Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hate as a social demographic

Every democracy I can think of has a meaningful (though usually small) proportion of citizens who fall on the extreme right by any standard: racist, White supremacist, hateful, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, nativist, nationalist, or violently anti-government individuals and groups. In the United States we have many, many organizations that are basically racist and potentially violent hate groups. They provide a basis for cultivating, recruiting and mobilizing like-minded followers, and they are sometimes co-opted by opportunistic politicians for their own narrow purposes. The Southern Poverty Law Center (link) and the Anti-Defamation League (link) do a great job and a needed service in tracking many of these organizations. (For example, SPL monitors 26 hate groups in the state of Michigan; link.)  The umbrella term for these organizations and individuals is "hate groups" -- individuals and organizations who organize their views of the social world around intolerance of other groups and a motivation to harm or subordinate those other people.

A recent report by the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (link) provides a detailed snapshot of how some of these racist groups have shown up in the Tea Party movement (link). The NAACP made a very careful statement about racist statements and provocations that had occurred at Tea Party protests in 2009 and 2010 (link), including the egregious incident that occurred in Washington in which Representatives Emanuel Cleaver, John Lewis, and Barney Frank were showered with vitriol. And this temperate and careful statement was derided by Tea Party leaders. The IREHR study goes a long way to document the concerns raised in the NAACP statement.

The maps of Tea Party membership are genuinely interesting. Here is an aggregate map including six factions of Tea Party organizations around the country (p. 14):

Here is a summary finding from the IREHR report:
Tea Party organizations have given platforms to anti-Semites, racists, and bigots. Further, hard-core white nationalists have been attracted to these protests, looking for potential recruits and hoping to push these (white) protestors towards a more self-conscious and ideological white supremacy. One temperature gauge of these events is the fact that longtime national socialist David Duke is hoping to find money and support enough in the Tea Party ranks to launch yet another electoral campaign in the 2012 Republican primaries. (7)
What I find really worth considering is the question of the fact of the very existence of these pockets of virulent racists and anti-semites in our society. I'm not thinking here of garden-variety racial stereotyping and prejudice, which is surely much more widespread, but of a kind of racism that extends to overt hostility and sometimes violence against the other group. It is hard to estimate the percentage of our society that falls in this category, though there are some public opinion surveys that help us make a crude estimate (Howard Schuman, Charlotte Steeh, Lawrence Bobo, Racial Attitudes in America: Trends and Interpretations, Revised Edition and Schuman and Bobo, "Survey-Based Experiments on White Racial Attitudes towards Residential Integration" (link); Pew Research Center, "Race, Ethnicity & Campaign '08" (link)).

But here is the important question: why do a certain number of people in modern societies have these attitudes in the first place? Is it just a sort of basic fact about our population that a certain percentage of us fall in this mindset? Are there specific features of our informal system of acculturation that creates this minority of hate-disposed people? Are these the result of a sort of sub-culture of militia encampments, prison gangs, and biker groups who are somehow able to promulgate their hatred to new recruits? Is it ignorance, disaffection, and economic uncertainty that brings out these qualities in otherwise decent people? In short -- is it the organizations that produce the hate in some people, or is it the hateful individuals who create the organizations?

Michael Mann's The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing is one kind of empirical study of a related question, the occurrence of murderous ethnic cleansing. Here are a few of his hypotheses.
Murderous cleansing is modern, because it is the dark side of democracy. Let me make clear at the outset that I do not claim that democracies routinely commit murderous cleansing. Very few have done so. Nor do I reject democracy as an ideal – I endorse that ideal.Yet democracy has always carried with it the possibility that the majority might tyrannize minorities, and this possibility carries more ominous consequences in certain types of multiethnic environments. (2)
Ethnic hostility rises where ethnicity trumps class as the main form of social stratification, in the process capturing and channeling class-like sentiments toward ethnonationalism.
The danger zone of murderous cleansing is reached when (a) movements claiming to represent two fairly old ethnic groups both lay claim to their own state over all or part of the same territory and (b) this claim seems to them to have substantial legitimacy and some plausible chance of being implemented. (2-9)
These are political-structural theories of the conditions that stimulate outbreaks of hate-based mobilization and murderous ethnic cleansing.  But actually, Mann never addresses my question head-on: what accounts for the existence of a certain small percentage of haters in a given society.  Mann is interested rather in the behavior and the occurrence of mass mobilization for ethnic violence in certain times and places -- the involvement of thousands of citizens in acts of violence and murder against their fellow citizens. And he doesn't believe that the actors are exceptional; rather, the circumstances elicit the terrible violence from people much like all of us. Here is how he categorizes the perpetrators:
There are three main levels of perpetrator: (a) radical elites running party-states; (b) bands of militants forming violent paramilitaries; and (c) core constituencies providing mass though not majority popular support. (9)
And he doesn't think there is anything distinctive about the third group:
Finally, ordinary people are brought by normal social structures into committing murderous ethnic cleansing, and their motives are much more mundane. To understand ethnic cleansing, we need a sociology of power more than a special psychology of perpetrators as disturbed or psychotic people – though some may be. (9)
This "ordinary people as killers" theory (c) doesn't really seem to do justice to the problem at issue here. And the political opportunists who play the hate card aren't too hard to understand (a). It's really the people Mann includes under (b) that are of concern to me -- the true believers, the extremist White supremacists or virulent anti-Semites who become the local activists and paramilitaries that I'd like to understand better. And this population seems to be defined by the attitudes, motives, and ideologies that they bring with them, rather than the inter-group dynamics and political opportunism that Mann focuses on. So, once again, where does this mentality or psychology of activist hatred come from in our society (or in other contemporary societies)?

