Understanding the psychology of authoritarianism

Mike sez, "Bob Altemeyer's excellent book 'The Authoritarians' is online in full pdf format. It's a result of 30+ years of research into what he calls 'right-wing authoritarianism'- right in the sense of 'might makes' rather than 'opposite of left'. It's a fascinating explanation of how the minds of this subset of the population works- or in some cases, fails to: how they are able to assiduously apply double standards, fail to notice inconsistencies in their beliefs, justify abominable behavior, etc. Somehow, knowing that these people really, truly, can't reason in the same way the majority of us can makes them a little less irksome, if not less frightening."

I've read a couple chapters, and he's a funny and engaging writer who seems to have a lot of experimental evidence to present. Good stuff.


The second reason I can offer for reading what follows is that it is not chock full of opinions, but experimental evidence. Liberals have stereotypes about conservatives, and conservatives have stereotypes about liberals. Moderates have stereotypes about both. Anyone who has watched, or been a liberal arguing with a conservative (or vice versa) knows that personal opinion and rhetoric can be had a penny a pound. But arguing never seems to get anywhere. Whereas if you set up a fair and square experiment in which people can act nobly, fairly, and with integrity, and you find that most of one group does, and most of another group does not, that's a fact, not an opinion. And if you keep finding the same thing experiment after experiment, and other people do too, then that's a body of facts that demands attention.3 Some people, we have seen to our dismay, don't care a hoot what scientific investigation reveals; but most people do. If the data were fairly gathered and we let them do the talking, we should be on a higher plane than the current, "Sez you!"
The Authoritarians (Thanks, Mike!)

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  1. “Paging John Galt … paging John Galt … your conscience is calling, please contact the Front Desk ….”

  2. OM FUCKING G

    Best Troll EVAR.

    And the best thing is that it would work as well on Little Green Footballs as here.

  3. Personal opinion, Authoritarianism offers (or purports to offer) one thing that more free-wheeling systems of government never can– predictability.

    Predictability makes risk-averse people feel safe and comfortable, but since people in general are diverse and make unpredictable things happen, the only way to have predictability is to squash individual initiative and desire.

    This works in all branches of politics, though, left or right. Got to squash those pesky counterrevolutionaries, comrade.

  4. WITH Buzzwords: “Once our government leaders and the authorities condemn the dangerous elements in our society, it will be the duty of every patriotic citizen to help stomp out the rot that is poisoning our country from within.”

    WITHOUT Buzzwords: “Once our public servants establish laws to protect citizens from dangerous criminals in our own country, it will be the duty of every member of society to help defend his fellow citizens and prevent the growth of dangerous criminal behavior from spreading.”

    Semantics.

    1. Semantics.

      Indeed, and completely irrelevant. The interesting thing about the buzzwords is that authoritarians and non-authoritarians respond differently to those buzzwords. In effect the authoritarians respond positively to those buzzwords, the non-authoritarian does not. Your suggested revision wouldn’t do a very good job of discriminating authoritarians.

      You might want to take a look in the methodology section and see how the instrument has been validated. There’s 30 years of research data there, but the part you’re looking for is methodology. I can provide you with a link to the section that deals with validation.

  5. Sometimes, the duty of every member of society is to defend his fellow citizens from the dangerous, criminal behaviour of government leaders, authorities, and “public servants”.

    The semantic difference in the two formulations is the difference between authoritarianism, and power of, for, and by the people.

  6. I am the kind of person who shamelessly judges books by their covers. It has served me well thus far in my life, and I don’t plan to abandon the habit on the basis of a silly old aphorism.

    But – like any handy rule – there are exceptions. For instance, the image in this post is the kind of graphic that I would associate with the kind of self-published, exceedingly spurious research that is likely to tell me that time is a cube, that racial group x is controlling the world and is really a bunch of space lizards, and/or something silly about UFOs, Easter Islands, or 9/11.

    But I’m glad I clicked through and took a look at this book, because I think it’ll be a very useful one in the future, and the author is indeed reasonably reputable (reputably reasonable?). So I guess there is another class of books that can have such covers: potentially-interesting books by aging university professors who delegate all the vaguely tech-y aspects of their work to well-meaning volunteers.

