Friday, July 23, 2010
Are antisemites mad?
Shrinkwrapped is a very thoughtful blog by a conservative-oriented psychoanalyst in New York. From recollection, the author is Jewish. It is a generally very good blog well worth reading for those of us who are particularly interested in the psychology of politics -- which is my field of academic research.
Recently, Glenn Reynolds linked to an article by Roddy Boyd ("Killing Jews For Fun and For Profit: The Continuing American Adventures of Arab Bank") documenting a court case against an Arab Bank which illustrates how even supposedly rational and reasonable institutions, once in thrall to antisemitism, end up behaving irrationally and self destructively. Shrinkwrapped has responded with an article titled "Anti-Semitism as Thought Disorder".
To be a little crass about it, Shrinkwrapped argues that antisemitism sends you mad. That argument is of course not a new one. There are several versions of it and "The authoritarian personality" version of 1950 is perhaps the best known.
It is however basically an "armchair" theory. As far as I can tell, the people putting it forward have little if any personal knowledge of actual antisemites. For some reason, however, I have always had the compulsion to test theory against reality -- which usually does nothing for my popularity. And much of my research career was devoted to testing inferences derived from "The authoritarian personality" theory.
Readers who know my skeptical stance on global warming and health science will not be surprised to hear that I regularly found inferences from the theory not to be supported by the data.
And one of the things I did was to apply the characteristic methodology of anthropology to an examination of antisemitism. Anthropologists have the view that you can never understand a group "from the outside" -- You have to join the group and become accepted into it before you will ever have any chance of understanding it. I did that with the neo-Nazi group in my city. In other words I got out of my armchair and had a close-up look at what I was talking about. My resultant observations were published in The Jewish Journal of Sociology.
And what I found was actually something extremely common -- perfectly normal sane people who had just got hold of a wrong theory -- not unlike most Global Warmists today and not unlike the hordes of grade school teachers who think that just looking at words without any mention of phonics is a good way for kids to learn to read.
All three theories -- Jewish evil, global warming and "look and learn" have been catastrophic in different ways and illustrate the importance of getting your theories right. They also, sadly, illustrate the reluctance of people to let go of a theory they have accepted when confronted with evidence that the theory concerned is wrong.
Scientists are in fact some of the worst people at that. They cling to the theories of their youth through thick and thin and it is only the arising of a younger generation of scientists with more open minds that allows scientific thinking to advance.
So I disagree with Shrinkwrapped in seeing antisemites as being in some way psychologically abnormal. I think they are all too normal in fact. And it is precisely their normality which makes me despair of changing their views.
So in the end I am more pessimistic about antisemites than Shrinkwrapped is. He seems to think that psychological "help" could change their views whereas I doubt that anything will change their views. Israel can kill the antisemites that surround it but it will not change their minds.
Shrinkwrapped has offered some polite comments on my post above. I am a bit amused by his heading. He uses the rare word "emended" -- which refers to minor textual corrections. But his post is much more extensive than that. In a nutshell, he says that antisemitism can drive a whole society mad even if all the individuals in it are sane.
That seems a stretch to me but I will think about it. I tend to agree with Margaret Thatcher's thoroughly conservative observation that there is no such thing as society, only individual people.