The psychology of fear and hate, and what each of us can do to stop it



File 20190316 28468 1elsvdi.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has travelled to Christchurch after yesterday’s terror attacks.
NZ Prime Minister’s office, CC BY-SA

Stephen Croucher, Massey University

As an immigrant to New Zealand, I am saddened and outraged by the events in Christchurch. The apparent innocence of New Zealand has been stripped away by acts of cowardice and evil.




Read more:
Christchurch mosque shootings must end New Zealand’s innocence about right-wing terrorism


Police remain on high alert and authorities are still responding to events following the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch that took the lives of 50 people and seriously injured many more. Three people have been arrested, and one, an Australian living in New Zealand sporadically, has appeared in court on murder charges.

My research focuses on how members of a majority perceive a growing immigrant population, and what we can all do to keep fear and hatred in check.

Migrants target of hate

The alleged gunman (whom the Conversation has chosen not to name) is a self-identified white supremacist. Before the attacks he posted an 87-page manifesto online. In his manifesto and social media accounts, he refers to the rise of Islam, and to towns and cities being shamed and ruined by migrants.

He posts photos of ammunition, retweets alt-right references and praises other white supremacists. The manifesto includes references to “white genocide,” which is likely a reference to a conspiracy theory embraced by the alt-right and white supremacists that “non-white” migration dilutes white nations.

The gunman’s motivations seem to echo those of other white supremacists who have committed similar atrocities: the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, the Charlottesville attacker, the Charleston church shooter, and attackers in Sweden, Quebec and Norway.

In each of these cases, the attackers voiced hatred toward minorities or immigrants and expressed a belief that their way of life, the “white” way, was being destroyed by these groups who were infiltrating their societies.

Over the past decade, my team has conducted research in India, France, Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, analysing how members of the dominant group perceive minorities and immigrant groups. The research has shown that many dominant group members, often white Christians in the countries studied, express fear of immigrants in their nations. In particular, respondents have voiced fear of immigrants changing their cultural, political, and economic way of life.




Read more:
Hearing hate speech primes your brain for hateful actions


Combating fears to reduce hate

Normally such fears are benign and lead only to misunderstanding or lack of interaction. But as we have seen too often, they can lead to prejudice, hatred and much worse.

Recently, such fears have become more visceral with the proliferation of social media platforms. With the use of social media, individuals can easily find others who share their feelings, and therefore not feel alone. The ability to find a community that shares one’s feelings provides a sense of security and validates ones fears and feelings of hate.




Read more:
Why news outlets should think twice about republishing the New Zealand mosque shooter’s livestream


In our increasingly connected world, it’s essential we take steps to combat these fears to reduce the chances of such atrocities happening in the future. First, how families talk about minorities and immigrants is critical. In work that we conducted in Finland, we found prejudicial opinions of Finns toward Russian immigrants are largely shaped during adolescence. It’s incumbent upon parents to be role models for their children and adolescents and to promote tolerance and mutual respect early.

Second, in an increasingly computer-mediated world, it is our shared responsibility to challenge racist and hateful cyber messages. If you see a YouTube clip that you deem abusive or offensive, report it.

Third, the more contact we have with each other and learn about one another, the less likely we are to fear one another. This may sound trite, but the more we know about other groups, the more likely we are to pass that information onto one another and improve overall social cohesion. In turn, we are better able to identify and challenge those bent on dividing society. It is our collective responsibility as diverse societies to recognise our diversity and to face the psychology of hate that would attack our home and us.The Conversation

Stephen Croucher, Professor and Head of School of Communication, Journalism, and Marketing, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Political leadership cannot be disentangled from collective psychology


Andrew Frain, Australian National University

Much has been made recently of the revenge motives of Tony Abbott, and the seemingly self-defeating choices of the Liberal Party room in changing our prime minister from Malcolm Turnbull to Scott Morrison.

While these may be partially true, such narratives are a distraction from what’s really at the heart of events like Turnbull’s fall from office: intergroup dynamics.

Research into collective psychology helps us understand the forceful resistance to Turnbull as leader, and why the Liberal Party reaction in some ways has been perfectly rational.




Read more:
How the hard right terminated Turnbull, only to see Scott Morrison become PM


The importance of collective psychology

Journalist Annabel Crabb’s recent analysis points out that Turnbull’s lack of acceptance by the conservative wing of the Liberal Party of Australia was his undoing.

