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Ian Danskin @InnuendoStudios
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Alright, it's been a while, but let's do #IanLivetweetsHisResearch. Today we're reading Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians, which you can nab for free here:…
It's a whole-ass book so I'm just gonna share the things that jump out at me from what I've read so far and what I read this morning. Might come back to it in future livetweets.
Also shoutout to whichever follower recommended the book to me, You are lost in a sea of old notifications but it was a good recommendation!
So: Altemeyer is a psychologist who has spent his career studying authoritarians. The first chunk of the book is more focused on followers than leaders.
He divides authoritarian followers into two types: Right Wing Authoritarians and Left Wing Authoritarians. (This does not refer to liberal and conservative, FYI.)
RWA just means pro-establishment authoritarians, LWA means anti-establishment. A Right Wing Authoritarian follower follows the government, a Left Wing Authoritarian follower follows revolutionaries.
In his experience, LWAs tend to be smaller in number and rarely sustain themselves long enough to implement authoritarian policy. Dictators tend not to take control with revolution.
So most of his work (at least, that he's discussed by page 32) has been with RWAs. He has a questionnaire for determining "high" and "low" RWA leanings.
One thing that may not surprise you: high RWAs tend to be pretty bigoted! And they tend not to be bigoted against a single group, but many. Misogyny overlaps with racism overlaps with homophobia overlaps with transphobia etc. etc. etc.
But something that jumped out at me was Altemeyer's assertion that a high RWA just kind of loves being "the arm of the law."
If the government says a group is bad and needs to be controlled or attacked, they're down. They're not even picky about who the target is.
It's framing bigotry as largely a means to an end: you want to have power over someone, and you want an authority to tell you who. You don't super care who it is, you just want permission to mistreat them.
One questionnaire determined that many high RWAs would prosecute THEMSELVES if a) the government said so and b) they didn't realize the right away the targeted group included them.
And, I mean: how many Republicans had even thought about trans people in the bathroom before the government said it was bad?
Should note that this belief in established authority isn't transferable. Republican authoritarians didn't want to be the "arm of the law" for Obama's government, only Bush and Trump.
Another thing: high RWAs tend to aggress early. They will react to potential threats as though they have already been attacked. Very bad at deescalation.
Fits with what we know about bigotry: antifeminism treats *potential* gains for women as if men are already being disenfranchised.
White nationalists call the idea that America will become more mixed race in a few generations "genocide."
But they only aggress when conditions are right. If they feel authority might punish them, rather than endorse them, or if they are clearly outmatched or outnumbered, they back down quickly.
Another thing: high authoritarian followers are EXTREMELY conventional. They seemingly want nothing more than to be "normal."
If you ask them to retake the questionnaire and this time tell them what the average RWA scores are for each question, they will shift their answers towards the middle, twice as much as low RWAs do.
And if you explain to people what the RWA scale measures, low RWAs will say they want to be low RWA. Middle RWAs will say the same. But high RWAs will say they want to be in the middle. They want to be average.
This apparently goes for many of their bigotries as well. They are homophobic only as long as homophobia seems "normal."
Stands to reason why mainstreaming of radical beliefs is so important to authoritarian leaders. Their followers are very fixated on what is an isn't culturally acceptable.
Your plan to "combat white genocide" WILL NOT WORK if you can't convince your base that the average person agrees with them.
This is less true of low and middle RWAs. Their beliefs are less dependent on cultural consensus. (Obviously, no one is completely free of cultural influence, we're talking about who sits where on a spectrum.)
Alright, I need to eat, so I'm pausing this round of #IanLivetweetsHisResearch for now. Might come back in a bit, might do other stuff.
Let us resume #IanLivetweetsHisResearch. Same book, picking up not far from where we left off. Let's talk about authoritarian aggression.
Altemeyer argues that the willingness - the almost *gleeful* readiness - to follow violent orders from authoritarian leaders stems from two factors: fear and self-righteousness.
Authoritarian followers - "high RWAs," in case you don't remember the esoteric term - are considerably more fearful about the world than average people.
There's the Evangelical side of this - "Judgment Day is nearly upon us" - but it's not purely religious. People feel society is on the verge of crumbling.
A sense that what you consider "right" or "normal" is not just important to *you* but is literally the thing keeping the world together.
And women's suffrage or miscegenation or gay marriage or immigration will be THE FINAL THING that brings it all down.
There's a good article that mentions this by a certain Rolling Stone writer who has been recently and unsurprisingly outed as a predatory piece of shit, so I won't name him or the piece.
But predatory POS mentions that your average far-Right Republican is pretty much scared all the time, and in a very... I want to say *animalistic* way.
They are afraid of things that a caveman would be afraid of. Rumors that wildcats were loose in their neighborhood were far more terrifying (and believable) to them than climate change or the wealth gap.
So things that pose little threat but are human-sized are far more scary to them than real dangers that are complex and systemic. Way more scared of foreign brown people than elevated sea levels.
If you've spent any time on reactionary YouTube, you've seen the doomsaying. Feminists are not just people they disagree with, they are SPREADING A CANCER THAT WILL RUIN OUR CIVILIZATION.
