Dark Triad Domination

It has been noted that some indigenous languages have words that can be interpreted as what, in English, is referred to as psychopathic, sociopathic, narcissistic, Machiavellian, etc. This is the region of the Dark Triad. One Inuit language has the word ‘kunlangeta‘, meaning “his mind knows what to do but he does not do it.” That could be thought of as describing a psychopath’s possession of cognitive empathy while lacking affective empathy. Or consider the Yoruba word ‘arankan‘ that “is applied to a person who always goes his own way regardless of others, who is uncooperative, full of malice, and bullheaded.”

These are tribal societies. Immense value is placed on kinship loyalty, culture of trust, community survival, collective well-being, and public good. Even though they aren’t oppressive authoritarian states, the modern Western notion of hyper-individualism wouldn’t make much sense within these close-knit groups. Sacrifice of individual freedom and rights is a given under such social conditions, since individuals are intimately related to one another and physically dependent upon one another. Actually, it wouldn’t likely be experienced as sacrifice at all since it would simply be the normal state of affairs, the shared reality within which they exist — their identity being social rather than individual.

This got me thinking about psychopathy and modern society. Research has found that, at least in some Western countries, the rate of psychopathy is not only high in prison populations but equally as high among the economic and political elite. My father left upper management in a major corporation because of how ruthless was the backstabbing, a win at all costs social Darwinism. This is what defines a country like the United States, as these social dominators are the most revered and emulated individuals. Psychopaths and such, instead of being eliminated or banished, are promoted and empowered.

What occurred to me is the difference for tribal societies is that hyper-individualism is seen not only as abnormal but dangerous and so intolerable. Maybe the heavy focus on individualism in the modern West inevitably leads to the psychopathological traits of the Dark Triad. As such, that would mean there is something severely abnormal and dysfunctional about Western societies (WEIRD – Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic). Psychopaths, in particular, are the ultimate individualists and so they will be the ultimate winners in an individualistic culture — their relentless confidence and ruthless competitiveness, their Machiavellian manipulations and persuasive charm supporting a narcissistic optimism and leading to success.

There are a couple of ways of looking at this. First off, there might be something about urbanization itself or a correlated factor that exacerbates mental illness. Studies have found, for example, an increase in psychosis across the recent generations of city-dwellers — precisely during the period of populations being further urbanized and concentrated. It reminds one of the study done on crowding large numbers of rats in a small contained cage until they turned anti-social, aggressive, and violent. If these rats were humans, we might describe this behavior in terms of psychopathy or sociopathy.

There is a second thing to consider, as discussed by Barbara Oakley in her book Evil Genes (pp. 265-6). About rural populations, she writes that, “Psychopathy is rare in those settings, notes psychologist David Cooke, who has studied psychopathy across cultures.” And she continues:

“But what about more urban environments? Cooke’s research has shown, surprisingly, that there are more psychopaths from Scotland prisons of England and Wales than there are in Scottish prisons. (Clearly, this is not to say that the Scottish are more given to psychopathy than anyone else.) Studies of migration records showed that many Scottish psychopaths had migrated to the more populated metropolitan areas of the south. Cooke hypothesized that, in the more crowded metropolitan areas, the psychopath could attack or steal with little danger that the victim would recognize or catch him. Additionally, the psychopath’s impulsivity and need for stimulation could also play a role in propelling the move to the dazzling delights of the big city — he would have no affection for family and friends to keep him tethered back home. Densely populated areas, apparently, are the equivalent for psychopaths of ponds and puddles for malarial mosquitoes.”

As Oakley’s book is on genetics, she goes in an unsurprising direction in pointing out how some violent individuals have been able to pass on their genetics to large numbers of descendants. The most famous example being Genghis Khan. She writes that (p. 268),

“These recent discoveries reinforce the findings of the anthropologist Laura Betzig. Her 1986 Despotism and Differential Reproduction provides a cornucopia of evidence documenting the increased capacity of those with more power — and frequently, Machiavellian tendencies — to have offspring. […] As Machiavellian researcher Richard Christie and his colleague Florence Geis aptly note: “[H]igh population density and highly competitive environments have been found to increase the use of antisocial and Machiavellian strategies, and my in fact foster the ability of those who possess those strategies to reproduce.” […] Beltzig’s ultimte point is not that the corrupt attain power but that those corrupted individuals who achieved power in preindustrial agricultural societies had far more opportunity to reproduce, generally through polygyny, and pass on their genes. In fact, the more Machiavellian, that is, despotic, a man might be, the more polygynous he tended to be — grabbing and keeping for himself as many beautiful women as he could. Some researchers have posited that envy is itself a useful, possibly geneticall linked trait, “serving a key role in survival, motivating achievement, serving the conscience of self and other, and alerting us to inequities that, if fueled, can lead to esclaated violence.” Thus, genese related to envy — not to mention other more problematic temperaments — might have gradually found increased prevalence in such environments.”

That kind of genetic hypothesis is highly speculative, to say the least. Their could be some truth value in them, if one wanted to give the benefit of the doubt, but we have no direct evidence that such is the case. At present, these speculations are yet more just-so stories and they will remain so until we can better control confounding factors in order to directly ascertain causal factors. Anyway, genetic determinism in this simplistic sense is largely moot at this point, as the science is moving on into new understandings. Besides being unhelpful, such speculations are unnecessary. We already have plenty of social science research that proves changing environmental conditions alters social behavior — besides what I’ve already mentioned, there is such examples as the fascinating rat park research. There is no debate to be had about the immense influence of external influences, such as factors of socioeconomic class and high inequality: Power Causes Brain Damage by Justin Renteria, How Wealth Reduces Compassion by Daisy Grewal, Got Money? Then You Might Lack Compassion by Jeffrey Kluger, Why the Rich Don’t Give to Charity by Ken Stern, Rich People Literally See the World Differently by Drake Baer, The rich really DO ignore the poor by Cheyenne Macdonald, Propagandopoly: Monopoly as an Ideological Tool by Naomi Russo, A ‘Rigged’ Game Of Monopoly Reveals How Feeling Wealthy Changes Our Behavior [TED VIDEO] by Planetsave, etc.

Knowing the causes is important. But knowing the consequences is just as important. No matter what increases Dark Triad behaviors, they can have widespread and long-lasting repurcussions, maybe even permanently altering entire societies in how they function. Following her speculations, Oakley gets down to the nitty gritty (p. 270):

“Questions we might reasonably ask are — has the percentage of Machiavellians and other more problematic personality types increased in the human population, or in certain human populations, since the advent of agriculture? And if the answer is yes, does the increase in these less savory types change a group’s culture? In other words, is there a tipping point of Machiavellian and emote control behavior that can subtly or not so subtly affect the way the members of a society interact? Certainly a high expectation of meeting a “cheater,” for example, would profoundly impact the trust that appears to form the grease of modern democratic societies and might make the development of democratic processes in certain areas more difficult. Crudely put, an increase in successfully sinister types from 2 percent, say, to 4 percent of a population would double the pool of Machiavellians vying for power. And it is the people in power who set the emotional tone, perhaps through mirroring and emotional contagion, for their followers and those around them. As Judith Rich Harris points out, higher-status members of a group are looked at more, which means they have more influence on how a person becomes socialized.”

The key factor in much of this seems to be concentration. Simply concentrating populations, humans or rats, leads to social problems related to mental health issues. On top of that, there is the troubling concern of what kind of people are being concentrated and where they are being concentrated — psychopaths being concentrated not only in big cities and prisons but worse still in positions of wealth and power, authority and influence. We live in a society that creates the conditions for the Dark Triad to increase and flourish. This is how the success of those born psychopaths encourages others to follow their example in developing into sociopaths, which in turn makes the Dark Triad mindset into a dominant ethos within mainstream culture.

The main thing on my mind is individualism. It’s been on my mind a lot lately, such as in terms of the bundle theory of the mind and the separate individual, connected to my long term interest in community and the social nature of humans. In relation to individualism, there is the millennia-old cultural divide between Germanic ‘freedom‘ and Roman ‘liberty‘. But because Anglo-American society mixed up the two, this became incorrectly framed by Isaiah Berlin in terms of positive and negative. In Contemporary Political Theory, J. C. Johari writes that (p. 266), “Despite this all, it may be commented that though Berlin advances the argument that the two aspects of liberty cannot be so distinguished in practical terms, one may differ from him and come to hold that his ultimate preference is for the defence of the negative view of liberty. Hence, he obviously belongs to the category of Mill and Hayek.”  He states this “is evident from his emphatic affirmation” in the following assertion by Berlin:

“The fundamental sense of freedom is freedom from chains, from imprisonment, from enslavement by others. The rest is extension of this sense or else metaphor. To strive to be free is to seek to remove obstacles; to struggle for personal freedom is to seek to curb interference, exploitation, enslavement by men whose ends are theirs, not one’s own. Freedom, at least in its political sense, is coterminous with the absence of bullying or domination.”

Berlin makes a common mistake here. Liberty was defined by not being a slave in a slave-based society, which is what existed in the Roman Empire. But that isn’t freedom, an entirely different term with an etymology related to ‘friend’ and with a meaning that indicated membership in an autonomous community — such freedom meant not being under the oppression of a slave-based society (e.g., German tribes remaining independent of the Roman Empire). Liberty, not freedom, was determined by one’s individual status of lacking oppression in an oppressive social order. This is why liberty has a negative connotation for it is what you lack, rather than what you possess. A homeless man starving alone on the street with no friend in the world to help him and no community to support him, such a man has liberty but not freedom. He is ‘free’ to do what he wants under those oppressive conditions and constraints, as no one is physically detaining him.

This notion of liberty has had a purchase on the American mind because of the history of racial and socioeconomic oppression. After the Civil War, blacks had negative liberty in no longer being slaves but they definitely did not have positive freedom through access to resources and opportunities, instead being shackled by systemic and institutional racism that maintained their exploited status as a permanent underclass — along with slavery overtly continuing in other forms through false criminal charges leading to prison labor, such that the criminal charges justified blaming the individual for their own lack of freedom which maintained the outward perception of negative liberty. Other populations such as Native Americans faced a similar dilemma. But is one actually free when the chains holding one down are invisible but still all too real? If liberty is an abstraction detached from lived experience and real world results, of what value is such liberty? The nature of negative liberty has always had a superficial and illusory quality about it in how it is maintained through public narrative. Unlike freedom, liberty as a social construct is highly effective as a tool for social control and oppression.

This point is made by another critic of Berlin’s perspective. “It is hard for me to see that Berlin is consistent on this point,” writes L. H. Crocker (Positive Liberty, p. 69). “Surely not all alterable human failures to open doors are cases of bullying. After all, it is often through neglect that opportunities fail to be created for the disadvantaged. It is initially more plausible that all failures to open doors are the result of domination in some sense or another.” I can’t help but think that Dark Triad individuals would feel right at home in a culture of liberty where individuals have the ‘freedom’ to oppress and be oppressed. Embodying this sick mentality, Margaret Thatcher once gave perfect voice to the sociopathic worldview — speaking of the victims of disadvantage and desperation, she claimed that, “They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society.” That is to say, there is no freedom.

The question, then, is whether or not we want freedom. A society is only free to the degree that as a society freedom is demanded. To deny society itself is an attempt to deny the very basis of freedom, but that is just a trick of rhetoric. A free people know their own freedom by acting freely, even if that means fighting the oppressors who seek to deny that freedom. Thatcher intentionally conflated society and government, something never heard in the clear-eyed wisdom of a revolutionary social democrat like Thomas Paine“Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best stage, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one.” These words expressed the values of negative liberty as made perfect sense for someone living in an empire built on colonialism, corporatism, and slavery. But the same words gave hint to a cultural memory of Germanic positive freedom. It wasn’t a principled libertarian hatred of governance, rather the principled radical protest against a sociopathic social order. As Paine made clear, this unhappy situation wasn’t the natural state of humanity, neither inevitable nor desirable, much less tolerable.

The Inuits would find a way for psychopaths to ‘accidentally’ fall off the ice, never to trouble the community again. As for the American revolutionaries, they preferred more overt methods, from tar and feathering to armed revolt. So, now to regain our freedom as a people, what recourse do we have in abolishing the present Dark Triad domination?

* * *

Here are some pieces on individualism and community, as contrasted between far different societies. These involve issues of mental health (from depression to addiction), and social problems (from authoritarianism to capitalist realism) — as well as other topics, including carnival and revolution.

