I have to admit, I’m not overly fond of caricatures. Never have been. I guess sometimes they manage, just like a good metaphor does, to capture something important about its object that was not as obvious before. The thing that a caricatures bring out about the object is usually intended to render it ridiculous. Most things are partly ridiculous, of course, it’s almost never a useless way of viewing a thing. But it becomes particularly useful if the thing, or person, or group, is in power, is pompous, is revered to an unreasonable extent. It becomes less so, even harmful, if the thing or person, or group, is already despised, disenfranchised, treated as ridiculous.
The reason why I’m not overly fond of caricatures, or metaphors for that matter, is that they rely on putting emphasis on certain things at the expense of others, and the result, the translation as it were, depends on whether that serves to correct the received view to reflect the actual importance of those things. Caricatures have a history of ridiculing power, that is being repeated over and over these days. But they also have a history of serving power. Of dehumanizing people it deems of less importance, which makes them easier to disregard, or even to kill.
There is an argument that says that we have freedom of speech in order to protect precisely the sort of statements that we do not like. This is spurious. It may be true that the extent of freedom of speech can be measured by exactly how offensive, vitriolic, hateful, debasing, threatening expressions that it allows, but it hardly seem to be its point. Some people will say that freedom is a value in itself. Others, like the more often quoted than read J.S. Mill, say that freedom of speech is an instrumental value, which serves a function. And it can be limited when it fails to serve that value. On this account, we can say that freedom of speech is a matter of costs and benefits. The offensive can occasionally be a benefit, the hateful very rarely is, but we may want to preserve the right to make hateful assertions because the total value of relatively unregulated speech is positive. The benefits may outweigh the costs. (It should be noted that this analysis could, and, I believe, should, adjust for fairness. If the costs and benefits are unfairly distributed so that the worst off bears the greatest burden, the cost may be unacceptable even if it is outweighed in absolute terms). Hate speech laws tend to draw a line between the offensive (which is allowed) and the hateful (which is not), but some legal scholars and a lot of libertarians believe this distinction is spurious.
Now. In moral philosophy, the notion of an asshole is quickly turning into a technical notion of considerable use. An asshole is a person that does not infringe on other peoples rights, but does everything he/she can to reap the benefits for him/herself, and nothing to help others. It is the kind of person that uses freedom of speech to say all the worst things he/she is allowed to, and contributes nothing to a productive discussion. The behavior of such people tend to be on the cost side in the cost/benefit analysis of a right. Assholes are on the cost side, and if they become too many, the instrumental value of certain freedoms decreases. At the same time, the fact that we tolerate them (even encourage them in certain contexts) may be a testament to the strength of our society, our resilience. Assholes also serve the considerable function of showing the gaps in our systems.
I’m going somewhere with this. I have not made myself familiar with the works of Charlie Hebdo. I don’t know french, and I don’t know much about the context. If I understand things correctly, their tendency is to make fun (if that is the right word) of power and pompousness in all it’s guises. It certainly is no straightforward instrument of power. But equal treatment does not amount to equal effects, especially when the people and groups treated have different social standings to begin with. Some of their work may render things ridiculous that we all benefit by viewing in that light. Some of it may serve to dehumanize and ridicule people that are already being discriminated against, whose social standing in the context is low. The latter is an unmitigated cost, and it is the work of assholes, in the technical sense described above. Caricaturists will often tend towards asshole-hood. And it is possible that they should, that it is for the good that there are people, and publications, like that. But it would probably be unbearable if we were all like that. And while the extent of free speech may be measured by the worst things it allows, the value of it must be measured by the best things it allows that might otherwise have been banned.
A tale of two hate crimes
Imagine that I am physically assaulted on my way to work because of my membership in some of the groups to which I belong. The white, the middle-class, academics, the city-dwelling, the fairly tall, the heterosexual or what have you. Imagine what, in this very unlikely event, would happen to me, given that I survive the assault and am not hospitalized.
I would report the crime to the police, who would hear my story and do whatever it could to track down the assailant. Then I would probably call in sick, stay at home for a some period of time, be afraid to go out, have difficulties sleeping etc. The social security system, and the social ”safety net” would soon spring into effect, I would receive a large share of my salary, my employer is very understanding, and would keep in touch but not press me to come back to work. My family and friends would gather round, make sure that I remained safe, fed, got the opportunity ta talk things through. I may never regain my complete sense of security and confidence, and may fear renewed victimization due to the manifested presence of violence inducing bias towards me in some capacity.
