Sunday, March 06, 2016

ANS -- Foundational Series --RWA+SDO=involuntary BDSM w/no safeword? Altemeyer's "The Authoritarians"

This is an old one, done while Bush was president, but I think it's important to re-read periodically.  I think it's especially relevant now that it looks like Drumpf (Trump) is going to be the Republican candidate. Several articles have said Drumpf appeals to authoritarians.  

The Infamous Brad - RWA+SDO=involuntary BDSM w/no safeword? Altemeyer's "The Authoritarians"




2007-02-14 02:03


RWA+SDO=involuntary BDSM w/no safeword? Altemeyer's "The Authoritarians"






Supperclub presents Vol. 6 - Rome - La Salle Neige (D I G I


books, politics, science

Speaking of books being given away online, alienne sent me a link to University of Manitoba associate professor of social psychology Bob Altemeyer's web page, where he's serializing his new book, The Authoritarians. The introduction and chapters 1 to 5 (of 7) are available right this minute, and I'm enjoying it thoroughly. Once again, I'm feeling that tug to study social psychology myself. Anyway, the backstory to this book is that former Nixon chief counsel and convicted Watergate co-conspirator John Dean noticed something a couple of years back: even as bad as he now realizes his former boss and some of his former co-workers were, there's just plain something "off" about the 21st century Republican Party, something that would lead them to a scandal that he insists is Worse than Watergate. The thing that was inexplicably weird to him wasn't just the criminal and impeachable fraud (in his opinion as a lawyer who's been through it) by which the Bush administration lied us into Iraq, but more importantly how strangely few people in the Republican Party had any kind of a problem with it.

The Republican Party that he knew was the one that rebuilt itself from the ground up off of the work of deeply principled thinkers like William F. Buckley's 1951 God and Man at Yale and more importantly Barry Goldwater's 1960 The Conscience of a Conservative. The Republican Party, after decades of electoral disaster, re-invented itself as the party of principles. The Democrats, from FDR on, were (and mostly still are) the party of pragmatism and of outcomes. And the public was, understandably, grateful for such outcomes as repairing the Dust Bowl, ending the Great Depression, creating the "land grant" colleges, founding Social Security, winning World War II, creating the whole modern economy through the GI Bill, and eliminating polio and smallpox. But at the bottom of it, the Republicans' electoral strategy was to convince the voters that the then-ongoing corruption of the post-Prohibition America, the mafia dominance of so much of our politics, was an inescapable result of a politics of pragmatism, a politics without absolute moral principles. By 1980, that sounded really good to Americans, and the Republicans have dominated the American political landscape pretty thoroughly, if not always completely, ever since.

But what Dean was noticing was the the Republicans under George W. Bush had for all practical purposes sacrificed every shred of commitment to any kind of a principle other than one: a "principled" commitment to gaining and holding power at any cost. And in his reading to try to figure out just where America went wrong, he stumbled across the academic work of Bob Altemeyer and began corresponding with him, and Altemeyer's analysis of authoritarianism forms the theoretical framework for Dean's latest book, Conservatives without Conscience (or so I'm told, I haven't read it). So after the moderate success of Dean's book, it occurred to Altemeyer that he wanted a much broader public to understand the scientific and experimental basis for the claims that Dean was making, to learn just what social psychologists have discovered over the last 60 years of verifiable scientific research into what makes authoritarianism possible. And being only a few years short of retirement, he obviously felt no particular unhappiness that Internet web pages don't count as publication credit towards tenure, or not enough to slow him down. To try to get a bigger audience for his book than an academic press would bring him, he's giving it away free.

I was aware of some of this research, and if you've been reading this journal long enough, so are you, because I never stop hyping the book that is the founding work on the social psychology of authoritarianism, the grand-daddy of all scientific research on the subject that came after, Eric Hoffer's book The True Believer. Hoffer's analysis, which has been mostly borne out by the research since, is that authoritarian mass movements begin when people who want very badly to join such a movement, who cannot be emotionally complete without an authoritarian mass movement to follow, find a charismatic leader whose message meets certain pre-conditions for a mass movement. But what I didn't realize until I started reading Altemeyer is just how much scientific research has been done to improve upon, verify, and quantify Hoffer's subjective historian's opinion, and that's exactly what Altemeyer wrote this book hoping that more people would find out. And the main finding is that the authoritarian cycle is driven by the confluence of two distinct and measurable personality types: when people who are Right Wing Authoritarian find, and are found by, people with a Social Dominance Orientation.

