Tag Archives: intolerance

The curious power of hate propaganda in open societies

The Conversation

Cherian George, Hong Kong Baptist University

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


When George Orwell contemplated trends toward tyranny in 1984, he saw a world where truths were violently obliterated to leave Big Brother’s lies unchallenged. This negation of knowledge and erasure of human experience, he mused, was:

… more terrifying than mere torture or death.

But something curious has happened in the post-totalitarian world, which even Orwell’s penetrating gaze did not foresee.

Today, demagogues don’t actually need to silence or censor their opponents. It turns out their followers are quite happy to succumb to wilful blindness, believing what they want to believe even as contradictory evidence stares them in the face.

One result of this is open societies remain surprisingly susceptible to misinformation that instigates intimidation, discrimination and violence against vulnerable groups. Untruths doled out in hate campaigns find ready buyers even in a free marketplace of ideas.

The unholy appeal of outright lies has been on stunning display in Donald Trump’s rise as the Republican candidate for the US presidency. Independent fact-checking organisation PolitiFact has found 71% of his statements to be mostly false, false or in the “pants-on-fire” category.

This phenomenon is not new. More than a decade has passed since satirist Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness”, referring to stuff that some people lap up because it feels right – even though it definitely isn’t.

Right-wing conservatives on every continent have long mastered the art of weaving simple, comforting ideas into a security blanket against a complex and diverse world they perceive as threatening to their values and way of life.

Who needs to think when just feeling is enough?

This tendency toward self-delusion might be largely harmless but for the fact the untruths being circulated often vilify other communities. And the invective is not confined to idle gossip, but converted into blueprints for action: remove them; ban their places of worship; censor their viewpoints; restrict their practices; kill them.

Often this emerges as straightforward hate speech or misinformation that incites hostility, discrimination or violence against a group. Or it is expressed as righteous indignation, accusing the targeted community of behaving in a manner that causes outrage.

These twin tactics – the giving and taking of offence – meld into a potent political strategy that I call “hate spin”. Its practitioners manipulate the visceral, tribal feelings of their audience in order to mobilise supporters and defeat opponents in their quest for power.

Mobilising intolerance

Hate spin is distressingly common – and effective – despite its ultimate reliance on half-truths and even pants-on-fire lies.

In the US, a small network of misinformation experts have pushed extreme claims about Muslims from the loony fringe into the edges of mainstream discourse: American mosques are terrorist training centres; the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the US government; Barack Obama is a closet Muslim.

Although under 2% of the American population is Muslim and there is no lobby urging US courts to recognise Islamic law, several states have enacted statutes or constitutional amendments to protect against sharia. Such has been the power of Islamophobia agents to whip up paranoia about Muslims.

In India, Hindu nationalists use hate spin to consolidate the country’s religious majority into a dependable vote bank that transcends the internal divides of caste, class and language.

This group has tried to make fundamental a faith that is inherently eclectic and fluid. They have chosen to take violent offence at the killing of cows and the eating of beef, as if Hinduism ever treated such prohibitions as strictly as the Muslim injunction against pork.

The Hindu right claims Muslims – through their polygamy and a “love jihad” conspiracy to convert Hindu girls – will turn Hindus, who currently make up 80% of the population, into a minority in India. This fantastical projection has somehow seeped into the political discourse of a civilisation renowned for its mathematical prowess.

Just another piece of misinformation in a democratic marketplace of ideas.
Andy Herbon/flickr

Demographic delusions seem particularly popular among hate-spin agents.

Indonesia has hardline Islamist groups that claim to have uncovered a conspiracy to Christianise the country. This would be quite an accomplishment, considering Indonesia has some 200 million Muslims – around as many as the five largest Arab states combined. They account for almost nine in ten of the country’s population.

Constitutionally, Indonesia upholds belief in God, but not exclusively Islam. Protestantism and Catholicism have explicit status alongside Islam among Indonesia’s religions.

The central government and Supreme Court have upheld the right of Christians to build churches. Yet local hardline groups have blocked church construction in some localities for years, exploiting religious frictions to extract protection money from Christian congregations.

What’s striking about these cases of hate spin is that they are occurring in established democracies with strong traditions of press freedom and intellectual debate.

The US, India and Indonesia are nowhere near the Big Brother totalitarian regime Orwell described. Each has its own vibrant, noisy marketplace of ideas. It’s just that the market does not seem to value truth as consistently as it should.

Faced with the real harm that can be inflicted by hate propaganda, it’s no wonder that many reasonable people wonder if there should be more restrictions on speech.

Prohibitions on incitement are sometimes warranted, in line with international human rights law. But censorship is not the answer in most cases. Hate spin is more prevalent and dangerous in countries with less freedom of expression, not least because such countries usually have less regard for the equal rights of vulnerable minorities.

Instead, we should begin by recognising that a free marketplace of ideas, while necessary, is not sufficient. Truth’s victory over hate propaganda is neither automatic nor preordained. It requires a commitment to equal rights and norms of tolerance that is at least as determined as the uncompromising hate of demagogues and fascists.

The ConversationCherian George, Associate Professor of Journalism, Hong Kong Baptist University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs

The paradox of tolerance

The paradox of tolerance arises when a tolerant person holds antagonistic views towards intolerance, and hence is intolerant of it. The tolerant individual would then be by definition intolerant of intolerance.

Philosopher Karl Popper defined the paradox in 1945 in The Open Society and Its Enemies Vol. 1. [1]

“Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

He concluded that we are warranted in refusing to tolerate intolerance:

“We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.”

