The politics of fear shows no signs of easing

If this logic is correct, we have entered a new moral universe.

Morteza Deganiprofessor of psychology and computer science at the University of Southern California, wrote in an email that he and his colleagues found that “extreme behavioral manifestations of prejudice against marginalized groups can be understood as morally motivated behavior based on people’s moral values ​​and perceptions of moral violations.” “.

In a 2021 article “Study of the role of group morality in extreme behavioral manifestations of prejudiceJoe Hoover, Mohammad Atari, Aida Mostafazade Davani, Brendan Kennedy, Gwenith Portillo-Whiteman, Lee Ye and Dehghani concluded that

In five studies ranging from a geospatial analysis of 3,108 U.S. counties to sociopsychological experiments involving more than 2,200 people, we found evidence that group-level moral apprehension (i.e., control of county-level confounding factors such as political ideology.

The moral legitimization of violence is in the spotlight Alan FiskProfessor of Anthropology at UCLA and Tage Shakti Raipsychologist at UC San Diego, in his 2014 book:Virtuous Violence: harming and killing to create, maintain, terminate and respect social relationships.

They write that violence

considered the essence of evil: it is a prototype of immorality. But the study of violent acts and practices across cultures and throughout history shows just the opposite. When people hurt or kill someone, they usually do it because they had to fall: they believe that violence is right or even morally obligatory.

Fiske and Rai argue that people are “morally motivated to violence in order to create, commit, defend, repair, terminate, or mourn social relationships with the victim or with others. We call our theory the virtuous theory of violence.”

Scholars have found that political conflict can escalate into morally justified violence when elected officials and candidates focus their campaigns on discontent. As Ditto put it in an email:

When groups interact with each other, exchange things, this creates the potential for the development of feelings of resentment – they deceived us in some way. Once you feel that the group has offended you or your group, you are in moral territory.

In a February 2021 article, “Populism and the social psychology of discontent“, the same Christian G. Rodriguezprofessor of psychology at the University of the Andes in Chile, writes: “Populist political movements seek to gain power by exploiting the feeling of discontent, the feeling that the “elite” has treated the “people” unfairly. past grievances, they write, “have two obvious attendant costs: they can be used to justify undemocratic means of gaining political power, and their display risks provoking a self-intensifying cycle of factional political conflict.”

As conflicts escalate, so do the dangers of grievance politics:

Feelings of dissatisfaction can lead people to feel empowered to abandon previous moral and procedural constraints. While these restrictions sometimes seem arguably bendable, the rejection of other moral rules, such as adherence to democratic political tactics or prohibitions on violence, can be much more problematic. A study of a highly contentious and moralized political environment has shown that it contributes to an increased willingness to put up with undemocratic means to achieve desired political goals, up to and including violence. In the US, partisan anger is associated with tolerance for cheating, lying, and voter suppression as acceptable political tactics.

I asked Ryan Enos, a Harvard political scientist, on how partisanship can become moralized, legitimizing opposition and even violence. He replied:

Politics plays a huge role in this. It is the politicians who put the latent views into action and can organize collective action or even use the power of the state. For example, Trump supporters might have a hidden tendency to oppose immigration, but when Trump comes along and tells them that we need to “build a wall” it makes them think that immigration really should be an issue, and thus the hidden tendency is activated. . Then, when the state intervenes in the construction of this wall and the aggressive enforcement of immigration, it brings strength and action to these trends.

Hostility to immigration, wrote Enos,

seems to be closely related to the person’s broader worldview, such that a right-wing person will also tend to be hostile to immigration, and a left-wing person will tend to be more open. Scholars disagree on how to characterize the differences between these worldviews, but note that much of the language used to describe the differences has implications for the acceptance of immigrants—for example, people on the right are described as seeing the world as “menacing.” or have a “closed” outlook.

Peter Hawley, Professor of Behavioral Economics at the University of Leeds, shares Enos’s view of the crucial role of closed and open views. “Openness is closely related to attitudes towards immigration,” Hawley wrote in an email, “and to our own research demonstrates how openness strongly moderates the relationship between the influx of migrants into a local area and self-report of the well-being of existing residents.”

This openness, Hawley continued,

captures the degree to which people are attracted to new stimuli and entails a preference for variety and new experiences. For people with relatively low openness scores, demographic change and all that it entails to experience new food, music, and amenities can be a daunting prospect, but for people with high openness scores, demographic change presents opportunities for new experiences.

political scientists Christopher D. Johnston duke and Howard J. Lavin and Christopher M. Federicoboth from the University of Minnesota, write in their book “open and closed”:

As inter-party conflict spilled over into cultural and lifestyle issues, concerned citizens organized themselves into parties by personality, a process we call “dispositional sorting.” In particular, those with “closed” traits have moved into the Republican column over the past few decades, while those with “open” traits have become Democrats. More generally, open citizens are now accepting economic policy cues from trusted cultural left elites, while closed citizens are accepting positions from the cultural right.

The conflicts within this country reflect in miniature the global tensions of the 21st century. Schubba puts the predicament into context in his preface to a new collection of essays: “Political Demographics Research Program“.

At one extreme:

In high- and middle-income countries, the most recent transition is extremely low fertility and low mortality, resulting in a shift in the composition of different age groups – many more older people than young people, and a decrease in the proportion of middle-aged people. For the world’s most developed countries, national economic growth goals of 2 percent or more are out of step with population decline—the idea of ​​an ever-expanding economy runs counter to demographic reality. In some low-fertility states, immigration is wiping out the benefits of long-standing ethnic majorities, and political tensions are high. The growing support for anti-immigrant far-right parties and populists, especially in the US and Europe, is a demonstration of the connection between demographics and politics.

At the other extreme:

In low-income countries, birth rates remain high, but declining death rates mean that this population is growing exponentially—another transformation. Population density increases as the amount of land available remains constant and the number of people inhabiting it doubles or triples. Climate change is putting pressure on the land itself, and economic forces such as globalization are reshaping the economy, often towards production for export rather than subsistence. Economic crises too often escalate into civil conflicts that push populations into new communities and cross borders and create a new set of challenges for both senders and recipients.

On this basis, on a global scale, there is a possibility of intensifying conflict between rich and poor countries and between rich and poor within countries. In many ways, politics is about organizing fear. Democracies collapse and republics fall apart when fear is too often used as a motivating tool, a partisan weapon. The question now is whether the political system can begin to organize our fear of each other in a constructive way that resolves rather than exacerbates conflicts.

The Times intends to publish variety of letters to the editor. We’d love to hear what you think of this or any of our articles. Here are some hints. And here is our email:

Follow The New York Times Opinion section at facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.