Self, Other, & World

Retrieving the Lost Worlds of the Past:
The Case for an Ontological Turn
by Greg Anderson

“[…] This ontological individualism would have been scarcely intelligible to, say, the inhabitants of precolonial Bali or Hawai’i, where the divine king or chief, the visible incarnation of the god Lono, was “the condition of possibility of the community,” and thus “encompasse[d] the people in his own person, as a projection of his own being,” such that his subjects were all “particular instances of the chief’s existence.” 12 It would have been barely imaginable, for that matter, in the world of medieval Europe, where conventional wisdom proverbially figured sovereign and subjects as the head and limbs of a single, primordial “body politic” or corpus mysticum. 13 And the idea of a natural, presocial individual would be wholly confounding to, say, traditional Hindus and the Hagen people of Papua New Guinea, who objectify all persons as permeable, partible “dividuals” or “social microcosms,” as provisional embodiments of all the actions, gifts, and accomplishments of others that have made their lives possible.1

“We alone in the modern capitalist west, it seems, regard individuality as the true, primordial estate of the human person. We alone believe that humans are always already unitary, integrated selves, all born with a natural, presocial disposition to pursue a rationally calculated self-interest and act competitively upon our no less natural, no less presocial rights to life, liberty, and private property. We alone are thus inclined to see forms of sociality, like relations of kinship, nationality, ritual, class, and so forth, as somehow contingent, exogenous phenomena, not as essential constituents of our very subjectivity, of who or what we really are as beings. And we alone believe that social being exists to serve individual being, rather than the other way round. Because we alone imagine that individual humans are free-standing units in the first place, “unsocially sociable” beings who ontologically precede whatever “society” our self-interest prompts us to form at any given time.”

What Kinship Is-And Is Not
by Marshall Sahlins, p. 2

“In brief, the idea of kinship in question is “mutuality of being”: people who are intrinsic to one another’s existence— thus “mutual person(s),” “life itself,” “intersubjective belonging,” “transbodily being,” and the like. I argue that “mutuality of being” will cover the variety of ethnographically documented ways that kinship is locally constituted, whether by procreation, social construction, or some combination of these. Moreover, it will apply equally to interpersonal kinship relations, whether “consanguineal” or “affinal,” as well as to group arrangements of descent. Finally, “mutuality of being” will logically motivate certain otherwise enigmatic effects of kinship bonds— of the kind often called “mystical”— whereby what one person does or suffers also happens to others. Like the biblical sins of the father that descend on the sons, where being is mutual, there experience is more than individual.”

Music and Dance on the Mind

We aren’t as different from ancient humanity as it might seem. Our societies have changed drastically, suppressing old urges and potentialities. Yet the same basic human nature still lurks within us, hidden in the underbrush along the well trod paths of the mind. The hive mind is what the human species naturally falls back upon, from millennia of collective habit. The problem we face is we’ve lost the ability to express well our natural predisposition toward group-mindedness, too easily getting locked into groupthink, a tendency easily manipulated.

Considering this, we have good reason to be wary, not knowing what we could tap into. We don’t understand our own minds and so we naively underestimate the power of humanity’s social nature. With the right conditions, hiving is easy to elicit but hard to control or shut down. The danger is that the more we idolize individuality the more prone we become to what is so far beyond the individual. It is the glare of hyper-individualism that casts the shadow of authoritarianism.

Pacifiers, Individualism & Enculturation

I’ve often thought that individualism, in particular hyper-individualism, isn’t the natural state of human nature. By this, I mean that it isn’t how human nature manifested for the hundreds of thosands of years prior to modern Western civilization. Julian Jaynes theorizes that, even in early Western civilization, humans didn’t have a clear sense of separate individuality. He points out that in the earliest literature humans were all the time hearing voices outside of themselves (giving them advice, telling them what to do, making declarations, chastising them, etc), maybe not unlike in the way we hear a voice in our head.

We moderns have internalized those external voices of collective culture. This seems normal to us. This is not just about pacifiers. It’s about technology in general. The most profound technology ever invented was written text (along with the binding of books and the printing press). All the time I see my little niece absorbed in a book, even though she can’t yet read. Like pacifiers, books are tools of enculturation that help create the individual self. Instead of mommy’s nipple, the baby soothes themselves. Instead of voices in the world, the child becomes focused on text. In both cases, it is a process of internalizing.

All modern civilization is built on this process of individualization. I don’t know if it is overall good or bad. I’m sure much of our destructive tendencies are caused by the relationship between individualization and objectification. Nature as a living world that could speak to us has become mere matter without mind or soul. So, the cost of this process has been high… but then again, the innovative creativeness has exploded as this individualizing process has increasingly taken hold in recent centuries.

“illusion of a completed, unitary self”

The Voices Within: The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves
by Charles Fernyhough, Kindle Locations 3337-3342

“And we are all fragmented. There is no unitary self. We are all in pieces, struggling to create the illusion of a coherent “me” from moment to moment. We are all more or less dissociated. Our selves are constantly constructed and reconstructed in ways that often work well, but often break down. Stuff happens, and the center cannot hold. Some of us have more fragmentation going on, because of those things that have happened; those people face a tougher challenge of pulling it all together. But no one ever slots in the last piece and makes it whole. As human beings, we seem to want that illusion of a completed, unitary self, but getting there is hard work. And anyway, we never get there.”

Delirium of Hyper-Individualism

Individualism is a strange thing. For anyone who has spent much time meditating, it’s obvious that there is no there there. It slips through one’s grasp like an ancient philosopher trying to study aether. The individual self is the modernization of the soul. Like the ghost in the machine and the god in the gaps, it is a theological belief defined by its absence in the world. It’s a social construct, a statement that is easily misunderstood.

In modern society, individualism has been raised up to an entire ideological worldview. It is all-encompassing, having infiltrated nearly every aspect of our social lives and become internalized as a cognitive frame. Traditional societies didn’t have this obsession with an idealized self as isolated and autonomous. Go back far enough and the records seem to show societies that didn’t even have a concept, much less an experience, of individuality.

Yet for all its dominance, the ideology of individualism is superficial. It doesn’t explain much of our social order and personal behavior. We don’t act as if we actually believe in it. It’s a convenient fiction that we so easily disregard when inconvenient, as if it isn’t all that important after all. In our most direct experience, individuality simply makes no sense. We are social creatures through and through. We don’t know how to be anything else, no matter what stories we tell ourselves.

The ultimate value of this individualistic ideology is, ironically, as social control and social justification.

It’s All Your Fault, You Fat Loser!

Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
By Mark Fisher, pp. 18-20

“[…] In what follows, I want to stress two other aporias in capitalist realism, which are not yet politicized to anything like the same degree. The first is mental health. Mental health, in fact, is a paradigm case of how capitalist realism operates. Capitalist realism insists on treating mental health as if it were a natural fact, like weather (but, then again, weather is no longer a natural fact so much as a political-economic effect). In the 1960s and 1970s, radical theory and politics (Laing, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, etc.) coalesced around extreme mental conditions such as schizophrenia, arguing, for instance, that madness was not a natural, but a political, category. But what is needed now is a politicization of much more common disorders. Indeed, it is their very commonness which is the issue: in Britain, depression is now the condition that is most treated by the NHS . In his book The Selfish Capitalist, Oliver James has convincingly posited a correlation between rising rates of mental distress and the neoliberal mode of capitalism practiced in countries like Britain, the USA and Australia. In line with James’s claims, I want to argue that it is necessary to reframe the growing problem of stress (and distress) in capitalist societies. Instead of treating it as incumbent on individuals to resolve their own psychological distress, instead, that is, of accepting the vast privatization of stress that has taken place over the last thirty years, we need to ask: how has it become acceptable that so many people, and especially so many young people, are ill? The ‘mental health plague’ in capitalist societies would suggest that, instead of being the only social system that works, capitalism is inherently dysfunctional, and that the cost of it appearing to work is very high.”

There is always an individual to blame. It sucks to be an individual these days, I tell ya. I should know because I’m one of those faulty miserable individuals. I’ve been one my whole life. If it weren’t for all of us pathetic and depraved individuals, capitalism would be utopia. I beat myself up all the time for failing the great dream of capitalism. Maybe I need to buy more stuff.

“The other phenomenon I want to highlight is bureaucracy. In making their case against socialism, neoliberal ideologues often excoriated the top-down bureaucracy which supposedly led to institutional sclerosis and inefficiency in command economies. With the triumph of neoliberalism, bureaucracy was supposed to have been made obsolete; a relic of an unlamented Stalinist past. Yet this is at odds with the experiences of most people working and living in late capitalism, for whom bureaucracy remains very much a part of everyday life. Instead of disappearing, bureaucracy has changed its form; and this new, decentralized, form has allowed it to proliferate. The persistence of bureaucracy in late capitalism does not in itself indicate that capitalism does not work – rather, what it suggests is that the way in which capitalism does actually work is very different from the picture presented by capitalist realism.”

Neoliberalism: Dream & Reality

[…] in the book Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher (p. 20):

“[…] But incoherence at the level of what Brown calls ‘political rationality’ does nothing to prevent symbiosis at the level of political subjectivity, and, although they proceeded from very different guiding assumptions, Brown argues that neoliberalism and neoconservatism worked together to undermine the public sphere and democracy, producing a governed citizen who looks to find solutions in products, not political processes. As Brown claims,

“the choosing subject and the governed subject are far from opposites … Frankfurt school intellectuals and, before them, Plato theorized the open compatibility between individual choice and political domination, and depicted democratic subjects who are available to political tyranny or authoritarianism precisely because they are absorbed in a province of choice and need-satisfaction that they mistake for freedom.”

“Extrapolating a little from Brown’s arguments, we might hypothesize that what held the bizarre synthesis of neoconservatism and neoliberalism together was their shared objects of abomination: the so called Nanny State and its dependents. Despite evincing an anti-statist rhetoric, neoliberalism is in practice not opposed to the state per se – as the bank bail-outs of 2008 demonstrated – but rather to particular uses of state funds; meanwhile, neoconservatism’s strong state was confined to military and police functions, and defined itself against a welfare state held to undermine individual moral responsibility.”

[…] what Robin describes touches upon my recent post about the morality-punishment link. As I pointed out, the world of Star Trek: Next Generation imagines the possibility of a social order that serves humans, instead of the other way around. I concluded that, “Liberals seek to promote freedom, not just freedom to act but freedom from being punished for acting freely. Without punishment, though, the conservative sees the world lose all meaning and society to lose all order.” The neoliberal vision subordinates the individual to the moral order. The purpose of forcing the individual into a permanent state of anxiety and fear is to preoccupy their minds and their time, to redirect all the resources of the individual back into the system itself. The emphasis on the individual isn’t because individualism is important as a central ideal but because the individual is the weak point that must be carefully managed. Also, focusing on the individual deflects our gaze from the structure and its attendant problems.

This brings me to how this relates to corporations in neoliberalism (Fisher, pp. 69-70):

“For this reason, it is a mistake to rush to impose the individual ethical responsibility that the corporate structure deflects. This is the temptation of the ethical which, as Žižek has argued, the capitalist system is using in order to protect itself in the wake of the credit crisis – the blame will be put on supposedly pathological individuals, those ‘abusing the system’, rather than on the system itself. But the evasion is actually a two step procedure – since structure will often be invoked (either implicitly or openly) precisely at the point when there is the possibility of individuals who belong to the corporate structure being punished. At this point, suddenly, the causes of abuse or atrocity are so systemic, so diffuse, that no individual can be held responsible. This was what happened with the Hillsborough football disaster, the Jean Charles De Menezes farce and so many other cases. But this impasse – it is only individuals that can be held ethically responsible for actions, and yet the cause of these abuses and errors is corporate, systemic – is not only a dissimulation: it precisely indicates what is lacking in capitalism. What agencies are capable of regulating and controlling impersonal structures? How is it possible to chastise a corporate structure? Yes, corporations can legally be treated as individuals – but the problem is that corporations, whilst certainly entities, are not like individual humans, and any analogy between punishing corporations and punishing individuals will therefore necessarily be poor. And it is not as if corporations are the deep-level agents behind everything; they are themselves constrained by/ expressions of the ultimate cause-that-is-not-a-subject: Capital.”

Sleepwalking Through Our Dreams

The modern self is not normal, by historical and evolutionary standards. Extremely unnatural and unhealthy conditions have developed, our minds having correspondingly grown malformed like the binding of feet. Our hyper-individuality is built on disconnection and, in place of human connection, we take on various addictions, not just to drugs and alcohol but also to work, consumerism, entertainment, social media, and on and on. The more we cling to an unchanging sense of bounded self, the more burdened we become trying to hold it all together, hunched over with the load we carry on our shoulders. We are possessed by the identities we possess.

