Let’s Boycott – Not

About a week ago I decided to pick up a little lunch. I was trying to avoid red meat so I decided to go to Chick-Fil-A. However, the drive-through line nearly circled the store. I did not feel like going into the restaurant so I went to a close by WhataBurger and ordered a grilled chicken salad. But I really wanted that chicken sandwich so while I was in line at the WhataBurger I began to think about the boycott. You remember the boycott. The one launched against Chick-Fil-A because of their support for traditional marriage. That boycott certainly was not working given the number of people waiting to place their order. Chick-Fil-A is not going out of business any time soon.

The boycott against Chick-Fil-A has worked about as well as the boycott against Starbucks. Starbucks was supposed to feel the wrath of Christian conservatives due to their support of same-sex marriage. Ever see an empty Starbucks? I probably have but it has been a long time. The boycott against them seems to have no effect whatsoever. It probably helps some conservatives to feel good and they can console themselves with the fact that none of their money is going to be used by the leaders of Starbucks to support causes they oppose. However, it is clear that Starbucks is not feeling pressure to alter their political advocacy. Like Chick-Fil-A they are not going out of business any time soon.

What can we learn from these failed boycotts? These failed boycotts indicate the degree of cultural division in our society. Generally speaking, boycotting an organization for supporting a culturally conservative cause is likely to fail since cultural conservatives are going to financially support that organization. The reverse is true when it comes to boycotting an organization that supports a culturally progressive cause. The exception to this is if an organization’s product especially caters to one group or the other. The show Duck Dynasty caters to individuals who tend to support culturally conservative causes. Thus when GLAAD fought against those cultural conservatives over the Duck Dynasty controversy, there is no question who the producers at A & E needed to keep the successful show going. There are limited times where a boycott can work but if the opponents of those doing the boycotting can support the business being boycotted, then a boycott is doomed to fail.

My observation about boycotts has important implications about our society. There is often talk about a culture war. It is a war fought not only about cultural political issues but also over lifestyles and theological presuppositions. It seems that both sides in this war are of roughly equal strength. Thus, both sides of the war are strong enough to protect businesses supporting their causes. Since cultural conservatives and cultural progressives are of equal strength, they view each other as threats that must be stopped. This helps to explain the degree of vitriol we often pick up between cultural conservatives and cultural progressives. Those of us who perceive ourselves in neither camp have to watch them attack each other and this type of hostile attitude is not going away in the near future. Lucky us.

Over the last few years I have done quite a bit of work documenting the type of bias and intolerance found within cultural progressives. There is a lot of previous work documenting these qualities within cultural conservatives. Both sides believe that they are locked in a war they must win. Cultural conservatives believe that if they do not win then society will fall into the hands of immoral secularists who will end the traditional social structures that have sustained us. Cultural progressives believe that if they do not win then society will become a theology that oppresses all non-Christians. This reminds me of work on religious terrorists by Juergensmeyer who pointed out that those terrorists feel that they are in a cosmic war that they dare not lose. They feel free to engage in terrorism as they are desperate to win their social struggles. Neither cultural progressives nor cultural conservatives are terrorists, but both are desperate to win their social struggles and they are not only willing to avoid a Chick-Fil-A sandwich or a caffe latte but also will try to stigmatize those who do eat or drink those products. But, as I have pointed out, the energy on the other side of the struggle prevents those boycotts from succeeding.

The deep concern of those on both sides of the cultural war is creating an interesting phenomenon. We are becoming a society not only divided by the traditional cultural/political issues, and our lifestyles but also by the very products we purchase. As I looked at that car line at Chick-Fil-A, I could not help thinking that those in the line were likely to be cultural conservatives. When I look at a Starbucks I tend to think that those customers are probably cultural progressives. Since I buy at both Chick-Fil-A and Starbucks, obviously I am an example that such assumptions are not always correct. But I do fear that we are becoming a society that culturally divides itself in every way possible. That divide is not just on the overt cultural elements such as media consumption, religious tradition, entertainment choices but even in our most basic decisions such as where we purchase our food and drink. If we link a division with even more basic ways about how we divide ourselves such as where we live (cultural progressives tend to live in big cities while cultural conservatives tend to live in small towns and certain suburbs) then we can gain more of an appreciation of just how much our society is segmented.

