September 6, 2007

You know you wonder. What makes the new breed of conservatives tick?

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.


-typically men
-opposes equality
-desirous of personal power
-intimidating and bullying
-faintly hedonistic
-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.


-men and women
-submissive to authority
-aggressive on behalf of authority
-highly religious
-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
-highly self-rightous
-strict disciplinarian
-severely punative
-demands loyalty and returns it
-little self-awareness
-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.


At 9/06/2007 11:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John Dean, White House Counsel to U.S. President Richard Nixon from July 1970 until April 1973?

Wasn't he deeply involved in events leading up to the Watergate burglaries and the subsequent Watergate scandal cover up?

Didn't the FBI call Howard Dean "master manipulator of the cover up"?

Isn't Dean the one that was convicted of multiple felonies as a result of Watergate? Didn't Dean become a key witness for the prosecution?, in exchange for reduced jail time?

Talk about self-rightousness, hypocrisy, amorality, mean-spirited and contrary to the laws of the state.

That you are "engrossed" with John Dean, demonstrates a total lack of wisdom and judgement!

At 9/07/2007 12:14 AM, Anonymous Mark said...

Stick to political commentary. Any social anthrpology that uses the term "ado" is not to be taken seriously.

Do you believe in astrology to?

Oh, second question. How are these not the same kind of generalizations the same things that the KKK used to stoke up emotions against those they disliked.

Last thing. The book being quoted is from 1988. Has liberal thought stagnated so badly that you can't quote something that is less than 20 years old?

At 9/07/2007 12:14 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Hey, congratulations on being able to copy (inaccurately) text from Wikipedia. Good job. Next time, you may want to cut and paste, oh, and cite your source.

Howard Dean is the former governor and presidential candidate who now heads the DNC. So no, the FBI didn't call him the "master manipulator of the coverup".

JOHN Dean's involvement in the coverup consisted of warning Nixon that there was a "cancer on the presidency" that would destroy it if they didn't come clean. I think history owes him a debt for doing so.

He was also the only figure who broke ranks and testified truthfully about the blatant abuses of power in the Nixon White House.

So tell me again how he in any way represents, as you say he does, "self-rightousness, hypocrisy, amorality, mean-spirited and contrary to the laws of the state." That last part doesn't even make sense, but let's pretend it does.

Dean broke laws in the Nixon White House. He in turn helped reveal the extent of the wrong doing and was key to revealing and bringing to justice many of the figures involved.

Good try to suggest he's anything you say he is. It just isn't so.

Of course, Nixon could have promised to commute Dean's sentence before he served a even a day to prevent his testimony, like Bush did with his pal Scooter.

I guess that was too far for even Tricky Dick to stoop.

At 9/07/2007 12:25 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Another hallmark of the troglogyte right his the suspicion of and dismissal of anything which seems to be done by smart people with college degrees, and science in general.

It's also a feature of fascism to attack intellectuals. You do so well.

You actually want to dismiss the entire scholarly work because Dean uses the word "ado"?

That says a a lot about you, I'm afraid.

One of the studies examined by Dean may have been done 20 years ago, I have no idea. I do know that much of the research relies on data collected from thousands of subjects over the span of at least 20 years. So contrary to your suggesting that that somehow makes it all meaningless, it actually makes it more valid.

Scoff and employ ignorant rationales to try to dismiss the obvious, but the fact is that anyone honestly looking at the results of these studies would certainly admit that there is a great degree of validity to them, including any traditional conservative who no longer even recognizes the bastardized "movement" conservatism which has taken over the Republican party.

As to your question about the KKK, I don't know. YOU tell me what methods the KKK used to stoke up feelings against those they didn't like.

And while you're at it, don't be afraid to say blacks and jews.

So you think that the KKK suggesting that an entire race was inherantly dirty, immoral, and intellectually inferior is the same as observing that conservatives are prone to fear and unquestioning obedience to authority figures?

Seems a bit goofy to me.

At 9/07/2007 7:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dean, along with a number of other Nixon Administration officials, was convicted in efforts to cover up White House involvement in the 1972 burglary and wiretapping of Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex.

