Purdue University Philosophy Professor William McBride Says 70-Year-Old Existential Text Explains Racist Trolling – Quartz
The emergence of a white supremacist “alt-right” movement is a deeply troubling moment in American politics, and commentators struggle to understand. what motivates and how to define the group. But for an insightful analysis of the psychology behind alt-right trolling and fanaticism, some of the best writing does not come from contemporary thinkers, but from a text written 70 years ago.
As noted on Twitter, the essay by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre Antisemitic and Jewish, first published in 1946, is of disconcerting relevance today. The essay analyzes the impulses behind anti-Semitism, showing that it is not based on facts about Judaism or the Jewish community, but on an irrational hatred that exists for itself and feeds on itself . It contains the famous line: “If the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him”.
William McBride, professor of philosophy at Purdue University, says the text, while focusing on anti-Semitism, is “certainly” applicable to the broader racism of the alt-right movement.
Sartre describes racists as delighted “to act in bad faith,”A term he developed in his larger existential philosophy. “[Bad faith] is a lie you tell yourself, ”says McBridge. “You claim that you are doing something authentically when in fact you are not. You know it on one level but not on another.
So racists position themselves on reason, authenticity and noble intentions when in fact they know, deep down, that what they are doing is odious.
McBride believes that online communication can exacerbate racist bad faith; after all, social media is very much about posing and carries little real responsibility. Responsibility, he explains, is a key part of Sartre’s philosophy: we are completely free and thus take ultimate responsibility for our actions. Those who act in bad faith try to shirk responsibility, which is encouraged by the lack of accountability online.
“There is so much lack of self-examination, so many postures,” he says. “They are unlikely to be held responsible unless they advocate murder or something like that. Otherwise, they can say pretty much whatever they want.
Sadly, while the internet may have changed the way hatred is expressed, Sartre’s writings show that sectarian behavior, over decades, remains largely unchanged.