Her interpretation was that the conservatives succumbed to irrational fear; that a better approach may have seen Abbott and his colleagues appreciate the concessions that Turnbull made (such as shifting policy on the National Energy Guarantee), look past superficial differences, and bury the hatchet.




Read more:
Malcolm Turnbull shelves emissions reduction target as leadership speculation mounts


Such analyses are fed by the common belief that individual realities and individual motivations primarily drive actions. The truth is the opposite: collective psychology is central to who we are, and powerfully influences motivation.

It starts with basic cognitive psychology – humans need to translate the things we encounter into concepts. We do this through a process called cognitive categorisation.

Put simply, we class things together, and contrast those things with other things. Whatever it is – whether chairs, tables, pens, or cars – the way we understand the world is by constructing cognitive categories.

The field of collective psychology takes this further, and shows how cognitive categories are also the way we understand people – including ourselves.

If we want to understand who we are, then we categorise ourselves. Sometimes that’s as unique individuals (“I” contrasted with “others”), while at other times it’s as members of social groups (“us” contrasted with “them”).

Leadership and social identities

Obvious examples of inclusive cognitive categories include sporting teams, nationalities, fandoms, and occupations. Cognitive categories of this type are termed social identities.

There is growing evidence that social identities are key to organisational commitment, influence, charisma, and trust. And that understanding social identities is a core characteristic of leadership.

Social psychologists have long argued that human motivation needs to be understood in light of social identities.

Yes, sometimes we are motivated by self-interest, seeking to do better for ourselves as individuals. Other times, however, we are motivated by collective interest: first and foremost, we care about our group.

Social identities in politics

The subgroups of an organisation, not the organisational itself, are often what is most important to people. Abbott, Dutton, and their allies are members of the conservative wing of the Liberal Party. This wing has a passionate membership, and has values and beliefs that it holds dear.

Who is Turnbull to this audience? Turnbull is the person who plucked the mantle of prime minister from its champion of the conservative movement. Turnbull reduced the government majority to a sliver. Turnbull enthusiastically oversaw the legislation of gay marriage and has well-known sympathy for climate change concerns.

Yes, when the 2018 spill happened the Liberal Party was in power, and might have won the next election. However, under continued Turnbull leadership, what prospects were there for growing conservative influence?

If the Liberal Party was to win the next election under Turnbull, this might serve to legitimise the moderate take on the party. Better perhaps to take the reins, loose the next election, but have the platform to reinvigorate the conservative movement across Australia.

Overall, there are legitimate explanations to see Turnbull as an outsider who would not advance the values of those he sought to lead. But we can only appreciate these as legitimate if we recognise the reality of social identities.

It’s social identities – here, a strong sense of “we conservatives” – that make it logical to face immediate personal hardship for the sake of a longer term collective goal.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: The high costs of our destructive coup culture


Ignore collective psychology at your peril

In time, a dominant description of events will emerge. Many now talk of recent events as if a soap opera.

We hear of the retribution motives of Abbott, the cunning of Turnbull, and the jostling and scheming of the party room. And that maybe Morrison knew what he was doing all along.

These are stories of individuals pursuing individual ends, responding to base individual urges – an idea summarised well by Barnaby Joyce:

Do you think that human nature has changed that much? It’s called ambition. It’s called ego. It’s how it works.

Possibly, but these perspectives are also convenient. They are convenient because they allow unsympathetic voices to deny, as much to themselves as anyone else, that the conservative movement is a sincere, coordinated, and powerful force in Australian politics.

Why can we indulge in this denial? In part, it’s because collective psychology isn’t sufficiently respected. It’s taken as optional; we can accept or ignore its presence to our heart’s content.

That denial blinkers us severely. Without it, we can’t properly understand, and anticipate, the commitment to a cause that humans are capable of.

The conservative wing may burn the Liberal Party to the ground if it’s no longer a vehicle for success. How the social identities of the Liberal Party are managed will determine whether that occurs or not.


Brigadier Nicholas Jans (Ret’d) OAM, PhD contributed to writing this article.The Conversation

Andrew Frain, Teaching Fellow, Strategic Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australian politics and the psychology of revenge


Lloyd Cox, Macquarie University

It’s hard to read the recent felling of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as anything other than an act of revenge by Tony Abbott and his closest supporters.

This is indeed the judgement of former foreign minister and opposition leader Alexander Downer and former Liberal Party treasurer Michael Yabsley, as revealed in ABC’s Four Corners.