Dehumanizing Christians Part 4 – Ethnocentrism instead of Authoritarianism

For those of you who are reading this blog series for the first time let me do a quick recap of where I am at. In my first post I showed that willingness to use authority figures to take away the rights of others is not limited to those high in right-wing authoritarianism (RWA). In my second post I showed that religious/political progressives are the ones most likely to agree with the characteristics of Christian dehumanization correlated to the willingness to use authority figures against conservative Christians. In my last post I showed that those with attitudes of Christian dehumanization are also likely to have vindictive attitudes against conservative Christians. Thus, the qualities of authoritarianism generally linked to religious/political conservatives can be found in religious/political progressives when we measure them using conservative Christians as the targeted group.

There is a generous amount of research arguing that RWA is a viable explanation for social problems such as racism, intolerance, and oppression. The theory of RWA paints a picture of vengeful, irrational individuals looking for an authoritarian leader to follow. That leader tells them who to hate and oppress which they promptly decide to do. But my research indicates that authoritarianism is not the best way to understand the results generated by those who have developed theories of RWA. Rather, ethnocentrism is a better way to understand what has occurred. Results tied to RWA are caused by the ethnocentrism of those with conventional social attitudes. Results tied to my findings concerning Christian dehumanization are caused by the ethnocentrism of those with unconventional social attitudes. Ethnocentrism is a more universal phenomenon than RWA and thus it more accurately explains why religious/political conservatives are willing to use authority figures to suppress political radicals and why religious/political progressives are willing to use authority figures to suppress conservative Christians.

Ethnocentrism is a part of every culture. There may be some sort of universal need for a society to have ethnocentrism. I can only speculate on what that need may be, but ethnocentrism may be necessary for societies to have some degree of ethnocentrism to justify their norms and values. This keeps us from constantly “reinventing the wheel.” So if you think that how your society’s families are structured or how your society runs the economy is superior to the way all other societies accomplish such tasks then it does not make sense to change our families or economies. Societies cannot be efficient if they are consistently altering their social structures. Having some confidence that the way our societies accomplish important tasks is important to allow for the development of a viable level of societal continuity.
We often think of ethnocentrism as a social dysfunction. But if it is universal then it may be vital for a healthy society.

Ethnocentrism in and of itself may be natural and not necessarily an evil commodity. Yes ethnocentrism can lead to oppression and prejudice. But it can also lead to societal stability and healthy social norms. Even those desiring to change society advocate certain social norms on how they want our society to be run and possess the ethnocentrism needed to maintain those norms. Whether we like it or not, ethnocentrism is a part of how all of us perceive social reality. A moderate amount of ethnocentrism is normal and may even be helpful. It is when we have too much ethnocentrism that we start oppressing out-group members. It is healthier to recognize that we all have ethnocentrism and that is not bad as long as it is a moderate amount than to try to deny that ethnocentrism is a component in our social outlook.

Merely asserting that all subcultures have some degree of ethnocentrism should not be controversial. But tolerance can be conceptualized as the opposite of ethnocentrism and some progressive subcultures pride themselves as being tolerant. They ironically see their value of tolerance as superior to other values and use the value of tolerance to condemn those they perceive as “intolerant.” Those focusing on tolerance quite often see themselves as only intolerant of intolerance. Thus they define intolerance in such a way that intolerance just happens to look like people different from them. Such individuals are not likely to be any more ethnocentric than others, but they may not be any less likely to be ethnocentric. We are intellectually better off recognizing that ethnocentrism infects those across different political, religious and social dimensions than attempting to show that its effects are limited to those who disagree with us. The fact that those who conduct research on social attitudes, and thus on RWA, are likely to be part of subcultures that pride themselves on tolerance can account for some of their inability to pick up intolerant attitudes against conservative Christians.

Ethnocentric attitudes take place in a particular context in the United States. Previous scholars have discussed the culture war in the United States and argued that we have two major ideological groups with a great deal of disaffection to each other. Previous research has utilized RWA scales to operationalize the disaffection cultural and political conservatives have towards their opponents in the culture war. That work is accurate in that it looks at the processes of dehumanization and authoritarianism when perpetuated by political and religious conservatives. But until recently there has been very little work documenting the hostility cultural progressives have towards their opponents (although see this blog series for one example of such work). Since conservative Christians are often conceptualized as the embodiment of the conservative opposition to cultural progressives, my scale of Christian dehumanization is a way we can assess the degree and nature of the hostility within cultural progressives.

Am I arguing that the way ethnocentrism manifests itself is exactly the same regardless of whether it is ethnocentrism by those with conventional perspectives as opposed to those with unconventional perspectives? No, because context does matter. I showed in my last post that those with unconventional attitudes are less supportive of the death penalty than those with conventional attitudes. So the willingness to use the death penalty has to be taken into consideration as we look at how vindictiveness can manifest itself in the ethnocentrism in either group. We have to understand the social context in which this ethnocentrism exhibits itself to fully understand it.

