Why Do the Criticisms Offered by Other People Hurt?

Introduction

People often find criticism from others painful. This is particularly true when the criticism involves a negative moral judgment. Why?

For example, suppose that Mary complains about her life situation to her friend John. Suppose Mary is having money and job trouble. Suppose also that she leads what many would consider to be an irresponsible lifestyle. She spends lots of time at parties and socializing and drinking. Her partying lifestyle means she is often tired, late for work, and not a diligent employee. She lives beyond her means, is always behind on her bills and juggling credit cards, and is not taking steps to improve the situation she is complaining about.

Suppose that John tells Mary he thinks that Mary is responsible for her life and is refusing to take responsibility for it. He argues that there is a connection between Mary’s lifestyle, which he views as irresponsible, and the problems Mary is complaining about. Mary takes this very badly and feels hurt by it. Why?

Considering an Alternative Reaction: Confidence

To understand the answer, it can be helpful to consider an alternative reaction to taking criticism badly – namely, taking criticism well. There are lots of potential criticisms people could offer us that would not cause us to feel hurt. Why?

One important case is when we think the person offering a criticism is wrong and are confident in our position. In that case, the other person’s criticism doesn’t hurt. We may think they are mistaken or misguided or perhaps even a fool, but their criticism doesn’t bother us.

For example, if someone is very confident in their reasons for living life as a teetotaler (someone who doesn’t drink alcohol), then other people’s criticisms and even negative judgments won’t affect the teetotaler. People might say all sorts of things, such as “You’re no fun” or “I don’t trust people who don’t drink” and the teetotaler won’t care. They won’t care because they have some reasons for their behavior which they believe in and which can stand up to conventional views and arguments.

Thinking Someone Has a Point

So Mary, who was criticized by John for her irresponsible lifestyle in the example I mentioned earlier, must not be confident in her judgment regarding her lifestyle. Why?

Maybe, at some level, Mary thinks John has a point. She may not fully agree with his perspective, but she can’t fully rebut it either. So she at the very least has some doubts and is worried John may be right.

This is only a partial explanation. We can think someone has a point about something and not have it bother us. Lots of intellectual or political discussions involve two people who think maybe the other guy has some worthwhile arguments but is overall wrong, and lots of people enjoy having those kinds of discussions and aren’t hurt by them. So there is something else going on with Mary’s situation that causes her to feel hurt.

Lack of Confidence & Second-handedness

Maybe Mary lacks confidence about her views on things in general. She doesn’t really have her own strong opinions about stuff. She kind of just goes with the flow and with what other people are saying. She lives her life trying to get good vibes from others. She interprets John as giving her bad vibes, which she doesn’t like.

So maybe Mary is second-handed, emotionally-oriented and not very intellectual. Maybe she reacted to John from that kind of perspective. That is a bad way to be. It’s important to have considered views on things and to be able to argue for why you do things, for why you lead your life in a certain way. There is that old cliché about a parent asking you if you’d jump off a bridge if all your friends were doing it. Most people recognize that answering “Yes” to such a question is dumb, but the guiding principle of their life is often to answer “Yes” and follow the herd in many cases.

Morality as Scarecrow

Mary may have reacted badly because she felt apprehension at John’s moral judgment. People often treat morality as the thing which constrains their liberty and denies them fun. As Rand puts it in Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged:

Morality, to you, is a phantom scarecrow made of duty, of boredom, of punishment, of pain, a cross-breed between the first schoolteacher of your past and the tax collector of your present, a scarecrow standing in a barren field, waving a stick to chase away your pleasures—and pleasure, to you, is a liquor-soggy brain, a mindless slut, the stupor of a moron who stakes his cash on some animal’s race, since pleasure cannot be moral.

