Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How Evil Are You - Redux? How Much Do YOU Question Authority? Enough?

We've been writing here off and on about the effects of hate speech and incitements to violence.  That most of us do NOT question authority enough was evidenced by the recreation of many of the aspects of the 1961Milgram experiments.  In  2009:

We haven't changed: 2011.

When you factor in that there is a predisposition on the right to authoritariansim, this takes on an even darker significance.  It is the lens through which we should be viewing right wing smear media.

Right-wing authoritarianism
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) is a personality and ideological variable studied in political, social, and personality psychology. It is defined by three attitudinal and behavioral clusters which correlate together:[1][2]

Authoritarian submission — a high degree of submissiveness to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives.
Authoritarian aggression — a general aggressiveness directed against deviants, outgroups, and other people that are perceived to be targets according to established authorities.
Conventionalism — a high degree of adherence to the traditions and social norms that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities, and a belief that others in one's society should also be required to adhere to these norms.[3]

The terminology of authoritarianism, right-wing authoritarianism, and authoritarian personality tend to be used interchangeably by psychologists, though inclusion of the term "personality" may indicate a psychodynamic interpretation consistent with the original formulation of the theory.
So, is it fair, accurate, objective to  assert Right Wing Authoritarianism applies broadly to members of the political and cultural right -- but not the left? Yes!

The 'Altemyer' referred to here is Canadian researcher Robert Altemeyer, who did the original extensive research that resulted in what we now call Right Wing Authoritarianism.

from Right Wing Authoritariansim and Conservative Identity Politics:
What About Leftwing Authoritarianism?
Altemeyer went looking for it.  He didn't find it.  He didn't find anyone who scored over 50% on the LWA scale he developed, which was a direct reflection of the RWA scale. In contrast, he has found numerous people scoring close 100% on the RWA scale.  He concluded that LWAs are "as rare as hen's teeth." He did, of course, find authoritarianism among people on the left in the Soviet Union, as noted above.  But this was due to their social conformity to the existing authorities in their society.  And that's what RWA is.
 So ask yourself who is an authority figure on the right?  NRA? Fox News? Rush Limbaugh? Keep asking.  Because every name that occurred to me was dangerously loose, even flagrantly aversive, to accurate facts while being poisonously slavish to ideology.


  1. Fro wiki
    The "right wing" in right-wing authoritarianism does not necessarily refer to someone's politics, but to psychological preferences and personality. It means that the person tends to follow the established conventions and authorities in society. In theory, the authorities could have either right-wing or left-wing political views.

  2. In theory, Anoymous?

    In practice, no:


    Rightwing authoritarianism (RWA) is one of two attitudinal constructs (along with social dominance orientation--SDO) that combine to account for a majority of group prejudice, which in turn is a major aspect of group identity politics. Both also correlate significantly with political conservatism. RWA is defined as the convergence of three attitudinal clusters:

    The first is the one that goes most directly to the issue at hand--conservative identity politics, which is built around the "good us"/"demonized them" dynamic.
    Table 1: Hostility & Fear Toward Outgroups

    RWA's are more likely to:

    Weaken constitutional guarantees of liberty, such as the Bill of Rights.
    Punish severely `common' criminals in a role-playing situation.
    Admit they get personal pleasure from punishing such people.
    But go easy on authorities who commit crimes and people who attack minorities.
    Be prejudiced against many racial, ethnic, nationalistic, and linguistic minorities.
    Be hostile toward homosexuals.
    Support `gay-bashing.'
    Be hostile toward feminists.
    Volunteer to help the government persecute almost anyone.
    Be mean-spirited toward those who have made mistakes and suffered.
    Be fearful of a dangerous world.

    Table 3: Faulty reasoning

    RWA's are more likely to:

    Make many incorrect inferences from evidence.
    Hold contradictory ideas leading them to `speak out of both sides of their mouths.'
    Uncritically accept that many problems are `our most serious problem.'
    Uncritically accept insufficient evidence that supports their beliefs.
    Uncritically trust people who tell them what they want to hear.
    Use many double standards in their thinking and judgements.

    One logical flaw which reflects both on misunderstanding of others and themselves, is RWAs elevated tendency to commit what's called the "Fundamental Attribution Error" (FAE)--over-explaining others' actions in terms of personalities and under-explaining them in terms of situational factors. This what lies behind uncritically trusting people who tell them what they want to hear--they believe what the person is saying is a true expression of how they feel, and ignore the contextual evidence that they are simply pandering. This also helps to explain why they trust unscrupulous leaders, such as Nixon and Bush.

    As for self-knowledge, although RWAs have a number of character flaws consistent with group identity politics generally and religious fundamentalism [already mentioned] specifically--see Table 4--they're remarkably blind to their own failings--see Table 5.

