George Zimmerman was signing autographs at a gun show in Orlando this week. Only 200 showed up for the meet-and-greet, but Zimmerman has many supporters around the country, and, as Jonathan Capeheart says:
This leads to what should bean inevitable question: Who are these people glorifying the killer of an unarmed teenager in one of the most racially polarized incidents in recent history?
I keep wondering how Jonathan Haidt — with his theory of the differing values of liberals and conservatives — would explain this embrace of Zimmerman. The liberal reaction presents no problems. Haidt says that liberal morality rests on two principles:
Killing someone certainly qualifies as Harm, and, almost literally, getting away with murder is not Fair.
The Zimmerman side is that he shot in self-defense. That argument persuaded the jury, or at least created sufficient reasonable doubt. But it doesn’t explain why some people on the right see him as a hero. What moral principle does he represent?
In Haidt’s schema, conservatives take Harm and Fairness into account but balance them with three others:
(A sixth foundation – Liberty/oppression – underlies both the liberal and conservative side.)
It’s hard to see how any of these describe the autograph-seekers. What else might explain that reaction?
The obvious candidate is racism. If the races had been reversed — if a Black man had confronted a White teenager, killed him, and then been acquitted on self-defense grounds — would the left have hailed him as a hero? I doubt it. Would those same autograph hounds in Orlando have sought him out? I doubt it. And if Black people had then turned out to get his autograph, can you imagine what the reaction on the right would have been?
But it’s not just racism. It’s a more general willingness to do harm, great harm, to those who “deserve” it. The liberal view (Harm/Care) is that while in some circumstances killing may be necessary or inevitable, it is still unfortunate. But over on the right, killing, torture, and perhaps other forms of harm are cause for celebration, so long as these can be justified. In 2008, Republicans cheered Sarah Palin when she stood up for torture. In 2011, they cheered Rick Perry for signing death warrants for record numbers of executions. When Wolf Blitzer hypothsized a young man who had decided not to buy medical insurance but now lay in the ICU, and Blitzer asked “Should we let him die?” several people in the Republican audience enthusiastically shouted out, “Yes.”
My guess as to the common thread here is a dimension Haidt doesn’t include as a foundation of morality: boundary rigidity. In those earlier posts, I referred to this, or something similar, as “tribalism.”
Morality is not some abstract universal that applies to all people. Tribal morality divides the world into Us and Them. What’s moral is what’s good for Us. This morality does not extend to Them.
Could it be that as you get farther out on the right, you find more people whose boundaries are more rigid? They are the hard liners who draw hard lines. Once those lines are drawn, it’s impossible to have sympathy — to extend Care — to someone on the other side. If you imagine that you live in a world where an attack by Them is always imminent, defending those boundaries becomes very important.
That seems to be the world of gun-rights crowd lionizing Zimmerman. Their cherished scenario is the defense of boundaries against those who are clearly Not Us. They stand their ground and defend themselves, their families, their houses and property, even their towns and communities. It is a story they never tire of, repeated time after time in NRA publications. Zimmerman is a hero because his story, in their view, embodies the narrative of righteous slaughter.
Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.
Woz — March 22, 2014
I think you're selling short how well these two dichotomies explain the behavior of the autograph seekers. It's pretty clear that to a number of people, Zimmerman is hailed as a hero because he's upholding the (white) authority which they trust, and is protecting the sanctity of our society from these young thugs who respect nothing. The Sanctity/Degradation dichotomy explains a lot of the general reaction on the right to case in general -- sure, Trayvon /personally/ didn't have a gun and wasn't up to anything illegal, but you know how "those people" are, and Zimmerman was merely trying to uphold the sanctity of our society that these hoodie-wearing monsters are going to tear apart...
Bill R — March 22, 2014
I consider myself a fiscal/economic conservative, middle of the road on foreign policy and liberal on social issues. Right and Left have been bad labels for some time now because they don't capture the spirit of the vast majority of people whose opinions vary by issue. So believing in a construct like the dichotomy of left and right leads you to simplify complexity for no good reason.
There is also a large population who either don't have the mental capacity to consider the relevant issues thoughtfully or who simply don't care about most issues liberals and conservatives hold dear. Forcing them into categories makes the analysis even more problematic.
Personally, I think Zimmerman is a grandstanding hothead with more balls than brains. Racism is secondary for people like him, and I'll bet we haven't heard the last of this saga. And most of my liberal and conservative friends agree with me...
Ricy — March 22, 2014
He IS a hero. For defending himself from a physical assault and for defending himself from malicious prosecution.
