Inexplicable Data on Hate?
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is an economist with a PhD from Harvard (2013), and he offers some intriguing facts on Stormfront users in his article "The Data of Hate" (NYT, July 12, 2014). What's Stormfront, you ask? This:
Stormfront was founded in 1995 by Don Black, a former Ku Klux Klan leader. Its most popular "social groups" are "Union of National Socialists" and "Fans and Supporters of Adolf Hitler" . . . . The white nationalist posters on Stormfront have issues with many different groups. They often write about crimes committed by African-Americans against whites; they complain about an "invasion" of Mexicans; and they love to mock gays and feminists. [They find Asians "repulsive," though also seem to envy them.] But their main problem appears to be with Jewish people, who are often described as super-powerful and clever -- the driving force, generally speaking, behind the societal changes they do not like.One might therefore expect Stormfront users to be uneducated. Not so:
The top reported interest of Stormfront members is "reading." Most notably, Stormfront users are news and political junkies. One interesting data point here is the popularity of The New York Times among Stormfront users. According to the economists Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse M. Shapiro, when you compare Stormfront users to people who go to the Yahoo News site, it turns out that the Stormfront crowd is twice as likely to visit nytimes.com.Dr. Stephens-Davidowitz admits to being baffled:
Perhaps it was my own naïveté, but I would have imagined white nationalists' inhabiting a different universe from that of my friends and me . . . . Why do some people feel . . . [hatred toward African-Americans, Mexicans, gays, feminists, Asians, and Jews, among other groups?] I have pored over data of an unprecedented breadth and depth, thanks to our new digital era. And I can honestly offer the following answer: I have no idea.Maybe he should ask them. They seem to have given some reasons. Concerns about the crime rate among African-Americans. Concerns about illegal immigration from Latin America being out of control. Those are two genuine issues, whatever one's stance might be. But what about gays and feminists? Dr. Stephens-Davidowitz writes only that Stormfront users "mock" these two groups. He might consider these points: gay rights are a topical issue, as the debate over homosexual marriage shows, and feminism is widely perceived by many men as being an anti-male ideology. As for beliefs about Asians and Jews, the view that they are "super-powerful and clever" -- a belief Dr. Stephens-Davidowitz cites about Jews, but it also tends to be a belief about East Asians -- might stem from the fact that both Asians and Jews are statistically over-represented in positions of power and prestige.
But why the hatred expressed toward these groups? From the points just noted, we might hypothesize that each of these hated groups represents ways in which white nationalists feel that they have lost control over their country. But why the hatred? Dr. Stephens-Davidowitz seems to assume that hatred is an unnatural emotion, one that requires an explanation. But what if that's incorrect? What if it's people's default position when confronted by difference?
What if hatred is easy?