The 1991 book "Silent Coup: The Removal of a President" claims that John Dean masterminded the Watergate burglary to obtain documents linking his wife, Maureen and her roommate to an alleged prostitution ring.

At 9/07/2007 11:26 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Boy, right wingers ARE nasty and misinformed. You prove the research. You also prove the point that you're too willing to attack any enemies you feel are the enemies of your authority figures you worship.

First of all, that book was so discredited that both 60 minutes and other major news sources who were planning to run stories on it subsequently dropped their plans, as after investigation, they found the charges ludicrous, based as they were on the word of one man, a D.C. attorney who had spent years of his life in and out of mental hospitals. There was no other evidence at all to support the charges you mention.

Time magazine had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the rights to excerpt the book in it's pages. They decided to take a loss rather than go forward with publishing what were demonstrably false charges.

The Deans also filed a defamation suit against certified whack job G. Gordon Liddy for his role in promoting the story and won.

What does that tell you about your charges?

Secondly, it's typical of wingers to completely ignore the evidence, and try to attack the messenger.

In Dean's case, it's not even he who has done this research!

He simply points to it and examines several studies which have been done on the subject.

Yet you think you can somehow dismiss or discredit the hard, verifiable facts and evidence by.....
attacking the person who merely mentions it in a book?

Perhaps even you realize how weak and illogical that is.

Attacking Dean has NOTHING to do with the results of these many and extensive studies, nor does it take away in any way from the validity of their findings.

As a matter of fact, your reaction actually serves to prove them correct. Thanks.

At 9/07/2007 5:51 PM, Blogger UMRBlog said...

The followers also "Megadittoes" a lot.

Continued Success

At 9/09/2007 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That -- along with the fact that Dean lumped Ronald Reagan and other political conservatives in with Adolf Hitler -- evoked outrage from conservative pundits. The editors of The New Atlantis magazine called Dean's book "a powerful example of the misuse of history and the arrogance of expertise."

At 9/10/2007 11:54 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

What the hell is "The New Atlantis" magazine? Sounds like a journal for people that wear tin-foil hats.

At 9/13/2007 12:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book Silent Coup argues that the Watergate break-ins were really meant to cover up embarrassing information about a call-girl ring whose "Madame" was a roommate of John Dean's wife, and that John Dean ordered the break-ins. Watergate, as Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy maintains, was "a Dean Operation."

The reason this carefully documented book was given the silent treatment is because it demolishes the Woodward-Bernstein explanation of who was behind the Watergate break-in.

The "Silent Coup" portrayal of John Dean as being the driving force behind the Watergate break-in did not sit well with The Washington Post and those who had assumed that Woodward and Bernstein had gotten to the bottom of Watergate. It proves Nixon is a victim of Dean's machinations rather than the architect of the operation. It provides a motive which escaped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who rode to fame and riches on the Watergate story. Understandably, no reporter's ego would survive if he was shown to have missed the "why" of such a monumental story. By playing the role of repentant sinner, John Dean became a hero to the media, not a villain. And it was Dean, Woodward and Bernstein, not Liddy, Colodny and Gettlin who had starring roles in network TV interviews.

G. Gordon Liddy is enthusiastic about "Silent Coup," saying that for the first time he understood who was really behind the Watergate break-in and why. He thought his orders were coming from John Mitchell, the former Attorney General, who was running the Nixon reelection campaign. The revelation that they were really originating with Dean, fitted with Liddy's observation that no one at the re-election committee seemed to be taking any interest in the matter. It also explained the genuine bafflement in Nixon's voice when he discussed the burglary later, in Oval Office conversations that were captured on tape.

At 9/13/2007 8:25 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

Well then, if a psychopath like Liddy likes it, it MUST be all true. After all, he's been so right on other things.

The fact is the book didn't receive coverage because it was full of false charges.

Your tendency towards conspiratorial thinking aside, the book was a bunch of crap and even those who paid big money to exploit it came to that conclusion.


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