Hatred and the Environment:
The 21st Century’s Defining Political Issue
- N. Anderson
“Fascism includes supremacy of the military, the need for perpetual war and a disdain for pacifism, a merging of corporate and state power, dismantling the unions, indirect control of the media, national security and patriotism as a motivational tool for the masses, government corruption, candidates appointed by the party command, and an erosion of voter rights.” Benito Mussolini, quoted by Rainer Bussmann, 2015.
PART I. Hate and the Environment
The environment is now the most serious area of political problems for the world—the only area where bad choices will literally lead to the extinction of the human race and possibly of all life on earth. Global warming, deforestation, fresh water overdraft, urbanization and desertification of farmland, and pollution all threaten survival of billions of people.
Yet, politically, environmental politics has been neutralized. Since a flurry of measures in the 1960s and 1970s, environmental measures worldwide have been limited to a number of idealistic but toothless treaties. A few countries have made strides, but most are small nations (Scandinavia…) or else the strides have been modest and erratic (Brazil…). Most countries have suffered declines in environment that range from serious to catastrophic. China, the world’s most populous country, is one of the catastrophes (Anderson 2015).
The reason for the stagnation is simple and straightforward: opposition by the giant primary-production firms that profit from destruction. Big oil is the most politically active of these, but mining, agribusiness, coal, timber, and related industries are heavily involved. So are the banks and other service firms that directly work for them. Particularly opposed to environmental and health measures are the firms whose production directly damages health, especially big oil (Anderson 2010; Juhasz 2008; Klein 2014) and big tobacco (Hakim 2015, Mukherjee 2010). These companies have not only succeeded in blocking all significant restrictions on environmental damage; they have actually increased their environmental damage while increasing their direct and indirect subsidies from governments (Anderson 2010; Johnston 2007; McAdam 2015).
Big oil alone now gets 5.2 trillion US dollars in subsidies, worldwide, according to the IMF’s rather minimal figures (McAdam 2015). A Sunlight Foundationn report, Nov. 2014 (on their website http://sunlightfoundation.com/; see also Allison and Harkins 2014), reported that the 200 most politically active corporations in the United States spent 5.8 billion in campaigns and lobbying between 2007 and 2012, and got 4.4 trillion in subsidies, contracts (1/3 of all military contract dollars), tax breaks, bailouts, and giveaways—so they got a return of $760 for every dollar invested. The effective corp tax rate was 17.7%, the nominal 35%.
The real question is how they get away with it. The immediate and long-term self-interest of the 7,000,000,000 people in the world who are not directly employed by those firms should be enough to counterbalance them. In democracies, the overwhelming majority of voters should vote against the giant firms, as indeed they did in the 1960s. The firms all appeal to “jobs” and “economic growth,” but these claims are transparently false. With tobacco killing 5,000,000 people a year worldwide (Munro 2015) and doing incalculable damage to health and the economy, the tiny benefits it confers on a few executives and tobacco farmers are hardly visible when compared to the costs. The same goes for unregulated oil and chemical use. If regulated to reduce public costs, those are necessary and highly beneficial industries. The problem is that they successfully resist meaningful regulation, with resulting huge spills, fires, and other costs to the general public. If economics mattered, the giant primary-production firms would be reined in, regulated, and denied government subsidies.
However, both politics and economics in the US and most other countries are now dominated or influenced by firms that increasingly rely on subsidies and tax breaks rather than on economic competitiveness (Galbraith 2008). If they had to compete in a free market, economic theory suggests that they would not be able to afford racial segregation, religious domination of the public sector, and similar ills. It would hurt their bottom line. Indeed, many firms are still doing business the old way, and finding this to be the case. The problem is that the US and many other countries do not have free markets. The economy is dominated by the subsidized firms, especially oil, agribusiness (including tobacco), mining, chemicals, armaments and the like. These firms find it in their self-interest to play politics rather than producing superior products (see above-cited sources). They do better through subsidies than through legitimate business. Estimates run as high as 700-to-1 return on lobbying expenses. And they do best in politics by whipping up hate.
The ways they operate include bribery, corruption, and—especially in poorer nations—intimidation, and through spreading disinformation (Michaels 2008) as the tobacco companies do. Certain oil firms, in particular Koch Industries (see Dickinson 2014) but not only them, have actually hired the same public-relations firms that fight so hard and successfully for big tobacco (Goldenberg 2013a; Klein 2014; Oreskes and Conway 2010; Robbins and Seifter 2015). Since 90 firms, mostly big oil corporations including Norway’s and Saudi Arabia’s, cause 2/3 of greenhouse gas release (Goldenberg 2013b), one or two firms in denial can have a huge effect (on big oil in general, see Ross 2012).
But by far the most important and significant is through cultivating fear, hate, and negative emotionality in general. The details of hatred in the service of environmental destruction, and the rise of hatred in the US, will be detailed below.
Many giant firms, though apparently always those in the secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy, recognize the dangers, and are doing what they can to move in the other direction. Even so simple a message as the need to maintain well-paid, secure consumers in order to have a functioning economy has been abandoned by the far right, but many of the secondary and tertiary sector firms see this with crystal clarity. Perhaps business will save us from business. However, the prognosis is not good: fascism in 1930s Europe still serves as the prime case of business firms whipping up hatred only to see it rampage out of control and destroy all of society (on fascism, still definitive are Neumann 1943, 1957, on which sources I draw heavily below).
If business does save the modern world, it will have to de-fang hate-based politics first of all. The only hope for human survival now lies in understanding and stopping hatred.
The Failure of Rational Politics
I now take a longer view, grounding the whole problem of hate in social theory.
Like most of my generation, I was raised in the belief that humans are creatures of rational individual choice. We rationally decide to maximize material interest, money, or “utility” on the basis of carefully collected and assessed information, processed in the most cool and thorough manner possible. Even rats act according to conditioning, i.e. learning what brings food pellets and what brings electric shocks. Intangible rewards were not part of the mix.
Not only all economic theory, but all social science theory of any note, was based on this idea. Karl Marx had recognized humans as “impassioned,” but in obscure works that few noticed (like the Grundrisse,1973). Ordinary Marxism of the 1960s and 1970s and since was “vulgar materialist.” The rich conspired to maximize profits; the working class would soon see their real interests lay in uniting against the rich. This left Marxists wondering why workers usually had “false consciousness,” i.e. seeing their interests as lying with bosses, or with fascist rabble-rousers, or with simply turning to alcohol, rather than joining the Revolution.
Even the findings of Herbert Simon (1957) on “bounded rationality” seemed only to prove the rationalist case. Simon found that humans “satisfice,” accommodating to lack of time and lack of perfect information by approximating, and by putting up with less than ideal solutions. Similarly, James Olds’ findings that rats would do anything just to stimulate certain parts of the brain did not damage the model. He reasoned, correctly, that those were the reward centers that normally would be stimulated by getting a food pellet.
As a voracious reader of world literature, I knew that essentially all writers from the author of Gilgamesh to William Faulkner disagreed with this simple, mechanical view. They saw humans as creatures of passion. But I compartmentalized that and considered it “literature,” not “science.”
Like many social scientists, I was first confronted with scientific evidence for the literary view in Robert Zajonc’s classic paper “Feeling and Thinking: Preferences Need No Inferences,” in American Psychologist (1980). Zajonc showed that humans and other animals process perceptions emotionally before they identify them cognitively, and decide emotional responses before they decide cognitively. (Zajonc’s name rhymes with “science” and is Polish for “squirrel,” which somehow fits.)
At the same time, Simon’s work had spawned a vast amount of research on limitations to human rationality—on the “heuristics and biases” that allow us to operate in the real world, where the “perfect information” and “perfect rationality” of economic theory do not exist. The work was done largely by the Israeli researchers Paul Tversky and Daniel Kahneman (see Kahneman 2011). It came to the world’s attention in the late 1970s through a flurry of articles. Richard Nisbett’s and Lee Ross’s book Human Inference (1980) brought it to wide attention. Gerd Gigerenzer has shown at length that the “heuristics and biases” found by Tversky and Kahnemann actually make sense, like Simon’s satisficing, in a world where perfect information is impossible to find; we have to cut corners, approximate, make do, and guess, and Gigerenzer has shown that the heuristics are very good for doing that (Gigerenzer 1991, 2007). But they aren’t “rational” and they make nonsense of the classic and neoclassic economic models. Between Zajonc and Nisbett and Ross, I had my explanation for “false consciousness.”
The “rational individual choice” model of behavior took a while to die. Several books in the 1980s (especially Jon Elster 1983) and the early 1990s damaged it beyond repair, but the final devastating blow was given by Antonio Damasio, who basically extended Zajonc’s agenda, studying the role of emotional responses in humans and lab animals. His book Descartes’ Error (1994) was widely read. He laid out a clear, forthright, uncontrovertible case that emotions and deeper drives motivated behavior, with reason being merely one way of getting those drives satisfied. David Hume’s observation in the 1740’s had been right all along: “Reason is, and should ever be, the slave of the passions” (Hume 1969).
This all leaves us in a crisis of social theory. We are now in the same situation that medicine in 1870, when 2000-year-old theories were suddenly challenged by new data showing that microorganisms, not humoral imbalance, caused infectious disease. We are living with nineteenth-century theories adapted to a totally different world and wrong even for it: socialism, communism, neoclassical economics. These are challenged by Damasio just as Galenic medicine was by Pasteur and Koch.
Bounded Rationality, Emotion, and Human Nature
This is not to say people are irrational. They take reasonably direct routes to work. They pay attention to “the main chance.” Comparing two otherwise identical tubes of toothpaste, they will generally choose the cheaper one. Even so, I am astonished to see at my local drugstore that the “brand name” items still sell, even though the identical products made by the same manufacturer are available next to them for considerably less—the only difference being that the latter are sold under the drug store’s own label. Brand-name loyalty is one classic heuristic.
However, the farther we get into really important decision-making, the less individual material rationality matters. People choose their spouses, vices, favorite restaurants, enemies, and political causes on the basis of love and hate, not individual maximization. Gary Becker (1996) famously defended economic rationality by arguing that people become drunks and dope addicts because they prefer alcohol and drugs to money—apparently not realizing that by this defense he had totally given away the store. If people prefer suicidal “fun” to rational saving of money, the view of people as creatures of rational self-interest is not maintained. Calling self-destruction “rational” strips the word of all meaning. If everything is “rational,” the term has no explanatory value.
Materialistic and financial considerations are not lacking in this world, and certainly are not to be ignored. Often, they combine with emotional factors as reasons for decision. There are, for instance, usually both emotional and economically rational reasons for war; the public hates the enemy, while the ruling class gets loot or at least the profits from making guns and bombs. Similarly, true love laughs at wealth, but in reality most lovers do not marry people much poorer than they are. This simple realization inspired a revolution in psychotherapy, with Albert Ellis’ rational-emotional therapy, Aaron Beck’s cognitive-behavioral therapy, and William Glasser’s control therapy. Consideration of these is outside the scope of this paper, but suffice it to say that almost all psychotherapy today is based partly on getting the balance of reason and emotion better adjusted. Albert Ellis’ rational-emotional model works. People are creatures of reason and emotion, usually using the reason to achieve goals set by emotion. Managing emotion and acting reasonably are both basic to mental health.
