Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Phobias" and prejudice are very different

Below is a generally good article from Nicholas Haslam, an Australian psychologist. To stay enrolled among the saints, he has to condemn racial prejudice as mentally abnormal, when it has in fact been near universal throughout human history, but we must forgive him that polite fiction

DON'T like gays? Hate foreigners? Loathe Muslims? You may be suffering from a mental disorder. People who express these attitudes often find themselves diagnosed with homophobia, xenophobia and Islamophobia. Just as arachnophobes tremble at the sight of spiders and agoraphobes avoid open spaces, sufferers of these conditions irrationally fear members of sexual, ethnic and religious minorities and keep a suspicious distance from them.

The language of fear and phobia permeates public discourse on social attitudes. Opposition to gay marriage is ascribed to homophobia, hostility towards African refugees to xenophobia and criticism of Muslims to Islamophobia. None of these phobias are recognised by psychiatrists. Should they be? Here are five good reasons, backed by psychological research, why they should not.

* Phobias and prejudices afflict different kinds of people.

IF homophobia, xenophobia and Islamophobia are indeed phobias, they are highly unusual examples. Phobias are irrational and excessive fears that afflict some people at higher rates than others. They are more common among women than men and occur most frequently among people whose personality is high in neuroticism, one of the five main personality factors. Such people tend to be emotionally volatile, tense, anxious and vulnerable. Prejudice towards gays, foreigners and Muslims is a different story.

Anti-gay attitudes are invariably higher among men than women. Men also express more negative views of immigrants and asylum-seekers and greater hostility to Muslims. People with prejudiced attitudes do not tend to have neurotic personalities but are low on two quite different personality factors: agreeableness and openness.

Prejudice flourishes among people who are cold, callous, inflexible, closed-minded and conventional, not among those who are anxious and fear-prone. Prejudices also vary dramatically between social groups in a way that true phobias do not. They are more common in rural than urban areas, in outer than inner suburbs and among less rather than more educated people. Unlike phobias, they vary by political orientation, religious affiliation and national origin. They are, in short, closely tied to particular social locations. Prejudices are collectively shared and organised phenomena, not individual pathologies.

* Fear is not the dominant emotion in prejudice.

EVEN if we accept that reactionary attitudes are not strictly phobias, it may still be argued that fear is at their root. However, the emotional signature of prejudice is much more frequently anger, contempt or disgust. These emotions differ from fear in a variety of ways, most obviously in that they provoke confrontation and attack rather than avoidance. Perhaps less obviously, they all have a moral component; we experience these emotions when we judge people to have violated rules of fairness, rightness or purity.

Fear reflects a perception of danger, not transgression. Prejudice towards gays, immigrants, asylum-seekers and Muslims is coloured by complex moral emotions, not simple fears. Of course, fear and perceptions of threat may play a part in prejudice. Fear of terrorism contributes to anti-Muslim sentiment, and people who are averse to gays and immigrants are often anxious towards them. Even here, however, the anxiety is not phobic. Prejudiced people often do not fear members of other groups so much as experience awkwardness at the prospect of interacting with them. The disliked group is not seen as intrinsically dangerous but poses a challenge to easeful interaction. To see prejudice as fear is to flatten its emotional landscape and to overlook the multitude of ways in which humans can be averse to one another.

* Prejudice has more to do with beliefs and values than emotions.

THE emotions that accompany prejudice are complex moral sentiments and complex moral evaluations produce them. People tend to see the targets of their prejudice as posing a symbolic threat to cherished values. Antagonism to asylum-seekers, for example, is strongly linked to the perception that they are illegitimate, illegal, opportunistic and "un-Australian". Antipathy to gays is linked to perceived violations of religious values and sexual norms. Indeed, people's values and beliefs are among the strongest predictors of their levels of prejudice. For example, prejudice is associated with a belief in traditional authority, an ideological preference for social hierarchy, acommitment to blood-and-soil nationalism and a conviction that the disliked group is different in its essential nature or world view. In short, prejudice is wrapped up in socialised thinking at least as much as in raw feeling.

* Attributing other people's attitudes to fear is condescending.

WHEN we ascribe an attitude that we disagree with to its holder's fear, we imply that we are braver than they are. Doing so confuses being unenlightened with being cowardly and it flatters our fortitude. Attributing attitudes to primal fears also exemplifies the well-established psychological phenomenon that people tend to reserve complex emotions for members of their own group. Members of other groups are granted only the simpler emotions that humans share with lower animals. By implication, they are seen as more primitive or childlike than we.

