Safety Blanket Theory

For all their angry rhetoric and now, overtly political violence, I maintain that it is the right wing that is profoundly insecure, anxious, and in need of soothing. They are panicking at the idea that the world can possibly change without their approval, and deprive them of their stolen superiority — they do not want the party to end for white male dominance of this entire planet.

Right-wing authoritarian adults latch on to symbols and ideologies and demagogues as “surrogates” for the childhood safety blanket they once needed — these are the “adult-acceptable” pablum substitutes.

Essential thinkers on authoritarian personalities

Many people around the world were shocked in the aftermath of World War II. How could “polite” society break down so utterly, so swiftly, and so zealously? Why did authoritarian personalities come to dominate human affairs, seemingly out of nowhere? How thin is this veneer of civilization, really?

A braintrust of scholars, public servants, authors, psychologists, and others have been analyzing these questions ever since. Some of the most prominent thinkers on the subject of authoritarianism were either themselves affected by the Nazi regime, or lived through the war in some capacity. Other more recent contributions have built on those original foundations, refining and extending them as more new history continues to unfold with right-wing behavior to observe.

Top research on authoritarian personalities

  • Theodor Adorno — Forced into exile by the Nazi regime, the German philosopher was a member of the Frankfurt School who tried to make sense of the evils of Hitler’s rule. He developed the F-scale in 1947, a personality test designed to identify authoritarian personalities through a set of signature traits like conventionalism, aggression, superstition, cynicism, stereotypy, projectivity, and preoccupation with sex. His studies on antisemitism and propaganda would lay the groundwork for sociological studies at the Institute for Social Research at Columbia University, the Frankfurt School’s intellectual and literal home in New York City during WWII.
  • Bob Altemeyer — Canadian psychology professor who built upon Adorno’s work to create the Right-wing Authoritarianism Scale in 1981, the now standard diagnostic tool for identifying authoritarian personalities. Altemeyer’s research on authoritarian followers added new dimensions to the field of study, often focused previously on the psychology and behavior of authoritarian leaders of the day such as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. His most recent book, The Authoritarians, compiles the essential insights from his forty years of research on authoritarianism and is available for free at the link above.
  • Erich Fromm — A German Jewish psychologist and sociologist, Erich Fromm fled the Nazis and worked with the Frankfurt School of exiles on issues of social change, socioeconomics, and a broad range of interdisciplinary studies across the social, political, and economic sciences. His first book, Escape From Freedom (1941), is considered one of the founding tomes of political psychology. In 1964 he coined the term malignant narcissism to describe the depths of ultimate evil he lived through during Hitler’s rise to power, a phrase clinically synonymous with psychopathy — the quintessential cold-blooded killers who show no remorse for their murderous zeal. His concept of group narcissism (1973) extended Freud’s theory of collective narcissism to describe the phenomenon where members of an ingroup hold inflated views of their group that require external validation from others to continuously reaffirm their supremacy.
  • Hannah Arendt — Born Jewish in Germany in 1906, Hannah Arendt got her doctorate in philosophy in 1929 but was unable to find footing in her academic career due to the sharp rise of hostility towards the Jews. Arendt fled the country in 1933 after Hitler came to power and she was arrested for her “illegal” research into antisemitism. Forced to flee again from her exile in France in 1940, she escaped to New York and became an American citizen in 1950. Her first book, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), is considered one of the seminal works on the subject. Among her many other titles, The Human Condition (1958) may be the most influential — it establishes her core philosophy of “natality,” the idea of human affairs naturally renewing itself through the literal process of birth, with new individuals arriving continuously to reinterpret both the present and the past as well as re-imagine the future.
  • Karen Stenner — An Australian political scientist, Stenner is known for her cross-cultural research findings that show about a third (approximately 33%) of whites in a given population will tend to have authoritarian predispositions. Her work also shows the difference between authoritarian personalities, who have a great distaste for difference and diversity, and conservative mentalities, who have a significant aversion to change. Stenner posits authoritarianism as the result of a low tolerance for ambiguity, complexity, and — as a consequence — sociocultural diversity: “freedom feeds fear which undermines freedom, and democracy is its own undoing” (from her 2005 work The Authoritarian Dynamic).