This addiction angle interests me. Our addiction is the result of our isolated selves. Yet even as our addiction attempts to fill emptiness, to reach out beyond ourselves toward something, anything, a compulsive relationship devoid of the human, we isolate ourselves further. As Johann Hari explained in Chasing the Scream (Kindle Locations 3521-3544):

There were three questions I had never understood. Why did the drug war begin when it did, in the early twentieth century? Why were people so receptive to Harry Anslinger’s message? And once it was clear that it was having the opposite effect to the one that was intended— that it was increasing addiction and supercharging crime— why was it intensified, rather than abandoned?

I think Bruce Alexander’s breakthrough may hold the answer.

“Human beings only become addicted when they cannot find anything better to live for and when they desperately need to fill the emptiness that threatens to destroy them,” Bruce explained in a lecture in London31 in 2011. “The need to fill an inner void is not limited to people who become drug addicts, but afflicts the vast majority of people of the late modern era, to a greater or lesser degree.”

A sense of dislocation has been spreading through our societies like a bone cancer throughout the twentieth century. We all feel it: we have become richer, but less connected to one another. Countless studies prove this is more than a hunch, but here’s just one: the average number of close friends a person has has been steadily falling. We are increasingly alone, so we are increasingly addicted. “We’re talking about learning to live with the modern age,” Bruce believes. The modern world has many incredible benefits, but it also brings with it a source of deep stress that is unique: dislocation. “Being atomized and fragmented and all on [your] own— that’s no part of human evolution and it’s no part of the evolution of any society,” he told me.

And then there is another kicker. At the same time that our bonds with one another have been withering, we are told— incessantly, all day, every day, by a vast advertising-shopping machine— to invest our hopes and dreams in a very different direction: buying and consuming objects. Gabor tells me: “The whole economy is based around appealing to and heightening every false need and desire, for the purpose of selling products. So people are always trying to find satisfaction and fulfillment in products.” This is a key reason why, he says, “we live in a highly addicted society.” We have separated from one another and turned instead to things for happiness— but things can only ever offer us the thinnest of satisfactions.

This is where the drug war comes in. These processes began in the early twentieth century— and the drug war followed soon after. The drug war wasn’t just driven, then, by a race panic. It was driven by an addiction panic— and it had a real cause. But the cause wasn’t a growth in drugs. It was a growth in dislocation.

The drug war began when it did because we were afraid of our own addictive impulses, rising all around us because we were so alone. So, like an evangelical preacher who rages against gays because he is afraid of his own desire to have sex with men, are we raging against addicts because we are afraid of our own growing vulnerability to addiction?

In The Secret Life of Puppets, Victoria Nelson makes some useful observations of reading addiction, specifically in terms of formulaic genres. She discusses Sigmund Freud’s repetition compulsion and Lenore Terr’s post-traumatic games. She sees genre reading as a ritual-like enactment that can’t lead to resolution, and so the addictive behavior becomes entrenched. This would apply to many other forms of entertainment and consumption. And it fits into Derrick Jensen’s discussion of abuse, trauma, and the victimization cycle.

I would broaden her argument in another way. People have feared the written text ever since it was invented. In the 18th century, there took hold a moral panic about reading addiction in general and that was before any fiction genres had developed (Frank Furedi, The Media’s First Moral Panic). The written word is unchanging and so creates the conditions for repetition compulsion. Every time a text is read, it is the exact same text.

That is far different from oral societies. And it is quite telling that oral societies have a much more fluid sense of self. The Piraha, for example, don’t cling to their sense of self nor that of others. When a Piraha individual is possessed by a spirit or meets a spirit who gives them a new name, the self that was there is no longer there. When asked where is that person, the Piraha will say that he or she isn’t there, even if the same body of the individual is standing right there in front of them. They also don’t have a storytelling tradition or concern for the past.

Another thing that the Piraha apparently lack is mental illness, specifically depression along with suicidal tendencies. According to Barbara Ehrenreich from Dancing in the Streets, there wasn’t much written about depression even in the Western world until the suppression of religious and public festivities, such as Carnival. One of the most important aspects of Carnival and similar festivities was the masking, shifting, and reversal of social identities. Along with this, there was the losing of individuality within the group. And during the Middle Ages, an amazing number of days in the year were dedicated to communal celebrations. The ending of this era coincided with numerous societal changes, including the increase of literacy with the spread of the movable type printing press.

Another thing happened with suppression of festivities. Local community began to break down as power became centralized in far off places and the classes became divided, which Ehrenreich details. The aristocracy used to be inseparable from their feudal roles and this meant participating in local festivities where, as part of the celebration, a king might wrestle with a blacksmith. As the divides between people grew into vast chasms, the social identities held and social roles played became hardened into place. This went along with a growing inequality of wealth and power. And as research has shown, wherever there is inequality also there is found high rates of social problems and mental health issues.

It’s maybe unsurprising that what followed from this was colonial imperialism and a racialized social order, class conflict and revolution. A society formed that was simultaneously rigid in certain ways and destabilized in others. The individuals became increasingly atomized and isolated. With the loss of kinship and community, the cheap replacement we got is identity politics. The natural human bonds are lost or constrained. Social relations are narrowed down. Correspondingly, our imaginations are hobbled and we can’t envision society being any other way. Most tragic, we forget that human society used to be far different, a collective amnesia forcing us into a collective trance. Our entire sense of reality is held in the vice grip of historical moment we find ourselves in.

Social Conditions of an Individual’s Condition

A wide variety of research and data is pointing to a basic conclusion. Environmental conditions (physical, social, political, and economic) are of penultimate importance. So, why do we treat as sick individuals those who suffer the consequences of the externalized costs of society?

Here is the sticking point. Systemic and collective problems in some ways are the easiest to deal with. The problems, once understood, are essentially simple and their solutions tend to be straightforward. Even so, the very largeness of these problems make them hard for us to confront. We want someone to blame. But who do we blame when the entire society is dysfunctional?

If we recognize the problems as symptoms, we are forced to acknowledge our collective agency and shared fate. For those who understand this, they are up against countervailing forces that maintain the status quo. Even if a psychiatrist realizes that their patient is experiencing the symptoms of larger social issues, how is that psychiatrist supposed to help the patient? Who is going to diagnose the entire society and demand it seek rehabilitation?

Winter Season and Holiday Spirit

With this revelry and reversal follows, along with licentiousness and transgression, drunkenness and bawdiness, fun and games, song and dance, feasting and festival. It is a time for celebration of this year’s harvest and blessing of next year’s harvest. Bounty and community. Death and rebirth. The old year must be brought to a close and the new year welcomed. This is the period when gods, ancestors, spirits, and demons must be solicited, honored, appeased, or driven out. The noise of song, gunfire, and such serves many purposes.

In the heart of winter, some of the most important religious events took place. This includes Christmas, of course, but also the various celebrations around the same time. A particular winter festival season that began on All Hallows Eve (i.e., Halloween) ended with the Twelfth Night. This included carnival-like revelry and a Lord of Misrule. There was also the tradition of going house to house, of singing and pranks, of demanding treats/gifts and threats if they weren’t forthcoming. It was a time of community and sharing, and those who didn’t willingly participate might be punished. Winter, a harsh time of need, was when the group took precedence. […]

I’m also reminded of the Santa Claus as St. Nick. This invokes an image of jollity and generosity. And this connects to wintertime as period of community needs and interdependence, of sharing and gifting, of hospitality and kindness. This includes enforcement of social norms which easily could transform into the challenging of social norms.

It’s maybe in this context we should think of the masked vigilantes participating in the Boston Tea Party. Like carnival, there had developed a tradition of politics out-of-doors, often occurring on the town commons. And on those town commons, large trees became identified as liberty trees — under which people gathered, upon which notices were nailed, and sometimes where effigies were hung. This was an old tradition that originated in Northern Europe, where a tree was the center of a community, the place of law-giving and community decision-making. In Europe, the commons had become the place of festivals and celebrations, such as carnival. And so the commons came to be the site of revolutionary fervor as well.

The most famous Liberty Tree was a great elm near the Boston common. It was there that many consider the birth of the American Revolution, as it was the site of early acts of defiance. This is where the Sons of Liberty met, organized, and protested. This would eventually lead to that even greater act of defiance on Saturnalia eve, the Boston Tea Party. One of the participants in the Boston Tea Party and later in the Revolutionary War, Samuel Sprague, is buried in the Boston Common.

There is something many don’t understand about the American Revolution. It wasn’t so much a fight against oppression in general and certainly not about mere taxation in particular. What angered those Bostonians and many other colonists was that they had become accustomed to community-centered self-governance and this was being challenged. The tea tax wasn’t just an imposition of imperial power but also colonial corporatism. The East India Company was not acting as a moral member of the community, in its taking advantage by monopolizing trade. Winter had long been the time of year when bad actors in the community would be punished. Selfishness was not to be tolerated.

Those Boston Tea Partiers were simply teaching a lesson about the Christmas spirit. And in the festival tradition, they chose the guise of Native Americans which to their minds would have symbolized freedom and an inversion of power. What revolution meant to them was a demand for return of what was taken from them, making the world right again. It was revelry with a purpose.

* * *

As addiction is key, below is some other stuff in terms of individualism and social problems, mental health and abnormal psychology. It seems that high rates of addiction are caused by the same and/or related factors involved in depression, anxiety, dark triad, etc. It’s a pattern of dysfunction found most strongly in WEIRD societies and increasingly in other developed societies, such as seen in Japan as the traditional social order breaks down (e.g., increasing number of elderly Japanese dying alone and forgotten). This pattern is seen clearly in the weirdest of WEIRD, such as with sociopathic organizations like Amazon which I bet has high prevalence of addiction among employees.

Drug addiction makes possible human adaptation to inhuman conditions. It’s part of a victimization cycle that allows victimizers to not only take power but to enforce the very conditions of victimization. The first step is isolating the victim by creating a fractured society of dislocation, disconnection, and division. Psychopaths rule by imposing a sociopathic social order, a sociopathic economic and political system. This is the environment in which the dark triad flourishes and, in coping with the horror of it, so many turn to addiction to numb the pain and distress, anxiety and fear. Addiction is the ‘normal’ state of existence under the isolated individualism of social Darwinism and late stage capitalism.

Addiction is the expression of disconnection, the embodiment of isolation. Without these anti-social conditions, the dark triad could never take hold and dominate all of society.

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”
~ Johann Harri

“We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness.”
~ Albert Schweitzer

The New Individualism
by Anthony Elliott and Charles Lemert
pp. 117-118

Giddens tells us that reflexivity, powered by processes of globalization, stands closest to autonomy. In a world in which tradition has more thoroughly been swept away than ever before, contingency appears unavoidable. And with contingency comes the potential to remake the world and negotiate lifestyle options — about who to be, how to act, whom to love and how to live together. The promised autonomy of reflexivity is, however, also a problem, since choice necessarily brings with it ambivalence, doubt and uncertainty. There is no way out of this paradox, though of the various, necessarily unsuccessful, attempts people make to avoid the dilemmas of reflexivity Giddens identifies ‘addiction’ as being of key importance to the present age. As he writes:

Once institutional reflexivity reaches into virtually all parts of everyday social life, almost any pattern or habit can become an addiction. The idea of addiction makes little sense in a traditional culture, where it is normal to do today what one did yesterday . . . Addictions, then, are a negative index of the degree to which the reflexive project of the self moves to the centre-stage in late modernity.

Reflexivity’s promise of freedom carries with it the burden of continual choice and deals with all the complexities of emotional life. ‘Every addiction’, writes Giddens, ‘is a defensive reaction, and an escape, a recognition of lack of autonomy that casts a shadow over the competence of the self.’

How Individualism Undermines Our Health Care
from Shared Justice

Addictions Originate in Unhappiness—and Compassion Could Be the Cure
by Gabor Maté

Dislocation Theory of Addiction
by Bruce K. Alexander

Addiction, Environmental Crisis, and Global Capitalism
by Bruce K. Alexander

Healing Addiction Through Community: A Much Longer Road Than it Seems?
by Bruce K. Alexander

What Lab experiments Can Tell Us About The Cause And Cure For Addiction
by Mark

#7 Theory of Dislocation
by Ross Banister

‘The globalisation of addiction’ by Bruce Alexander
review by Mike Jay

The cost of the loneliness epidemic
from Broccoli & Brains

The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think
by Johann Hari

The Politics of Loneliness
by Michael Bader

America’s deadly epidemic of loneliness
by Michael Bader

Addiction and Modernity: A Comment on a Global Theory of Addiction
by Robert Granfield

The Addicted Narcissist: How Substance Addiction Contributes to Pathological Narcissism With Implications for Treatment
by Kim Laurence

Authoritarians in Authoritarianism

Recent articles I’ve read point toward a typical confusion about authoritarianism, what it is and what causes it. The confusion seems built into the way we frame and measure authoritarianism, in particular as seen in the earliest research. Some social scientists speak of ideological mindsets and personality traits in the way that race realists talk about races, such that there are ‘authoritarians’ and ‘non-authoritarians’ as clearly defined and demarcated types of people. But it’s beginning to occur to some of them that this is inadequate.