This judgement fits with everything we know about the humiliation and embitterment Abbott and his conservative allies felt after Turnbull toppled Abbott in a leadership spill in 2015.




Read more:
If the Liberals have any hope of rebuilding, they might take lessons from Robert Menzies


It also accords with what modern psychology and social science would lead us to expect in circumstances where a person or group experiences what they perceive to be unjust treatment at the hands of an adversary. The feelings of grievance and damage to the ego can often only be ameliorated by revenge against those who inflicted the harm.

Such feelings, and the aggression they cause, apply no less to politicians such as Abbott and his conservative colleagues than they do to anyone else.

How then, can revenge become a force that controls us?

The emotional basis of revenge

The predisposition to harm those who are perceived to have harmed us – the essence of revenge – is a fundamental human desire.

Cultural and legal deterrents against “taking the law into your own hands” might mitigate the destructive potential of vengeful behaviour, but it can never fully remove it.

That’s why we observe revenge in all societies and walks of life, including politics. It’s what Francis Bacon, writing nearly 400 years ago, warned of as a kind of “wild justice” that can destroy both the avenger and their victim.

While revenge often involves planning and cool calculation (the proverbial “dish best served cold”), psychologists and social scientists have long recognised it’s always premised on particular emotions.

Shame and humiliation, typically caused by the perceived erosion of respect and esteem in the eyes of others, are particularly important instigators of vengeful thoughts and actions. When others undermine our feelings of self worth, this often triggers resentment and rage and the desire to strike back against one’s tormentors.

Doing so constitutes a form of emotionally gratifying communication. The avenger “teaches” the object of revenge a lesson. They make the victim of revenge feel what they once felt, communicating a psychologically satisfying message of righteous redress to the victim, third parties and, most importantly, themselves.

The substance of this message varies, but typically includes assertions about the resolve of the avenger to uphold rights that have been violated, to preserve respect that has been threatened, and to shore up social and personal honour that has been besmirched. The avenger demonstrates to themselves and the world they are somebody not to be crossed.

Psychologically, this helps the avenger restore an ego deflated by their previous humiliations. Revenge, to put it bluntly, helps the humiliated person feel better about themselves. It helps them cope. They take satisfaction in the knowledge the source of previous harms is now being punished, and that they deserve their punishment. This is why revenge has often been described as “sweet”.

Modern neuroscience and psychology affirms that revenge is indeed sweet. Inflicting harm on those who have previously harmed us arouses feelings of pleasure in those parts of the brain regulating emotion. Even thinking about or planning revenge – the so called “revenge fantasy” – releases feel-good chemicals in our brains.

This is why we can become so preoccupied and even obsessed with vengeful thoughts. The more we think about revenge, the more we reinforce neural pathways that trigger those thoughts and release those chemicals. We can become addicted to the feeling of revenge, which can lend a certain vindictive cast to a person’s character.

Such a character trait typically manifests itself when the person feels themselves, or persons and groups with whom they identify, to be the victim of an injustice. Revenge fulfils what justice demands. Revenge erases unjust humiliations. It turns the world right side up again. Vengeful acts are thus always redemptive acts – or at least, that is the hope. More often than not, they end up being hugely destructive acts.

The destructiveness of revenge – a common literary theme from the ancient Greeks, through Shakespeare to contemporary writers – can be understood in two senses.

On the one hand, the victim and perpetrator of revenge can both be damaged. The reasons are obvious in the case of the victim. For the perpetrator, the destructiveness arises from being consumed by vengeance. This can overtake all rational judgement about what is in the avenger’s interests, and what is a proportional response to a perceived harm. Sometimes, no price seems too high to pay to realise revenge.

On the other hand, revenge can be hugely destructive because it unleashes cycles of further revenge and counter revenge. Anthropologists confirm instances of tribal warfare in the New Guinea Highlands, and blood feuds in Mediterranean peasant societies, where cycles of revenge have lasted for generations, long after the source of the original conflict has been forgotten.

Today’s political parties are not immune to such human failings. In fact, where towering personal ambitions meet huge but often fragile egos, vengeful behaviour is inevitable.

While all of this “madness”, as Turnbull called it, was not just the product of vengeance – deep ideological fractures within the Liberal Party and Australia more generally were just as important – it was nonetheless a key ingredient.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: The high costs of our destructive coup culture


Conservatives harnessed vengeful motives to their broader efforts to re-capture the Liberal Party. In so doing, they became slaves to their emotions, animosities and personal ambitions. They will now pay the electoral price.