More foundational thinkers

  • Czeslaw Milosz — Author of The Captive Mind (1953), the Lithuanian-born poet, writer, and activist grew up in Poland and lived through the German invasion and Soviet occupation there during and after World War II. In the book, he describes the psychological and social effects of living under Communism, with emphasis on the surprising complicity of many members of the Polish intellectual and creative class.
  • Vaclav Havel — A Czech playwright who became more politically active as a dissident after the Soviet invasion of Warsaw in 1968, Havel wrote The Power of the Powerless (1978) about his experiences living in the lies of a communist regime. He was a political prisoner under the anti-intellectualism of Soviet rule multiple times, once for as long as 4 years.
  • Viktor Frankl — Holocaust survivor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and philosopher who chronicled his experiences in Nazi concentration camps, his observations about his fellow prisoners, the guards, and the psychology of Hitler’s murderous antisemitic regime more broadly. After being liberated from Auschwitz, having lost the rest of his family to the camps, he returned to Vienna to head a hospital neurological department and wrote Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) over the course of only 9 days. He went on to develop logotherapy, a branch of psychotherapy that places the search for life’s meaning at the center of human motivation, and laid the groundwork for the development of positive psychology.
  • Herbert Marcuse — Another refugee intellectual with the Franklin School, Marcuse worked with the pre-CIA OSS to research and counteract Nazi propaganda.
  • George Orwell — The British author most synonymous with portraying the evils of totalitarianism through his two classic fiction works Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949). To this day we use the term Orwellian to describe the creeping dread of a dystopian, all-powerful government pumping out lies and thought control.
  • Robert O. Paxton — Seminal work on the nature of fascism
  • Timothy Snyder — Yale professor and scholar of autocratic regimes
  • Masha Gessen — Russian-American journalist, author, and queer activist whose definitive biography of Vladimir Putin, The Man Without a Face (2013), is one of several must reads on the rise of Russia’s revanchism with the West.
  • George Lakoff — Linguist who analyzes political messaging and writes about the strict father vs. nurturing parent Manichaean struggle between conservative/authoritarian and liberal value systems. Lakoff stresses the counterintuitive finding that approximately 98% of our thinking is done unconsciously, and that we are driven by these unconscious thoughts and beliefs to a much larger extent than we are generally aware of.
  • Alice Miller — Swiss psychologist whose career uncovered that the consequences of child corporal punishment tend to be authoritarian personalities later in life. Her work shows that child abuse perpetuates emotional blindness later in life and a number of vicious cycles in society from generation to generation, from aggression and paranoia to corruption, crime, and violence.
  • Jerrold Post — One of the foremost researchers on political paranoia and a founder of the field of political psychology, the professor spent 2 decades as a CIA agent prior to teaching and writing about the political behavior of malignant personality types. His last book, Dangerous Charisma: The Political Psychology of Donald Trump and His Followers (2019), was published one year before the 2020 election.
  • Richard Hofstadter — studies the “paranoid style” in American politics
  • Jonathan Haidt — Author of The Righteous Mind
          

Right-wing populism around the world

It’s not just here at home that fascism seems to have taken root in the population. There are many burgeoning nationalist movements resurrecting right-wing populism around the world, and as per many experts’ warnings, authoritarianism is on the rise around the globe.

Many of the right-wing populist thatches that have sprung up are at least in part, seeds planted by Vladimir Putin in his quest for Russian revanchism against the West following the end (or so we thought…) of the Cold War. Rumoured to be the richest man in the world by far, the former KGB agent was working in East Germany when the Berlin Wall fell, and has been pursuing his Lost Cause grievance ever since.

Given how seemingly easy it is for Charles Koch to buy American elections as the 15th richest person in the world, imagine what someone far wealthier could accomplish. Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France took campaign cash directly from The Kremlin, Viktor Orban’s Hungary is Putin’s strongest ally in the EU, and the UK’s Brexit campaign acted as the canary in the coalmine for later disgraceful invasions of other nations’ sovereignty — perhaps most notably, election interference in the 2016, 2018, and 2020 US elections.

As such, it would be foolish not to see what’s happening here in America as part of a broader wave of right-wing populism and authoritarian fever that is very dangerous. We need to find out a lot more information about how all these puzzle pieces fit together, and get to the bottom of the real conspiracy clearly going on — if we can find it through all these smokescreen conspiracy theories clogging the propaganda waves.

CountryFlagPartyAbbreviation
Austria🇦🇹Freedom PartyFPO
Belgium🇧🇪Flemish BlockVB
Britain🇬🇧UK Independence PartyUKIP
Britain First
National Front
Czech RepublicFreedom and Direct DemocracySPD
Denmark🇩🇰Danish People's PartyDPP
Finland🇫🇮True Finns
France🇫🇷National FrontFN
Germany🇩🇪Alternative for GermanyAfD
Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the WestPegida
Greece🇬🇷Syriza
Hungary🇭🇺Movement for a Better HungaryJobbik
Fidesz
Italy🇮🇹Northern League
National Alliance
Japan🇯🇵Nippon Kaigi
The Netherlands🇳🇱Party for FreedomPPV
Liveable Netherlands
Pim Fortuyn's ListLPF
Norway🇳🇴Progress Party
The Philippines🇵🇭
Poland🇵🇱Law and Justice party
Portugal🇵🇹Popular Party
SerbiaSerbian Radical PartySRS
Spain🇪🇸(Catalonian secession)
Sweden🇸🇪Sweden Democrats
Switzerland🇨🇭Swiss People's PartySVP
United States🇺🇸Republican PartyGOP

Integrative complexity

Integrative complexity is a statistical measure of how much a person’s thinking and reasoning involves the incorporation of multiple perspectives and potential outcomes, along with the related precursors to acquiring them. Its score reflects the structure of an individual’s thoughts, and the richness of their problem-solving and decision making abilities.