A Right Wing Authoritarian is Altemeyer's subjective label for someone who want very badly to believe that their parents' and grandparents' ways were the best, that society is at all times seriously threatened by dangerous outsiders (usually foreigners, homosexuals, and identifiable ethnic groups within the country), and that any political leader who isn't one of those dangerous outsiders or allied with them is never wrong and should be obeyed absolutely, unhesitatingly, and uncritically. Such people are putty in the hands of people who combine sociopathic indifference toward outsiders and unlimited willingness to lie who believe that it is a law of nature and a law of God that some groups of people will always dominate other groups and who cannot ever feel safe unless their group is one of the ones doing the dominating. Those who share these interrelated beliefs about how the world works are said to display Social Dominance Orientation. Social psychologists have spent decades now fine-tuning diagnostic questionnaires for both conditions, and in both cases have come up with short lists of statements that very tightly correlate with each other for one, and a separate list for the other. That is to say, if someone scores very high on the RWA scale, if they agree with a very unusually high number of the statements on that test, they will also demonstrate the behavior of seeking to find an authoritarian leader to uncritically follow. If someone scores very high on the SDO scale, they will also demonstrate the behavior of seeking to dominate others at all costs.

And what's been making Altemeyer very nervous for this whole decade is that early on in the research into SDO, they realized that there were a tiny number of people who score very high on both RWA and SDO. And when he set out to study such people, he found out that the combination is truly terrifying. To pick one example, my blood ran cold when I read about one of those "world simulation games" where the subjects didn't realize that they had been selected to all be high RWA, and where each continent was carefully seeded with one RWA+SDO each. When you read the step by step way in which RWA+SDOs ran the world when they were given a chance, your blood will run cold, too. For what seemed to them to be obvious inescapable reasons, entirely not their own fault, they made decisions that resulted in global economic collapse, global environmental collapse, and brushfire nuclear wars that killed 1.6 billion people. And Altemeyer was convinced that had the game gone on for one more turn, they would have killed the entire remaining human population, as the nuclear super-powers were all on full nuclear alert and preparing to launch when the time clock ran out. And the RWA+SDOs, and their RWA followers, all sincerely believed that if anybody else had been in charge, they would have made the exact same decisions with the exact same outcomes ... which turns out to be, from the same simulation run with random groups and with people who scored only very low on both RWA and SDO, demonstrably not true. You can argue whether the simulation itself was realistic, but that's not the point in this case. The point in this case is that even when they were getting feedback that they were all losing the game, it was so obvious to them that they were making the obviously right decisions, the only ones that any sincere person who wanted to win would make, that they, unlike others in the same simulation, could not change their strategy in order to win.

And what about that makes Altemeyer very, very nervous is that George W. Bush, and his neocon advisers, have run the entire checklist in their public statements. Yes, it's usually treated as dubious to psychologically analyze someone long distance, someone who's not your patient. But the RWA and SDO scales don't ask any questions that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, Wolfowitz, and others haven't already answered without being asked. Sure, they could be lying about their beliefs, but a psychologist with a patient sitting across the desk from him has to face that same possibility. No, if you take them at their words when they describe their view of the world, what they believe to be true and don't believe to be true about human nature and how the world works, almost the entire upper ranks of the Bush administration test as perfect textbook RWA+SDOs. That is to say, they all combine the traits of the worst of the worst. They all seek an authoritarian movement that will tell them that they are right to fear outsiders and to want to turn back the clock and that elevates uncritical obedience, and they all believe that in order to feel safe they must dominate everyone else and that there is nothing morally wrong with doing so.

Don't evaluate his theories based on my summary, because he presents none of this as unsubstantiated opinion. He presents extensive laboratory evidence with substantial mathematical verification for every single one of his points. Read the book.

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