Веселин Жилов — March 22, 2014
If you wonder why they consider him a hero, here's a short video that explains their version of the events and everyone involved: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ebu6Yvzs4Ls
Reuben H — March 22, 2014
Because a lot of us are sick and tired of blacks victimizing whites, Hispanics and Asians. We relish the thought of somebody striking back at our oppressors. Of the underdog biting back once in a while.
bgal4 — March 23, 2014
The hunting of George Zimmerman
August 14, 2013
James Myburgh on what the Trayvon Martin case says about the US media and judicial systems
an excerpt, use link above to read the entire article.
....In the chapter on "national delusions" in his 1852 work
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles
MacKay noted how "In reading the history of nations, we find that, like
individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their
seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do.
We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one
object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become
simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their
attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first. "
The Trayvon Martin story is a case study in how, even in the modern
day, an advanced industrialized democracy can completely lose its
senses; and how difficult it is for it to then recover them. In this
particular matter a whole society seemingly fixed its mind on the one
object of having George Zimmerman arrested, convicted and sent to jail
for life, in reckless disregard of the evidence and the law. The mainstream
media, so-called civil rights organizations, the Democrat President of
the US, the US Attorney General, the Republican Governor of Florida and
his Attorney General, and State Attorney Angela Corey all combined
forces in an effort to destroy a single, isolated individual.
The failures of the mainstream media in their reporting on this case
were manifold. The claims of the Martin family team should have, from
the beginning, been treated with some degree of caution. Sybrina Fulton
and Tracy Martin, and their lawyers, had two motivations in campaigning
in the way that they did for the arrest of George Zimmerman. The one was
obviously vengeance, the other greed.
Such precautionary skepticism should have been redoubled once the
Martin family team had been caught out, very early on, lying about
Trayvon Martin's school record and the existence of and reasons for his
multiple suspensions. Instead, they were repeatedly given a free pass,
even by the more critically minded journalists and commentators.
to0ber — March 23, 2014
You mean less than 20(TWENTY) people showed up for zimmerman's meet and greet!
Stentor — March 24, 2014
I'm kind of baffled that the author had trouble fitting Zimmerman's supporters into Haidt's schema. As Woz points out, racism is pretty clearly a twisted application of the Authority and Sanctity values. I think Fairness comes into it as well, since his supporters think he was unfairly prosecuted (in the courts, and in the media) for an innocent act.
I also question whether hard boundary drawing is exclusively a feature of the right. Just look at the "People's Front of Judea" style hyper-factionalism in left-wing movements, or the harshly unforgiving line-drawing that occurs in the social justice corners of Tumblr.
Ultimately, I think Haidt's theories are hamstrung by his adherence to the left-right distinction as a fundamental political divide. Left-right is barely adequate at the most simplistic level for contemporary US politics, let alone other places and times. I'd be interested to see Haidt's work combined with that of Mary Douglas and her followers, who pointed out "sectarian" tendencies on both the "right" and the "left."
Tuesday, Tuesday | Gerry Canavan — March 25, 2014
[…] * To whom is George Zimmerman a hero? […]
Yrro Simyarin — March 25, 2014
If you want to attempt to understand the other side, rather than argue with them, you must accept that they believe a different set of facts and framing about the trial than you do.
It was not a case of a "racist dude kills an innocent child."
It was a case of "guy defends himself from lethal attack, and is a victim of a nation-wide witch hunt."
You can analyze the entire reaction easily through Haidt's lense once you accept the alternative view of the "facts" of the case.
Jamie Riehl — March 25, 2014
I suspect one of the main things the right likes about Zimmerman is that liberals hate him.
Richard_Arrett — March 26, 2014
Your view of the right is an example of rigid boundary tribalism.
Not that there is anything wrong with that.
But I hope you are not saying that only conservatives share this tribal boundary rigidity principal.
Everybody has boundaries.
Is anybody really exempt from a tribal view of the world?
Are not constitutional rights tribal - in the sense that they apply to "us" (USA citizens) and not them (non-USA citizens)?
Americans in the USA have free speech constitutionally protected.
Chinese citizens in China do not.
Isn't that tribal?
Doesn't that meet your definition of "us" and "them"?
Isn't the saying "When in Rome do as the Romans do." a tribal view of the world.
In some cultures it is moral to eat your dead parents.
In our culture this is against the law.
My guess is that both liberals and conservatives in the USA would be quite rigid about the boundary against eating your dead parent.
I detect a note of judgment in your writing.
Liberals good ("while in some circumstances killing may be necessary or inevitable, it is still unfortunate").