The integrative complexity measurement has two components:

  1. Evaluative differentiation — Ability to acknowledge that reasonable people may have different beliefs, and that making decisions collectively will involve balancing competing interests.
  2. Conceptual integration — Skill at giving context to others’ points of view, and/or coming up with ideas for compromise that two (or more) opposing sides might come to the table on.

Relation to:

Values of the Left and the Right: Liberal vs. Authoritarian Worldviews

The following list must be prefaced with some caveats about painting with broad strokes, and acknowledging everything is a distribution and Not All Republicans espouse all of these things to the same degree or even at all. Nevertheless, both the extremism and the polarization in our political system is the highest in recent memory — certainly in the totality of my Generation X memory, and by all accounts the highest since the 1930s. Extremism is high on both the Left and the Right, but research shows it’s been growing much more extreme on the Right.

And in many ways it feels like we are living through something akin to the 1930s, again. The rise in authoritarian regimes and totalist thought and linguistic patterns is troubling and dangerous. The United States never had an armed insurrection take over the Capitol building prior to January 6, 2021. America has had many periods of brutality in its past and present, but historically speaking nothing like the recent decades of escalating mass shooter events.

What can explain the religious devotion to a failed businessman and failed President on the Right? Loathe him through we might on the Left, Trump is revered on the Right for espousing the “virtues” of a traditional hierarchical society, and for giving coded approval to America’s most shadowy extremist groups that he would be finding excuses to look the other way if they chose to strike. They both held up their ends of the bargain, with would-be assassins in tactical gear assaulting the nation’s lawmakers as they certified the 2020 election results as mandated by the Constitution, and paid puppets in the Senate letting them all off the hook… technically speaking, that is.

Trump looked the other way, but only for another 14 days — until Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. With a new sheriff Merrick Garland in town, all bets are off regarding leniency for the nation’s most vile and seditious lot who stormed the Capitol and disrupted the peaceful transfer of power for the first time in US history — a sad day for the country and its venerable history of managing to keep the republic.

This will be a work in progress, as usual. And a tool for discussion — we’re going to need it for the coming years.

Liberal ValuesAuthoritarian Values
EqualityHierarchy
JusticeForce
LibertyControl
Popular sovereigntyUnpopular rule
Common goodPrivatization
LogicMagical Thinking
ReasonPower
TruthPropaganda
HistoryMyth
RealityFantasy
ResponsibilityEscapism
RationalityIrrationality
IntegrityHypocrisy
CharacterCharacter disorder
WisdomIgnorance
GenerosityGreed
HonestyDeception
EarnestnessCynicism
SkepticismLoyalty
CuriosityBoredom
CompassionContempt
EmpathySadism
Driven by careDriven by fear
MoralityNihilism
TransparencySecrecy
ConsiderationCallousness
PatienceImpatience
MaturityImmaturity
Emotional intelligenceEmotional manipulation
WholeheartednessCognitive dissonance
VulnerabilityDefensiveness
AuthenticityMimicry
DeliberationAct without thinking
De-escalationAggression
ConsciousUnconscious
Self-awareSelf-deception
EducationBrainwashing
DiversityConformity
CreativityDestruction
ArtisticFundamentalist
SolutionsGrievance
CommunityRugged individualism
TrustDistrust
GratitudeEnvy
RespectDisrespect
SustainabilityExtraction
Self-regardCathexis
SpiritualityReligiosity
Self-actualizationFollow the leader
Problem solvers"Tear it down"-ers

The Conservative Mind

A growing body of psychological and cognitive research is showing that the conservative mind has the following in common, indicating a profound challenge for American democracy in years to come:

  • are low in the “openness” trait — seek comfort and familiarity, and avoid novelty or challenge
  • dislike change and difference
  • rigid and dogmatic thinkers; close-minded
  • have a strong need for closure
  • have a high tendency to jump to conclusions while exuding self-righteous conviction
  • are high in conscientiousness, but low in conscience — many see life as a game to win at all costs, especially the social dominators
  • value loyalty
  • more likely than liberals to engage in motivated reasoning
  • more likely to have strong religious beliefs
  • more likely to engage in magical thinking
  • more likely to believe in conspiracy theories
  • more likely to exhibit authoritarian personality traits
  • more likely to harbor aggressive tendencies

See also:

Conspiracy Theory Dictionary: From QAnon to Gnostics

In half a decade we’ve gone from Jeb Bush making a serious run for president to Marjorie Taylor Greene running unopposed and winning a House seat in Georgia. QAnon came seemingly out of nowhere, but taps into a much deeper and older series of conspiracy theories that have surfaced, resurfaced, and been remixed throughout time.

