Monday, Aug 15, 2022

There Is A Psychological Reason Why Right-Wing Supporters Are Openly Uncivil, Abusive And Misogynistic

A lot has been written about loutishness and vulgarity of Hindutva supporters in public discourse, particularly in social media. Most of these votaries are anonymous or unknown trolls, but there are also some well-known personalities who are openly expressing communally provocative and utterly offensive views. These Hindutva supporters are not always with low level of education nor their threats and abuse limited to only the social media space of Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.

For my criticism of Hindutva politics, I have been regularly abused by some Indian origin academics working in various parts of the world. I have studied or worked with some of them before and have even helped them professionally. Even in Sweden where I live, some of them send me nasty emails accusing me as traitor and even have complained to Indian authorities. It is pretty extraordinary behavior by highly educated academics when you think about it.

It is a fact that most of the academia hold a liberal- and left-to-the-centre views. Left-wingers lean towards compassion, egalitarianism, and individuality, whereas right wingers have a tendency for order, and tradition. Higher level education usually promotes social liberalism and openness to ‘other’ ideas and views. A recent survey finds out eight out of ten university lecturers in the UK are liberal or hold left-wing views.

In the social sciences and humanities, it is difficult to even find right-wing academics. Not only people with left-leaning views opt for academic career, the academic environment also generally does not show genuine affection to people with rightwing views. It is quite common that the right-wing politicians are considered to be physically more attractive to electorates than those on the left. However, as a study finds out, though right-leaning scholars are better groomed, the left-leaning scholars are considered to be even more attractive in academic circle.

Recently, scientific studies have confirmed that people with conservative views tend to score low in intelligence. People with low intelligence are attracted to socially conservative ideologies as it tends to offer structure and order. They also tend to interact less with other racial, religious or ethnic groups as they find it emotionally taxing and mentally draining. Unfortunately, many of the features of the socially conservative ideologies further contribute to prejudices against other groups, creating a vicious cycle. This is what India’s rightwing revolution has witnessed in recent years. Only a person with low intelligence can sincerely believe his or her religion is in danger with having 80 percent of majority in a country and with 70 years of uninterrupted control over country’s political and economic power.

In general, conservatism and intelligence are negatively correlated, but it does not mean all rightwing conservatives are stupid and all left leaning liberals are smart.

Of course, there are exceptions. Though much less in numbers, there is a smaller group of highly educated Indian academics and intellectuals not only support right-wing socially conservative views but also quite open about their anti-minority prejudices in their writings as well as while expressing their views in social media. Often, they are not only offensive but also abusive about minorities and their socio-religious customs and practices. In spite of being aware of the history and diversity of the country, they regularly use highly controversial and clearly manufactured facts and figures to promote Hindutva brand of one leader, one religion, one language India. They openly support regime’s anti-democratic intolerance towards dissent in the name of promoting order in society. In the name of national security, they even do not hesitate to brand women and children of fleeing Rohingya refugees as terrorists.

It is not unexpected from right-wing supporters with low intelligence to be openly uncivil, abusive and misogynistic. However, when these blinkered views are expressed by highly educated rightwing academics, it can only be explained by their political psychology. Several studies by political psychologists have come into the conclusion in the last one and half decade that the rightwing conservatives and left-leaning liberals are different people at the level of personality and psychology.

Being their cognitive styles are quite different, evidence from a number of laboratories around the world using a variety of methodological techniques have led to almost definite conclusion that rightwing people have a huge negative bias.

The right-wing social conservatives are psychologically more acclimatized to threatening and repulsive incitements in their environments. They have increased epistemic need for order and certainty and intolerance for any change, and suffer from existential concerns such as perceptions of danger and being highly sensitive to threat. Thus, a major part of the right-wing political philosophy in India asks for strong military even at the cost of human rights violation, tough law and order even it leads to innocent minorities and Dalits being killed or jailed, and opposition to ‘outsiders’ even if they are innocent civilians fleeing from persecution. Negative political psychology of a few highly educated rightwing academics and intellectuals, however, helps in giving a semblance of legitimacy to a low-in-intelligence rightwing mob to incessantly occupy the public discourse with their bigoted and misogynistic beliefs and notions.

In taking a critical approach as left-leaning liberals do towards the social order and political authority needs sophisticated and abstract thinking. On the other hand, as John Stuart Mill had written in way back in 1861 to adhere to conservative ideas does not require much intellectual agility or imagination as it works towards upholding tradition and status quo. Unfortunately, an increasing number of academics and intellectuals in India, who even do not suffer from negative bias have succumbed to the trend of taking a mental rest and joining the right-wing revolution of people with low intelligence.

The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.