Tag Archives: tea party

“Nativist apoplexy” and the case of immigration legislation

In Arizona a law was recently passed allowing police officers to arrest anyone unable to provide documentation of their immigrant status. Supporters of the law argue that illegal immigrants from Mexico are taking American jobs and bringing in dangerous drug cartel violence. Protesters of the bill argue that such a sweeping law will result in law enforcement abuse and a shift of resources and attention away from the real terrorists/drug traffickers. With this legislation, passed on the eve of world-wide May Day rallies in support of immigrant workers, the emotionally and politically charged issue of immigration has escalated to new heights.

As Daniel Bar-Tal explains in a 1990 Journal of Social Issues article, a perceived threat of one group to another can ignite a cycle of delegitimization and moral exclusion stoked by fear and often escalating to further violence. As a rhetorical strategy, delegitimizing a group separates or “others” them and thus serves as grounds for justifying inhumane treatment. We can see many examples of delegitimization and moral exclusion in the case of the Arizona legislation.

Sparked by fears of drug-related violence and the recent murder of an Arizona rancher — who was known to often help immigrants trying to cross the border by giving them water or alerting border patrol so that they could receive medical assistance — the debate surrounding U.S.-Mexico border control has been fueled by many useful myths. As a recent Washington Post article points out, illegal immigration is a complex issue and the main talking points (immigrants take jobs from Americans, illegal immigrants cause crime) are simply not true. But from the standpoint of politics and debate, these myths are very useful because they allow for justifying differential treatment and harsh legislation such as the law that was just passed. Deutsch (1990) further explains the psychological underpinnings of moral exclusion and dehumanization and the social conditions that contribute. Economic depression, for example, can lead to a sense of relative deprivation and an increase in alienation/isolation attitudes. Political instability, authoritarian government, violence, and lack of social bonding can also lead to moral exclusion.

While it is clear that a number of psychological and social forces are merging and a political debate ensuing, there are very real reasons why the current administration may not be able to hold off immigration legislation until the next year. As Bar-Tal explains, “There is little doubt that the distance between delegitimizationof this intensity and behavioral harm is very small.” In other words, legislation such as the one passed in Arizona, may lead to even more violence and less productive border relations. Or, the delegitimization of one group could quickly spread to other groups and become aimed at all immigrants, legal or not.

Jost et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136 Five Myths About Immigration. The Washington Post.

Jost et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136 If Only Arizona Were The Real Problem. The New York Times.

Jost et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136 Bar-Tal, D. (1990). Causes and Consequences of Delegitimization: Models of Conflict and Ethnocentrism. Journal of Social Issues.

Jost et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136 Deutsch, M. (1990). Psychological Roots of Moral Exclusion. Journal of Social Issues.

Jost et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136 Arizona’s Punishment Doesn’t Fit The Crime: Studies Show Decrease in Arizona Crime Rate Over Time.

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Political Ideology is Alive and Well

In the middle of the 20th century, a group of researchers pronounced political ideology dead. They argued that most individuals do not know enough about their beliefs to have an ideology. While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to this claim, the emergence of heated Tea Party protests and the overall Tea Party movement indicates that political ideology is alive and well. Social psychological research also backs up this claim (Jost, Nosek, & Gosling, 2008). Political psychologist John Jost and his colleagues have found numerous differences between those that have conservative and liberal ideologies, even though they may not be aware of it.

The strongest differences concern system justification and change (Jost & Hunyady, 2005; Jost et al., 2008). Specifically, conservatives are more likely to support maintaining the status quo or hold stronger system-justifying attitudes. For example, a New York Times/CBS News poll indicates that the Tea Party supporters are upset about the amount of support that the current United States administration is giving to minorities and lower social classes. This is quite reflective of what Jost and his colleagues describe in their research on system justification. As far as change goes, conservatives are less likely to be supportive of change. This is quite evident in the Tea Party, as seen in the following quote from Sarah Palin (a voice supported by many in the Tea Party movement): “Is this what their ‘change’ is all about? I want to tell ‘em, Nah, we’ll keep clinging to our Constitution and our guns and religion — and you can keep the change.” To conclude, while individuals may not fully understand their ideologies, humans are indeed “ideological animals”, as Jost and Hunyady (2005) conclude.