    1. Tweaked, he also has an extensive list of publications. Here are a few that you might want to look at:

      Altemeyer and Hunsberger. A Revised Religious Fundamentalism Scale: The Short and Sweet of It. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion (2004) vol. 14 (1) pp. 47-54

      Altemeyer. The Decline of Organized Religion in Western Civilization. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion (2004) vol. 14 (2) pp. 77-89

      Altemeyer. What happens when authoritarians inherit the earth? A simulation. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (2003) vol. 3 pp. 1-9

      Altemeyer. Dogmatic Behavior Among Students: Testing a New Measure of Dogmatism. The Journal of Social Psychology (2002) vol. 142 (6) pp. 713-721

      Altemeyer. The Other “Authoritarian Personality”. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (1998) vol. 30 pp. 47-92

      Altemeyer and Hunsberger. Authoritarianism, religious fundamentalism, quest, and prejudice. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion (1992) vol. 2 (2) pp. 113-133

      Along with various books. I’d skip them – the online version is the most current, and covers the previous book’s content. But if you’re interested:

      Altemeyer. The Other “Authoritarian Personality”. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (1998) vol. 30 pp. 47-92

      Altemeyer and Hunsberger. Amazing Conversions: Why Some Turn to Faith & Others Abandon Religion. (1997)

      Altemeyer. The Authoritarian Specter. (1996)

      Altemeyer. Enemies of Freedom: Understanding Right-Wing Authoritarianism. (1988)

      Altemeyer. Right-Wing Authoritarianism. (1981)

  7. Finding the ‘authoritarian personality’ in political research has been something of a holy grail for the past several generations. What makes an authoritarian and how does that differ from a regular person?

    We discuss Altemeyer’s research often in my doctoral program, and while it seems to be corroborated experimentally, I think it important to keep in mind that they are CONFIRMATION of Altemeyer’s own research and not true REPLICATIONS of his testing efficacy.

    That being said, the following problems immediately come to mind when looking at the RWA (right wing authoritarianism) scale:

    1. The RWA tests ATTITUDES, not ORIENTATIONS or basic personality traits. The scale asks questions regarding races, genders, etc, but they could be a function of culture and environment instead of any basic biological tendencies and could be short-term affectations.

    2. The RWA does not clearly discern between authoritarianism and conservatism. The scale pretty much confounds the two and leaves it there. Are all conservatives (small-c) authoritarians? It’s impossible to differentiate with this scale.

    3. It’s catchy, but the RWA is just that, RIGHT WING authoritarians only. What about left wing authoritarians? Do they not exist, or are we consciously biasing our research toward only ONE sector of the population?

    1. We discuss Altemeyer’s research often in my doctoral program, and while it seems to be corroborated experimentally, I think it important to keep in mind that they are CONFIRMATION of Altemeyer’s own research and not true REPLICATIONS of his testing efficacy.

      Not sure what you mean by ‘testing efficacy’. If you mean replicated studies, the scale has been used quite a bit – all over the world in fact. Could you clarify?

      The RWA tests ATTITUDES, not ORIENTATIONS or basic personality traits.

      Yes, but it’s correlated with orientations and personalities. Looking for those correlations is what he does, which leads to your next point:

      The RWA does not clearly discern between authoritarianism and conservatism.

      Bingo! That’s always been the weak spot in this area. He argues that he’s looked for but not found left wing authoritarians. I don’t feel he’s made a concrete case, and there’s not much of a cognitive model.

      I’d say if you’re interested in replication, do a study. I’d love to see more work done in this area.

      Cheers!

  8. […]’right-wing authoritarianism’- right in the sense of ‘might makes’ rather than ‘opposite of left’.

    What? Disregarding larger question of whether “-wing” terms are useful, “right-wing” means exactly the “opposite of left”-wing.

  9. It’s interesting to hear Authoritarians talked about as ‘them,’ when I know I have a strong tendency toward it myself. It hasn’t made me a right-winger in a political sense just because I believe in different sources of authority. Instead of supporting a person or political party, I seek consistent application of the rule of law. To me, government by the people for the people means that those who mess with elections and the democratic process are usurpers.

    I still take a very literal view of things compared to most people, so I hope I’ll clues to any logical weaknesses I may have as I read this.

  10. “how they are able to assiduously apply double standards, fail to notice inconsistencies in their beliefs, justify abominable behavior, etc.”

    ummmmmmm… pretty sure that makes you human, not a subset thereof.

  11. This is a CLASSIC!

    Wonderful book. I started reading this at work (I know, I know..) around 4:30, and I am typing this now at 5:40 still sitting here, having finished Chapter One.

    Wonderful book! Would love to see this author get a printed copy and a book tour, a spot on Colbert, etc.

  12. I am curious how much the semantic argument outlined above is actually the cause of an implicit enframing bias in the researchers work. Most of the excerpts reek to me of a liberal bias, an agenda driven sort of research (or to employ a right wing term, ‘activist’ research.)

    The author basically asks the question “if we ask a series of simple questions, and over and over right wing conservatives give me answers that defy my logic” then can’t we infer a sense of a pattern across the spectrum of right wingers, especially when those same kinds of answers show up time and time again?

    I think rather than saying the semantic difference is the difference between right and wrong (authoritarianism vs by / for the people) as suggested by bardfinn and some others, perhaps our vocabulary itself in some way structures our ability to communicate. The author takes to his case with “Yes, ___ fill in the blank with a statement about rampant ignorance in the right ____, but ____ fill in the blank with hyperbole and loose inferences about ‘them’s and they’s’ following along blindly.”