Mary likes some aspects of her current lifestyle. She is having some problems, too, though, but she wants to keep her current lifestyle. John offered some criticisms which Mary felt threatened by. She felt threatened because the arguments drew a connection between the lifestyle Mary wants to keep and the problems Mary dislikes. She took John’s criticisms as “a scarecrow standing in a barren field, waving a stick to chase away [her] pleasures.” Moral arguments like John’s are a threat which threaten to take away the stuff she likes and control her life in ways she disagrees with. She hasn’t taken seriously the possibility that morality could actually improve her life in a way she would be okay with.

Misunderstanding Criticism

Some people experience criticism as inherently painful, and compare it to things like (being hit with) a truncheon:

Just to be clear, this is a criticism (of pacifism, by Ayn Rand):

This is a truncheon:

So maybe Mary has the (very common) attitude that mixes these things up.

Someone offering an argument that you are making some mistake is obviously pretty different than them hitting you with a stick. If they seem similar to you, you have mistaken ideas about the world. (It’s a similar issue to how people mix up dollars and guns, which is an issue Rand talks about.)

There is a complicating factor here, though. Often people do say things that seem like criticism as part of some power play or social game or just to be mean. People may think that insults sound harsh, and they think that arguments that they are living their life in a bad way also sound harsh. They then group those under the same category of “criticism”, which they associate with harshness and meanness.


If people just say some insult to be mean, that’s not even really a criticism, since it doesn’t try to explain something you are wrong about. If someone just calls you a loser or an idiot, that’s not really a criticism. There’s no argument there, no suggestion for things you can change. You can just ignore that stuff. That’s not what John was doing and not what Mary is bothered about, though.


If someone offers an argument that you are doing something wrong and you can’t easily rebut it, you should take it seriously. That’s what criticism allows us to do – make corrections and learn from other people instead of banging our head into the wall endlessly making the same mistakes. Criticism is not a truncheon but a gift that lets us lead a better life.

Sometimes people will mix nastiness with some genuine point/criticism/argument. Often if someone wants to hurt someone else, it is helpful for that goal to combine meanness and insults with some truth. That can be hard to deal with. Even in that case, though, you should try to separate out the criticism from the nastiness and deal with the criticism intellectually. Even if John had said his points in an aggressive and mean way, Mary should still try to separate out the criticism from the meanness and deal with it intellectually.

One reason to have this policy is you shouldn’t disregard what might be a good point just because it was delivered nastily. This is a bit like not judging a book by its cover.

Another reason to have such a policy is that misunderstandings about the intent and motives of other people in offering criticism are common. For example, people often interpret others as being mean when they are just a bit more blunt than is typical. Another issue is that people will think that if a problem was bad enough for another person to bring up, then the other person must think the problem is really bad, since most people avoid bringing up problems. But some people just have less of a filter than others on what they say. Because of differences in temperament and communication style, it is important not to throw out the criticism baby with the style-it-was-delivered-in bathwater because you (possibly wrongly) attribute a bad motive or intent to the person offering you the criticism.

Not Seeing a Way to Move Forward on the Criticism

It’s common that people are frustrated by criticism because they don’t see a way to act on it or move forward in their situation. For example, Mary might think that her natural temperament is just that of a party girl, that that is her essential nature and what makes her happy, and so John pointing out the problems resulting from such a lifestyle is just him pointing out stuff that she can’t change.

If Mary said those things, John might argue back that lots of people change their habits and activities in ways they wind up liking. He might say that she doesn’t have to give up the stuff she likes entirely to solve her immediate problem, but just moderate her spending some and do a bit less partying and be a bit more diligent at work. Maybe she could try that and see if she likes it?

Mary might shut down the discussion before John can ever get to the point of offering his arguments, though, by assuming John is offering his criticism in a bad faith attempt to hurt her. That is a way many discussions end. Presuming good faith and trying to get value even out of criticism offered in bad faith (like I talked about in the last section) can help. Another thing that can help is trying to be less emotionally reactive in general.

