March 24, 2013

About authoritarian personalities - 1
" I also discovered that if you ask subjects to rank the importance of
various values in life, authoritarian followers place “being normal” substantially higher than most people do. It’s almost as though they want to disappear as individuals into the vast vat of Ordinaries.
-- Bob Altemeyer


1. "The Authoritarians"
About ME/CFS

I keep having problems with my eyes, and therefore there the Nederlog of today is shorter than it could have been.

In a way, the present Nederlog may seem to continue the theme of stupidity I wrote about the last two days, but in fact that is a complete coincidence. I arrived at the present subject as follows.

The past month I wrote twice explicitly on the subject of - the present dearth of - investigative journalists. In the first of these I mentioned Robert Parry and Consortiumnews, and listed one of the texts he wrote:

I recall the Watergate scandal quite well, even though already then I had no TV. [1] The daily papers were a lot better then, or at least the Dutch NRC Handelsblad was, which I read daily (not always) from 1970-2010, and then gave up on because it got morphed into an adjunct of advertisements filled with what often seem but are not honestly said to be infotorials, in a "Dutch" that is fit for the average dumbo that these days graduate in "media studies" or "philosophy". In the 1970ies it was quite a good paper, that gave good coverage to the Watergate scandal. Besides, I had friends with TV and I sometimes watched parts of sessions of the Senate Watergate Committee, led by Senator Sam Ervin, and thus also came to see parts of John Dean's testimony.

In case my readers - many hundreds each day: You are not alone! [2] - do not recall it, for example because they were too young or as yet unborn: The Wikipedia-links in the previous paragraph are quite interesting, not only historically, but also as background to what is currently happening in the US as regards the rule of law (that I yesterday wrote about).

The above linked text by Robert Parry is quite interesting, and shows things were even a lot dirtier than they were believed to be at the time, and what I decided to do was to refresh my mind on John Dean, whom I had not thought about for decades.

It turns out he is alive, apparently well, and that he also is author of several fairly recent books, in which he laments the demise of the Republican Party he knew and worked for, and its replacement by authoritarian right wingers, of the kind Rush Limbaugh admires and supports. And he also says in these books, what got repeated om Wikipedia (from which I quote [3], minus most links)

(..) he asserts that post-Barry Goldwater conservatism has been co-opted by people with authoritarian personalities and policies (citing data from Bob Altemeyer). According to Dean, modern conservatism, specifically in the Christian Right, embraces obedience, inequality, intolerance, and strong intrusive government, in stark contrast to Goldwater's philosophies and policies. Using Altemeyer's scholarly work, he contends that there is a tendency toward ethically questionable political practices when authoritarians are placed in positions of power, and that the current political situation is dangerously unsound because of it. Dean cites the behavior of key members of the Republican leadership — including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Tom DeLay, Newt Gingrich and Bill Frist — as clear evidence of a relationship between modern right-wing conservativism and this authoritarian approach to governance. He places particular emphasis on the abdication of checks and balances by the Republican Congress, and of the dishonesty of the conservative intellectual class in support of the GOP, as a result of the obedience and arrogance innate to the authoritarian mentality.

He may have a valid point or two, and I have, at long last, arrived at my subject:

1. "The Authoritarians"

This is a book in pdf, 261 pages in all, by a psychologist located in Canada, Bob Altemeyer, that you can download for free from Altemeyer's site:

I did so, and I am presently reading it (when not typing a Nederlog or doing other things) and so far it looks interesting and useful. Also, it is well-written, and sometimes funny:

Physicists, astronomers, chemists, and so on learned long ago that it is essential to the scientific quest to standardize measurements, but many social scientists can’t seem to understand that.

Beelzebub has even agreed to my request that these people be forced to listen to badly played banjo music 24/7/365/Eternity while in hell.

It is certainly my intention to write more about it, but since I am myself a philosopher and a psychologist, let me sketch in some background, on the assumption that the above quote in my introduction is sufficiently clear about what authoritarians might be, with the additions that, as Altemeyer also stresses, there are plenty of authoritarians to the left as well as to the right, and that there is reason to assume that there is something like an authoritarian personality type, regardless from religious or political orientation. [4]

The background I am (somewhat) familiar with, apart from the Milgram and the Zimbardo experiments, is that it all got started somewhere in the 1940ies or earlier, when some of the people that belonged to the leftist Frankfurter Schule, who had succeeded in emigrating to the US, did empirical and theoretical research that issued in a book published in 1950, called "The Authoritarian Personality", which seems to have a fair Wikipedia-link, where Altemeyer also gets mentioned.

I looked into this book around 1970, but considered it to be not very credible for methodological reasons [5], which I saw today, in the last link, to be a common criticism, just as did something else that struck me at the time: There was not much interest in or concern with authoritarianism-of-the-left, which was something I had run into in the German Democratic Republic in 1964, whence I was only not removed as "undesirable alien" because I fell ill and had to hospitalized, and perhaps also because my communist father spent time in German concentration-camps with ministers of state of the GDR. In any case, I had at the time publicly said, in the GDR, that the GDR was like fascist shit, and - unknown to me: I was 14 - citizens of the GDR could well be killed for such pronouncements. [6]

Then again, the fact that the book "The Authoritarian Personality" is flawed and partial does not necessarily mean that the concept of an authoritarian personality is useless - and in fact one may get something useful as regards explaining social events and facts if one starts distinguishing left-wing and right-wing authoritarianism, with Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot to the left, and Hitler, Mussolini and Franco to the right, and tries to develop a psychological test that can identify people with an authoritarian mind-set regardless of political or religious convictions with a high degree of reliability.