Another key context is the sort of authority figures used. Both those with conventional and unconventional attitudes are quite willing to use authorities to punish out-group members. But those high in RWA tend to concentrate on using the law and justice apparatus of the government to go after political, cultural and sexual minorities. Those who dehumanize Christians seem to prefer using educational institutions to marginalize and stigmatize conservative Christians. This difference may be important in helping us to understand what ethnocentrism looks like when we see it in religious/political progressives. If we want to protect individuals from the misuse of authorities by conservatives then we have to look at the potential misuse of legal apparatuses. But if we want to protect individuals from the misuse of authorities by progressives then we have to look at potential misuse in the educational system. It is in this context that my previous work documenting the willingness of professors to discriminate against conservative Christians can be better understood.

If I have a final takeaway from this particular study, it is that dysfunctional social attitudes tend to transcend different groups but they manifest themselves within the context of those groups. We tend to assert that those we disagree with are uniquely immoral and that helps feed our ethnocentrism as we feel better about those who support our beliefs. A more humble, but ultimately healthier, attitude is to recognize that the shortcomings we see in those who are different from us can often be found within those who agree with us. This self-introspection is difficult to do for a variety of reasons, perhaps some that I will discuss in a future blog, but this introspection can help us corral some of our worse demons. Such an attitude does not mean that we have to abandon our deeply held beliefs but it can help us to recognize that those with whom we disagree may not be the monsters we can sometimes make them out to be.

Dehumanizing Christians Part 3 – The Vindictive Nature of Christian Dehumanization

Discussions about authoritarianism are not merely about the use of authority figures to take away the civil rights of others. They are also about the personal characteristics of individuals who support oppressive regimes. One of the qualities linked to those individuals is vindictiveness. Individuals high in right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) have a willingness to punish those who do not adhere to conventional ideals and lifestyles. It is that willingness to punish others that theoretically allows oppressive leaders of those with RWA to take away the rights of others.

When I first read about RWA and vindictiveness I questioned whether RWA was a reliable source of vindictiveness. I had such questions because of the actions and attitudes I had seen among those who should not, according to the theory of RWA, have vindictiveness. For example, do you remember the Duke Lacrosse rape case? Do you remember that 88 of the faculty members, largely from the humanities such as Women’s Studies, African-American Studies and Cultural Anthropology, signed a controversial advertisement two weeks after the alleged event that strongly implied that the students were guilty? They wanted the students to be punished even before those students were given their day in court. This is the sort of vindictiveness that often is linked with RWA, but such faculty members are unlikely to be the type of political/religious conservative that RWA is typically linked to.

So I decided to test to see if those high in Christian dehumanization (to see how I measured dehumanization look at my first post in this series) also show vindictive attitudes. I used two different methods to do this. First, I used a question I adapted from Robert Altermeyer. He used the following question with a sample of Canadian students.

Suppose the Canadian government, sometime in the future, passes a law outlawing the Communist party in Canada. Government officials then stated that the law would only be effective if it were vigorously enforced at the local level and appealed to every Canadian to aid in the fight against communism.

He then gave the students a nine point scale for the following statements so that the students could either agree or disagree that each of the six following statements is true of them.
1. I would tell my friends and neighbors it was a good law.
2. I would tell the police about any Communist I knew.
3. If asked by the police, I would help hunt down and arrest Communist.
4. I would participate in attacks on Communist headquarters organized by proper authorities.
5. I would support the use of physical force to make Communists reveal the identity of other Communists.
6. I would support the execution of Communist leaders if the government insisted it was necessary to protect Canada.

I adjusted the question for my American sample. Instead of communist party, I used four versions of this question with religious cults, communist activists, protestors at abortion clinics and pastors who preach against same-sex romantic relationships. Initially I found similar results to other researchers in that those high in RWA were more likely to support oppressive measures against religious cultists, communists and abortion protestors but not the pastors. Those high in Christian dehumanization exhibited such support when it came to oppression against protestors and pastors. I figured that part of this difference may be due to choices 5 and 6 in the questions. Indeed those high in RWA are more supportive of use of the death penalty than other individuals. When I tested these results with a shortened scale that eliminated those final two choices, I found what I expected in that those high in RWA are more likely to oppress cultists and communist but not the other two groups while the results were reversed for those high in Christian dehumanization. With the context of capital punishment taken into account those who dehumanize Christians, who as we saw in my last blog entry are likely to be religious/political progressives, act in a similar manner as those who score high in RWA.

