Sociologist Theodor Adorno created the “F scale” in a 1950 seminal work entitled The Authoritarian Personality — to rank the level of predilection to fascism in an individual both during and shortly after World War II.
The defining traits of the Platonic fascist (or the ur-Fascist as Umberto Eco would later call them) include the following:
conventionalism — following the rules; “this is how we’ve always done things”; fundamentalist thinking; dogmatic philosophy; intolerance of ambiguity (and intolerance in general)
authoritarian submission — follow the Ruler; the Ruler is always right, no matter how obvious the lie or big the myth. only ingroup authority figures matter, though.
authoritarian aggression — “send in the troops,” “when the looting starts the shooting starts,” “dominate the streets”
anti-intellectualism — distrust of experts; paranoid politics; intellectualism is unmasculine
stereotypy — racism, sexism, classism, ageism, all the isms; homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, all the phobias
power and “toughness” — obsessed with dominance and submission; rigidly pro-hierarchy; solves problems with violence; values physical strength
destructiveness — dismantle the Federal government; remove environmental regulations; pull out of international alliances; weakening America’s place in the world, abandoning the EU, and kowtowing to dictators around the world
cynicism — “both sides do it,” whataboutism, all politicians are bad, conscience (non)voters
projectivity — everything is Obama’s fault, almost literally; claims Biden is corrupt; Hillary’s email server (though they all used and continue to use private email servers, every single one of them); claim that the Clinton campaign started the birther controversy; accuse everyone else of lying
exaggerated concerns over sex — anti-abortion; homophobia; excessive taboos; excessive shame
We are seeing all of these traits today. We see it in our leadership, we see it in our communities, and we see it surging around the world.
We see it in a much larger percentage of our populace than many of us might have imagined. People of good character far outnumber the Right-Wing Authoritarians, but they can be subjugated, emotionally manipulated, strong-armed, abused, intimidated, made cynical by the RWAs. And the RWA personality is driven to actively hate outgroups in many outrageously twisted and depraved ways, from pettiness to genocide.
Right-Wing Authoritarian personality type
Refined by psychologist Bob Altemeyer in 1981, the Right-Wing Authoritarian scale (RWA) addresses some of the limitations of the F scale and exhibits more predictive power in identifying individuals exhibiting authoritarian personality.
The authoritarian personality is associated with all of the following traits, beliefs, actions, and patterns:
unquestioning respect for and submission to a chosen authority
a primary drive to achieve relief from uncertainty, even at the cost of individual freedom
Maybe we could offer up the RWA test as a “good faith” gesture, if one is interested in participating in civic discourse with credibility and authenticity. It would help us identify those individuals who are going to be unlikely to play by the rules of the game or have no intention of behaving fairly.
Although we have bot tests, we don’t really have great ways of measuring and identifying human beings with deceptive agendas. If we could screen people as authoritarians via “honorable challenge,” we could save so much time by not wasting it on the lost causes whose power trip runs so deep it can never be exposed. It could serve as a way to drag out into the light any number of intolerable, anti-democratic sentiments masquerading as “strict Constitutionalism.” We can pry open the doublespeak and arm ourselves with the secret decoder rings of understanding RWA dogwhistles.
And maybe we can finally change the conversation by more easily identifying friendlies from foes from the start, without having to wade through every minefield.
This is the dominant Manichaean struggle of our age, and perhaps every age before it: shall we structure our society with a strict hierarchical system of highs and lows, with power concentrated at the top? Or shall we have an egalitarian society where truth, justice, and fairness rule the day?
There are a lot of stories, myths, and narratives centered on this question: hierarchy or fairness? Cultural wars and actual wars have been waged — numerous times throughout history.
We are fighting a new incarnation of that war now in our nation, as civil unrest spreads following yet another extrajudicial murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin — who knelt on the neck of George Floyd for a jaw-dropping 8 minutes and 46 seconds: 2 minutes and 53 seconds beyond the point where Floyd lost consciousness and 1 minute and 54 seconds past the point fellow officers checked to confirm he had no pulse.
That is a staggeringly long time.
