to their desire. And it came to pass that they became exceedingly rich, both the Lamanites and the Nephites” (Helaman 6:7–9). Therefore, as these examples show, maintaining trade relations is one way people can avoid the high cost of cheap networks.

Reflection. I confess that in the past and sometimes even now, I find myself attempting to strengthen a relationship at the expense of another person. So I end this section by recognizing that any effort to prevent the formation of cheap networks and to build empathetic ones must begin with me.

Summary and Conclusions

This paper analyzed two important ways people connect to each other: through shared antipathy for the same person or group (believing that a strange relationship is better than being alone) or through empathy that internalizes the well-being of others and rushes to the rescue of those in need. However, in both cheap (antipathetic) and empathetic networks, people seek to enjoy the benefits of what they cannot achieve alone.

Contrasting the formation of cheap versus empathetic networks ordered this paper’s sections: the importance of relationships, commonalities, relational goods, attachment value goods, the socioeconomic advantages of empathetic networks, what makes cheap networks cheap, why people form cheap networks, how to form cheap networks, the high cost of cheap networks, and how to avoid the formation of and the high cost of cheap networks. In Table 1, I summarize the findings of these sections.

Table 1. How to stir up the people and create cheap networks versus how to form empathetic networks and avoid cheap ones and their costly consequences.

How to build cheap networksHow to build empathetic networks
Destroy commonalitiesBuild commonalities
Destroy high attachment value goods usually by commodifying sacred thingsCreate and maintain high attachment value goods, especially for sacred things
Distinguish oneself from others by having more commodities than othersCreate a society in which there are “no poor among them”
LieProclaim the truth and expose lies
Create exclusive networks often based on inherited commonalitiesBuild inclusion networks based on earned commonalities and covenants 
Create objects of antipathyCreate objects of empathy
Isolate oneself and mingle lessGet out and mingle more
Break covenants, agreements, and treatiesMake covenants, agreements, and treaties

Edwin Markham wrote a famous poem that I adapt here to close this paper: “[Antipathy] drew a circle that shut me out / Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But [empathy] and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle [and] took him in!”[71]


Lindon J. Robison thanks Meghan Rollins Wilson for editorial assistance and Julie Taylor and Lana Bailey for their review comments. He also thanks two anonymous reviewers for their work on this paper.

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