Now imagine a person of Roma origin from eastern Europe, begging outside a convenience store in the middle of the Swedish winter. Imagine what is unfortunately not that unlikely, that person being attacked by a hate motived assailant. What would happen then? First, that person may hesitate to contact the police, due to earlier encounters (eviction from a camp, say), fear of being harassed, registered, of being picked up on the police ”radar” as someone associated with crime and, minimally, not expecting to be taken seriously. So there is, at the very least, a hurdle to clear for any kind of social security or victim support to kick in. Further, there is very little by way of a home for this person to return to, and there is no social security, no compensation for lack of income. The situation in the homeland, which it is expensive to get back to, is not much better. There may be family and friends around, of course, but these too have to earn their living in this makeshift fashion, and they are equally at risk of being targeted.
Risk and disadvantage
Now, there are two very relevant differences between these two cases.
First, the latter sort of attack is much more likely to take place. Even when it doesn’t, people of Roma origin, particularly recent arrivals in the exposed situation of being forced to spend time begging, live with the constant risk of being assaulted, and with the constant presence of reminders of this risk. (Verbal assaults, campaigns from populist right-wing parties). Whereas I may receive a handful of group-based insults over a life time, these people receive them every single day. Besides the fact that such assaults, when they occur, have terrible consequences, they also serve as an reminder of the constant risk of assault of which they are manifestations.
Second, the difference in impact described above means different amounts of harm caused. The fact that I have access to a marvelous social safety net makes it the case that a lot of resources are concerned with minimizing the harm of such an attack. This is hardly present at all in the case of the Roma immigrant above. This is to say, they are at an disadvantage in almost any conceivable way.
Some hate crimes are worse than others
Committing a crime against a person belonging to a thus disadvantage group is, arguably for that very reason, worse than committing a similar crime against me. Doing so because they belong to that group betrays a particularly heinous motive. Both crimes above are motivated by hate/bias, but the latter is clearly worse because of the relative social standing of the victims. If so, it is not just the hate that matters, but the fact that this hate purposefully targets people that are already at a heightened risk for this sort of attack, who lack comparable resources to minimize harmful effects (including reduction in income), and that have a minimum of support when being attacked.
It is bad enough to attack these people at all. To attack them because of their membership in this group that is thus at disadvantaged, is simply beyond the pale.
Hate crimes and harm
In a forthcoming paper (in a symposium section of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, edited by me and Christian Munthe), Paul Iganski and Spiridoula Lagou point out that hate crimes do tend to hurt more than other crimes, but that some hate crimes hurt more than others. This is an important, and yet under-researched, matter. If the seriousness of a crime is proportional to the harm involved, such matters are important. In particular, it is important for which groups should be included, and be made a priority, in the enforcement of hate crime legislation. The sort of contrast I described above suggest that it is not simply the hate/bias element that makes these crimes particularly serious, even if that is a contributing factor; it is also the fact that some groups are more frequently targeted, and that some groups are at a disadvantage when it comes to resources to cope with victimization.
Everyone’s a little bit racist. Basic cognitive functioning relies on generalizations, after all. Unwarranted initially, in order to get off the ground, and then more or less supported, or rejected, or revised by experience, by evidence. Slightly less basic cognitive functioning requires that we adjust our generalizations in the face of evidence. We adjust our explanatory categories, we fine-tune and narrow in on something that starts to look like likelihood. Or, rather, we do this when there’s sufficient reasons to do so. And those reasons are not just epistemological, they are to a large extent pragmatic. Most of us are lazy thinkers, and all of us have limited time to spend on adjusting categories. We only do when it’s useful for us to do so, or when we have the time and interest to do so at our leisure.
We assign significance to superficial differences like skin color, mode of dress, language, gait, because superficial differences are what signifies internal and explanatory differences when no other information is readily available. (To be fair: superficial difference often DOES correlate with less unimportant things.)
Prejudices are explanatory shortcuts, and quite often they serve us well. Sometimes by being dead-on, otherwise by knitting us closer together with others with similar needs, who jumped to the same unfounded conclusions about the explanatory order of things. The prosocial function of shared false beliefs should not be underestimated. Organized religion springs to mind.
People are, by most accounts, naturally geared towards bigotry, at least under the circumstances of groups competing for resources that seems to have prevailed through a significant part of our formative evolutionary past. The thing to explain is not that we are bigoted, but that we occasionally stop. (Even so, what categories matter, and how to assign value, is, of course, learnt. The tendency is present in the cognitive default state, but needs triggers and particulars to get underway and be filled by content. A person born into a truly egalitarian world would arguably have the tendency to assign significance to the superficial, but lack most of the triggers to do so, and the guidance to do so in any particular manner. Bigots, if they were still to develop, would be of a much more idiosyncratic ilk).