For these reasons, seeing other people's attitudes as phobias is counterproductive. People accused of homophobia, Islamophobia and so on can readily deny the accusation, first because they experience their aversion as rooted in moral principle rather than fear; and, second, because they bristle at the accuser's condescension. In this position it is no surprise that people feel belittled or derided as attitudinal barbarians. The backlash that results among people who hold prejudiced attitudes, anger at the perceived arrogance and vanity of the so-called elites, helps to account for the durability of those attitudes.

* One prejudice should not be enlisted to combat another.

DESCRIBING someone's aversion to a group as a phobia is an attempt to insult the person. Their attitudes are nothing but the symptoms of a pathology. Homophobia, Islamophobia and so on would have no pejorative force if suffering from a mental disorder was not seen as shameful and demeaning. To diagnose people with these phobias is to recruit the stigma of mental illness to diminish them.

In this respect, the supposed phobias continue an ignoble tradition of misuse of psychiatric language. Schizophrenic, misunderstood as split personality, is still used to refer to any apparent contradiction, or even mature ambivalence, in a person's thoughts, feelings or actions. Hysterical continues to be used to sneer at female emotionality. Homophobic, xenophobic and Islamophobic should be seen in the same light, as ways of brushing aside opinions we dislike by invalidating the people who hold them.

It could be argued that none of this matters. Perhaps calling attitudes phobias is meant as harmless metaphor, not as literal diagnosis. But words have consequences, and the consequences of pathologising social attitudes include moral arrogance, invalidation and backlash. These disorders close the door on dialogue. Let's cure our language of them.


I quit, says British magistrate fed up with seeing criminals walk free after a quarter of their sentences

A senior magistrate has resigned in protest at Government policies that impose soft punishments and undermine the courts. Dr Dick Soper says criminals are walking free from prison after serving just a quarter of the sentences he and his colleagues impose. Others are being handed fixed fines or police cautions - taking justice out of the hands of the courts and away from public scrutiny.

Dr Soper, 64, a GP, has served 26 years on the bench at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. He used his final session yesterday to deliver an angry broadside, saying: 'Although I could serve for another five years I no longer feel my time is being usefully spent in court. 'I feel that this long-standing system which has served the public well for centuries has, in recent years, been more and more interfered with by politicians.'

He told how he recently jailed an offender for six months but saw him walking about the town just six weeks later. Dr Soper said: 'My greatest frustration and that of my colleagues is the very early release of prisoners.' He said virtually all offenders are released automatically halfway through their sentences, while emergency measures to tackle prison overcrowding means many have another 18 days knocked off their sentences. Yet the judges and magistrates who heard their cases have no say over their early release.

Dr Soper said magistrates considered 'very hard' how to punish criminals, and added: 'It is frustrating when that careful thought seems to be undermined. It has certainly reduced my confidence in the system.' He also complained that sentencing guidelines appear to be increasingly influenced by Whitehall. Dr Soper said: 'The heavy hand of the executive seems to run through them and you get the feeling that greater central control is being exerted over this previously independent organisation.'

Community service and unpaid work have been trumpeted by ministers as punishments to help ease jail overcrowding, but Dr Soper said his own research locally showed only 60-65 per cent of offenders bothered to turn up. Police were increasingly preferring to deal with offenders through cautions and on-the-spot fines rather than charging them and sending them to court, he said - undermining the principle of public and media scrutiny of justice. Dr Soper said: 'It is not just minor cases they deal with - theft and violence are included and this court recently had a violent offender who had previously been cautioned by the police for causing grievous bodily harm.'

In his years as a JP, Dr Soper said, the number of courts in West Suffolk had dropped from six to three - and will soon be cut to just one. 'The idea of local justice, one of the strengths of the system, is disappearing fast,' he said. 'Now I hear that the courts budget is to be cut further, so what next?'

Tory spokesman Nick Herbert said: 'Labour's appalling mismanagement of our jails has seen sentences shortened and violent prisoners released early. 'It is no wonder both public and professional confidence in the criminal justice system is being undermined.' The Daily Mail revealed recently how some magistrates' courts are cancelling sessions because the massive rise in the use of onthespot fines means thousands of cases now never reach court.


The politically corrupted British police force bungle basic police work

The restraint and dignity shown by the parents of Rachel Nickell, as they thanked all those who had supported their long quest for justice, was as moving as it was surprising, given the circumstances. Yes, Robert Napper, the man who murdered their darling daughter, has now been forced to admit his guilt. But for 16 years, their grief has been compounded by one of the most incompetent police investigations in living memory.