Taking Sides in a Disagreement With Part of Yourself

Another thing that may cause Mary to feel hurt is that she agrees with John and sees some problems with her lifestyle. Maybe she’s been through cycles of engaging in her irresponsible lifestyle and feeling guilty about it. John’s criticism triggered another “feeling guilty” cycle. She has some self-loathing about her life problems.

What’s going on here is that Mary has an internal disagreement she hasn’t resolved. She periodically takes one side of the disagreement (engaging in a lifestyle she has some doubts about or criticisms of). Then she periodically takes the other side in the disagreement (feeling bad about her lifestyle). She’s not rationally investigating the truth of the matter and trying to figure out a solution that will get all the parts of her own mind satisfied and happy. Instead, she’s just alternating which side of herself gets to be in charge. Like many unprincipled compromises, the result is a mess.

The Second World Wars Theme: Allied Capacities of Improvement, Production, Criticism Were Key

The Second World Wars Theme: Allied Capacities of Improvement, Production, Criticism Were Key

Quotes from Victor Davis Hanson’s book The Second World Wars on the role of improvement, criticism, and production to the allied victory

Improvement

Quote:

The pulse of the war also reflected another classical dictum: the winning side is the one that most rapidly learns from its mistakes, makes the necessary corrections, and most swiftly responds to new challenges—in the manner that land-power Sparta finally built a far better navy while the maritime Athenians never fielded an army clearly superior to its enemies, or the land-power Rome’s galleys finally became more effective than were the armies of the sea-power Carthage. The Anglo-Americans, for example, more quickly rectified flaws in their strategic bombing campaign—by employing longer-range fighter escorts, recalibrating targeting, integrating radar into air-defense networks, developing novel tactics, and producing more and better planes and crews—than did Germany in its bombing against Britain. America would add bombers and crews at a rate unimaginable for Germany. The result was that during six months of the Blitz (September 1940 to February 1941), the Luftwaffe, perhaps the best strategic bombing force in the world in late 1939 through mid-1940, dropped only thirty thousand tons of bombs on Britain. In contrast, in the half year between June and November 1944, Allied bombers dropped twenty times that tonnage on Germany.4

The same asymmetry was true at sea, especially in the Battle of the Atlantic. The Allied leadership made operational changes and technological improvements of surface ships and planes far more rapidly than could the U-boats of the Kriegsmarine. America adapted to repair and produce aircraft carriers and train new crews at a pace inconceivable in Japan. The Allies—including the Soviet Union on most occasions—usually avoided starting theater wars that ended in multiyear infantry quagmires. In contrast, Japan, Germany, and Italy respectively bogged down in China, the Soviet Union, and North Africa and the Balkans.

Criticism

Quote 1:

When Hitler unwisely chose to send the German army into the Soviet Union in June 1941, the flawed decision was considered by most German field marshals to be unassailable. In contrast, when Franklin Roosevelt equally unwisely had wished to land American armies on the western coast of France in 1943, many of his own civilian and military experts quickly tabled the idea through rational argument and overwhelming data concerning shortages in landing craft, insufficient air superiority, worries over U-boats, and lack of experience in amphibious operations. Roosevelt calmly gave in to advice; Hitler in tantrums threatened his advisors.12

Quote 2:

Since antiquity, democracies have at least had the advantage of incorporating a broader participation in decision-making that can aid even a dynamic leader. A Churchill or a Roosevelt knowingly accepted that they had to be more sensitive to the public perceptions of success or failure, and that they had to deal with a number of brilliant advisors and rivals who were not shy in pointing out their shortcomings. In other words, they had to earn political legitimacy and always faced the audit of a fairly free government and press—and a host of rivals who wanted their jobs. That reality meant that once controversial policies were announced—the primacy of the European front over the Pacific or the demand for the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers—it was hard for the people to complain later that their elected representatives acted without consent of the governed.

