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.

The Rule of Law vs. the Cult of Personality

The rule of law is a moral force — an ethical tour de force that’s been hard-fought and won in democracies around the world beginning with the French Revolution and still going on today, everywhere citizens are struggling to achieve political power and equality.

When justice holds sway, there is a true objective arbiter and an ethical framework to hang society off of — imperfect though its actual execution by actual humans may be, the rule of law provides a fundamental basis for agreement on what is right, what is wrong, and how best we shall live in our societies.

The Right-wing and the rule of law

The right-wing faction once gave lip service to the rule of law — when they still had a monopoly over it. Now that they no longer do, the extreme right has abandoned it in favor of a venal power grab in the form of an essentially fascist idea: the Cult of Personality.

In Donald Trump and in authoritarian leaders around the world, the Cult of Personality reigns. These leaders go out of their way to flout the law — to allege or assert that they are above it; that they are special. So special that they are immune to application of the rule of law that applies to other citizens.

When the justice goes dark, trouble brews. When the cult of personality holds sway, entire societies become vulnerable to propaganda, disinformation, gaslighting, fakery, and lies of all kinds. Without a grasp of the truth — and mechanisms within the structure of society to champion it and root it out — societies cannot make informed decisions, cannot effectively self-govern, and cannot wholly wield the political power a democracy is meant to endow them with. Without the rule of law, freedom is not just imperiled — freedom is dead.

It is most certainly a dark and stormy evening.

Notes: Surveillance capitalism dystopia, with Zeynep Tufekci

speak, sistah!

see also: Shoshanna Zuboff (who wrote the seminal work on surveillance capitalism), Don Norman

Some takeaways:

  • surveillance won’t be obvious and overt like in Orwell’s 1984 — it’ll be covert and subtle (“more like a spider’s web”)
  • social networks use persuasion architecture — the same cloying design aesthetic that puts gum at the eye level of children in the grocery aisle

Example:

AI modeling of potential Las Vegas ticket buyers

The machine learning algorithms can classify people into two buckets, “likely to buy tickets to Vegas” and “unlikely to” based on exposure to lots and lots of data patterns. Problem being, it’s a black box and no one — not even the computer scientists — know how it works or what it’s doing exactly.

So the AI may have discovered that bipolar individuals just about to go into mania are more susceptible to buying tickets to Vegas — and that is the segment of the population they are targeting: a vulnerable set of people prone to overspending and gambling addictions. The ethical implications of unleashing this on the world — and routinely using and optimizing it relentlessly — are staggering.

Profiting from extremism

“You’re never hardcore enough for YouTube” — YouTube gives you content recommendations that are increasingly polarized and polarizing, because it turns out that preying on your reptilian brain makes you keep clicking around in the YouTube hamster wheel.

The amorality of AI — “algorithms don’t care if they’re selling shoes, or politics.” Our social, political, and cultural flows are being organized by these persuasion architectures — organized for profit; not for the collective good, not for public interests, not subject to our political will anymore. These powerful surveillance capitalism tools are running mostly unchecked, with little oversight and with few people minding the ethics of the stores of essentially a cadre of Silicon Valley billionaires.

Intent doesn’t matter — good intentions aren’t enough; it’s the structure and business models that matter. Facebook isn’t a half trillion dollar con: its value is in its highly effective persuasion power, which is highly troubling and concerning in a supposedly democratic society. Mark Zuckerberg may even ultimately mean well (…debatable), but it doesn’t excuse the railroading over numerous obviously negative externalities resulting from the unchecked power of Facebook in not only the U.S., but in countries around the world including highly volatile domains.

Extremism benefits demagogues — Oppressive regimes both come to power by and benefit from political extremism; from whipping up citizens into a frenzy, often against each other as much as against perceived external or internal enemies. Our data and attention are now for sale to the highest bidding authoritarians and demagogues around the world — enabling them to use AI against us in election after election and PR campaign after PR campaign. We gave foreign dictators even greater powers to influence and persuade us in ways that benefit them at the expense of our own self-interest.

On the dangers of attacking the media in a democratic republic

“The most dangerous ‘enemy of the people’ is presidential lying–always. Attacks on press by @realDonaldTrump more treacherous than Nixon’s”
Carl Bernstein, journalist who broke the Watergate scandal  


“These systematic attacks on the media accomplish two things. First, they fire up the base, which believe that traditional media do not represent their interests or concerns. Second, they provoke the media itself, which feeling threatened, adopts a more oppositional posture. This in turn further fuels the polarization on which the leaders depend and paves the way for the government to introduce legal restrictions.

The most dramatic example was in Venezuela, where elements in the media embarked on a campaign of open warfare, engaging in overtly partisan coverage intended to undermine Chávez’s rule. Some media owners were alleged to have conspired in a 2002 coup that briefly ousted the president. Once Chavez returned to power, he rallied his supporters behind a new law imposing broad restrictions on what the media could and could not cover under the guise of “ensuring the right to truthful information.” Across the hemisphere, other restrictive legal measures were adopted, including Ecuador’s notorious 2013 Communications Law, which criminalizes the failure to cover events of public interest, as defined by the government. In the first year, approximately 100 lawsuits were filed under the law, stifling critical reporting.”
Columbia Journalism Review


“Brian Stelter, in his Reliable Sources newsletter, rounds up elite-media Twitter reaction:

  • NPR’s Steve Inskeep: “A journalist is a citizen. Who informs other citizens, as free citizens need. Some are killed doing it …” NYT’s Maggie Haberman: “He is fighting very low approval ratings. Gonna be interesting to see how congressional Rs respond to this tweet”
  • Joe Scarborough: “Conservatives, feel free to speak up for the Constitution anytime the mood strikes. It is time”
  • NBC’s Chuck Todd: “I would hope that our leaders would never believe that any American desires to make another American an enemy. Let’s dial it back.”

At the same time, understand that this is partly a game to Trump. His confidants tell us he intentionally exploits the media’s inclination to take the bait and chase our tails.”
Axios


John McCain:
“… slammed President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media this week by noting dictators “get started by suppressing free press.”
It was a startling observation from a sitting member of Congress against the President of the United States, especially considering McCain is a member of Trump’s party.

“I hate the press,” the Arizona Republican sarcastically told NBC News’ Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.” “I hate you especially. But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital.”

But he continued, “If you want to preserve — I’m very serious now — if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press,” McCain said in the interview. “And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”


Evan McMullin:
“Authoritarians routinely attack checks on their power and sources… Donald Trump does exactly that.”
http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2017/02/05/are-trumps-attacks-on-media-authoritarian.cnn