If one’s reality derived entirely from the mainstream mass media, one would conclude since Trump arrived on the political scene America is awash in the modern-day plagues of Biblical proportions :the hatreds of racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and, no doubt, a few others to be named later. Further add how mere disagreement over policy is now classified as “hate,” as in opposition to same sex marriages is “hate.”
Leaving aside the questionable accuracy of these sky-is-falling accusations, should we be worried? Are we to listen to the alarmists who draw parallels with pre-Hitler Germany and today’s allegedly hate-filled politics? Must we ramp-up efforts to promote tolerance, inclusiveness and compassion lest alleged hate crimes become an epidemic? Are today’s safe spaces comparable to 1950s era backyard bomb shelters?
Let me suggest that none of these alleged plagues matter. This conclusion reflects both a plain to see reality and rests on solid social science research: to wit, attitudes are a poor predictor of behavior and this even applies to those boiling over with rage. At most, expressions of enmity will be verbal (and likely symbolic speech, say, burning a Qur’an) and if this malicious but constitutionally protected expression did incite a riot, the criminal code remains an adequate defense. Those painting swastikas should just be charged with vandalism. We do not need mass sensitivity training and safe spaces for the cupcake nation spooked by Trump.
In the classic study of this attitude/behavior disjuncture, the social scientist Richard T. LaPiere beginning in 1930 traveled extensively with a young Chinese couple who were obviously foreign born. The trip occurred during an era of widespread anti-Asian prejudice and well before current anti- discrimination laws so bigotry was 100% legal. They stayed at some 66 motels, and in many instances the Chinese couple themselves negotiated the check-in with Professor LaPiere well in the background. They were refused room in exactly one place, a dump. A follow-up questionnaire asked if the establishment (including restaurants at which they ate) would accept Chinese customers plus other patrons of other distinctive (and generally “unwelcome”) nationalities. Overwhelmingly, the establishment’s response was “no.” The bottom line was that hateful beliefs almost never ever translated into hateful behavior.
The LaPiere study is hardly unique. A mini-industry exists of similar attitude/behavior studies, for example, asking students their views on cheating and then observing them in a cheating friendly situation. More telling the culture fully recognizes that “talk is cheap” or that “people don’t always put their money where their mouth it.” Current examples of hypocrisy abound—liberal whites who heartily endorse racial integration yet pay small fortunes to enroll their children in lily white schools, avid environmentalists whose lifestyle requires consuming huge amounts of carbon-based energy, or proponents of a “healthy lifestyle” who secretly devour Ho-Ho’s and Ding Dongs. How many liberals enraged by Trump have actually moved to Canada?
It is not that attitudes and behavior are totally independent. They are connected but only under certain conditions and these conditions are almost never present when people express these supposedly toxic views. Specifically, there will be a closer alignment when the attitude concerns a fairly structured choice (e.g., buying beer), the behavior reflects multiple attitudes pushing in the same direction (e.g., one likes the beer’s taste and the price is satisfactory) and the behavior is routine (e.g., beer is bought weekly) among several other specific conditions. These stars almost never align for those possessed by hate. How many deplorable homophobes will ever get the opportunity to bash a queer? Millions will live out their entire lives as, to coin a phrase, hatefully frustrated.
The current fixation on attitudes versus far more consequential behavior is predictable. Collecting data about “bad” attitudes is certainly easier than observing such behavior or devising instrument to measure it. It takes minimal effort to, for example, devise an attitude scale for “misogyny” and then pay a survey firm to ask the questions and cross-tabulate the responses with multiple demographic factors to make one’s point. Not only will the research sponsor get quick results, but under the “who-who-pays-the-piper-call-the-tune” principle, he can easily manipulate the outcome to bias the results. If some questions “don’t work,” just replace them and since the data are proprietary, outsider will never suspect social science sausage-making.
Doubters of research flexibility regarding, say, “racism” should visit one website that explains why a claim of being colorblind or believing that America is the land of opportunity is proof positive of being a racist. In other words, since no bureau of standards-like definition of any allegedly hateful terms exists, anyone can improvise and who can disagree? Best of all, the survey respondent cannot object to the classification—the researcher is judge and jury when it comes in condemning those guilty of “hate” and there can be no appeal.
Compare this questionnaire approach with actually observing and then interpreting behavior. In today’s hate obsessed world where words outshine deeds, Donald Trump was an easy target for the accusation of misogyny. It mattered not that he hired dozens of women executives, paid them well, encouraged them to move up the organization and solicited their advice. Far more “meaningful” was his hateful vocabulary—calling a woman fat or ugly, suggesting that animosity might be hormonally driven, using “guy” vulgarity to depict his sexual style and otherwise saying “bad” things. A single off-hand reference to a woman being a “hot babe” wipes out years of actually helping women advance their careers.
Again, attitudes are just one element in the grand equation determining behavior. In the case of the LaPiere experiment prejudicial behavior was conceivably trumped by the more powerful urge to make money or avoid a public scene. It is bizarre to insist that people are so driven by their “hate” and only hate that they cannot control their public behavior. Indeed, it is my impression that those defining themselves as “conservative” are the most socially uptight when dealing with those they loath due to their race, sexual orientation or religion. Similarly, at least from what I have personally witnessed, liberals far more easily succumb publicly to their hatreds, often rioting and calling their foes Nazis, fascists, bigots, and sexists. I have spent countless hours with the evil alt-right Richard Spencer and have never felt physically threatened despite bragging about how my Hebraic tribe rules the world. Perhaps those worried about a society rife with hate should call for teaching people good manners, not imparting multicultural sensitivity training.
Will this new-found obsession with hate become an enduring part of America’s political landscape? Or, like crying wolf, it will just exhaust itself thanks to a bored stiff public? I am not optimistic about this hate mania dissipating. Most clearly, as our economic prosperity permits the funding of seemingly endless grievance groups jockeying for political power, the leveling of accusation will become a common tactic. Now, once rag-tag advocacy groups will be sufficiently funded to rent offices and hire a “Director of Public Communications” to search out ancient examples of hateful speech. Which, in turn will generate a counter-attack and on and on. Conservative groups currently loath to enter the hate Olympics will eventually the fray. The NRA might well accuse their enemies of sclopetumphobia—the irrational hatred of guns—and suggest that those suffering from this disorder seek counseling at a shooting range..
Going one step further, the business model perfected by the Southern Poverty Law Center —uncovering alleged “hate” as a fund-raising tool—will spread to more traditional organizations such as the ACLU. Universities may also join the gravy train and hire experts to shield their fragile students from hate (the parallel is the anti-rape bureaucracy). Why not given that sky-is-falling rhetoric is cheap and is easily manufactured (including hoaxes) given the total lack of standards regarding “hate”?
What will not occur, guaranteed, will be any serious research attempting to link hateful attitudes to actual behavior. Nor will there be any suggestions that humdrum policing or decent manners, not sensitivity training and multiculturalism, best combats hateful behavior. To suggest either of these potential remedies is, in today’s political climate, tantamount to denying the power of hate. And who wants to be a “hate denier” when the existence of widespread hate is settled science? Again, the parallel are those attacked as “rape deniers.”
What this all adds up to is that the honored cultural norm of actions speaking louder than words is being reversed—words now increasingly outshine behavior. The financial equivalent is replacing gold coins with easy-to-print paper money. A white given an honor for, say, successfully raising six black crack-addicted orphans would have this honor rescinded if he was stupid enough to refer to them as “my cute little colored kids.” Doing “good” is now just saying “good things” and in that perverse sense, the war on hate has really made America a better place.