Monthly Archives: February 2016
The noted cognitive scientist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman introduced the concepts of System 1 and System 2 or fast and slow thinking. System 1 is fast, instinctive, and emotional. System 2 is slower, logical, and deliberative. System 2 came later in our evolutionary development. System 1 thinking is intuitive and uses quick judgments that we rely on for most decisions. It is also the process that leads to far greater biases in judgment. System 2, our more deliberative thought processes, can be used to dampen the negative effects of our intuitive judgments. System 1 or fast thinking is reptilian and automatic. It has evolved from deep in our evolutionary history. So we respond quickly and easily to sexual associations and danger. System 2 is thoughtful and cognitive. It requires slower thinking and patience.
The experience of hate is I think a System 1 cognitive process but we often try to treat it with System 2 solutions. In other words, the bigot, anti-Semite, and the racist are typically confronted with System 2 rational thinking as if the person is simply experiencing unjustifiable beliefs and misinformation. We try to change the person or educate him by presenting facts, correcting errors, and revealing logical inconsistencies. Curiously, we are dumbfounded and dismayed when this doesn’t work. When our attempt to reason the other person into correct thinking is useless we are chagrined.
The truth is that bigots and racists and anti-Semite’s don’t want to hear it. They are immune to the closed fist of logic that characterizes reasoning. Also, even though it’s a little bit counterintuitive, these people enjoy the experience of hating. It’s a powerful biologically-based experience of information that doesn’t require much from them and is sensually pleasing psychologically. The System 1 experience of emotional engagement for the racist and anti-Semite is fun! The quick and automatic conclusions of System 1 thinking are enjoyable and require little of the hater.
The person’s beliefs are firmly established and foundational to the experience of hating. There’s no questioning or insecurity. Anti-Semites stand sure in their beliefs and the power and pleasures of self-righteousness, condemnation of others, and sense of intense kinship with those who think like them is climactic in its joy.
Just look at the joys of hating:
- That anti-Semite gets to compare Jews to Nazis. What an orgiastic pleasure it is to take the group you hate most (Jews) and compare them to the great symbol of evil Nazis. Hatred is a purifying experience and perhaps the height of its titillating pleasure is the sense of superiority it confers on one. The bully (think Trump), the self-righteous, the judgmental, and the ignorant are all soldiers in this army of those who feel superior. The expressions of their beliefs are immediate and instinctual. And since they have little cognitive analytic sensibility and are incapable of genuine information processing, they don’t even see themselves as anti-Semitic.
- The racist who feels his group is superior transcends the pleasures of superiority and can think of himself as “morally” purified. Everywhere he looks he sees evidence – the confirmation hypothesis at work a System 1 heuristic – of his group’s moral clarity. The history and traditions of the outgroup are the subject of propaganda and deceit as any “good” in the outgroup is automatically attributed to the environment rather than the group thus maintaining the racist’s own sense of purity.
- The instinctual and exaggerated language of the hater quickly categorizes the other and relieves him of the burden of real moral scrupulousness. So one can accuse Israel of violation of human rights or colonialism without doing the hard analytical work of defining and understanding these ideas. These pleasures extend to the Westerner who hates Islam as well. His sense of political supremacy and rectitude produces the same gut feeling that Islam is backward and tribal, thus reproducing his own moral superiority.
Deliberative and thoughtful exchange about others is slow and plodding. It requires correction and revisiting of attitudes and beliefs that must be modified or discarded. The scrupulous attention to cognitive errors and misinformation is evolutionarily new and we are not yet so good at it, especially when deliberation has to compete with the reptilian joys of hate.
First posted 2/24/2014
There is a hadith, or saying of the prophet, that goes: “Know that paradise lies under the shade of swords.” Increasingly, this saying makes me think of American party politics as much as an ISIS credo.
I have spent a good part of my professional life studying group conflict that is informed by ethnicity, religion, and ideology. And of all the ugly and murderous strands of conflict the world is subject to those where religion and fundamentalism prevail are the most troubling and recalcitrant. American political discourse, especially inside the conservative wing of the Republican Party, is beginning to sound more like arguing with those who believe they know the mind of God. The unseemly nature of the Republican campaign and the existence of core values that are not subject to adjustment or moderation by democratic discourse, is a communicative expression of these incommensurate conflicts.
There has been no shortage of criticism of the quality and temperament of the leading Republican candidates so I will not elaborate on that except to add my voice to the chorus of those who are dismayed at how vapid Donald Trump is, and how Cruz is a fear-provoking evangelical who believes in using the state to bring about an apocalyptic vision of the end of the world. Rubio is a Roman Catholic but also attends a Southern Baptist Church in Florida probably for pure political expediency. They both have unforgiving religious boundaries and there isn’t much of a difference between them.
For a good and clear summary of evangelicals including their Protestant foundation and politics read an article in Foreign Affairs by Walter Russell Mead.