Anyway. Altemeyer argues that not only do high RWAs believe the world is more dangerous than the average person, they also believe they are more moral than the average person.
I mean, everyone thinks they're more moral than the average, but high RWAs believe they are WAAAAAY more moral than the average.
Guess that goes hand in hand with thinking the world is plunging into sin and decadence.
This kind of aggressive anger makes a kind of sense. A common response to fear is to get angry, because fear makes you feel disempowered and anger does the opposite.
Not surprising that so many high RWAs are men, as men are the most socialized to turn fear into action, and anger is prized as manliness.
So: if you find a person who is both more fearful AND more self-righteous than the average person, you've got someone very likely to follow an authoritarian leader.
All it takes is a catalyzing event. 9/11 worked for a lot of people.
Altemeyer found that pretty much any kind of internal crisis can activate authoritarian submission. Both left-wing AND right-wing attacks on government increased RWA scores.
The only kind of crisis that made people LESS willing to look to authorities for answers was what Altemeyer calls "the Gandhi trap": the arm of the government assaulting nonviolent protesters.
I feel such a thing is very difficult to engineer today, when media is adept at spinning nonviolence as violence.
(Also most "nonviolent" protests of the past also contained some level violence, they were just spun the other way.)
Next, let's talk about the origins of authoritarianism.
When someone goes off the deep end with being "the arm of God," i.e. Trump followers beating up Muslims or defacing synagogues, we sometimes cheekily ask who radicalized them.
This is usually said ironically, as a critique of the way conservatives always ask "who radicalized" terrorists who fit their definition of terrorism but don't when the terrorist is white/one of them.
But the reality is, high RWAs typically aren't radicalized. In fact, they're kind of the opposite of radicalized.
Typically (again, this is not a rule, it's a trend), high RWAs carry the worldview they are raised with. Authoritarian children tend to have authoritarian parents.
And they tend to have lived lives that have not challenged that worldview very much. Raised by homophobes and haven't met many gay people; raised in patriarchal families and didn't have friends with different types of parents.
We tend to see that bigotry, fearfulness of The Other, and general far-Right leanings lessen in places with lots of intermingling of cultures.
When people have regular contact with other races, religions, classes, ethnicities, and gender identities, they tend to become less fearful of them.
Colleges and big cities are major hubs for having one's worldview challenged.
It's not surprising that high RWAs tend to come from very homogeneous cultures, where straying outside that culture was condemned.
Altemeyer argues that, more than nature or nurture, life experience is the biggest influence on one's beliefs and behavior. Authoritarianism breeds when life experience is highly-controlled.
Altemeyer has me thinking about those conservative folks who decry progressive ideals by accurately describing them.
Like this nugget from Rush Limbaugh where he demonstrates a pretty accurate understanding of consent culture.
Limbaugh is not speaking highly of this framework, but his criticism is not articulated. He doesn't make an argument. This is supposed to be self-evident anarchy.
There was an article written about a friend of mine recently, a trans, poly, witchy weirdo trying to make stable community for himself. Same thing as the Limbaugh piece.
Just accurately described him and his life and that's that. The fact that it's in some way wrong is supposedly self-evident.
Being queer, or witchy, or poly, or trans, or having a consensual relationship that is atypical is treated as wrong PRECISELY BECAUSE it is outside the norm.
People make arguments as to why, but the people who do generally don't make the same arguments, and often don't even bother. It's just *not the way things are supposed to be*.
And there's this unspoken agreement that, if things are not the way they're supposed to be, the world is going to hell.
That is the kind of thinking that is extremely easy for an authoritarian to exploit, it turns out.
Some interesting things the data shows when RWA scores are studied longitudinally:
People who go to a typical college - not, like, Brigham Young or West Point - typically graduate a bit less authoritarian than they came in.
Liberal arts majors reduce their authoritarianism more than "applied" majors like business or management. People who come in with high levels of authoritarianism drop the most.
Basically, the kinds of experiences the average college student has - moreso than the actual education they receive - has major effects on how they respond to authority, how self-righteous they feel, and how fearful they are of other groups.
In the years post-graduation, they tend to rebound a little, becoming more authoritarian than when they graduated while still less than when before they enrolled.
And then that number starts to slooooowly decline as they wend their way to middle age, being generally a *little less* authoritarian by their mid-40's than when they finished college.
A big factor here is children. People who have kids start to model the levels of authoritarianism they were raised with, while people who don't stick on the trajectory they were already on.
This does imply that, if we ignore the kinds of crisis events that spike authoritarian feelings - terrorist attacks and political fearmongering - authoritarian leanings seem to decrease over time.
It's very slow, but it goes down over a lifetime and goes down over generations.
(Heh, Altemeyer throws a little shade on Lakoff, though I think he partially misunderstands Lakoff's argument.)
I'm back on my Altemeyer, so let us resume #IanLivetweetsHisResearch.
Altemeyer's just made an interesting point about how logic works for high RWAs. Or, rather, how it doesn't.
He uses the example of a faulty syllogism:

All fish live in the sea.
Sharks live in the sea.
Therefore, sharks are fish.
He says a high RWA wouldn't see the fault in the logic because they agree with the conclusion. They know sharks are fish, so whatever explanation they're given is acceptable.
More from Altemeyer: how do different types of people deal with a crisis of faith?
Altemeyer describes two ways: if you start to doubt a core belief, you can either consider the arguments against your belief or you can go to other believers for guidance.
Essentially: do you view doubt as a thing that should be seriously entertained or as a thing that should be rid from your mind?
Unsurprisingly, the kinds of people who follow authoritarians are the second type. They don't want to consider a view that challenges a core belief.
Altemeyer points out that seriously entertaining alternatives to a core belief does not guarantee you will give that belief up. He mentions most religious people doubt their faith at some point, but the majority ultimately reaffirm it.
Obviously the ones who entertain a doubt have the highest likelihood of ending up atheists, but it's still far more likely they will not abandon their faith entirely.
This jives with a trend that I'm trying to get at with The Alt-Right Playbook: the idea that it's more important to be certain than to be correct.
If you're wrong, you'd rather not know it. Or, really: if you don't know it, you're not wrong.
This notion that, if you can argue your position more passionately than the other side, more FAITHFULLY, then you must be right. Rightness has nothing to do with reality, it's entirely to do with how well you argue.
If a creationist is better at debate than an evolutionary scientist, then, by gum, creationism it is!
At least, as far as the creationist and their followers are concerned, and maybe a few new converts. That's all that matters.
Low RWA folks are more likely to entertain both sides of an argument, where a high RWAs generally respond to doubt by diving into their own side harder than before.
Dogma is a really freaky thing, because changing the mind of a dogmatic person is nearly impossible.
Altemeyer is essentially painting a portrait of a person who values their beliefs very highly while also not really knowing why they believe what they believe.
We like to think of right-wing bigots as antisocial and paranoid, but that's only true of their relationship to US.
They are both intensely communal and intensely trusting of people they view as Their Own.
And if you are not one of those trusted few, you are untrustworthy.
Also, because they traffic so deeply in their own highly insular world, they have skewed ideas of what is "normal." They believe that their worldview is the one most people have.
Which makes it doubly hard to change their minds, because, by disagreeing with them, you seem like an aberration.
It seems the most effective way to change their minds - or, at least, their behavior - is not by convincing them that you are right, but by convincing them that most people agree with you.
If they become aware that their worldview is not as normal as it seems to them, they get intensely self-conscious.
And because they tend to believe things without following any consistent logic, they don't need much of an argument to believe something else.
They just need a different set of beliefs that seems "normal."
This is part of why I have started advocating against debating with the far right: you can't treat dogma as though it's reasonable as if it will magically become so.
It's a different way of thinking that we often fail to understand. It isn't built on reason, it's built on trust and group self-regulation.
Beliefs as a kind of social currency. As a way of making bonds with people.
I understood a lot about the dogma, but this book is giving me some ideas about how to actually combat it.
This is why it's so important that Trump call everything but Fox fake news. He has the reinforce the idea that the 36% approval rating is fabricated, that most people actually love him.
He has to deflect from the label of Most Unpopular President In History. Because his base, as much as they paint themselves as rebels, are FIERCELY conventional.
Back on #IanLivetweetsHisResearch for a sec.
Alexis de Toqueville once said, "The public will believe a simple lie rather than a complex truth." This is doubly true for right-wing authoritarians.
As mentioned upthread, high RWAs will accept most any justification for a statement if they agree with it. They have little trouble believing many conflicting justifications, in fact.
It is perhaps unsurprising that a group that believes lies tends to elect liars. You can get a good career out of catering to authoritarians because they are easy to convince.
Back on my bullshit. #IanLivetweetsHisResearch
After months of being wrapped up in holidays, travel, podcast interviews, talks, panels, videos, and every single birthday and anniversary of my immediate polycule, I am back to reading Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians.
The current chapter is on how authoritarianism correlates with religious fundamentalism, and I mostly haven't been tweeting about it because, while I agree with Altemeyer, I don't get off on dissing religion.
Also most of what he's said so far is just pointing out the out dogma functions much the same in fundamentalism as it does in authoritarianism, and not necessarily expanding his theories on dogma.
But here's something of substance: he's talking about why people raised as fundamentalists lose their faith as they get older (as almost half of them apparently do).