A finding of Ellis, Beck, and others is that the really difficult situations are those in which emotion distorts rational decision-making, such that people think they are being rational and maximizing their self-interets when in fact they are acting against it. This clearly emerges in environmental issues: people go for the short-term and narrow benefits at the expense of long-term ones. Among the Tversky and Kahnemann heuristics is a finding that people overvalue the near; in economic terms, they have overly steep discount slopes. Another heuristic is optimism: people assume the best, and it is hard to get them to be realistic. What looks good, emotionally, is very plausible. Gigerenzer and his fellows have pointed out, correctly as usual, that this is a survival mechanism: if we weren’t a bit overhopeful we’d never do anything, given the chances of failure in this imperfect world. Martin Seligman (1990) showed that people are happier and more successful when a bit overoptimistic. Every successful restaurant is a monument to hope, since about 90% of new restaurants fail. But when overoptimism takes over fisheries regulation or water allocation or reforestation planning, the results are bound to be catastrophic.
Thus, many of us who were involved in environmental and political movements realized that we were arguing wrongly by confining ourselves to arguing for rational self-interest alone. Political scientsts have now admitted that voters are irrational, or “boundedly” rational (Caplan 2007; Marcus 2002; Westen 2007).
People’s emotions are innate, but they learn how to express or repress them, and they learn from experience and peers when to whip emotions up into overdrive, such that the emotions may get out of control and lead to violence or other troubles. Politicians depend on their ability to stir their followers to action, as in the famous story: “When Democritus spoke, people said ‘What a good orator,’ but when Pericles spoke, they said ‘let us march.’ (This bit of folklore is told in several versions about several different people and has no known source—I heard it as a child and have found many versions on Google—but it certainly makes the point.)
In particular, conservation was often “irrational” in the short run. Inspection of the classical success stories in traditional societies, and of the works of great conservationists from Thoreau to Aldo Leopold, made it clear that economic and ecological arguments were often important, but that love of nature was what mattered. I had tended to dismiss such writers as Leopold for being too “touchy-feely,” and I learned the full error of my ways.
Thus in 1996 I produced a modest book, Ecologies of the Heart, arguing for love and care as the determinants of environmental protection, and showing how traditional societies marshall those emotions through mechanisms that social scientists usually call “religion.” Significantly, the traditional societies themselves usually regard the beliefs in question as obvious fact, not religion. The beliefs do, however, run heavily to dragons, protective spirits, rocks with souls, and other beings unknown to everyday science. They also inspire moral rules, ceremonies, and ritual behaviors that serve the cause of conservation. Emotion and reason serve each other.
Soon after, Kay Milton brought out a book called Loving Nature (2002) that argued the same in regard to modern environmental movements. The idea has been accepted with astonishing rapidity since, and now seems established. Rational self-interest appears necessary to sell environmental ideas widely, but emotion is also critical, especially in motivating activists and lifestyle-changers.
I produced more books about loving nature and the social construction thereof in traditional ecological wisdom. Many others have done the same. However, nature remains unsaved. Neither love nor the now-obvious fact that we are committing planetary suicide has motivated change.
The reason became clear as I worked with my wife on studies of genocide (Anderson and Anderson 2012). The other, and in the end stronger, major human emotion is hate. It gets in the way. It not only motivates, routinely, the cold-blooded mass murder of minority groups (over 100 million people in the 20th century), but it also motivates the rejection of ecological sanity.
Hate is far less studied than love. Look at any psychological journal and you will probably find an article or two about love. You will not find any about hate. With some stunning exceptions, notably Roy Baumeister’s Evil (1997) and Erwin Staub’s The Roots of Evil (1989) and Overcoming Evil (Staub 2011); significantly, he too was a genocide scholar), hate has been ignored (though see also Sternberg and Sternberg, The Nature of Hate, 2008). Yet it now is the strongest motive in American political life, and in much of the rest of world politics. (What follows builds mostly on these four books.)
I must thus build from our genocide work, and from the findings of Baumeister, Staub, and a very few others. Unlike my work on love of nature, this leaves me highly exposed—exploring new terrain in which I do not have a lifetime of research experience. I am somewhat consoled by the fact that my wife’s and my model of the development of genocide was also developed, quite independently of our own efforts, by conflict student Barbara Harff. Harff and we had no knowledge of each other and used quite different databases, but came out with the same model in the same year (Harff 2012; Anderson and Anderson 2015), showing that we have at least something to say. (Depressingly, the genocide establishment, concerned with particularist history, has totally ignored all three of us, as well as Gregory Stanton, who has posted a similar model online.) Harff made more than we did of what she called “exclusionary ideologies”—what my wife and I had been calling “hate ideologies.” Staub and some others had also made much of hate, but an astonishing percentage of the genocide literature either ignores ultimate motives or follows the old rational paradigm and blames genocide on people wanting to take others’ property or at least being envious of it. This is so clearly inadequate that it merely serves to discredit the rational-economistic paradigm further.
I thus plunge into the study of evil with more ambition than optimism. But “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Someone has to make a start on this. Lacking angels, I will try my best.
Weakness into Hate
Weakness and defensiveness are among the major causes of hate. The other cause is actual harm, to oneself or one’s group. Realtively weak people will respond with anger that easily gets out of control and turns into the long-running emotional scenario we usually imply by the word “hate.”
Hatred is almost universal and is learned from almost any source. We seem to be adapted to learn it, as we are adapted to learn language.
People are naturally social, and naturally hate and compete for social place above all, then power, then resources. People will always, thus, plow resources into power competion and power into social-place competition.
Responses to social threat, harm, slights, and fear differ according to the self-efficacy of the responder. The weakest collapse into passivity—they go limp. Next weakest is sheer conformity. Third is escapism, finding refuge in religion or fantasy. Fourth is anger and hate. Fifth is rational responding. Sixth and highest is rational proactive coping. At any point, hopelessness and depression can take over. The alternative is courage: not lack of fear, but carrying on even when frightened. Some threats are real and some hurts are deadly serious; going on in spite of them is what makes human society possible.
It is impossible to surf the Internet, especially media like Facebook, without immediately encountering hateful attacks on the rich, the poor, the gay community, the whites, the minorities, men, women, immigrants, Democrats, Republicans, and every other highly visible group. A dozen countries worldwide are torn by religious conflicts that have little to do with economic self-interest. A dedicated economic theorist would no doubt point to the trivial financial gains of militants in ISIS, but any actual rational calculation of expected benefits vs. chance of death would lead any Muslim to avoid ISIS—as most in fact do. As I wrote this, my wife found and recycled a raft of Facebook postings filled with rants about men, women, gays, straights, minorities, and so on—many of the rants serious enough to make one question the ranters’ sanity, and also to endanger them somewhat. Yet, nothing can do less good than a Facebook rant. People are expressing their hate for no reason except their own satisfaction (if such it can be called).
America is probably not going to collapse right away, but hatred gone out of control has now escalated into national meltdowns in Afghanistan, Congo (DR), Iraq. Israel, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and other countries. Others are teetering on the brink, saved largely by international action: Central African Republic, Chad, Lebanon, Mali, Sudan. These have ongoing killings and highly polarized politics. Recent violence in the republics that once were Yugoslavia, in Ukraine, in Georgia, and elsewhere show that rich, developed nations are not immune. Indeed, the Terror in Northern Ireland was as horrific a hate-based civil war as anything in Africa (though ultimately on a smaller scale), and it took place over decades in a stable, rich democracy (see Staub 2011).
Much less serious, but still destructive, and very much more widespread, is the use of hate to blind people to their self-interest and get them to vote against themselves. This has notoriously been the Republican Party’s specialty in recent US history (Frank 2004), but it is hardly confined to them. Political parties all over the world do it. It was a time-honored trick before Hitler and Stalin made it into national movements.
Some idea of the dominance of irrational hate over common sense is seen in the US business community’s backing for the right-wing apotheosis of racism and religious bigotry. Hitler’s Germany proves that such backing is suicidal for business. The left, for balance, has poured hatred on “the rich” and “the 1%,” in spite of the fact that the rich have voted about 50-50 (with only slight Republican bias) in recent presidential elections.
Hatred blocks thinking through long-term and wide-flung benefits versus short-term, narrow ones. Hatred makes people look to their own narrow group. It keeps people from seeing that the general welfare not only matters, but is an imperative consideration. If we do not stop global warming, global pollution, global fresh water waste, and similar behaviors, we will all suffer—a fact obvious to anyone who looks at even a tiny slice of data. But, worldwide, most political activity remains mired in attempts to score off on immediate opponent groups. This is in large part because the problems are far in the future, and of uncertain magnitude; recall the steep discount slope.
My particular cause is the environment, and environmental questions show this effect more clearly than other types, precisely because they can be addressed only by love for the environment coupled with rational action of wide-flung, long-term scales. They are thus the most vulnerable to the politics of hate.
Of course, there are also simple economic reasons for resisting environmentalism. Some environmentalists do go far into a realm of telling people to give up practically everything, live a spartan lifestyle, and forget about economic growth. Any rational person would have trouble with this scenario. There are also more legitimate issues of short-term/long-term tradeoffs. These complicate the picture. However, examination of resource politics reveals that polluting and overexploiting interests frequently whip up hatred to get the public to vote for pollution and against community interest. Similar use of hate to sell anti-environmental and anti-worker cadidates have been successful from Brazil to Turkey and from Australia to Canada. We will examine this, but for the moment I will look at the wider questions.
Needs and Motives
Needs are not motives. Need for water isn’t a motive or motivation; thirst is. The same applies to food vs hunger, health vs curing, social needs vs socializing. Security and dealing with fear are needs, but give rise to several motives: fight, flight, freeze, anger, hate, or quick rational action.
Of course, hatred is not the only emotional driver of irrationally short-term, narrow behavior. Laziness, sheer fear, irresponsiblity, hopelessness, meekness, and conformity to immobilizing social norms can all do it. Even love can do it. Psychopathy can make people evil and violent without particular hatred. However, these other motives are inadequate to explain social and political outcomes. It is usually actual opposition, based on intense negative emotions, that defeats leaders and causes.
By hatred I mean here the focal meaning of the word: highly emotional rejection and dislike of individuals or groups. This includes bias, prejudice, bigotry, bullying, overneg, displacement, cowardly lashing out, gratuitous meanness, etc. Hating boiled cabbage, or romantic films, or rap music is not what I mean. More significantly, I am not talking about hatred of ideas or theories. Hating an idea—as opposed to hating the bearers of that idea—probably does no particular damage worldwide. It is when hatred extends to actual living humans or other lives that hatred does damage. One can hate racism or bigotry or bullying and be all the better for it. But when one extends hatred to a whole group, even if the group is racists or bullies, one is on a slippery slope to irrational violence. The old line “hate the sin but not the sinner” applies.