There is simply no credibility to the typical excuse that Chauvin somehow feared for his life — from an unarmed, handcuffed, prone, unconscious, and then lifeless George Floyd. Arrested over an allegedly counterfit $20 bill. Meanwhile Congress appropriates hundreds of billions and even trillions for big business and last I heard, no arrests had been made. Curious.
It starts in childhood
Psychologists like Alice Miller and Darcia Narvaez attribute this troubling mentality — this mentality that exhibits complete disregard for human life — as originating in our child-raising “techniques.” At one time corporal punishment for youth was the rule and not the exception; not uncoincidentally, the Hitler Youth of Germany had been largely raised under the “advice” of Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Shreber who advocated beating babies from a young age so the importance of obedience would be drilled into them early on.
It wasn’t until much later we learned that traumatized and neglected children display severe lesions affecting up to the 30 percent of the areas of the brain responsible for controlling emotions. In other words, “traditional” child-rearing in the fundamentalist religion style of “spare the rod, spoil the child” produces emotionally crippled adults — who tend to enact the revenge fantasies of their internal repressed rage as adults later in life. They simply need be provided with an “authorized” scapegoat.
Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt
Miller goes on to suggest the psychological survival mechanism of denial employed by abused children to survive their situation leads them to develop the kind of emotional blindness in adulthood that will turn the other way when witnessing violations of another person’s humanity — or may even be induced to carry them out. We’re all familiar with the Adolf Eichmann “defense” of why he should be exonerated for behaving like a robotic killer: “I was just following orders.”
Teaching children to be obedient or be emotionally abandoned — whether through physical abuse or emotional abuse or both — is the key to unlocking this mystery of the appeal of hierarchy and authoritarianism which is seeing a resurgence not just in the United States but around the world — especially in Europe as well. Miller calls it “poisonous pedagogy” — not just parents but many other forms of authority indoctrinate youth in this vicious cycle and benefit from the creation of obedient individuals by amassing and maintaining power.
The kicker is we are not supposed to recognize this process — and if we do, we most certainly are not supposed to speak up about it. We are supposed to remain unaware that our deference to authority is merely a construct; a thin veneer over the insecurity of power that hopes desperately to continue wielding absurd moral authority over the masses. This collective and complicitous denial keeps us all locked in the dance of abuser and abused — essentially pretending it isn’t happening all around us including in our own homes.
The Founders advocated fairness
For all the right wing enjoys brandishing the Constitution as fundamental law, they tend to often miss the forest for the trees — that the founding fathers wrote extensively on their views and consideration in constructing a new nation towards the end of the 18th century, and that those views were decidedly against the arbitrary rule of kings and the strict striations of class as seen in the empires of Europe. They sought to get away from the cult of personality paradigm of the divine right of kings, believing that the rule of law should hold sway and that men ought to govern themselves through a political process with enough checks and balances to ensure no single branch or individual could wield too much power over others.
James Madison especially was a big believer in the “wisdom of crowds” to arrive at a better, more morally appropriate solution to legislation and problem solving. Moreover they were extremely uncomfortable with the role of slavery at the founding of the nation, despite being simultaneously apiece with the times and not entirely living up to those professed ideals.
Nevertheless, the role of ideals is to move us forward towards better times; to continually improve our individual and collective characters to get closer to living them out. Taking the ideals of fairness and equality as the guiding north star of a new nation and falling short is, in my humble opinion, still leagues farther along than giving in to the indulgent impulse towards supremacy and hierarchy and calling it a day. It’s the essence of progressivism as a vehicle for a narrative of self-growth — as opposed to the narrative hierarchy offers, which is static; dead; inert. There can be no change, no dynamism to a system which defines a priori everyone’s place in society.
It’s designed to whip you up into a frenzy in order to foment cheap pageviews. Its interest is in you becoming a histrionic attention whore, such that you suck in as much clandestinely stolen user data to your platform of choice as possible.
Anger is also notably the “loophole” emotion — it’s the invisible one men get to have, while claiming for generations upon generations that “women are too emotional to be entrusted” with leadership or anything meaningful, really. Meanwhile male anger and aggression have killed hundreds of millions and wreaked destruction upon the earth many times over, as fragile masculinity is repeatably and predictably triggered over any little old thing.
