Thursday, 26 June 2014

Authoritarianism

I was linked to a very interesting book today called "The Authoritarians." It is by Bob Altemeyer, a psychology professor who taught at the University of Manitoba.

He spent most of his career researching authoritarianism. In particular, he researched a group that he called Right-Wing Authoritarians. The concept of Right-Wing is not a familiar political one, since he notes that the same personality type was found in the staunchest backers of the soviet government in the USSR. In North America, however, these traits are predominantly found in supporters of right-wing political parties, particularly in the religious right.

You can read the entire book for free on his University of Manitoba webpage. I read 180 pages of it today, so it's safe to say I was interested in it.

There's a certain way of thinking about the world, a cluster of traits if you will. The one that always sticks out to me is using reason purely as an after-the-fact addition to justify whatever conclusion you know you are going to draw. That is joined by hostility towards people with different points of view. Usually it also seems to go with an "us vs. them" mentality. I had assumed these personality traits were endemic, that they described most people, and that they would just as likely be found in people who broadly agreed with my political ideas and people who broadly disagreed with my political ideas.

It sounds like this is not the case after all. It sounds like these traits are all clustered around the belief in authority for authority's sake. And there is more to it than that. They also are far more likely to have prejudices of all kinds - sexism, racism, ableism, classism, you name it.

I mean, he rightly notes that all people rationalize, which is consistent with my way of seeing the world coming into this, but apparently it is not so evenly distributed as I thought.

I'll be interested to get to the end and see if he has any prescriptions for a society that is falling into the clutches of authoritarianism, because I'm sure there are cultural factors that promote or go against it, but I'm not really sure what those are. Even if he really has none, the book connects a lot of previously unconnected observations I've made, so it's a good read.

In particular, the book explained two things very well:

1. Regarding authoritarian followers, I thought, "Hey, this is how my mayor got elected."
2. Regarding the rare group of people who are both somehow authoritarian followers and people who strive for social dominance, I thought, "Oh, this is my awful former boss."

1 comment:

  1. I totally read some of this once! It was as interesting as you say.

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