Turns out that candidates like Cruz and jihadist organizations like ISIS engage in the same rhetoric that is part of the logic of the discourse that characterizes incommensurable realities. (Those competing incommensurate realities are this group of Republican candidates and their liberal opposition). Cruz, who is immovable with respect to walls preventing immigration, the elimination of social safety nets, wiping out the IRS and making taxes unavailable for the public good, and wild and dangerous statements about carpet bombing ISIS, engages in the same rhetorical strategies as the Islamic state does with the West. Here are a few discursive patterns that underscore both groups.
Islam and the West tell different stories and have rival narratives. The language of the stories is constitutive of the meaning and embedded in the psychological, sociological, and political life of each group. Each group is trapped inside a story and there are no points of convergence between them. This is equally true of the Republican candidates exemplified mostly by Cruz. President Obama is not someone to disagree with but must be completely delegitimized; the Supreme Court becoming more liberal is so horrifying that it requires violating the Constitution and stopping the President from making an appointment; our country has been in decline and only the acceptance of Cruz’s God and family values will stay the decline.
Uncontrollable ingroup-outgroup mentalities that distort communication such that contrast effects create a reproducing cycle of perceived differences. Just as the West perceives differences that favor its own group history and culture, so too does the conservative-liberal intergroup mentality maintain a constant sense of differences with positive attributions made to the ingroup and negative attributions made to the outgroup. That’s why “name-calling” is so common and even effective because just labeling someone as a member of an outgroup is sufficiently damaging. There is no place for nuance. Calling someone “right-wing” or “liberal” categorizes them with all the implications.
The political parties (sorry, the Republicans more than the Democrats these days anyway) easily fall victim to the belief that language is dead – as exemplified by the Supreme Court and Scalia’s notion of strict constructionism – and any term or concept has a specifically decided upon meaning whose intent is clear and well understood and cannot be changed. This “dead” notion of language forces a contest between two or more groups for control of the meaning. It directs attention away from trying to find solutions or points of meaningful articulation and more toward self-justification. Meaning, while not completely free, is a living entity that is subject to new insights and discoveries. This mentality has escaped the current campaign as the candidates seem more intent on overwhelming their opponent then actually engaging the public.
Most people who are considered “rational” resonate with the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In other words, there seems to be something coherent and right about both sides having their own state including cultural, religious, artistic, historical, and political traditions that define the nature of the state. In this nice rational world the two sides have clear borders and tolerate one another even if it means little more than going about their business. They would share business interests to each others mutual benefit and perhaps one day even find themselves in a certain amount of cultural convergence – just enough to appreciate the other side.
I continue to support and argue to keep the two-state solution alive. There are a variety of reasons for this but most important is the maintenance of Israel as a “Jewish” and “democratic” state, not to mention what would be an act of justice for the Palestinians. There is just no way Israel can maintain its democratic traditions and its Jewish identity if it has to oversee an angry and disenfranchised ethnopolitical group. The conflict with Palestinians has been damaging to Judaism as well as Zionism. And, it has been damaging to the Palestinians. Again there are many arguments about the history and nature of Palestinian identity and national culture but what matters most is the future and the reality of Palestinian national consciousness. A national consciousness that is inevitable.
A binational (one state for two nationalities) solution is a nonstarter and barely justifies consideration. It is opposed by the majority of Israelis and even plenty of Palestinians. In fact, it would be counterproductive with respect to the goal of securing a Jewish and democratic state living in peace. The two-state solution is the only path to avoiding a binational state. If handled correctly it could result in the dignity and cultural development of both groups allowing each to flourish. But alas settlers and Netanyahu are infuriatingly intent on preventing a Palestinian state.
The current thinking
Among many who see the demise of the two-state solution, along with the right wing who reject the two-state solution, the current thinking is summed up in the phrase “manage the conflict.” In other words, leave things just as they are. There will be no binational state and no state for the Palestinians. Things will stay just as they are and occasional tension and even violence is just the price you pay for normal political reality. “Managing the conflict” makes two foundational arguments.
The first is that Israel is doing just fine. It is a wealthy and prosperous country with a rich economy and a per capita income about 15 times the Palestinians. Israel maintains a strong relationship with the United States – Netanyahu’s insults to Obama notwithstanding – and continues to collect about 4 billion a year in foreign aid. Israel is a world leader in research, high-technology, and medicine. Typically, you hear the argument that these successes will not be improved by the creation of a Palestinian state.
The second point concerns the conscious settlement and geographical control of the West Bank. The Netanyahu government continues to support settlement expansion (under the guise of “natural” expansion) and the annexation of certain areas. This includes a recent announcement that about 100,000 Jews will be settled in the Golan Heights taking advantage of Syria’s inability to respond because of its civil war. Palestinians in areas A and B will not be citizens or have voting rights in Israel itself thus making employment difficult and increasing the possibilities for immigration. Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, therefore, see no need for a Palestinian state. Just “manage the conflict” and issues will settle themselves over time.