May 26, 2018
Centrists Are the Most Hostile to Democracy, Not Extremists By David Adler, New York Times, May 23, 2018
Maja Hitij/Getty Images
The warning signs are flashing red: Democracy is under threat. Across Europe and North America, candidates are more authoritarian, party systems are more volatile, and citizens are more hostile to the norms and institutions of liberal democracy.
These trends have prompted a major debate between those who view political discontent as economic, cultural or generational in origin. But all of these explanations share one basic assumption: The threat is coming from the political extremes.
On the right, ethno-nationalists and libertarians are accused of supporting fascist politics; on the left, campus radicals and the so-called antifa movement are accused of betraying liberal principles. Across the board, the assumption is that radical views go hand in hand with support for authoritarianism, while moderation suggests a more committed approach to the democratic process.
Is it true?
Maybe not. My research suggests that across Europe and North America, centrists are the least supportive of democracy, the least committed to its institutions and the most supportive of authoritarianism.
I examined the data from the most recent World Values Survey (2010 to 2014) and European Values Survey (2008), two of the most comprehensive studies of public opinion carried out in over 100 countries. The survey asks respondents to place themselves on a spectrum from far left to center to far right. I then plotted the proportion of each group’s support for key democratic institutions. (A copy of my working paper, with a more detailed analysis of the survey data, can be found here.)
Centrists Are the Most
Respondents who put themselves at the center of the political spectrum are the least supportive of democracy, according to several survey measures. These include views of democracy as the “best political system,” and a more general rating of democratic politics. In both, those in the center have the most critical views of democracy.
Centrists Are Least Likely to
Some of the most striking data reflect respondents’ views of elections. Support for “free and fair” elections drops at the center for every single country in the sample. The size of the centrist gap is striking. In the case of the United States, fewer than half of people in the political center view elections as essential.
Centrists Are Least Likely to
Of course, the concept of “support for democracy” is somewhat abstract, and respondents may interpret the question in different ways. What about support for civil rights, so central to the maintenance of the liberal democratic order? In almost every case, support for civil rights wanes in the center. In the United States, only 25 percent of centrists agree that civil rights are an essential feature of democracy.
Centrists Are Most Supportive
One of the strongest warning signs for democracy has been the rise of populist leaders with authoritarian tendencies. But while these leaders have become more popular, it is unclear whether citizens explicitly support more authoritarian styles of government. I find, however, evidence of substantial support for a “strong leader” who ignores his country’s legislature, particularly among centrists. In the United States, centrists’ support for a strongman-type leader far surpasses that of the right and the left.
Across Europe and North America, support for democracy is in decline. To explain this trend, conventional wisdom points to the political extremes. Both the far left and the far right are, according to this view, willing to ride roughshod over democratic institutions to achieve radical change. Moderates, by contrast, are assumed to defend liberal democracy, its principles and institutions.
The numbers indicate that this isn’t the case. As Western democracies descend into dysfunction, no group is immune to the allure of authoritarianism — least of all centrists, who seem to prefer strong and efficient government over messy democratic politics.
Strongmen in the developing world have historically found support in the center: From Brazil and Argentina to Singapore and Indonesia, middle-class moderates have encouraged authoritarian transitions to bring stability and deliver growth. Could the same thing happen in mature democracies like Britain, France and the United States?
In US psychotic voices are violent, in Africa and India, they are more benign and playful. JULY 16, 2014
In the USA psychotic voices are violent, in Africa and India, they are more benign and playful. JULY 16, 2014
Stanford anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann found that voice-hearing experiences of people with serious psychotic disorders are shaped by local culture – in the United States, the voices are harsh and threatening; in Africa and India, they are more benign and playful. This may have clinical implications for how to treat people with schizophrenia, she suggests.
BY CLIFTON B. PARKER
People suffering from schizophrenia may hear “voices” – auditory hallucinations – differently depending on their cultural context, according to new Stanford research.
In the United States, the voices are harsher, and in Africa and India, more benign, said Tanya Luhrmann, a Stanford professor of anthropology and first author of the article in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
The experience of hearing voices is complex and varies from person to person, according to Luhrmann. The new research suggests that the voice-hearing experiences are influenced by one’s particular social and cultural environment – and this may have consequences for treatment.
