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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Authoritarians and Totalitarians Reviewing Altemeyer's book

Value of Reading Altemeyer and Arendt

If you are going to read The Authoritarians by Altemeyer then you you may as well skp to reading it before reading this post. But if you are time pressed, you might want to skim this article. I've tried to summarize a few basic points.

Key point is:

"ultimately, in a democracy, a wannabe tyrant is just a comical figure on a soapbox unless a huge wave of supporters lifts him to high office. That’s how Adolf Hitler destroyed the Weimar Republic and became the Fuhrer. So we need to understand the people out there doing the wave. Ultimately the problem lay in the followers."

The Cons get away with what they do because there are so many Authoritarian Followers willing to lift them up.

When we discussed yesterday's blog The Dictator behind/in front of the mob" Bob Altemeyer's name came up.

Bob Altemeyer shared a book called The authoritarians "The Authoritarians" several years ago.

I recommend people read it. And I remember reading it and taking the test it recommends. It describes the authoritarian mindset and follows on years of work by social scientists to study authoritarian behavior starting with folks trying to understand Hitler and his minions. Altemeyer focuses on Authoritarianism, which is one of the attributes that produces tyranny. Totalitarianism is produced by conditions of tyranny, authoritarianism and a level of ruthlessness and ideological absolutism that take authoritarian tyranny to new levels of total control. Totalitarian ideology can be left or right, but the people involved share certain traits. Authoritarianism is by it's nature "right wing" in attitude. Communist countries could be right wing despite holding left wing ideology because the authorities had become communist. This authoritarianism of leadership and followers combined with the tools needed to make it total authority produce totalitarianism.

Part of a constellation of literature on Authoritarianism

A lot of this follows more literature based studies such as those by Hannah Arendt who wrote "The Origins of Totalitarianism" years ago and experimental data gathered by a number of researchers including Sidanious and Pratt and McFarland. I have a physical copy of "The Origins of Totalitarianism" that my wife bought years ago and that I started reading more than 9 years ago and have referred to periodically since. Hannah Arendt's work was the more universal because she pretty much explains how the authoritarian mindset produces totalitarian governments. But tonight I'm reviewing Altemeyer's "The Authoritarians"

Right Wing behavior is predictable

Altemeyer explains how that can be in his book:

"Psychologically these followers have personalities featuring:
1) a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society;
2) high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities;
3) and a high level of conventionalism."

"Because the submission occurs to traditional authority, I call these followers rightwing authoritarians. I’m using the word “right” in one of its earliest meanings, for in Old English “riht”(pronounced “writ”) as an adjective meant lawful, proper, correct, doing what the authorities said. (And when someone did the lawful thing back then, maybe the authorities said, with a John Wayne drawl, “You got that riht, pilgrim!”)" [Altemeyer]

So the authoritarian mindset is the same whatever the political system. It reifies (valuates) authority, and deprecates even the potential for error of legitimate authority. It is also resistant to changes in authority that challenge the established authority. It also has testable attributes and he found high "RWA" test scores in the USA among both Right Wing believers and Christian fundamentalists.

And they also found that they tended to be "in the closet about the beliefs they were most adamant about. Their assertions of faith were in spite of doubts about that faith. He writes:

"I have then, at a later date, asked my students to let their Hidden Observers answer a question about the existence of God. “Does this person (that is, you) have doubts that (s)he was created by an Almighty God who will judge each person and take some into heaven for eternity while casting others into hell forever?” A third of the high RWA students checked off an alternative that read, “Yes, (s)he has secret doubts which (s)he has kept strictly to herself/himself that this is really true.” Another twenty percent said they had such doubts, but at least one other person knew about them. That adds up to most of the highly authoritarian students." [Altemeyer page 139]

As I've observed myself over time based on anecdote and personal encounters. Authoritarian views are asserted in spite of secret doubts, evidence to the contrary, or even personal experience. The conservative mindset won't even change their minds on most subjects at all unless they have a personal transformative experience (such as a son or daughter coming out of the closet for gay rights). And many of them are closet cases, repressing their own thoughts about God, sexual subjects, or other things they've accepted on authority. As Altemeyer notes, they one sided search for justifications for what they accepted on authority don't produce a satisfactory argument even for themselves and:

"The doubts remain, but are enormously covered up." [p 139]

Hence my calling them "closet cases." Essentially they keep their faith at the expense of fearing that they themselves are secretly liars.