Even hatred of individuals as people may be excusable if they have done harm to one. The hatred that is the subject of the present paper is hatred of whole groups where no adequate reason can be adduced. Hatred of a personal enemy who has done one multiple wrongs is a different matter. The problem is that there is no real boundary; the one grades into the other. A bigot can always say that his whole opponent-group has done wrong to his or her own group. This may sometimes be reasonable; more often it verges on paranoia; the issue has to be considered case by case. I will stick closely to incontrovertibly unfair and bigoted hates in the present work.
Diminishing another’s humanity is a classic mark of hate, but can be done for other reasons, notably commercial ones; pop culture diminishes people for simple commercial reasons. Corporations spend the least possible amount producing songs and films, and please the lowest common denominator. This is deplorable, but should not be confused with the deliberate diminishing of humanity seen in hate campaigns, which almost invariably compare the hated group with rats, cockroaches, and other disliked animals (Kiernan 2007; Staub 1989, 2011). On the other hand, hate campaigns can and do take fiendish advantage of the diminishment of humanity in popular culture, as anyone knows who has followed the controversies around gangsta rap.
Causes of Hatred
Hatred itself comes from several sources. The clearest and most obvious is actual experience with harm and threat, especially if it is erratic and hard to predict. However, many people are hurt and yet cope perfectly well. For it to call up anger that turns to long-running hate, personal inadequacy is often required. Weak, scared people who have some access to strength or force become bullies or hate-ideologues. In particular, weak or fearful members of powerful majority groups often identify with the group and become extreme hatemongers.
However, Roy Baumeister, on the basis of much research, counseled against taking this view too far (Baumeister 1997). He found plenty of hateful, bullying people with eminently fine records of bravery and high self-esteem. In fact, the worst people often had the highest self-esteem, partly because high self-esteem is typical of psychopaths and sociopaths. (He and others demolished the self-esteem movement by finding that self-esteem is not necessarily a good thing.) There is, in fact, a range from cowardly haters to very brave and courageous ones. We cannot accuse the soldiers of ISIS of outstanding fear.
That said, in general, behind antagonism is a need for “security” at all costs. Dictators have always found that people will accept anything if you can convince them that “security” is at issue. The only times and places anything else wins are when the country is secure and people have opportunity to do better. Freedom is desired, but freedom means different things, and often “freedom from fear” is held to be the most important one. To some, freedom means the right to bully, rape, exploit, and even kill anyone weaker. As the Federalist Papers pointed out, such “freedom” is really anarchy or tyranny.
So life can become a security/opportunity tradeoff, with opportunity winning only when there are overwhelming chances of doing better. Most self-risk is for security—fighting for country and peace, in particular. Even sacrificing one’s life for one’s religion can be a security issue, if it is intended to bring security for one’s family or security for oneself in Heaven. Similarly, most individual motivation (work, self-improvement…) has security as a real goal, not advancement.
Next most obvious is simple cultural tradition. Hatred of Black people in the American South goes back to slavery days, and especially to the conflict between first enslaved and later free Blacks and poor whites vying for the same limited set of jobs. The hatred persists, long after its economic roots have ceased to matter much. In fact, hatred has become a point of pride and of cultural solidarity in the south today, and groups that were not particularly racist in older times are now heavily racist. (This trend applies notably to my own ethnic group, southern Scots-Irish, and I have watched its progress with increasing dismay over my lifetime.) In fact, most people worldwide get their hatred from their parents and peers, not from their own experience or psychodynamics. Individual psychology, however, must explain why some individuals are so much more susceptible and extreme than others in the same cultural surroundings.
Economic rationality does have its role. In a downwardly mobile time, like the early 1930s, people tend to become more competitive, group against group. In an upbound time, people see more benefits from cooperation.
This can be modeled as negative-sum, zero-sum and positive-sum games. Negative-sum games are predictable when everyone is getting worse off and the only hope lies in making other people even more rapidly worse off to slow one’s own decline. Zero-sum games dominate in ordinary times, when my gain may be expected to be at your expense, but at least the pie is fairly constant. Positive-sum games, in which everyone gets better off through cooperation, are expected only in strongly hopeful economic times.
The biggest hatred problem worldwide is hating those beneath one in the socioeconomic ladder, especially poorer minorities. This is interesting because it almost has to come from fear and displacement. Usually, cowardice and defensive aggression are deployed, with the aggression being displaced downwards. Hating those higher in the social scale is also common, but apparently less so than hating down. Cowardly defensiveness may be the most important single motive of human action, not because it is the commonest or the most dominant, but because its consequences are so devastating.
Cowardly defensiveness in most people thus takes the forms of scapegoating, displacing, bigotry, and bullying the weak. Many a tough guy is tough as a way of overcompensating; many a hyperfeminine woman is defending herself.
How Evil Wins
Hate wins because fear is both the strongest emotion and the one that must be prioritized, and then aggression and hate are the strongest way to deal. Fear causes a fight-flight-freeze response in all animals. In humans, fighting is often verbal and ideological; flight is often into escapism, including Hollywood films, social media, games, and romantic novels; freezing often goes into depression and inanition. The social construction of the fight response most often moves into right-wing politics, while more moderate and liberal souls often take to escapism and inanition, though there are plenty of intemperate fighters on the left too.
Bad things are always happening in this imperfect world, and have to be dealt with. One accident—even a minor one—can ruin a world of good. More to the point when we come to understand human hate, one insult or harsh word can destroy a marriage or a lifelong friendship. We cannot ignore bads or hates. We have to learn to deal coolly and reasonably with them, or else we tend to fall into chronic hatred or hopelessness.
As a large, predatory, hypersocial animal, the human is wired to defend by violence, and especially to defend the group. Hatred, slighting, contempuous dismissal, toxic neglect, irresponsibility, are often directed against other groups simply because they exist and seem to compete for some types of goods or utilities..
Giving up control and making oneself abject is a huge part of the problem. The popularity of the “fifty shades” books and similar literature seems to indicate that many women actually want to be beaten, insulted, dominated and abused. The outpourings of racism and religious bigotry worldwide seem to be to be intimately related. They are all part of one syndrome: giving in to weakness and mixing up coping with brutality. These connections have not been explored much by psychologists; they need very serious attention.
Dealing by just cowering or by rational coping stands little chance against hate-based aggression in a straight physical fight, and often in political fights too. So the worst win. In a typical country, perhaps 20% of people are truly hateful; the other 80% may hate to varying degrees, but often simply go along out of passivity or irresponsiblity. (These figures come from voting records; there are very consistent levels of voting for outright-fascist candidates, around the world; the fascists get about 20% of the vote in straight elections, sometimes up to 30-40% if the other choices are weak. This has shown up recently in voting tolls in the United States, Britain, Canada, France and several other countries, and it showed up in Europe in the 1930s also. Surveys confirm that about 20% of people are highly bigoted against whatever minority is salient, and another 20% will go along if the economy is in trouble or other stressors exist.)
Liberals in the United States today are typical of the other 80%: they mean well, but they are often disunited, apathetic, and not responsible enough to vote. Passivity and ataraxia are escapist, and derive from the same irrational reponse to fear that drives hatred. People range from close to 100% good to 100% bad, which makes it hard to predict how they will break, but simple need to fight back against threat means that at any given time there will be much hatred and violence in the world.
Individuals vary enormously in aggressiveness, hatefulness, reactive anger, psychopathy, sociopathy, and personal weakness and withdrawal. Their complexities are not captured by “us”-“them” distinctions. All individuals have cross-cutting loyalties and social identifications. In modern society, this becomes complicated: a typical person is part of his or her family, work group, ethnic group, religious (or unreligious) congregation, political party, local eating group, and so on and on. One may have cross-cutting loyalties to dozens of groups. One person may be intensely identified with his or her religion, while another is identified with career and career-mates, another with family, another with political party. Everyone has to balance the resulting loyalties and solidarities. Everyone must choose, then, whom to love, hate, or disregard. Can one ignore one’s religious group? Work colleagues? Local barfly scene?
No one gets away with a simple us-them or us-other distinction. No one can avoid getting pulled in different directions. No one can avoid being torn by pressures to like, dislike, accept, reject, love or hate the various people in one’s many different groups. Moreover, almost everyone is an odd-person-out in one way or another: the only Jew in a right-wing Christian town, the only teacher in an anti-intellectual neighborhood, the only motorcycle nut on a dourly quiet street.
Thus, no one can avoid social hurts and social cross-pressures. The resulting emotions almost inevitably include defensiveness and resistance. This starts with offense or stress, especially social (disrespect, “hurt feelings”), leading to irritation, exasperation, disapproval, and upset. In so far as people feel entitled to respect, they become really angry. If not consoled and comforted, they become even more so.
Some arguments by haters are so universal that they are diagnostic:
–Contrasting one’s own highest ideals with the worst practices of the opponents (we value freedom and democracy, whereas those other guys beat their wives).
–Referring to each side as if it was totally uniform (Israel vs the Arabs, rather than Netanyahu’s group vs Hamas).
–Emphasizing the evils of the other side while studiously ignoring one’s own (for Hitler, the Jews cheated people while the Aryans were strong and noble).
–If one has to acknowledge one’s own sins, claiming one was forced to do it by the outrageous actions of the other side (we had to rape their women because their boys threw rocks at us).
Each side takes the other’s bad actions as a spur to do even worse, to scare them into stopping or just to get rid of them. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” as Gandhi said, but this is worse: two eyes for an eye.
These specious arguments can construct up into whole ideologies, Barbara Harff’s “exclusionary ideologies.” Hitler’s Nazism, Stalinist Communism, the Tea Party, and Maoism in China are typical examples of the worst possible scenario: building hate into a whole ideology of life, with every aspect of governance, personal behavior, knowledge, and even aesthetics derived from the basic hate.
Much or all of the problem starts in childhood. Children cannot rationally respond tohatred, attacks, and abuse; they do not know how, and would not have the power to act accordingly if they did know. Many of us were raised with parents who were both disempowering and hypercritical—constantly making negative judgments but giving little opportunity to cope with the problems. That sort of disempowering child-rearing leads to fearful, weak defensiveness. This in turn can to malignancy as the child grows up, if the child is raised in the intolerant, bullying atmosphere that was the lot of many of us as schoolchildren.
This in turn leads to extreme touchiness—“taking offense”—and a resulting domestic economy of mutual slights and hurts. It also leads to scapegoating and displacing defensive anger toward non-family members. Abusive and bullying parents also produce haters.
Unfortunately, the opposite is not always perfect. Parents who are too “nice” and indulgent run the risk of producing children who are meek and easy-going enough to put up with too much hatred in and from others, and perhaps also so “entitled” that they do not feel solidarity with the oppressed. Only a strongly empowering child-rearing pattern raises children who can deal with a mean and brutal world. Empowering must include forcing children to make their own decisions and pay the consequences; parents must be there but must not be “helicopter” or “tiger” parents who sap all linitiative.