    That whole sentence structure is hostile and inflammatory, and it’s difficult to conceive that someone who tries to make a case for being awash in the indifference of the scientific method could at the same time be so pejorative.

    I guess for me I have a hard time (conservative leaning independent) in giving much credibility to this fellow when just skimming through what he’s laid out in advertisement of his work product seems to heavily biases … and I think there’s no small amount of connection between how the author chooses to communicate his position (exasperated gee wiz maybe now these nutty right-wingers will have to listen to reason and fact) and the likely reception his questions received in his subject audience. His very words make me feel defensive, and if that’s the case, how can he be getting good data at the end of the day if people are put on defense from the moment they start in his experiment? At the least, given the eagerness to express the “there’s the right wing way, and then there’s the correct way” once the author got the results, it’s hard to consider the whole process impartial.

    1. His very words make me feel defensive, and if that’s the case, how can he be getting good data at the end of the day if people are put on defense from the moment they start in his experiment?

      Did you actually read any of the methods sections for any of the experiments? You might want to take a look at those before you prejudge the conclusion. If you’re really an independent, you should be willing to look at the evidence. If you have specific critiques of his methods, all you have to do is perform the research and get it published.

  13. Based on the facts established in this book, 167% of Boingboing readers support giving electric shocks to Authoritarians.

  14. #3: This isn’t necessarily true. Authoritarian governements just offer a relative guarantee of a permanent advantage to one group of people (e.g. plantation owners in the antibellum US south, members of the ruling party and secret police in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Praetorian guard in Roman Empire, etc). In practice they offer little stability for the majority of people. Hitler declared wars at his whim, Stalin murdered imagined enemies by the thousands, Roman emporers passed laws at whim or engaged in personal indulgances.

    These governments survive until the protected group starts to fail themselves (internal divisions, economic collapse, external forces, etc).

  15. how they are able to assiduously apply double standards, fail to notice inconsistencies in their beliefs, justify abominable behavior, etc.

    That’s got nothing to do with the right wing at all.

    All kinds of people have this exact failure when they deal with some issues – the more liberal, eco-groups, and honestly, even a certain BB copyfighter at times. It’s certainly prevalent in some comments as well.

  16. I read this a few months back (found via this great blog: http://dansdata.blogsome.com/ – prolly right up the alley of most BB readers BTW) and it explained so much that previously seemed completely mysterious…

    I’d suggest those levelling much criticism at it haven’t read the whole thing.

    Basically, there is a large class of people who can’t be bothered doing their own thinking, and instead have nominated authorities they defer to and parrot without actually doing much or any consideration of their own.

    Because these folks have little or no understanding of the issues they make so much noise about, they’ll spout contradictions without noticing, and reasoned argument will fall on deaf ears.

    Such people are the natural foot soldiers of scumbags like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and do much to perpetuate their cock-eyed, simplistic and self-righteous viewpoints.

    Sure, the right-wing ethos contains one or two principles that actually hold water, but I’ve always felt the set of attitudes typically characterised as left wing are obviously, inherently, demonstrably more evolved, and this research goes a long way to actually proving that.

  17. The idea that it is only the right wing, or only a particular faction of American government which has an authoritarian agenda is a very short-sighted and dangerous one.

    If you believe that you can be saved from authoritarianism by embracing (for example) the Democratic party or even more socialistic government as seen in the UK, you’ve got another thing coming.

    Authoritarian power knows how to play good cop, bad cop. The fact that you hate and fear the extreme right wing isn’t a mistake on their part.

    1. “Even more socialist government as seen in the UK”

      AHAHAHA YOU TRIPPIN’

      It’s funny though – even if the current government did have more socialist leanings, it would be prevented from exercising them by the fear of the electorate. In a democracy, you don’t get the government you want – you get the government you deserve. It’s funny that against all previous Labour bias and despite the early 90’s recession, unregulated banking and free marketeering was not reined in by New Labour. But try to convince any electorate of the merits of a good idea, when there is no immediate or apparent need for it.

  18. Quite a bit to read. So far the theory seems mostly like a ’70’s undergraduate dorm conversation about how Nixon would for sure have a bad trip if he took acid, ’cause he’s such a square. Groovy people have good trips, ’cause of karma.

  19. Hanging a lamp on it or no, letting your argument hinge on the addendum ‘…that defy my logic’ probably only serves to weaken your stance. Unless, of course, the reader is hurrying through your comment to get to the next one.

    I can never be quite sure with the comments here that it’s not all some set up but then I guess a healthy dose of questioning one’s own beliefs is just, uh…

    …lily-livered, pejorative, close-mindedness?

  20. After reading a bit I agree with dennismoebly; the model UN cited in the book is one example. In this case the author separates the Authoritarians and non-Authoritarians, and has each group play a model UN simulation where they pretend to be world leaders. The non-Authoritarians avoid having wars and end up with the entire Earth singing Kumbaya together, while the Authoritarians degenerate into warfare and nuke everything.