When they do, we can expect further vengeful recriminations. Such is the logic of “wild justice.”The Conversation

Lloyd Cox, Lecturer, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Christian Professor in Pakistan Beaten for Refusing to Convert


In another province, three eighth-grade students expelled for declining Islam.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, June 25 (CDN) — Muslim students attacked a Christian professor at the University of Peshawar this month after he refused their demand to convert to Islam, the instructor told Compass.

Psychology professor Samuel John, a father of four who has been teaching at the university in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province for 12 years, said that as he came out of his house on the university campus at 8:30 a.m. on June 14, about 20 to 25 students rushed and assaulted him.

“I shouted for help, but no one came to help,” he said.

When his wife learned what was happening, she ran to help him, but the students beat her as well. Both John and his wife were rushed to Lady Reading hospital, where they were treated for their injuries, with John listed in critical condition.

“I am still getting threats,” the professor told Compass. “They say, ‘Leave the university or accept Islam – if you don’t convert, we will kill your family.”

Police have refused to register a First Information Report on the incident, he said.

A group of five students had visited John on May 15, he said.

“They said, ‘Professor, you are a good teacher and a good human being, please convert to Islam and we will provide you with everything you need,’” John said. “I was surprised and said, ‘Why do you want me to convert? I am a Christian, and Jesus Christ is my Savior – He provides me with everything.”

One of the students became angry, saying, “Don’t forget that you are a family man,” John said. “I said, ‘I am not scared of anyone, God will protect me and my family.’”

He reported the matter to the dean of the University of Peshawar, but the official was unable to take any action because the Islamic students councils are supported by political parties and powerful Islamic groups, the professor said.

His family became worried, and other professors spoke of going on strike on John’s behalf, demanding an apology from the students who threatened him.

“They said, ‘This is a university, no one will be allowed to take the law in their hands – we are professors and teach everyone and do not discriminate by religion, caste, creed or color,’” John said.  

But no action was taken against anyone. John subsequently faced various forms of harassment from different Islamic student groups who threw stones at his home, sent threatening letters and threatened his family over the phone, he said.

John had recently been honored with an award for best results in psychology at colleges throughout Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. Muslim professors and Muslim student councils were upset that a Christian professor was getting so much attention, Christian sources said.

 

Students Pressured

Separately, in Danna village in southern Punjab Province, Muslim administrators told three Christian students in the eighth grade to leave the school because they refused to convert to Islam.

A new teacher of Islamic Studies who came from another village to Government High School Danna urged students in his class, Sunil Masih, Shazia Masih and Nasir Naeem, to convert to Islam, according to the father of Sunil, Ejaz Masih.

The teacher, whom the parents declined to name, is also a Muslim leader.

“The teacher began by saying, ‘Sunil, Shazia and Nasir, convert to Islam – it is the true religion, and you will go straight to heaven,” Ejaz Masih said.

The students reported the pressure to their parents, who came to the school and complained to the principal.

The principal asked the teacher to explain the details of what happened, but other staff members at the school supported the new teacher, Masih said. On June 16, under pressure from other teachers, the principal told the parents to remove their children from the school unless they were willing to convert to Islam.

“We have been forced to leave the village,” Masih said. “The police have refused to help us. We are helpless here.”

Masih, along with Sohail Masih and Naeem Boota, parents of the other children, have fled the village with their families. Their children were the only Christian students at the school.

Report from Compass Direct News

EGYPT: COURT GIVES CHRISTIAN BOYS TO MUSLIM FATHER


Despite a fatwa from the Grand Mufti, Alexandria judge denies custody for mother.

ISTANBUL, October 2 (Compass Direct News) – Following the Appeal Court of Alexandria on Sept. 24 granting custody of 13-year-old Christian twins to their Muslim father, their mother lives with the fear that police will take away her children at any moment.

Kamilia Gaballah has fought with her ex-husband Medhat Ramses Labib over alimony support and custody of sons Andrew and Mario in 40 different cases since he left her and converted to Islam so that he could remarry in 1999.

The court ruled in favor of Labib in spite of Egyptian law’s Article 20, which grants custody of children to their mothers until the age of 15, and a fatwa (religious ruling) from Egypt’s most respected Islamic scholar, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, giving her custody.

