Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Peril of the Authoritarian Mind

"They would march America into a dictatorship and probably feel that things had improved as a result.... And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told. They are not going to let up and they are not going away."

- Robert Altemeyer, "The Authoritarians" 

There was a time when fundamentalists were considered quirky types who assembled in their covens on Sundays in their Sunday-Go-to-Meetin' clothes for a dose of Revivalism.   That was, of course, before they began their rise to the top levels of political power.

Our own Stephen Harper is a fundamentalist and there's a sprinkling of like-minded in his caucus.   Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think there are a lot of fundamentalists in the Liberal or NDP ranks.

There's an interesting essay in AlterNet on the rise of authoritarianism in politics and the role fundamentalism plays in that.   Mike Lofgren, a former Republican Senate Congressional staffer, seeks to explain why right-wingers have so little compassion.   Lofgren says that, to make sense of them, we must  "leave conventional political theory and enter the realm of psychopathology."   He notes how today's right wingers are driven by religious fundamentalists who make up 40 per cent of  Republican voters.  Lofgren claims this hard-core base welcomes authoritarianism.

"An observer of the right-wing phenomenon must explain the paradox of followers who would escape from freedom even as they incessantly invoke the word freedom as if it were a mantra. But freedom so defined does not mean ordinary civil liberties like the prohibition of illegal government search and seizure, the right of due process, or the right not to be tortured. The hard right has never protested the de facto abrogation of much of the Bill of Rights during the last decade. In the right-wing id, freedom is the emotional release that a hostile and psychologically repressed person feels when he is finally able to lash out at the objects of his resentment. Freedom is his prerogative to rid himself of people who are different, or who unsettle him. Freedom is merging into a like-minded herd. Right-wing alchemy transforms freedom into authoritarianism."

Lofgren cites Canadian psychologist Bob Altemeyer's study of fundamentalism and the far right from the book "The Authoritarians".
"They are highly submissive to established authority, aggressive in the name of that authority and conventional to the point of insisting everyone should behave as their authorities decide. They are fearful and self-righteous and have a lot of hostility in them that they readily direct toward various out-groups. They are easily incited, easily led, rather un-inclined to think for themselves, largely impervious to facts and reason and rely instead on social support to maintain their beliefs. They bring strong loyalty to their in-groups, have thick-walled, highly compartmentalized minds, use a lot of double standards in their judgments, are surprisingly unprincipled at times and are often hypocrites.

"...Probably about 20 to 25 percent of the adult American population is so right-wing authoritarian, so scared, so self-righteous, so ill-informed, so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds."

In politics today where winning or losing is commonly a difference of a few percent of the overall vote, this minority is easily large enough to swing elections.   As John McCain learned, if you're not saying what they need to hear, they'll just stay home on voting day.  It's an object lesson powerfully understood by those riding the clown car in the Republican presidential race today.

As progressives, we need to start taking heed of fundamentalist authoritarianism and its practice within the ranks of our government and institutions.   Steve Harper rides this bus.   His authoritarian instincts are at the very core of his administration and erupt like pustules at the mention of reproductive rights or capital punishment.  Steve is a shrewd bugger, an accomplished dissembler and concealer.  He knows to drive Canada into his corral he must move incrementally because small steps invariably appear less threatening than seismic shifts.  But he and his are radicals and they are authoritarians and "nothing you can say or do will change their minds."

By the way, if you would like to plumb the depths of your inner fascist instincts, there's a fun test here.


thwap said...

Nothing we say or do will change their minds.

But we'll still explain ourselves to everyone else. We just won't lower ourselves to appeal to the troglodytes.

Just push them the fuck out of our way.

The Mound of Sound said...

The Bush/Cheney era was a powerful demonstration of the effectiveness of fear as a weapon authoritarians can use against their own supporters. Fear, paranoia, suspicion and anger are easy to instil and maintain in submissives. It seems akin to sado-masochism.

That today's right has become psychotic should be obvious. I wrote about their flight from reality three years ago.

Look at how relentlessly Harper has played on the mental infirmities of his supporters. Conservative voters don't knock down Harper's straw men, they invite them to dinner.

Anyong said...

Now ain's that the T R U T H H H H!!