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Opinion | The policy of fear shows no signs of abating

If this logic holds true, we have entered a new moral universe.

Morteza Dehghani, professor of psychology and computer science at the University of Southern California, emailed that he and his colleagues have found that “extreme behavioral expressions of prejudice against marginalized groups could be understood as morally motivated behavior based on human moral values ​​and perceptions of moral violations. “

In a 2021 paper, “Examining the Role of Group-Based Morality in Extreme Behavioral Expressions of Prejudice,” Joe Hoover, Mohammad Atari, Aida Mostafazadeh Davani, Brendan Kennedy, Gwenyth Portillo-Wightman, Leigh Yeh, and Dehghani concluded:

Across five studies, ranging from geospatial analysis of 3,108 U.S. counties to social psychological experiments with over 2,200 participants, we found evidence that group-level moral concerns (i.e., loyalty, authority, and purity) are predictable for extreme behavioral expressions of prejudice, even after checks for county-level confounders, such as political ideology.

The moral legitimacy of violence is the focus of Alan Fiske, professor of anthropology at UCLA, and Tage Shakti Rai, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, in their 2014 book, “Virtuous Violence: Hurting and Killing to Create, Maintain , end and honor social relationships. “

They write that violence is

considered to be the essence of evil: it is the prototype of immorality. But a study of violent acts and practices across cultures and throughout history shows just the opposite. When people hurt or kill someone, they usually do so because they feel they should: they feel it is morally right or even obligatory to be violent.

Fiske and Rai claim that people “are morally motivated to use violence to create, execute, protect, correct, end, or grieve over social relationships with the victim or with others. We call our theory virtuous violence theory.”

Political conflict, researchers have found, can move into the zone of morally justified violence when elected officials and candidates focus their campaigns on complaints. As ditto put it via email:

When groups interact with each other, exchange things, this creates the potential for feelings of complaint to develop – they have screwed us in some way. Once you feel that a group has wronged you or your group, then you are in moral territory.

In a February 2021 paper, “Populism and the Social Psychology of Grievance”, Ditto and Cristian G. Rodriguez, professor of psychology at the Universidad de los Andes in Chile, write: “Populist political movements seek power by exploiting feelings of complaint , a feeling that the ‘people’ have been treated unfairly by the ‘elite’. ” They provoke earlier complaints, they write, “have two clear costs: it can be used to justify undemocratic means of gaining political power, and its evocation risks initiating a self-escalating cycle of political conflicts between factions.”

As conflicts escalate, the dangers of complaints policy also increase:

Feelings of complaint can make people feel empowered to give up past moral and procedural limitations. While these restrictions sometimes seem duly pliable, it can be significantly more problematic to abandon other moral rules, such as adherence to democratic political tactics or bans on violence. Research in highly controversial and moralized political circles has shown that they promote an increased willingness to tolerate undemocratic means to achieve desired political goals, up to and including violence. In the United States, biased anger is associated with tolerance of cheating, lies, and voter oppression as acceptable political tactics.

I asked Ryan Enos, a political scientist at Harvard, how bias can be moralized, legitimize opposition, and even violence. He answered:

Politics plays a huge role in this. It is politicians who give action to latent attitudes and can organize collective action or even exploit the power of the state. For example, Trump supporters might have had a latent tendency to be against immigration, but when Trump comes and tells them that we must “build a wall,” it made them believe that immigration must really be a problem, and so this latent tendency is activated. So, when the state gets involved in building this wall and aggressively enforcing immigration, it brings power and action to these trends.

Hostility to immigration, wrote Enos,

seems to be closely linked to a person’s larger worldview, so a person who tends to be right-wing will also tend to be hostile to immigration, and a person who is left-leaning will tend to be be more open. Researchers do not agree on how to characterize the differences between these worldviews, but note that much of the language used to describe the differences has implications for the acceptance of immigrants – for example, people on the right are described as seeing the world as ‘threatening’. or have a ‘closed’ worldview.

Peter Howley, professor of behavioral economics at Leeds University, shared Enos’ views on the crucial role closed and open mind plays. “Openness is strongly correlated with immigration attitudes,” he wrote in an email, “and our own research shows how openness strongly moderates the relationship between the influx of migrants into one’s local area and the self-reported well-being of existing residents.”

This openness, Howley continued,

captures the extent to which people are attracted to new stimuli and implies a preference for variation and new experiences. For people who are relatively low on openness, demographic change and all that it entails from exposure to new cuisine, music and facilities can be a daunting perspective, but for people with high scores on openness, demographic change offers potential for exciting new experiences. .

Political scientists Christopher D. Johnston of Duke and Howard G. Lavine and Christopher M. Federico, both of the University of Minnesota, write in their book “Open Versus Closed”:

As party-political conflicts have expanded to include cultural and lifestyle issues, committed citizens have organized themselves into parties by personality, a process we refer to as “dispositional sorting.” In particular, those with “closed” personality traits have moved into the Republican column over the past few decades, and those with “open” traits have become Democrats. More generally, open citizens now take their economic political signals from trusted elites on the cultural left, while closed citizens take positions like those on the cultural right.

The conflicts in this country miniature reflect the global tensions of the 21st century. Sciubba puts the difficult situation in context in his introduction to a new collection of essays, “A Research Agenda for Political Demography.”

In one extreme:

In high- and middle-income countries, the recent transition is to extremely low fertility and low mortality, leading to a shift in the composition of different age groups – far more older than young and declining share of the middle-aged. For the world’s most developed countries, national targets for economic growth of 2 percent or more are inconsistent with declining populations – the idea of ​​infinitely expanding economies rubs against demographic reality. In some low-fertility states, immigration erodes the benefits of perennial ethnic majorities, and political tensions are high. Rising support for anti-immigrant extremist right-wing parties and populists, particularly in the United States and Europe, are demonstrations of the link between demography and politics.

In the other extreme:

In lower-income countries, fertility remains high, but declining mortality means these populations are growing exponentially – another transformation. The population density increases as the amount of available land remains constant and the number of people inhabiting it doubles or triples. Climate change is accelerating the burden on the earth itself, and economic forces such as globalization are restructuring economies, often in the direction of production for export, rather than subsistence. Economic crises all too often turn into civil conflicts, which then push populations into new societies and across borders, creating a new set of problems for both senders and recipients.

For this reason, the prospect globally is of exacerbating the conflict between rich and poor countries and between rich and poor in the countries. In many respects, politics is about organizing fear. Democracies are collapsing and republics are disintegrating when fear is used too often as a motivating tool, a party political weapon. The question now is whether the political system can begin to organize our fears for each other in a constructive way that resolves rather than exacerbates conflicts.

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