Conservatives bad ("Zimmerman is a hero because his story, in their view, embodies the narrative of righteous slaughter").
Killing in self-defense is moral, and therefore protected under the law of all 50 states. In this case the jury found Zimmerman killed in self-defense.
By definition then, this act of self-defense cannot be considered "righteous slaughter".
dandennisjones — March 26, 2014
While it's not good practice to conflate the behavior of an anecdotally interesting number of people with an entire demographic, this is an compelling look into the political identity of a certain fringe.
The example of the ~20 Zimmerman autograph seekers, like the "let him die" shouters at the GOP debate, is an example of tribalism, yes - but I suspect even moreso, an example of "identity of resistance," and not rational political behavior.
It is probably not true that members of this group are fundamentally less compassionate, or even that their beliefs regarding these issues are the result of considered thought. More likely they are responding to a sense of tribal victimization.
That is, individuals who are likely to see Zimmerman as a hero are reacting defensively to a sense of victimization around their views regarding gun/self-defense/racial issues. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." That is to say, "enemies of gun rights view Zimmerman as criminal; therefore he is my ally."
When you have the feeling that everyone is out to get you, a feeling often fomented by commentators on the far right, that the liberal media, the President, Hollywood power, and the secular left are colluding against you, and that you are one of the last remaining defenders of liberty, you are more likely to internalize the viewpoints of those who empathize with your sense of victimization, who speak your language, regardless of how it fits into your conception of political rightness.
Identities of resistance are a fringe phenomenon, examples can be found on the far right and the far left, and any group who self-identifies as part of a victimized minority.
Jaime Andres Pretell — March 28, 2014
What a load of bogus crap. Zimmerman supporters, myself included, come from various backgrounds, some completely misguided and others quite valid. Sure, you have the gun nuts who see every gun case as pivotal to their glorified second amendment, and you have your White nationalists who see George as a racial cause, by implication (Zimmerman is actually a person of mixed ancestry and the child of an immigrant from a non English speaking country so he usually represents their worst fears. But, in this case, he was painted as White, and thus became an avatar, a representative, of what could happen to them in a similar situation), but the fact remains that many of us support him, not as a celebrity, but as a survivor to a media promulgated pogrom, where he was used by both sides for their agendas, but it was the liberal side who scapegoated him and portrayed him and the evidence falsely to push profiling and Stand Your Ground issues which didn't even apply to this case. We celebrate the fact that the judicial system worked and that it didn't bow to media and special interest pressures. Do I think Zimmerman is perfect? Not even close. But he was not proven to e guilty of breaking any laws that night. And any subsequent irrational behavior can be attributed to the paranoia and PTSD he has developed from the attack and subsequent media persecution, death threats, hiding, and basic loss of any ability to have a normal life from here on. People claim that choice was robbed from Martin, but Martin had plenty of time to go home. He had plenty of time and the means to call the police if he felt threatened. He didn't. And the evidence shows that, while we don't know who the initiator was, he was clearly the aggressor by the time the first eyewitness came on the scene. So spare me the claim that your only explanation is racism. Coming from a heavily mixed background myself, I take offense to the preaching of someone who wouldn't have a clue to my experience or that of many Zimmerman supporters who are not White, and frankly, many who are Afro Descendants as well.
Darrell Davis — March 28, 2014
To whom is George a hero? Simple. Trolls. Why? Because George is the biggest troll out there. He says and does things just to get a reaction. What makes him a hero to all those trolls is the fact he got away with it. He killed a child in cold blood and instead of showing a bit of remorse he actually said he'd do it again. Add to that he came up with the most ridiculous story of self defense and his lawyers were smart enough to get enough racist jurors on the jury to acquit him because they believed a stereotype that a young male that's black would be the type to lie in wait and attempt to kill someone for no apparent reason. And now these troll followers of George are just riding the wave George created. This is why not one can actually quote any facts of the case that prove the story George told has a bit of truth to it. The best they can do is tell you how a jury corrupted with racism voted not guilty.
Terry Xu — March 29, 2014
If the races were reversed, it wouldn't be on the news and you wouldn't be writing about it. Let's examine the sociological causes behind that.
There's nothing wrong with racism, if racism means preferring and favoring your own. In fact, not doing so if a sign of fatalism, possibly rooted in mental illness and poor emotion control. Zimmerman is a hero in the sense that he serves as such an obvious magnet for left wing fallacies.
ttoe — April 12, 2014
What I find most interesting is how anyone in a higher institution of education that chairs anything would prefer to side with rhetoric based on skin-color rather than actual facts.
