Recently, Jon Haidt wrote a an opinion piece about the death of Bin Laden, which points out that people are expressing love for their ingroup, it does not necessarily translate to hate of other groups. As I’ve said before, few things in psychology are categorically one thing or the other, and certainly there is a minority who will use the death of Bin Laden to express dislike of Islam. Testosterone, that accompanies winning, can have that effect. However, several research studies have shown that ingroup love and outgroup hate are indeed separable, and that if you give people a chance to separate the two, they are often feeling ingroup love, not outgroup hate.
When does ingroup love lead to outgroup hate and when does it not? The simple answer (see this review article for more detail), is that when people think of a situation in competitive zero-sum terms, they are likely to highly correlate. Think of the difference between a rock concert and a baseball game. If you are at a Prince concert, you don’t shout slogans about how much Madonna sucks. There is no competitive frame. But a “yankees suck” chant can occur anywhere in Boston or inside the men’s room of Comerica Park.
Politics is certainly a zero-sum game and for some liberals and conservatives, anything which is a congruent with either the politicians or beliefs of the other side is seen as bad. So some conservatives have been reluctant to credit Obama and some liberals are reluctant to endorse patriotic zeal. Indeed, in our yourmorals.org data, identification with your country (using a subscale of Sam McFarland’s Identification with All Humanity scale) is negatively correlated with liberal identification.
However, given that ingroup love and outgroup hate are not always correlated, and in this case, Bin Laden is not popular in the Arab world, cases where ingroup love leads to outgroup hate are likely to be outliers. Most people see it as love for their country, justice, and/or a blow for terrorists, not as a win in a larger battle against non-Americans. One could see it as a victory for the type of universalism that liberals desire, given that what Bin Laden wanted most was a competitive zero-sum conflict with the west. Indeed, patriotism itself has an empathic component to it, correlating with Empathic Concern (e.g. “I would describe myself as a pretty soft-hearted person”, Davis, 1983) scores (see below).
I am generally liberal and have prototypically liberal angst about celebrating any death. But in the case of the collective unity we are seeing, I think liberals should take yes for an answer to our universalist impulses and appreciate the resulting unity. There are forces in the world (e.g. selfishness, competition, or threat) that cause us to restrict our circle of concern to ourselves and those immediately around us and there are forces in the world that cause us to expand our circle of concern and care. I welcome the celebrations, because I’m hopeful this is a case of the latter.
- Ravi Iyer