All the innate good of people is in every child, but it is easily deflected by childrearing that weakens or embitters the child. The good thing about that is that the hatreds all learned, though all too easy to learn (hate goes into a natural groove), and thus is preventable. One can interrupt at three points: strengthen the child, prevent learning biases, stop actual harm. But one must do all three at once, not always an easy agenda (on this see, again, Baumeister 1997 and Sternberg and Sternberg 2008).
Hatred and Economics
To see how hate distorts environmental policies and practices, we must return to the often-bad accommodation of passion and reason.
What we see in the modern world is a large number of giant multinational corporations, increasingly dominant in the world economy, increasingly cut off from accountability or feedback, and increasingly able to dominate governments. Their CEO’s will not suffer if civilization collapses in 50 years or if humanity becomes extinct in 100. In fact, their CEO’s are not in the least worried about the ecological conequence of their firms’ actions. If a few thousand people in India or Amazonia die because of corporate malfeasance, no executive will suffer, and probably few or no employees will. The corporations are powerful enough to be above the law.
This is not really about “greed” in a simple sense. The corporations want security and market share more than profits. Some shareholders want profits more, but many shareholders are giant investors who also prefer stability to risky profit maximization. The rich who own the firms have enough money; they want stability for the firms, and status and power for themselves.
Hatred and Corporations
Bigness is a distorter of society. The powerful get inordinate amounts of respect, as well as disproportionate shares of resources. They can manipulate public opinion simply because they are respected and feared. They can also buy and manipulate media. They can hire writers and commentators. They can even set up whole foundations and think tanks. They can start and fund whole social movements; the Koch brothers started and funded the Tea Party. Ultimately, they can even control governments. Several governments worldwide are dominated by oil interests, most obviously Saudi Arabia but also more than a dozen others from Brunei to Equatorial Guinea. Above all, though, they can draw on status emulation. Humans seem to be hard-wired to imitate those in authority. (Evolutionary psychologists suspect this developed to motivate children to emulate their elders.) The powerful can always count on this; they need not work or spend money to get people to imitate them or follow them.
Quite apart from the immediate rational self-interest of big firms and powerful people to maximize their advantage, there is the fact that the more competitive and ruthless a person is, the more that person can rise in politics. Whipping up hatred and exploiting it is always one of the easiest, cheapest and safest ways to get power. Democracy partially prevents this, as does monarchic succession, but even a prosperous democracy is easily swayed to vote for a tyrant. Hitler, Rios Montt (in Guatemala), and many other infamous genociders were democratically elected, though usually by pluralities rather than majorities.
Thus, some corporations have seen their best interest in whipping up hatred. Many giant German firms backed Hitler in the 1930s. More recently, many large-scale corporations in the United States—notably certain big oil firms—have systematically backed overtly racist and religiously bigoted candidates, and have also backed, funded, and sometimes even written measures to discourage minorities from voting and to establish extremist religious laws in defiance of the Constitution.
The core of fascism is greed taking advantage of hate, but there is more: the fusion of primary-production and heavy-industry interests with government and the development of a specific hate ideology. Hitler added militarism, bullying of all sorts, and Nietzschean power-worship (see, again, Neumann 1943, 1957). Stalin combined fascism and communism.
Whipping up extremism and hatred was, of course, typical of fascism in Europe, and later of Stalinism and Maoism. It is now typical of politics in China, India, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United States, and dozens of other countries. In general, the worst problem is religious hatred; Stalinist and Maoist Communism were virtual religions. Racism is less prevalent, but is important in right-wing politics in Australia, Canada, and the US, among other places, and of course in Hitler’s Germany.
In all cases, there is very extensive funding, and it does not come from the pockets of the people—usually unemployed young men—who carry out the violence. It comes from big oil (especially in the Middle East) and other giant interests that have a stake in drawing off unwelcome attention by whipping up other causes.
The oil-based Saudi Arabian government has funded the propagation of Wahhabite and Salafite extremism that has converted Islam worldwide from a religion of peace and order to one increasingly identified with terrorist murder. It raised a serpent which is now, in the form of ISIS, biting its creator. Not to be outdone, the oil-based Iranian government has propagated equivalent forms of Shi’a. Many Americans do not realize that Islam has its own sects, and these shifts are equivalent to America’s replacement of mainstream churches by extremist fundamentalism as the stereotype of “normal” Christianity. Big oil backs the extremists, in Islamic countries as in the United States.
The increasing reliance of primary-production and other giant firms on hatred is thus worldwide and not confined to democracies where votes are needed. It is a link that seems to have taken on a life of its own, and become the defining political fact of the 21st century.
Commentators widely miss this, because they see problems as either economic (giant firms, global warming…) or emotional (racism, bigotry). They do not see the connection. This is not for lack of data. Anyone following the news can see the billions of dollars poured into anti-minority, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-woman, and other bigoted causes, and especially devoted to political candidates from such movements, by such corporations as Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, the tobacco industry, and Monsanto.
It will cost. The firms now rely on their hate-motivated legions to block any action on global warming, forest protection, or other things that diminish their profits. Anti-environmentalism has become a defining cause for the right, and has been linked with racism, religious hate, anti-woman and anti-gay extremism, and other hates. This is a dangerous game, because the legions are far more extreme than their corporate manipulators. The corporate executives might be tempted to compromise when things get serious—when south Florida starts going under water, for instance—but the haters will not compromise on anything, as we know from past experience with Hitler, Stalin and Mao and present experience in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere.
This point has finally been realized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which routinely backed the most extremist candidates—the racists, religious rabble-rousers, anti-gay and anti-woman candidates—in the early 21st century. They succeeded in electing many, and find that such politicians are devastating to business interests. They are thus beginning to work against them, and to restore Republican moderates to life (McCarter 2015).
Most oil companies now admit global warming is partly human-caused and are willing to work on it, but the far right has now taken over the cause, refusing compromise. For some, it is literally a religious cause; they believe God gave humans “dominion” over the earth in a total and uncompromising way, and would not allow the earth to warm too much. This religious fervor has no excuse in the Bible, but it is closely linked to other anti-science causes, notably anti-evolutionism, and somewhat less closely to racism, anti-vaccination, and other anti-science causes. One remembers Hitler’s and Stalin’s use of pseudoscience to aid their causes, and Goebbels’ propaganda device of the “Big Lie.”
One invariable correlate is anti-science and pseudoscience. Hitler had racism, anthroposophism and bizarre sexual theories. Stalin promoted Lysenko. Pseudoscience now is reaching Hitlerian heights in the United States, with the Wall Street Journal refusing to accept the truth of global warming, New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade promoting racism very close to Hitler’s (Wade 2014), and right-wing politicians calling for eliminating the teaching of evolution from the schools.
A basic world problem is abuse of power, which is inevitable when there is a disproportionate amount of it concentrated in the hands of one person or group. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell what is a “disproportionate” amount. Once power is concentrated, the tendency for people to get into more and more vicious rat-fights, to win more power, is irresistable. Egalitarian society and civil behavior are cures, but can never be total., Bottom-up organization is necessary to balance the power at the top, but somebody has to keep order and set standards, also. We are back to the problem identified by Shen Buhai 2300 years ago: how to assign the right level of decision-making power to the right levels in an organizational hierarchy. Top-down meddling and power-tripping and bottom-up irresponsibility and violence are all dangerous.
“Power” in society as ability to make others do what you want. Some add that they themselves should not want to do it, in which case direct physical force, or the threat of it, must be invoked. However, far more often, power is exercised through manipulating wants. Charismatic and persuasive individuals, or simply outright liars and conmen, can convince people to “want” things they would not want if they were left to themselves and were being rational. Much more common—in fact the overwhelmingly most important way power is exercised in society—is use of social pressure to make people conform, go along, or bear. They may not actively want to do what they are doing, but they are convinced it’s “right” or that they have to go along with society. The various ways of doing this have been explored in detail by Weber, Foucault, Bourdieu, Benedict Anderson, and many others. They range from religious teaching to school-playground peer pressure, and from taste in literature to group hate. People normally want to do what their reference group does, think as others in it think, feel as they feel, and like what they like. In a free and complex society, individuals can more or less choose what reference group to join, but throughout most of history, few had that choice. Even within my lifetime, religion has gone from something that one was born into and died in, and which governed one’s behavior, to something barely noticed by many and chosen by others from a smorgasbord of cults and teachings.
In short, power in society is largely exercised by society itself, and enforced by censure, criticism, rejection, and ostracism. People fear this above all else, as we know from the willingness of most people to die for a cause or to avoid shame.
The fear is not just of being rejected. More deadly and agonizing is the fear of being genuinely despicable—of being rejected and held in contempt for good reasons. Of course the “good reasons” are socially learned, to a large extent. People need to be accepted, but they need even more to be (or at least feel they are) acceptable.
All this makes “power” look more like social agency and social control. Individuals want to control themselves and their own lives, but they also want to or have to give up control to the group. Formal institutions have high “legitimacy,” meaning people decide they are there for good reason or at least are inescapable, and do as they are told. At the other extreme, popular and grassroots pressure makes most people like (or pretend to like) the offerings of popular culture.
Social power also makes people very susceptible to emotional blackmail: bullying, guilt-tripping, passive-aggressive manipulation, and all the other devices of those who use social power for their own ends.
This naturally bridges to the active use and manipulation of hatred to sell policies and politicians. Politicians everywhere whip up class, ethnic, racial, religious, and political rivalries and hatreds in order to win popular support for themselves and their policies. Then, reference groups become highly important. One follows one’s chosen reference group in hating its perceived enemies or rivals. An extreme form is found in the writings of Hobbes, Freud and many others: an across-the-board judgment that basic human nature is profoundly hateful, or at least torn by angry, hateful, or lustful emotions.
Another pathology is the use of being “with it” as proof of social good or social belonging. Those who are not up on the latest fad are not only out of the loop; they are evil, contrary, mean, repulsive, spoiled, inadequate, and every other name that can be thrown at them. This is as common among academics as among others; we all know the fate of social scientists who do not keep up on the latest French philosophe hyped by the New York Review of Books. Teenage peer groups are usually even more direct and savage, and thus affect people profoundly at the most vulnerable and decisive stage in their lives.
People are seriously afraid of power. They are terrified of superior force and of deadly force. They are, if anything, even more terrified of social rejection.
Of the several kinds of goods one might want in the world, power is the worst to want. If you want food, drink, and sex, you are relatively easily satisfied. (Pathological cravings are another matter; they are, most often, not really about food or sex.) If you want money, you can get a lot without really diminishing others’ wealth, since the economy can always expand at least a little, in the short term. But if you want status or power, you must compete directly with others for them. These goods are limited. Thus “position goods” become markers: items that are intrinsically limited, like genuine Van Gogh paintings, or items that are at least somewhat limited in number, like Ferrari cars. They thus come to mark status, and get correspondingly bid up in price. More to the point, though, positions of power are very limited indeed, and often the only way to get them is to fight for them—violently or through Machiavellian dealings.