“This decision was dangerous because it was not taken in accordance with Egyptian law but according to sharia [Islamic] law,” said Naguib Gobraiel, Gaballah’s lawyer and president of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations.

He explained that Egypt’s civic code calls for children under the age of 15 to stay with their mother regardless of their religion. Gobraiel said that sharia tends to favor the Muslim parent in such cases.

“They want to stay with their mother,” said Gobraiel. “They don’t know anything about Islam and sharia. They are Christians and go to church on Sundays.”

The twins have publicly stated their faith, and during a test in a mandatory religious class two years ago they scribbled only, “I am a Christian” on their answer sheets and otherwise turned them in blank. The twins intend to go on a hunger strike if they are forced to live with their Muslim father, whom they hardly know, sources said.

“We only want one thing,” said Gobraiel. “We want the law to be applied in our cases like this one, not the sharia, because the government owes us citizenship. This is a civilized, secular country, not a religious country.”

The decision of the presiding judge, El Sayed El Sherbini, to give the father full custody is not even based on sharia but is purely arbitrary, Gaballah and her eldest son George Medhat Ramses claimed, since the country’s State Mufti had granted custody to the mother in April 2006.

“We don’t want to give them to anyone or comply with the sentence,” Ramses told Compass. “All the legal ways have been wrong to us. We’ve been trying to make it as legal as we can, but the court has not been fair.”

Ramses, 21, who is also a Christian and lives with his mother and two little brothers, said the judged showed bias in favor of his father because he converted to Islam shortly after he left Gaballah.

“The decision was unfair and oppressive,” Gaballah told Compass. “I am treated differently than other Egyptians, as if this is not my own country.”

Gaballah, who has been fighting to keep her sons since the court decided in 2006 that custody of her sons should be given to her ex-husband, fears that her children will grow up without hope and a sense of justice.

“I am so sad and afraid about their psychology,” she said, “because they are facing something that is fundamentally against all the principles I have taught them.”

Gaballah said she is ready to keep fighting with the few means left in her power to keep her sons, even if it means tarnishing her with a criminal record by not handing them over to their father.

“And I’m determined to get justice in my own country, because it is my natural right and my sons’ right,” she said. “I cannot see how I can comply with the people who are taking my rights away from me and taking my children from me to give them to an unworthy father and another woman.”

Labib is now married to his third wife, with whom he has a 4-year-old son. He is a businessman working in exports and travels between Alexandria and Cairo.

Gobraiel said that he intends to send a clear message to Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and the international human rights community that judgments like this one are hypocritical on the part of a government that claims to be “civilized.”

“How can they think we live in a civilized and secular country when they are applying sharia law on us?” he asked. “We will send a message to human rights organizations in Egypt and around the world to help us. We are angry and we want to declare it!”

 

Problematic Birth Certificates

Even under their father’s custody, the twins have the legal right to live with whomever they choose in two years, when they turn 15. But Ramses said he doubts the court would let them return to their mother.

“The same law that states that they should stay with mother until the age of 15 is the one that says they can decide where to live after the age of 15,” he explained. “If the court didn’t apply the first part of the law, they won’t apply the second.”

At the age of 16, when Mario and Andrew apply for their identification cards, they will face yet another hurdle, said Ramses. In 2005, Labib went to the population register and changed the twins’ birth certificates from Christian to Muslim, to reflect his own religion.

Now Ramses fears that a Sept. 23 court ruling in the case of Bahia Nagy El-Sisi, sentencing her to prison for three years for “forgery of an official document,” could be what awaits him and his little brothers. Nagy El-Sisi’s father had converted to Islam briefly in 1962, when she was 3 years old, and her documents were never altered to reflect the change as she remained a Christian. She and her sister discovered that their father had temporarily converted to Islam when the sister, Shadia Nagy, tried to issue marriage papers for her son.

Shadia Nagy was sentenced to three years in prison in 2007, also for “forgery.”

“These women are us in the future,” said Ramses.

Over the past few years, as Christians have found out about the twin boys’ case, Ramses said many have called them to give support. Many also have pledged to go on a hunger strike with the boys if they are handed over to their father.

“Christians see them as Coptic heroes and martyrs who stood up in front of all and said they were Christians and held on to it,” said Ramses. “All of them say they see the greatness of their ancestors and Christian heroes of long ago in them … and they carry a lot of respect and love for what they have done.”

Report from Compass Direct News