Sadly, such bungling has become an all-too familiar theme in recent weeks. Whether it's the Stockwell shooting, the death of Baby P or the hideous case of the father who raped his own daughters, police incompetence has never been far from the headlines.

Of course, there are thousands of magnificent, dedicated policemen and women out there who work in dangerous situations and are still driven by an overriding sense of civic duty. But a generation of political correctness, government-enforced targets and police chiefs toadying to New Labour has led to a collapse in morale. Even good officers have lost the will for old-fashioned policing and instead take the soft option of pushing paper around their desks. Lacking strong leadership and blighted by a target-obsessed culture, bobbies have become more interested in chasing statistics than criminals. And that can have devastating consequences.

The mistakes made in the Rachel Nickell case were down to sheer sloppiness. As one insider put it: 'No one at the Yard was interested in the theory that Napper had killed Rachel.' As far as they were concerned, they'd already got their man. Colin Stagg had been put away. Job done. Another crime 'solved'. Another box ticked.

That error enabled Napper to continue his depraved crime spree, just as other casual oversights meant that police failed to follow up the tip-offs that might have saved Baby P and the girls who were being raped by their father.

The police are supposed to be at the centre of our communities - figures we can respect and rely on. But only when they are taken out of their offices, out of their PC comfort zones, and put back into the heart of our broken societies will we once again have a police force we can be proud of.

The only request from Rachel's parents was that, now her killer was behind bars, the media should stop using film footage of Rachel, as it was unbearably painful for them to watch. The BBC's response was to illustrate the news package right after that statement with a home video of Rachel frolicking in the park. Is no one listening?


"Mama Government" Treats Americans Like Small Children

"I ask the three of you, how can we, as symbolically the children of the future president, expect the three of you to meet our needs, the needs in housing and in crime and you name it." -- A question from Denton Walthall AKA "The ponytail guy" at a 1992 presidential debate
In America, we come from pioneer stock. Our ancestors explored, conquered, and civilized a continent one wagon train and settlement at a time. They crossed hundreds of miles of hostile territory, risked starvation, murder by Indians, and dying alone in the wilderness to try to carve out a decent living for their families. That same ferociously independent spirit was what inspired our ancestors to throw off Britian's shackles and forge America into the greatest economic and military power the world has ever seen.

These accomplishments were because of the decency, work ethic, and self-reliance of the American people, not because of the greatness of our leadership in Washington, D.C. The Founding Fathers understood that, which was why they considered government to be a necessary evil that was to be hemmed in, contained, and bound at every opportunity.

The idea that the American people are "symbolically the children of the future president" would have not only appalled the Founding Fathers, it would have insulted them. It should insult us, too. We now live in a country where the government educates us, gives us food stamps and school lunch programs when we're hungry, gives us money when we lose our jobs, frets constantly about differences in free market salaries, orders home loans to be given to people who can't afford them, bails out failing companies, and provides for our retirement.

Are those all bad things? No. Should we immediately roll all those policies back? No. But, what we should do is recognize that it is extremely unhealthy for the country to have the government doing so many things that people used to do for themselves -- for the same reason it's unhealthy to have thirty-year old men still living with their parents.

With adults, we recognize that it's a good idea for people to cut the apron strings, leave the nest, and live their own lives, but no American can get away from the all-smothering love of "mother government." She's going to hover over you, dictating everything from where you go to school, to how much of your own money she's going to let you keep, to your retirement planning. If you have the temerity to complain about any of this and ask to be left alone, you're told "Mama knows best" and accused of being selfish, foolish, or unrealistic to think you could do a better job of planning your own life than "Mama."

Meanwhile, the list of things "Mama" wants to control seem to be rapidly and endlessly expanding, even down to the minutiae. The government wants to choose whether you watch analog or digital TV. They're levying special taxes on downloaded music, movie tickets, soda, and massages. They're even demanding that you get rid of the incandescent lightbulbs in your house, apparently because that's too big of a decision for you to make on your own. They're even thinking about deciding whom you get to listen to on the radio via the Fairness Doctrine, putting a GPS tracker in your car so they can tax you for driving at the "wrong" time of day, and actually controlling the thermostat in your house.

It doesn't matter whether we put Democrats, like Bill "The era of big government is over" Clinton, in office or Republicans, like George "When somebody hurts, government has got to move" Bush, into office -- the players, the party, and the rhetoric may change, but the overweening mothering masquerading as government continues to worsen. We have got to find a way to change that trend or eventually even the descendants of pioneers, revolutionaries, and explorers will become a nation of unambitious, overtaxed loafers living in Mama Government's basement.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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