One can always invent new status markers, and expand the system to provide more powerful positions, thus partially neutralizing this particular set of problems, but in the end the competition is often seen as a fight for the top.
Thus need for power is deadly to society. Only one person can be ruler. Only a few can be in Congress. Only a few can be CEO’s of giant corporations, and with corporate mergers, that number is actually shrinking, in spite of the rise of more and more small firms. Competition is deadly, and there is no way to make win-win games out of it. Thus, a group losing power in a declining economy is particularly likely to hate other groups and to try to make them go down even faster.
Actual violent conflict is even worse. The conflict between Jews and Palestinians in Israel shows with horrible clarity how the worst win out by taking advantage of a situation. Israel’s initial idealism and the Palestinians’ hope, hard work, and initial peaceful resistance slowly gave way to today’s antagonistic and brutal behaviors.
Power is basically the social construction of managing the control need. Charisma, suavity, good communication ability, brokering, humor and other soft powers grade into real badgering, bullying, etc., and then into actual force. Persuasion, rewards (mostly monetary), force, and institutional power are basic, but social ostracization is probably by far the most usual way to exert it.
In a meritocratic society, the ones who wind up on the bottom are the meek or passive or disorganized ones; the midrange is the smart, hard-working ones; the top layer is the ruthless, merciless, cruel ones. One can see that in accounts of old-time military kingships, which were arguably more meritocratic than the modern US in spite of social ascriptions. (The kings and courtiers had to fight, or at least make life-and-death political calculations, and thus had more skin in the game than modern elites, who are often born to money and never had to work.)
Adam Smith saw (but his modern followers rarely do) that the real advantage of private property and free enterprise is that the costs are specified on the beneficiaries, forcing them to do something about said costs. That is the measure of any ownership system. Modern giant corporations, however, capture the benefits partly from subsidies and government preferences rather than earnings, and export the costs to the public as “externalities.” Thus, there is no incentive to improve or fix anything. They neither depend for benefits on doing well, nor do they have any incentive to minimize costs (extensive documentation of this can be found in Anderson 2010). “Competition” does not make people “do it better” unless the costs of production are specified on the producers. With costs “externalized” and production subsidized, as in the modern US, there is every incentive for producers to act as irresponsibly as possible. They are rewarded not for fixing their problems, but for lobbying for even more subsidies and even more relief from laws that control “externality” production.
Short-term, Narrow Thinking Does Not Explain All
The things inexplicable by either rational self-interest or overly short-term thinking are numerous:
–War and conflict where both sides are clearly taking extreme, indefensible positions, as is true in almost all violent conflicts.
–The steady decline of nation-states into fascism.
–The total failure of decolonialization. Most former colonies have been unable to shake their colonial limitations and merge into full growth.
–The “self-interest” of those who trustingly follow big oil and big agribusiness even though the policies of big oil are extremely counterproductive to most of their followers.
–“Economic growth” vs real growth, and solidarity vs regulation and government, seem major factors.
–Any hurting self to hurt enemies even if you hurt them less badly, from suicide bombing down to nasty postings on Facebook
–Self-destructive acts done just to be defiant, when it isn’t even fun, like eating junk food.
–Gratuitous rejection, nastiness, etc., up to and including actual abuse, of loved ones and others; this is usually done to maintain a sense of control.
–conformity, at least in things that are genuinely self-harming, like tattooing and piercing.
Short-termism does predict
-first and foremost, most of the envir damage
–war for loot
–scapegoating, if by incompetent of more competent but lower gps
–sacrificing vast future for trivial present benefits
–educational administrators destroying education systems for their own power—cutting teachers’ wages, wrecking libraries, short-changing students
Hatred into Violence
Aggression/aggressiveness, hatred, and violence are three different things, and do not have to co-occur. Most people have their hates. Many aggressive people, in contrast, are not particularly hateful; they just like a good fight. Violence is notoriously done mostly for loyalty and group defense.
Aggressiveness is greatly exacerbated by attributing harmful intent to others (Dodge et al. 2015), especially if they have done something that appears to be a slight. A tendency to overattribute harmful intent is learned, and explains much of the difference between groups, worldwide, in their levels of violence (Dodge et al. 2015). This appears to explain a good deal of the observed difference in aggressive behavior from place to place around the world.
Hate ideology puts them all together, sustaining violent, murderous rebellions or governments. Just “down with the opposition” or “death to the state” or even “death to the Jews” doesn’t do the job at all. It doesn’t give a vision, create a plan, or give enough to bring a group together to organize and plan.
There is a range in human societies from no killing to almost all deaths due to violence (the society thus destroying itself) However, the tails—societies as peaceful as the Semai or as violent as the Waorani (Robarchek and Robarchek 1998)—are really rare. Interestingly, the same society can go from one extreme to the other with astonishing speed. The Waorani were pacified by missionary persuasion. Slower but equally dramatic changes from hyperviolent to totally peaceful occurred in Scandinavia from the Viking period to the present; in Japan from 1560 to 1620; in China from the 1940s to the 1950s; and in many other cases. Changes from peaceful to hyperviolent are evident enough in our own time. Within the same society, there can be huge differences. Murder rates vary 10-20fold in the US from southern inner cities to northern small towns, and even within the same urban area (e.g. from Compton to Santa Monica in the Los Angeles area).
Usually, murder rates from around 2 per 100,000 people per year, in modern liberal democracies, up to 700-1000 in Europe in WWII and in gold-rush towns in the mining days. Most are toward the peaceful end of that scale, and most people are relatively nonviolent all their lives. The stereotypes of killer ape, Hobbesian savage, and Freudian id are nonsense. Thus is it doubly interesting that hate and murder are as common as they are.
Even in violent societies, most of the killing is done either in war or by psychopaths or extremely aggressive individuals. It is only if there is a martial or hateful ideology, a violent economy (drug gangs, looting…), or an actual war on, that ordinary people become killers. Even in war, it turns out that most soldiers on the front lines never kill anyone. Another astonishing observation on human violence, or lack thereof, is the degree to which people at war can be peaceful at home. The United States was rarely, if ever, more tranquil at home than during World War II. More striking is the case of the Barí Indigenous people of Venezuela. For several decades they had to fight a ferocious war of resistance to prevent attempted genocide by government-backed settlers. They won the war, terrorizing whole detachments of soldiers into flight. During the entire time there was not one recorded murder among the Barí. They saved their killing for actual enemies (Beckerman and Lizarralde 2013). It would be hard to find clearer proof that violence in humans is consciously deployed, not innate.
In a functioning community, most people will band together to avoid or stop killing. But to get the rate really down requires strong leadership that can deploy legitimate force to stop conflict (that is what is usually lacking in chiefdoms, which are notoriously warlike).
As Erwin Staub (2011) points out, all societies need ways of damping down escalating conflicts and vicious spirals, especially by talking things out, informally and in formal meetings and group assemblies. This is universal and essential in tribal societies, and is what succeeds so well among the Semai and what broke down and was later restored among the Waorani. However, mere encounter groups don’t work; talking out requires social norms, enforced. Something like Habermas’ civil society (Habermas 1987) is needed. “We’re all in this together” works if it means we are all together in a structured community, but mere jawboning doesn’t work.
Extreme violence within a group, to outgroup, to women, etc. (as one package) is due to social breakdown. However, it appears to be endemic in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, having lasted there continually for thousands of years (since Alexander noted it around 300 BCE). Even there, it tracks chaotic times. Certainly the old idea of mountain refuges near agrarian empires is part of it. The Scots border, the border between China and Central Asia, borderlands in New Guinea, and other examples occur to mind. But the China-Tibet and China-Southeast Asia borders were not as violent, though bloody enough. Cultural traditions of fighting, feuding, and “honor,” over time, clearly have much to do with it.
Historically, hatred translated into killing may have started with revenge killings, a universal part of human society. Then communities took to fighting communities, often for no good reason. Consider the hatreds between fans of rival sports teams, a phenomenon attested in ancient Rome and Byzantium and seen more recently in the “soccer war” between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969.
Hatred-led violence probably moved quickly in the direction of capturing neighboring women, and then of repressing women in general. It has been worst in the longest-civilized parts of the Old World, a very dubious comment on the value of civilization. There, it correlates with militarism and with rape as a war tactic, and also with power in the hands of political and bureaucratic elites as opposed to warriors or merchants. This and all other violent hatreds are always least where merchants dominate.
Next oldest is ethnic hate—it goes back to tribal times, and is probably universal. This is partly because psychopaths and sociopaths that sooner or later turn up everywhere.
Then class: up and down. Education grew slowly as a part of this, then broke off of itself and became a separate dimension, just last 200 years or so. Pol Pot in Cambodia tried to exterminate all those who could read. Hitler massacred intellectuals. In the United States, the whole anti-“elite” rhetoric has the same roots; it is hatred of educated people, not of ruling elites.
Then, in history, came religion, the main and worst source of genocide. As a factor in mass killings, it largely followed the rise of the world religions with their missionary zeal. Tribes each have their own religions, and kill over more practical matters like land and vengeance. Differences in religion seem least tolerated.
Race and nation have come last—since 1500 and mostly since 1700.
Ethnic killing has been worse since 1900, with the rise of genocide. In mature industrial societies, labor is abundant, and a few million workers don’t matter. Genocide became cheap and easy.
Finally, political ideology has become the main driver of killing. It was not even a factor till the revolutions of the late 18th century, and only since 1900 has it been a major factor.
War and Genocide
The usual causes of war have been power over people and land. Also important have been capturing slaves (perhaps especially women), loot, profit for munitions makers, pride, warlike ideology, overactive young men, revenge, ethnic and religious hate (now and then regional, national, linguistic, etc.), honor, and traditional enmities. Religion has been particularly associated with war, as cause or excuse, since the rise of world religions identified with empires. Usually the “rule of three” operates: Elites make war only when they have at least three good reasons.
It is easy to mobilize people to fight to defend their kingroup; everybody does it without much pressure. It is harder to get them to fight for tribe or ethnic group. It is hardest to make them fight for nations and empires. Elites must create solidarity by appeals to imagined community (Benedict Anderson 1991), with appropriate symbols and rhetoric.
In traditional times, war was openly about power over people, secondarily about land. In early modern times, war shifted to involvement in trade and empire. Now it is basically about hate—genocide totally so, civil war mostly, international war largely.
People are haters throughout history, and thus fight often. But wars require solidarity. They are thus hard to mobilize; if people are anxious to fight, they usually prefer to fight neighbors, not strangers. So conquest requires ‘asabiyah—loyalty, solidarity—as Ibn Khaldun said (Ibn Khaldun 1958). Social movements have the same problem. Thus, stopping war is often as difficult as fighting in it. Fighting back or demonstrating are the only hopes, but they can work only within a shell of other, more constructive things
Modern political genocide has a different etiology. It occurs when an autocratic regime animated by a hate ideology (or exclusionary ideology) is consolidating its position, or facing a major threat, and feels it has to crack down to survive. This very simple model turns out to be almost totally predictive (Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2015). The hate ideology is crucial, but so is the stress; regimes started by hatemongers have often proved surprisingly merciful and liberal, if the country is peaceful and increasingly prosperous. Conversely, countries with only weakly hateful dictators have gone down the genocide path when faced with outright civil war or the like.
