Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Inexplicable Data on Hate?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

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?

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At 10:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What if it's "easier for an assayer" to check the hatred box - perhaps depending on educational school; hate the sin but not the sinner etc etc making whatever the data, inexplicable?


At 12:12 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Because it depends on the arbitrary decision of the assayer?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Depends, I'd reckon.

As only a "properly" educated arbiter might.


At 2:15 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I reckon so.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:28 PM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

It seems you are embarked upon an analysis of the word "hate"; and central to your inquiry are the distinctions considering "hate" as it is used in emotional, legal, and political contexts. There is of course an Orwellian dimension to all this.

There is an assumption--driven by a "progressive" (for lack of a better term) political subtext--that "hate" is irrational and illegal. For historical reasons, I am wont to characterize it as a Roman/Stoic/Medieval assumption: that hate is "morally wrong", and that the "wrongness" of hate is somehow--metaphysically, philosophically and legally--absolute. But hate is not philosophically and categorically "wrong" in this Stoic/legalistic/universal sense; because the arguments supporting the Stoic/legalistic/universal perspective cannot be proven; the arguments are unconvincing and unsatisfactory, at least to me, as they are flawed by the logical and scientific shortcomings that are characteristic of all moral and metaphysical propositions--they are theoretical and speculative. Hate can be distasteful, disgusting, repellent, ugly, evil, "ignorant," misguided, uncivil, and inappropriate (and it can be appropriate, too, can it not?), but hate is not, strictly speaking, wrong.

At 2:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is an economist with a PhD from Harvard (2013), and he offers facts [about hate] ...

I simply wonder whether "statistics" which I would expect any Economist to be, more than me for instance, familiar with would therefore, be qualified to "offer facts" - that any amateur of facts would (or perhaps, should) accept on the basis simply of his PhD? Or perhaps, that the PhD came via Harvard?

I suppose Professor, somewhere along the way, we've slid past understandings?

Not to worry. I've heard of even Harvard educated Economists being [extremely rarely of course] baffled.

Me baffled? Not so infrequently.


At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What Carter said.

Elegantly. Or moreso than me at any rate.


At 3:46 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, these waters quickly get too deep for me. I've dipped my toe in, and the water's cold.

Carter, you seem to have swum in these waters before, so you can dive down and retrieve the artifacts more efficiently than I can.

I'll be sitting under that rock in the shade, waiting . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Jeff, it does appear I at least slid past you - glad I'm "somewhat familiar with your hurried stuff" - my bad. It's the stickler in me.

What if it's people's default position when confronted by difference?

What if hatred is easy?


Ending a post my friend Jeff, taking off from a brief article such as that was (and I do hope you'll not be mad at me saying so)

kinda sloppy. Admittedly, my reading was too.

Thankfully, we two were only "kinda sloppy."

Mr. Stephens-Davidowitz was extremely sloppy pulling his data. And the SPLC "study" was even sloppier than extremely.

The SPLC mentioning "100 people doing such and such" then, using two US individuals as single paragraph illustrations then, devoting in the same "extensive five page study" two pages to the Norwegian Anders Breivek could, and very likely did, skew Mr. Stephens-Davidowitz thesis, and definitely his conclusion.

But, as he stated, "baffled."


At 4:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, I'm not sure I've entirely understood your comment, but I don't think I was sloppy in my ending. Rather, I was leaving the question to dangle there and in people's minds.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But why does Dr. Stephens-Davidowitz ascribe it as hatred at all rather than for instance, a preference of association?

Or perhaps, a tendency of the [generally] youthful demographic to rebel against society's constantly evolving norms.

(But then, it'd be hard for Dr. Stephens-Davidowitz to justify the hefty tuition - much less get published in the NYT - by explaining today's Internet-dependent youth choose between Stormfront or Miley Cyrus as their parents did the Rolling Stones or Herman's Hermits an incarnation previous.

Could be worse. Haven't heard of any of today's youth asking to take up the bongos.

But then, for all I know there may be a YouTube channel teaching "The Knockout Game" with a bongo rhythm.)


At 6:22 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I see your point now, JK. Some things that he called hateful were hateful. Other things, such as mockery of gays and feminists, are not necessarily hateful. That depends on the specific joke and its tone.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:05 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Short answer: The young professor's perspective accepts the notion that thought and emotions can be legislated and policed. Hate becomes crime-thought. In terms of the Analytic/Continental divide in philosophy, this represents the intrusion of the state into people's brains, and over to Burgess, Orwell, Huxley, etc. for the analysis of that trend.

