Reviews | Where does all this hate we feel come from?
If this logic is 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 found that “extreme behavioral expressions of bias against marginalized groups can be understood as morally motivated behaviors based on people’s moral values and their perceptions of moral lapses.
In a 2021 article, “An investigation of the role of group morality in extreme behavioral expressions of prejudice,” Joe Hoover, Mohammad Atari, Aida Mostafazadeh Davani, Brendan Kennedy, Gwenyth Portillo-Wightman, Leigh Yeh, and Dehghani concluded:
In five studies, ranging from geospatial analysis of 3,108 U.S. counties to social psychology experiments with over 2,200 participants, we found evidence that group-level moral concerns (i.e. loyalty, authority, and purity) are predictive of extreme behavioral expressions of prejudice even after controlling for county-level confounders, such as political ideology.
The moral legitimization of violence is central to the concerns of Alan Fiske, professor of anthropology at UCLA, and Tage Shakti Rai, 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 the essence of evil: it is the prototype of immorality. But an examination of violent acts and practices across cultures and throughout history shows just the opposite. When people hurt or kill someone, they usually do it because they feel they should: they feel it is morally right or even obligatory to be violent.
Fiske and Rai argue that people “are morally motivated to do violence to create, lead, protect, repair, end, or mourn social relationships with the victim or with others. We call our theory the theory of virtuous violence.
Political conflict, the researchers found, can shift into the zone of morally justified violence when elected officials and candidates focus their campaigns on grievances. As Dito said via email:
When groups interact with each other, exchange things, it creates the potential for feelings of grievance to develop – they screwed us up one way or another. Once you feel that a group has wronged you or your group, then you are in moral territory.
In a February 2021 article, “Populism and the Social Psychology of Grievance,” Ditto and Cristian G. Rodriguez, professor of psychology at the Universidad de los Andes, Chile, write: “Populist political movements seek to gain power by taking advantage of feelings of grievance, a feeling that “the people” have been treated unfairly by the “elite”. Evoking past grievance, they write, “has two obvious collateral costs: it can be used to justify undemocratic means of gaining political power, and its evocation risks triggering a cycle of self-escalating conflict. cross-factional politics.
As conflicts escalate, so do the perils of grievance politics:
Feelings of resentment can cause people to feel empowered to let go of previous moral and procedural constraints. While at times these constraints arguably seem bendable, abandoning other moral rules, such as adhering to democratic political tactics or prohibiting violence, can be far more problematic. Research on highly controversial and moralized political environments has found that they foster an increased willingness to tolerate undemocratic means to achieve desired political goals, up to and including violence. In the United States, partisan anger is associated with the tolerance of cheating, lying, and voter suppression as acceptable political tactics.
I asked Harvard political scientist Ryan Enos how partisanship can become moralized, legitimizing opposition and even violence. He has answered:
Politics plays a huge role here. It is the politicians who act on latent attitudes and can organize collective action or exploit the power of the state. For example, Trump supporters may have had a latent tendency to oppose immigration, but when Trump comes along and tells them we have to ‘build a wall’, it makes them think immigration really has to be a problem and, therefore, this latent trend is activated. Then, when the state gets involved in building that wall and aggressively enforcing immigration, it brings power and agency to those trends.
Hostility to immigration, writes Enos,
seems to be closely tied to a person’s larger worldview, such that a person who tends to be right wing will also tend to be anti-immigration and a person who is left wing will tend to be more open. Researchers disagree on how to characterize the differences between these worldviews, but note that much of the language used to describe the differences has implications for immigrant acceptance – for example, people on the right are described as seeing the world as “threatening”. ‘ or have a ‘closed’ view of the world.
Peter Howley, professor of behavioral economics at the University of Leeds, shared Enos’ perspective on the crucial role of closure and open-mindedness. “Openness is strongly correlated with immigration attitudes,” he wrote in an email, “and our own research demonstrates how openness strongly moderates the relationship between migrant inflows into its area and the self-reported well-being of existing residents”.
This openness, Howley continues,
captures the degree to which people are attracted to new stimuli and implies a preference for variety and new experiences. For people with relatively little openness, demographic change and all that it entails of exposure to new cuisine, music, and conveniences can be a daunting prospect, but for people with high scores in openness, changing demographics offer the 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 partisan disputes have extended to cultural and lifestyle issues, engaged citizens have organized themselves into parties by personality, a process we call “sorting by disposition.” In particular, those with “closed” personality traits have shifted to the Republican column in recent decades, and those with “open” traits have become Democrats. More generally, open citizens now take their economic policy cues from trusted elites of the cultural left, while closed citizens adopt the positions of those on the cultural right.
The conflicts within this country mirror in miniature the global tensions of the 21st century. Sciubba puts the predicament into context in his introduction to a new collection of essays, “A Research Agenda for Political Demography.”
At one extreme:
In high- and middle-income countries, the most recent transition is one of extremely low fertility and mortality, leading to a change in the composition of different age groups – much older than young people and the proportions decreasing numbers of middle-aged people. For the world’s most developed countries, national economic growth targets of 2% or more do not correspond to declining populations – the idea of infinitely expanding economies clashes with demographic reality. In some low-fertility states, immigration is eroding the advantages of long-standing ethnic majorities and political tensions are high. Growing support for far-right anti-immigrant parties and populists, particularly in the United States and Europe, demonstrates the link between demographics and politics.
At the other extreme:
In low-income countries, fertility remains high, but falling mortality means these populations are growing exponentially – a different transformation. 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 pressures on the land itself, and economic forces like globalization are restructuring economies, often toward production for export, rather than subsistence. Economic crises too often turn into civil conflicts, which then push people into new communities and across borders, and create a new set of problems for senders and receivers.
According to this reasoning, the prospect, on a world scale, is to aggravate the conflicts between the rich countries and the poor countries and between the rich and the poor within the countries. In many ways, politics is about organizing fear. Democracies crumble and republics dissolve when fear is too often used as a motivating tool, a partisan weapon. The question now is whether the political system can begin to organize our fear of each other in a constructive way that resolves rather than exacerbates conflict.
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