In earlier times, genocide was rather rare, and for rather different reasons. One reason ws takeover of land by one group and consequent extermination of the group that was already there (Kiernan 2007). Such settler genocides are universal in history. Another was consolidation of new regimes, which generally led to politicide throughout history—though leading to far more in the 20th century than in most earlier eras. Another common reason for mass murder was religion. Heretics were to be exterminated. Much of the old-time religious persecution started over land (Cathar crusade, Reconquista, etc.), but mere land squabbles always lead to enslaving the captured, or at least making them serve the new rulers. Only religion can make the new rulers want to exterminate people who would have been willing workers. It was religious genocide that led most directly to modern genocide, especially via the route from pogroms and anti-Jewish massacres to Hitler.
Genocide has become commoner and much larger in scope in the last century, though, partly because people are so excessively common as to be dispensable. But, even now, religious persecution is the model.
Are small genocide worse than big wars? Or massive structural violence? Genocide is bad for three reasons: it kills; it kills innocents; it exterminates whole cultures. That makes it hard to compare with a simple war. Structural violence can be used to commit genocide by stealth.
Civil war occurs when a breakaway region rebels, or weak government faces mass unrest, often due to economic changes (Collier and Sambanis 2005). These economic changes can be either bad or good and yet lead to civil war either way. Changes for the worse lead to rebellions of desperation. Changes for the better lead to “revolutions of rising expectations.”
Cycles of government usually predict revolutions and regime change; a government usually comes to power with high expectations, becomes slowly corrupt, and eventually falls apart, as in the dynastic cycles of the Arab Caliphate and the Chinese Empire (Turchin and Zevedov 2009). Variants of this cyclic pattern exist.
International war is usually started by greedy people in high and safe places. If the dictator or prime minister own munition plants, or expects huge landholdings in conquered terrain, war is pretty certain. After that, national rivalry, traditional or otherwise, accounts for some wars. Aggressive war is, naturally, most often waged against smaller, weaker polities.
PART II. Fixing It
“No one made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”
Back to the Environment
In summary, firms that destroy the environment find it convenient to deflect public politics to hatred and intolerance, as a smoke screen or distraction. But the politics of the environment also includes a wider problem with “nature” and “natural” things. The western world has a long-standing, though never totally dominant, tradition of hating nature and wilderness and doing everything possible to get rid of them. This can be traced back to ancient Sumer, and certainly to imperial Rome (Anderson 2014). It surfaces in the Bible in the verse giving “man” the “dominion” over the world (Genesis 1:28), though this attitude is contradicted in the next chapter by God’s ordaining a stewardship ethic (Genesis 2), and most of the rest of the Bible follows the stewardship view.
With the rise of modern industry, the western world’s alternation between dominion and stewardship shifted far toward the “dominion” position. Industry seemed to give humans true mastery. There were “inexhaustible” resources, and people could always make artificial things that were better than anything natural. This led in the mid-20th century to the most extreme positions imaginable. Natural childbirth was condemned; interventions multiplied, with Caesarian sections commoner than natural births in some countries today. Breastfeeding was similarly condemned and almost abolished, though it is far healthier and cheaper than bottle-feeding. And so throughout life: natural ways of learning were replaced by drills for standardized tests, cosmetic surgery slowly but surely gained ground, air conditioning replaced building for the climate, lawns replaced natural landscapes. Plastic surgery to change drastically one’s natural appearance is now common worldwide and increasingly obligatory in some “beautiful people” circles (Stein 2015).
Much of the ecological damage of our time follows from cowardly defensiveness and general fear of all that surrounds us. This cowardice about living translates to hate and fear of nature. Then, anything unnatural is better than anything natural. The effects on childrearing are serious (Louv 2005). The effects on environmental management are even more so.
Yet, people remain basically good most of the time. They take care of their families, do their jobs, and act decently. The evil in the world is very often the result of the above-mentioned tendency of the most evil to take over, so that the higher the social level the more laden it is with evil persons.
Opposites of Hate
Jon Elster, in his book on emotion (1998), usefully picks up from Alexis de Tocqueville the idea of an internal opposite and an external opposite to every emotion. The internal opposite of hatred is simply lack of hate—indifference, basically. The external opposite is caring and concern. One might think of love, but it is too well known (ever since the Roman poet Catullus wrote “I hate and I love”) that one can hate a loved one. So the external opposite is compassion, eusociality, and warm social feelings. Only sociality can counter hate and fear. Only social pressure can stop or change haters.
The internal opposite of cowardice—so often the wellspring of hatred—is simply going on: bearing up, “just doing it,” “hanging in there.” The external opposite is courage. Courage differs from foolhardiness in that courageous people know what they are up against, and even feel the full range of fear in face of it. They go on anyway. The foolhardy ignore danger; that is a formula for doing stupid things, not for doing good things.
Happiness, ataraxia (Buddhist-like absence of desire), mood management, and the like are never enough. Only courage works. Much of life involves doing extremely unpleasant things, often for other people, as every parent knows. Another big part of life consists of fearful waiting for outcomes over which we have no control, ranging from medical tests to declarations of war. We keep on because of what courage we have. Without courage, humans tend to fall into fear, then anger, then hate.
Clearly, we need to get as far from hate as we can, and thus we need to push all these opposites as hard as we can. The internal opposite of hate, simply not hating or at least not getting violent about it, is surely the first, best need, but it requires those talking-out sessions that the Semai and Erwin Staub agree on.
For fixing it, the first and most necessary perception is that we’re all in this together. People are basically social, and know they depend on the social group. This both reassures them and makes them vulnerable. So they have to be raised in security, and trained out of excessive weak fear, and above all out of hatred and violent defensiveness. This requires absolute support, but also full personal empowerment. Children have to learn the all beings deserve respect, valuing, and compassion.
The necessary values also include patience, industry, courage, wisdom, learning, and serious self-improvement, as well as integrity and taking the world as it is. Resulting social morals include justice-as-fairness (Rawls 1971), justice as civic duty, civility, and real defense (self and collective) as opposed to defensiveness.
Process goals—goals that can never be totally reached, but are worth fighting for all the way—are basic; these include peace, justice, fairness, equaloity of opportunity, health, and security.
Ideally, people act for actual self-betterment, as long as it is not at expense of others. It may seem strange to favor selfishness, but group hate, especially the cowardly form, is notably unselfish. People routinely die for it; they court death.
By contrast, self-improvement is usually best done through positive-sum games—by improving everybody. Selfishness at the expense of others is all too common, but impartial observation shows it is less common, under normal circumstances, than postive-sum gaming. We do our best for our children because it feels satisfying to do so; we love because love is supremely delightful.
On the other hand, when conditions worsen, society often collapses not into individual selfishness but into group hate and into rival groups. The future then belongs to blocs taking out rival blocs.
A problem is that good, by itself, does not cure bad. All the niceness and beauty in the world won’t stop genocide; it has to be stopped by force or economic sanctions. Overwhelming negative publicity is desirable but never adequate. Some good things—peace, tolerance, caring—do stop evil, but only because they are themselves simply the absence of bad. It is as with health: we want positive well-being, but mostly we just want illness cured.
Though holding up the Good, by itself, is never enough, without a vision of the Good nothing can be done. Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mandela saw this. They could be warm, forgiving, supporting, yet pragmatic, and always openly antagonistic to hatred, They could write, organize, and talk.
Fixing the world must involve direct censure of hatred and harm as immoral, including patient, rational explanation of what is wrong about specific hates. We can insist on minimal human rights and other standards of conduct, and move in to enforce these as necessary. We can teach decent behavior by precept and example, maintain a reputation for integrity and uncompromising ideals, and stay out of insult-trading.
The moral sense is a personal and cultural construction of our natural biological grounding and of cold fear at social rejection. People are terrified of social rejection and criticism in a way they are not terrified of snakes, lions, fires, or tornadoes. And with good reason: first, we are compulsively social; second, people are far, far more dangerous to people than are all other things combined. So people generalize that fear of social rejection via empathy channels (mirror neurons or similar mechanisms) and make avoiding social cuts and slashes a deeply felt general issue. This would seem to explain the rapid changes that can occur in morality, both on a cultural level (the right fork) and on the individual level (gay marriage).
The basic biological grounding of morals seems to include several things: a sense of fairness, not hurting fellow community members, defending the group (with appropriate fission-fusion and segmentation and cross-links), aiding and physically helping community members, generosity, and following social rules in general (see e.g. Boehm 2012). Most or all cultures add respect, deference, and conditional obedience to elders and betters. Then the question arises of how to define the community, and how much breaking down and crosscutting can happen in it.
This leads to the core question: who to attack and who to defend. Then comes a question of what counts as breaking social rules: killing your neighbor, or merely not using the right fork?
Legally, we need to force internalization of costs by producers. Personally, we need to make people less cowardly and less hateful. The most immediate fix is tolerance, for obvious reasons. It has to work on both rational and emotional levels, driving morality and responsibility. It also has to go beyond tolerance (the internal opposite of intolerance, bias and bigotry) into actual valuing of and respect for others and of diversity (the external opposite).
The ideal world would be all positive-sum games. That would lead to a world of civil virtues and eternal verities: sharing, fairness, egalitarianism, interest, civility, responsibility, respect, courage, love, caring, proactive help, common sense, and actual rational self-interest. Even righteous wrath would have a place. However, it has only a small place. Fighting fire with fire is sometimes a good idea, but not if the fire is in a hospital. Fear and anger aren’t totally preventable, but care and reason must always be driven against them.
Unfortunately, a world with only positive-sum games will never come, so we have to be ready to deal in a zero-sum world without developing group hates.
With fear as the root problem, teaching courage and self-confidence is essential, but so is making sure that everyone knows society has his or her back. This includes insuring security in material goods and health.
So the operating system for a decent world would be, first, tolerance—both putting up with people you dislike and learning to value everyone for what they can offer. Then mutual aid, cooperation, and social solidarity with all. Then a firm, strict rule of my rights stop where yours start, or, as someone put it, “your right to swing your arm ends at my nose.” That basic principle would immediately put an end to racism and religious bigotry. The right wing in the US today lives only to force their pseudo-Christian religious hate on others; they plead “freedom of religion,” but freedom of religion in the Constitution means protection of rights, not abnegation of the rights of the weaker.
Tolerance and recognition of the necessity of social order should allow Jurgen Habermas’ (1987) civil society, in which people actually talk out their problems. It also drives the whole civil rights and human rights agenda.
With that framework, solving social problems, including environmental ones, would be possible.
Fighting evil can only be via a movement that builds solidarity, mutual aid, mutual care, and mutual benefit. Labor unions have long seen this, but current liberal politics misses it. This is why the protests fail now, and why the Democrats are failing. They cannot get beyond individualism and moral grandstanding.
