Knowing that there is an opponent around your neck makes life easier. Of course, we are not talking about people who ambush others for the purpose of murder. Rather, it’s about perceived enemies. Depending on their worldview, people smell these adversaries in different groups and collectives. Corrupt elites, high finance, the media, patriarchy, the so-and-so lobby or members of a religion or ethnic group: the enemy images are diverse. What all these ideas have in common is that they give believers a sense of belonging to the good.
Moreover, this lightens the burden of personal responsibility, all personal unhappiness would originate in the fact that “they” systematically sabotage progress. In this black-and-white world of populist thinking, hatred and self-righteousness go hand in hand: it is the wicked themselves who force us to despise them.
Anyone who walks through the world with a simple enemy-friend pattern is constantly colliding with other people’s worldviews
For psychologists, the hatred of the self-righteous is a chicken-and-egg problem. The question is, does populism really feed the hatred, or do black-and-white political directors thrive on the hatred that already exists? So is hate more a condition or more of a consequence of populism? After analyzing the data of just over 2,500 test subjects, psychologists around Cristhian Martínez and Jan-Willem van Prooijen of the Free University of Amsterdam tend towards the second variant: it is more likely that populist tendencies really let the hatred of their supporters bubble up. Anger, disappointment, resentment and other conditions drive people into the arms of the preachers of simple messages, where they are then really whipped up.
According to the psychologists, populism is characterized by the fact that it emphasizes a contrast between evil elites and good people and mobilizes negative emotions. According to Martínez and van Prooijen, these currents are at home in both the right and left corners of the political boxing ring. In Germany, psychologists place both the AfD and Die Linke in the populist camp. Their enemy views may differ, the argument goes, but parties like this both present a simple contrast of good and bad, above and below.
If you follow the psychologists, this simple black-and-white thinking unleashes the spiral of hatred. In a second study, those who revealed tendencies toward populist thinking in the psychologists’ tests indicated slightly stronger feelings of hatred toward concrete individuals and abstract groups of people. However, the results should be viewed with some caution, as the period between the first and second studies was quite short, ie two months.
However, it sounds plausible that supporters of populist ideas have become more negative over time. Anyone who walks through the world with a simple enemy-friend pattern constantly clashes with other people’s worldviews. The bad guys rarely see that they are supposed to be the bad guys, and go on the attack with their own poisonous self-righteousness. They eventually bathe together in the hot springs of their hatred.