Essentially, QAnon is a recycling of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion conspiracy theory that drove the Nazi ideology and led to the genocide of over 6 million Jews, gypsies, gays, and others who made Hitler mad. It’s wrapped in a bunch of other dangerous myths, paranoid delusions, and invented “alternative facts,” but shares its common DNA with the kind of conspiratorial paranoia that led to the deaths of over 75 million people in World War II.

The spread of the QAnon conspiracy theory greatly benefits from this long historical memory, by getting a generous marketing boost from piggybacking on sheer familiarity. It also benefits from an authoritarian mentality growing louder in America, with a predilection for magical thinking and a susceptibility to conspiratorial thinking.

Conspiracy theories have been around much longer even than the Protocols — stretching back about as long as recorded history itself. In an increasingly complex world brimming with real-time communication capabilities, the cognitive appeal of easy answers may be stronger than ever before.

TermDefinitionNotes
4chanA notorious internet message board with an unruly culture capable of trolling, pranks, and crimes.alt-Right
8chanIf 4chan wasn't raw and lawless enough for you, you could try the even more right-wing "free speech"-haven 8chan while it still stood (now 8kun). Described by its founder Frederick Bennan as "if 4chan and reddit had a baby," the site is notorious for incubating Gamergate, which morphed into PizzaGate, which morphed into QAnon -- and for generally being a cesspool of humanity's worst stuff.alt-Right
9/11 truthersPeople who believe the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City in 2001 were either known about ahead of time and allowed to happen, or were intentionally planned by the US government.
alien abductionPeople who claim to have been captured by intelligent life from another planet, taken to a spaceship or other plane of existence, and brought back -- as well as the folks who believe them.UFOs now real, nbd
American carnageEvocative of "immense loss" in the Nazi mythology
AntifaAntifa is anti-fascism, so the anti-anti-fascists are just fascists wrapped in a double negative. The real cancel culture -- and a dangerous one.
Anti-SemitismOne of history's oldest hatreds, stretching back to early biblical times
birtherismOne of Donald Trump's original Big Lies -- that President Barack Obama wasn't born in the U.S. and therefore, wasn't a "legitimate" president.
Black Lives Matter
blood libel
child trafficking
Christian Identity
The Confederacy
contamination
Crossing the Rubicon
deep state
fake news
GamerGate
George Soros
Hollywood
Illuminati
InfoWars
JFK assassination
John Birch SocietyThe QAnon of its day (circa 1960s), this extreme right-wing group was theoretically about anti-communist ideals but espoused a host of conspiracy theories and outlandish beliefs
lamestream media
leftist apocalypse
micro-propaganda machineMPMthe “micro-propaganda machine” — an influence network that can tailor people’s opinions, emotional reactions, and create “viral” sharing (��LOL/haha/��RAGE) episodes around what should be serious or contemplative issues
motivated reasoning
New World Order
One World Government
PizzaGate
post-truth
PR
propaganda
Protocols of the Elders of Zion
PsyOps
QAnon
Q Drops
reactionary modernism
Reichstag fire
Rothschilds
sock puppets
"Stand back and stand by"
The Storm
WikiLeaks
ZOGZionist ---- Government

titushki

Titushki (or titushky) are paid street thugs sent to act as provocateurs, who provoke clashes or destroy property to tarnish peaceful protests and blame the left for “violence.”

The concept is from Ukraine, where it was first employed by later ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. He hired street hooligans in civilian clothing to perform illegal acts including street beatings, carjackings, kidnappings, and murders. Their purpose was both to intimidate the opposition against his government and create pretexts for arresting pro-democracy protestors.

During the events of Euromaidan in 2013-14, Yanukovich’s Party of Regions paid titushki about $100 per day to blend into peaceful crowds and start picking fights. After violence broke out, mass arrests would disperse the gatherings and round up protestors — and the titushki were again used as either “witnesses or “victims” for the show trials of these ginned up “crimes.”

Titushki in the U.S.?

During the George Floyd protests in summer 2020, city officials in Atlanta, Minneapolis, and elsewhere reported a pattern of out-of-town agents provacateur escalating peaceful protests and instigating aggression, incitement, and property damage. A Ukranian immigrant family in Idaho with no prior political activity organized one of the most important pro-Trump demonstrations of the summer in Portland, out of nowhere. There was umbrella man. He may be more likely aligned with the white nationalist groups who were also id’d as instigating violence and who also have an undercover plot against America going on so, you know, strange bedfellows!

