The Authoritarian Personality: Deference to a higher power

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
  • anti-intraception — a dislike of subjectivity and imagination: “the fact is…”; black and white thinking; dislike of flamboyant self-expression; monoculture
  • superstition — conspiracy theory; anti-vaxxers; QAnon
  • 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:

  • extreme obedience
  • unquestioning respect for and submission to a chosen authority
  • forceful insistence on hierarchy
  • striving for dominance in social hierarchies
  • supremacy
  • wolves vs. sheep worldview
  • Manichaean struggle
  • punitiveness; vengefulness; malignant envy
  • destructiveness
  • extremism
  • subordination to the collective
  • tribalism
  • cult of personality
  • traditionalism
  • conservatism
  • fundamentalism
  • less openness to experience
  • aggression towards minority groups
  • resistance to change
  • justification(s) for social inequality
  • Libertarianism
  • police brutality
  • psychological abuse
  • hypocrisy
  • projection
  • magical thinking
  • disciplinarian
  • control freak
  • mass surveillance
  • repression
  • 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.

Just maybe.

We must democratize computational skill

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.

Not Ready Player One.

Optimism and the Condorcet jury theorem

Is it possible the Condorcet jury theorem provides not just a mathematical basis for democracy and the justice system, but a model predictor of one’s political persuasion as well?

If you’re an optimist, you have no trouble believing that p > 1/2. You give people the benefit of the doubt that they will try their best and most often, succeed in tipping over the average even if just by a hair. That’s all it takes for the theorem to prove true: that the larger the number of voters, the closer the group gets to making the “correct” decision 100% of the time.

On the other hand, if you’re a pessimist, you might quibble with that — saying that people are low-information voters who you don’t think very highly of, and don’t find very capable. You might say that people will mostly get it wrong, in which case p < 1/2 and the theory feedback loops all the way in the other direction, to where the optimal number of voters is 1: the autocrat.

A political sorting hat of sorts

Optimists will tend to believe in the power of people to self-govern and to act out of compassion a fair amount of the time, thus leaning to the left: to the Democrats, social democrats, socialists, and the alt-Left. Pessimists will tend to favor a smaller, tighter cadre of wealthy elite rulers — often, such as themselves. They might be found in the GOP, Tea Party, Freedom Caucus, Libertarian, paleoconservative, John Birch Society, Kochtopus, anarcho-capitalist, alt-Right, and other right-wing groups including the KKK and other white militia groups around the country.

Granted the model is crude, but so was the original theorem — what is the “correct” choice in a political contest? Or does Condorcet’s political science theory imply that, like becoming Neo, whatever the majority chooses will by definition be The Right One for the job? 🤔

…if so, we definitively have the wrong President.