Monday, September 26, 2011

There's a Thin Line Between Crazy and Conservative.*

This post by John Cole, with its link to the study reported in Der Spiegel , reminds me of the sick feeling I had reading Bob Altemeyer's book The Authoritarians. It was akin to the nausea that one had all through the Bush years--that combination of dizzying anger, disbelief, and finally, resigned comprehension. "Yes," you say to yourself "Of course. This explains it all."

In Altemeyer's book, which is so good I read it both online and downloaded from Lulu, he lays out in detail how the world functions when it is run by what he calls "High Scoring Right Wing Authoritarians" and when it is run by "Low Scoring Authoritarians." He used a personality test he developed to divide a large student population into two sets of people: those who had extreme Authoritarian tendencies and those who didn't. He then ran two large simulations of a kind of RISK/Model UN style game. Large groups of students were assigned the task of representing different countries, representing the elites of those countries, and negotiating with other countries over resources, politics, and environmental disasters. The Low Scoring Authoritarians--that is, liberals--worked calmly and courteously to solve their own country's problems and to solve world crises and averted several large famines and responded quickly to disasters. The High Scoring Authoritarians literally blew the game up--twice. They went so quickly from seeking individual and national advantage to destabilizing the entire world that they ended up at Nuclear War half an hour into the simulation and the simulation had to be stopped and reset. Then they did it again.

Altemeyer, if I recall correctly, explicitly labled Cheney and Bush both High Scoring Right Wing Authoritarians. He gave them the highest score, calling them "Double Highs" because they weren't followers, like many of their voters, but rather determined to act to increase their relative advantage. Read the Spiegel article and realize again that as a society we can choose to empower people like this, or fight like hell to prevent them from getting into positions of power. But if we leave it to them their agressive and competitive instincts will destroy us all.


ETA: Shorter Spiegel Question "What makes an individual stockbroker blow billions in a criminal deal?" Shorter Answer: "Because he can."

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