In reading John Dean's engrossing and very thorough examination of why right wingers are able to accept believing often utterly contradictory ideas and are particularly vicious, aggressive, negative, and often hateful, among other charming traits, I came to a spot where he reviewed the work of researcher Bob Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba into what is dubbed "the authoritarian personality".
Space prohibits me from delving into great depth about the huge amount of data and empirical evidence he's gathered and how it correlates neatly into predicting if a person is "conservative" or Republican, but here are a few lists of traits that he found among those who hold right wing beliefs.
There are two types of authoritarians classified in this study, the followers, or Right-Wing Authoritarians (RWA) and those that tend to be leaders, the Social Dominance Orientation (SDO).
The followers are submissive to authority, accepting, "...almost without question the statements and actions of established authorities and they comply with such instructions without further ado."
This explains the bizarre phenomena of people who still cling to the notion that Bush knows what he's doing, and some who still believe that there are WMDs in Iraq and that Sadaam had something to do with the attacks of 9-11. I can't be the only one who marvels at the fact that there are still those who appear to be almost religious zealots in their inability to see anything wrong with Bush, or Republicans, at any time, and for any reason, and will willfully distort reality and truth to try to defend them.
These types are also prone to aggressive support of authority. According to Altemeyer, these right wingers have, "a predisposition to cause harm to" others when such behavior is believed to be sanctioned by authority. This harm can be physical, pychological, financial, and social.
One doesn't have to think very hard or look very far to see examples of these folks doing just that, such as the weird attack on the Dixie Chicks, or any of dozens of objects of hatered that they turned on simply at the word of people like Limbaugh or others. They often had no idea why they were supposed to hate these people, but they were eager to do so.
They are also traditionalists who reject moral relativism. Their view of sex is repressive and shaped by religious views and they regard it as sinful and almost perverse beyond procreation. They think they're the country's true patriots.
From the book, here is a list of traits that exhaustive study have shown authoritarians believe to be positive traits:
-They travel in tight circles of like-minded people.
-Their thinking is more likely based on what authorities have told them rather than on their own critical judgement, which results in their beliefs being filled with inconsistencies.
-They harbor numerous double standards and hypocrisies.
-They are hostile toward so many minorities they seem to be equal-opportunity bigots, yet they are generally unaware of their prejudices.
-They see the world as a dangerous place, with society teetering on the brink of self-destruction from evil and violence, and when their fear conflates with their self-rightousness, they appoint themselves guardians of public morality, or God's Designated Hitters.
-They think of themselves as far more moral and upstanding than others --- a self-deception aided by their religiosity (many are "born again") and their ability to "evaporate guilt" (such as by going to confession). (this is referred to as "cheap grace". "When a great deal of misbehavior is engaged in by born-again Christians it troubles their fundamentalist consciences very little, for after all, they are Saved. So by using their religious beliefs effectively, right-wing authoritarians have high moral standards in many regards, but pretty ineffective consciences.")
Many of these fit at least one of my conservative antagonists here to a tee. It's almost uncanny how well nearly all of them apply.
Dean further lays out a summary of conclusions from decades of study that enumerate the types of traits typically found in the above mentioned "social dominators" and "right-wing authoritarians".
See if they fit anyone you know.
General traits of SOCIAL DOMINATORS - LEADERS
-desirous of personal power
-intimidating and bullying
-cheats to win
-highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)
-tells others what they want to hear
-takes advantage of "suckers"
-specializes in creating false images to sell self
-may or may not be religious
-usually politically and economically conservative/Republican
Anyone come to mind? Without even thinking about it, when I read those traits, it was as if they were describing .... well, a person who nails about 95% of those traits. Stunning. Especially since they're not Republican, at least publically.
General traits of RIGHT-WING AUTHORITARIAN -- FOLLOWERS
-men and women
-submissive to authority
-aggressive on behalf of authority
-moderate to little education
-trust untrustworthy authorities
-prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals, women, and followers of religions other than their own.)
-uncritical toward chosen authority
-inconsistent and contradictory
-prone to panic easily
-demands loyalty and returns it
-usually politically and economically conservative/Republican.
I found these studies to confirm what I already had observed, as well as to explain it further and in more depth.
Many sociologists and political sociologists have studied this type of personality for many decades, initially prompted by the desire to know and understand how Hitler was able to get his followers to abandon their morals and sense of right and wrong so easily, as well as what traits define those who lead such groups.
Dean mentions the early work of the psychologist who discoved that the majority of people will obey authority even if it comes to causing strangers extreme pain, as in the famous experiments where subjects were told to administer ever increasing electrical shocks to subjects if they made mistakes in reading text. The subjects weren't aware that the people they were supposedly shocking were only simulating extreme pain. Yet nearly all of them continued to follow the instructions of a person in a lab coat and clipboard up to and including the point where they administered a shock so severe it caused the "subject" to pass out.
This phenomena can definitely explain some of the more insane instances of the assendency of an authoritarianistic brand of conservatism completely unrecognizable from the former and original brand of conservatism exemplified by Barry Goldwater or even William F. Buckley.
It also points up the danger it holds if it is allowed to continue unchecked.
A third personality type is what is called a Double High. These people possess traits of both RWA and CDO types, and Altemeyer describes these people as "particularly scary."
In one experiment, Altemeyer had a group of 55 college students, all of whom were found to have scored high as RWA types, and seven of whom also scored high as social dominators, in other words, double highs.
He had them engage in a Global Chance Game simulation. "During the two-session simulation, Double Highs engaged in nuclear blackmail, made themselves wealthy by dubious means, provoked a worldwide crisis by destroying the ozone layer, allowed 1.9 billion people to die of starvation and disease, and sent the poor regions of the world "down the tubes."
A couple of other researchers and professors have studied the differences between various political ideologies and have a really nifty little self survey to determine where you fit on the matrix. Go check it out
and see where you fall. (click on the "Run IdeaLog" link on the left.)
If you find any of this intriguing or have always thought that there was something particularly ... different... psychologically with the most extreme right wingers and the odd strain of supposed "Chrisitans" who have come to dominate the Republican party, I urge you to check out and read "Conservatives Without Conscience" by John W. Dean
(Nixon's White House counsel before Watergate, for those unfamiliar)
A link to purchase the book is in the sidebar.
Any thoughts on the strong streak of unquesioning obedience to authority, fear, and bigotry that runs through today's Republican party and how this authoritarian personality type seems to dominate it?
The only bad news is that another trait that appeared in these types was a near total incapacity for self-awareness or self-examination. In other words, they're not likely to change because they're dominant and overarching sense of self-righousness and superiority manages to block out all ability to realize the hypocrisy, amorality, the the mean-spirited and contradictory nature of their beliefs.