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Jonathan Weiler - Authoritarians Versus Reality
Posted: 21 November 2011 01:05 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Our guest this week is Jonathan Weiler, a political scientist and director of global studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Weiler is co-author, with Marc Hetherington of Vanderbilt, of the book Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics.

In it, they describes this strange and troubling creature called an authoritarian—usually conservative, usually a religious fundamentalist, and very closed minded.

Authoritarians are identified in surveys by asking people some very simple questions about the qualities that children should have: Whether they should be “independent,” for instance, rather than showing respect for their elders. (See here.)

Based on this measure, Weiler and Hetherington show not only that the U.S. is full of authoritarians—but also how people with this psychological profile are driving our political polarization, as well as the divide over factual reality in the U.S

Weiler also writes regularly for the Huffington Post.

http://www.pointofinquiry.org/jonathan_weiler_authoritarians_versus_reality/

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Posted: 21 November 2011 08:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Looking forward to this.  The authoritarian lens is a very interesting way to look at contemporary political polarization and identity politics.  I just wrote a small blog post on the subject.  So much of the time, the arguments we think we are making through reason, logic or fact, are coming as much from a place of personal identity.  I think understanding this helps see the bias.  But there is also something particular to the authoritarian mindset that seems not to be allergic to this kind of introspection.  There is a certain circularity to authoritarian traditionalism that actively resists the other, the outside - including one’s own “other”, the process of meta-analysis itself.

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Posted: 22 November 2011 12:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Two self-satisfied libs fluffing themselves does not make for a compelling podcast.

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Posted: 22 November 2011 06:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Neither does a comment without substance make for a compelling post.

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Posted: 22 November 2011 09:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I enjoyed this discussion, but having read Bob Altemeyer’s book: “The Authoritarians”, I found myself wanting to hear a more in-depth analysis of the authoritarian nature of the Tea Party, the Republicans and the current deadlock in the US government.  About 23 minutes in, Chris Mooney points out that while the Tea Party has a strongly authoritarian streak, their advocacy of “less government” seems to contradict that.  Jonathan Weiler responds that this is somewhat of a puzzle but goes on to show how Sarah Palin’s mantra: “drill baby, drill” appealed to the authoritarian stance of the Tea Party.

Altemeyer’s book provides deep insight here.  Altemeyer distinguishes between authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders.  It is the authoritarian followers who seek simple answers to complex questions and who put too much faith in their leaders.  But these people are often lead by persons with quite different personalities, the authoritarian leaders, who are the opportunistic and manipulative types we now see so prominently on the right, such as most of the Republican presidential candidates as well as Palin.  These leaders give their followers the simple answers they crave.  Further, Altemeyer’s research shows that authoritarian followers, as compared to the norm, are more likely to make logical errors when a line of reasoning contradicts their beliefs.  Perhaps not surprisingly, authoritarian followers are also more able than the average person to comfortably hold contradictory beliefs.  So, in this light, it is not so surprising that Tea Partiers want strong authoritarian leadership, but also want “less government”.  They can’t see that while they support the Constitution, with less government, the Constitution will be less important.  Lurking behind this argument over the size of government is the authoritarianism of corporate America.  While a democratic government is at least potentially answerable to its citizens, corporations are by their nature, private autocracies and are only answerable to their shareholders (often other corporations.).  So by advocating for greater “economic freedom” and “smaller government”, the result is likely to be less personal freedom and less democracy.

I would love to see Point of Inquiry do an interview with Prof. Altemeyer.  Chris Mooney seemed to be familiar with his work. His online book is here: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

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Posted: 22 November 2011 10:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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If lpointmpoint has a point to make in Comment #2, it might be that this subject matter is often presented in such a way that liberals appear to be a superior branch of humanity, if we associate them with non-authoritarians.  A liberal will naturally think this is true and so won’t go out of his way to point out any drawbacks with this personality temperament.  This is likely to offend conservatives and increase their skepticism of science as a liberal domain.