He asks a number of people who were taught to shun queer people what changed their feelings on homosexuality.
He'd already mentioned the two most common reasons: knowing more queer people, and reading some of the science on how orientation seemingly works.
But one interesting bit is the third most common reason: they were turned off by the homophobia of their religion.
A major factor in people exiting a dogmatic belief system is disgust with the belief system itself, and awareness of its hypocrisy. While I'm far from the type to say "just wait this shit out," I confess I find that reassuring.
I'm updating my OS and I'm in that glorious limbo of wondering whether the install is frozen or if it's just going to take 15 hours. Can't edit, can't play Iconoclasts, so let's do #IanLivetweetsHisResearch!
We're still on The Authoritarians. Altemeyer has spent the last four chapters detailing the psyches of the kinds of people who follow authoritarian leaders.

Now he's talking about the leaders themselves.
A major point he's making early on is this: the set of beliefs that creates an authoritarian follower and the set that creates an authoritarian leader are only weakly correlated with each other.

They are different-but-related belief systems.
People with authoritarian leanings have a somewhat stark divide between leaders and followers.

The democratic idea that, if you don't like your politicians, you should become one yourself? That doesn't play here.
Their are people who assume authority, and people who follow authority, and ne'er the twain shall meet.
But, critically, both groups are HIGHLY correlated with social prejudice. The more prejudiced a person is, the more authoritarian they tend to be, of one stripe or the other.
Altemeyer even argues that, if you round up all the authoritarian leaders and all the authoritarian followers, you have, incidentally, rounded up the vast majority of bigots in the country. They're that tightly correlated.
Wow, Altemeyer does NOT mince words. He just flatly says authoritarian leaders and followers both tend to have conservative economic policies and favor right-wing political parties.
So there are four main distinctions between authoritarian leaders - "social dominators" he calls them - and authoritarian followers.
First, there's the desire for power. Social dominators, understandably, have a higher-than-average desire for control over other people. Authoritarian followers do not.
(Altemeyer doesn't state what the average human's desire for power is, so I don't know whether followers are below average or just average, but they do not have a strong desire for power.)
The upshot of this is that authoritarian followers believe strongly in the idea of group cohesion, that your group is only strong if the whole of the group remains loyal.

Dominators do not believe this.
They want their people to be loyal, but they feel little loyalty of their own. They are quick to sell the group out if it benefits them.
The second distinction is empathy. Social dominators don't have much of it.
RWAs tend to have high levels of empathy for their own group and low levels for people outside their group, if memory serves. Social dominators apparently have low levels all round.
Third, religion: authoritarian followers tend to be highly religious. Social dominators tend to be fairly irreligious, but often express religious beliefs to curry favor with followers.
The chapter on religion mentioned the follower's faithfulness. Followers are VERY TRUSTING of people who claim to be members of the group they are devoted to, and distrustful of those outside of it.
I'd bet good money that this applies to deeply cohesive group identities that are not specifically religious. The gamer and atheist-bro identities show a lot of the same in-group/out-group loyalty.
And gamers, at least, have DEFINITELY fallen for charlatans who simply claim to be gamers because it gets them a bunch of followers. (And if you think I'm talking about Anita, fuck off, I'm obviously talking about Milo.)
Anyway, the willingness to feign religiosity in order to win over religious people is tied to some pretty strong amorality.