    It’s ironic in this situation that the “Authoritarians” seem more inclined to anarchy, while the hippies seem more inclined to blind faith in each other. If he salted each group with a bad actor or two it might give more insight into real world results.

  21. This research is overtly political, and therefore should bear a very great burden of proof. Otherwise you have:

    People that disagree with me about political issues are crazy. Not just in my opinion, but because of SCIENCE, in which I have a degree. Also, I used Excel, after all — here’s my graph. Q.E.D. So, fools, report to the reeducation facility.

    What about the converse?

    I have proven liberals HATE AMERICA. I asked six undergraduates, and that’s what they said. Therefore, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and those evildoers at the Boingboing.net intertubes site must all report to the reeducation facility.

  22. I have to agree that this is overtly political. Only a conservative right-winger could fit into some of those questions in the RWA. As to the author’s claim of a lack of LW authoritarians, I ask,”have you been living under a rock?” What do you call ELF? What about the lesser restrictions on liberty like helmet laws? Those exhibit paternalism as well, and they are ultimately backed by violence. But I guess since you just get a fine to start with we should ignore the man with a gun handing you the ticket. Move along there is no authoritarianism here.

  23. While we’re all triangulating links, y’all might enjoy a gander at Jonathan Haidt’s TED talk on morality, as it applies to liberals and conservatives (delivered, fwiw, by a liberal, to a demonstrably liberal audience).

  24. I think that this book was written in an unfortunate manner.

    I think that there is a great deal of really interesting research that often does point to quite surprising differences in the way that liberals and conservatives think — Jonathan Haidt’s research for instance — and a quick skim through this book shows that it almost certainly contains tons of that interesting research.

    However, it is written in such a manner so as to be an instant turn-off and instantly rejected by anyone who isn’t a liberal. It’s so clear that Right = Bad in this book, so why would anyone read it but the choir?

    For the record, my Right-Wing Authoritarianism score was 24, only four points from being the most flaming Communist bra-burning anarchist wheatgrass-juicing guy on the scale, but I still thought that Altemeyer’s book wouldn’t win any chat-room arguments.

  25. I’m very upset that this work consisted of nothing but direct insults directed at my mother. How could the author possibly know anything about the actions of greenpeace when she goes to the beach? Also, the three entire chapters dedicated to describing her ‘stank’ I found rather over the top. In conclusion, the spelling was atrocious.

    What? I thought we were supposed to make stuff up about this book without reading it. Everyone else was doing it.

  26. I have proven liberals HATE AMERICA. I asked six undergraduates, and that’s what they said. Therefore, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and those evildoers at the Boingboing.net intertubes site must all report to the reeducation facility.

    Doing a nice job of illustrating Altemeyer’s points. You may want to actually read the studies before you engage in more unintentional self-parody.

    1. Have you gone wrong? Your post is the equivalent of “I know you are, you said you are, so what am I then?” Try actually making an argument rather than vaguely smearing the point made.

      1. Have you gone wrong? Your post is the equivalent of “I know you are, you said you are, so what am I then?” Try actually making an argument rather than vaguely smearing the point made.

        I agree that this was short – this is a blog after all, and not a semester paper. I dont’ want to spend several pages giving specific examples, but in light of your call for more specifics I’ll explain by breaking down the post I was replying to in the context of the book:

        This research is overtly political, and therefore should bear a very great burden of proof. Otherwise you have:

        A good point, but it ignores the fact that this is 30 years of peer reviewed research. That’s a pretty good burden of proof. Not a perfect one, and I’ve agreed with some of the criticisms of Altemeyer. However, the initial sentence is designed as an if then, but fails to achieve the ‘if’, and thereby fails to support the conclusion. Now let’s look at the text of both paragraphs in light of the research. If you look at page 9, Altemeyer posits three factors that combine to produce an authoritarian. The one I noticed:

        1) a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society;

        Now let’s take a look at what Machineintheghost wrote:

        People that disagree with me about political issues are crazy. Not just in my opinion, but because of SCIENCE, in which I have a degree. Also, I used Excel, after all — here’s my graph. Q.E.D. So, fools, report to the reeducation facility.

        I have proven liberals HATE AMERICA. I asked six undergraduates, and that’s what they said. Therefore, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and those evildoers at the Boingboing.net intertubes site must all report to the reeducation facility.

        These two paragraphs do a great job of illustrating these points. First consider the appeal to legitimate authority. Unfortunately this book doesn’t go into as much depth on how legitimate is defined, though you get the general sense on page 9 where Altemeyer says.

        Authoritarian followers usually support the established authorities in their society, such as government officials and traditional religious leaders. Such people have historically been the “proper” authorities in life, the time-honored, entitled,customary leaders, and that means a lot to most authoritarians.