We need to bring the fire down from the mountain. We are not on that project — we are still on the opposite project: keeping the wizards behind the curtain.
Too many of the wizards are male, and are busying themselves in playing petty economic and status zero-sum power games instead of recognizing the context they are in — we are all in — as an infinite game in which the enlargement of the participant group to include and, not just reluctantly tolerate, but to avidly welcome women in to the club will massively benefit all the players.
Then there are the white wizards who create pseudoscientific rationalizations for wasting time obsessing over 18th century racial animus as a massive distraction from having to do the work of creating anything useful or contributing any value to the world. They’ve taken their centuries of evolutionary advantage and painstakingly developed economic pie to split hairs over who ought to be denied a few of the crumbs, as a cheap method of papering over the deep well of collective insecurity and ego fragility precipitated by a lack of meaningful individuation and their failure to create anything useful or contribute any value to the world.
We could be playing this game together. Instead, we furtively dart about in Plato’s Cave imagining we are still living in a world of scarcity, rather than leveling ourselves up to behold the vision of the new world of abundance we have the capacity to create.
GOP women make up only 4% of the current Congress.
12% are female Congressional Democrats — for a total of 16.5% vs. 83.5% male legislators.
As a percentage of the historical collection of Congress members over all time, women have comprised only 1.7% of the total.
Women need more representation across the board! Let’s do this, America. P.S. If you have any need for a Slack bot that returns data on sitting Congresspeople, look no further! You can install this bot in Slack easily; you’ll just need to set up a Fieldbook account.
Without the doing of some thing brand inappropriate Something unmonetizable Unclickable Untraceable Untradeable | If i don't rend the cloth of this Culture Fit soon i will die Like the coral Like two-thirds of the wild Like the humans on the edge of a rising shoreline In a ceaseless world With iceless poles And icy proles | As the planet heats, Civilization chills; Swallowing our red or our blue pills; Interned into camps of grievers and shills | Grieve i do and for the West Our president the Bigly Best! We'll come and go at his behest Put down your Freedom of Info Requests Baby, you just ain't seen nothin' yet | Joe Walsh got his balls out, and his musket too The Lefties dream of Saskatoon We're all gonna get that Change real soon You'll see when fascism hits High Noon | We'll finish tearing ourselves apart In the streets and in the dark Can no longer recreate in this park Leslie Knope didn't fit the part | She had the mighty audacity To take purview over Benghazi Once Bush and Blair left Qaddafi Those GOP goons would never get off me | My God, all the emails The Chaffetz' anemic security details At least we're swaddled by all this retail Black Friday's never been so beyond the pale | Pale as a ghost White as a sheet Our New Balance host Circle jerks its meat | Of all the PUAs and all the Teas Even the most mundane of these See the female as a tease Hang the browns up in the trees We're all strange fruit upon our knees | Ain't no more reason to appease Already done killed off all them bees Turnt up the thermostat a few degrees TVs blaring back our postmodern sleaze | Found ourselves a favorite scapegoat And a good long length of real strong rope The corruption will be all excised By the 'tubes chock full of Russian spies This revolution will be televised As America just dies and dies
For every thoughtful, measured perspective on the gigantically thorny problem of Diversity in the Valley, there has to be at least 10 angry white dudes who feel entitled to take a shit all over the idea that being more inclusive has to involve, like, actually learning to be inclusive — or really, making any changes at all.
There are “values” far more pressing than equality, they say — EFFICIENCY! ALPHA ELITISM! SHAVING OFF ANOTHER 5 MINUTES OF SOME FULL STACK ENGINEER’S TIME (by outsourcing it to someone poor who should feel lucky to have the opportunity to schlep around the dirty laundry and fetch the burritos of Today’s World-Saving Heroes — preferably someone brown) so that someone, somewhere else (outside of the Valley, one presumes) can do all the theoretical Morally Good activities that serve as the philosophical prop that is supposed to justify the tech industry’s frantic, breakneck pursuit of getting filthy fucking rich the mission critically important “time-saving efficiency” that has literally the rest of the world economy scrambling to catch up in its wake.