We may be partially excused for being racist, then, as it is in our nature to make a big deal out of differences, and we can often find at least some evidence to back a prejudice up. We are likely to do this, as our prejudices are often at least partly emotional in nature, and we are likely to go looking for confirmation, rather than rejection, of the rationality of those emotions. Emotions too have an evolutionary function, as indications we do well to trust when information as the the value of things is scarce. Awkwardness in the face of the unfamiliar calls for post hoc rationalization (ironically, the pressure towards a racist explanation of that awkwardness increases when there is a reluctance to self-attribute prejudice).
Yet we do blame people for being racists and are presumably right to do so. Why? Because we have every opportunity to revise our first impressions. The evidence as to the irrelevance of these superficial differences is so overwhelming, and the case for the basic equal value of persons is so much stronger than any alternative account, that there is really no excuse if you’re an adult, intelligent person living under non-warlike conditions (people at war, or under extraordinary stress, may sometimes be excused).
The point is that people should be blamed, not merely for harboring racist (and other, avoidable) prejudices, but for failing to revise them in the face of evidence, and for the failure to look carefully enough for evidence that falsifies that prejudice. In many cases, the reason for such failures is nothing more sinister than basic cognitive laziness and self-interest.
There exist, of course, a skeptic safe haven for the bigoted, and it consists of distrust in the sources of evidence. If you believe that, say, the liberal elite, or what have you, has an agenda to mislead concerning the nature and character of the groups you disfavour, you may well protect your prejudice against such challenges. The strategy is fundamentally flawed, as it depends on not adapting skepticism in equal measures to other sources of information, like the sources you use to entrench and confirm your pre-existence prejudice. But the model provides some light when it comes to explaining why some people remain bigoted. It also shows the depth of the problems caused by societal distrust.
So you write something and maybe it’s a good thing. You’re new so what do you know? You’re still working things out, but you have been doing that for a while so you’ve got this idea that maybe you should have presented it, or something else, by now. And you want to make a good first impression. You would like it to be the case that the time, whatever the time, it has taken you to write this thing has all been worth it because it’s basically flawless. Like Pallas Athena, it should spring out of your head fully ready to do combat on it’s own. Maybe you fear criticism, so you want there to be very little space for it – the text should be laden with defenses for anything the reader could conjure up. So you work through it again and it’s impossible because the time it takes you to work through it, whatever the time, means the result must be even better than when you started working through it, and odds are you have reached the point where you’re not improving it, you’re making it worse. Time spent with a text can make you blind to how it reads for a new reader, you can’t help reading into it things that are not publicly available. It shouldn’t be this hard, or so you say (conveniently forgetting that Thomas Mann thing that a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people).
What I’m describing to you is what I like to call the ”Pallas Athena Complex” and I believe it is responsible for academic failure to a far greater extent than lack of academic talent is. It means tons of promising work remains hidden in drawers and may never see the light of day. It’s a form of shyness, of course. The reluctance to appear vulnerable, or responsible for something flawed. But it’s also a byproduct of the cult of the solitary genius. Particularly susceptible to belief in this cult are those who approached their subject on their own, and where taught the history of their subject by description of the work of eminent singular persons. Particularly susceptible to the Pallas Athena Complex are those who, however confident, lack confidence in the readers ability to spot promise in a text.
If you’re a teacher or a supervisor, you should learn to spot the early signs of the Pallas Athena Complex. Broken deadlines, postponed seminars, general avoidance despite keen interests. If you’re a sufferer, go to seminars and conferences an take note that people are submitting stuff that are much worse than the stuff you’ve got hidden away. And start a blog, you don’t even have to provide footnotes in a blogpost.
At the fourth meeting of the research project ”When Law and Hate Collide”, which took place in Brussels in 2012, we recorded a radio documentary. It features the project members Michael Salter, Kim McGuire, Christian Munthe, David Brax (that’s me), Caroline Bonnes and Michael Fingerle along with noted experts Paul Iganski, Henri Nichols of the FRA, Paul Gianassi from the UK Ministry for Justice, Joanna Perry from OSCE-ODIHR, Jackie Driver from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and UCLAN’s Bogusia Puchalska.