The easy answers are ready to hand. We might postulate a strand of political culture and thought in American society that reproduces hate and racism in some of the young people who are exposed to it. (Hate on the Internet falls in this category.)  Or we might postulate a recessive "racist personality" type that is a portion of the human psyche (along the lines of the theory of the authoritarian personality). Or we might postulate that lack of opportunity and an enduring situation of defeated expectations pushes some young people into hate (skinheads in Britain or Germany).

But I don't find any of the theories very convincing by itself.  So we seem to have an important theoretical issue here that is unresolved: where does "hate" come from?


Anonymous said...

Your article is a case of you pointing a finger with four fingers pointing back at yourself. You have some very deep hatred against white people. Fix your own hatred before you start pointing fingers.

Nathan Tankus said...

oh yes. pointing out racism means you must hate white people. obviously.

Anonymous said...

It looks like Dr. Little has already received some egregious hate mail. A shame.

After having read the article, however, I was struck by the fact that all the examples of xenophobic hate groups were taken from the American and European contexts, and in particular problems of racism among whites. This hardly does justice to the problem, or how widespread it is in populations (both in the majorities and minorities) over the whole world. The Rwandan genocide suggests itself as an obvious candidate.

Anyway, can we not explain the existence of most non-standard, oddball phobias, hatreds, obsessions, preferences, fantasies, and so forth simply by the combination of three facts: people vary from one another, there are a hell of a lot of people, and modern communication technologies allow these people to associate and organize themselves easily.

After all, if there are almost 7 billion of us, and and only 1 person in a 100 million people like something rather bizarre (say burning their fingers with matches), then there are still about 70 people in the world with that fetish... probably sharing pics with one another on the internet.

Greg said...

So you don't find the 'easy' explanations convincing, singly or (left implied) in combination.

Why not? What are your objections? Just saying "I'm not convinced" is not advancing our understanding of society.

P.S. This is a genuine question. The existence of the 'authoritarian personality' and 'social dominance orientation', and their operation within a social system that increases uncertainty (fear) and sets people in competition with strangers, provide an explanation that is satisfying to me. (Perhaps this is because it holds out the possibility of change.) I'm curious to learn of this explanation's defects.

Michael said...

Interesting read but, like Greg, I would like more ...
Has there been much thought given to hate being perpetuated? That people who hate are the children of people who hate?
I have wondered if, once created by an event (war, poverty, disadvantage), it is perpetuated at the level of the home/community environment?

Dan Little said...

These are interesting comments; thanks. Greg and Michael are disappointed that I'm not able to say that one or another of these theories is sufficient to answer the question -- why are there a fraction of a percent of people in many societies who are militantly racist, anti-Semitic, or "anti-other"? All I can say is that it's a puzzling fact. "Anonymous" suggests a sort of probabilistic "human nature" argument: a tiny percentage of human beings are disposed to hatred, and a percentage of these are then exposed to the triggers that activate their hatred. Michael Mann (cited in the post) seems to suggest that everyone has this potential, so it's really the hate-based organizations that explain the hate groups. And the "immediate history" explanations (economic crisis, unemployment, inflation) might be understood as triggers as well, stimulating a latent capacity for hate into an actualized social psychology of hate. So maybe the comments clarify the issue a bit: Is it variation across individuals (in terms of psychology or personality) that explains the incidence of hate, or is it variations in social settings, applied to a random assortment of human beings, that explains this incidence of hateful persons and groups?

On the other point made by "anonymous" about non-European or North American contexts -- of course you're right; ethnic conflict and violence occurs worldwide, and clearly "inter-group hatred" is a part of this fact. Kenya's violence after elections two years ago is a good instance.

Corban said...

Question: If you swap the groups mentioned but retain the structure of the problem ("incumbent group disenfranchised by economics to a higher degree than others") how would they react?

Answer: The same way - badly.

Virulence is a direct function of prosperity and not skin color. Affirmative action was originally class-targeting, yet it is because class warfare is verboten in the US that they accepted race as a proxy. Do not confuse the proxy for the true measure. That the oppressed in this case are unusually homogeneous should say more about the System than about them.

Or put another way: is your shadow on the ground your doing, or the sun's?

Also, what is with having EIGHT conditions for these hate groups? Next you'll say that they wear stinky socks, for good measure. I'm sure they do, but this says more about you than it does about them.

russell1200 said...

Within the United States many of the hate groups are probably more right leaning than left. But the Southern Poverty Law Center also tracks the new Black Panthers (a hate group if there ever was one) and most would not consider them a right leaning organization.

Anonymous said...

Like most things I think it's a combo of factors. I know a lot of people in hate groups have anger problems do to bad home childhoods. However, I think one major factor is the number of negative exposures a particular person happens to have to the group they end up eventually hating. These could be personal experiences, stories, media reports, etc. I remember once hearing a neo-nazi on TV claiming he turned to hate after his brother was shot by a black man. That's an extreme case of a negative exposure, but if someone just randomly has enough negative experiences associated with a group and doesn't have enough positive experiences to counteract them, they may eventually reach a "tipping point" where they come to the conclusion that all members of that group are bad, especially in the light of our natural tribal tendencies to sometime be suspicious of "other groups."