This Thing of Darkness: A Sociology of the Enemy

This Thing of Darkness: A Sociology of the Enemy

This Thing of Darkness: A Sociology of the Enemy

This Thing of Darkness: A Sociology of the Enemy

Excerpt

This Thing of Darkness continues a long-standing effort on my part to link sociologically humankind's highest aspirations with its basest appetites -- spirituality with materialism -- without reducing either potentiality to the other and therefore trivializing the enigma of existence. Initially, my efforts took the form of an examination of the dialectic between religion and violence as expressed in the primary texts of selected civilizations. While the product of that study is for the most part satisfactory academically, its design reveals a reluctance, perhaps an incapacity, to engage those mysteries intimately. Whatever else the present collection says about this author psychologically, it documents a conversion in research style, out of the library and into the field: not with the abstraction called "respondents" in controlled questionnaire surveys, even less with those known as experimental "subjects," but with human beings in what is jargonistically called their "natural setting," including their infinite complexities, quirks, and passions. This is for me a rediscovery of what in my professional training I had somehow lost sight of, a fascination with people.

This reknowing can be dated exactly: December 1984. At that time I inaugurated a several-year study of right-wing extremists and extremism in the Pacific Northwest. While my initial inclination was to distance myself as far as possible from those I deeply feared and from ideas I loathed, I found that to adequately comprehend the movement I had to mingle with my enemies. All the chapters in this volume grew out of my study of right-wing extremism.

I went into the field with a typically objective scientific question: What causes people to join hate groups? In the course of my research, not only was I compelled by my findings to revamp the tone and direction of this question, but many other questions arose: one as a result of an unexpected phone call at night from a disaffected neo-Nazi; another from an opportunity to interview a racist skinhead through the recommendation of his analyst, whose wife was in a class I taught; another . . .

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