    Table 4: Profound Character Flaws

    RWA's are more likely to:

    Be dogmatic.
    Be zealots.
    Be hypocrites.
    Be bullies when they have power over others.
    Help cause and inflame intergroup conflict.
    Seek dominance over others by being competitive and destructive in situations requiring cooperation.

    The summary of RWA gets to politics next comment.

  3. Same source as previous comment:
    Table 6: RWA's Political Tendencies

    RWA's are more likely to:

    Weaken constitutional guarantees of liberty, such as the Bill of Rights.
    Accept unfair and illegal abuses of power by government authorities.
    Trust leaders (such as Richard Nixon) who are untrustworthy.
    Sometimes join left-wing movements, where their hostility distinguishes them.
    But much more typically endorse right-wing political parties.
    Be conservative/Reform party (Canada) or Republican Party (United States) lawmakers who
    have a conservative economic philosophy;
    believe in social dominance;
    are ethnocentric;
    are highly nationalistic;
    oppose abortion;
    support capital punishment;
    oppose gun-control legislation;
    say they value freedom but actually want to undermine the Bill of Rights;
    do not value equality very highly and oppose measures to increase it;
    are not likely to rise in the Democratic party, but do so among Republicans.

    I want to conclude this analyses by stressing three broad findings in addition to what's gone before.

    First, concerning RWA and fear: Among the most significant of Altemeyer's findings--both implicit and explicit in what we've seen above--was the fearful nature of the RWA worldview, "High RWAs stand about ten steps closer to the panic button than the rest of the population," he concluded, "They see the world as a more dangerous place than most others do, with civilization on the verge of collapse and the world of Mad Max looming just beyond." This fearfulness is a good explanation for many of the tendencies listed above.

    Second, concerning RWA and religion: The authoritarian relationship to religion is particularly troubling, as several different sorts of flaws tend to work together to blind authoritarians from seeing what they are doing. Perhaps most striking is the greater likelihood to compartmentalize their thinking, and not notice contradictions between compartmentalized beliefs. In a 1985 experiment, students were asked what they thought about two passages from the Gospels: "Do not judge, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged. (Matthew 7:1), and "Let he who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her." Altemeyer reports:
    Twenty Christian Highs said we should take the teachings literally. Twenty-seven other Christian Highs said we should judge and punish others, but none of them explained how they reconciled this view with Jesus' teachings. Apparently, they `believed' both (contradictory) things. But the kicker came when I looked at various measures of authoritarian aggression I had gathered from these students. No matter what they said they believed, both these groups of Highs were quick with the stones on the Attitudes toward Homosexuals Scale, the ethnocentrism Scale, and Posse-Homosexuals (Enemies of Freedom, pp. 222-224).Such compartmentalization also reflects problems with self-knowledge, already noted. Of course, it's relatively easy for one religious group to see such flaws in another group. The really hard thing is to see it in yourself or in your group. It's much, much easier for fundmentalists in different religions to inflame their followers against each other--and to put pressure on their more moderate co-religionists to join them. Naturally, this feeds into a number of different tendencies listed above.

    continued next comment

  4. Third,concerning RWA and politics: Altmeyer found that RWA becomes increasingly significant the more involved one is politically. Surprisingly, Altemeyer found that RWA only correlated modestly with party identification in Canada and America. It was always higher with the more conservative party (a 3-way comparison in most Canadian cases), but the differences were relatively modest. However, when he looked at how people perceived their elected representatives, the degrees of difference increased significantly. Then, when he looked at the representatives themselves, he discovered that they differed even more than their constituents thought they did.

    In additional to Canada, he examined a large number of state legislatures in the United States. While a there were a few Democrats who scored very high on the RWA scale, the Republican Party as a whole scored dramatically higher on the scale, and showed far less variation than the Democrats did. Republicans in state government in every part of the country scored much closer to one another than did Democrats. In addition, the spectrum of American politics was higher on the RWA scale than the Canadian spectrum. That's not to say there was no overlap, but the difference was striking, nonetheless.

    These findings strongly suggest that RWA reflects something very fundamental about American politics, which cannot simply be overcome by wishing it away. It must be faced head-on and dealt with at a very fundamental level. Conservatives and the GOP are more unified, because they see the world more similarly--albeit not more accurately. It seems only logical to assume that this both reflects and reinforces the basic fact that their foundation is a form of identity politics, an expression of a shared identity, as opposed to the Democratic Party, which is openly and avowedly a coalition.

    Then there is the issue of the theoretical political left RWAs - next comment

  5. On second thought, I'm just going to amend the post to reflect this subject. It is more appropriate.