I identity six types of justifications for penalty enhancements at 10:40 and the possible criteria for inclusion as a protected group at 22:47
And here it is:
For the last few days, a police scandal has been dominating swedish media. The scandal concerns a file including a very large number of people of mainly Roma origin which the press calls an ”ethnic registry”, which is clearly a rights violation and in all likely to be a punishable offense, while the police (some of them) calls it an ”analytic file”. The content of the file/registry is not entirely clear – and lets be thankful for that, police files should not be open access – nor is the reasoning behind it’s existence or it’s extent. If you believe the police, it all started with an investigation and the collection of names of people connected to it. This, of course, is fairly unproblematic. There is no fault in gathering data on people of Roma origin connected to a suspected crime, as long as they are not collected because they belong to that group, unless group membership is clearly relevant to the investigation. Similarly, the police is not allowed to have a registry of people on basis of political conviction unless their membership in a certain political group is germane to the investigation. While this qualification seems straight-forward, it means a very large gray area. In fact, it’s probably the gray area where most rights violations takes place. I’ll return to this matter below.
At some point, the file started growing to what’s seems to be an unreasonable file, not warranted by the objective of the investigation. For example, it involves a large number of children, and some deceased people. Again: there may be sound reasons for collecting data on whether a suspect has children, and other family or association based relations through deceased persons. The problem arises where the collection of such data becomes unreasonably extensive and ulterior motives can be inferred.
Discrimination by proxy
A registry on the basis of ethnicity is clearly unlawful, and violates the anti-discrimination principle. A clear case of such a registry is one which includes only members of a certain ethnic group because they belong to that ethnic group, and also includes all such members which the people responsible for the registry knows about. The registry/file involved in the scandal is not such a clear case. A clear case of a nonproblematic registry/file is one which concerns a suspected crime and collects data of people of a common ethnic origin clearly relevant to the investigation, but in which there ethnicity is not noted as such. The registry/file involved in the scandal is not such a clear case either.
A registry may violate the anti-discrimination principle in other ways, however. Even if the police is not collecting data on basis of ethnicity, they may collect data because of ethnicity. I.e. a proxy can be used. In the case, the proxy used seems to be family ties, very extensive family ties. As mentioned, you may collect data about family ties, but not if the reasons why you do so is based on your idea about the ethnicity of the people involved.
The importance of Reasons
The point is this: In order for the registry/file to be discriminatory, it’s not necessary that it’s a clear cut ethnic registry. It suffices that the extent of the file, or the method used, is one that wouldn’t have been employed were it not for the ethnicity of the people involved. In other words: if the reason why you take family ties to matter to a large extent is your idea about the importance of family to people of that origin to be relevant to the investigation when it isn’t. This is complicated, and relates to a well known phenomena from the social psychology of prejudice: Discrimination often proceed, not by taking ethnicity, sexuality, gender to be a reason in itself, but by you taking these things to be a reason to look for other reasons for disparate treatment. If, for instance, you are hiring someone and you choose your non-ethnic criteria on basis of which ethnic group you want to hire from. You thus provide post-hoc rationalization of your decision which does not coincide with your actual reason for it.
Clear cases, criteria and explanations
As mentioned previously in this blog, there is a problem with treating to obvious cases as exemplars. It makes it difficult to deal with the less clear cases, where some of the distinguishing marks of the obvious cases are missing. In the scandal, a clear case would be a registry based on ethnicity alone, with no other rationale. But as mentioned, this is not necessary to make it a case of discriminatory conduct. So what is necessary? In the case above, the sort of evidence germane to the problem will concern the intents of the police officers involved, but this will be notoriously hard to come by directly. The more indirect route will come through a careful investigation and an informed judgment regarding the reasons why the investigation took the form that it took, and involve an appeal to the best explanation. For a philosopher, at least, it seems that the way to do this is to compare with files concerning similar cases where the people involved have other, or diverse, ethnic origins. If it’s standard procedure, there’s no particular problem with this case (there may be a general one, though). If it isn’t, someone needs to provide a very good explanation.
It would seem that semantics is the least interesting aspects of things like islamophobia and antisemitism. This may well be the case, but if you’ve ever happened to investigate into anything, you know that the least interesting aspects of things are often quite crucial. While linguistic-turn era early 20th century Oxbridge-type philosophy is often caricatured as claiming that semantics is everything that matters, the more accurate claim made is that semantics matters too.
It is, at the very least, noteworthy that while antisemitism and islamophobia are treated as examples of the very same attitude (a negative one) with a variation in object (Jewish people/Muslims), they take different lingusitics forms even on the attitude side. Why use ”anti-” in the one case, and ”phobia” in the other? Are they interchangeable? It’s clear that they are often used as interchangeable, but this may hide an important aspect: There’s a distinction at work which connects to different modes of negative attitudes and behavioral responses. These modes afford different types of explanatory schema.