My second test is even more illuminating. I constructed two scenarios. In the first scenario I wrote about a case where a man is accused of robbing another man at gunpoint. The respondent was asked to assess a punishment for this individual or to decide that he was not guilty. It is the same scenario that has been used before to show that those high in RWA have vindictive attitudes and are eager to punish those seen as deviant. In the second scenario I wrote about a couple accused of discriminating against a same-sex couple as it concerned renting out their room. The respondent was asked to assess a level of fine for the couple or to decide that they were not guilty.

The results were surprising considering previous research on RWA. Those with high levels of RWA were surprisingly less willing to punish the couple (r = -.484: p < .001), but they were not significantly more likely to punish mugger (r = .075: ns). While not significant my respondents did show some willingness to punish the mugger and considering previous research suggesting that those high in RWA are more punitive in punishing criminals, I accept that RWA is linked to a tendency to punish criminal deviants. But the level of vindictiveness may not be as strong as I had been led to believe.

I found that those who dehumanize Christians are very willing to punish the couple (r = .425: p < .001) but did not care nearly as much about punishing the mugger (r = -.058: ns). Those who dehumanize Christians are not automatically vindictive as they do not go out of their way to punish a man who likely is a robber. But their desire to punish the conservative Christians is so great that 48.3% of those who scored in the upper 25% of the Christian dehumanization scale assessed the maximum fine of $10,000 on that Christian couple. Clearly, a desire to punish social out-groups is not limited to those with high levels of RWA.

A reasonable person may believe that the couple should be heavily punished. But a reasonable person may also believe that a mugger should be heavily punished. However, a willingness to vindictively punish others is not tied to measures of authoritarianism, but rather it depends on who is being punished. This is indicative of the reality that the characteristics (In my book Dehumanizing Christians I also illustrate how lack of an ability to critically think, another attribute tied to RWA, is linked to attitudes of Christian dehumanization) tied to RWA are not unique to those deemed to be authoritarians. These characteristics are not tied to individuals with certain religious and/or political beliefs. We must be careful to look for the characteristics of authoritarianism in all religious and political groups.

Given my research, I find many of the assertions tied to RWA unconvincing. This is not to say that the RWA scales do not measure something. The multiple times the scales have shown themselves to be statistically reliable indicates that there is some dynamic being assessed here. What I doubt is the assertion of researchers that they are assessing RWA. I do not think they are assessing some unique quality more likely to be found among those who have conventional beliefs. They have found a characteristic that is more universal and can be found in all, or almost all, social groups. They did not see how it applied to those with unconventional beliefs due to using references groups that were not relevant to political and religious progressives. My use of conservative Christians as the reference group has allowed me to document the universal nature of what has been called RWA. In my final entry to the blog series I will discuss what I consider a superior explanation and some implications of that explanation.

Dehumanizing Christians Part 2 – Who Dehumanizes Christians?

In the first part of my series I examined the dehumanization of Christians as a critique of right-wing authoritarianism (RWA). This theory stipulates that certain individuals tend to use authoritarianism in a global manner. I showed that those who exhibit authoritarianism against radicals and feminists are different from those who exhibit authoritarianism against conservative Christians. The notion of authoritarianism as a personality trait limited to only certain types of individuals is simply not accurate.

Authoritarianism has been used to explain the actions of religious and political conservatives. In my last post I pointed out Dean’s argument that authoritarianism has led to Republican extremism. I have always struggled with such assertions as I see extremism in both political camps. Previous research in RWA suggests extremism on only one side of the political spectrum. My first stab at looking at Christian dehumanization did not ask the respondents about their religious and political identities. Fortunately, I followed up with two more surveys that allowed me to investigate whether it is only political and religious conservatives tempted to use authority figures to oppress those they define as deviants.

In addition to asking about religion and politics, I also asked the respondents about their sex, race, education, SES and a variety of other social/demographic factors. You know the sort of stuff we sociologists are socialized to ask about. I wanted to include a table where I compared those who scored in the top 25 percent of my Christian dehumanization scale (see my blog entry last week to get some idea on how it was constructed) to scores for the entire sample. But now I must sheepishly apologize for my poor blogging skills. I tried to include a table so that readers could see the breakdown of the results but I could not format it in an acceptable manner. However the information is available in the book and I can report on the general findings from my work here without a table. Regionally, both groups appear to be dispersed in proportion to the rest of society. However, we see that those with RWA tend to be married while Christian dehumanizers are not. Those with RWA tend to do better financially while Christian dehumanizers are poorer than average. Educationally, those with RWA do not score as high while it seems that Christian dehumanizers do as well as everybody else. I see these results painting a picture of those with RWA as those living in somewhat stable married lives. Conventional lives, if you will, to probably match their conventional beliefs. Christian dehumanizers may be just starting out in life and are not wealthy. They are likely to live the life of a single and thus are not as conventional in lifestyle as authoritarians. However, I suspect that some of the income and marital status differences may be due to my use of Amazon Mechanical Turk to collect my sample as I likely collected a lot of unattached, lower SES individuals who may be attracted to Turk to make money.