One goal has to be the classic utilitarian one: Jeremy Bentham’s “greatest good for the greatest number over the greatest time,” in which “each one counts for one, no one for more than one.” (See Bentham 1988, orig. 18th century.) This is similar to basic Confucian morality: the best rules for a society that works harmoniously and peacefully but allows everyone to do their best Whether one assumes with Xunzi that people are basically flawed, or with Mencius about their being basically eusocial, education is absolutely critical. Social rules have to be decided on, and then taught.
This has to be an emotional movement. We have to care, not just invoke wooden Benthamism. Of course this introduces counting and values problems, when done above the family level. Valuation would have to get more and more cut-and-dried, which of course is why economists and Bentham have to be so soulless about it.
People need food, water, air, and protection most of all, but then need society, beauty, and meaning, from there they move up to caring, compassion, and concern Aesthetics and fun are part of the answer, but they are mostly socially defined. Either one has to start the style or to take advantage of it and shift it. On the other hand, basic morality is somewhat more constant through time and place, with a central tendency toward public goods and public spirit for the in-group versus the outgroups. So then defining “in” vs. “out” is critical, and depends on acceptance or rejection.
Ideally, the in-group would be all life on the planet. Fear of strangers and outsiders, fear of threats to livelihood, fear of different-looking and different-acting people, and other fears have to be combatted directly.
All morality has to include an idea of helping rather than gratuitously harming, and many moral codes are based essentially on that idea. They are also based on extending morality as widely as possible—ideally to the universe, then the world, then one’s own largest group, and so on down to the individual. Of course real-world codes differ enormously in how much they approximate these ideas.
The above basics sound rather banal, but they are sorely lacking in most “progressive” and all “conservative” moral discourse today. We have gotten ourselves into a politics of individuals who care little for common good, and blocs that care only to take each other down.
It is critical is to remember that all good came from movements launched, organized, ideologized, and matured during bad times. Antislavery came about in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the period of the worst and most pervasive slavery. The labor movement took shape in the arch-capitalist 1840s-1880s. Good movements usually had long incubation periods during bad times. During bad times most people either go passive or get into some hopeless, basically conservative movement. The good movements begin and stay small, but are then prepared to flourish when opportunity affords.
An ideal world differs from ours today in four key ways: Love would be really deep and central; community would be real, family-based, and basic; anger would be dealt with by feeling it but then rationally coping with the causes of it; foibles would be dealt with by seeing them as strengths or, at worst, the costs of benefits, instead of excuses to hate. People would try to improve themselves instead of taking others down.
It would be a world in which people would be raised secure enough, but with serious needs and high standards enough, to learn to take the world as is, deal with it, and cope by making things better.
Therefore, social life would not be constant complaints, whining, and snapping. People would not hunt for slights to resent. There would be few “hurt feelings” or “disrespecting,” and concerns about honor would be about one’s personal integrity and decency, not one’s social show. (The mutating of honor from personal honor to dunghill-rooster vanity is one of the less lovable changes in modern politics. It has happened largely during my lifetime.)
The ways to get there are exhaustively described in Erwin Staub’s Overcoming Hate (2011). They boil down to teaching children not to hate; talking out hate and hate-caused problems; and getting people to interact in positive ways with groups they fear, distrust or dislike. Merely integrating schools and housing is notoriously unsuccessful. Even the very conscious and intensive efforts to fuse “Yugoslavia” into one nation failed dismally, with the component ethnic groups immediately descending into genocidal war when the communist government fell. Similarly, the countless efforts to reduce hatred in the United States, through everything from “multiculturalism” to integrated TV shows, have had only some effect; they have had some, however, and the rising generation is far more tolerant than their elders, so many of our efforts are clearly succeeding. New laws and the dramatic changes in popular culture (TV, movies, advertising…) seem especially significant.
People have to work together, preferably at some project that strengthens everyone. The old-time folk societies of the world were good at integrating local communities, because everyone had complementary roles and also much collective celebration and much group effort. Unfortunately, folk communities were typically isolated from other folk communities, and got into rivalry with nearby ones, leading to hate problems. We need, today, an even more networked world than the one we have—a world in which people find it necessary to deal with and accommodate to all sorts of people (see Staub 2011).
The directions for developing workshops, classes, work groups, projects, and discussions can be found in Staub’s book, and would be tedious to repeat here. Suffice it to say that there is simply no substitute for ongoing civil discussion and cowork. There is also no substitute for education that seriously addresses these issues and teaches people the strength, courage, forbearance, civility and above all respect to live with them. We are not going to get rid of hatred, and teaching people to be “nice” is hopelessly inadequate. The hope is that we can get enough mutual respect that people will not only stop killing each other, but will stop other people—strangers, neighbors—from killing or bullying.
At a higher level, though, governments must intervene. This basically means full civil rights legislation, going rather beyond the US Civil Rights Act, which has proved inadequate to stop discrimination, segregation, and injustice. Minority communities are subjected to police brutality that goes uninvestigated (let alone punished). Housing and schools are as segregated now as they were before the act. Few provisions for encouraging tolerance or fighting hatred exist. Law enforcement got it right about dealing with evil: deliberate, methodical, cold-factual. No emotion—that just leads to cops shooting fleeing Black kids.
Experience has proved that freedom of speech is preferable to censorship—getting hate out into the light of day, to be discussed and attacked, is preferable to letting it fester. Allowing openly hateful and terrorist groups to flourish, however, is not a good plan. Germany’s continued outlawing of Nazi groups is clearly a good idea. The United States’ tolerance of the Ku Klux Klan and similar organizations seems less good. They should be listed as terrorist organizations and subjected to all the legal restraints of the extremist Muslim groups that have been so classified.
The government—the higher levels, that is—should protect the public through such measures, but actually dealing with individuals and their hates must be left to the grassroots level. Both vertical and lateral integration of anti-hate, anti-violence efforts are needed.
Religion needs a special section, since it should be the major way to combat hate, but it is instead the most deadly driver of or excuse for hatred today.
Religion, worldwide, is mostly social. It is about ceremonies, group morals, group rules. It has also always involved an individualist, quietist or mystical, aesthetic streak. The combination is necessary to produce basic social rules that have to be internalized as individual principles: caring, compassion, respect, love of God and neighbor. The medieval Chinese fusion of mystical Daoism, compassionate Buddhism, and hypersocial Confucianism got all that explicitly (see e.g. Mote 1999).
Religion is also about satisfaction of higher-order needs: society, control of one’s life, meaning, emotional peace. Morality is basically an institutionalization of management of the social need. It tells us what is necessary or desirable to make interpersonal communication and action possible. It gets used for many other purposes, but those are secondary.
Religion developed from local-community religion in simple stateless societies. With the rise of empire, “world religions”—invariably propagated by an early empire—arose. This led to the development of full religious organizations, from the Catholic church to the Islamic legal schools to the Confucian academies. These took on a life of their own, and once nation-states evolved, religion evolved with them, into a counter-organization. No longer was church equal to state. This devewlopment took place earlier in China, with its rival religions, than in the Christian West, where the concept began in the wars of religion of the 15th-17th centuries but was not explicit till the 18th.
When that happened, religion was available to be almost instantly coopted by nationalism, and then unions, clubs, everybody. All sorts of organizations learned that flags, art works, exhibitions, ceremonies, bulletins, meetings, hierarchies, and all the other trappings of the church could be used for everything from nation-building to forming a school band (B. Anderson 1991).
Religion has to be based on trust. It is, as Durkheim (1995) showed, the collective representation of the community. More specifically, it is a way of constructing commuinty by engaging people’s emotions. It has to provide security, social support, certainty, clear rules, and the like. It is thus the ideal way to drive long-term, wide considerations against short-term ones.
Descriptive and Predictive Observations
The United States
In the United States, certain giant primary-production interests have funded the far right and its candidates. Money is vitally important in modern politics, particularly after those same interests have pressed cases through the Supreme Court that eliminate most restrictions on campaign funding. But, in the end, votes are necessary. Since the rise of the “southern strategy” designed by Lee Atwater and Karl Rove in the 1970s, the Republican Party in the US has been increasingly appealing to a sector of the right wing that is racist and religiously bigoted (on religion, see Domke and Coe 2007). In the South, most of these people (though by no means all) were Democrats until the 1980s, since which they have become essentially 100% Republican. In the North, the bigot vote was fairly evenly divided; it is now solidly Republican. Big corporations also pander to the wild conspiracy theories of the right (for which see Barkun 2013). Frimer et al. (2015) mildly refer to a “decline of prosocial language” in American politics. That is an understatement.
The overwhelming majority of right-wing voters in the US are middling to very poor; they vote against gays, blacks, Hispanics, and poor people, not for their own self-interest. A rational economist would point out that such voters are voting against competing blocs—“demographics” that are moving up the socioeconomic scale and challenging the supremacy of less educated whites. The economist would also point to the way that downward mobility exacerbates hate; Hitler took over in the Depression. True, and both these are extremely important points. However, they are not adequate to explain the level of virulence or the self-handicapping that goes along with it. Rural America has been forsaken by both parties—except for subsidizing agribusiness. So they increasingly vote Republican, and they increasingly hate downward economically, and scapegoat the minorities and the poor. All rural districts that are not minority-majority are now red on the election maps.
The original idea was to exploit this sector, but, as so often happens, the racists and religious bigots gained more and more power and they made up a higher and higher percentage of the Republican voters, especially of those willing to vote in the primaries. The giant primary-production corporations, largely Republican already, found that they had to play increasingly to this votership. They have now caved in (in spite of the above-noted incipient backlash), and donate money to even the most extreme racists and religious fanatics. The relatively reasonable, non-racist conservatives who formerly dominated the Republican Party have now deserted it in droves, swelling the ranks of Independents, or, in a very few cases, even becoming Democrats.
The Koch backing of Scott Walker is possibly the most extreme and dramatic example, but the whole Republican sweep of 2014 was funded by a specific set of firms, largely oil, coal, chemical, and agribusiness with some influence from gambling and other shady sectors. The victorious candidates were almost entirely from the extreme-bigot end of the Republican Party. Moderate Republicans and Democrats are both politically very rare today. Major abridgements of civil rights, especially voting rights and women’s rights, promptly became law in Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and several other states. Previous Republican abridgements of voting rights were directly responsible for wins in West Virginia and North Carolina, according to analysis of the votes.
This is not to say that all, or even most, corporations support the far-right agenda; rather few actually do. I am also not saying that the Republican party has been taken over entirely by hatemongering, although it appears, as of 2015, to be very close to that state. What has happened is more limited: a handful of corporations have found that whipping up hatred and bigotry allows them to win elections and to distract public attention from environmental ills.
The hatred is not all on the Republican side. Blind hate of “the rich,” “the 1%,” “capitalism” (never defined), and “the banks,” shows that Democrats are far from immune from the same disease. On the social media, the troll comments from the left are as common and hateful as those from the right. And outright racists are certainly not lacking from the Democratic Party. There is also a great deal of minority-on-minority hate (most recently including Black evangelicals criticizing gays, while many Hispanics and Asians attack Blacks). This is a political game that any number can and do play.