In an interview, Luhrmann said that American clinicians “sometimes treat the voices heard by people with psychosis as if they are the uninteresting neurological byproducts of disease which should be ignored. Our work found that people with serious psychotic disorder in different cultures have different voice-hearing experiences. That suggests that the way people pay attention to their voices alters what they hear their voices say. That may have clinical implications.”
Positive and negative voices
Luhrmann said the role of culture in understanding psychiatric illnesses in depth has been overlooked.
“The work by anthropologists who work on psychiatric illness teaches us that these illnesses shift in small but important ways in different social worlds. Psychiatric scientists tend not to look at cultural variation. Someone should, because it’s important, and it can teach us something about psychiatric illness,” said Luhrmann, an anthropologist trained in psychology. She is the Watkins University Professor at Stanford.
For the research, Luhrmann and her colleagues interviewed 60 adults diagnosed with schizophrenia – 20 each in San Mateo, California; Accra, Ghana; and Chennai, India. Overall, there were 31 women and 29 men with an average age of 34. They were asked how many voices they heard, how often, what they thought caused the auditory hallucinations, and what their voices were like.
“We then asked the participants whether they knew who was speaking, whether they had conversations with the voices, and what the voices said. We asked people what they found most distressing about the voices, whether they had any positive experiences of voices and whether the voice spoke about sex or God,” she said.
The findings revealed that hearing voices was broadly similar across all three cultures, according to Luhrmann. Many of those interviewed reported both good and bad voices, and conversations with those voices, as well as whispering and hissing that they could not quite place physically. Some spoke of hearing from God while others said they felt like their voices were an “assault” upon them.
‘Voices as bombardment’
The striking difference was that while many of the African and Indian subjects registered predominantly positive experiences with their voices, not one American did. Rather, the U.S. subjects were more likely to report experiences as violent and hateful – and evidence of a sick condition.
The Americans experienced voices as bombardment and as symptoms of a brain disease caused by genes or trauma.
One participant described the voices as “like torturing people, to take their eye out with a fork, or cut someone’s head and drink their blood, really nasty stuff.” Other Americans (five of them) even spoke of their voices as a call to battle or war – “‘the warfare of everyone just yelling.'”
Moreover, the Americans mostly did not report that they knew who spoke to them and they seemed to have
less personal relationships with their voices, according to Luhrmann.
less personal relationships with their voices, according to Luhrmann.
Among the Indians in Chennai, more than half (11) heard voices of kin or family members commanding them to do tasks. “They talk as if elder people advising younger people,” one subject said. That contrasts to the Americans, only two of whom heard family members. Also, the Indians heard fewer threatening voices than the Americans – several heard the voices as playful, as manifesting spirits or magic, and even as entertaining. Finally, not as many of them described the voices in terms of a medical or psychiatric problem, as all of the Americans did.
In Accra, Ghana, where the culture accepts that disembodied spirits can talk, few subjects described voices in brain disease terms. When people talked about their voices, 10 of them called the experience predominantly positive; 16 of them reported hearing God audibly. “‘Mostly, the voices are good,'” one participant remarked.
Individual self vs. the collective
Why the difference? Luhrmann offered an explanation: Europeans and Americans tend to see themselves as individuals motivated by a sense of self identity, whereas outside the West, people imagine the mind and self interwoven with others and defined through relationships.
“Actual people do not always follow social norms,” the scholars noted. “Nonetheless, the more independent emphasis of what we typically call the ‘West’ and the more interdependent emphasis of other societies has been demonstrated ethnographically and experimentally in many places.”
As a result, hearing voices in a specific context may differ significantly for the person involved, they wrote. In America, the voices were an intrusion and a threat to one’s private world – the voices could not be controlled.
However, in India and Africa, the subjects were not as troubled by the voices – they seemed on one level to make sense in a more relational world. Still, differences existed between the participants in India and Africa; the former’s voice-hearing experience emphasized playfulness and sex, whereas the latter more often involved the voice of God.
The religiosity or urban nature of the culture did not seem to be a factor in how the voices were viewed, Luhrmann said.
“Instead, the difference seems to be that the Chennai (India) and Accra (Ghana) participants were more comfortable interpreting their voices as relationships and not as the sign of a violated mind,” the researchers wrote.
Relationship with voices
The research, Luhrmann observed, suggests that the “harsh, violent voices so common in the West may not be an inevitable feature of schizophrenia.” Cultural shaping of schizophrenia behaviour may be even more profound than previously thought.
