The Authoritarians
Posted: 12 August 2009 09:48 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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I just finished reading the free book The Authoritarians, by Bob Altemeyer, a psychology professor, and I thought it was quite interesting. I think it has already been linked to before on this forum.

The Authoritarians

Chapter 4, in particular, explains pretty much all there is to know about Religious Fundamentalists, and why it is futile to try to reason with them. It does go on to suggest (in the last chapter) ways to interact with them that will hopefully bring them closer to reality.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 4:

“This chapter has presented my main research findings on religious fundamentalists. The first thing I want to emphasize, in light of the rest of this book, is that they are highly likely to be authoritarian followers. They are highly submissive to established authority, aggressive in the name of that authority, and conventional to the point of insisting everyone should behave as their authorities decide. They are fearful and self-righteous and have a lot of hostility in them that they readily direct toward various out-groups. They are easily incited, easily led, rather un-inclined to think for themselves, largely impervious to facts and reason, and rely instead on social support to maintain their beliefs. They bring strong loyalty to their in-groups, have thick-walled, highly compartmentalized minds, use a lot of double standards in their judgments, are surprisingly unprincipled at times, and are often hypocrites.

But they are also Teflon-coated when it comes to guilt. They are blind to themselves, ethnocentric and prejudiced, and as closed-minded as they are narrowminded. They can be woefully uninformed about things they oppose, but they prefer ignorance and want to make others become as ignorant as they. They are also surprisingly uninformed about the things they say they believe in, and deep, deep, deep down inside many of them have secret doubts about their core belief. But they are very happy, highly giving, and quite zealous. In fact, they are about the only zealous people around nowadays in North America, which explains a lot of their success in their endless (and necessary) pursuit of converts.

I want to emphasize also that all of the above is based on studies in which, if the opposite were true instead, that would have been shown. This is not just “somebody’s opinion.” It’s what the fundamentalists themselves said and did. And it adds up to a truly depressing bottom line. Read the two paragraphs above again and consider how much of it would also apply to the people who filled the stadium at the Nuremberg Rallies. I know this comparison will strike some as outrageous, and I’m NOT saying religion turns people into Nazis. But does anybody believe the ardent Nazi followers in Germany, or Mussolini’s faithful in Italy, or Franco’s legions in Spain were a bunch of atheists? Being “religious” does not automatically build a firewall against accepting totalitarianism, and when fundamentalist religions teach authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism, they help create the problem. Can we not see how easily religious fundamentalists would lift a would-be dictator aloft as part of a “great movement,” and give it their all?”

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Posted: 12 August 2009 12:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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I recall from discussions about authoritarian personalities 40 years ago that people with authoritarian personalities which caused them to be followers of authoritarians had a low tolerance for ambiguity.

It follows that people with a low tolerance for ambiguity would find pschological comfort in the seamless narrative of theological myths.

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Posted: 12 August 2009 01:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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teuchter - 12 August 2009 04:31 PM

It follows that people with a low tolerance for ambiguity would find pschological comfort in the seamless narrative of theological myths.

I agree teuch. I also suspect that people with self-esteem issues in the form of misplaced trust would be more likely to submit without question to authoritative figures, that ‘it’s the right thing to do’ or ‘somebody else knows better’.

Fear and confusion, especially in emergency situations is another scenario. I always remember the reports of 9/11 after the first plane hit, the people in the 2nd tower were told over the intercom, it’s ok, it’s not our building while they were standing so high in the sky, witnessing the massive inferno just a stone’s throw across the way.

“He said he was on his way down, but he heard on the announcement for everyone to return to their office, it would be more secure to stay inside. He went back upstairs. He was calm about the whole thing. But I think he was angry at the whole thing. That he listened. He kept saying, `Why did I listen to them? I shouldn’t have.”

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Posted: 12 August 2009 01:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Chapter 5 in the book talks about the leaders of such groups. They are called, in the book, social dominators. The truly dangerous people are the “Double Highs”, the ones that score highly on both the RWA scale (Right-Wing Authoritarian scale) and the Social Dominator scale. For example, George W. Bush is a double high.

All very interesting, and quite scary, stuff.

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Posted: 12 August 2009 01:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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goodgraydrab - 12 August 2009 05:16 PM

Fear and confusion, especially in emergency situations is another scenario. I always remember the reports of 9/11 after the first plane hit, the people in the 2nd tower were told over the intercom, it’s ok, it’s not our building while they were standing so high in the sky, witnessing the massive inferno just a stone’s throw across the way.

“He said he was on his way down, but he heard on the announcement for everyone to return to their office, it would be more secure to stay inside. He went back upstairs. He was calm about the whole thing. But I think he was angry at the whole thing. That he listened. He kept saying, `Why did I listen to them? I shouldn’t have.”

The book also discusses the Milgram Experiment, which helps explains your quote above. People are not used to challenge authority, even in the form of a disembodied voice over the PA system or in the case of Milgram’s experiment, a psychologist you never met before running an insane experiment.

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