Production

Quote 1:

It did little good to unleash a veteran German grenadier, with over three years past experience on the Eastern Front, against an American soldier if he were first strafed or bombed, or went into battle hungry and without medical care, or found his supporting Panzers either burning or sitting on the side of the road out of gas. Postwar interviews with German soldiers may have revealed a far greater respect for individual Russian soldiers than for Americans, and Russians for Germans rather than American, on the understandable principle that the existential nature of war on the Eastern Front was far harsher than in the West. Yet what makes an army effective is not just the heroism or combat zeal of individual soldiers, but also the degree of assets—artillery barrages, air support, food, medicine, and supplies—at its disposal.8

The American emphasis was not so much on creating a fierce individual warrior, bound with strong ties of loyalty and honor to fellow men of arms (although the GI was often just that), as on making sure that he was supported with enough materiel, and acquired sufficient expertise, to defeat any adversary he faced, and to reassure him that he had a good chance to survive the conflict. The system rather than the man was what would win the war. It was in some ways a throwback to the first centuries BC and AD, when standardized and far better-equipped Roman legionaries near the Rhine and Danube occasionally tangled with Germanic tribes that put a much higher premium on individual warriors’ weapons prowess, courage, and skills, but usually lost.9

Quote 2:

THE GREATER PREWAR arming and mobilization of Germany and Japan, and to a lesser extent Italy, had given the Axis a head start over the Allies in air operations. They strafed and bombed mostly underprepared and nearby neighbors, creating overconfidence that soon led inevitably to laxity. Japan, for example, in 1939–1940 spent 72 percent of its entire annual budget on military expenditures. Germany produced more planes in the mid-1930s than either the United States or Great Britain. Even Japan built twice as many aircraft in 1939 as did America. Yet a far more massive Allied effort to match and surpass early Axis leads in both the quality and quantity of fighters and fighter-bombers had already achieved parity by the end of 1942 and clear superiority in transports, fighters, and bombers by late 1943. Again, the entire pulse of World War II mirror-imaged the relative production of and improvements in aircraft between 1939 and 1944.1
Italian and German aircraft deployed in the Spanish Civil War, and Japanese airplanes over Manchuria, were reportedly both superior and more numerous than those available to the Western democracies. German prewar air transportation was among the world’s best. Yet, quite ominously for the Axis, even by the end of 1940 Japan and Germany together still produced only 60 percent as many aircraft as did a neutral United States and a beleaguered Britain combined, a gap that would widen in 1941. Early border campaigns by Germany had misled the world into believing that the Luftwaffe’s initial edge in the number and quality of planes might be permanent, a reflection of intrinsic Nazi technological, industrial, or even ideological superiority. The ensuing air war over Britain and in Russia and the Mediterranean questioned all such notions by early 1941, and utterly refuted them by late 1942.2

Quote 3:

GERMANY AND JAPAN embraced revolutionary war planning by devoting record percentages of their military budgets to air power. Yet by war’s end Hitler was desperately searching for miracle air weapons like the V-1 and V-2 rockets and jet fighter-bombers, while the Japanese were resorting to kamikazes. This was the efflorescence of despair. Both the Germans and the Japanese conceded that it had become impossible to match American, British, and Russian conventional air fleets that had evolved to more sophisticated, and far more numerous, fighters and bombers.

The Axis regression was due to various reasons, some of which applied equally well to their eventual loss of early advantages in ships, armor, artillery, and infantry forces. Production counted. The air war was supposed to follow the pattern of many of the successful regional German and Japanese border conflicts of 1939 and 1940. Given these remarkable early successes and the inferior forces of their proximate enemies, there was less urgency to bring new fighters and bombers into mass production or to train new pilots or to study the quality and quantity of aircraft that America, Britain, or Russia was producing. Axis overconfidence was fed by ignorance of not only the aeronautical and manufacturing genius of British and American industry, but of Russian industrial savvy as well.

