Haters gonna hate

by Chris Bertram on September 10, 2019

I spent a couple of hours the other afternoon reading Amia Srinivasan’s wonderful paper [“The Aptness of Anger”](http://users.ox.ac.uk/~corp1468/Research_files/jopp.12130.pdf). One theme of that paper is that anger can be a fitting response to a moral violation and that our evaluation of whether someone should be angry does not reduce to instrumental considerations about whether being angry does any good. I find Srinivasan’s argument persuasive but I also found myself wondering about a side-issue that is not really dealt with in the paper. If anger is an apt response to a moral violation, where that violation might be a betrayal by a friend or global injustice, we obviously need an independent theory of morality to anchor our judgements about when anger is appropriate. After all, people get angry all the time when they are denied something they believe themselves entitled to, but the anger is only a candidate for being justifiable when they are actually entitled to that thing. (Srinivasan [has written eloquently about incels](https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n06/amia-srinivasan/does-anyone-have-the-right-to-sex), who are very angry at being denied something they are not entitled to.)

Some of the angriest people around at the moment are supposed to be the so-called “left behinds”, althouth perhaps relatively prosperous people often perform “being angry” on their behalf. Insofar are they are angry about the neglect that they and their communities have suffered at the hands of central governments, the lack of regional and industrial policies, or the growth of inequality, then their anger does seem to be a reaction that is indeed an appropriate response to a moral violation, namely, social and economic injustice. But a lot of the anger that we’ve seen stoked up in recent years has been anger towards “immigrants”, where “immigrants” denotes both actual immigrants and non-white people perceived as such by those who resent them. The “moral violation” that this anger corresponds to is the sense that those people don’t belong in the bigot’s safe space. It is the mere presence of such “foreigners” in a space the haters think of as being theirs and reserved for them that constitutes the perceived outrage and generates the anger. (Similar anger at mere presence of unwanted others can be seen in other cases, such as, for example, gentrification.)
[click to continue…]