Well, I can't say I'm surprised. One thing I've learned about the left is that no matter how high or low, educated or ignorant, one thing they almost always invariable prove true about themselves is baseless assumption is their Bible, emotions are their logic, and rhetoric is their guide.
I watched that case from beginning to end. There is only one reason that they assume that he is a racist that hunted down a child to kill him, and that's because he happens to be several shades lighter than the typical Hispanic of his heritage.
Often right-wing heroes come out from the crucible of a left-wing target with a measure of victory. For Palin, that victory was the fact that in all of that scratching, they could find nothing more than rhetoric and a desperate attempt to emphasize nothing to make it something. That's what demonstrated Palin was a politician the right could get on-board with. Guarantee, they love her more than McCain.
Zimmerman was a man who saw no end to the rhetoric against him, the hatred and evil of people coming out in all corners of the nation to ridicule and call for his death. And throughout it all, when ignoring all of the rhetoric, and looking only to the facts, one who is actually objective finds that there literally is nothing upon which to base the assumption that he is racist, much less willing to hunt down and murder some kid merely because he's black. The character evidence demonstrates him to be a man of upstanding character, not one likely to lie to save himself. Interesting how the bigoted right white would trust a Hispanic man to be telling the truth, that they'd even care whether or not a Hispanic man lived or died, you know, because them caring sort of defeats your entire brainwashed narrative that they're all bigoted racists. I digress, even the factual evidence all corroborates his recollection of the events. Even the prosecution's own witnesses corroborated Zimmerman, save about 2. One person's account didn't fit with the forensic evidence, and the other didn't actually see anything.
Now, you may like to believe whatever you're told to because you're blindly loyal to the left and all of it's corruption and all of it's racism, but dictators don't run on a free-market, less government power, pro-fire arms platform. There's a reason that the truly corrupt run on economic equality and fostering an attitude that they are the savior who will save the people from the evil rich bogey men.
tom — April 19, 2014
George should have stayed in his truck and not dissed Trayvon. In Miami Gardens it is just a matter of common sense that if somebody is minding their own business then you mind yours.
If you bother somebody for some reason, maybe by looking at them sideways or whatever and they come back and bash you then you are the guilty one. You shouldn't have looked them funny.
5 of the Most Dangerous Delusions of the Far Right | charles' log — May 16, 2014
[…] see it with the attempts to turn George Zimmerman into a hero, even though it’s indisputable that he chased down and shot an unarmed Trayvon Martin. Sean […]
Buttercup — September 27, 2014
I have a poster-sized photo of him on my office wall. He inspires me. He needs to go to Ferguson to straighten them out there.
Buttercup — October 1, 2014
George Zimmerman was found NOT GUILTY! He is a hero! Get over it.
Buttercup — October 3, 2014
George Zimmerman is a hero and did what he had to do. Trayvon got into trouble because he asked for it. If you physically assault someone, your victim has the right to protect himself, and if he feels the assaulter is trying to kill him, he may use lethal force. That's the law. Trayvon was beating his face with his fists, pounding his head into the asphalt (or concrete) under him. Yeah, a real good kid.
Buttercup — October 4, 2014
George Zimmerman is a hero and did what he had to do. Trayvon got into trouble because he asked for it. If you physically assault someone, your victim has the right to protect himself, and if he feels the assaulter is trying to kill him, he may use lethal force. That's the law. Trayvon was beating his face with his fists, pounding his head into the concrete under him. Yeah, a real innocent kid.
MY HERO! | Gin and Tacos — October 6, 2014
[…] But there's a different group of people we really, really need to worry about being armed: people who want George Zimmerman's autograph. You know they're all gun owners. Most of them probably do concealed carry if they can qualify […]
Apollo Tiger — October 21, 2014
Mr. Zimmerman is as much a hero as Officer Darren Wilson and John Wayne. I'd sure rather have Zimmerman protect me (and take out thugs before they can hurt others) than some politically-correct liberal.
Dennis D — August 25, 2015
Bernhard Goetz is the Grandfather of heros like Zimmerman, Darren Wilson etc.
Jimmy Birer — May 18, 2016
Defending yourself is racism lol? Good lord you guys are emasculated beyond hope.
GOP Leaders Realize GOP Voters Want White Identity Politics | BPI Campus — August 20, 2016
[…] Limbaugh’s claim that the Affordable Care Act was “reparations” for slavery, who hailed George Zimmerman as a hero, and petitioned to have the Black Lives Matter movement classified as a “terror […]