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Posted: 23 November 2011 02:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Well said, Taylor.  That is exactly what I was trying to communicate.  I’m most used to the tweet-like format of yahoo posts.  This is obviously a more considered venue.  Let me expand on what I heard.  Not what was said, mind you.  That is an objective matter of record.  But rather what I heard when it was filtered and shaped by my values and biases.  I heard name calling dressed up as science.  Apparently the data didn’t say much of anything because the speaker was loath to make definitive, testable claims.  Liberals were lauded for seeing complexity in the world.  Former President Jimmy Carter must be a paragon in this regard.  But what if you have an organizing principal?  Perhaps - there is no right to free stuff.  Now the data that is so confusing and nuanced to liberals becomes transparent and ordered.  Occupy (fill in the blank) is a bunch of spoiled white kids who want free stuff.  Disparate data all ‘fits’ within an ordered framework.  There is clarity.  Let’s extend the ‘organizing principal’ to your own work environment.  Do you have a co-worker who is very busy, flitting from one emergency to another?  There is no planning, no order, no priorities.  Just a wave of incoming data and a vacuum that ‘emergencies’ fill.  Your co-worker is busy, but not productive.  Compare that co-worker to another who has a clear plan.  The wave of data is transformed into information which can be compared to existing priorities.  There are very few emergencies and this quiet co-worker, who has plenty of time to speak to you by the way, is actually productive.  Are we to cheer the gadfly for seeing complexity in the world?

Also, please disabuse yourself of the notion that atheist means left wing.  Would you say that if someone doesn’t believe in Humpty Dumpty that they are left wing?  Is there any difference between Humpty Dumpty and any of the 3000* Gods man has created so far?  I know I don’t fit that stereotype and I believe the same is true of Michael Shermer. 

*Google ‘list of gods’

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Posted: 23 November 2011 06:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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If lpointmpoint has a point to make in Comment #2, it might be that this subject matter is often presented in such a way that liberals appear to be a superior branch of humanity, if we associate them with non-authoritarians.  A liberal will naturally think this is true and so won’t go out of his way to point out any drawbacks with this personality temperament.

The Devil in this little detail is that it doesn’t always follow that “Liberal” is the same thing as “Non-authoritarian” as anybody who has lived under the old and surviving Communist systems can attest. Both of these “sides” have their share of people who use identify themselves by the liberal or conservative lable, but who think that dictatorships are a good idea.

Heinlein nailed it in The Notebooks of Lazarus Long when he wrote “Political tags—such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth—are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.”

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Posted: 23 November 2011 10:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Wow.  This is one of the best expositions of the scientific world view I’ve heard in a long time.

It raised an interesting question for me which I’ve not seen explored scientifically anywhere yet. 

Why are Christians mostly not running amok? 

Catholics can always confess their sins and be absolved of anything from theft to child rape and murder, so what stops most of them doing this on a regular basis…. i.e. give in to whatever base impulses they may have and then confess and be absolved?  I know one person who is in some weird religious fundamentalist sect which holds that the one and only thing which is required to get into heaven is to accept Jesus as your lord and saviour.  I flat out asked him if Hitler could have availed himself of this get out of hell free card and his answer was “yes”.  I didn’t ask him why he didn’t kill his wife and kids for the insurance money when he tired of living with them since he could still go to heaven by judicious use of that card in the last minutes of a completely amoral, hedonistic life—for fear of endangering his family, but it remains a question for me.  I know there are some Christian terrorists who take the bible too literally and do act on what they believe it instructs them to do, but these are in a small minority. 

Why is that?  More to the point, how do they explain that to themselves? As Weiler points out, there is nothing special about human pro-social behaviour. It is present in all social animals, but how do the self-proclaimed believers in the holy books explain it in terms of their beliefs?

Obviously, Christian dogma, (and perhaps even less so Muslim dogma), does not really provide much of a push toward a moral life.  The biggest crime to a muslim or a devout christian is to question their respective religious dogma.  Murder, torture, genocide, human sacrifice are all minor pecadillos compared to that and are easily forgiven and in some cases even encouraged.

[ Edited: 23 November 2011 11:04 AM by ullrich ]
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Posted: 25 November 2011 04:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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He was asked why many authoritarians paradoxically also hate the government and want less of it, but for some reason he didn’t answer the question. That’s a shame, because this was by far the most interesting question. 