Since his study there have been other studies that have linked authoritarianism to trauma, fear, and resulting anger. Hence the behavior he describes:

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.

And he also presented a list of RWA associated traits later in his book (chapter 3) that are produced by drawing beliefs from authority:

1. Illogical Thinking, which makes sense if you are told to believe 2 + 2 = 5 if your authority figure says it is.
2. Highly Compartmentalized Minds, this too could be a reaction to trauma and cognitive dissonance.
3. Double Standards -- which comes from having to rationalize real world decisions.
4. Hypocrisy
5. Blindness To Themselves
6. A Profound Ethnocentrism [chapter 3]
7. Dogmatism: The Authoritarian’s Last Ditch Defense

People are submissive when they are afraid. Hence it's no surprise that he notes the reaction to Gays and blacks among people with high RWA scores:

"It reminds me of the reaction of many high RWAs when homosexuals began to come out: “Don’t these people know they’re supposed to be ashamed of what they are?” That in turn reminded me of the reaction of many White supremists to the civil rights movement: “Don’t these n------ know they’re inferior and should never be treated as our equals?”"

Is probably an expression of that fear. In the Buddhist 3000 World theory developed over 1000 years ago this kind of behavior was identified with the "world of animality" which was often described as an actual place. It's also a combination of shaming behavior and feeling shamed about what is not conventional.

Recent studies show this is wired behavior:

Right Wing Authoritarian Dominators

But what is scary are the Right Wing Authoritarian "dominators". The traits involved map to sociopathy. People leading (or trying to lead) authoritarian movements tend to score high on Social Dominance tests as well as the RWA test. For example Altemeyer notes that folks with High Social Dominance Scores and High RWA scores would likely agree with the following three statements:

"This country would be better off if we cared less about how equal all people are.
Some groups of people are simply not the equals of others.
Some people are just more worthy than others.

...coming out foursquare against equality. In turn, [they would] disagree with:

If people were treated more equally, we would have fewer problems in this country.
We should try to treat one another as equals as much as possible.
Increased social equality."

So if you add "social dominance" traits, essentially the desire to be a "wolf among the sheep", a "king", to have power and wealth, coupled with the kind of ruthlessness needed to produce such dominance. People with high "Social Dominance" plus high CSA scores tend to be the ones who become the Authoritarian leaders.

"Felicia Pratto of the University of Connecticut and Jim Sidanius at UCLA presented the test in 1994 as a measure of belief in social inequality. Whereupon Sam McFarland at the University of Western Kentucky used their scale and twenty-one others in a magnificent “pitting experiment”aimed at finding the best predictors of prejudice. He discovered that only two of the 22 tests he threw “into the pit” to fight it out could predict prejudice at all well: the Social Dominance Orientation scale, and the RWA scale." [Altemeyer]

So social prejudice goes with Authoritarian traits and tends to be strongest among those with strong social dominance scores.

Altemeyer was able to repeat McFarland's test and replicate the results:

"Generally, the Social Dominance scale predicted such unfairness better than the RWA scale did"

Indeed he showed how the tests were identifying clumps of behavior. Those with high Social Dominance & RWA scores tended to be more prejudiced and authoritarian leaders. Those with low social dominance scores but high RWA scores tended to become the followers:

"That’s why the two tests could predict so much together: each was identifying a different clump of prejudiced persons--sort of like, “You round up the folks in the white sheets over there, and I’ll get the pious bigots over here.” So it looks like most really prejudiced people come in just two flavors: social dominators and high RWAs. Since dominators long to control others and be authoritarian dictators, and high RWAs yearn to follow such leaders, most social prejudice was therefore connected to authoritarianism" [Altemeyer]

And he notes that their political social views are usually compatible:

"Social dominators and high RWAs have several other things in common besides prejudice. They both tend to have conservative economic philosophies--although this happens much more often among the dominators than it does among the “social conservatives”--and they both favor right-wing political parties. If a dominator and a follower meet for the first time in a coffee shop and chat about African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Jews, Arabs, homosexuals, women’s rights, free enterprise, unions leaders, government waste, rampant socialism, the United Nations, and which political party to support in the next election, they are apt to find themselves in pleasant, virtual non-stop agreement." [Altemeyer]

