Monday, January 10, 2011

Explaining the "Climate of Hate" Theory

Wow. Sheriff Dupnik admits he hasn't got a shred of evidence that Loughner even listens to right wing radio or other sources of right wing rhetoric, and yet repeatedly says that he has "no doubt" that this is what caused him to commit mass murder.

Why are so many people on the left so convinced that the "climate of hate" theory is true?

There are three features of this sort of talk that I think are relevant to finding the correct explanation:

1. As the Sheriff's comments suggest, this idea is probably not rooted in concrete evidence. There actually is an academic literature that advances this idea -- it is the basis of "speech codes" and "hate speech laws" -- but as far as I know, none of it ever cites actual, scientific studies that correlate "bad" speech with actual violence.

2. The theory is never applied to liberal, socialist, feminist, or environmentalist rhetoric. When the Unabomber killed 3 people and wounded 23 others, no one said "Boy, these environmentalists had better tone down their rhetoric!" The theory is not really about overheated rhetoric at all. It is about overheated right-wing rhetoric.

3. Though the belief in the theory is no doubt sincere, it seems to me that the avowals of fear are not. Though people like Dupnik are talking about things that are supposed to be scary, they do not actually seem to be frightened. Look at Dupnik's face and listen to his tone of voice. What do you perceive? Me too. Their tone is generally one of scolding, preaching, hectoring, and complaining -- not one of sincere cries of fear. Cong. Giffords famously claimed that Palin's "gunsight" web page put her in danger -- yet on the day she was viciously attacked, she was at an event in front of a Safeway supermarket, completely open to the public and with no security at all. This is not the behavior of someone who feels she is in any danger.

I think this is a very interesting phenomenon, and calls for some sort of special explanation. What is the explanation for this curious behavior? I'll post my answer in the next day or so.

I hope the suspense of waiting is bearable!


Lester Hunt said...

Dear Anonymous,

Sorry, but references to someone's scrotum while discussing an atrocity disqualify your comment from being published. I'm starting to get tired of anonymous comments, too.


L. H.

Anonymous said...

Sincerely speaking the left wing are not strong advocates of 2nd amendment rights as the right wing are. Sadly acts of violence like this are always associated with the proliferation of easy fire arm availability so the right wing becomes vulnerable. Unfortunately FOX News favorite Palin not only ran the "Bullseye" website but also uses gun rhetoric like "lock and load".

I tend to agree that this guilt by association makes the right vulnerable when violence is committed in the name of right wing causes by sick individuals.

Ironically left wing CNN did an expose recently on John Lennon killer Mark David Chapman in which he discussed his own compulsion to commit his act. I wonder if Loughner had watched this if it had an effect on his behavior.

Ann said...

Excellent commentary, Lester. Yes, they act like scolds, not truly afraid. I think the recent election and the general disenchantment with Obama and ObamaCare may be contributing to this incredible over-reaction to one violent incident. But it's creepy that they think they can get away with such such reasoning, i.e. massive restructuring of political discourse should be mandated as appropriate response to one sicko citizen on a shooting spree. The 1960s had far more violent rhetoric than I hear nowadays and most of it came from the left. What an Orwellian cliff looms ahead if people seriously start entertaining this untestable link between the acts of individuals and cherry-picked items from the general mood or style of public discourse. I'm pretty hopeful we won't go there.

Lester Hunt said...


I was just about to write a post about the possible legislative fallout from this. Fortunately, the First Amendment is still there, so the so-called liberals probably can't do what a lot of them would really like to do.


Yes, the right may peculiarly vulnerable in this way. If Loughner were a tea partier everyone would associate the tea party movement with him. But who associates environmentalism with the Unabomber? Last night I saw O'Reilly complaining that he is the object of a constant stream of death threats and nobody seems to know or care. He and Beck have to hire bodyguards. What?! To protect themselves against those sweet, loving liberals? Yep.

Max Kuenkel said...

I'm still waiting for you to "post your answer" explaining the "Climate of Hate" theory. I think that the Left believes that everybody is the same (at least in every important way). So: there are no bad guys, or good guys, there are no men, or women, or straight people, or homosexuals, just people, and we're all basically the same. And nobody is guilty of anything, either. If there is any guilt, it is a collective guilt. So, if some guy starts shooting people, we have to ask ourselves: what did we do to cause this? If some "alleged hijackers" fly planes into buildings, we must ask: how did our policies contribute to this or cause this? This is what the Left believes, is it not?

Lester Hunt said...


Thanks for your interest. I'm busy with beginning the new semester, but I'll try to post in this in the next 24 hours.

Skye said...

I'd be interested to see you explain how the Unabomber was an environmentalist.

Lester Hunt said...

There's no mystery about that. He produced a "Manifesto" explaining his motives at tiresome length. He said his murders were meant to resist the "industrial-technological system" and "the Industrial Revolution and its consequences [,which] have been a disaster for the human race." In particular, he hated the way humans have allegedly lost their harmony with nature.

Skye said...

So he was a violent Luddite. I don't see how bombing universities did anything to protect the environment--would someone who terrorizes labor unions in the name of Lenin be a Marxist?

Lester Hunt said...

He was killing people he thought were responsible for depredations against the environment and for further estranging people from nature. I've seen/heard environmental activists saying some pretty angry things about people like that. Also, I've seen them being rude, disruptive, and intimidating at speeches by people they disagree with. And yet no one (including me) thinks that the possibility that such rhetoric and behavior might trigger some murderous nut like Unabomber is a reason why they sould "tone down" their rhetoric.

That was the only point I was making there. A further, related point:

There are all kinds of good reasons to be civil and respectful. Gauging your behavior to the mind of a murderous psychotic is not one of them.