Aggression and Aversion
The word ”anti-” connects to aggression, the word ”phobia” to aversion. These are both negative reactions, but aggression is connected to the behavioral response of approaching the object, while phobia is connected to the behavioral response of withdrawal. If I have a fear of spiders, I don’t primarly seek them out, even to kill them, unless there’s another way to avoid them. I’m sure there are people who are anti-spider, and will seek spiders out to kill them, but the groups of spider haters and spider fearers are probably just barely overlapping. The relation between fear and hate is not straightforward. Because of this, fear-based explanations of acts of aggression are incomplete at best. You always need a further explanatory step to show why this instance in particular provoked an aggresive response, rather than an act of avoidance.
If the semantics of ”phobia” and ”anti-” reflects this distinction, it suggests that the common perception is that Jewish people are attacked as a consequence of anti-semitism, whereas muslims are avoided as a consequence of islamophobia. Of course, both groups suffer from both types of responses.
The distinction between aggression and avoidance is further of interest as they neatly divide the problems of racism up in two piles, it’s relatively easy to target aggression with the use of criminal law, but not so easy with avoidance (Discrimination laws targets a very limited set of the latter). Yet avoidance is probably the greater problem, as it is likely to account for most inequalities and as much of the perpetuation of antipathies between groups as the aggression does.
Hi. Below you’ll find a short interview with me about (wait for it) the philosophy of hate crime. It’s in swedish and it’s made by the really quite admirable crew at fjardeuppgiften.se, a website that makes short interviews with scientists of all shapes and sizes and then distribute the interviews without charging.
About the content: basically, I reiterate some claims familiar to (the fiction known as) readers of this blog: that there are a number of hate crime concepts, that the issue of justification of punishment enhancement is not precisely settled, and that we still lack a good theory about the relation between everyday xenophobia and hate crimes, and thus of why and when these crimes occur.
The face of racism is often characterized by a swastika crudely painted on a wall, or a group of young white men screaming out their hate and anger towards a member of a hated group. The consequences of racism is often portrayed as a beaten up, dead body. This, most of us think, must stop. Presumably, open, convinced, ideologically driven racists thinks so to. Presumably, as with any kind of war, they regret that it had to come to this.
These expressions of hate and prejudice are highly problematic, and the long term effects, especially if they are not swiftly and forcefully dealt with, should not be underestimated. But what would happen if they disappeared? Would the problem av everyday racism – expressed in mild aversions, the unlikelihood of succesful encounters, covert discrimination – diminish as well, or would it, in fact, become worse? The question is this: what is the relationship between overt and covert instances of racism?
If we want to point out why racism is a bad idea, we are well served to point to these worst cases – the lynching of James Bird, the murder of Matthew Sheppard, and we do that rather than point to a job applicant narrowly losing out to another due to the foreign sounding nature of his or her name.
Yet the latter kind of situations are in all likelihood much more common and their effects much more widespread in modern racism. Most people overtly believe in the value of equality, but still suffer from unconscious prejudices. We can deal with the easy cases, but when it becomes complicated, and we can make up a reason that justify our aversion, prejudices have a chance to win out.
Explanations are afforded by generalizations, but motivations and emotions often draw their power from individual cases.
We are on the watch for populisitic right wing parties, because we still got the more obvious racists to keep before our eyes. We remember. We often recognise and react towards our own racist tendencies by the self loathing that comes with sharing beliefs with violent and obviously misinformed perpetrators. But what if they disappeared? Would we lack these markers of racism and thus loose our bearings?
Or, alternatively: do these instances now serve the function of carrying the weight of all racism, and the problems with it? So that if they DID disappear, we would have to face the fact that it’s actually as much the implicit racism of convinced egalitarians and liberals, that cause the unfair outcomes? Or would such a scenario rather be used in support of the racist idea that any inequality remaining in the absence of overt racism must be due to inherent inequality between the ”races”?
Hello! If you’ve just found your way here, odds are that you did so because of this article http://www.dn.se/insidan/insidan-hem/for-att-lyckas-med-lyckan-far-man-inte-vara-for-krasen
Feel free to look around. The last two years of posts deal almost exclusively with hate crime. If you want something more substantial on that topic, you may start off with this video
And maybe take a look at this rather hefty text, co-authored with Christian Munthe:
If you are more interested in my work on hedonism, here’s the full text of my dissertation ”Hedonism as the Explanation of Value”: