randombio.com | commentary
Sunday, January 28, 2018

Hatred and loathing in academia

The sociology literature is stuffed to the gills with concern trolls. It's deeply concerning

T here was insightful article on Takimag the other day about why Jewish people tend to be left-wing. They are, says David Cole, unconsciously motivated by hatred for Western civilization as a way of expressing their hatred for Germans.

A guy like Wolf Blitzer is committing a hateful act against a civilization he very likely despises. Maybe he was taught that hatred by his survivor parents, maybe he developed it on his own. Yet his act of hate—using his estimable influence to push for the importation of unskilled, impoverished immigrants, many of whom are criminals and most of whom are a financial burden—is cloaked in humanitarianism. He is ‘virtue signaling’ his ‘moral superiority’ while, at the same time, indulging in the hate that Wiesel believes is the only path of self-defense for the Jewish people.

Blitzer has to hate while appearing to love. That's misdirection worthy of Penn and Teller, and leftist Jews have the routine down pat.

This is very insightful. It is, of course, impolite to speculate on what motivates other individuals, and it's socially taboo to speculate on entire groups, but there's little doubt that as taboos go, one of our strongest is against expressing hate. So any hatred that one feels must be concealed and expressed as if it were something else.

Chess pieces fighting Faculty meeting aftermath

That's why “concern trolls” are a thing. When one person hates some particular group, they can't express it directly; they must accuse the other side of hating them. This is common even in the academic literature, where writers adopt a dispassionate, sorrowful tone while, in actuality, they are accusing their political enemies of being Nazis.

Even a brief foray into the sociology literature finds that much research into this topic is hopelessly political and self-confirming. Take the article by Soral et al.[1] in the November 2017 issue of Journal of Aggressive Behavior —a whole journal about hate, and thus a rich source of material. They write:

Lower sensitivity to hate speech was a positive mediator of the relationship between frequent exposure to hate speech and outgroup prejudice.

They're saying that if you hear hate speech, you become more prejudiced. The journal wants money to read the article, and my library doesn't carry it, so I have no idea how, or whether, these authors define hate speech. Perhaps it's like pornography: they know it when they see it.

In the same journal, Elshout et al[2] say that perception bias makes people think their enemy is the real hater:

Although there is a situational selection bias, there is also a perception bias for both avengers and targets: Both avengers and targets believe that the other person's act is worse than their own act. This perception bias may explain the existence of perpetuating revenge cycles.

Of course, this is not rocket science, and the conclusion is probably obvious to most people, but in academia they have a rule that you can't say something unless someone else wrote it down in a peer-reviewed article. That way you have somebody you can blame if it turns out to be wrong.

Surprisingly, many Europeans still believe in the existence of right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), a concept originated by Theodore Adorno, even though the concept has been harshly criticized and debunked repeatedly, primarily because it can't accommodate the quite obvious existence of left-wing authoritarianism. RWA is a covert way of discrediting those you hate by accusing them of being Nazi-like without violating Godwin's law.

In one article[3] typical of the genre, the authors start by asking whether feelings of low self-worth are compensated by “right-wing ideology and intolerance.” They conclude that, no, in fact exaggerated feelings of self-worth (i.e. narcissism) are actually responsible. It is, they say, a social problem, which it may be, yet they seem blithely unaware that by injecting their own politics into their paper they have become classic concern trolls.

As many others have mentioned, sociology has great difficulty in separating variables, because concepts are too ill-defined. The technical term is orthogonalization; failing that, and given a big enough population (289 in this case), it's possible to find a statistically significant correlation between almost anything and anything else.

Yet, though there must be hundreds of them, I couldn't find a single article discussing hatred and taboo. Maybe I didn't look hard enough, or maybe it points to a lacuna in the sociologist mindset: we cannot see what is taboo for us to express. That is convenient: it lets us get away with expressing hatred by accusing the other of having it, thereby achieving our goal of inflicting disrepute on the other while escaping criticism ourselves.

Whenever someone says “When they go low, we go high” or words to that effect, this is what's happening.

If someone hates their own civilization, they will naturally advocate policies that are destructive to it. They will complain indignantly if someone suggests that is their motivation. But it's worth asking: Does pretending that everyone has a noble motive blind us to policies that are actually ways of trying to destroy society, when such motivations are always concealed from the public (and even from the speaker) because expressing them publicly is taboo?

In wartime, expression of hatred is encouraged. The enemy and their leaders are attacked and criticized on very personal terms. Yet we seem unwilling to believe that people could feel hatred toward their own society in peacetime.

Maybe it's one of those things we ought to examine more closely.

1. Soral W, Bilewicz M, Winiewski M. (2017). Exposure to hate speech increases prejudice through desensitization. Aggress Behav. Nov 2. doi: 10.1002/ab.21737. (paywalled)

2. Elshout M, Nelissen, RM, van Beest, I (2017). Your act is worse than mine: Perception bias in revenge situations. Aggressive Behavior. 43(6) 553–557. (paywalled)

3. Cichocka A, Dhont K, Makwana AP. (2017). On Self-Love and Outgroup Hate: Opposite Effects of Narcissism on Prejudice via Social Dominance Orientation and Right-Wing Authoritarianism. Eur J Pers. Jul-Aug;31(4):366–384. doi: 10.1002/per.2114. Link

jan 28 2018, 4:39 am

Related Articles

Why academics dislike Donald Trump
The only reason intellec­tuals dislike Trump is that he doesn't talk like one.

Godwin's law and America's Orange One Revolution
The longer a discussion proceeds, the proba­bility that somebody will call their opponent a racist approaches one.

Problems with linear regression
First, a tedious statistical question. We'll fix the end of the world later

Politics in Nature Neuroscience
Another inflam­matory political article has turned up. Not in New Republic or Weekly World News as you might expect, but in the scientific journal Nature Neuro­science.

On the Internet, no one can tell whether you're a dolphin or a porpoise

book reviews