When do people become white supremacists?

From the Mother Jones article Inside the radical, uncomfortable movement to reform white supremacists:

Starting in the late 1980s, Tore Bjørgo, a Norwegian sociologist, interviewed white supre­macists as they attempted to leave the Scandina­vian neo-Nazi movement. His findings were counterintuitive: Many became hardcore racists only after they had joined white supremacist groups. Rather than preexisting anti-Semitism or xenophobia, a cocktail of experiences such as isolation, depression, anxiety, or childhood abuse typically served as the stepping stones to extremism. This suggested that the behavioral and social rewards of participating in hate groups are perhaps more fundamental to understanding—and stopping—extremist behavior than the ideology behind it.

There's a certain psychological profile that seems common to those who join extremist groups of whatever sort. I worry that a lot of activity billed as "anti-racist" may be more likely to drive people into white-supremacist organisations rather than away from them.

Here's a different example from Deeyah Khan in the Vox article This filmmaker spent months interviewing neo-Nazis and jihadists. Here’s what she learned.:

... Part of the reason people subscribe to these movements is that they feel shunned in their lives, in their personal lives or in wider society. These movements are deeply rooted in a sense of victimhood, real or imagined. So if we exclude them, if we shout at them, if we condemn them, that completely feeds into that. And then the monster gets bigger, not smaller.

The point about victimhood potentially being real or imagined is important to recognize, and I think that it's a lot easier to sell people on the notion that they're victims rather than victimizers. On people's motivations:

... Much of it doesn’t come from hate. It comes from a lot of other basic human needs that are not being met. To be sure, there are political and social and economic factors involved on both sides, but if you dig deep, you find that it’s about much more than that.

I tried to understand the core psychological draw of these movements. I found that a sense of belonging or purpose was a major factor. These people join these groups and suddenly they have a sense of meaning in life, a belief that they matter, that their voice matters. It’s as though they were once invisible and now they’re seen.

Khan there also talks about the commonalities and interdependence between jihadists and white supremacists which I certainly agree with, but that's a story for another day.

Biography vs. hagiography

"The Surprising Value of Obvious Insights"

The narrative on gender bias

I've been keeping an eye on Brian Earp's work for years, as he's got a very nuanced approach to things. Recently one of the papers that he was first author on, Gender Bias in Pediatric Pain Assessment, got picked up by quite a few prominent media outlets who consistently misreported the paper's results to fit the politically narrative. Here's a thread he put together on how to better interpret the results:

I think he's appropriately cynical, as per this recent update that if the study had found the opposite results those too would likely have be interpreted also to fit the narrative - and thought more about how certain elements of current theory might be unfalsifiable.

A few years back Earp authored The unbearable asymmetry of bullshit, which looks at how activists can push false narratives in science1 so I don't think he's exactly been caught off guard that certain things might have been distorted. (I do sort of wonder if he's come to regret having earlier referred a journalist to that boring predictable ideologue Kate Manne though).

It seems to be a bad week for the New York Times's credibility. In another article asserting sexism it seems that a study which is likely fraudulent / non-existant was cited. It was soon acknowledged by the journalist who wrote the piece as a solid critique but a number of days later now the article still remains uncorrected. (EDIT: the journalist in question has now mentioned a correction though my cached copy still shows the error). (It's been a pretty bad week in general for politically correct narratives re: sexism - i.e. someone looking into research on whether blind auditions improved the hiring of female musicians - perhaps the most commonly-cited paper I've heard suggesting that blinding people to the identity of those they're evaluating - found that the figures supposedly supporting this were at least ambiguous and in part in conflict with the narrative).

  1. As far as activists pushing bullshit goes, he's probably most focused on the issue of circumcision ↩︎


Subscribe to Rotundus.com RSS