The Madness of Crowds

Human nature isn't equipped to deal with the problems that we currently face, as individuals, as societies, and as a species.

Long term solutions to social problems require creating systems that are stable. They require systems-thinking, not emotional tribalism. Unfortunately, systems-theoretic solutions to problems are politically unpopular, because they don't engage people's social emotions.

As I have said before (and will probably say again), we evolved to live in small groups that were perpetually at war. They were internally cooperative (with some competition) and externally competitive (with some cooperation). Outsiders were divided into strangers, toward whom the group was indifferent, and enemies, toward whom the group was violent. Enemies were outsiders who were in conflict with the group. That conflict could be based on a history of violence (making each side incapable of cooperation) or on a conflict over limited resources. In most cases it was both.

Just as individuals can have conflicting interests, and thus the potential for competition, groups can have conflicting interests. Two fundamental conflicts are built into the nature of life: the conflict over resources (usually food) and the conflict between males over females. Organizing into groups doesn't make those conflicts go away, it just transfers them to another level. Group conflict is a result of the conflicting interests of individuals. Individuals organize into groups to compete with other individuals.

Morality always involves a double standard. Society has a moral boundary that divides the world into US and THEM. Those inside the moral boundary are accorded moral concern. Members are supposed to respect the moral rights of other members. Those outside the boundary are treated with indifference or hostility. Enemy outsiders are viewed as morally acceptable targets of violence. It is virtuous to help an insider, but it is also virtuous to harm an enemy.

Enemies are hated. Hatred is based on negative empathy, the psychological mechanism that makes one feel pleasure at another's pain and vice-versa. Negative empathy make it feel good to hurt others. Hatred motivates violence. Humans have a natural capacity for hate, a natural tendency to hate, and it can feel very good to hate, especially if you get to smash the person you hate.

The fact that we have this psychological mechanism built into our brains is a big problem for Humanism. We can't learn not to hate. Tribalism is like a plug built into our brains, and people go looking for something to plug into it. Ideologies and ideologues manipulate people by offering them something that fits into that plug. It feels good to have those instincts stimulated. It is addictive.

(I call such artificial stimulants "social fetishes". Just as porn is shaped to stimulate sexual instincts, a social fetish is shaped to stimulate social instincts.)

It is not that certain ideologies are hateful and certain ones aren't. All ideologies are instruments for directing hate. All define a moral boundary between US and THEM, usually based on who believes in the ideology. All define an enemy that must be vanquished. All direct hatred toward the enemy. All have a moral double standard.

People like to project their problems onto others, because that was an effective way of solving problems in the past. We evolved to engage in group competition over resources and women. For that reason, human beings tend to personalize problems. Personal and social problems are usually viewed as caused by bad people: outsiders who are already on the other side of a moral boundary, or evil insiders who must be pushed outside of the moral boundary. To put it simply, people have a natural tendency to view social problems in terms of US versus THEM, and to try to solve those problems with violence.

For example, look at the narratives that the left has used to discredit Trump: the deplorable narrative and the Russian narrative. One projects the problem of Trump onto evil insiders, the deplorables, who must be pushed outside the moral boundaries of society. The other projects the problem of Trump onto evil outsiders, the Russians and Putin, who are attacking us and must be dealt with. I am not singling out the left here. Almost all politics is based on such narratives. Those examples are just very salient because they have been all over the mainstream media for months. The MSM uses such narratives because they work, and they work because they plug into social emotions.

Now, consider the current moral panic over "Nazis" in the United States. This is largely a creation of the establishment media, which is then amplified by feedback. The recent Charlottesville disaster exemplifies the way a moral panic is created and how it short-circuits rationality. The establishment media and politicians have virtually declared it to be a thought-crime to have any pro-white views, but also to not actively condemn and suppress such views. People were already conditioned by the media and entertainment industries to view racism as the ultimate evil. Racists and "Nazis" are moral outsiders, and so violence toward them is portrayed as morally virtuous.

Calling someone a "Nazi" places them outside the moral boundaries of society, if not the legal boundaries. The legal society is defined by citizenship and governed by laws. The moral society is defined by the circle of moral concern. A person labeled as "white supremacist" or "Nazi" in the United States is a moral outsider and enemy. Thus, although they might have legal rights in the legal society, they have no moral rights in the moral society. They are morally acceptable targets of violence. That is why the "Punch a Nazi" meme is effective. Legal rights are abstractions that don't engage emotions in the same way as moral intuitions. Morally, Nazis are evil, they are enemies, and so they deserve violence even if that is against the law.

If the government or a corporation allows Nazis to speak or protects them from violence, than it is taking their side. Anyone who helps the out-group is a traitor, and thus an enemy. This tends to reinforce the moral boundary, making it more discrete. Anyone straying too near the moral boundary risks being placed outside of it, thereby becoming a target of violence himself. To not denounce Nazis, to defend their rights at all, is to risk being labeled a Nazi oneself. Guilt by association is also activated. If you associate with Nazis, you might be a Nazi. Being a Nazi is not really about any particular ideology. It is about tribal affiliation. Are you with US or with THEM?

Labeling someone as a moral enemy is effectively self-justifying. Enemies must not be believed or listened to. They must just be attacked. To listen to a "Nazi" is to accord them the rights that are reserved for the in-group. So, if the mob labels someone a "Nazi", that person has lost the effective means of arguing otherwise. For that reason people must signal very clearly that they are not Nazis to avoid being labeled Nazis. The best way of signaling that you aren't a Nazi is, of course, to hate Nazis. This vicious cycle generates witch-hunting behavior by the mob: the search for people to label as moral enemies and attack.

In a moral panic the truth doesn't matter. All that matters is to signal group affiliation. That is why groups have myths: group versions of the truth that are socially enforced.

Muslims can kill hundreds, and the left will still say "Not all Muslims", and "Refugees Welcome" because we are supposed to be tolerant of Muslims. As good Humanists, we are not supposed to be bigoted or xenophobic. Hatred must be reserved for the haters. They are the only acceptable targets of hate. One person gets killed at a "Nazi" rally, in an act that was almost certainly not premeditated, and there is a huge backlash against "Nazis", because Nazis are enemy outsiders, and because leftists are hungry to attack someone.

That's why we have people "fighting against hate" by attacking others with baseball bats in the streets. A double standard is built into morality, and people are unaware of their own hypocrisy. They view their own hatred as righteous anger directed at evil.

And that's why the truth doesn't matter in political debates, especially right now. Once tribal emotions are activated, all that matters is signaling which side you are on. Moral society trumps legal society.

But love doesn't trump hate.