Maybe unintentionally, Amanda Taub gets at this point in her Vox piece, The Rise of American authoritarianism. She states that, “Non-authoritarians who were sufficiently frightened of threats like terrorism could essentially be scared into acting like authoritarians.” This is based on “researchers like Hetherington and Weiler, Stanley Feldman, Karen Stenner, and Elizabeth Suhay, to name just a few.”

It’s interesting research and I’ve read many of the scholarly writings on this and so I’m already familiar with what Taub is discussing, but my understanding of such things has shifted these past years. When we label something, we tend to reify the underlying concepts and forget that they are social constructs we project onto the data (and hence onto the world) in trying to make sense of complexity, which then can lead to increasing simplification as the reified concepts are fed back into further research design and analysis.

The quote above about ‘non-authoritarians’ gets at this. If non-authoritarians can act like authoritarians, then maybe there is no such thing as authoritarians and non-authoritarians. Instead, a more reasonable conclusion is that all people possess within their common humanity a wide variety of potentials for psychological traits, social behaviors, and ideological tendencies. If so, it wouldn’t be helpful then to speak of subsets and subgroups as if that adds further clarity and insight. To be fair, Taub touches upon the issue rather directly, albeit briefly:

“More than that, this early research seemed to assume that a certain subset of people were inherently evil or dangerous — an idea that Hetherington and Weiler say is simplistic and wrong, and that they resist in their work. (They acknowledge the label “authoritarians” doesn’t do much to dispel this, but their efforts to replace it with a less pejorative-sounding term were unsuccessful.)”

Immediately after that, Taub goes right back to the assumption that authoritarianism is an inherent “psychological profile” that can get activated. From this view, seeming non-authoritarians don’t become authoritarian but were secretly authoritarian all along, just waiting for the right conditions to make their true nature manifest. Sleeper agents of societal madness ready to be unleashed on the naively innocent, Manchurian candidates waiting for a trigger from an evolutionary demiurge lurking in human synapses. At any moment, so goes the dark fantasy, alt-right trolls could transform into goosestepping Nazis who will suddenly take over the country. But in reality that isn’t how it ever works, as these things gradually build up over time and involve the entire society. Authoritarianism is far from being a strange relic of abnormal psychology and social deviants, like an infectious Darwinian maladaptation that must be quarantined and studied by the intellectual elite standing above it all. Even if we were to think of it as a mind virus, the greater threat would be those intellectual elites becoming carriers and spreading it into polite society, as has happened throughout history.

Projecting authoritarianism onto individuals or narrow groups is the opposite of helpful. It’s a way for people like Taub to maintain their belief that authoritarianism is something that only involves those other people, not good liberals like herself. Here is the problem. Taub is a Democrat and has strongly supported Hillary Clinton. The Clinton campaign has shown how strong the authoritarian tendencies are built into the Democratic Party. In supporting corrupt oligarchs like Clinton, Taub demonstrates how easily supposed non-authoritarians can act like authoritarians and defend authoritarianism. It does appear that authoritarianism closely tracks with social conservatism, but social conservatism comes in many forms. Democrats, for example, can be extremely socially conservative in their defense of the status quo, no matter how ‘liberal’-sounding is their empty rhetoric.

The reality is that no individual is an authoritarian. Rather, it’s social systems that are authoritarian, whether we are talking about organizations or movements or parties. In the US, the two-party system has long had an authoritarian streak. Both parties create the conditions for increasing neoliberalism and neoconservatism, increasing inequality and police-surveillance state. And those conditions in turn create an oppressive atmosphere of fear that, for the general public, elicits authoritarianism. It’s a great means of ensuring submission and social control. Social dominance orientation types, such as the lesser evils of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, then attempt to use that to their advantage. If you’re looking for the least authoritarian Americans, you’d need to look entirely outside of the two-party system.

In a fairly authoritarian society such as ours built on a long history of oppression, it is meaningless to talk about ‘authoritarians’ as if they were a distinct group of people. Nor does it help to blame it all on a single issue like racism, as a way of dismissing the larger context of authoritarianism. Obviously, as Taub explains, various forms of bigotry and other factors can elicit and activate authoritarianism. It’s difficult, maybe impossible, to separate out all of the tangled threads of dysfunction.

Let me return to the significance of the racial order. It is true that, as we live in an authoritarian society, we also live in a racist society. Both authoritarianism and racism become internalized by everyone within this society, even if normally these remain hidden. It’s there in the background, shaping and informing our worldview. Research shows that it’s easy to find racial biases in almost anyone, but more than that it is how racism is woven into the social structures and institutions we are part of. Not as much research of this sort has been done on underlying authoritarianism, but it has become more of a focus and it would be expected to operate in a similar way. There is pervasive racism with a rather small minority of overt racists, and so it should be unsurprising that there can be pervasive authoritarianism that is not primarily dependent on the authoritarianism of individuals. The continuation of systemic problems don’t require vocal, active support since silent, passive complicity can be so much more powerful.

This is hard for people to grasp. We can’t see clearly the society we are inseparably a part of, that defines our entire sense of identity and experience of reality. This makes it difficult for researchers who are trying to understand the very problems they are implicated in, as members of the society under scrutiny. Many researchers, as with many journalists like Taub, are good liberals which creates another bias. Obviously, authoritarianism will operate differently among liberals than among conservatives or right-wing reactionaries. Yet we know from history that authoritarians often come to power when good liberals, out of fear, turn to authoritarian leaders. Clinton in calling her enemies deplorables (just like she did when calling young blacks ‘superpredators’) was intentionally provoking an authoritarian response of fear from her followers, framing the other side as an existential threat to the ‘liberal’ way of life… and it worked, even though it turned out that her establishment authoritarianism was less effective as she lacks charisma and raw force of personality.

It’s not hard, though, to understand the likely reasons for authoritarianism manifesting differently throughout the social order. Growing inequality (of wealth and opportunity, of power and influence) inevitably will lead to authoritarianism, but that authoritarianism will be expressed in disparate ways according to demographics and the historical legacies that they represent; lower classes or upper classes; or if middle class, downwardly mobile lower middle class or stable upper middle class; populations with high or low rates of unemployment, food deserts, incarceration, and lead toxicity; those directly impacted or not by the numerous negative externalities of neoliberalism and neoconservatism; et cetera.

The liberal class tends to be relatively more economically secure and comfortable, and so authoritarianism is less often to be seen in overt ways on the personal level. Instead, good liberals will support the authoritarianism of the system that their lifestyle is dependent on. That way, their hands are kept clean. They let the professionals like the Clinton New Democrats do the dirty work of forcing punishment on minorities through racialized tough-on-crime laws, drug wars, and mass incarceration… through corporatism that maintains the class system and keeps the poor in their place… through war-mongering, CIA interventions, and neoliberal foreign policies that ensures the American Empire runs smoothly.

In basic ways, the liberal class even on the lower end of the economic spectrum are protected from what the rest of the country experiences. The greatest of privileges is never having to acknowledge one’s privilege. It is all taken for granted, not just as a privilege but a right — if required, to be protected from the dirty masses that demand to be treated with equality and fairness. When that privilege is challenged, the authoritarianism of good liberals becomes very much overt. It’s just that in recent history good liberals have been kept comfortable and content while the lower classes have been kept disempowered and silenced, but that has begun to change and so we are beginning to hear authoritarian rhetoric from establishment Democrats, in their fear of the coming backlash of righteous justice, outraged vengeance, and populist unrest. Status quo Democrats know that they have been on the wrong side of history and this all-encompassing anxiety has led them to lash out blindly, making them a dangerous animal (e.g., their paranoid conspiracy theorizing and war-mongering about Russia that could initiate World War III).

Sadly, liberals tolerate, help to create, and often defend the very conditions that make authoritarianism inevitable: hyper-partisanship, identity politics, increasing inequality, stagnating wages, weakening organized labor, loss of good job benefits, worsening job insecurity, scapegoating the poor, law and order politics, racist dog whistle rhetoric, war hawk policies, militarization of the police, drug wars, mass incarceration, etc. Major figures such as President Jimmy Carter have voiced concern that the United States has become a banana republic and, based on the overwhelming evidence, it is impossible to argue against those concerns. In Taub’s article, she discusses this as if the conditions of authoritarianism are new, but the reality is that they’ve been building for decades and generations. Democrats have done little if anything to stop this, often promoting policies that make it worse. Both parties have embraced a corporatism that somehow balances the requirements of an oligarchic police state and the demands of plutocratic inverted totalitarianism, all the while maintaining the endless spectacle of a banana republic.

What motivates supposed liberals to promote the policies that undermine liberal-mindedness and strengthen authoritarianism? That isn’t to scapegoat liberals, in opposition to those who would like to scapegoat some other group, but obviously many who sound liberal-like aren’t the enemies of authoritarianism that they pretend to be. This faux liberalism is what one would expect in an authoritarian society born out of classical liberalism. Most people on all sides don’t understand the kind of society they are in or how it shapes them. As with faux liberals, Trump’s followers and his election to the presidency are symptoms, not the disease. No single group can be blamed for what has become of this society. All of it has to be taken as a whole, including the role of good liberals and every other sector of society. It is the society that is authoritarian. In a non-authoritarian society, individual authoritarians would be powerless and insignificant. The source of of the problem is systemic and institutional.

There is no inborn psychological profile of authoritarians, just as I’d argue that there are no genetic-based personality traits of addictiveness, neuroticism, etc. There are simply authoritarian conditions, no different than there are conditions for other mindsets and behaviors. Authoritarianism along with so much else is latent in everyone, as a potential within a shared human nature.

I’ve long been fascinated by personality traits/types and other areas of social science. Myers-Briggs personality theory was what initially drew me toward using web searches to find info. The first website I ever became an active member of was a Myers-Briggs discussion forum, although such things as trait theory was also regularly discussed. Most fascinating of all was the research and the many correlations shown, but over time I’ve grown more circumspect.

These days, I feel less certain about what correlations might (or might not) indicate. It partly comes from years of seeing how research can be misused by race realists, but that is only possible because much of the research itself is problematic. Correlations are dime a dozen, whereas proving causation is often near impossible. It’s not easy to determine that a correlation is not spurious, that it is significant and meaningful, and then articulating a falsifiable hypothesis that leads to useful results that don’t merely confirm one’s biases and expectations.

My interest here goes far beyond only authoritarianism. This involves my growing appreciation for the power of all kinds of environmental influences. Not just influences, though. To be more accurate, we are environmental creatures to the core of our being. We are inseparable from our environments, both physical and social. This has become a major theme of my writing. It comes out in my discussions of race realism and capitalist realism, of rat parks and high inequality, of toxo plasmosis and lead toxicity, WEIRD research and ancient societies.

Authoritarianism is yet another lens through which to peer into the social nature of humans. Living in this society, all of us are products of our environment while also being participants in the social order. What if studying authoritarians holds up a mirror to our own psyche, individual and collective? What does this say about us?