        You may also want to consult the following for more detail, or consult his previous books:

        Jost et al. Political conservatism as motivated social cognition. Psychological Bulletin (2003) vol. 129 (3) pp. 339-375

        Son Hing et al. Authoritarian Dynamics and Unethical Decision Making: High Social Dominance Orientation Leaders and High Right-Wing Authoritarianism Followers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2007) vol. 92 (1) pp. 67-81

        In the first one, we have a very low opinion of education “SCIENCE, in which I hold a degree.” This appears again in the second paragraph where research is equated with “I asked six undergraduates.” Science as Machineintheghost is portraying it is not a legitimate authority, but a false one which cannot be trusted.

        We could also consider the level of fear here – “fools, report to the reeducation facility,” “liberals HATE AMERICA,” and “must all report to the reeducation facility.” Take a look at the section starting on page 54 which goes into the role of fear in Authoritarian followers. Machineintheghost’s immediately leap to assuming that people are being forced into a ‘reeducation facility’ is a good example of the dangerous world assumption that Authoritarians tend to share.

        So those two were enough to illustrate how Machineintheghost was engaged in unintentional self-parody by displaying some of the traits that he was arguing against. If this isn’t detailed enough for you, I’d be happy to go on at greater length. Your criticism was justified and I regret that I sacrificed detail for brevity. Thanks for forcing me to be more specific, and apologies to everyone else for the length of this post.

        1. for a guy who suggests I read more, you seem to have problems with it yourself. In order to render the comment attack-worthy, you’ve ignored a sentence, rendering a straw man fallacy.

          That sentence is:

          “Otherwise you have:”

          If you read the comment with that, it becomes pretty clear that the commenter is agnostic to the camps described. I may be misunderstanding you, but you appear to be trying to squeeze the commenter into an authoritarian-apologist box which they do not deserve.

          1. If you read the comment with that, it becomes pretty clear that the commenter is agnostic to the camps described. I may be misunderstanding you, but you appear to be trying to squeeze the commenter into an authoritarian-apologist box which they do not deserve.

            You’ll note that I did indeed include that when I quoted Machineintheghost. Given post #19 where Machineintheghost says

            Quite a bit to read. So far the theory seems mostly like a ’70’s undergraduate dorm conversation about how Nixon would for sure have a bad trip if he took acid, ’cause he’s such a square. Groovy people have good trips, ’cause of karma.

            Doesn’t strike me as being ‘agnostic’ about the research. I do feel that the comments illustrate the authoritarian attitude. But you may be right. The way to resolve this is for Machineintheghost to clarify their intention. Were the comments “agnostic to the group described” or an attack on the work itself?

            Perhaps you should direct your question to them rather than me? I’ve attempted to answer your request to “Try actually making an argument rather than vaguely smearing the point made.” Regardless, the point is that both paragraphs do illustrate the authoritarian mindset.

  27. What jumped first to mind when I started reading his intro to the book was Godwin’s law.

    I also thought, ‘hey this reminds me of all of the conservative dissections of supposedly senseless, illogical thinking that people on the left engage in.’

    If nothing else it could serve as something to send back to by conservative buddy when he sends me yet another insulting diatribe from some conservative talking head. But I don’t think I’d spread this around. I’d just be doing the same thing he does.

    In my mental political map I have authoritarianism at one pole and anarchism at another. I have right wing/left wing on a completely different axis. I also have an axis for custodial/activist government. I’m sure other people could add other spectrums in there. I don’t see how Stalin doesn’t qualify as a left wing authoritarian.

  28. To those concerned by the term “right-wing,” that term is used differently in the context of the book than you expect, and he explains that use. Snip:

    Because the submission occurs to traditional authority, I call these followers rightwing authoritarians. I’m using the word “right”… as an adjective meant lawful, proper, correct, doing what the authorities said. 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.

    So don’t be put off the by that term – read the book.

    1. >To those concerned by the term “right-wing,” that term is used differently in the context of the book than you expect,

      y, but if that’s the case, you have to wonder why he chose to use such a loaded term.

  29. I can write an experiment that gives me exactly what I want it to…this guy’s no different.

    It’s incredibly dangerous to believe that we are the Good People Who Always Do Right, and the other side are Horrible Monsters Who Always Do Evil.

    In my experience, liberals have been just as willing to force their beliefs on others, and in some ways more successful at it. The difference is that I think that leftwing ideas tend to be better.

    I’m stunned to see supposedly intelligent self-aware people falling for such a propagandistic, blinkered, black/white view of human nature. Like it or not, we are ALL humans, and humans all have the same mental machinery. We all have the same weaknesses in reasoning and beliefs. Read Tricks of the Mind, or Predictably Irrational.

    —assiduously apply double standards, fail to notice inconsistencies in their beliefs, justify abominable behavior—-

    Do you actually intend to make the point that liberals don’t do this too? Really? If that doesn’t frighten you, it should.