The findings may be clinically significant, according to the researchers. Prior research showed that specific therapies may alter what patients hear their voices say. One new approach claims it is possible to improve individuals’ relationships with their voices by teaching them to name their voices and to build relationships with them, and that doing so diminishes their caustic qualities. “More benign voices may contribute to more benign course and outcome,” they wrote.
“Our hunch is that the way people think about thinking changes the way they pay attention to the unusual experiences associated with sleep and awareness, and that as a result, people will have different spiritual experiences, as well as different patterns of psychiatric experience,” she said, noting a plan to conduct a larger, systematic comparison of spiritual, psychiatric and thought process experiences in five countries.
Repeat after me: Canada is seldom a force for good in the world, Canada is seldom a force for good in the world.
Thomas Walkom’s “Canada should board Korean peace train” is yet another example of how the progressive end of the dominant media has been seduced by Canadian foreign policy mythology.
The leftist Toronto Star columnist offers an astute analysis of what’s driving rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula. He points out that the two Koreas are moving the process forward and that Pyongyang believes “complete denuclearization” of the Peninsula includes the US forces in the region aiming nuclear weapons at it.
But, Walkom’s column is cloaked in naivety about Canada’s role in the geopolitical hotspot. He ignores the international summit Ottawa and Washington organized in January to promote sanctions on North Korea. In a highly belligerent move, the countries invited to the conference in Vancouver were those that fought against North Korea in the early 1950s conflict. “We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea,” General Curtis LeMay, head of US air command during the fighting, explained three decades later. “Over a period of three years or so, we killed off … twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure.”
(During another dreadful chapter in Korean history Canada supplied warmaterials to the Japanese army that occupied Korea before World War II.)
Continuing its aggressive diplomatic posture, Chrystia Freeland brought upNorth Korea at the Munich Security Conference in Germany in February and the next month Canada’s foreign minister agreed with her Japanese counterpart to send a “strong message” to Pyongyang at the upcoming Group of Seven meetings. In a subsequent get together, Freeland and Japanese officials pledged to maintain “maximum pressure” on North Korea. After “welcoming South Korea’s critical role in maintaining diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea” in March, Freeland responded gingerly to Seoul and Pyongyang’s joint announcement last month to seek a formal end to the Korean War and rid the Peninsula of nuclear weapons. “We all need to be careful and not assume anything,” said Freeland.
Walkom also ignores the Canadian Forces currently seeking to blockade North Korea. Three weeks ago Ottawa announced it was a sending a CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and 40 military personnel to a US base in Japan to join British, Australian and US forces monitoring efforts to evade UN sanctions. Earlier in the year a Vancouver Island based submarine was sent across the pond partly to bolster the campaign to isolate North Korea.
Canadians are also part of the UN military mission in Korea. The first non-US general to hold the post since the command was created in 1950, Canadian Lieutenant General Wayne Eyre was recently appointed deputy commander of the UN force stationed there.
(To be fair, Walkom hints at Ottawa’s belligerence, noting that Canada is “still technically at war with North Korea” and is among countries that “traditionally take their cue from the U.S.”)
In my forthcoming book Left, Right — Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada I discuss how leftist intellectuals concede a great deal to the foreign policy establishment’s outlook. Laziness is a simple, though not unimportant, reason why these writers mythologize Canadian foreign policy. Buried amidst a mass of state and corporate generated apologetics, critical information about Canada’s role in the world takes more effort to uncover. And the extra work is often bad for one’s career.
A thorough investigation uncovers information tough to square with the narrow spectrum of opinion permitted in the dominant media. It’s nearly impossible to survive if you say Canadian foreign policy has always been self-serving/elite-driven or that no government has come close to reflecting their self-professed ideals on the international stage. Almost everyone with a substantial platform to comment sees little problem with Canadian power, finding it expedient to assume/imply Canada’s international aims are noble.
Rather than a story titled “Canada should board Korean peace train”, Walkom should have written about how “Canada must step off the belligerence bus”. His conscious or unconscious naivety regarding Canada’s role in Korea is part of a mainstream left trend that partly explains why Canadians overwhelmingly believe this country is a benevolent international actor despite a long history of supporting empire and advancing Canadian corporate interests abroad.
May 20, 2018
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