Ergo, in response to an interview with Slack engineer Erica Baker — whose 20% work-time role in contributing to company diversity strategy later in the thread apparently renders completely invisible her 80% role Writing Code with the Big Boys — this fellow feels he has an obligation to weigh in:
Yes, Kevin. TELL ME MORE about how I would be treated in an interview with you as hiring manager. One thing’s for sure, I could be completely confident that you lack a shred of skepticism about whether my qualifications make me “The Best” candidate in the self-fulfilling prophecy of your own perception.
Nevermind all the actual data that is finally beginning to show what the reality of nature already knows: DIVERSITY WINS. Being inclusive of a multiplicity of experience and perspective (which come along as a byproduct of the heuristic we can make use of — demographical appearance — as a rough approximate solution to our complete inability to objectively measure anything meaningful about the internal complexities of real people) makes companies stronger and more resilient.
Diversity makes companies moreantifragile by embracing the comparative disorder that is counterintuitive to the homogenous systems and societies we keep inanely trying to collectively build despite all the evidence of their abject failure throughout history. Our friend in Idaho is proof of this point: the dominant assumption that diversity definitionally reduces efficiency, thereby reducing profit.
Beyond being flat out wrong when you look at the data (which, curiously, diversity always seems to be a special case where otherwise ruthlessly data-driven engineers don’t dare to tread), this carries with it the hidden assumption which is the self-fulfilling prophecy that actually proves Erica’s point: the fundamental skepticism that people who aren’t white and male can possibly be The Best. That the only way they ever get a seat at the communal, lunch-ordered-by-bot-and-hand-delivered-by-poor-non-alpha-elite-coder-people table is by the magnanimous grace of some Do Gooder hiring manager or recruiter slavishly following regulatory orders from the government — and not by their own merit.
The plank in our own eyes
Part of this has to do with the historically definitional white male privilege that, for some reason, we’re still arguing about in our supposedly enlightened and modernized society whose blinders prevent the deep self-examination of our human past required to truly make progress. As if the human tendency to Other were somehow wiped away with the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) Fourteenth Amendment (1868) Brown v. Board of Education (1954) Civil Rights Act (1964) Voting Rights Act (1965) Loving v. Virginia (1967) Fair Housing Act (1968) Community Reinvestment Act (1977) end of the carceral state (TKTK).
Having grown up a person saddled with two X chromosomes my whole life with almost no choice but to wrestle with this reality from every single angle intellectual and emotional, I at least finally understand the fundamental psychological biases that lead to this kind of abject refusal to deal with our own skewed perspectives — opting instead for ratcheting up ever more impressive shouting matches to peacock about how our dizzying intellectual prowess is surely proof enough of our obvious objectivity.
We are all wrong. And I’m no different.
I know that we desperately want to believe in our own superiority, both to everything that came before us throughout history (the “illusion of progress” we cultivate — despite no such guarantee existing in the natural world — only adds to this effect) and to our fellow humans. Elitism is the ultimate -ism.
It subsumes racism, sexism, religious fundamentalism, and all forms of tribalism that each have, at their roots, the core premise that whatever group I’ve chosen to join up with (or been allotted to by random lottery) is clearly and objectively The Best Group. It’s the undeniable tautology of naive realism that leaves us trapped in the pathetically, perennially distorted view that “I know best, and by the transitive property of awesome, all the groups I consider myself a part of are therefore clearly also The Best (else, why would I be part of them?!).” This automagically relegates all the groups with which we don’t identify to the bottom of the heap: obviously inferior, as anyone can see!
Combine this native human bias with the delirious modern cocktail of vicious neoliberalism and aggressive techno-utopian libertarianism, and it’s a formula in which People Who Don’t Appear White and Male are definitionally suspect because of the statistics we’re blanketed with ever day that tell us they are under-represented in fields like technology.
“If this is so,” says the mind of a brilliant and inarguably logical engineer, “it can only be because their Rugged Individualism hasn’t endowed them with the skills to pass muster. It’s a shame, really — at least Other People, somewhere else who care about human beings more than machine learning are concerned with this dilemma (so I don’t have to be: after all, I’m really fucking busy saving the world so STOP BOTHERING ME with this irrelevant claptrap distraction already! AND WHERE IS MY GODDAMN BURRITO?!?! It’s my Soylent off day!!!) — but honestly I have no choice but to treat The Next Brown or Curvy Data Point I See with some measure of statistical skepticism.”