* * *

Human Nature: Categories & Biases
Bias About Bias
Social Conditions of an Individual’s Condition

Social Disorder, Mental Disorder
To Put the Rat Back in the Rat Park
Rationalizing the Rat Race, Imagining the Rat Park
Sleepwalking Through Our Dreams
Dark Matter of the Mind
Investing in Violence and Death
An Invisible Debt Made Visible
From Bad to Worse: Trends Across Generations
America Is Not Great For Most Americans
The Comfortable Classes Remain Comfortable
Immoral/Amoral Flynn Effect?
Uncomfortable Questions About Ideology
Bias About Bias

Inequality leads to authoritarianism: Why Trump is acting like “a generalissimo with a giant brass eagle on his hat”
by Edward McClelland

Everyday Authoritarianism is Boring and Tolerable
by Tom Pepinsky

The Social Origins of Authoritarianism
Frederick Solt

Authoritarianism’s Hidden Root Cause
by Matthew Wills

The Rise of the Servant Society
by Michael J. Thompson

Authoritarian capitalism in modern times
by Peter Bloom

Culture of Cruelty: the Age of Neoliberal Authoritarianism
by Henry Giroux

Neoliberalism, Austerity, and Authoritarianism
by Riad Azar

Inequality causes rise of authoritarian leaders
by Hamid Ansari

The Preschooler’s Empathy Void
by Alia Wong

People With This Personality Trait Literally See the World Differently
by Cari Romm

Creative people physically see and process the world differently
by Alice Klein

Democracy, Education and Indoctrination

There are many challenges to a democracy, but education has to be one of the most important. Everything begins with education, specifically as it relates to enculturation and indoctrination. Here is an article from The Guardian that touches upon one aspect of this, although it isn’t as thorough as I’d prefer:

 The dark side of home schooling: creating soldiers for the culture war
The Christian home school subculture isn’t a children-first movement. Some former students are bravely speaking out
By Katherine Stewart

The point of the article is in the conclusion:

“The fundamentalist home schooling world also advocates an extraordinarily authoritarian view of the parental role. Corporal punishment is frequently encouraged. The effects are, again, often quite devastating. “People who experienced authoritarian parents tend to turn into adults with poor boundaries,” writes one pseudonymous HA blogger. “It’s an extremely unsatisfying and unsustainable way to live.”

“In America, we often take for granted that parents have an absolute right to decide how their children will be educated, but this leads us to overlook the fact that children have rights, too, and that we as a modern society are obligated to make sure that they get an education. Families should be allowed to pursue sensible homeschooling options, but current arrangements have allowed some families to replace education with fundamentalist indoctrination.

“As the appearance of HA reminds us, the damage done by this kind of false education falls not just on our society as a whole, but on the children who are pumped through the ideology machine. They are the traumatized veterans of our culture wars. We should listen to their stories, and support them as they find their way forward.”

This is put into context with a comment to the article and another comment responding to it:

StVitusGerulaitis  08 May 2013 12:16pm

the consequences of putting ideology over children include anxiety, depression, distrust of authority, and issues around sexuality.

“This is bad, but it’s not really necessary for a condemnation of the religious home schooling movement. After all, mainstream education can produce these effects too. It is enough that children are being lied to and deliberately manipulated for the purpose of engineering society.

“Should attendance at state approved schools be mandatory? It may be the only way to prevent this kind of brainwashing.

“Incidentally, why is the piece illustrated with a picture of a house in Cleveland?”

Paulson84  08 May 2013 3:21pm

“@LorddMUCK –

“Yeah, it’s those damn lefties in Kansas that are trying to get creationism pushed into science classes at public schools. And those lefties in Texas that are trying to rewrite the historical record to suggest the Founding Fathers didn’t envision a secular society. Oh, wait, it’s actually right wing lunatics trying to re-shape the educational curriculum in this country. That’s right.”

The problem isn’t homeschooling or any particular activity, rather particular tendencies that can undermine society in an infinite areas and in infinite ways. The same people who want to use homeschooling for indoctrination also want to use public schools for indoctrination. These are dangerous people. They are dangerous to democracy when they gain power and influence.

The danger with fundamentalism is complex. I don’t want to blame conservatives, but conservatives have become complicit with this problem by aligning themselves with fundamentalists and hence aligning themselves with right-wing authoritarians and social dominance types. This wasn’t inevitable. It was a choice made by movement conservatives and Republican elites. They made this Devil’s Bargain because it gained them immense power.

The bigger issue is that now we all have to deal with this problem. Indoctrination is a dangerous road to go down. It only takes a small group of well indoctrinated children to grow up to create a movement that could destroy democracy and take over the country. Before the masses can be indoctrinated, first a small vanguard must be indoctrinated. Indoctrination can never be taken lightly. It was a small movement in the beginning that took over Italy, Germany, Russia and China. Is our democracy strong enough to resist a totalitarian takeover? I doubt it.

I’m fine with homeschooling, but we better think twice before we let children be brainwashed. It doesn’t matter who is doing the brainwashing and for what purpose. It doesn’t matter if it is right-wing or left-wing, although we shouldn’t ignore the fact that this danger is at the moment coming from right-wing fundamentalists. We should consider carefully why this is the case.

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1903914

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12152-012-9155-7

http://experimentalphilosophy.typepad.com/experimental_philosophy/2012/03/arvan-follow-up-study-on-conservatism-and-dark-triad-personality-traits.html

http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/3/prweb9255652.htm

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/per.1893/abstract

Do Rightwingers Love War?

I heard once again someone stating that Democrats start more wars. To give a quick response to that statement, I’d point out that it takes both parties to start a war… and there is a big difference between wars of defense and wars of aggression. But the comment and my response isn’t all that important… or, I should say, not all that interesting to me. The reason for this is because the person was responding to a comment where I didn’t even mention either of the parties. I don’t care to defend the war record of the Democratic Party. I’m an independent liberal, not a Democrat.

Here is my original comment:

“I always wonder why rightwingers love war so much. Looking past all the patriotic propaganda, destroyed lives is the reality of war. But once the soldiers come home all the lovers of war suddenly stop caring.”

Starting with this as a working hypothesis, I have two purposes for this post. First, I want to clarify what I see as the differences between ‘rightwingers’ and ‘liberals’, both being specific demographics rather than broad categories. Second, I want to determine what the data shows about each demograhic.

– – –

I’ve pointed out many times that (based on the data from Beyond Red vs. Blue) only a 1/3 of Democrats even identify as liberals and almost 1/2 of liberals are Independents. Other sources show:

According to recent surveys by the New York Times and CBS News, between 18% and 27% of American adults identify as liberal, versus moderate or conservative. In the 2008 presidential election, exit polls showed that 22% of the electorate self-identified as “liberal.”

Furthermore, Republicans and Democrats had a major ideological reversal over this past century.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservative_Democrat

“Prior to 1964, both parties had their liberal, moderate, and conservative wings, each of them influential in both parties… After 1980, the Republicans became a mostly right-wing party… while the Democrats, while keeping their left wing intact… grew a substantial moderate wing in the 1990s in place of their old conservative wing”

So-called far leftwingers such as Obama are more conservative than many past Republicans such as Eisenhower. Heck, Obama is more socially conservative in terms of his actual policies (continuing the War on Drugs, Gitmo, and torture) than many rightwing libertarians. Partisan rhetoric doesn’t mean much to me, but I do consider meaningful the differences between liberal and conservative (as general worldviews, attitudes, and psychological traits).

I’ve written about the correlation, although not equivalence, of conservatism and right-wing authoritarianism (RWA)… or, to be more specific, about the correlation that at least exists within the population of the United States (to be fair, the correlation may not exist in other countries, especially not in countries that don’t have a rightwing religious tradition). At that post I quoted the following:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-weiler/from-soup-to-nuts-the-aut_b_762558.html

It is not that all Republicans are authoritarians; nor that all Democrats are non-authoritarian. Far from it. And people adopt party affiliations for a variety of reasons. But whereas those with the authoritarian cognitive style used to be more evenly split between the parties, decades of appeals for “states rights”, “law and order”, and against ERA, gay rights and immigration reform have concentrated this particular personality type in the GOP. And the consequence of that decades-long process has been the emergence of a Republican party that is, to a remarkable degree, built on viscera — on appeals to anger and resentment, and a deeply-felt conviction that America is breaking down irretrievably and that the way to stop that process is to demonize and marginalize outgroups deemed responsible for that breakdown. And this is no longer a geographically confined phenomenon, but a fully national one.

I’ve also written about recent research showing that conservatives have a predisposition toward violence. For example, here is a description of one study:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/18/AR2008091802265.html

The finding suggests that people who are particularly sensitive to signals of visual or auditory threats also tend to adopt a more defensive stance on political issues, such as immigration, gun control, defense spending and patriotism. People who are less sensitive to potential threats, by contrast, seem predisposed to hold more liberal positions on those issues.

– – –

I’m not sure how strong of conclusions can be based on any of this data, but it caused me to consider two lines of thought.

First, I was wondering if liberals are always in the minority. The challenge is that liberalism never wins in that the goalposts are always shifting. What was liberal in the past just becomes the new conservative. So, the status quo is always in a sense conservative. This can be seen, for example, with conservatives identifying with classical liberalism which is just the liberalism from past centuries turned into an unchanging ideology. Or, as another example, most Americans identify as conservative even though the positions they hold are what liberals have been fighting for since the founding of the United States (US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism).

Another reason for the minority status of liberals is that maybe liberal genetics are newer in human evolution. Satoshi Kanazawa proposed a theory along these lines in order to explain the correlation of liberalism and higher IQ.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100224132655.htm

“General intelligence, the ability to think and reason, endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions,” says Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  “As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognize and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles.”

An earlier study by Kanazawa found that more intelligent individuals were more nocturnal, waking up and staying up later than less intelligent individuals.  Because our ancestors lacked artificial light, they tended to wake up shortly before dawn and go to sleep shortly after dusk.  Being nocturnal is evolutionarily novel.

In the current study, Kanazawa argues that humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends, and being liberal, caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with, is evolutionarily novel.  So more intelligent children may be more likely to grow up to be liberals.

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) support Kanazawa’s hypothesis.  Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as “very liberal” have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as “very conservative” have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.

Similarly, religion is a byproduct of humans’ tendency to perceive agency and intention as causes of events, to see “the hands of God” at work behind otherwise natural phenomena.  “Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in God because they are paranoid,” says Kanazawa.  This innate bias toward paranoia served humans well when self-preservation and protection of their families and clans depended on extreme vigilance to all potential dangers.  “So, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists.”

Young adults who identify themselves as “not at all religious” have an average IQ of 103 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as “very religious” have an average IQ of 97 during adolescence.

In addition, humans have always been mildly polygynous in evolutionary history.  Men in polygynous marriages were not expected to be sexually exclusive to one mate, whereas men in monogamous marriages were.  In sharp contrast, whether they are in a monogamous or polygynous marriage, women were always expected to be sexually exclusive to one mate.  So being sexually exclusive is evolutionarily novel for men, but not for women.  And the theory predicts that more intelligent men are more likely to value sexual exclusivity than less intelligent men, but general intelligence makes no difference for women’s value on sexual exclusivity.  Kanazawa’s analysis of Add Health data supports these sex-specific predictions as well.

So, even though liberals have influence to varying degrees depending on the society, liberalism will likely never be the predominant attitude in any society. My suspicion is that most politicians aren’t on average as liberal as certain other similarly well-educated demographics: artists, writers, journalists, academics, scientists, grassroots activists, et cetera. It seems to me that those with strong liberalism probably wouldn’t be very interested in national public office because mainstream politics is dominated by cronyism and corporatism. The few strong liberals who do get into national politics probably don’t often advance very far in their political careers.

My second line of thought was an extension of my previous blog posts on this topic. What exactly are the real world results of these predispositions? I did some quick research to see if I would come across any new info. A couple items caught my attention.

Here is a paper about right-wing authoritarianism (and social dominance orientation) in the context of the 9/11 attack:

http://www.asap-spssi.org/pdf/0501cohrs.pdf

In sum, our study contributes to the understanding of attitudes toward restrictive political measures that were issued in the aftermath of September 11 and thus to the understanding of psychological underpinnings of threats to democracy. Predispositions like RWA, SDO, political ideology, and personal values played a significant role in this matter. Although feelings of threat from terrorism did not automatically lead to stronger endorsement of surveillance measures and restriction of civil liberties, they reinforced the effect of RWA on support for surveillance.

Even more interesting is this detail from other research about moral choices:

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/09/kill-whitey-its-the-right-thing-to-do/

They offered some other scenarios too, about collateral damage in military situations, for instance, and found similar differences: Conservatives accepted collateral damage more easily if the dead were Iraqis than if they were Americans, while liberals accepted civilian deaths more readily if the dead were Americans rather than Iraqis.

That is one juicy morsel. A liberal would rather have soldiers on own their side die if it would save innocent civilians… because, afterall, a soldier is trained to fight and die to protect people. A conservative, on the other hand, is more willing to sacrifice people even if innocent just as long as they are seen as ‘other’. This is a profound difference. To the liberal, the conservative is heartless in putting patriotic loyalty over the protection of the innocent. But, to the conservative, the liberal is a traitor in their being more willing to sacrifice soldiers who are courageously protecting us. Liberals tend to empathize with all humans more equally and conservatives tend to have a group mentality of ‘us’ vs ‘them’.