Jost, J. T. et al. (2008). Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 126-136

Jost, J. T. & Hunyady, O. (2005). Antecedents and Consequences of System-Justifying Ideologies. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 260-265

New York Times/ABC News Poll about Tea Partiers

Time Magazine Quote of the Day: Sarah Palin Wednesday, Apr. 14, 2010

State militias and individual rights: The strength of moral convictions

On the eve of the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing there is talk of developing a state-supported but privately run militia group to protect citizens from “an overreaching federal government” recently epitomized by the passage of healthcare legislation. Talk of a militia group stokes emotional fires on either side of the debate. With recent militia busts in Michigan where plots were underway to attach law enforcement many argue that forming a separate militia group is going too far. Others, harkening to Confederate-era rhetoric of state’s rights, suggest that the individual citizen deserves a guarantee of protection from a federal government that is increasingly interfering in individual lives and state rights.

Indeed, so-called “Patriot” groups are on the rise. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that since 2008, the number of patriot groups has risen from 149 to 512. Of these groups, 127 are militias. Though these groups are becoming more popular and anti-government rhetoric is on the rise, the concern is less with the formation of the groups than the way in which they may harbor lone extremist individuals seeking a forum for their anger and justification for violent acts. In a recent Christian Science Monitor piece, a member of the Hutaree militia is reported as apparently helping in the bust of the plans against law enforcement. The article argues that militias are acutely aware of the dangers that single rogue members can pose and how these members’ actions can hurt the message of the groups.

Any group risks its own identity — and indeed has to be flexible in this regard — when growing its base, militias would be no different. But impassioned arguments mixed with the right to bear arms could be a bit more concerning. A recent article in the Social and Personality Psychology Compass suggests that when it comes to morality, the psychological stakes are much higher than other attitudes or motivations. “Moral convictions” the author argues, are psychologically distinct from other attitudes and are more likely to compel a person to become politically involved but to also be more accepting of violence as a means to an end. The outcomes of such convictions are simultaneously reassuring and troubling. While organizing to protect rights is an activity that activists across the political spectrum engage in, it raises the question as to how we possibly begin to find a common ground or make progress on issues that register at such personal levels. As the author points out, moral convictions give us the courage to act, but they have also been used to justify heinous crimes. The cases of proliferating militias will force us to consider the nuances of moral convictions and the complicated nature of defending the rights of the individual (or, in this case, states). This reminds me of two of my favorite sayings by my high school government teacher: “I may not agree with your opinions but I’ll defend til death your right to say them” which was often shortly followed by “your rights end where mine begin.” Gray areas are, indeed, quite gray.

Skitka, L. (2010). The psychology of moral conviction. Social and Personality Psychology Compass.

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Minority Influence on Capitol Hill

In the late 1960s Serge Moscovici developed a theory of social influence that investigated how minority groups influence majority groups and vice versa. Since then, the theory has been elaborated quite a bit to include in-groups and out-groups and to consider the relevance of the message and the context in which messages are delivered.

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about majorities, minorities, and super-majorities in Washington, DC. With the election of Scott Brown to the Senate the Democrats have lost their filibuster-proof “super-majority” and with the hearings on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (the military’s approach to sexuality) minority messages are being heard in different ways. And with the actions of the Blue Dog group in the Democratic Party and the Tea Party movement in the Republican party there are even in-group minority groups hoping to influence policy. So how are these groups making their voices heard and what can social psychology tell us about their techniques and successes?

For instance, take the case of Joe Lieberman and the Blue Dog group and their influence on the healthcare bill. One way that minorities can influence outcomes is by getting a majority member to deflect (Joe Lieberman). This also often results in other majority members feeling like they, too, can deflect if the majority message is not fully in line with their views (as the Blue Dogs did). Another way that minorities can influence the majority is to have an in-group member side with their position. We have seen this in the case of Admiral Mullen testifying that as a member of the military he feels that it is time to repeal “Don’t ask, Don’t tell.” His position as an in-group member of the military helps the minority message, and this was strategically matched on the opposing side with testimony by John McCain, a former military hero (and therefore also an in-group member) arguing an opposing message.

Another example of minority influence occurred when President Obama began building his cabinet and justified appointments that some deemed as too conservative. His argument that this would spur innovation is in line with social psychologist’s findings that the presence of minorities in groups is “related to more team innovation and effectiveness.” Whether this has been the case over the past year is debatable. But there is no doubt that the fledging Tea Party is hoping to use its influence as a vocal in-group minority to push its Republican Party away from the center. How this will play out also remains to be seen. It is important to note, however, that all of these situations involve subjective decisions (ones driven by personal beliefs, emotions, etc.) rather than objective decisions (such as correct answers to a math problem) which further complicate the outcomes.

This application to the political arena is just one application of majority and minority influence theories. As Crano and Seyranian (2009) argue, the theory is also helpful in understanding workgroups, juries, community organizations, classrooms, wars, and international relations.

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