Authoritarian followers believe they are righteous. Social dominators believe NO ONE is righteous.
Social dominators believe everyone is out to fuck over everyone else, so you just need to fuck faster and better. (Phrasing.)

Don't ask me how the reconcile "no one really believes in anything" with "gee, all my followers are extremely pious."
I guess the thinking is that everyone is playing the same game, followers are just bad at it.
The final distinction is to do with hostility and prejudice. It's... unsettling.
Here's an alarming fact: followers tend to be bigoted, but their bigotry follows very closely to social acceptability. They openly hate the people who are deemed acceptable to hate.
They get very cagey about expressing any prejudice that society is more ambivalent about.

They don't aggress unless society is giving them permission to aggress.
Social dominators are far, far less influenced by society, so they tend to be prejudiced against EVERY marginalized group.

If society says it's not cool to hate women, fuck society, they hate women anyway.
This is especially dangerous should the dominator actually achieve power, because the followers will start hating women as well the moment they are given permission to.
Altemeyer describes the authoritarian follower as living in a "fear of lawlessness," the idea that social norms are all that keep society from crumbling.

Social dominators already exist lawlessly, dog-eat-dog, and they want to be the biggest dog.
Basically dominators are driven by little more than the desire to dominate, either for their own personal gain or for its own sake.
OK, I said "finally" earlier but apparently that was wrong, there's one more distinction: the, for lack of a better word, "soundness" of their thinking.
Authoritarian followers are easily swayed, hold beliefs that are often self-contradictory, are highly dogmatic, and tend to compartmentalize their beliefs.

None of this applies to social dominators.
Authoritarian leaders tend to think pretty clearly. They are not dogmatic because they don't believe in anything but self-interest. They are not easily swayed because they don't want to control, not be controlled.
Generally, it's not that they can't understand truth or morality, it's that truth and morality do not interest them. Neither serves their purposes.
(I'm starting to feel a little freaked out because, the more I read, the more I realize that Trump exhibits the traits of BOTH a follower and a dominator.)
(He's amoral, deceitful, and self-interested, but also confused and easily-manipulated.)
(It's like Trump is what happens when raised on authoritarian bullshit tries to climb the ladder but has trouble bullshitting others because he can no longer tell what is and isn't bullshit.)
(He's a second generation conman.)
So: where does social dominance come from?

Hard to say.
Unlike authoritarian followers, who tend to emulate the worldview of their parents, a person's social dominance is only weakly correlated to that of their family.
It seems social dominance is much more of a learned behavior, and one that is learned by experience.

People lie, cheat, and manipulate, and it gets them what they want, so they rationalize it and keep doing it.
When there is correlation between dominators and their parents, it is strongest between fathers and sons.

Patriarchy, hey-o.
Oh shit, looks like my Trump comments got ahead of the book a little, because now Altemeyer is talking about a rare breed: the person who scores high on both scales, social dominance and authoritarian follower.

He calls them Double Highs.
He says Double Highs are the most bigoted people in any of his studies, and they exhibit the worst traits of both authoritarian followers and leaders.

Dogmatic and self-righteous like a follower, self-interested and manipulative like a leader.
Altemeyer says that most social dominators achieve only limited success, because a) lying and rule-breaking are risky and there's no guarantee they're any GOOD at it, so there are repercussions, and b) they run into other social dominators.
A lot of their energy is spent vying for status with other dominators. Also, since they are not very dogmatic, it takes SOME work to convince dogmatic followers that they are part of the in-group.
Double Highs are dangerous because they are WELL-VERSED in the dogma, even if they still don't personally believe it.

They are the ideal candidates for amassing followers.
All of the self-righteousness of a follower, all of the self-interest of a dominator. And the bigotry of both put together.
Altemeyer ran a kind of Model UN with various groups that scored differently on his scales, and found the following:
If your group was nothing but authoritarian followers, no one wanted to lead, people took hardly any action, no one could agree on anything, and nothing was accomplished. No one could deal with a crisis.
But when he mixed in a few Double Highs, they immediately seized power, overrode their constituents, and the game ended on the brink of nuclear war.

They also failed to deal with crises and created a few.
(Also, it's a passing comment, but he mentions that there is no endpoint to ethnocentrism. When the population is almost exclusively white folks of similar politics, followers still broke into smaller groups that didn't trust each other.)
(In case you were wondering what would happen if the Richard Spencers of the world got their white ethnostate; they would just define whiteness more narrowly and pick a new group to agitate against.)
(Ethnocentrism is defined by there being an out-group. If there's nothing to oppose, it will invent something.)
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