I should, however, point out that the generalization about liberals being against soldiers is unfair and inaccurate.

http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/247451/politics-empathy-john-zogby

We see that liberals and progressives are more sympathetic toward animals and foreigners than are conservatives and libertarians. Conversely, though not to the same extent, conservatives are more sympathetic toward soldiers and babies than are progressives and liberals. Criminals, drug addicts, and the homeless are again more “popular” among progressives and liberals than among conservatives and libertarians.

Sympathy here is a relative term. Absolutely speaking, progressives and liberals are very sympathetic towards babies and American soldiers, for example. It is only when sympathy is compared between different groups that significant differences emerge. For very conservative voters, American soldiers are on the top. For progressives, soldiers share fourth place with foreigners.

The implication of this would seem to be that the more liberal someone is the more they’d be reluctant to commit to wars where innocents are unnecessarily endangered. I’d think that, for this reason, liberals would be particularly against wars of aggression such as the US invasion of Iraq. Considering 2/3 of Democrats don’t identify as liberal, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that most Democratic politicians didn’t strongly oppose Bush’s warmongering right after 9/11. If my theory is correct, liberals are always in the minority even within what is considered the liberal Democratic party.

So, when the rightwingers are hot and bothered about some new xenophobic fear, it’s hard for the liberal minority to counter it. This is particularly problematic considering social stress/uncertainty, fearmongering, and violent imagery can even make liberals more open to conservative views and more willing to accept authoritarian policies.

http://www.news.wisc.edu/10779

Liberals who gleaned most of their news from television in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks increased their support for expanded police powers, bringing them closer in line with the opinions of conservatives, a study by a UW-Madison researcher shows.

In contrast, heavy newspaper reading by liberals was related to lower levels of support for expanded police powers and for limits on privacy and freedom of information, basically reinforcing the differences between liberals and conservatives, says Dietram Scheufele, a journalism professor who conducted the study.

“TV pushed the two groups together in their thinking about post-9/11 policies, such as the Patriot Act. It made liberals more conservative. It took them away from what they initially believed and pushed them more toward a more conservative law-and-order stance,” Scheufele says.

The study, soon to be published in the journal Mass Communications & Society, is based on a survey of nearly 800 residents of Tompkins County, N.Y., in the fall of 2001, shortly after the attacks. Its results have been validated by two subsequent national surveys.

The survey showed that among liberals who watched little television, about 20 percent favored more government police powers. But about 41 percent of liberals who were heavy viewers of TV news supported such measures – much closer to the 50 to 60 percent of conservatives who supported greater police powers, regardless of how much TV news they watched.

The gap between conservatives and liberals widened, however, among heavy newspaper readers.

About 39 percent of light-reading liberals backed restricting freedom of speech in the days after the attacks, versus 31 percent who were heavy newspaper readers. Among conservatives, about 66 percent favored the limits, and nearly 70 percent of heavy readers backed the restrictions.

“Newspaper reading tended to reinforce partisan leanings, partly because it is more selective, readers have more options and seek out their own viewpoints,” Scheufele says. “By contrast, TV coverage is very linear, doesn’t offer any choice and was more image driven. You saw the plane hitting the building time and time again.”

Still, the difference between liberals and conservatives remains true and relevant. Another aspect of this difference has to do with willingness to compromise and seek bipartisanship. I went into the details of this in another post where I pointed out, for example, that Republicans tend to only show strong support for Republican administrations and yet Democrats tend to show strong support no matter which party is in power. In an article I found, the author theorized the liberal attitude had to do with conflict avoidance… which the author thought most closely correlated to the personality trait of ‘agreeableness’ (a trait that both liberals and libertarians tend to test higher on than do conservatives; this could explain why both liberals and libertarians joined together in protesting against Bush starting the Iraq war):

http://www.polipsych.com/2010/11/23/civility-politics-liberals-conservatives/

Perhaps the concept of non-partisanship, conflict avoidance, and compromise is inherently appealing to liberal sensibilities.  This can be framed as both a positive or negative trait, as being extremely conflict avoidant could relate to appeasing one’s enemies or being a moral relativist.  Some in the press have observedthat “An endorsement of civility and reason is basically an endorsement of Barack Obama. ‘Reason and civility’ are practically the Democratic party’s platform.”  Perhaps anyone with the motivation to promote reason and civility in politics would necessarily attract a liberal audience, regardless of how truly non-partisan one intended to be.

What psychological traits might relate to being conflict avoidant?  The most obvious trait is Agreeableness, one of the Big Five dimensions of personality, depicted in the below graph ofyourmorals.org data.  As you can see, liberals do score slightly higher on measures of Agreeableness, which includes questions like not finding “fault with others” and being “generally trusting”.

The effect size is fairly small though, so it might help to find some convergent evidence.  I did find this paper, where a nationally representative sample was asked if people “try to avoid getting into political discussions because they can be unpleasant, whether they enjoy discussing politics even though it sometimes leads to arguments, or whether they are somewhere in between.”  There was a small, but significant correlation (r=.07) between being conflict tolerant and being Republican and a smaller, but insignificant correlation (r=.03) between being conflict avoidant and being a Democrat.  This paper cites 6 instances where Agreeableness is negatively linked to conservativism, but also 2 instances where it is positively linked.  It seems like there may be a link between being agreeable overall and being liberal (again, with both positive and negative connotations), but the link is certainly weaker than other effects (e.g. openness to experience or conscientiousness).  Perhaps whatever effect exists due to differences in Agreeableness may be magnified by lower liberal perceptions of ingroup/outgroup distinctions, leading to reduced willingness to engage in conflict with out-groups, as conservatives have heightened concerns about constructs like group loyalty.

This next study connects how all of this relates specifically to being sympathetic to others (outside of one’s focus and, I would add, outside of the focus of one’s self identity or group identity).

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101209074403.htm

In a new study, UNL researchers measured both liberals’ and conservatives’ reaction to “gaze cues” — a person’s tendency to shift attention in a direction consistent with another person’s eye movements, even if it’s irrelevant to their current task — and found big differences between the two groups.

Liberals responded strongly to the prompts, consistently moving their attention in the direction suggested to them by a face on a computer screen. Conservatives, on the other hand, did not.

Why? Researchers suggested that conservatives’ value on personal autonomy might make them less likely to be influenced by others, and therefore less responsive to the visual prompts.

“We thought that political temperament may moderate the magnitude of gaze-cuing effects, but we did not expect conservatives to be completely immune to these cues,” said Michael Dodd, a UNL assistant professor of psychology and the lead author of the study.

Liberals may have followed the “gaze cues,” meanwhile, because they tend to be more responsive to others, the study suggests.

By the way, this would seem to be measuring something similar to traits such as need for closure which has been researched in terms of conservatism (but I’m not sure how strong is the correlation):

http://terpconnect.umd.edu/~hannahk/Political_Conservatism_files/Jostetal2003-reply.pdf

http://terpconnect.umd.edu/~hannahk/Political_Conservatism_files/GreenbergJonas2003.pdf

http://terpconnect.umd.edu/~hannahk/Political_Conservatism_files/Jostetal2003.pdf

Here is another paper showing some of the complexities in trying to demonstrate a correlation:

http://ispp.org/publications/journal/back/v24no3ClosureAndConservative.pdf

And here are a couple of responses defending the validity of the research done on conservatism:

http://terpconnect.umd.edu/~hannahk/Political_Conservatism.html

http://kellybulkeley.com/an-exchange-with-political-psychologist-john-jost/

Let me return to the study about liberal and conservative view of soldiers and foreigners. Obviously, to want to treat all people equally and fairly (whether a part of one’s group or not) originates from an attitude of conflict avoidance, of ‘agreeableness’, of sympathetic responsivness. Maybe the difference (about how people treat the perceived ‘other’, whether enemy combatants or just innocent civilians) can be seen in the following video about an action the US military took in Afghanistan. The action seems typical of the conservative mindset and the response to the video seems typical of the liberal mindset.

I realize some would point out that we don’t know if anyone was necessarily killed, but then again we don’t know that no one was killed. It isn’t good policy to obliterate villages with bombs without even going into the village to make sure there are no innocent people still there.

Also, put this into context of all the innocent people who have been killed. It’s obvious the US military isn’t actually there to help the people living there. The response to 9/11 is entirely out of proportion. More people have died in our seeking national ‘defense’ and patriotic retribution than were lost on 9/11. Ten years later, we have almost no beneficial result to show for any of it. If anything, there are more terrorists and potential terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq than before we invaded.

How many innocent Americans died in the 9/11 terrorist attack?

2,740

How many innocents have died in Afghanistan?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civilian_casualties_of_the_War_in_Afghanistan_(2001%E2%80%93present)

Civilians killed as a result of insurgent actions

  • direct deaths: at least 4,949 – 6,499

Civilians killed as a result of U.S-led military actions

  • direct deaths: at least 5,791 – 9,060
  • indirect deaths in initial invasion: 3,200 – 20,000
  • direct & indirect deaths: 8,991 – 28,583

Civilians killed as a result of the war

  • direct deaths: at least 11,443 – 14,240
  • indirect deaths: 3,200 – 20,000
  • direct & indirect deaths: 14,643 – 34,240
  • indirect deaths after initial invasion: n/a

How many innocents have died in Iraq?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Iraq_War

Source Iraqi casualties Time period
Iraq Family Health Survey 151,000 deaths March 2003 to June 2006
Lancet survey 601,027 violent deaths out of 654,965 excess deaths March 2003 to June 2006
Opinion Research Business survey 1,033,000 deaths as a result of the conflict March 2003 to August 2007
Associated Press 110,600 deaths March 2003 to April 2009
Iraq Body Count project 98,170 — 107,152 civilian deaths as a result of the conflict. 150,726 civilian and combatant deaths[1] March 2003 to October 2010
WikiLeaks. Classified Iraq war logs[2][3][4][5][1] 109,032 deaths January 2004 to December 2009
Year Civilian deaths
2003 12,079
2004 10,834
2005 15,034
2006 27,850
2007 24,677
2008 9,245
2009 4,681
2010 3,576

– – –

I hear the criticisms of all this. The research is biased. Or I’m speculating too much. Or I’m just playing semantic games by separating liberalism from the Democratic Party. Or the fact that most Americans originally supported the wars. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I hear ya. I realize I’m not likely to convince anyone with an opposite opinion (confirmation biasbackfire effect, and the power of misinformation). If you don’t trust any data I have or could share, there ain’t much room for discussion of any kind. Yes, I have a liberal bias which is showing throughout this entire post… from what research interests me to the conclusions I make (I try to be aware of my biases and not get blinded by them, but my success or failure in this regard is for others to decide). I honestly don’t know how to answer criticisms about all of this. I guess just take it or leave it.

Ignoring all that, let me instead consider this issue in light of public opinion (I hope that, even if you don’t trust the opinions of liberals and scientists, you at least trust the opinions of the public). I started this post by pointing out the problems with talking about all of this in a partisan manner. I’m not going to deny that when Bush started the wars many Democrats supported him, that when Bush pushed for the Patriot Act many Democrats patriotically cheered it on… and, of course, that when Obama came into office nothing really changed (or, to put it into the language of Palin, “How’s that hopey, changey thing working out for ya?”). I just don’t care. Fuck the politicians of both parties, a pox on both of their houses. That is my analysis of that issue.

So, public opinion: What does the American people think, specifically what do various demographics think? Is there a clear distinction that can be seen between those on the left and those on the right in terms of support for recent wars?

Public opinion is a good test for the original inquiry considering these wars have very much been a bipartisan effort, but I must point out that even within the limited framework of the two party system there are still major differences to be seen. Even though the Democratic Party may not be a liberal party in the eyes of liberals, many liberals see it as their only option which is why most liberals voted for Obama (liberals want to believe in the rhetoric Democratic politicians spew just as libertarians want to believe in the rhetoric Republican politicians spew). Unfortunately, most polling is done using the categories of Republican and Democrat and I suppose the two parties are rough equivalents to conservative and liberal (in that, even though conservatives exist in both parties, significant numbers of liberals are only found in the Democratic party). Alas, I can’t entirely escape the partisan issue. So, I’ll be forced to rely on polling using partisan labels, but I’ll try to include enough other polling data to clarify the positions of rightwingers and leftwingers.