This seems to be Altemeyer's approach. As I said, I intend to write more about it later, when I have read all of it, but here is one quotation from it that should make it clearer what the concept of an authoritarian personality might help explain and why it may help make sense of things and events:

Over the years I have found that authoritarian followers blissfully tolerated many illegal and unjust government actions that occurred in the United States and Canada, such as:

  • a police burglary of a newspaper office to get confidential information.
  • drug raids carried out without search warrants because judges wouldn’t give them.
  • denial of right to assemble to peacefully protest government actions.
  • “dirty tricks” played by a governing party on the opposition during an election.
  • immigration office discrimination against radical speakers.
  • placing agents provocateurs in organizations to create dissension and bad press relations.
  • burning down the meeting place of a radical organization.
  • unauthorized mail openings.

Authoritarian followers seem to have a “Daddy and mommy know best” attitude toward the government. They do not see laws as social standards that apply to all. Instead, they appear to think that authorities are above the law, and can decide which laws apply to them and which do not--just as parents can when one is young. But in a democracy no one is supposed to be above the law. Still, authoritarians quite easily put that aside. They also believe that only criminals and terrorists would object to having their phones tapped, their mail opened, and their lives put under surveillance. They have bought their tickets and are standing in line waiting for 1984, The Real Thing. There might as well not be a Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. And when the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is used to deny people the right of habeas corpus--one of the oldest rights in western law--it is unlikely that right-wing authoritarians will object to the loss of this constitutional guarantee either.
-- (The Authoritarians, p. 18)

Clearly, this mind-set is not conducive to the maintenance of a society that is free, open and under the rule of law, but then again, as happened in Germany, "the democratic majority" may not want such a society, or indeed may be deceived into not wanting it.

I intend to return to this subject if I have read all of the book, and that is the reason I titled the present Nederlog as I did.
P.S. Mar 29 2013: Corrected a typo.

[1] Something I recommend to you if you have a high intelligence, or if you have young children that you hope will grow up and be capable of rational thought: You avoid a lot of blatant idiocy; you get time for lots of proper books; and you also avoid seeing much enacted violence and bloody murder set in scene for moving dumb or sadistic audiences. (I must have saved myself the sight of at least 40.000 enacted murders over the last 40 years, if I can believe the statistics.)

[2] In case people - such as civil servants with IQs 50 points lower than mine - were to ask whether I do something socially useful: I think I do, for I - usually - try to write sensible things for people capable of rational thought, and since I am being read for years now for several days worth during each day, I may claim some success, that is the more remarkable since I do not aim to please anyone except myself.

[3] As a relevant aside, also because I have seen Wikipedia articles on the same subject change rather a lot, both for better and for worse: In general, if I do not mention a date, the Wikipedia-article I list are the versions of the day the Nederlog was published, for I generally check such sources as I mention. Also as an aside: Having seen the contents of Wikipedia-articles moved this and that way through time by what seem to be anonymous interested parties including - sometimes - PR-folks, a breed of "men" I detest, I do download Wikipedia-articles quite often to have a constant point of reference and documentary proof, but I do not have the health to do this systematically. And a final aside: I list Wikipedia-articles emphatically not as if they have authority (they may have, but this is less likely the case were the subject is of financial or political concern) but to have a starting point for one's own research into internet sources.

[4] To avoid misunderstandings, three remarks: Firstly, being authoritarian is usually not a matter of conscious choice. What makes one an authoritarian may be due to one's genes or one's education or (most likely) both, but it is not something one sets out to be in a conscious fashion. Secondly, having a communist background, and having lived most of my life in Amsterdam, I have known far more people on the (extreme) left than on the (extreme) right, and one of the major reasons for me to give up both on politics and on the communist party and the leftist students in 1970 is that the greatest proportion of the people I knew, including dedicated "anti-authoritarian students" where in fact dedicated, self-blinkered, totalitarian followers of (leftist) authorities and leaders, with whom real rational argument was impossible. At that time, it seemed to me mostly a function of intelligence (or its relative lack), but something more or different may be involved, since groups do keep together if most members engage in groupthinking and in
following and venerating leaders. Thirdly, it was just the same in the feminist movement and the environmental movement: The large majority followed the leaders of the movement not on rational but on emotional grounds.

[5] In fact, that is the major problem with almost any empirical theory: Its - real, rather than supposed, claimed, affirmed - relation to the facts. Most apparently beautiful, appartently plausible theories come to grief over their unsound relation to the facts they are supposed to explain. The reason this is especially the case in the social sciences and psychiatry is that the subjects are far more complicated than forces, atoms or molecules - where the methodological problems also are large, but not as difficult as in the social sciences and psychiatry. (And postmodern psychiatry does not try to solve the methodological problems, but abuses them, in order to make psychiatrists and pharmacological companies a lot richer than they deserve to be, by quite dishonest means.)

[6] I really did not know, I really was 14, and I really said it was "fascistische Schweinerei", by which I meant especially - in a camp for pioneers - the incessant propaganda and the very militarized style of doing things, including greeting the flag every day in a military fashion, after which some child was supposed to give a public lecture on the superhuman excellencies of Chairman Brezhnev. It was not what my parents had told me about socialism, and indeed they also never punished me, although they were communists - but not of the GDR-type, that was very authoritarian.

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate
search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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