My answer is the one that leftists always give. So-called anti-government authoritarians are really not anti-government at all. They are against government spending on things like welfare, education and health care, but they think it’s fine when it comes to things like the police and the military. So this kind of authoritarian isn’t really against the state/government, only certain aspects of it.

Now, as for those libertarians who really are against both the welfare state and the warfare state and really do want a much smaller state, I guess we’d have to get into a much more complicated discussion about whether they really are authoritarians and in what way.

Also, I’m a bit suspicious of this notion of the authoritarian personality, someone who thinks that all authority is to be blindly obeyed no matter what. I just don’t think there are such people, or at least not many of them. Your hardcore conservative fundamentalist Christian certainly doesn’t think that all authority figures (church leaders, government officials, parents etc) are to be blindly obeyed.

[ Edited: 25 November 2011 05:21 AM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 25 November 2011 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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He was asked why many authoritarians paradoxically also hate the government and want less of it, but for some reason he didn’t answer the question. That’s a shame, because this was by far the most interesting question. 

Quite the paradox, isn’t it???

I think you’ll find that the reasons for this have nothing to do with whatever “side” they pay lip service to. Right wing or left wing, it doesn’t matter. What’s key is that authoritarians love to be the ones who give the orders but don’t want to be the ones who end up taking the orders.

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Posted: 25 November 2011 11:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Equal Opportunity Curmudgeon - 25 November 2011 10:13 AM

What’s key is that authoritarians love to be the ones who give the orders but don’t want to be the ones who end up taking the orders.

Or:  Reducing the Federal Government is a key to creating a more authoritarian local government, without the burdensome Bill of Rights, Supreme Court, or Civil Rights Act.

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Posted: 25 November 2011 11:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Great podcast, not so convinced by the conclusion though. Living in Canada, the election was a historical shift in terms of voters alignment. The Conservative Party traditionally appealed to white rural voters from Alberta and immigrants would typically go for the Liberal Party seen as more open to diversity.  But in the last election, the Conservative Party won a majority government thanks to urban immigrant communities who see their values better represented by the conservative message.  Could this be a sign of what’s coming for the Republican party as well, or is Canada just too left wing a country?

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Posted: 25 November 2011 11:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Equal Opportunity Curmudgeon - 25 November 2011 10:13 AM

He was asked why many authoritarians paradoxically also hate the government and want less of it, but for some reason he didn’t answer the question. That’s a shame, because this was by far the most interesting question. 

Quite the paradox, isn’t it???

I think you’ll find that the reasons for this have nothing to do with whatever “side” they pay lip service to. Right wing or left wing, it doesn’t matter. What’s key is that authoritarians love to be the ones who give the orders but don’t want to be the ones who end up taking the orders.

They like the army. They don’t like redistributive programs like social security.

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Posted: 26 November 2011 07:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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What is this now, like the 47th podcast that has flayed the Right and given a pass to the Left?

After listening to seveal of these podcasts, it is now clear that the leftwing agenda is now no longer even hidden or that nuanced.  Thsi podcast used to be about science and psudo-science, now it is nothing more that a mouth piece for the Leftist agenda

Right wing means teaparty, relgious nuts that want to make people worship God, and take away other right.

Whereas the Left only wants freedom and what is “good” for us.

Well guys.  The Left in this country has passed the most authorian set of laws to ever be concieved. Literally taking control of out basic human rights and handing it off to a huge bloated government structure.  That is the right to life and to freely choose.
Obamacare forces us to buy insurance or suffer, the EPA has ruled that our very breath is now a gas that they must “control” for our good.
These are the kind of things that Stalin, Hitler and Honecker in their deepest dreams could not even conceive of.


“Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”—C.S. Lewis—

“The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.”—John Stuart Mill—

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Posted: 26 November 2011 07:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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lpointmpoint - 23 November 2011 02:09 AM

Also, please disabuse yourself of the notion that atheist means left wing.  Would you say that if someone doesn’t believe in Humpty Dumpty that they are left wing?  Is there any difference between Humpty Dumpty and any of the 3000* Gods man has created so far?  I know I don’t fit that stereotype and I believe the same is true of Michael Shermer. 

*Google ‘list of gods’

Absolutely spot on, Ayn Rand was a atheist, yet no one could accuse re of being a leftist.

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