I’ll start with Afghanistan. The war there was definitely bipartisan and even supported by liberals. Those who attacked on 9/11 were located in Afghanistan, although most of them originated from Saudi Arabia. If it was a partisan issue, it would be expected that mostly Republicans supported the war during the Bush administration and mostly Democrats supported the war when Obama took over… but that isn’t what the data shows.

http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x1295.xml?ReleaseID=1537

Support for President Barack Obama’s policy in Afghanistan turns the political landscape upside down. Democrats say 62 – 33 percent the United States should not be there, even though they strongly support President Obama heavily on virtually all other issues. Republicans, who oppose Obama on most issues, back the war 64 – 31 percent. Independent voters say 54 – 40 percent the United States should not be in Afghanistan.

It’s in fact the opposite of what partisan politics would predict. So, Republicans are bipartisan in their support of the Afghanistan War.

So, what about the Iraq War? There was moral and rational justification for the Afghanistan War, but there was no moral or rational justification for the Iraq War. The Iraq War is the very definition of a war of aggression (which is an illegal war and doesn’t meet the standards of a just war).

http://www.publicopinionpros.norc.org/features/2007/sep/richman.asp

The political polarization regarding support for the Iraq War has been unprecedented. Recent polls by Gallup and others show that a majority of Republicans now support the war (about 70 percent, on average, versus 25 percent opposed), while an even larger majority of Democrats oppose it (about 15 percent supporting versus 80 percent opposed). At the start of the war, the partisan divide was not as great as it is today: According to a poll taken by Gallup in July 2003, Republicans overwhelmingly favored the United States’s sending troops to Iraq (by 88 percent to 12 percent), while Democrats were evenly divided (49 percent to 49 percent). But one year later, Gallup found, the public had become sharply polarized, as Democrats’ opposition to the war (82 percent versus 16 percent support) reached the exact opposite level of Republicans’ support (82 percent versus 16 percent opposed).

It’s a sad fact that many people believed the lies told by the Bush administration. The public, the media, and the politicians are all to be blamed for not strongly questioning those lies, but it should be pointed out that the two groups that did question the most were the libertarians and liberals. It also should be pointed out that it was mostly Republicans who chose to continue to believe those lies long after they were proven to be intentional misinformation.

Looking at these opinions in historic context, Gallup’s mid-2007 average finding of nearly three-fifths of the public saying the Iraq War was a mistake was somewhat more negative than the highest negative reading the organization obtained during the Korean War, when about half (51 percent) called it a mistake in February-March, 1952, but it was slightly less negative than the worst reading recorded during the Vietnam war in May 1971 (61 percent).

In neither of those conflicts, however, was the public polarized politically to the extent it is today. During the Vietnam War there was little difference by party affiliation on Gallup’s mistake question. And while the Republican/Democrat divide reached seventeen percentage points at the height of public opposition to the Korean War in 1952, when 61 percent of Republicans versus 44 percent of Democrats called it a mistake, this was hardly a third of the current fifty-five-percentage-point partisan divide over Iraq reported in the fall of 2005, when 80 percent of Democrats versus 25 percent of Republicans said the war was mistake.

In contrast to their views on Iraq, most Americans continue to support “sending military forces to Afghanistan” and are far less polarized over it. In August 2007 70 percent of the public told Gallup that sending troops to Afghanistan was not a mistake, with 88 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of Democrats concurring.

Let me clarify a confusion in the above quote. Pundits and politicians may be more polarized now than in the past, but the general public isn’t necessarily more polarized. The public has consensus on many issues. So, the differences of public opinion about different wars can’t simply be chalked up to polarization. In those past wars, there was some justification in that we perceived ourselves fighting a clear enemy who was a clear threat to national security. This wasn’t the case when we invaded Iraq.

Although the difference isn’t polarization in general, maybe it is about specifically polarized opinions about wars of aggression. Liberals and conservatives agree in supporting what are perceived as just wars. Conservatives are more supportive of wars in general, but liberals aren’t. If a war isn’t seen as clearly just, liberal support goes down. This has happened with the Iraq war which was initially perceived as just based on Bush’s lies and then later perceived as unjust (at least by liberals) once the lies were seen for what they were. The Afghanistan war, however, still can be reasonably seen as a just war or seen as having started as a just war.

http://people-press.org/report/?pageid=1627

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/behind-the-numbers/2010/07/public_supportive_of_iraq_afgh.html

Most Democrats say the war has not helped keep the U.S. secure (59 percent) while most Republicans say it has (70 percent). Independents split evenly on the question (48 percent has, 48 percent has not).

This demonstrates a difference of worldview. Those on the left believe a war of aggression just leads to more aggression. Those on the right believe that once an enemy has been declared, justly or unjustly, that enemy must be beaten into submission so that they can’t be a further threat.

http://www.blackfive.net/main/2009/08/wapoabc-poll-majority-of-americans-now-against-afghan-war.html

This change of perception has been driven by the left, who previously claimed that Afghanistan was indeed the only proper war worth fighting:

Although 60 percent of Americans approve of how Obama has handled the situation in Afghanistan, his ratings among liberals have slipped, and majorities of liberals and Democrats alike now, for the first time, solidly oppose the war and are calling for a reduction in troop levels.

Overall, seven in 10 Democrats say the war has not been worth its costs, and fewer than one in five support an increase in troop levels.

Among the right, the war there is still seen as worth fighting and winning:

Republicans (70 percent say it is worth fighting) and conservatives (58 percent) remain the war’s strongest backers, and the issue provides a rare point of GOP support for Obama’s policies. A narrow majority of conservatives approve of the president’s handling of the war (52 percent), as do more than four in 10 Republicans (43 percent).

Interestingly, as the article states, this is a “rare point of GOP support for Obama’s policies”. And it pits both Obama and the GOP against the left and, I would guess, a Congress which will eventually reflect the constituency against the war that the numbers above show. There’s a reason for that.

That last bit of commentary fits my own analysis. On many issues, Obama’s stated opinions and policies are more in line with Republicans. Assuming Obama is a liberal, he is a very moderate and centrist liberal. Certainly, self-identified liberals take issue with labeling Obama a liberal. Yes, to the rightwinger, Obama is a liberal… but, then again, almost everyone in America is to the left of the far right (by definition).

All of this becomes more complex with more specific data.

http://people-press.org/commentary/?analysisid=57

The first two sets of data show public opinion from 2002. The third set of data is about public opinion during a past war. Interestingly, in both cases, the young are less wary about war (maybe it’s a case of wisdom coming with age). I doubt this youth support of war has anything directly to do with partisan politics. However, the youth opinion of today is essentially the same as the liberal opinion. Like liberals and Democrats in general, today’s youth initially supported both wars and since have had shrinking support, especially for the Iraq war. However, there is other more recent data which I’ve posted elsewhere. Here is the specific quote that caught my attention when looking at the report:

http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1501/%20millennials-new-survey-generational-personality-upbeat-open-new-ideas-technology-bound

To be sure, Millennials remain the most likely of any generation to self-identify as liberals; they are less supportive than their elders of an assertive national security policy and more supportive of a progressive domestic social agenda. They are still more likely than any other age group to identify as Democrats.

It is interesting that they are the most liberal and most Democratic of any generation. I should clarify the two sets of youth data aren’t entirely comparable. The 2002 data refers to 18-29 year olds which would include both younger GenXers and older Millennials. GenXers are the most Republican of any generation (although younger GenXers are less Republican) and so maybe the 2002 data is too skewed to use as a comparison with the more recent Millenial data.

Let us look at other detailed info from Pew’s Beyond Red vs Blue (2005).

The liberal demographic (which is one of the youngest demographics) strongly disagrees with and most conservatives (in particular, conservative Republicans) strongly agree with the following:

  • Opposes lowering defense/military spending in order to reduce deficit
  • Using military force against countries that may seriously threaten our countrybut have not attacked us
  • Using military force in Iraq was the right decision
  • The U.S. militaryeffort in Iraq going fairly well

The interesting thing about the data is that conservative Democrats are more closely aligned with liberals than with conservative Republicans. This could be interpreted in two ways: 1) partisan politics has more effect on public opinion than does the left/right divide; or 2) conservative Democrats are far less conservative than conservative Republicans. I think both are true, but the second interpretation is important because it demonstrates how labels have different meanings in different contexts. Rightwing conservatives wouldn’t consider conservative Democrats as ‘real’ conservatives. So, when I use the term ‘rightwinger’, I’m intentionally making a distinction between the far right and the average American who identifies as conservative. I don’t think conservatives in general are warmongering, but I do think that the data shows far right conservatives (i.e., rightwingers) are more prone to support war. As a related example of this distinction, most Americans identify as conservative and most Americans don’t support torture, but most Southern Evangelicals (i.e., the religious right) do support torture. Another example about attitudes toward violence is that 28% of Republicans (but only 11% of Democrats and 11% of Independents) answered ‘yes’ to the question, “Do you think it is ever justified for citizens to take violent action against the government, or is it never justified?” As for the Iraq war, the religious right were the strongest supporters from the beginning (which might be because the president was a born-again who portrayed the War on Terrorism as a holy war).

http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/2414.htm

Washington: Of the major religious groups in the United States, evangelical Christians are the biggest backers of Israel and Washington’s planned war against Iraq, says a new survey released here on 9 October by a politically potent group of fundamentalist Christians and Jews.

Some 69% of conservative Christians favour military action against Baghdad; 10 percentage points more than the US adult population as a whole.

However, it’s not necessarily just the religious right. Republicans in general remain the strongest supporters of Afghanistan despite there being little beneficial results shown for all the money spent and lives lost. Here is from very recent data:

http://blogs.e-rockford.com/applesauce/2011/01/03/why-do-republicans-remain-hawkish-about-the-afghan-war-when-americans-generally-are-not/

CNN is out with a NEW POLL showing that support among Americans for the war in Afghanistan has declined dramatically in the past two years.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents are opposed to the war, while only 35 percent support it. Interestingly, perhaps even predictably, Republicans are much more likely than Democrats or independents to back the U.S. war effort.

Which brings to mind the extent to which concepts of American patriotism have been influenced — or distorted, in a sense — by Republicans with regard to our country’s military involvement in the so-called War on Terror.

For the past decade, Republicans have tended to think of themselves as more-patriotic-than-thou and have generally been enthusiastic supporters of U.S. military adventurism. They’ve been quick to characterize war dissenters as cut-and-run appeasers, if not cowards or enemy sympathizers.

The article offers some useful context by looking at public opinion over this last century (unfotunately, the graph doesn’t show the party differences):

20030204b_2.gif

But it wasn’t always that way. Back in the day, when the GOP was controlled mainly by isolationists, its rank-and-file was often opposed to U.S. involvement in foreign wars. Republicans were against American intervention in World War I (and vehemently opposed Woodrow Wilson’s efforts to create the League of Nation’s at the end of that war). Republicans also were staunchly opposed to U.S. involvement in World War II prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

[…] Nor were Republicans especially hawkish about U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. In a Gallup poll conducted in June of 1967, a majority of Republican respondents said Vietnam was a mistake, while only one-third of Democrats agreed with them.

Even as American forces were leaving Southeast Asia and communist forces were overrunning Vietnam and neighboring Cambodia, most Republican respondents in a 1975 Gallup poll opposed any further U.S. military aid to the friendly governments in those countries.

Briefly stated, then, Republicans tended to be fairly dovish through much of the 20th century.

That goes back to my original point. It can’t be denied that the GOP today is the war party, but that is far from saying the GOP has always been the war party. Back when the GOP had a leftwing, Republicans were much more weak in their support for war. And, back when the Democratic Party was more conservative, Democrats were much stronger in their support for war. So, support for war can’t be determined merely by partsan identification. The determining factor is whether a particular party is more conservative or more liberal.

– – –

I want to wrap this up with one last issue about confounding factors which I briefly mentioned near the beginning of this post.

Here is one view on the issue of rightwingers. The author, Corey Robin, begins with giving the history of those who first analyzed this ideological phenomenon.

This year is the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Authoritarian Personality. Once this was the most famous of Theodor Adorno’s works. Today it’s largely forgotten. With one exception: its indelible portrait of the “pseudo-conservative.” Although Richard Hofstadter is often credited with the term—his essay “The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt” appeared in 1955—it was Adorno and his three co-authors who first identified the type: that vengeful and violent citizen who avows his faith in calm and restraint while agitating for policies that “would abolish the very institutions with which he appears to identify himself.” The pseudo-conservative, in other words, is no conservative at all. Prone to “violence, anarchic impulses, and chaotic destructiveness,” he loves war and longs for bedlam in the streets. He has “little in common,” in Hofstadter’s words, “with the temperate and compromising spirit of true conservatism.”

He then presents the common distinction between the real conservative and those who supposedly are falsely identifying as conservative.

