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About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

Hating the “right” group

Group generalisations can lead to horrors – even when motivated by benign causes


[Updated 27/5/14] – Following the 20th Century nightmares of concentration camps, mass slaughter of certain groups, etc, I think it was widely understood – for a while at least – that Nazi ideology was abominable not because it directed hatred towards the wrong groups, but because hating any group seems nonsensical and eventually leads to violence. When people are perceived as mere units of group identity, dehumanising horrors can result – as history has repeatedly shown.

This insight seems lost – to the extent that it now seems fashionable, or “radical”, to hate groups that are believed, from a position of moral rectitude, to be deserving of hatred. For example, it even seems a badge of honour in some “radical left” circles to uncompromisingly despise the group classed as “corporate journalists” – since, by definition, it’s a subset of the larger “corporate” class, which is to be righteously reviled because of the mass suffering and destruction to the planet caused by corporations and the corporate system.

(There’s a “radical right” version of this in which the group known as the “liberal elite media” is hated as being a subset of the larger elite “liberal” class. There are also gender-based versions which follow a similar logic).

So, fungible group hatred has become respectable – as long as it’s the right group. And the “debate” between Left and Right now consists largely of: “Which are the correct groups to vilify?”

Despising ideas, beliefs, policies, actions, etc, attributed to a group, isn’t the problem. Rather, the problem seems to appear when unacknowledged mental processes result in false inferences about individual people, based on classing them as units of a group-abstraction.

Try describing the “reality” of any individual human being in terms of what defines any given group (social, political, religious, ethnic, racial, gender, whatever), and you will likely invoke the – usually unconscious – logic of “essences” (which Aristotle originally spelt out, but which has always been pervasive in folklore). It’s also the logic of medieval demonology, and, to quote Lakoff, “the logic of essences is all over conservative thought” (The Political Mind, p79).

Absolute categorisation of individuals based on this Aristotelian (or folk) logic of “indwelling (group) essences” shouldn’t be confused with the scientific approach of calculating statistical probabilities about nominal members of a group based on empirical data. But it would take more than a brief blog post to do justice to this whole area.

(For background, you could do worse than watching The Crucible – starring Winona Ryder & Daniel Day-Lewis. Or read: The Semantics of “Good” & “Evil” for more on Aristotelian logic & demonology).

Written by NewsFrames

September 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm

4 Responses

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  1. To give an example of leftist hatred of “corporate journalists”: – years ago (late 1990s) I sent out a regular newsletter to a few thousand subscribers (to my Anxiety Culture website), in which I quoted something from the Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee on crime statistics. I then received an email from someone (with Marxist-sounding views) telling me that I shouldn’t trust “her sort”. I’ve often come across expressions of palpable hostility towards Toynbee-the-person over the years – from both “radical left” and rightwingers, based on her supposed identity as member of the “liberal elite” class.

    From my perspective on Polly Toynbee (and this applies to other so-called “liberal” journalists), I agree with some of her views and disagree with others. But categorising her as “liberal” and/or “corporate” seems, for some people, to mean that she contains Aristotelian “essences” of ‘liberal’ and/or ‘corporate’ which taint everything she writes. In other words, they can pre-judge everything she says without even reading it, since she “is” “liberal”/”corporate”. Hatred towards the *person* (rather than a specific view) easily arises from such thinking.


    September 20, 2013 at 3:04 pm

  2. Whilst I see what you mean, it seems to me that what made the Nazi’s discrimination so obnoxious was that the groups discriminated against could do nothing about their status: one can do something about being a corporate journalist, but one can do nothing about being born Jewish. Also, no-one is proposing mass slaughter of corporate journalists.

    John Dakin

    September 21, 2013 at 3:11 pm

  3. “Also, no-one is proposing mass slaughter of corporate journalists.” (John Dakin)

    True, of course. I see no comparison between the corporate journalists and Nazi cases – except for one important, and often overlooked, factor (the basic cognitive/logical “error” regarding group fungibility which I point to). All the rest seems dependent on that – whether it results in actual violence or just – at the other end of the spectrum – unexpressed hostility towards someone you don’t actually know (beyond their group “identity”).


    September 21, 2013 at 5:58 pm

  4. Quite. A lot of people think it’s only ethnic, racial or sex/gender defined groups that are commonly persecuted, but you get it with the poor, welfare recipients and also holders of certain beliefs. The perception of the group overrides the fact that you are always dealing with human people who have mothers, fathers, jobs, hobbies, talents, pets and unique lives. To be treated merely as group member (whether “corporate” or “gay” or “Latino”) always dehumanises to a certain extent.


    September 26, 2013 at 12:02 pm

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