Newspeak Dictionary

George Orwell’s 1984 lexicon is a lingua franca of authoritarianism. Newspeak words have the stamp of boots on pavement, and are most likely to be found in the chryons of the OAN Network.

The terse portmanteus are blunt and blocky, like a brutalist architecture vocabulary. Their simplicity indicates appeal to the small-minded masses for easily digested pablum.

Those boots ring out again, from Belarus to Hungary to the United States. It’s a good time to brush up on the brutalism still struggling to take hold.

Newspeak Dictionary

Newspeak termDefinition
anteThe prefix that replaces before
artsemArtificial insemination
bbBig Brother
bellyfeelThe blind, enthusiastic acceptance of an idea
blackwhiteTo accept whatever one is told, regardless of the facts. In the novel, it is described as "...to say that black is white when [the Party says so]" and "...to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary".
crimestopTo rid oneself of unorthodox thoughts that go against Ingsoc's ideology
crimethinkThoughts and concepts that go against Ingsoc, frequently referred to by the standard English “thoughtcrime”, such as liberty, equality, and privacy, and also the criminal act of holding such thoughts
dayorderOrder of the day
depDepartment
doubleplusgoodThe word that replaced Oldspeak words meaning "superlatively good", such as excellent, fabulous, and fantastic
doubleplusungoodThe word that replaced Oldspeak words meaning "superlatively bad", such as terrible and horrible
doublethinkThe act of simultaneously believing two, mutually contradictory ideas
duckspeakAutomatic, vocal support of political orthodoxies
facecrimeA facial expression which reveals that one has committed thoughtcrime
FicdepThe Ministry of Truth's Fiction Department
freeThe absence and the lack of something. "Intellectually free" and "politically free" have been replaced by crimethinkful.
–fulThe suffix for forming an adjective
fullwiseThe word that replaces words such as fully, completely, and totally
goodthinkA synonym for "political orthodoxy" and "a politically orthodox thought" as defined by the Party
goodsexSexual intercourse only for procreation, without any physical pleasure on the part of the woman, and strictly within marriage
goodwiseThe word that replaced well as an adverb
IngsocThe English Socialist Party (i.e. The Party)
joycampLabour camp
malquotedInaccurate representations of the words of Big Brother and of the Party
MiniluvThe Ministry of Love, where the secret police interrogate and torture the enemies of Oceania (torture and brainwashing)
MinipaxThe Ministry of Peace, who wage war for Oceania
MinitrueThe Ministry of Truth, who manufacture consent by way of lies, propaganda, and distorted historical records, while supplying the proles (proletariat) with synthetic culture and entertainment
MiniplentyThe Ministry of Plenty, who keep the population in continual economic hardship (starvation and rationing)
OldspeakStandard English
oldthinkIdeas from the time before the Party's revolution, such as objectivity and rationalism
ownlifeA person's anti-social tendency to enjoy solitude and individualism
plusgoodThe word that replaced Oldspeak words meaning "very good", such as great
plusungoodThe word that replaced "very bad"
PornosecThe pornography production section (Porno sector) of the Ministry of Truth's Fiction Department
prolefeedPopular culture for entertaining Oceania's working class
RecdepThe Ministry of Truth's Records Department, where Winston Smith rewrites historical records so they conform to the Party's agenda
rectifyThe Ministry of Truth's euphemism for manipulating a historical record
refTo refer (to someone or something)
secSector
sexcrimeA sexual immorality, such as fornication, adultery, oral sex, and homosexuality; any sex act that deviates from Party directives to use sex only for procreation
speakwriteA machine that transcribes speech into text
TeledepThe Ministry of Truth's Telecommunications Department
telescreenA two-way television set with which the Party spy upon Oceania's population
thinkpolThe Thought Police, the secret police force of Oceania's government
unpersonAn executed person whose existence is erased from history and memory
upsubAn upwards submission to higher authority
–wiseThe only suffix for forming an adverb
See also:

Hyper Partisanship: How to understand American politics today

Buckle up, we’re in for a wild ride. Many of the serious scholars of political history and authoritarian regimes are sounding the alarm bells that, although it is a very very good thing we are getting rid of the Trump crime family soon, it is still a very very bad thing for America to have so rapidly tilted towards authoritarianism. How did we get here?! How has hyper partisanship escalated to the point of an attempted coup by 126 sitting Republican House Representatives?

These are some of the resources that helped me grapple with that question, and with the rapidly shifting landscape of information warfare. How can we understand this era of polarization, this age of tribalism? This outline is a work in progress, and I’m planning to keep adding to this list as the tape keeps rolling.