Take the superb Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter (33,000 built), which was partially superseded only by the Fw 190 (20,000 built). These were the two premier fighters that Germany relied on for most of the war. In contrast, in just four rather than six years of war, initial workmanlike American fighters such as the P-40 Warhawk were constantly updated or replaced by entirely new and superior models produced in always greater numbers. The premier American fighter of 1943, the reliable two-engine Lockheed P-38 Lightning (10,000 built) was improved upon by the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt (15,500 built). The excellent ground-support Thunderbolt fighter, in turn, was augmented by the even better-performing North American P-51 Mustang (15,000 built) that had been refitted with the superb British Rolls-Royce Merlin engine to become the best all-around fighter plane of the war. No fighter plane made a greater difference in the air war of World War II than did the Mustang, whose appearance in substantial numbers over Germany changed the entire complexion of strategic bombing. The idea that Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan might have collaborated to produce a hybrid super fighter, in the way that the British and the Americans coproduced the P-51, was unlikely.

At the same time, in the Pacific theater, initial Marine and carrier fighters like the Grumman F4F Wildcat (7,800 built) were replaced on carriers mostly by the Grumman F6F Hellcat (12,000 built) and on land by the Vought F4U Corsair (12,500 built). The Corsair had proved disappointing as an American carrier fighter, but the British, in the manner they had up-gunned the Sherman tank into a lethal “Firefly” and reworked the Mustang into the war’s top escort fighter, modified the Corsair to become a top-notch carrier fighter. Neither Germany nor Japan had any serious plans to bring out entirely new models of superior fighters built in larger numbers than their predecessors. After the war, Field Marshal Keitel admitted that the Third Reich had not just fallen behind in fighter production but in quality as well: “I am of the opinion that we were not able to compete with the Anglo-Americans as far as the fighter and bomber aircraft were concerned. We had dropped back in technological achievements. We had not preserved our technical superiority. We did not have a fighter with a sufficient radius.… I refuse to say that the Luftwaffe had deteriorated. I only feel that our means of fighting have not technically remained on the top.”27

Quote 4:

Even the size and quality of a fleet at the beginning of a war were not always predictive of naval success or failure. Far more critical was a sea power’s ability to expand, improve, and maintain fleets during the course of the war. The sixteenth-century Ottoman Empire usually had more ships in the Mediterranean than its archrival Venice, but it lacked the productive and innovative capacities of the Venetian Arsenal’s shipyards to turn out superior replacement galleys at a far greater rate. Sparta’s eventual maritime alliance of Corinthian, Spartan, and Syracusan triremes at times nearly matched the size of the Athenian fleet. But for decades—until the entrance of the wealthy Persian Empire on the side of Sparta—the Athenian navy could still construct far more triremes, more rapidly, and equipped with better crews than its aggregate enemies.11

Between 1939 and 1941, the German, Japanese, and Italian fleets in their entirety were already inferior to the combined British and American theater fleets. The margin would widen. The Axis powers had a fraction of the shipbuilding capability of the Allies. They also suffered from far less naval experience and were without sure supplies of oil. A Bismarck or Yamato might appear more impressive in 1941 than the Arizona or Pennsylvania. Yet the former capital ships were to be followed by just one more battleship of their class, whereas the latter were forerunners of an entire generation of ten fast modern battleships of the North Carolina, South Dakota, and Iowa classes to appear in 1941 through 1944 (North Carolina and Washington; South Dakota, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Alabama; Iowa, New Jersey, Missouri, and Wisconsin). All had plentiful oil and abundant air support and, most important, performed key roles as floating artillery in support of amphibious landings. Again, the survival of all battleships depended on which side had achieved naval air supremacy; after 1942 it was always the Allies.12

Quote 5:

The Allies accepted that it would be difficult immediately to train soldiers to Axis levels of operational competency, even if their far more experienced enemies might not continue to improve and upgrade their already fine weapons throughout the war. The obvious answer to the immediate dilemma, however, was to outproduce the Axis, both in terms of mobilizing manpower and materiel. For example, the Allies needed not necessarily to produce a tank superior to the superb German Mark V Panther (6,000 produced) or nearly unstoppable Mark VI Tiger (over 1,300). They had only to ensure that the number of effective T-34s (over 80,000 of all types produced) and less formidable M4 Sherman tanks (over 50,000 produced) were fielded in numbers that would engulf German armor.
By war’s end the Axis powers often matched or exceeded their Allied counterparts in terms of individual-weapon quality or technological breakthroughs: smaller arms such as the Sturmgewehr 44 (assault rifle) or Maschinengewehr 42 (light machine gun); jet fighters; high-performance piston-driven fighters such as the German Fw 190 or Japanese Nakajima Ki-84 Hayate; ballistic and cruise missiles; the so-called Fritz X radio-guided anti-ship smart bomb; snorkel-equipped submarines; Yamato-class battleships; and the Japanese Type 93 torpedo. Yet such Axis weapons were either produced in too few numbers or used by too few soldiers ultimately to affect the course of the war, or simply were not mechanically reliable or economically feasible to employ. The snorkel, the designs of the Type XXI U-boat, and the hydrogen-peroxide gas turbine engine were all known to be practicable by the late 1930s, yet either did not translate into new weapons until 1943–1944 or were never implemented at all, given German inability to marry technological genius with rapid practical production. Sometimes Allied bombers derailed Axis breakthroughs—such as the serial massive British and American bombing raids on the Peenemünde testing and production site of V-2 ballistic missiles—in a way not matched by the German or Japanese air forces.2
Initially well-trained and well-armed Axis soldiers by 1944 were outnumbered by the Allies, not just by ratios of two- or three-to-one, but more likely four- or five-to-one, and even more in terms of planes, vehicles, guns, and ships. Military analysts, often citing quite specific quantitative data, have suggested that to overcome such numerical and material disadvantages, an armed force must perform at correspondingly far greater rates of qualitative effectiveness. Perhaps that canon explains why the Wehrmacht on Eastern Front battlefields may have killed three Red Army soldiers for each German it lost in battle, but nevertheless was crushed in less than four years.3

Quote 6:

THERE WERE QUITE astonishing imbalances in military production by 1944, even as the Third Reich went from devoting about 25 percent of its resources to the war effort in 1939 to committing 75 percent of a larger GDP by 1944. Yet even an improved German military economy still could not match the growing Allied advantages. The Soviet Union alone produced more tanks and artillery platforms than all three Axis powers combined. If Britain had once been considered outmanned and outclassed by Hitler’s Third Reich, which had taken control over much of what we now know as the European Union, the British and their empire still produced more airplanes of all categories (177,000) and artillery pieces (226,000) than did Germany (133,000 and 73,000). In terms of shipbuilding, Great Britain and its Dominions far outpaced the combined German production of surface ships and submarines. Even the British prewar economy of 1939, at least in terms of per capita GDP, had been more productive than Germany’s, and it had begun to rival the Third Reich in actual GDP. In fact, many scholars believe that while prewar German and British manufacturing might have been roughly equal in terms of productivity, the hugely inefficient German farming sector meant that overall the British economy was far more efficient.

Quote 7:

Even more astonishing, the British fleet—the largest in the world in 1939—saw more surface and merchant ships added during the war, including battleships and carriers, than the entire naval production of the three major Axis powers. Hitler never appreciated the fact that the British Navy ensured that the huge natural resources of the empire—especially from Australia and Canada, and the oil of the Middle East—were integrated with British production, albeit with the important qualifier that such sources of British supplies were largely immune from German bombs and rockets.

Japan—which was not much damaged by American bombing until March 1945—built an incredible sixteen aircraft carriers (of all sizes and categories, from fleet to escort and light) during the war. That was an amazing achievement until compared with more than the 150 light, escort, and fleet carriers that the United States deployed during the same period. More impressive was the constant improvement in Allied maritime production. With new methods of prefabrication of parts and assembly-line production, industrialist Henry Kaiser’s shipyards were able to cut the construction time of ten-thousand-ton Liberty merchant ships from about 230 days to 24. Over 2,700 Liberty and over five hundred larger, better-designed, and faster Victory ships were built, ensuring that the US merchant fleet grew at a far greater rate than German U-boats could diminish it.