So far, only the Republican Party has actually fallen into the clutches of extremists, but some recent Democratic attacks on “the 1%” are chilling. Even more chilling is the toxic irresponsibility of the liberals who refuse to vote for the “lesser of two evils” and either do not vote or throw their votes away on quixotic candidates. Excessive individualism combined with an easygoing attitude have created a toxic mix of civic irresponsibility and inability to unite behind a single candidate or program. Moreover, liberal politics runs on money too, and the rich liberals tend to be a great deal less serious about helping the poor than they would like to think. (At my university, the self-described “radicals” mostly live in mansions—not just big houses, but genuine mansions. They have money from sources well beyond academia.) The liberals present a wasteland of people too weak and dispirited to act..
Most corporations are far from hate-selling, but they have been cajoled into supporting the Tea Party, ALEC, and their ilk, as these groups increasingly dominate the Republican Party. The corporations fear Democrats more than they fear the chaos of a fascist world—not a good choice. Giant corporations have been put in a position of having to support hatred, and hate-merchandising candidates. More and more elections have turned on racism, bashing the poor, and religious hate. In the 2014 elections, Republicans swept the country, relying overwhelmingly on the bigot vote. The party platform consisted almost entirely of anti-immigrant, anti-Black, anti-gay, anti-labor union, anti-woman, anti-Muslim and other bigoted planks. The old economic conservatism was lost from the platform—partly because the giant corporations, which depend very heavily on taxpayer subsidies, do not want either small government or a decline in overall social spending. They may oppose spending on the poor, but they want more subsidies for themselves.
Anyone who doubts this is advised to follow on Facebook or other media sites the latest pronouncements of Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or almost any other leading Republican. More revealing is tracing the money that bankrolls them. Much of it comes from Charles and David Koch, oil and timber barons and founders and funders of the Tea Party and many other right-wing causes. Whether they personally are racist or religiously bigoted, I do not know, but they certainly back candidates who run on hate. Most of the rest of the money comes largely from a small group of primary-production firms and bottom-end retailers. Dan and Farris Wilks, for example, Texas fracking billionaires, are financing Ted Cruz’ campaign, which is currently the most extreme of the hate-based campaigns; the Wilks maintain that they are defending Christianity, or at least their oil-and-Old-Testament version of it (Einenkel 2015).
In fact, how much the moneyed Republican establishment is racist remains to be seen. Certainly not all Republicans are racist. However, Republicans made bestsellers of The Bell Curve (Herrnstein and Murray 1994) and A Troublesome Inheritance (Wade 2014), outrageously unscientific and dishonest works of extreme racism that are largely derived directly or indirectly from the same sources that Hitler and his Nazis drew on for their propaganda. Evidently a large percentage of the more “moderate” Republicans, and essentially all the right-wingers, really believe this stuff. The same is true of religion; it would be tendentious to question the sincerity of the preachers who call for the extermination of gays, or the Republican lawyers in California who attempted to put a bill to that effect on the 2016 ballot, or of the preachers that want to eliminate all spending on the poor, deprive women of basic rights, and bring back racial segregation. The 2016 Republican primary is shaping up to be a battle of bigots; moderate candidates are making no visible showing in the polls, while the front-runners (with the partial exception of Jeb Bush) are, as of mid-2015, the most extreme of the huge list of candidates
On a more general level, the Republicans in the United States have, in fact, created a “war on science” (Mooney 2006), which includes attempts to apply devastating cuts to NSF—especially to its social science section (which studies issues of poverty and ethicity) and its earth science section (which studies climate change). Eliminating the earth sciences would be seriously damaging to oil and coal interests, which rely to a significant extent on findings in these areas, but the radical-right politicians proposing the cuts are now moving out of the control of their oil and coal sponsors.
One must haste to add that other countries have equivalent anti-minority, religiously-bigoted, and anti-science movements, ranging from militant Biblical and Quranic literalism to Europe’s neo-Nazi extremist parties. The United States is far from alone. Schoolyard bullies and their bootlickers dominate much of American and world politics. We are seeing the rise of the Nazi mentality: Adulation of physical force and violence; anti-intellectualism; scorn for the “weak,” including minorities; general intolerance.
The triumph of the Republicans in 2014 was nearly total; they won every seriously contested election, including capture of even more state legislatures too, even in New Hampshire. What happened was expectable: primary-production industries not only voted Republican but contributed the money that put it over. Democrat foolishness cost them many elections, through failure to appeal to labor and then failure to get out the vote.
If hatred continues to escalate, it will be a matter of time until an extremist candidate wins the presidency. Then, a worst-case but not at all implausible scenario would begin with government cooperation with giant firms in eliminating restrictions on banks, environmental protection, minimum wage laws, public health care, labor unions, and restrictions on what employers can force workers to do. Homosexuality would be criminalized and ruthlessly suppressed. Care for disabled persons would be eliminated. Women’s rights would be rolled back. Birth control and abortion would be outlawed. All this would bring the US to financial ruin in a few years, with average per capita income shrinking 70-80%. The government would then start a war as the only possible way to stimulate the economy without re-enacting liberal reforms. War would provide an excuse for declaring a state of emergency, suspending the Constitution, and instituting a crackdown. Some 5% of Americans would be murdered in the resulting genocide.
If his scenario sounds strangely familiar, you know your German history: it is actually Germany in the 1930s and early 1940s (Neumann 1943, 1957; a few Republican suggestions have been added to localize the scenario in the US.) Guatemala in the 1970s and 1980s followed a similar path, though to a less extreme degree. Several other comparison cases could be adduced. This is not an implausible scenario, nor, as noted above, is it impossible in a democracy. It is also significant that the Republican platform for 2016 bears a close resemblance to the Nazi platform of the 1930s.
The following are the major areas of polarization in the United States today:
Environment, environmentalists, ecology (incl population, wildlife, predators, soil, water….)
Hate and fear of nature and idealization of “development,” the more destructive the better (literally)
Rejection of science, notably global warming and evolution
Human nature; blaming the victim
Hate, scorn, or rejection of the poor
Hatred as the best way to run a country
“Freedom” as hatred of restrictions that protect the public good
Economic theory and findings: wages, taxes, incentives, trickle-down, etc.
Industry, big oil, banks, big firms, chemicals, agribusiness….
Welfare and aid
Race and racism
Gender: women, gays, children, birth, infants
Hate-down, incl bullying, hating welfare clients, hating even vets, loving Israel (vs Palestinians)
US history, especially southern
Disease control (even to vaccinations)
Foreign policy and other countries in general
Guns and “self-defense”
Land planning, urban life
Idealizing consumerism and trash culture, incl junk food (and trashing “food nazis”)
Hateful attitudes in these areas are predictable from generic fear and hate of the world.
Corresponding lies and hates on the left:
Excessive fondness for socialism and communism
19th-century “capitalism” as a reality today
“Neoliberalism”—a thing to hate that does not even exist
The ideal of throwing money at problems
“Economic growth” and other cornucopia ideas left over from Marxism
Rational self-interest as a reality; “voting the pocketbook”
Denying real need for war on occasion
Hating up, “1%,” “occupy”
Never blaming the victim, including denial that some welfare clients are indeed cheaters
Excessive “political correctness,” to the extent that it blocks more serious issues
Verbally trashing whites in general, rural people in general, and the south in general
Being in denial about hate, violence, even genocide
The Rest of the Modern World
Nearest to true was the Club of Rome: we are exactly on their lines in running out of stuff. But they did not predict the most obvious feature of the last 50 years: giant corporations have taken advantage of both socialism and capitalism, consolidated their hold, frozen innovation in the necessary areas, and let everything spin downward.
Other predictions have notably failed. We are not yet at a Hobbesian or Orwellian stage, though some countries (notably China) are awfully close to Orwell’s 1984. Predictions of revolution and subsequent utopia or improvement have alike failed totally. Science-fiction predictions have almost all turned out wrong; the writers of 60 years ago confidently predicted mass space travel by now, with people skating on the canals of Mars, but did not predict the laptop computer, the internet, and the whole IT revolution.
Science has progressed, especially psychology and medicine, but popular culture has remained in a sorry state. Politics has gotten worse worldwide; economic growth has come but at the expense of the environment.
There is a worldwide drift toward fascism, though some regions have gone against the trend and moved toward democracy, especially South America. The poor get poorer worldwide, but many get better off. Even without fascism, the world will hit limits in the 2040s. Forests, wild-caught fish, and game will be gone. Fresh water and farmland will have peaked, and possibly also oil. Advancement or fixing will be virtually impossible, since there will be no spare resources to draw down and invest. Thus, predictably, rapid decline after 2050, no matter what happens in the next 35 years. Most likely is a fascist US leading to world economic collapse. The economy would collapse from the bottom up and from the outside in: the poorest would be the first to go, but also those who depend on the resource extraction economy, such as loggers, fishers, and miners. But, since primary production of food, fibre and fuel is the most necessary and basic part of the economy, the giant primary-production firms would be the last to go down. Therefore, they could continue to play the hate card and to influence politics until the human race ceases to exist.
Totalitarian states with comprehensive exclusionary ideologies that stroke the majority go on until they hit a crisis: North Korea, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, etc. They flourish especially if they do well economically. Those states that are just military dictatorships, or look like such in spite of trying to spin hate ideologies, tend to fall or give way to democracy, if there is any civil society. Recent examples include Thailand, most of Latin America, Korea and Taiwan. Unfortunately, some merely fall to revolving-door coups. This was typical of Latin America until recently, but now democracy has spread.
Those that are based on a minority ruling a majority get more and more troubled and eventually collapse into civil war ensues: Iraq, Syria, Libya (secular), etc. The USSR came to that in the end.
If the US turns fascist, it will be in the first group. The haters know enough to keep white women and less affluent whites on the program.
Worldwide, the giant primary-production firms will increasingly depend on thug gangs and corrupt governments. This will lead to civil breakdown and return to medieval feudalism: kings vying to see who can best use generosity at home and terror outside.
Part of the future clearly belong to ISIS and Taliban.
Part probably belongs to dictatorships openly run by giant primary-production corporations. Such technodictatorships are fascist; the old-fashioned kings and military dictators are obsolete. “Kings” like those of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are essentially oil executives.
Previously, fascism has been of three types: one dominated by a psychotic dictator (Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot); one dominated by a more ordinary leader or elite (most Middle East and the rest of Asia, plus fascism in Spain and Italy); or corporate (as in China, in Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1980s, and Iraq under Saddam). They blur into each other. The technofascist option will probably dominate the future.
China will maintain its extreme repressive dictatorship for foreseeable future; all credible challenges are being effectively dealt with now.
The future for most states, then, is standard cyclic fate: Buildup of corruption and above-the-law till violence is out of control because crime gets too big to regulate, as in Mexico, El Salvador, Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia, and increasingly China and Russia.
Acknowledgements: I am very grateful to Jeremy Solin for advice on this ms.
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