Right-Wing Authoritarianism

  • Karen Stenner — Australian political psychologist Karen Stenner found that approximately 1/3 of populations are authoritarian, or have authoritarian tendencies.
  • Hannah Arendt — The Origins of Totalitarianism
  • Derrida — the logic of the unconscious; performativity in the act of lying
  • ketman — Ketman is the psychological concept of concealing one’s true aims, akin to doublethink in Orwell’s 1984, that served as a central theme to Polish dissident Czesław Miłosz‘s book The Captive Mind about intellectual life under totalitarianism during the Communist post-WWII occupation.
  • Erich Fromm — coined the term “malignant narcissism” to describe the psychological character of the Nazis
  • Fascism — elevation of the id as the source of truth; enthusiasm for political violence
  • Tyrants
  • John Dean — 3 types of authoritarian personality:
    • social dominators
    • authoritarian followers
    • double highs — social dominators who can “switch” to become followers in certain circumstances
  • Loyalty; hero worship
    • Freud = deeply distrustful of hero worship and worried that it indulged people’s needs for vertical authority. He found the archetype of the authoritarian primal father very troubling.
  • Ayn Rand — The Fountainhead
  • Richard Hofstadter — The Paranoid Style
  • Lakoff — moral framing; strict father morality
  • Neil Postman — Entertaining Ourselves to Death
  • Anti-Intellectualism
  • Can be disguised as hyper-rationalism (Communism)

Cognitive and psychological data

  • conservative minds don’t accept new information coming in
    • vs. Bayesian logic
    • vs. Thomas Kuhn scientific revolutions
  • Psychological biases
    • Status quo bias
  • The Asch Experiment — more than 60% of the time, people bow to social pressure
  • Stanley Milgram 1974 — we will submit to the demands of authority to a far greater extent than we might expect
    • it absolves us of responsibility
    • a “loophole” to quickly route around our conscience, making “normal” persons susceptible to the appeals of psychopaths
  • The Marshmallow Experiment — drive towards instant gratification
  • Edward Bernays — Propaganda
  • Narcissism and Sadism | The Dark Triad — difficult personalities
    • narcissism = seeing oneself “above”
    • Christopher Lasch — Culture of Narcissism (1979). Idea that narcissism is a defense mechanism against social change and instability in the modern world. It’s a method of psychological self-preservation in a hostile, threatening world; a cynical ethic.
    • Tom Wolfe — The Me Decade
    • Jerrold Post — authoritarian parenting
    • The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump
    • Mary Trump — Too Much and Not Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man
    • narcissistic injury
    • narcissistic rage
    • aggrieved entitlement — elevated expectations combined with resentment at society for not meeting them (Michael Kimmel, 2013)
    • dehumanization of the Others
    • splitting; black and white thinking
    • object permanence
    • magical thinking — relation to Norman Vincent Peale and prosperity gospel
    • Political ponerology — the nature of evil; interaction of difficult personalities with power and politics
      • pathocracy — Andrew Łobaczewski (2007)
      • sadopopulism — Tim Snyder
    • Narcissistic collusion — the interplay of the grandiose expectations of the tyrant and his followers. It gives him power as a meshing of mutually compatible needs.
    • Narcissism of small differences — Freud 1991
    • Scapegoating
    • Psychological decompensation
    • Psychopath World
      • The Upside Down — up is down, black is white
      • No conscience
      • No empathy
      • The ultimate narcissist
      • Obsession with power, dominance, and hierarchy
      • Primitive goals, relentlessly pursued
      • Rigidity; inflexibility
      • No access to higher human ideals
      • Performative; mask-wearing
      • See people as objects for their use
      • Control issues
      • Cruel and sadistic
      • Empty and thrill-seeking
      • Enjoy breaking rules
      • Inauthentic; insincere
      • Projectivity
      • Destructiveness; recklessness
      • Conspiracy-minded
      • Cold and inaccessible
      • Reptilian
    • Terminology: ASPD and the shifting umbrella of personality disorder and Cluster B
    • Malignant narcissism as a historical conception of this group of personality traits
  • Paranoia
  • Abuse culture
    • Bullies
    • Emotional abuse
    • psychological abuse
    • physical abuse
    • financial abuse
    • legal abuse
    • abuse of power
    • Alice Miller — Her work identified the psychological impact of childhood neglect and abuse, not just at the individual level but at the societal level — where it has a tendency to produce a hierarchical worldview characterized by the need to control the environment.
    • One-sided development — Dąbrowski (1996)
  • Cults
  • “Big Cults” — rise to the level of nation-state and even beyond
  • Psychological warfare
    • Propaganda
      • Bernays –> Goebbels
      • Michiko Kakutani — The Death of Truth
    • Emotional abuse
    • Interrogation techniques
    • Disinformation
      • Conspiracy theories
      • Fake news
        • “Flood the channel” strategy
        • Overwhelm and drown out the truth
        • Deep fakes
      • Lying with statistics
    • Bot networks and cyborg botnets
      • agents
        • distraction
        • confusion
        • probing
        • persuasion
        • conversion
        • neutralization
      • flying monkeys
      • automated response
      • timed response
    • Extortion
    • Doxxing
  • Religious extremism
    • Evangelicals
    • Dominionism and extremist religious circles believing literally in the End Times and the rapture coming soon (Tim LaHaye et al), including at the highest levels of government (Pompeo, Pence, etc.)
    • Calvinism
    • Prosperity gospel
  • Living on Fantasy Island
    • Norman Vincent Peale — the power of positive thinking (1952)
    • Ernest Becker — The Denial of Death & the basis for fundamental self-deception
    • Buddhist / Shambhala conceptions of “The Cocoon” — a mental place of safety we construct for ourselves to remain shielded from Real Reality
    • Republican Denial Bubbles: climate change, trickle-down economics, “no one is racist,” birtherism, covid is a hoax, everything is hunky dory, you are getting very sleepy…
    • It Was All a Lie — Stuart Stevens, former GOP strategist and co-founding member of the Lincoln Project, spills the beans on the Republican capture of civic discourse with a set of false narratives all spinning out from the white supremacist backlash to the civil rights movement of the 60s.

