Authoritarians have the potential to destroy the world. If you ask me, they've already made too much progress. I've spent hours and hours going over my life trying to figure out why my father is one. Barely got to the bottom of that when George W. Bush was elected. Holy moly, is a liberal's work never done?
George W. Bush is an authoritarian. So is Dick Cheney. And Donald Rumsfeld, and about everybody tapped to serve in shrub's misadministration. So is George Will, Roger Ailes, Tucker Carlson, Victoria Toensing, Rush Limbaugh, the third grade teacher that made you color in black and white, and that dreadful babysitter who came to your house packing a big stick and a copy of "Rules of Engagement."
Miserable folks. And they make the world pay. The serious questions are:
1). How do people become authoritarians?
2). Why do authoritarians act the way they do?
3). What can we do about it?
Follow me over the hump -- but I'm not ordering you to, or anything.
You got questions. Bob Altemeyer has answers. His is the brain John Dean picked as he conducted research for "Conservatives Without Conscience." An assistant professor in psychology at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Altemeyer has done extensive social scientific research on the authoritarian personality.
Altemeyer has written a book called "The Authoritarians" that you are invited to read online, for free, starting now.
Kossack abbeysbooks has organized a series of diaries on the book, culminating in a totally cool, anti-authoritarian, everybody-is-welcome March 24 "kosversation" when Bob Altemeyer and John Dean will be with us to discuss authoritarianism (exemplified by those people I mentioned before) and its discontents (that'd be us, folks).
Here's the scoop: we need this information. You can't slay the beast you don't understand. I devoured chapters 1 and 2 of the book Friday night -- best damn read, amazing insights, and Altemeyer is funny, too. Abbeysbooks asked me to post this diary for Saturday so more of us have the details and get involved.
Altemeyer has put the book online (instead of publishing for money) to help us fight the good fight. He thinks the growth of authoritarianism is downright dangerous.
Don’t think for a minute this doesn’t concern you personally. Let me ask you, as we’re passing the time here, how many ordinary people do you think an evil authority would have to order to kill you before he found someone who would, unjustly, out of sheer obedience, just because the authority said to? What sort of person is most likely to follow such an order? What kind of official is most likely to give that order, if it suited his purposes? Look at what experiments tell us, as I did.
Whoa, baby. You had me at kill.
In Chapter 2, Altemeyer examines the various theories about the authoritarian personality. Forget Freud and parent-hatred -- and you don't have to worry that you'll turn into a clone of Brit Hume someday because your parents spanked you a few times.
What's one of the biggest indicators for authoritarianism? You are going to love this -- it makes perfect sense -- F E A R. Ring any bells?
High RWAs [right wing authoritarians] are, in general, more afraid than most people are. They got a "2 for 1 Special Deal" on fear somehow. Maybe they’ve inherited genes that incline them to fret and tremble. Maybe not. But we do know that they were raised by their parents to be afraid of others, because both the parents and their children tell us so. Sometimes it’s all rather predictable: authoritarians’ parents taught fear of homosexuals, radicals, atheists and pornographers. But they also warned their children, more than most parents did, about kidnappers, reckless drivers, bullies and drunks--bad guys who would seem to threaten everyone’s children. So authoritarian followers, when growing up, probably lived in a scarier world than most kids do, with a lot more boogeymen hiding in dark places, and they’re still scared as adults. For them, gay marriage is not just unthinkable on religious grounds, and unnerving because it means making the "abnormal" acceptable. It’s yet one more sign that perversion is corrupting society from the inside-out, leading to total chaos. Many things, from stem cell research to right-to-die legislation, say to them, "This is the last straw; soon we’ll be plunged into the abyss." So probably did, in earlier times, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, sex education and Sunday shopping.
What's worse than plain old fear? Add a dollop of righteousness and you have a real problem on your hands:
How good, how moral are you, compared to other people? (You get to say what is "good" and "moral.") As I mentioned in chapter 1, if you’re an average human being, you’ll think you’re a better than average human being. Almost everybody thinks she’s more moral than most. But high RWAs typically think they’re way, way better. They are the Holy Ones. They are the Chosen. They are the Righteous. They somehow got a three-for-one special on self-righteousness. And self-righteousness appears to release authoritarian aggression more than anything else.
Chronically frightened authoritarian followers, looking for someone to attack because fighting is one of the things people do when they are afraid, are particularly likely to do so when they can find a moral justification for their hostility.
Altemeyer has done research for years, surveying students and adults on a variety of issues related to authoritarian personality, attitudes, background, development, mitigation, and more. As a dKos devotee, you probably won't be surprised when you come upon this nugget: education and experience can change a person a lot. That is, if the fearful and sequestered high school graduate isn't sent to a bible college near home.
Those who go to a fundamentalist Bible college featuring a church-related curriculum, taught by a church-selected faculty to a mainly High RWA student body that lives in men’s dorms and women’s dorms separated by a moat with alligators in it, will probably graduate about as authoritarian as they were when they went in. If, however, they go to a different kind of school, their education may well lower their authoritarianism.
I teach at the "big state university" in my province, and over the four years of an undergraduate program at the University of Manitoba students’ RWA scale scores drop about 10%. Liberal arts majors drop more than that, "applied" majors such as management and nursing drop less. But the students who drop the most, no matter what they major in, are those who laid down high RWA scale scores when they first came in the front door. If Hugh goes to a big university like the one that has graciously
deposited money into my bank account over the past forty years, he’s likely to come out changed. Not overhauled but still, different.
High RWA parents may anticipate this and try to send their kids to "safe" colleges. They may also blame the faculty at the public university for "messing up the Jones kid so badly." But as much as some of the profs might like to take credit for it, I think the faculty usually has little to do with the 10% drop. Instead, I think when High RWA students get to a big university whose catchment area is the world, and especially if it’s located some distance from mom and dad, they simply begin to meet all kinds of new people and begin to have some of the experiences that most of their classmates had some years earlier.
The drop does not come from reading Marx in Political Science or from the philosophy prof who wears his atheism as a badge. These attempts at influence can be easily dismissed by the well-inoculated high RWA student. It probably comes more from the late night bull-sessions, where you have to defend your ideas, not just silently reject the prof’s, and other activities that take place in the dorms.
I'm quoting liberally, but since the book is free online, I don't think I'm breaking any rules. You have to go read it all, for yourself, and learn more about the kinds of people who want to remake the world in their image -- even if they have to grind us (and everyone else who disagrees with them) into the ever-loving dust.
OK, now. Get over to the site (link repeated right below) or abbeysbooks will think I did a lousy job helping her get this info out. All kudos to abbeysbooks for this worthwhile dKos project.
For more details on this dKos book reading project, check out abbeysbooks diaries at http://www.dailykos.com/... You can find her synopsis of chapter 1 here.
Why does understanding authoritarianism matter?
From Glenn Greenwald:
A lynch mob is created which seeks not the truth of what happened, but the destruction of the movement's enemies. "Conservative" rank-and-file, confining themselves to an echo chamber, embrace the allegations instinctively, because they are made by the movement's defenders against the movement's enemies. And their allegiance to their movement and a desire to destroy their opponents overrides any concern for proportionality or truth.
From John Dean:
Authoritarianism's impact on contemporary conservatism is beyond question. Because this impact is still growing and has troubling (if not actually evil) implications, I hope that social scientists will begin to write about this issue for general readers. It is long past time to bring the telling results of their empirical work into the public square and to the attention of American voters. No less than the health of our democracy may depend on this being done. We need to stop thinking we are dealing with traditional conservatives on the modern stage, and instead recognize that they've often been supplanted by authoritarians.