In 1942, it took about 54,800 man-hours to build a B-17, a bomber that had been in production since 1937. But just two years later, only 18,600 man-hours were required. A similarly astonishing decrease in labor was true for the gargantuan and complex B-29 bomber. The thousandth bomber to roll off the production line required half the man-hours to build as the four hundredth. No Axis power came close to such stepped-up productivity—all the more wondrous given that between 1941 and 1944 US labor earnings had increased 50 percent even as labor costs dived by two-thirds.15

Because the Third Reich mobilized almost as many combatants (at least 10 million in active service by 1944) as did the United States (and a far larger percentage of its population than was true of either America or the Soviet Union), and because it was some fifty-five million persons smaller, Germany quickly found itself short of laborers. Almost immediately after entering Russia, the Third Reich was forced to conscript workers from occupied Western Europe and slave laborers from the Eastern Front to make up for vast new drafts into the military of able-bodied German factory workers. Companies like Daimler-Benz and BMW vastly expanded their workforces, replacing skilled German laborers who were drafted into the army with conscripted foreign workers, until eventually foreigners made up about half their workforce, which was ironic, given that the war had turned topsy-turvy the Third Reich’s loud agenda of cleansing so-called non-Aryan Untermenschen from German soil. None of these efforts matched Allied levels of productivity, however.16

Fake News Example: Framing of a Poll

Newsweek ran a headline:

54 Percent of Americans Think Burning Down Minneapolis Police Precinct Was Justified After George Floyd’s Death

This is a complete lie and political propaganda.

You can read the poll questions yourself. I’ve pasted the questions and results below:

B7.Have you heard about the protests across the country, including the burning of a police precinct in Minneapolis, in reaction to a recent incident where a black man died when a police officer kneeled on his neck, or have you not heard about this?

B7A. Given what happened, do you think the actions of the protestors were fully justified, partially justified, or not at all justified?

Note that Newsweek has combined the smaller “fully justified” response (17%) with the larger “partially justified” response (37%) in order to make their claim about people thinking burning the police station being justified. This is ridiculous, because a totally valid reason to say you think the protestors were “partially justified” is that you think they are justified in protesting and being angry but not in burning down things like police stations.

There’s no clarity provided about what something like “partial” justification means here. One interpretation is that all the actions of the protestors had some partial justification. Another interpretation is that some of the actions of the protestors were justified, but some were not. The poll question does not discriminate between these two alternatives.

Note that question B7A frames the justification specifically in terms of “the actions of the protestors”. It’s referring to a variety of actions, only one of which is the police station burning. It’s not isolating the police station incident and asking people’s opinions about it, so it’s ludicrous to act as if that’s what the poll was about.

Note that the police station is referenced in a previous question from B7A, and that the poll was conducted by phone, and not given as something written out for people to reply to at their leisure. People might be in the middle of something and not carefully keeping track of or parsing these questions, and might not be keeping the police station burning directly in mind when replying to the next question.

A better poll question for actually figuring out what people really think about the burning of the police station would ask a simple, direct, yes/no question about that one incident, instead of talking vaguely about “actions” and bringing up complications like whether people were partially justified. Such a poll question was actually asked in a different poll:

  1. Do you feel the burning down of the Minneapolis police station was a justified form of protest?
    Yes
    No
    Unsure
    I haven’t heard of this incident

The results?

In the instance of a Minneapolis police precinct being burned down, 65% believe this was not a justified form of protest, 22% believe it was, 9% were unsure, and 4% had not heard of the incident.

Note that 22% is pretty close to the 17% that thought the actions of the protestors were “fully justified” in the other poll.