    1. I can write an experiment that gives me exactly what I want it to…this guy’s no different.

      So do it. Seriously. Give a test to 1000 liberals and 1000 conservatives and make it “prove exactly what [you] want it to.”

      You imply this guy’s experiments are just designed prove exactly what he wants, so

      1) Pick an experiment which you think is unfairly loaded, and explain why,

      2) Come up with an experiment which would prove the opposite.

      Until you do, http://bit.ly/7JHgj0

  30. True, plenty of stereotypes for both sides. It just so happens, though, that the more educated a population is, the more liberal it is on average. Cnsrvtvs r stpd; sd t.

  31. So, a yank (as in citizen of USA) wrote a book about right wing authoritariansim ? What a great book it must be.

    Hint: Both democrats and conservatives in US are right wing parties.

  32. I read the whole thing, though I admit I skipped some of the notes, so maybe I missed out on vital points. And although I am independent voter, I lean left. But this manifesto was so drenched in politically-charged prose, that I have to agree with others before me. I can’t see that this has any value, for it seems rather obvious that the conclusion preceded the study. I even believe that the right (in whatever form the writer wishes to use the word) is indeed the victim of living in fear–what with death panels and birthers and so on. But this piece was so obviously the product of a certain political agenda that it hardly seems to qualify as science at all.

  33. I’m really disappointed in this crowd. The guy is preaching to the converted, he’s talking to liberals. He’s citing his work and he’s trying to illustrate how authoritarians think in a buddy buddy manner to liberals. It is like a literature review of his previous work which had to be peer reviewed by multiple scientists in other to get published. This is his podium and he’s free to present his work in a coherent manner for his audience, liberals.

    If you really can’t see past some awful prose, you didn’t really read it. The guy is describing past experiments and how it relates to authoritarian thinking.

    He’s not taking an academic tone because he already did in all of his papers.

  34. Alrighty I have to weigh in on this argument against this guy…

    I do aggree that the text comes off as very slanted against “right-wing conservationism” However, Altemeyer does point out that this is written in such a politically charged fashion that it may be to his detriment (Page 53 note 16). Also while he tries to write a book that has lasting value the fact remains that the context of his studies is based very much on the culture that the studies were performed within. Therefor he has a studies which are designed to characterize people with a specific set of ideologies that correlate with their tendency to follow present day authority figures. He also makes sure to state that his observations are a North American phenomenon. The assumption is if the tests were rewritten to classify members of orthidox religion or religious extremists the patterns of behavior would be similar.

    The problem is this does come across as preaching to the coir, however this is the audience he seems he would like to reach since the “followers” would not listen unless he was a recognized authority figure….which he could become if we all team together.

    I do have issues with the test as he cannot identify the left-wing authoritarians. It seems that the test is weighted so people who score very low may do so to reject outright the precieved authoritarian values simply because they are the values that must be rejected in order to defy the “authority”. This bothers me because I have encountered people who reject the popular authority because it is popular just as people accept the popular authority because it it popular. Both types of people seem to make decisions as a reaction to the situation rather than one based on rational thinking. However Altemeyer seems to interpret the test without considering both types of individuals.

  35. I had a class with Dr. Bob in my first year of university, and he was easily the best lecturer I’ve had over the years. Very funny guy, and a proficient explainer. Anyone who had him will surely remember Coquilles St. Jacques!

  36. So you have two easily confused and somewhat overlapping groups: authoritarians who have right wing politics vs authoritarians who support the traditional established authority, regardless of whether it’s communist, fascist, theocratic, or whatever. And so to help distinguish between them, Altermeyer needs to come up with a special new term, some kind of snappy label that can conveniently be used to refer to the second group only. And out of all the options available to him, he chooses to use… exactly the same term that is usually used to describe the first group!

    ‘Right-wing authoritarian’ now sometimes means right-wing authoritarian, and sometimes it means something else.

    Could this possibly be any more confusing?

    Seriously, how hard would it have been to call the second group something like ‘establishment authoritarians’, or ‘drongobots’ or ‘Group B’ or — anyfuckingthing really, just not the same name as the first group. I mean, FFS, after 30 years, you’d think he could have some up with something.

    Meanwhile, I’m on page 25 and only now do I finally reach the first good bit: ‘high RWAs proved more willing to persecute even the movements they liked than did others.’ This is a fascinating subject, but I sure hope there’s a bit more actual substance waiting for me up ahead….

    1. I for one favour dividing society into ‘angry blamers’ and ‘happy collaborators’. That is, people who co-operate, not people who sit on the pavement clapping as the nazis march into town…

      1. That’s all very well, but what are you going to do with the happy blamers and the angry collaborators?

  37. No time to read this properly yet, but I think it will be interesting to compare this to the ideas of Jonathan Haidt who has studied different moral foundations between groups, namely conservatives and liberals:

    “Haidt found that Americans who identified as liberals tended to value care and fairness higher than loyalty, respect, and purity. Self-identified conservative Americans valued care and fairness less, and the remaining three values more. Both groups gave care the highest over-all weighting, but conservatives valued fairness the lowest, whereas liberals valued purity the lowest.”