Lack of diversity is a self-fulfilling prophecy
Therein lies the rub. When we take an observation about the “way things are” and leap to the moral conclusion that this is rightly so — that things ought to be this way, because clearly they are this way for some reason — we commit the logical fallacy that so consumed Hume: the idea that we can derive what ought to be from what is, also known as the fact/value problem.
I don’t think most white male engineers would go quite so far as to claim that their industry must remain homogenous to succeed (although clearly some do, like our friend Kevin, who apparently believes that diversity is definitionally both inefficient and a straight ticket to the business failure shitter — and that our only moral interest in the problem is spurred by the meddlesome interference of that old bugaboo The Government). Instead, in Silicon Valley it tends to take the form of justifying inaction: they might provisionally admit (over an artisanally-prepared, locally-sourced (from a Tenderloin window box herb garden) cocktail at Bar Crudo, or perhaps a Blue Bottle americano) that the problem of diversity may warrant some moral scrutiny, but not by them. They are just way too busy swimming for the shores of a Better World (so long as a Better World enriches them and their investors, natch) to be bothered with this issue that they perceive as not having the slightest effect on them. In times like these (which seems to be All Times), we simply can’t afford the moral luxury of anything but lifeboat ethics.
Right? Well, wrong — unless we’re not troubled by the absurd logical paradox of making ourselves subject to both the zero-sum philosophy this requires and the free market ideology of infinitely available value creation that is supposed to be driving the entire economic party bus (with karaoke) we’re riding in. So, we have to decide: which is it? Is there economic opportunity for all, or do the pathetic losers who fail to become startup founders get left at the curb? And if so, who will sing the songs of their people?!
Our own worst enemies
A reference to the old saw that “attitude is everything” is appropriate here. Because one of the few things more exasperating than the unexamined privilege of ignoring the issue is the endless infighting that those of us in marginalized groups do with each other over what the solution should be.
…where to even start? Let me explain… no, there is too much. Let me sum up: this comment from some random white dude who loves extreme sports begins and ends with the outrageously outsized entitlement of trying to tell Slack how to run its own goddamn business, from atop his lofty perch of Somewhere That Is Not Anywhere Even Remotely Near being an actual employee of Slack with some potentially arguable skin in the game, much less a leader or decision-maker within the company.
I mean, Jesus. This is what we’re dealing with. A worldview so vehemently opposed to the idea of apparently even discussing the matter of diversity (in case some terminology or phrase or godforsakenly challenging idea might be construed as controversial and somewhere, someone might possibly be offended — like the entire LGBT community he tries to lump me in with and in a follow-up comment — without a shred of irony! — attempts to claim he was only “speaking for himself” when demanding both a public apology and insinuating that Erica Baker the Slack engineer should literally lose her job for daring to state an opinion while black (p.s. we’ve truly come full fucking circle now, haven’t we?!)) that people feel compelled to spend their time offering free, unwarranted, and undoubtedly unwanted “business advice” to the company THAT PRESUMABLY KNOWS BETTER ABOUT WHAT IT IS DOING than Richard Fucking Burton The Third of His Name!
How can you even hold such a logical paradox in your head, much less lay it out in a single paragraph: the idea that somehow, bizarrely, Slack itself not only lacks the control over whether or not Erica Baker may be “let go for similar remarks” (I mean, who would be doing the firing in this case?! Is there some vigilante regulatory-required Anti-Social-Justice-Warrior in tights and a cape flying around Silicon Valley waiting for bat signals sent from comments on TechCrunch to swoop in from outside the company and authorize her termination?!), but may also be on such shaky ground from some available success metric (I assure you it’s not. It’s one of the few blindingly amazing success stories of recent memory and continues to be one of the fastest growing enterprise startups Of All Time) that they might just have to resort to taking the advice of some Totally Irrelevant Troll about what their fucking brand should be?!?
