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The Authoritarians Among Us

By       Message Gary Williams       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   8 comments

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Many have noticed the curious tendency of so many conservatives to "mirror" the behaviors that they claim they oppose in others. The tendency is so strong that some have even suggested that perhaps one of the best indicators for predicting their future activities, or for assessing the motivation behind their actions, is to simply take note of what it is they say they are most strongly opposed to, because very often that will be precisely that which they are denying within themselves. Indeed, it is even tempting to think that when Shakespeare penned the phrase, "Methinks thy doth protest too much!", that he had just these very people in mind.

Having said that, when it comes to understanding the - often bizarre - behavior of Beck and the his Tea Party followers (which includes many traditional GOP conservatives as well), then I cannot recommend highly enough familiarizing oneself with a line of research first begun in earnest by Theodor Adorno and outlined in his ground-breaking work "The Authoritarian Personality".

In it, he and a number of other social scientists and intellectuals of the day, attempted to gain scientific insights into one of the more curious events related to WW2. In particular, they wondered what sort of person it was that could be behind what later came to be known as the "Nuremberg Defense".....those people who, when asked to defend themselves at trial after the war, said that they should be acquitted of any personal responsibility for what they did at Auschwitz, Treblinka, etc., because they were "merely" following the orders they had been issued. And what Adorno et al found was that there was indeed a particular type of personality most likely to follow such orders. And that this type of person was present in every society, was very common and indeed, even accepted. And who they happened to be, even long before the Nazis had ever shown up on the scene so Goebbels could use his considerable persuasive influence, were typical German people who overwhelmingly supported policies considered, then and now, to be politically conservative in their orientation.

Since then, the tendency for obedience to authority among most of us, as was elaborated on in Stanley S. Milgram's startling experiments, has since been shown to be most strongly indicative of those holding conservative views as well. And what should be distressing for all of us is the high tendency for these same people to hold racist, homophobic, and a variety of other related traits usually associated with intolerance and violent aggression.

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A Canadian psychologist, Dr. R. Altemeyer, has spent decades of a career dedicated to performing the kinds of studies that will generate empirical data on the phenomenon of authoritarianism as it appears among the general population. And he has become quite concerned by the acceptance of popular culture to media personalities he says display many of the less well-known, yet still very worrying, characteristics indicative of someone with great tyrannical potential. So concerned in fact that he has released a free, non-technical summary of much of what he had learned about authoritarianism over the course of his 30+ years spent studying it.

It is difficult to overstate the importance "The Authoritarians" has for gaining an understanding of how it could be that we have not only allowed but oft times cheered on the governments actions in the wake of the World Trade Center's destruction on 9/11, and of the subsequent erection of a massive security apparatus in it's stead. The ability to not only explain, but often even predict what our politicians and their followers will do has been confirmed repeatedly since The Authoritarians was first placed online. Many, including myself, have used terms like "an epiphany" to describe it's ability to bring seemingly disparate events and behaviors together into a cohesive whole that shed light on so many matters that, until now, had seemed near impossible to understand the true motivations of those behind them.

Even without the subsequent release of another essay by Dr. Altemeyer (this one looking at the Tea Party "patriots" in particular), the original work leaves little doubt that there are psychological motives behind the actions of those we have come to know as "birthers"; who are of course simply reacting in the only way left to racists who are in denial about it because that's what the new GOP - conservative platform tells them they believe. The election of a black POTUS causing a reaction like this.... and for it to be seen even in the behavior of our elected political representatives....people who now say and do things that no-one prior to 9/11 would characterize as anything other than that of someone who has become completely unhinged, should serve as ample warning that the time to take the research on authoritarianism seriously is a time that's long overdue.

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Born with enough curiosity about how the world /really/ is that clashes with the status quo power structure were inevitable. By my early teens, I had already decided that much of what people were referring to as "the way it is" --- simply was not. (more...)

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The Authoritarians Among Us