But Altemeyer notes huge differences in:

(1) "their desire for power,
(2) their religiousness,
(3) the roots of their aggression, and
(4) their thinking processes"

Desire for Power

The Will for Power is in the Social Dominators not their followers: "Social dominators in each of two studies I ran wanted to have much more than most people did. Authoritarian followers did not." So much so that some investigators called the tests "power mad" tests:

"But social dominators will run to take their chances on that slippery slope. They thrill to power in and of itself. They want to control others, period." [p 163-164]

And he concludes:

"High scorers are inclined to be intimidating, ruthless, and vengeful They scorn such noble acts as helping others, and being kind, charitable, and forgiving. Instead they would rather be feared than loved, and be viewed as mean, pitiless, and vengeful. They love power, including the power to hurt in their drive to the top. Authoritarian followers do not feel this way because they seldom have such a drive to start with"

In short the Social Dominators are wannabe tyrants. Whatever they may tell the general audience. This is how they score on tests when they think no one is looking. He also presents a list of attributes:

High demand for followers to be loyal, little loyalty to followers.
Little empathy

Roots of Aggression

RWA Followers act out of misguided loyalty:

"high RWAs are especially likely to aggress when they feel established authority approves of the aggression, when they are afraid, and because they are self-righteous. Since the Bible condemns homosexuality in several places, and “giving” rights to homosexuals seems to right-wing authoritarians yet another nail in the coffin of moral society, aggression against homosexuals is aroused and blessed. Similarly high RWAs are more likely than social dominators to impose stiff sentences in the Trials situation, and more likely to help the government persecute radicals when it’s time to round up a “posse.”"

And of course their social dominant leaders aggress for different reasons:

"unlike high RWAs who fear an explosion of lawlessness, they already live in the jungle that authoritarian followers fear is coming, and they’re going to do the eating. They do not ask themselves, when they meet someone, “Is there any reason why I should try to control this person?” so much as they ask, “Is there any reason why I should not try to gain the upper hand."

To the Social Dominators:

"Dominance is the first order of business with them in a relationship, like dogs encountering each other in a school yard, and vulnerable minorities provide easy targets for exerting power, for being mean, for domination. It’s an open question whether the aggression mainly serves a desire to dominate, or if the domination mainly serves a desire to hurt others. But either way in the dog-eat dog world of the social dominator, they’re out to claw their way to the top."

Thus you get the incongruity of leaders who wage war against Darwin's teachings while preaching social darwinism. For dominant types, basically alphas, what really matters is the social hierarchy and everything (& everyone) else is a tool needed to claw one's way to wealth, fortune, fame and power. And so they aggress when they feel challenged.


His research confirms what many of us observe anecdotally:

"High RWAs, we know, strongly tend to be religious fundamentalists. Social dominators do not. In fact, like most people in my samples, most dominators only go to church for marrying and burying. This would be “Three strikes and ye’re out” as far as the religiously ethnocentric high RWAs are concerned except for one thing. Dominators can easily pretend to be religious, saying the right words and claiming a deep personal belief and, as we saw in chapter 3, gullible right-wing authoritarians will go out on almost any limb, walk almost any plank to believe them."

He even created a scale for them:

"So some non-religious dominators, as part of the act, do go to church regularly, for manipulative reasons. This amounts to lying, but I hope you don’t think social dominators would never, ever, ever, tell a lie. Here are the items from another measure I’ve concocted, called the Exploitive Manipulative Amoral Dishonesty (“Exploitive- MAD”) scale. Again, high social dominators’ responses, compared with others, really open your eyes."

Which explains why so many RW leaders are Ayn Rand followers (who was an atheist) and try to reconcile the two.



Exploitive Manipulative Amoral Dishonesty Scale

actually measures sociopathy. And they score high in hostile and sociopathic traits as well. In anonymous testing they admit they are ruthless:

"Social dominators thus admit, anonymously, to striving to manipulate others, and to being dishonest, two-faced, treacherous, and amoral. It’s as if someone took the Scout Law (“A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, ...”) and turned it completely upside down: “A ‘winner’ is deceitful, manipulative, unfair, base, conniving, ...”"