HISTORY

  • Capitol Riots and Putsch — insurrectionists storm the Capitol
  • Raffensperger extortion call
  • Georgia runoffs
  • Biden elected + Big Lie begins (continues, really)
  • George Floyd murder and summer of protest
    • long struggle with police brutality and “driving while Black”
  • Votings Rights Act gutted
  • Citizens United
  • Growing nationalization of politics parallels the demise of local news

Hyper Partisanship in Congress: The Gingrich Years

  • Newt Gingrich and the Contract on America — Steve Kornacki, Julian Zelizer
  • Rise of Evangelicals and the deals with the devils (Paul Weyrich, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, prosperity gospel, etc)
    • ALEC
    • abortion as a 180-degree turn for use as a wedge issue
    • Brown v. Board of Education & the fight over segregated Christian private schools
  • White nationalism’s reputational laundering
    • David Duke popped back up in both the 90s and the 2010s
    • Some Vietnam vets nurtured their own “stabbed in the back” culture after the war
    • Rise of the militia movement
      • Many returning soldiers saw the fringe left Communist movement in the US as an “enemy at home”
      • Greensboro, NC massacre
      • The Order
      • KKK & KKKK
    • Paramilitary operations in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere in Latin America to “bring the war home”
    • After the fall of Communism, the movement needed a new enemy. During the immediate post-Vietnam era they claimed to be working on behalf of the state, but towards the end of the 80s they did a 180-degree turn to a hard anti-government stance
    • Survivalist fringe
      • Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing
      • Waco
      • Ruby Ridge
      • Unabomber / Ted Kaczynski
    • Intersection of militia movement with NRA
      • Intersection of NRA with Russian active measures
    • Lost Cause lineage
      • Confederate holdouts

Post-Soviet Capital Flight and the Rise of Russian Organized Crime

Rise of Dark Money

The explosion of Super PACs and other seemingly endless vehicles for anonymous money lending to political campaigns exploded after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010. The hyper partisanship tilted even further when the GOP quietly began accepting far more foreign contributions than many people realized.

  • Citizens United
  • Koch Brothers / Kochtopus
  • offshore tax havens
  • unregistered FARA agents (Flynn, Manafort, Elliott Broidy, etc)
  • Jane Mayer
  • Panama Papers — biggest offshore data leak in history
  • FinCEN files

Rise of Russian Hybrid Warfare

  • Gerasimov Doctrine
  • Vladislav Surkhov’s surrealistic war theater
    • Fifth World War: all against all
  • Cheka –> KGB –> FSB / GRU
  • Psychological warfare
  • Cyber warfare
    • energy grid
    • US Treasury
    • election infrastructure
    • nuclear weaponry
  • Information warfare
    • Disinformation
    • Cyborg bot networks
    • IRA & Robert Mueller indictments
    • Cambridge Analytica, data theft, and microtargeting
    • Astroturfing, fake activism, paid crisis actors
  • Financial warfare
    • Magnitsky Act
      • Bill Browder
      • Natalia Veselnitskaya
      • Trump Tower meeting June 9, 2016
    • Campaign funding
      • Marie Le Pen (France)
      • Viktor Orban (Hungary)
      • Brexit (UK)
      • Trump / GOP (US)
      • Law and Justice (Poland)
    • Corruption — organized crime, money laundering, bribery, human trafficking, drugs, arms, fraud, racketeering, etc.
  • Proxy warfare
    • Private security forces and arms’ length deniability
      • Yevgeny Prigozhin
      • Erik Prince
    • Ukraine
    • Belarus
    • Syria

Role of Facebook, Google, and Big Tech

Silicon Valley played its part in enabling — and profiteering from — hyper partisanship not just in the U.S., but around the world. Facebook in particular has a reputation for being callously cheap about moderating content from hate speech to live mass shooting video, including arguably playing a significant role in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar.

