OPINION: Teach this: Kanye is doing what Nazis did

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OPINION: Teach this: Kanye is doing what Nazis did

It's time we educated 'floating voters' about the dangers of hate today, argues Marc Cave

Kanye believe it? Here we go again. Not ‘Oh no not another anti-Jewish conspiracy theory’ so much as ‘Oh no, not another flaccid Jewish response’. For all the righteous condemnation of the personal issues maelstrom known as Kanye West, none of it would make me think again. If I were a Jew-hating racist, it would reinforce it. Venting on Twitter doesn’t work. Angrily cancelling the hater doesn’t work either if there is no educational follow-up. It makes the conspiracy theorist double down.

Besides, bad stories and storytellers travel four times faster than good ones. So that video saying “Kanye is right about the Jews” will be winning more hearts and minds than that well-intended rebuttal. This is a call for racism campaigning, be it anti-Jewish or any other racism, to adopt a set of arms, which can win more battles. Without them, we will again lose the war. How long before tragedies at Pittsburgh, Capitol Hill or beatings-up in Stamford Hill become full-scale pogroms?

The new weapon is behavioural psychology. When I ran advertising agencies, we obsessed about finding the message for our clients that would change their target audiences’ attitudes. From there, behaviour change follows. Audience selection was crucial. Often it would mean floating voters, not hardcore unpersuadables. We need to find a narrative that unites and activates the great silent majority.

I’m not saying it’s easy. The Story Paradox: how our love of storytelling builds societies and tears them down by Jonathan Gottschall argues that we are at a horrible ‘tear them down’ moment in history. When we evolved from isolated hunter-gatherers into villages, it was stories that kept us together; they created common values and goals. But now, bad story peddlers like Putin, Trump – and, yes, Kanye West, Wiley, Mel Gibson, Louis Farrakhan, David Miller and Chris Williamson – are destroying them, aided by algorithms that spread their hate at speeds Goebbels could only have gawped at.

So why do people lap it up? Gottschall argues that it appeals to our primal need for baddies to hate, to judge and feel morally superior to. For at least 2,000 years ‘the Jews’ (a conspiracy theorist phrase in itself – imagine speaking of ‘the gays’ or ‘the blacks’) – are the baddies millions have loved to hate.

Behavioural sciences offer many ways to tackle the problem. We have simply to try them. To quote my brilliant colleague Maiken Umbach, chief academic adviser to the National Holocaust Museum and professor of modern history at Nottingham University: “Fighting conspiracy theories with factual debunking does not work. They are rarely logical to start with.

“More effective might be to point out whose thinking the conspiracy theorists share. Nazi propaganda popularised the mother of all conspiracy theories – the world Jewish conspiracy – and created iconic slogans and images to embed it. It blamed the Jews for the suffering of workers, of black people, you name it. This propaganda obtained the consent of millions to the Holocaust.” In other words, it is time to educate the decent ‘floating voter’ that West is doing what the Nazis did: mobilising his 18 million Instagram and 32 million Twitter followers to scapegoat.

Where should we begin? One place that has lots of floating voters is schools. There will never be a slot on the curriculum for ‘anti-Jewish racism education’. But there is a slot for ‘Holocaust education’. Imagine if we used it to look at the dangers of today, not just to bleed our hearts for the yesterdays we can’t change?

Now there’s an idea that we might be able to do something about…

– Marc cave id CEO of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum

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