And these studies bear out why I call the "Social Dominator" so-called conservatives "Cons" because:

"followers may feel admiration bordering on adoration of their leaders, we should not be surprised if the leaders feel a certain contempt for their followers. They are the suckers, the “marks,” the fools social dominators find so easy to manipulate."

Cons... and we are the “marks

The RWA followers may fear the Zombie Apocalypse or the end times. But the Cons don't:

"Dominators aren’t usually afraid that civilization might collapse and lawlessness ensue. Laws, they think, are not something you should necessarily obey in the first place, so much as things you should not get caught disobeying. And as for self-righteousness, it’s pretty irrelevant to people as amoral as most social dominators tend to be. They may speak of the righteousness of their cause, but that’s usually just to assure and motivate their followers. Might makes right for social dominators."

A few years ago the Dominionists were advancing the theory that Con leadership could engage in lawless acts on the example of King David. For them King David's misdeeds showed that a person "doing God's work" could literally get away with murder. But the exegesis is just a balloon floated because most Cons walk a fine line between their own secret amoral and immoral beliefs and what they preach to the RWA followers. They aren't crazy or stupid (most of them) but just incredibly ruthless:

"Persons who score highly on the Social Dominance scale do not usually have all the nooks and crannies, contradictions and lost files in their mental life that we find in high RWAs. Most of them do not show weak reasoning abilities, highly compartmentalized thinking, and certainly not a tendency to trust people who tell them what they want to hear. They’ve got their head together. Nor are most of them dogmatic or particularly zealous about any cause or philosophy. You have to believe in something to be dogmatic and zealous, and what social dominators apparently believe in most is not some creed or cause, but gaining power by any means fair or foul."

High Functioning Sociopaths

Just high functioning sociopaths:

"They are quite capable of saying whatever will get them ahead. After all, they hold that there’s no such thing as “right” and “wrong.” It all boils down to what you can get away with. And one of the most useful skills a person should develop, they say, is how to look someone straight in the eye and lie convincingly."

And if they thought the way to power was to appear to be liberal. I suspect many of them would preach liberal beliefs on the pulpit. They just have latched onto folks they know can be manipulated easily.

And they give reasons for their belief in inequality that are familiar to all of us:

"What reasons do dominators give for giving equality short-shrift? Well, they say, ultimately complete equality is a pipe dream. Natural forces inevitably govern the worth of the individual. And people should have to earn their places in society, not get any free rides. All that society is obliged to do, if fairness is an issue, is provide a level playing field. The poor can pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they really want to. Lots of people have, haven’t they?"

What creates Cons

And what makes social dominators a bit worrisome is that their public act is just an act. At least most of their followers learned their beliefs from Mom and Dad. But what makes them that way is that society rewards them for acting that way:

"future dominator was rewarded earlier in life when he cheated, took advantage of others, made people afraid of him, overpowered others, got away with doing something wrong, or beat somebody to the punch. All of these actions may in turn have been predicated by a “tooth and claw” outlook that he learned from (say) his parents. Or that outlook may just serve as a rationalization for being amoral, unsympathetic, and exploitive because acting this way often pays off. Psychologists talk about the “Law of Effect,” which says you learn to do what works. Being unscrupulous works for social dominators."

But he doesn't believe they learn this from their parents consistently as he saw "little correlation" between parents scores and those of their children. These traits emerge. And the book concludes by talking about "Double Highs" -- folks who scored high on both the RWA test and the Social Dominance test. These were the "worst of the Lot."

He quotes Jimmy Carter:

"Ex-president Jimmy Carter, in describing the fundamentalist movements that have taken control of the Republican Party, recently wrote, “Almost invariably, fundamentalist movements are led by authoritarian males who consider themselves to be superior to others and, within religious groups, have an overwhelming commitment to subjugate women and to dominate their fellow believers.”"

And the author concludes his book with a list of warnings and remedies. Because these two kinds of authoritarians are not going away with Obama's Presidency, but are on the warpath and are now in both houses of congress. The social dominators can pretend to be "moderates" gravitate as much to business governorships as to legislative and executive government. And seem to have the upper hand right now. I'd suggest anyone who has waded through my summary should now go on and read Altemeyer's book:

The Authoritarians by Altemeyer

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