Long answer has to do with the limits to which philosophy can address phenomena; philosophy is left behind as professors/think-tankers--dressing their arguments in the guise of "philosophy"--are actually presenting political arguments and statist/corporate policies. Imagine the slack-jawed, drug-addled, lower-middle class neophyte post-grad students of the 1960s nodding their heads mindlessly as their professors promises them Prussian philosophy will end the Vietnam war and cure society's ills. Fifty years later, we are sitting on the other side of that conversation with totalitarianism emerging from the woodwork like a carnivorous fungus.

See here on the magisterium of philosophy:


See also Elizabeth Anscombe's paper on "Modern Moral Philosophy." Linked here:


Anscombe's paper is a lot easier-going than it first appears. It just takes awhile.

At 3:06 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Interesting conversation, Jeffery and JK.

At 3:16 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

And I've blogged your blog (again).


At 3:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Head over to Malcolm's post "Comic Relief" - making sure to check the additional link Malcolm added in comments.

I wonder what Doctor Stephens-Davidowitz would offer us as conclusions (other than Archie's "actual" [apparently] conclusion) on what this portends for America's youth?

Thanks for that Carter.

Candidly I don't have the inclination to test my skills out of the shallow end.


At 4:49 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the links and comments, Carter and JK. I receive more than I give through this blog.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is not lack of intelligence but perhaps good ol' nature and nuture which explain why Americans react differently to higher criminal convictions for impoverished descendants of those brutally enslaved and segregated for centuries and the presence of people who've violated our immigration laws because they want to work and provide a better life for their children. It is interesting to observe that certain Americans acknowledge as a fact that US employers take advantage of deliberately lax employment law enforcement to hire cheap imported labor yet curiously hurl their vitriol exclusively at economically desperate, hardworking people, not at unscrupulous employers. Several months ago, the media reported on a research study detailing brain processing differences between liberals and conservatives. The latter reacted more strongly to a series of images of things that were disgusting or threatening such as a turd in the grass or an insect. The eyes of cons lingered over these images longer than the eyes of libs, and the MRIs of cons and libs showed different processing patterns. I would guess that Storm Front members have brains that are on the extreme end of conservative, seeing disgusting and threatening bogeymen behind every tree.


At 10:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And the nurture part is the degree of acceptability of one's beliefs among family and friends and media stories as adjuvants.


At 3:37 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

One question I would pose to such studies is whether they are valid across societies.

In Europe, the liberals are free market folks, whereas conservatives in the US are the freemarketeers . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liberals and conservatives are defined not by specific policies but by general attitudes towards change. I would also add the in the US, the "free market" means different things to different people. Free marketers howling in pain over the ACA and Medicare seem blissfully ignorant of import bans on replacement joint parts and other regulations that create oligopolies which drive up prices, forcing Americans to pay up to 10x as much for routine procedures.


At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a link to a Mother Jones story on the research:


At 9:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Discover Magazine blog survey of the body of research on the subject is much better than the first link as it provides a clear universal distinction between conservatives and liberals.

I peg you as mildly conservative, preferring stability and traditional institutions to change but able to tolerate change that you don't necessarily like.


At 9:45 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Sonagi, for the details and the link.

I still wonder about the labeling.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:19 AM, Anonymous erdal said...

Stephens-Davidowitz is probably just playing dumb for a purpose.

Being a Jew with a Harvard Degree he is certainly aware (at least I hope that he is, or I'll think less of Harvard henceforth) that National-Socalism is a full-fledged ideology with a core set of assumptions, fixed theoretical framework, and policy cookbooks; very much like any other ideology one might care to mention.

"Union of National Socialists" and "Fans and Supporters of Adolf Hitler" kind of vaguely hints at the possibility that Stormfront is, by and large, an NS forum, not a random collection of people who happen to be united simply by hating a lot.

But reading the NY Times article comment section, most people appear to be entirely oblivious to this point. There is much talk about at "core reasons" for that hate: childhood trauma, not enough exposure to multiculturalism, economic depravation, incest, the Republican Party, clinical insanity, lack in education, stupidity. The latter three predominate.

Why? Have indeed the ordinary liberal progressives of today, such as those who, I assume, populate the NYT comments section, forgot that labeling Hitler et. al. insane and stupid was not supposed to be an accurate diagnosis but an expression of enmity and, yes, hate?

Have they come to actually believe their own propaganda or is this some ongoing effort to make other people overlook that there was such thing as National Socialism as an ideology and a practice?

Am I much wrong to put the commenters in the first and Stephens-Davidowitz in the second category? Or can there indeed be such widespread "naïveté", as he puts it, among the academical elite in the USA?

And if the latter, isn't this a little bit dangerous in serveral ways?

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good questions, Erdal. Thanks for posting.

Jeffery Hodges

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