In 1971, philosopher John Rawls concludes in A Theory of Justice [2] that a just society must tolerate the intolerant, for otherwise, the society would then itself be intolerant, and thus unjust. However, Rawls also insists, like Popper, that society has a reasonable right of self-preservation that supersedes the principle of tolerance:

“While an intolerant sect does not itself have title to complain of intolerance, its freedom should be restricted only when the tolerant sincerely and with reason believe that their own security and that of the institutions of liberty are in danger.”

In a 1997 work, Michael Walzer [3] asked “Should we tolerate the intolerant?” He notes that most minority religious groups who are the beneficiaries of tolerance are themselves intolerant, at least in some respects. In a tolerant regime, such people may learn to tolerate, or at least to behave “as if they possessed this virtue”.

References

  1. Popper, Karl, The Open Society and Its Enemies, volume 1, The Spell of Plato, 1945 (Routledge, United Kingdom); ISBN 0-415-29063-5 978-0-691-15813-6 (1 volume 2013 Princeton ed.)
  2.  Rawls, John, (1971). “A Theory of Justice”: 220
  3. Walzer, Michael, On Toleration, (New Haven: Yale University Press 1997) pp. 80-81 ISBN 0-300-07600-2

 

1 Comment

Filed under Paradoxes

Let’s ditch the “rich old white dude” trope—and similar slurs

Why Evolution Is True

Cue Andy Rooney:

“You know what really bothers me? Hearing people and their opinions dismissed because they’re seen as ‘rich old white dudes.’ I see this everywhere on the Internet, especially from the Authoritarian Left. (That’s a term I learned from my friend Jerry Coyne.)

“Now the Left is supposed to be against racism, sexism, and ageism, yet, here we see all three combined, and used to silence—or denigrate—a group of people whose opinions are by no means homogeneous. I mean, Bernie Sanders is a rich old white dude, and the Koch Brothers are two rich old white dudes. Bill Gates is another rich old white dude, too: he’s recently turned sixty. Bill O’Reilly is a rich old white dude, but so is Bill Clinton: a very rich old white dude. What do they have in common besides a Y chromosome, a big bank account, white skin, and a certain age?

“And…

View original post 290 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs

Dawkins, NECSS, and Working Together

by Brian Dunning

The recent news is that Richard Dawkins was un-invited from the NECSS conference because of a tweet he sent that many found offensive. Of course it caused all sorts of uproars and divisions. Sigh… how tiresome; and at a time when there is real work to be done.

I was reminded of this short SkepticBlog post I wrote way back in 2009, another time I found myself frustrated with those supposed friends of science communication who seem to place a higher priority on finding things wrong with their allies.

Diversity has value only when it’s real diversity, and that means diversity of opinion in addition to ethnic or gender diversity. Many self-declared “champions of diversity” would do well to actually practice what they preach.

Are You Paddling, or Just Dragging?

They say you need a thick skin if you want to put yourself out there as a science communicator promoting critical thinking. And, it’s true: Trust me, I know. But that thick skin is not necessarily needed to fend off promoters of pseudoscience; just as often, you need it for public attacks launched by those who purport to be your allies.

Recently someone with a skeptical blog wrote an article criticizing me for two different things (both of which were wrong, incidentally; obviously this person didn’t care to check). I didn’t know the person, and browsed around on the blog for a few minutes. It was a generally skeptical blog, but all too often, it seemed the blogger was less interested in attacking the charlatans than in stroking their own ego by going after just about every prominent skeptic: “I’m smart because Novella, Randi, Shermer, Plait, Nickell, Klass, Radford, Dunning, (the list goes on), are wrong.”

I liken the drivers of the critical thinking movement to paddlers in a giant canoe. Some are more influential and paddle hard, others less so. But we’re all paddling. Every little bit helps. We’re paddling because what we’re doing is important and we believe in it. I welcome everyone who comes aboard to help, no matter the size of their paddle.

So it’s frustrating for me when I see people who represent themselves as paddlers, but really all they’re doing is disparaging those who actually do paddle. Oh, occasionally they may stick their paddle into the water and steer or give a little push or two, but every time they stop to lambaste the contributors, they’re dead weight; and when they shout to other boats what horrible paddlers their shipmates are, they are actively counterproductive.

One of our fellow Skeptologists here on SkepticBlog is renowned for his Libertarian politics, and frequently criticized for mixing that into his science communication. Similarly, another is renowned for his Democratic politics, and frequently criticized for mixing that into his science communication. What their critics fail to recognize is that even though one is paddling on the left side of the boat, and the other is paddling on the right side of the boat, both are paddling like hell and have done far more to advance public awareness of science and critical thinking than their critics. They are close allies and work together frequently. Take note that they do not derail their own cause by turning their attentions inward and infighting with one another.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be open to internal criticism of the way we do what we do. We have to be, and we are. But unless you’re trying to communicate to the world that skepticism is falling apart, you don’t trumpet your criticism to the world in your blog, you pick up the phone and make your suggestions appropriately. I had a huge problem with something that happened at The Amazing Meeting 7. I didn’t podcast or blog to the world that TAM is all fucked up; I communicated my concerns in private to the appropriate person. Guess what, my concerns were welcomed, and I also discovered that I didn’t know the whole story. How about that for a shocker? And the world still knows what I want them to know: That I think TAM is an incredibly positive event. We’re still paddling in step.

I invite every skeptical blogger, podcaster, or communicator to stop and consider what it is they’re trying to accomplish. Do you really have no better targets to go after than your best allies? If you feel that I or anyone else have done something counterproductive to science education, you’ll probably find that we welcome your comments if you present them appropriately. If you’re just out there trying to shout “Look how smart I am”, well, we don’t have time for you; but we’ll make time if you want to pick up a paddle and climb on board.

Reblogged from Skeptoid.  

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Reblogs

Karl Popper on tolerance

 

1 Comment

Filed under Quotations

How to become gluten intolerant


Leave a comment

Filed under Videos