This blog is a spinoff from Don’t Confuse Me with Facts, My Mind’s Made Up! I started that blog in response to the blossoming of craziness from the religious Right and Tea Partiers/birthers, etc., etc. that the 2012 Republican presidential primary unleashed. It seemed like before every rally and every presentation the organizers went out to every trailer park, tent revival meeting and red-neck beer hall looking for people to sit on the front rows of these events. The primary selection criteria seemed to have been any combination of excessive xenophobia, willful ignorance, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, ethnocentrism and/or misogyny.
Now, I grew up and live in the South, so I’m not unfamiliar with the phenomenon, but I just figured it was an artifact of where I was living. It wasn’t until the last Republican presidential primary season that I realized how illogical, hypocritical, mean and irrational people could be, especially when you get a bunch of them together. I was amazed that people could be face-to-face with information and actually come right out and say that they didn’t care what the data said, they weren’t going to change their minds . . .
Again, I have run into the phenomenon all my life, but I was just was gobsmacked by how pervasive it was once I started digging into it. So I started a blog with the intention of using it as a pop-off valve.
One thing led to another and what started off as a way to let off steam turned into a serious effort to try and understand what was going on. I began running into Chris Mooney’s articles and blog posts and read a review of The Republican Brain. So I read it. That book put some juice behind my anecdotal observations and so I started following references.
When I happened onto Robert Altemeyer’s book The Authoritarians, everything fell into place. Here was narrative that didn’t just happen to talk about every behavior pattern that had me shaking my head, but described methods and procedures that would allow him to replicate his findings and make predictions about what to look for. It was pretty much a book on everything you would want to know how authoritarians behave . . . along with a discussion of some implications.
Not too long after that, I read Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein’s book It’s Worse Than You Think. That was a history lesson about what happens when you turn loose a bunch of high SDOs and Double Highs in the Congress. By this time, a pattern began to emerge <he said drily>. They recommended Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind.
That was another brick in the wall. Where Altemeyer catalogued the behavior of authoritarian followers and leaders, Haidt showed why and how it is that people come to behave that way. Now I understood that not all conservatives were as out-of-touch wacky as were the ones that were making all the noise and getting all of the attention.
As I was digesting all this, I ran into John Dean’s book Conservatives Without Conscience. Dean did for the Executive Branch what Mann and Ornstein did for the Legislative Branch. Mann and Ornstein focus on how dysfunctional the political process is. Dean applies the understanding of authoritarianism to some of our illustrious political leaders in the latter half of the last century. He didn’t have room for them all, but the roster is full and the bench is deep. Do the names J. Edgar Hoover, Spiro Agnew, Phyllis Schlafly, Dick Cheney, Bill Frist, Tom DeLay or Jack Abramoff ring any bells?
By this time, I’d really gotten my dander up. Two and two were adding up. Then I read Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics by Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler. That was my d’oh moment. They show that the polarization that has been taking place in our political system over the past 40 years or so is driven by the rise of authoritarianism (as opposed to disputes like whether salt-water or fresh-water economists are right, etc.). They review the political machinations that the Republicans have been using since Nixon to try to drive wedges in the electorate. Turns out that the strategy they employed ended up letting the “authoritarian genie” out of the bottle and that has drastically changed the nature of the political divide. The division is now based on differences between worldviews. It is now personal . . . at least for the authoritarians. This does not bode well.
The first post, and the source for the name of the blog, was originally posted as a diary entry on Daily Kos in early December, 2012. It was subsequently cross-posted to Don’t Confuse Me With Facts, My Mind’s Made Up. In it, I argue that, based on Herrington and Weiler’s observations, the nature of the issues and the polarization we are seeing now is completely different from anything we’ve seen in the past, and in a bad way. From the research done by social psychologists, anthropologists, political neurophysiologists and evolutionary psychologists it is possible to see that the authoritarian worldview is very different from . . . and antagonistic to others. The authoritarian genie is out of the bottle and authoritarians have pretty much taken over the Republican Party.
In their ground state, authoritarians’ perception is that their worldview is under threat. Thus, they are automatically on the defensive. This last election in the US only served to confirm their perceptions. As far as they are concerned, they are under siege and they aren’t going to go quietly in the night . . .
We are in for a serious food fight over the next few years. I set up this blog to track the fun. I invite you on the trip.