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

    One thing that Haidt found was that liberals have much narrower focus on their moral philosophy which is why they often misunderstand moral motivations of conservatives who rely on much wider spectrum of moral philosophy.

    This is not to say that conservatism equals authoritarianism. But if Haidt is correct in his views, I could see how liberals would lump conservatives together with authoritarians on all issues and conservatives on the other hand would “get” authoritarians and even manage to agree with them on some issues.

  38. He should’ve just, oh I don’t know, called it the “authoriarian scale” or the “established authority scale”. Alternately, using “Twilight” would capture quite a bit of the critical tween/teen girl demographic.

  39. nmcvaugh616, sorry about the lack of clarity. I dashed off the first comment in a bit of a hurry. To address your comments in numerical order:

    1. What I mean is, the RWA has been used all over the world, so you see that RWA performs similarly across cultures. However, all we can really say at this point is that people react similarly to these questions, but whether this is really getting at a unique ‘authoritarian tendency’ is doubtful. The problem, however, is to construct something to ‘get at’ this phenomenon when we don’t really know what it accurately consists of! Such is the material that tenure is made on.

    There is a complementary/competing scale, Social Dominance Orientation (Pratto et al). It looks more or less like the RWA with more abstract questions about hierarchy.

    2. Political psychology differentiates among traits (long term, about 95% stable according to the Big-5 Model) and attitudes, which are short term orientations and can change. We can look at correlations for now, but they are not guaranteed to hold for yesterday or tomorrow. Altemeyer argues that the Authoritarian personality is in fact inborn and stable across a person’s lifetime, which measurements of attitudes unfortunately cannot confirm.

  40. If I’m to criticise Altermeyer, I’d have to agree that he chose a pretty poor term; I’d mostly forgotten his particular distinction when I composed my previous comment…

    But the observation that the choir is the only audience he can preach to seems pretty sound.

    And the gist of my previous comment does pretty much nail it, final sentence aside.

    Why should we listen to people who haven’t formed their own opinions, but merely make up the numbers for manipulative arseholes?

  41. Having just finished it, I like his writing style, but while he claims to have reported his results in an unbiased manner, he certainly doesn’t hide his political opinions in his choices of examples. If he’s not faking his results, I find his conclusions reasonable, even though they’re stronger than I would have expected.

    I agree with many commenters here that the definition of “right-wing authoritarian” could be confusing. He states early on that he doesn’t mean right in the sense that it’s opposite of left, but in the sense of ‘riht.’ This appears to be just another way of saying “following authority,” so the term RWA is then a bit redundant.

    On the other hand, he does say that there’s a strong correlation between this scale and the Right/Left of Canadian political parties (p.207). It makes sense that as a Canadian, he would have developed at test that segment people in a way that makes sense with their political understanding, but it’s interesting that most of the anecdotes, in contrast, are the things that worry him about American politics.

    His suggestions starting on p.238 seem useful for tackling the problem but could be expanded on. Would it be possible to lower RWA scores overall by giving everyone activities that improve their critical thinking skills in an non-political way?

    Finally, coming from the hard sciences, I enjoyed reading about his methodology. Thanks, BB, for pointing me to his work.

  42. I read this a while ago. I’m so glad it’s available in print.

    It is not a work confirming it’s own bias. It is not putting down conservatives. It is a predictive work.

    I wish it could be a guide to separating authoritarian followers from the horror shows that pass for their leadership. An authoritarian follower is a highly moral individual with some blind spots, a law and order individual who likes what is right but can be convinced to join a posse and do what is perhaps not right.

    Authoritarian leaders be they social dominators or social dominators with a high RWA score are a different creature entirely. I wish the book was a guide to opening an authoritarians eyes to how immorally their leadership behaves.

    The last chapters dealing with authoritarian leaders are the best chapters of the book.

  43. 261 pages on an assessment of authoritarian mores & no mention of Adorno? (Partial credit for touching on Milgram).

  44. I think we’ve found some closet RWA’s in the group here.

    Really? You’re attacking the tone of his writing and using that to discredit 30 years of research? You really believe that if you tell us you had a low RWA score that we’ll think or even care if you are unbiased in your irrelevant criticism of his work? Do you really think he cares if he is putting off people who won’t bother to read his work anyways, just like his theory predicts!?!

    Every comment so far has been supportive of his theory, either directly or indirectly because those who are discrediting it are doing so in exactly the way his model predicts. There has not been a single comment in here that has come from anyone who has a legitimate criticism of his methods or the predictions that his model makes. If it’s predictive, it’s useful. If it’s highly predictive, it’s highly useful!

    Let’s see someone break out of their RWA closet and really come up with something of merit.

  45. The interesting thing about the buzzwords is that authoritarians and non-authoritarians respond differently to those buzzwords.

