The Scope of Your Love Depends on Your Politics - BCB #77
Also: Public shaming can have darker motivations
One of the leaders of Israel’s settlement movement in the West Bank recently told The New Yorker, “My children are prior to the children of the enemy, period. They are first. My children are first.” People took to X in shock at her blatant confession. This may be an extreme example, yet this study from 2019 shows that caring more about your children and people in your immediate circle is pretty normal behavior, particularly among conservatives.
Analyzing the responses of Americans in the World Values Survey, these researchers found that the more conservative a person’s politics, the more they identified with their community and country, suggesting a more “parochial” sense of compassion. Conversely, self-identified Blue ideology correlated with a more “universal” sense of compassion, favoring the world over the nation.
Further work extended this question to 15 “moral circles” ranging from “immediate family” to “all people in your country” to all of humanity and even “all living things in the universe.” Again, they found that Red displayed greater concern for their close groups like family and community, while Blue was more concerned with universal groups like all of humanity.
This study finds that people who engage in “everyday vigilantism,” the tendency to monitor and socially punish people for perceived wrongdoing, may have more sadistic or narcissistic motives than we expect.
Everyday vigilantes themselves would probably insist that their motives are noble, and no doubt, they often are. Sometimes, however, vigilantes may have less-than-noble motives.
In the context of the culture wars, this might include humiliating classmates for violating university COVID-19 rules or punishing students by driving a truck around campus with their names. There is certainly a connection to cancel culture as well.
The study used questionnaires to measure communal narcissism and sadism, asking how much people agreed with statements such as “I am the best friend someone can have,” “I am going to bring peace and justice to the world,” and “I enjoy making jokes at the expense of others.”
Sure enough, in all three studies, communal narcissism and sadism were statistical predictors of everyday vigilantism: The higher participants’ scores on these variables, the more likely they were to monitor the people around them for moral infractions, and to punish those perceived to have committed them.
The tendency to see oneself as a victim of the past can amplify the effect of sadism, as it rationalizes the desire for cruelty.
This doesn’t mean Batman or other vigilantes don’t have good intentions; the study doesn’t conclude that all acts of vigilantism are motivated by narcissism or sadism, or that these could be the only motivators. Yet sometimes, people enforce community norms for less than noble reasons.
Quote of the Week
Conservatism corresponds to a more parochial or national sense of compassion whereas liberalism corresponds to a universal sense of compassion.
Image prompt: An image depicting the ideological differences in compassion between Blue and Red. On the left side, representing Red, features a family in a homely setting with a national flag, symbolizing their focus on national and familial values. On the right side, representing Blue, shows a group of diverse people assembling a large globe puzzle, reflecting their global perspective and compassion for all humanity. The background subtly transitions from red to blue, visually representing the ideological spectrum.