  • Facebook as a rogue nation state with almost 3 billion non-voting citizen-serfs
    • Reluctant moderators require regulating
    • Questionable ethics
      • Moral hazard in political leanings
      • Paid propaganda machine for dictators and authoritarian regimes around the world
      • Allow disinformation to “skirt around” the rules too often, or fail to police bad actors at all
      • Fail to live up to their own moderating standards repeatedly
      • Refuse responsibility for arguably essential roles in geopolitical disasters including the Rohingya massacre in Myanmar and
      • A business model that fundamentally benefits from human conflict
      • Cambridge Analytica
      • Traumatic conditions of the Facebook moderation team, in the US and abroad
  • Google’s capture of the web
    • monopoly powers
    • surveillance powers
    • AI powers
    • collapse of online advertising market
    • collapse of local journalism
    • Youtube radicalization
  • Bozo Bezos & the Billionaire Space Race
  • Surveillance capitalism
  • Data as the new oil
  • Crypto & DeFi

Economic insecurity and staggering inequality

  • Piketty
  • Gilded Age
  • Progressive Era
  • Anti-Trust
  • Herbert Hoover –> FDR
  • Great Depression –> New Deal prosperity
  • Keynesian economics
  • Hillbilly elegy
    • Bowling Alone
    • The Big Sort
  • Globalization
  • Opioid crisis

Republican Myths

As further enabled by the rise of the PR-state

  • White supremacy and the myth of American innocence
  • Trickle down economics –> Reagan
  • Powell Memo –> Think Tanks
  • McCarthyism; John Birch Society
  • America as a Judeo-Christian nation
  • Immigration is bad
  • Climate change denialism
  • Smoking is good for you

Americana and Hyper Partisanship through the ages

  • 2020 election
  • 2016 election
  • Obama years
  • 2008-09 financial crash
  • 9/11, WMD delusions, Iraq War, Islamic terrorism
  • 2000 Bush v. Gore
  • Welfare queens
  • Clinton and the Crime Bill
  • Reagan years
  • Watergate
  • Spiro Agnew
  • Nixon’s war on drugs as a proxy for the war on 60s counterculture
  • White militia movement
  • Civil rights & Vietnam
  • Cold War
  • The Holocaust; Stalin’s Great Terror; Mao’s famine
  • WWII & fascism
  • New Deal
  • Great Depression
  • Warren G. Harding
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • WWI
  • Gilded Age
  • Snake oil
  • PT Barnum
  • Great Awakening preachers George Whitefield & Jonathan Edwards
    • they argued that church authorities should not own people’s direct relationship with God
  • KKK
  • Jim Crow
  • Reconstruction
  • Civil War & Confederacy — the ur-Hyper Partisanship.
  • States’ Rights
  • Anti-Intellectualism
  • Slavery
  • Racism, Misogyny
  • Federalism vs. Decentralization
  • The Constitution and the Rule of Law
  • Democracy overthrows monarchy
  • Spirit of the Laws — Montesquieu
  • Social contract; consent of the governed
  • Puritans
  • Religious freedom
  • Liberty vs. freedom
  • The Enlightenment
  • Magna Carta
  • The Bible

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, which became desirable both during and shortly after World War II.

In authoritarian personality theory, 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 the rise of authoritarianism — 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 Authoritarianism

Refined by professor of psychology Bob Altemeyer (The Authoritarians, et al) in 1981, the Right-Wing Authoritarianism scale (RWA) addresses some of the limitations of the F scale and exhibits more predictive power in identifying individuals exhibiting authoritarian personality.

The RWA personality is associated with all of the following traits, beliefs, actions, patterns, and signs of authoritarianism:

  • 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
  • cults
  • 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

Democracy vs. Authoritarianism

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. It would help us draw authoritarianism and totalitarianism out of the proverbial closet and into public discourse so we can refute it vehemently in a proper forum.

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. It’s an ethical tour de force that’s been hard-fought and won in democracies around the world beginning with the French Revolution. And it’s 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 society can hang from. 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. They repeatedly allege or assert that they are above it; that they are special. They allege that they’re so special as to be 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. They 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, Dystopia vs. Utopia Book List: A Fight to the Finish, surveillance capitalism dictionary

Some takeaways:

  • surveillance won’t be obvious and overt like in Orwell’s classic totalitarian novel 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.

Free Press: 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


“The freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.”

The Virginia Declaration of Rights