    What you’re failing to realize is that the two versions mean exactly the same thing to the two groups. If it means the same thing, who cares what words are used to say it? The fact that you don’t see the equivalence of the two statements show that you yourself are able to apply double standards and fail to notice inconsistencies in your own beliefs

  46. By the way, I have not read this book. I read the introduction linked here. Based on the introduction, I didn’t see a need to read any further. (Just like I’ve seen no need to read any of Rush Limbaugh’s books.) If the book itself is different than the introduction, the author might want to provide more convincing arguments up front. I have my own life experience that tells me that ignorance and illogical thinking is a natural trait of all humans. Not just ones that I happen to disagree with. I have the ability to even admit ignorance in myself on quite a few subjects, and if I operated solely on logic, I wouldn’t be as happy of a person as I am. Of course, to those who think they know everything, I am totally wrong.

  47. Sigh, I do wish people would read the whole thing before commenting, there are some very fundamental misunderstandings in this comment thread. Most notably the definition of RWA which is explained in Chapter One…

    #65, Altemeyer’s wording is IMO vague and could mean many things besides the version suggested in #5. This is important, because one characteristic of high RWAs is a tendency to emphatically agree with buzzwords they like, while low RWAs tend to stop and think about what is really meant before they answer. cf. the examples about ‘our biggest problem is…’

  48. It really isn’t all that hard to defy logic and skew the results of an experiment. I don’t know why you’d want to do it (unless you are trying to ram through an agenda like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore). There certainly is no point in wasting time doing it as an exercise to prove whether this author has done it or not. It wouldn’t prove anything. No one would deny that bias is impossible.

  49. Guys, you might want to read the book before you attempt to rebuff it?

    I’m seeing a lot of concerns leveled against the book’s content in the comments here which are explicitly spoken to and acknowledged in the first 2 chapters alone.

    You can’t refute something respectably if you can’t even be arsed to read what you’re refuting.

  50. So where do the RWA’s stand on the blinking & sweating scale? Remember that one?

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/3352040/Laws-of-nature-How-to-spot-a-conservative.html

    “Confront a conservative with a jarring noise, sudden bang, or a threatening image – a spider on a face, a dazed and bloody person, or an open wound that is crawling with maggots – and their eyes and skin will show the biggest change.

    “People who blink the hardest in response to a startling noise or sweat the most when they see a shocking image, tend to endorse political positions that are more protective of their own social groups.”

  51. I read this book a few months ago, can’t recall exactly how I came across it. A few observations:

    Bob Altemeyer is at the U. of Manitoba. He lives in Canada, i.e. he’s not a Yank.

    I found that he frequently held back from stating conclusions I would have gone ahead and leapt to. He doesn’t overstate his case. He notes that there are not pure authoritarian personalities and pure non-authoritarian personalities, but that most people show at least a trace of it.

    Farther into the book he recounts an experiment where about 150 people took the personality test and were divided into the higher scorers and the lower scorers. Then each group of 70 or 80 went into a gym with a world map on the floor and did a global strategy game that lasted a few hours. The less authoritarian crowd dealt with global warming and kept the peace, though there was some starvation. The high scorers had a global war when Russia attacked the US, killing everyone in the world. The referees turned off all the lights and explained what life would be like after a full nuke exchange, then rewound the clock a bit. The Russians then attacked China instead, killing a lot of people but not everyone. That’s the authoritarian’s idea of learning from past mistakes.

    The most fascinating comment Altemeyer makes is that authoritarian attitudes are rooted in FEAR. The more you believe “It’s a dangerous world,” the more authoritarian you’ll tend to be; and I have heard these exact words from more than one conservative politician, Newt Gingrich for instance.
    The irony here, of course, is that if you think “It’s a dangerous world,” you go around making it so.

  52. So where do the RWA’s stand on the blinking & sweating scale? Remember that one?

    One of the nice things about research is the ability to ask such questions and then test the theory against what it would predict. The study you’re thinking of is:

    Oxley et al. Political Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits. Science (2008) vol. 321 (5896) pp. 1667-1670

    Altemeyer notes the effect of family vs. social influences in fostering authoritarianism, and would predict that the RWA and the Oxley findings would be correlated. Be a nice experiment to run. He also cites some genetic research in the book:

    Block and Block. Nursery school personality and political orientation two decades later. Journal of Research in Personality (2006) vol. 40 (5) pp. 734-749

    article link

  53. Might I suggest a very interesting, and very practical book on ‘Brainwashing’: THE MANIPULATED MIND by Denise Winn. It examines the origins of ‘brainwashing’ (korea in the 50’s), the psychological dymanics, and critically: How to thwart brainwashing. (Answer? Humor.) Brilliant and possibly overlooked book. A great companion to the one you post above.

  54. I’m 2/3 of the way through this book and it is AWESOME! I love how he drags you through the minds of flawed individuals.

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