While the contrast between the true conservative and the pseudo-conservative has been drawn in different ways—the first reads Burke, the second doesn’t read; the first defends ancient liberties, the second derides them; the first seeks to limit government, the second to strengthen it—the distinction often comes down to the question of violence. Where the pseudo-conservative is captivated by war, Sullivan claims that the true conservative “wants peace and is content only with peace.” The true conservative’s endorsements of war, such as they are, are the weariest of concessions to reality. He knows that we live and love in the midst of great evil. That evil must be resisted, sometimes by violent means. All things being equal, he would like to see a world without violence. But all things are not equal, and he is not in the business of seeing the world as he’d like it to be.

For the rest of the article, Robin makes the case for this distinction being false.

The question for us, which Burke neither poses nor answers, is: What kind of political form entails this simultaneity of—or oscillation between—aggrandizement and annihilation? One possibility is hierarchy, with its twin requirements of submission and domination; the other is violence, particularly warfare, with its rigid injunction to kill or be killed. Perhaps not coincidentally, both are of great significance to conservatism as a theoretical tradition and historical practice.

Consistent with Burke’s argument, however, the conservative often favors the latter over the former. Once we are assured of our power over another being, says Burke, it loses its capacity to harm or threaten us. Make a creature useful and obedient, and “you spoil it of every thing sublime.” It becomes an object of contempt, contempt being “the attendant on a strength that is subservient and innoxious.” At least one-half, then, of the experience of hierarchy—the experience of ruling another—is incompatible with, and indeed weakens, the sublime. Confirmed of our power, we are lulled into the same ease and comfort, undergo the same inward melting, that we experience while in the throes of pleasure.

Rule may sometimes be sublime—our power is not always so assured or secure—but violence is more sublime. Most sublime of all is when the two are fused, when violence is performed for the sake of creating, defending, or recovering a regime of domination. But history does not always present such opportunities. The conservative must settle for the lesser good of war, pure and simple. Thus, when Carl Schmitt declares that the fundamental distinction in politics to which all “actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy,” he merely formalizes an axiom that had been stirring the conservative mind for more than a century.

That is an attractive argument and I’m partly persuaded by it. I do think there is some truth in it, but I’m not entirely sure it fully or perfectly captures the reality. Bob Altemeyer, in his book The Authoritarians, provides his own definition of a ‘rightwinger’.

http://members.shaw.ca/jeanaltemeyer/drbob/TheAuthoritarians.pdf

Authoritarian followers usually support the established authorities in theirsociety, such as government officials and traditional religious leaders. Such peoplehave historically been the “proper” authorities in life, the time-honored, entitled,customary leaders, and that means a lot to most authoritarians. Psychologically thesefollowers have personalities featuring:
1) a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities intheir society;
2) high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities; and
3) a high level of conventionalism.
Because the submission occurs to traditional authority, I call these followers rightwingauthoritarians. I’m using the word “right” in one of its earliest meanings, for inOld English “riht”(pronounced “writ”) as an adjective meant lawful, proper, correct,doing what the authorities said.

But then qualifies this definition by pointing out that rightwing as a psychological trait isn’t necessarily the same thing as rightwing as a political ideology.

In North America people who submit to the established authorities to extraordinary degrees often turn out to be political conservatives, 2 so you can call them “right-wingers” both in my new-fangled psychological sense and in the usual political sense as well. But someone who lived in a country long ruled by Communists and who ardently supported the Communist Party would also be one of my psychological right-wing authoritarians even though we would also say he was a political left-winger. So a right-wing authoritarian follower doesn’t necessarily have conservative political views. Instead he’s someone who readily submits to the established authorities in society, attacks others in their name, and is highly conventional. It’s an aspect of his personality, not a description of his politics. Rightwing authoritarianism is a personality trait, like being characteristically bashful or happy or grumpy or dopey.

You could have left-wing authoritarian followers as well, who support a revolutionary leader who wants to overthrow the establishment. I knew a few in the 1970s, Marxist university students who constantly spouted their chosen authorities, Lenin or Trotsky or Chairman Mao. Happily they spent most of their time fighting with each other, as lampooned in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where the People’sFront of Judea devotes most of its energy to battling, not the Romans, but the Judean People’s Front. But the left-wing authoritarians on my campus disappeared long ago. Similarly in America “the Weathermen” blew away in the wind. I’m sure one can find left-wing authoritarians here and there, but they hardly exist in sufficient number snow to threaten democracy in North America. However I have found bucketfuls of right-wing authoritarians in nearly every sample I have drawn in Canada and the United States for the past three decades. So when I speak of “authoritarian followers” in this book I mean right-wing authoritarian followers, as identified by the RWA scale.

Altemeyer clarifies this with research.

As soon as Gorbachev lifted the restraints on doing psychological research in the Soviet Union an acquaintance of mine, Andre Kamenshikov, administered a survey to students at Moscow State University with the same freedom that western researchers take for granted. The students answered the RWA scale and as well a series of questions about who was the “good guy” and who was the “bad guy” in the Cold War. For example, did the USSR start the arms race, or the USA? Would the United States launch a sneak nuclear attack on the Soviet Union if it knew it could do so without retaliation? Would the USSR do that to the United States? Does the Soviet Union have the right to invade a neighbor who looks like it might become allied with the United States? Does the USA have that right when one of its neighbors starts cozying up to the USSR? At the same time Andre was doing his study, I asked the same questions at three different American universities.

We found that in both countries the high RWAs believed their government’sversion of the Cold War more than most people did. Their officials wore the white hats, the authoritarian followers believed, and the other guys were dirty rotten warmongers. And that’s most interesting, because it means the most cock-sure belligerents in the populations on each side of the Cold War, the ones who hated and blamed each other the most, were in fact the same people, psychologically. If they had grown up on the other side of the Iron Curtain, they probably would have believed the leaders they presently despised, and despised the leaders they now trusted. They’d have been certain the side they presently thought was in the right was in the wrong, and instead embraced the beliefs they currently held in contempt.

Based on the research, several things relevant to this post can be concluded about Right-Wing Authoritarians (RWAs):

1) RWAs support/promote violence and war.

[…] high RWAs tend to make an ambiguous situation dangerous […] are likely to turn a secure situation into a dangerous one.

2) RWAs aren’t well informed (which relates to their higher rates of hypocrisy).

Dunwoody, Plane, Rice and Rothrock thus found that as late as August 2005 andJanuary 2006 high RWA Pennsylvania college students were likely to have inaccurateperceptions of the war in Iraq in all the areas tested. They believed Iraq had usedchemical or biological weapons against American troops, that Iraq’s government washighly connected with al-Qaida, that Americans had found evidence in Iraq thatSaddam was working closely with al-Qaida, that most people in the world favored theUnited States’ going to war in Iraq, and so did most people in Europe. They alsobelieved that the U.S. had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but this wasonly statistically significant at the .09 level. In general the students were betterinformed than the American public as a whole, but the authoritarian followers amongthem still carried a lot of demonstrably erroneous beliefs around in their heads.

3) RWAs have a strong tendency to rationalize away inconvenient facts.

David Winters of the University of Michigan found in 2005 that the high RWAs in a largesample of university students believed the invasion of Iraq constituted a just war. They thoughtthe danger posed by Iraq was so great, the United States had no other choice. They thought theinvasion occurred only as a last resort, after all peaceful alternatives had been exhausted, and thatthe war would bring about more good than evil. They rejected the notion that the failure to findweapons of mass destruction showed the “pre-emptive” attack had not been necessary for selfdefense.They also rejected the suggestion that the war was conducted to control oil supplies andextend American power, or as an act of revenge. And they still believed that Saddam had beeninvolved in the 9/11 attacks.

4) RWAs, at least in the North American population, have weak correlation to fiscal conservatism and strong correlation to social conservatism.

RWA scale scores correlated highest with attitudes against samesexmarriage, abortion, drugs, pornography, women’s equality, unconventionalbehavior and free speech, and with support for the Patriot Act and America’s “right”to spread democracy by military force. In contrast, the relationships with economicissues (taxation, minimum wage, the public versus private sector, free trade) proved much weaker. The data thus indicate, as do a lot of other findings, that high RWAs are“social conservatives” to a much greater extent that they are “economic conservatives.”

To give more context in American politics, here is an excerpt from another book (Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics by Hetherington and Weiler):

Those who score high in authoritarianism tend to have a different cognitive style than those who score low. The former tend to view the world in more concrete, black and white terms (Altemeyer 2996; Stenner zoos). This is probably because they have a greater than average need for order. In contrast, those who score lower in authoritarianism have more comfort with ambiguous shades of gray, which allow for more nuanced judgments.

Perhaps because of these cognitive differences, people who are more authoritarian make stronger than average distinctions between in-groups – the groups they identify with – and out-groups – groups that they perceive challenge them. Such a tendency has the effect of imposing order and minimizing ambiguity. In addition, those who are more authoritarian embrace and work to protect existing social norms (Feldman zoo3). These conventions are time-tested in their ability to maintain order. Altering norms could result in unpredictable changes with undesirable consequences.

Since the more authoritarian view the social order as fragile and under attack (Altemeyer 1996), they tend to feel negatively about, behave aggressively toward, and be intolerant of those whom they perceive violate time-honored norms or fail to adhere to established social conventions (Stenner zoo5). Specifically, scholars have shown a strong relationship between authoritarianism and negative affect toward many minority groups. Over the past fifty years, these groups have included Jews (Adorno et al. 1950; but see Raden 1999), African Americans (Sniderman and Piazza 1993), gays (Barker and Tinnick zoo6), and Arabs after September ii (Huddy et al. zoo5).6

Authoritarianism is a particularly attractive explanation for changes in contemporary American politics because it structures opinions about both domestic and foreign policy issues. In addition to having concerns about racial difference and social change, those who are more authoritarian tend to prefer more muscular responses to threats than those who are less. A proverbial punch to the mouth of an adversary results in a less ambiguous outcome than, say, negotiation or diplomacy. Not surprisingly, scholars have consistently drawn links between authoritarianism and a hawkish attitude toward foreign policy and resolution of conflict (Lipset 11959; Eckhardt and Newcombe 11969; Altemeyer 11996; Perrin zoos). Those scoring high in authoritarianism were also more likely than those scoring low to support military action after the September 1111 terrorist attacks (Huddy et al. zoos). Viewed as a whole, research on authoritarianism suggests that the same disposition that might dispose people to be anti-black or anti-gay might also dispose them to favor military conflict over diplomacy and protecting security over preserving civil liberties. A preference for order and a need to minimize ambiguity connects both impulses.

The events from another time in history provide suggestive evidence that the same disposition motivates both. Particularly in the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy set his sights not only on rooting communist elements out of the State Department and other government agencies. He also focused his attention, for a time, on purging homosexuals. McCarthy pointed to supposed links between communism and homosexuality, and his speeches often made passing reference to “Communists and queers” (Johnson zoo4). Other conservative senators, including Styles Bridges, Kenneth Wherry, and Clyde Hoey, pressed the issue of homosexuality along with communism during the Red Scare as well.

All this suggests that preferences about many of the new issues on the American political agenda, such as gay rights, the war in Iraq, the proper response to terrorism, and immigration are likely structured by authoritarianism. These are all potentially divisive topics, characterized by deeply held, gut-level views. Although contemporary American politics is perhaps not polarized in a strict definitional sense, insofar as preferences are not increasing number of salient issues are structured by a deeply felt worldview, specifically authoritarianism.

– – –

In conclusion:

1) The Republican Party is presently associated with rightwing politics (social conservatism), but it wasn’t always.

2) Social conservatism in the US is presently correlated with Right-Wing Authoritarianism, but this correlation is partly culture dependent.

3) Right-Wing Authoritarianism has been shown in research to include a predisposition to supporting of violence and war.

Let me return to my original comment:

“I always wonder why rightwingers love war so much. Looking past all the patriotic propaganda, destroyed lives is the reality of war. But once the soldiers come home all the lovers of war suddenly stop caring.”

Have I proven this to be true? Have I at least provided enough supporting evidence?

I think I have. I haven’t necessarily explained why Right-Wing Authoritarians are the way they are, but I have provided the correlations for how Right-Wing Authoritarian attitudes play out in American politics.

If one wishes to say that this has little to do with real conservatism, I’m fine with that. I honestly admit to not being sure what true conservatism might be. The people I consider true conservatives (or, at least, respectable and reasonable conservatives) are people like John W. Dean and Meghan McCain who vocally criticize the radical rightwingers who have taken over the conservative movement. I’d love to see some other version of conservatism to take the place of the present radical rightwingers.