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The Joys of Hate


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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Strategies for Hate Applied To Islam

imagesMuslims, for a lot of obvious reasons, have been the recipients of hate crimes and this is quite unfortunate. In addition to old-fashioned violent hate fueled by fierce emotions there is the more benign form of hate that simply tries to dispute Islam’s status as a religion. This is usually the territory of the more educated who are able and patient enough to do close analyses that they consider to be insightful with respect to the “true” nature of the religion. One example of this is Bill Warner who has written about Islam and lays out a rather thorough analysis about how Islam is not really a religion but a political system based in force. Warner thoroughly rejects Islam as a religion and describes it as “warlike,” and concerned predominantly with “annihilating civilizations.” You can watch an interesting video of Warner explaining his position here. Warner masks his extreme hostility to Islam in academic images of critical analysis. He refers to Islam as not coming from the tradition of critical thinking but one of authoritative thinking. He states clearly that Islam is nondemocratic the supply and its alien stance toward the West.

Warner’s analysis is really quite skilled in that he denies the concept of the “golden rule” in Islam because Muslims, according to Warner, do not believe in equality for all. Rather, they believe in equality only for a few and how you are treated depends on what groups and social class you belong to. His “golden rule” example is an appealing comparison that the average reader can relate to. Warner goes on to state emphatically that Islam is primarily interested in destroying civilizations and conquering the world. His arguments play nicely into the hands of those prepared to receive them.

Another hate strategy for anti-Muslim groups is to portray them as strange and alien. Prayer and worship are fundamentally different than the Judeo-Christian tradition and are typically associated with negative traits. Muslims are portrayed as aggressive, irrational, and unsympathetic to violence, child marriage, and the roles of women. Clearly Islam is associated with terrorism and understood as a justification for terrorism. A study on the relationship between hate crimes and terrorism found that a crimes or violence against a group like Muslims do not necessarily lead to or predict terrorist activities. Still, anti-Muslim groups believe that Islam is a danger to the United States and typically think of Muslims as a fifth column waiting in the wings to damage American democracy and Western civilization. Their fears are accompanied by paranoia about population growth that will one day overwhelm majorities.

Finally, Muslim hate groups characterize Islam is an evil religion capable of great violence and hate itself. They presume that Islam has no core human values and is inferior to the West. The Southern Poverty Law Center produces the hate map which identifies various hate groups in different states in the United States. The hate map is an important source of information because people can be easily misled by the skilled rhetoric of those who speak for these groups. Additional Muslim hate groups have been identified and had their rhetoric and strategies exposed.

Hate is an extreme emotion capable of great violence. Yet, I recognize that Islam is currently in the grip of a violent force in terms of Jihadis who do have a violent doctrine with vicious capabilities. But clichéish as it sounds this strand of Jihadi violence is not the essence of Islam. We are not in the midst of a battle for the soul of Islam, but perhaps for the influence of a particular path. Anti-Muslim hate groups must not win undue influence.

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