Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bob Altemeyer; The Authoritarians

There are many books one should have read, but of course has not due to questions of money, access or the fact that they are so intractably dull that they are inaccessible. Books of this sort seem traditionally to be given press runs of three hundred or so, destined to be buried safely in academic libraries, where it can be safely assumed that those who do have access can be trusted to not make use of the insights contained therein to upset any apple-carts.

Academia and most academics are, after all, entirely dependent upon the status quo ante; it hardly requires great degrees of coercion to inspire a little caution regarding the danger of getting crosswise of cultural preconceptions.

Those dangers are very real, of long and noble vintage, have manifested in various ugly ways, and frankly, have have caused a prejudice among the educated classes that is as strong - and far better informed - than the violent anti-intellectual bigotry that informed it.

I'm not claiming one side is better than the other - and that requires of me some tooth gritting. It's more important to observe that such social divisions serve agendas that limit the freedom and intelligence of each "class" and that a primary tool this end is to encourage each of it's superiority and reinforce each group's certainty that life would be better if only "those people" "over there" would simply disappear. Divide and conquer is one of the oldest tricks of authoritarian rule.

We must try to overcome those views, even while admitting that each and all perspectives have some essential truths to them, or they would not have such power over us.

Bob Altemeyer chose a direction that is delightfully subversive, making his research available to all in comprehensible terms, simply ignoring the filters and checkpoints of traditional media, using means that many of his colleagues would dismiss as being the choice of the voiceless.

But wait, the voiceless now have voices? That's a sudden development! And if you look around, it's a rather pervasive phenomenon. Aside from the content, I think it's an admirable example. Bob's example points out that our technology makes it possible to simply bypass choke points that once existed of necessity, but now serve only as sinecures for those who hope you do not notice how very easy it is to bypass their "indispensable services."

So, here it is, easy to get, accessible anywhere and without regard to the sensibilities of those who would prefer very much you did not read this, and with price no barrier. It's considerately written so that anyone who reads English at a high-school level should be able to understand it. The following is an excerpt from the Introduction.

The last reason why you might be interested in the hereafter is that you might
want more than just facts about authoritarians, but understanding and insight into why
they act the way they do. Which is often mind-boggling. How can they revere those
who gave their lives defending freedom and then support moves to take that freedom
away? How can they go on believing things that have been disconfirmed over and
over again, and disbelieve things that are well established? How can they think they
are the best people in the world, when so much of what they do ought to show them
they are not? Why do their leaders so often turn out to be crooks and hypocrites? Why
do the followers accept the flimsy excuses and even obvious lies that their leaders
proclaim, and cling to them so dogmatically? Why are both the followers and the
leaders so aggressive that hostility is practically their trademark? Why are both so
unaffected by the evil they do? By the time you have finished this book, I think you
will understand the reasons. All of this, and much more, fit into place once you see
what research has uncovered going on in authoritarian minds.

It's also worth noting that the actual work underpinning this book contributed to John Dean's "Conservatives Without Conscience," a book, I should add, that would have had Barry Goldwater as a co-author, had he lived a bit longer.

Dean, Goldwater, and others with solid Republican credentials had been alarmed by the capture of the Grand Old Party by the Religious Right and its seemingly amoral leaders.

Dean was plowing through the social science literature's on conservatism and
religion to see what perspective academics could offer his analysis, and
eventually he ran across my name.
I think you will find it to be a fascinating read. I literally could not tear myself away from the screen. It's time to re-read it and I invite you to join me, as I intend to weave the information and insights Altemeyer has together with my own explorations in life. It certainly explains a great deal of what sharp edges and inexplicable behaviors I encountered throughout my lifetime.

There is an associated Google Group, which is fascinating. I contribute occasionally myself, when I feel I have something to say. Mostly I lurk and learn. I suggest you do as well.

I'm hoping that together, we may stir up a lack of trouble and perhaps some surprising and revolutionary acts of civilization.

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