Topic: The Media
Is angry talk dangerous? It's only talk. A social scientist considers the question.
Another odd site came my way: The Left End of the Dial: Dr. James Benjamin's periodic musings and rants - primarily of a political nature, as well as jazz, poetry, haiku, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.
The Left End of the Dial is pretty much "angry left" as you would imagine. Benjamin is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Department of Behavioral and Social Science at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. He's not really a doctor in the MD sense. Here's what I found: Doctor of Philosophy University of Missouri-Columbia (2000), Major Area: Social Psychology, Dissertation Title: The Moderating Influence of Individual Differences on the Provocation-Aggression Relationship: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Literature
Yeah, that's cool. A Meta-Analytic Review. Sure.
Well, he doesn't like Ann Coulter and all her talk about bombing the New York Times building and stuff like that, and others on the right who talk about the moral right to "perform procedures" (kill) abortion providers as a way to stop mass-murder of innocent "children" [sic]. Yeah, Ann Coulter, in her 1998 book, High Crimes and Misdemeanors, suggested the only viable discussions for dealing with Clinton came down to whether we should "impeach or assassinate." There's been a lot more talk of such things in the air recently. A couple of weeks ago the nationally syndicated conservative columnist Kathleen Parker approvingly quoted an anonymous military man's wish that the nine Democratic presidential candidates be "lined up and shot."
There seems to be no real parallel to this "verbal behavior" from the left, but maybe I've missed it.
Is such talk dangerous? It's only talk.
Benjamin has some things to say about the dangers of right-wing "rant radio" -
... the general trend of political hate speech is truly the domain of the right wing's politicians, pundits, and rank and file. Research on authoritarian aggression is especially pertinent, as it appears that individuals who are high RWA tend to be prone to act in aggressive or violent ways if those actions appear sanctioned by those they consider as authority figures (see, e.g., Altemeyer, 1981, 1988, 1996).Benjamin has no faith in the essential goodness and good sense of most people? Perhaps so. Not one of the Democratic candidates has been shot yet. He's being alarmist, no doubt.
What is troubling from my standpoint as a social scientist is that much of the writings and speech advocating violence against liberals and other political enemies is coming precisely from those authority figures. Television and radio talk show hosts are for better or worse viewed as authorities by those who make up their core fan base. Same with those who hold political offices or who are considered religious leaders. If these authority figures appear to sanction violent acts against other groups, there is an increased risk that someone among their followers will ultimately act violently. The danger isn't so much from what is said by these authority figures (most of it comes across as sophomoric at best) but rather the danger is from the interpretation of the meaning of those hate-filled words based on the rather black-and-white mentality held by their followers.
And all the talk on the right now is about how much the left is being so unreasonable and just full of blind hatred of George Bush - and not being civil and responsible and moderate at all. The left has been consumed by its irrational hatred. You hear that everywhere.
Here is Benjamin's psychologist's take on the right, particularly Fox News, lamenting all this recent criticism of Bush as no more than "hate speech" -
What is projection? Freud viewed projection as an ego defense mechanism used to ward off anxiety. What the individual does is to attribute their undesirable traits onto someone else, thus enabling them to hate said others instead of themselves for possessing those undesirable traits. For example, a husband who has been carrying on an extramarital affair may project this undesirable quality onto his wife by showing suspicion towards her potential to be unfaithful. Let's face it, that various famous and obscuroid right-wingers have advocated violence against various liberal and/or Democrat targets is well-documented and need not be repeated here. To the extent that these people want to portray themselves as "reasonable" or "fair and balanced," such pronouncements by themselves or likeminded individuals has to be inducing some cognitive dissonance. What better way to handle a guilty conscience or to reduce the dissonance than to latch onto any angry rhetoric from one's political enemies and use it as "evidence" that those enemies are a bunch of hate-filled violent thugs.I like this guy.
Check out his site.