But these effects are relatively weak compared to the political and religious effects which reinforce my speculation of conventionality (Regression models supported this assertion about the power of political and religious effects). Reinforcing previous assertions about RWA I found that they are more politically conservative, more likely to be Christians, less likely to be atheists or agnostic and more likely to attend religious services than the rest of the sample. These findings comport with just about every other study of RWA that measured political and religious dimensions. But the results on Christian dehumanization were just as powerful that those who dehumanize Christians are more likely to be politically progressive, less likely to be Christian, more likely to be atheist or agnostic and less likely to attend religious services than the rest of the sample. Authoritarians have traditional religious beliefs and support a political ideology that reflects conventionality. Nothing really new here that has not been discussed in other scholarly treatment of RWA. Dehumanizers are the opposite of authoritarians with nontraditional religious beliefs. Not surprising that those with unconventional religious beliefs are more likely to dehumanize those with conventional religious beliefs.

I am certain that someone is eager to point out that I am using a non-probability sample which cannot be generalized to the entire population. That is a fair enough critique. However, research supporting notions of RWA are not based on probability samples either. I have yet to find a study using the RWA scale that was sent to a probability sample. Thus, if one wished to discount these results due to the non-probability makeup of the sample then one also has to discount the results supporting RWA. One could argue that there are many such studies of RWA compared to this single study of Christian dehumanization. A few points address that argument. First, one does not overcome the problems of non-probability samples simply by doing non-probability sampling over and over again. Second, my results concerning those who (higher religious/political conservatism) possess RWA conforms to other research about RWA. Why would we accept those results and throw out the other results? Third, all new research ideas start with a single study. Those who believe this study is an anomaly have the responsibility to do more research empirically showing that my assertions are incorrect. Merely stating that may study is the only one with these results is an insufficient response since this may be the first of many studies to come. Finally, there is research by myself and by Louis Bolce/Gerald De Maio indicating that political progressives and the irreligious are disproportionately likely to have animosity towards conservative Christians. My current research builds on that work by allowing us to see some of the consequences of that animosity.

My results last week indicate that those who dehumanize Christians are not right-wing authoritarians but rather a different population from those authoritarians. But we also saw that such individuals were willing to use authority figures against conservative Christians, just as it is predicted that right-wing authoritarians are willing to do. With this entry we see that those individuals are religious and political progressives. Kind of throws a wrench in the wheels of the arguments that political and religious conservatives react in a way that is uniquely oppressive to out-group members. This reinforces my beliefs that potential bad behavior is not limited to one political ideology or a certain religious tradition. In my final blog entry on this series, I will explore an alternate way of looking at the information gained by those studying RWA which I think better explains those results than this argument of a unique personality trait.

But there is more to RWA than assertions about the misuse of authority figures. For example, proponents of theories about RWA have argued that those with authoritarianism are more vindictive and less able to critically think than other individuals. Fear may drive a lot of these negative outcomes. Those with right-wing authoritarians may be vindictive since they have fear of those they see as deviants and believe that those individuals must be stopped. Thus they are more willing to favor heavy punishment for those deviants. This fear can also interfere with their ability to critically assess social reality. Fear may lead right-wing authoritarians to make illogical assertions as long as those assertions support their presuppositions about social reality. Fear brings with it the idea that one cannot be wrong and one cannot lose the social/culture war that is being fought.

But if fear is the source of these other dysfunctions then are those dysfunctions limited to political and religious conservatives? Political and religious progressives may also see themselves in a social/culture war that they cannot fathom losing. My qualitative work with cultural progressives indicates a great deal of unreasonable fears such individuals have towards conservative Christians. It is possible that in a contextualized fashion we should see similar trends towards vindictiveness and non-critical thinking among those who dehumanize Christians.

In next week’s blog I will look at the propensity of those who dehumanize Christians to take on other negative characteristics linked to RWA. Due to space limitations I will only deal with vindictiveness however in Dehumanizing Christians, I also explored the propensity of those who dehumanize Christians to fail to engage in critical thinking. I will illustrate that the context of that vindictiveness matters but it is indeed the case that those who dehumanize conservative Christians also possess a good deal of vindictiveness. In doing so, I will argue that the desire to punish those who differ from us is not limited in scope or in intensity by political ideology.