I. JUST. CAN’T. EVEN!!! (can you?! if so, better abandon all ye hope of ever working at Slack.)
Just goes to show: we’ll cling to whatever flimsy life raft of privilege we think we’re on, even as the Leaky Lifeboat (not to mention the Queen Friggin’ Mary) sails past, breathing a sigh of relief that we don’t seem eager to hop on and capsize it.
Everyone calm down. But be prepared to leave through the eastern gate
Now let’s ask ourselves: if we believe we’re striving ever more harriedly toward a Better World, then what the heck does that world even look like? Close your eyes and picture it: what do you see? Are people happy in this world? Do they seem to go about their lives effortlessly and with graceful purpose in the human-connected face of god (for lack of a better term… so far), or are they still scurrying to and fro in the franticness of Trying To Get There?
Do people treat each other well, and with respect despite their differences, and in the face of overwhelming obstacles and risks we will have an impossible time solving from within isolated bunkers — or are they still spewing vitriol at each other over their gleefully intentional mischaracterizations of each other’s intentions?
Do they exhibit peace in the struggle, or are they still trying to shout each other down inside of every comment thread and social media exchange on the internet just to win a tiny provincial shadow of an urgently important argument about who has The Best Idea on how we can live in peace and harmony with each other, and how to impose it on the rest of those poor, lazy suckers who simply aren’t as gifted as the elite leaders who so grudgingly bear the wearisome heavy burden of Saving The World whilst being rewarded ever-so-handsomely with Real Non-Inflation Eaten Wages, lucrative stock options and liquidation preferences, artisanal cocktails, and Magically Appearing Burritos?
If we don’t even know what it looks like, then how will we know what values we should be working for, or recognize if and when we’ve arrived?
Both are subject to an extra heaping of criticism, skepticism, and scorn because there is some culturally-validated argument to be made about how they are different from some perceived status quo. And in modern mercenary America, the mythology is “win at all costs” whether it’s politics, business, religion, education, or Returning That Thing You Broke even though it’s out of warranty because goddammit we’re entitled to All The Things!!!!
To gain or preserve power, you need to win
It is acceptable — even laudable — to win by any means necessary (legal, ethical, loophole, grey area, “disrupting” or otherwise)
To win you must be good and work hard, but plenty of winners take shortcuts, cheat, break rules/laws, harm others, and/or fraud their way to the top — so in order to stay on the field, you need to become open to those tactics whether you believe it’s right or not (see: Lance Armstrong). Meanwhile internally, you have built-in psychological mechanisms that enforce your justification and carve out a special view of yourself as being ultimately a good person (see: Jonathan Haidt) and even, more twistedly, a “good person who does bad things” (see: BTK serial killer) — whereas other people who do bad things are not simply constrained by their environments (as you are); they are just bad people.
In the struggle for power, those who have (or want) it aggressively seek out any thread of weakness, real or perceived, in whatever individuals or outgroups appear to threaten their dominance.
Difference from the norm is widely and cross-culturally perceived as weakness and carries a negative connotation socially.
Anyone who suggests or espouses difference is subject to derision and confrontation, as a matter of course.
Those who have “outward difference” characteristics — i.e. women, members of different races, religions — therefore tend to be the subject of derision and confrontation as a matter of course: because it leads the Normal to winning, and therefore preserving power.
Any method of fomenting confrontation and contempt is acceptable in the noble pursuit of power, even including vociferously denying and decrying the unethical tactics used by other Normals championing for the same outcome (see: Gamergate).
The age of Political Correctness took some tactics off the table, namely the overt invocation of gender or race (to a lesser extent, religion) to “name” the difference and call out the offending anti-Normal, immediately discrediting any perspective they put forth via ad hominem attack.
…but the underlying game remains the same. Identify and publicly shame a perceived difference — they “kill the buzz” or they “aren’t aggressive enough” or conversely are “too pushy” or they don’t lean in enough or they don’t have the mind of a hacker. Whatever the red herring is, it’s often a derivative of a stereotype we apply to a marginalized class — but it’s trumped up and re-packaged, perhaps with some shoddy, easy to find pseudo-evidence in support — not terribly dissimilar from the way Wall Street made subprime mortgage loans appear like the bedrock of America’s financial future via complicated and inscrutable re-branding.