Authoritarian Followers

October 5, 2007


Sometime ago, I heard a radio interview of a Harvard troglodyte named Harvey Mansfield as he discussed his absurd ideas about manliness and gender. I have since learned, thanks to an excellent column by Glenn Greenwald, that he is a right-wing extremist who believes that the prez is above the law. In that column, Greenwald makes the following remark:

I’ll leave it to Bob Altemeyer and others to dig though all of that to analyze what motivates Mansfield and his decades-long craving for strong, powerful, unchallengeable one-man masculine rule…

Well, I followed that link to Mr. Altemeyer’s study of authoritarian followers, and it is fascinating! Have you ever felt the sinking depression I feel when confronted with a rigid, dogmatic, authority-loving, robot follower who spouts slogans and seems to be impervious to simple logic? Wondered how the hell he or she can think that way? Well, Mr. Altemeyer, a professor of psychology, has, and he studied them in depth. He calls them [high scoring] RWAs for right-wing-authoritarians. In his book, which is quite funny as well, if you can believe it, I found the following passage [emphasis added by me] which knocked my socks off:

Intrigued, I gave the inferences test that Mary Wegmann had used to two large samples of students at my university. In both studies high RWAs went down in flames more than others did. They particularly had trouble figuring out that an inference or deduction was wrong. To illustrate, suppose they had gotten the following syllogism:

All fish live in the sea.
Sharks live in the sea..
Therefore, sharks are fish.

The conclusion does not follow, but high RWAs would be more likely to say the reasoning is correct than most people would. If you ask them why it seems right, they would likely tell you, “Because sharks are fish.” In other words, they thought the reasoning was sound because they agreed with the last statement. If the conclusion is right, they figure, then the reasoning must have been right. Or to put it another way, they don’t “get it” that the reasoning matters–especially on a reasoning test.

Why does this grab me? Well, I couldn’t have thought of a more pithy way of summing up the exasperation I feel when I hear some citizens or politicians talk, read columns by chattering “experts” and pundits in the paper, and, on the thankfully rare occasion, hear commentators spout forth on TV. (It’s rare because I don’t watch TV.) Yes, some people just don’t get that reason matters!

But my experience with jury duty has led me to believe that anyone can reason…if they think they have to. That is, when they realize that they won’t get out of the room until they can convince the others of their point of view, they resort, a last resort, it’s true, to reason. In that situation, they feel reason does matter. Perhaps in the rest of their lives, they have the luxury of ignoring it. It’s useless to argue with such people unless circumstances back you up, i.e., present the dogmatist with an argument he can’t shout down.


March 6, 2006

From an obituary in the NYTimes for Henry M. Morris, the father of “creation science.”

[He]… showed that there were scientific answers to be able to defend the Christian faith and uphold the Bible’s account,”…

Well, there you have it. The basic contradictions behind all this hullaballo about Darwin and Intelligent Design, so called.  Scientific answers to defend the Christian faith…! The rank insecurity of it all! Who says the faith needs defending!? And I’m an atheist! And why would religion lean on the crutch of science for defense?

These creationists have a weak religion indeed. They surrendered to the modern world long ago by accepting the primacy of science and seeking to manipulate it to their ends. But they are in deep denial about it, and cannot accept their own spiritual perfidy.

Un-Separate Church and State!

November 10, 2005

Yes, all this blather about the ‘wall’ between church & state is growing tiresome. Let us forget the lessons that the Founding Fathers knew so well and start down the road of government sponsorship of religion! Jeeez, those fundamentalists don’t know what they are wishing for.

To stifle the thriving growth of religiosity in America (a condition which I regard with bemused regret), there is no more sure-fire way than to get the government involved in subsidizing it. Then we secularists can sit back and enjoy the ensuing melee as the various sects all fight with one another to get more money, to be the official sect, and to deny access to those few sects that ‘everyone’ agrees are not true religions, e.g., Pagans, Satanists, Hindus (idolaters), and perhaps Jews and Moslems! Then the meaning of state-sponsored religion will be apparent, but will it be too late?

Of course, it might get out of hand, so I wouldn’t really want to go down that road. After all, we should all keep in mind the event that is the source for the eye-witness account recorded in the image at the top of this post, St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, August 24, 1572. A real state-sponsored Christian on Christian pogrom in which the French king authorized the mass murder of French Protestants. When Church and State are joined, as an intelligent man said at a talk I heard recently, the king speaks with the authority of the universe, and the priest’s words are backed by the power of the state. What recourse for the dissenting individual?

Some people these days are purveying the absurd myth that the Founding Fathers of the USA actually wanted to found a Christian state. I guess that depends on who you consider to be the Founders: the Puritans? They wanted a theocracy, to be sure, and were very eager to exile anyone from their midst who didn’t toe the line, e.g. Roger Williams; Ben Franklin, TJ, Alex H. etc? They were the opposite, schooled in Deistic Enlightenment values. They may have been Christians, but they wanted a secular state. And from where did the most vigorous support for separation of Church & State come? From Virginia, home to many evangelical sects, all persecuted in England, and very clear on the dangers of having an official state religion. But time makes fools of us all…

Onward Christian Soldiers II

May 11, 2005

At at recent meeting of the Family Research Council (FRC), it’s head, Gary Bauer, formerly a candidate for president, voiced the following sentiment in favor of “non-partisanship:” It’s not so important we elect people with an ‘R’ next to their name as people with a ‘C’ next to it. Well, there are parties, and there are parties…of God. C is for Christian, of course. No J(ew)s, B(uddhist)s, M(oslem)s, J(ain)s, H(indu)s or others need apply. Not to mention the A‘s, i.e. atheists and agnostics. Our majority leader of the Senate, Bill Frist, was happy to speak there and endorse many of Bauer’s claims.

Such is the sorry state of church-state relations in the USA today. Do these people not understand that it is precisely the separation that gives them the freedom to practice their creed, however literalistic and narrow-minded it may be? Do they honestly believe that by making our nation more Christian, they are honoring its commitment to religious freedom and tolerance? (No, they have no interest in that – they are theocrats.)

This sort of thing is often referred to as ‘muscular’ Christianity. It was in vogue during the heyday of the British Empire. I suppose it’s at least more up-front than the whining pseudo-victimhood so often adopted by the bashers of secularism, i.e., the claim that religion is being persecuted in the USA! I often hear and read comments that religion is ‘denigrated’ in the public sphere!! An atheist, even one that is genuinely and openly respectful of religion (and there are many) couldn’t be elected dog catcher in this country. I’d say religion is pretty safe, and is, in fact, on a roll, seeking to extend its sway. Here is the link to my Christian Soldiers I.

Thou Shalt Live!

March 21, 2005

Our congressional Solomon, Tom Delay, has declared we must investigate all circumstances before taking a life, so he is helping congress insert itself into the family torment over the feeding-tube. I wonder if, back home in Texas, he is similarly concerned for the lives of convicts on death row who have been represented by miserably paid, overworked, sometimes incompetent council, in cases that often have little resembling due process. Not that there aren’t people of whom, if they were hit by a bus in the street, I might say, “Well, they deserved it.” I just don’t think the highly fallible servants of the state, judges or juries, should be deciding the issue irrevocably. After all, it’s an adverserial procedure, trials are, not a family matter.