On being demonized

Hillary Clinton was often said to be a very poor candidate.  She was portrayed as one of those neoliberals who support Wall Street over her own country, despite her socialist attempts to nationalize health care, to aid families, etc.  Instead, she is seen as someone who committed so many crimes she should be tried and jailed.  She endangered the country through a mishandling of emails.  She was power mad.  She oversaw the murder of political opponents.  And of the nation’s troops.

She was demonized, and that process often consisted in just reiterating some of the charges above.  And honestly the weight of those charges makes me feel as those really nothing can be done against them.  You get that many horrible things said against you, maybe a solution will be hard to find.

Let’s hope not, but whatever is true about defending oneself, let’s consider how demonization occurs.  It might tell us more about what we need to do when it starts up.

And in case you are wondering, Hillary is hardly the only person who has gotten demonized.  Among others, the writers on this blog have been characterized as moral monsters, which looks to me like a fair approximation of demonization.  And I’ve been demonized in another context, like many, many women.  So while I don’t have empirical studies to back up my characterizations, I have had the opportunity to observe what has gone on in a number of contexts.  I’m going to hope that’s enough for starters.  My examples, though, are a hodge-podge.

The thing that has struck me often with demonizers is that they seem incapable of imagining others to have non-self regarding motives.  To add a fantasy onto an example:  suppose you get the opportunity to fulfill a longterm dream.  You get to decorate Central Park with orange bunting.


As Christo and Jeanne-Claude did.

The Passion of the Christos
The Gates, in Central Park, 26 years in the making, mile upon mile of billowing fabric, is the largest artwork since the Sphinx. But what does it mean? As Jeanne-Claude might say, what a dumb question.

For the demonizer, however, you are indulging yourself in a massive display of ego, or perhaps hoping to make a lot of money.  The seemingly sheer and relatively egoless desire to create is always about something else.  And in Clinton’s case, the life-long striving to improve the lives of women and children was really about grabbing power.

In a comparable situation I came to believe my demonizers couldn’t even imagine motives other than self-interest.  And so I propose that demonizers have an impoverished range of motives, and, relatedly, they are weak in empathy.  Along with these deficits, demonizers may be people of considerable ill-will.  The ill-will may be very general, where they are prepared to cut down anyone, or it may be more specifically directed toward women in leadership roles, or blacks with civic power.

Some other possible factors:  demonizers may be able to believe what they wish.  For example, faced with a highly productive woman, they may declare that books, articles and national offices don’t count as fulfilling any part of one’s job.  (I know several women who have fought or are fighting this battle.)  Alternatively, they may decide that one is lying, and putting fake entries on one’s cv or hiding wrong-doing.  E.g., the evidence is quite clear that Clinton was not literally responsible for the deaths in Benghazi except perhaps ex officio, but that was put aside in favor of the idea that she was a murderer.  Ignorance will probably be a large factor in the creation and dissemination of the demonization.

What should we conclude from these ruminations?  Perhaps surprisingly that there is a national character flaw that got manifested in this election.  We couldn’t understand Hillary Clinton vividly enough.  This is true for those who voted against her but also for those who merely voted against him.

Of course, the issues here are much more complex.  Perhaps one can buy into a demonization without having the flaws involved in creating it.  And so on.  People wanted a change, etc, etc.  but look at what the nation in the end accepted!

So I’m not sure in this case that I believe what my reasoning has led me to.  What do you think?


Symposium on Claudia Card in Metaphilosophy

Feminist philosophers, the newest issue of Metaphilosophy includes a symposium on the scholarship of Claudia Card. She would have loved this. Check it out:

Metaphilosophy, Vol. 47 Issue 4-5, October 2016

Symposium on the Philosophy of Claudia Card

Edited by Robin S. Dillon and Armen T. Marsoobian

Introductory Note, Armen T. Marsoobian

The Challenges of Extreme Moral Stress: Claudia Card’s Contributions to the Formation of Nonideal Ethical Theory, Kathryn J. Norlock

Hate Crime Legislation Reconsidered, Marcia Baron

Misplaced Gratitude and the Ethics of Oppression, Robin May Schott

Surviving Evils and the Problem of Agency: An Essay Inspired by the Work of Claudia Card, Diana Tietjens Meyers

Radical Moral Imagination and Moral Luck, Mavis Biss

The American Girl: Playing with the Wrong Dollie?, Victoria Davion

Perpetrators and Social Death: A Cautionary Tale, Lynne Tirrell

Claudia Card’s Concept of Social Death: A New Way of Looking at Genocide, James Snow