We live in interesting times. Since the election of Barack Obama, hate groups have begun growing. Since the economy has tubed, hate groups have begun growing. Hate, it seems, flourishes whenever major change occurs or disaster strikes. According to a CNN article, “Growing Hate Groups Blame Obama, Economy“, hate proponents seem to think they have very rational grounds for their attitudes and actions. As a culture we seem to regard hate with varying degrees of disdain or apathy. Blatant racism is largely disdained, while blatant sexism is discouraged and heterosexism seemingly encouraged. All, however, are based on irrational fears and anti-social behavior. In what way are any to be considered normal responses?
Some quotes from the article give us cud upon which to chew (emphasis added):
Obama serves as a “visual aid” that is helping respark a sense of purpose in current supporters and lure new members, said neo-Nazi David Duke, the former Klan leader who was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in the 1980s. Duke said he fears “the white European-American” heritage will soon be destroyed. He added that his Web site sees around 40,000 unique visitors a day, up from 15,000 a day before Obama won the election.
The image of a black man in the White House angers white racists, who fear nonwhites gaining too much power, said Jack Glaser, associate professor of public policy at the University of California-Berkeley. But racist fears can also be more mundane and personal: Nonwhites in the White House could lead to nonwhites in their neighborhoods, which could lead to interracial dating, a great taboo among hate groups.
Immigrants are another target of hate groups, according to the report. In a deteriorating economy, illegal immigrants have been blamed by hate groups for allegedly taking subprime loans, according to the report … “You have an American work force facing massive unemployment,” Schoep said. “And you have presidents and politicians flinging open the borders telling them to take the few jobs left while our men are in soup kitchens.”Scapegoating occurs most often in times of economic distress, according to experts studying hate crimes. From the Holocaust in Europe to abuses against Irish Catholic immigrants in the 1830s in the United States, people are most likely to lash out against others when they feel vulnerable or need to displace their economic frustrations on others, psychologists say.
Much is made of the “fight or flight” response to fear. I contend that fight and/or flight are sometimes rational responses to sudden threats that include the possibility, or even perception, of physical harm. None of these situations, however, are abrupt. The election was over a year in the making, and results from the success thus far of civil rights movements begun in the 1950s. Anyone who didn’t see that possibility coming must have had their heads in the sand for decades. The same would be true of a woman president – it is only a matter of time. The economic downturn based on subprime loans, while seemingly more precipitous in its evolution, also occurred with much media hoopla over a period of months. The same can be said for efforts to garner the right to marry for same-sex partners. Why has each occurrence resulted in new and drastically more visceral responses as if they were suddenly thrust upon the populous?
Very often overlooked in the “fight or flight” rationale is the equally as common “negotiation” response. While this response in an emergency, life-threatening situation is not necessarily that common unless there is no escape, it is the most common and most rational response to other, less sudden incidents of conflict or threat. (Okay, maybe not incidents like fictional WMDs – but then, the Bush response could be considered irrational in and of itself.) This is true except for churches, of course, which generally opt for the “discussion in the parking lot with toally unrelated parties” response, a less rational but also relatively benign attempt to negotiate a solution.
When fear of any long-developing situation prompts fight or flight mentality, it is purely irrational. When that is accompanied by propagandizing about fictional and equally irrational consequences, it becomes paranoia. When hate and hateful actions are the best perceived solutions, the participants have truly crossed into behaviors ranging from sociopathic to out and out psychotic.
Let’s, for sake of argument, take immigration and the sub-prime collapse as an example. There are two facts involved. The first is that there are eleven million or so undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. (The number of legal aliens is even greater, but I cannot put my fingers on those numbers just yet.) The second is that the proliferation of sub-prime mortgages, and the smoke and mirrors accounting of them contributed greatly to the major economic downturn facing the world. To link these two occurrences takes flights of fancy that go beyond ignorance – they are either intentionally misleading and aimed at inciting fear and hatred, or they are the products of paranoid delusions.
Immigrants gravitate to certain parts of the country, especially undocumented ones. It is widely known that blue-collar, unionized areas are the least favorable to immigrant movement and, so, have lower rates of occupancy by immigrants. It is also widely known that the areas hardest hit by sub-prime mortgage collapses are blue-collar and upwardly-mobile suburban communities that have suffered higher than normal escalations in property values. These are exactly the two kinds of neighborhoods that will experience less than normal rates of immigrant infusion. The cause of the collapse was, indeed, the classic American patterns of greed by lenders and over-purchasing by borrowers. That is not to say there weren’t any immigrants affected by the sub-prime debacle, but they are barely a blip on the screen.
Similar arguments can be made about the ludicrous claims of losing identity and heritage because of the social elevation of people of color, or debasement and eventual abolition of marriage resulting from approval of same-sex marriage. The claims made are intentionally inflammatory and prey on the fears of irrational people to garner power and prestige. These actions themselves are those of the mentally ill, but subverting to violence and chaos as solutions is criminally insane.
Meanwhile, we will spend multiple millions of dollars fighting for and against one proposal in one state, or billions to appease the isolationist tendencies of many southwesterners, but very little on seeking a cure for the cultural psychoses that present far more social damage than same-sex marriage, immigration or a black president could ever possibly cause. It is the reaction to these developments that are dangerous and will break down society, not the developments themselves. Until we see these movements as expressions of mass mental illness, we will continue to add fuel to the fire of internal strife.