The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer was just called to my attention by Lithodid-Man in Message 50. It purports to explain why even logic and facts fail to convince religious fundamentalists. At the heart of Altemeyer's ideas lies the concept of authoritarianism, which he describes like this on page 2:
Authoritarianism is something authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders cook up between themselves. It happens when the followers submit too much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do whatever they want--which often is something undemocratic, tyrannical and brutal. In my day, authoritarian fascist and authoritarian communist dictatorships posed the biggest threats to democracies, and eventually lost to them in wars both hot and cold. But authoritarianism itself has not disappeared, and I'm going to present the case in this book that the greatest threat to American democracy today arises from a militant authoritarianism that has become a cancer upon the nation.
Altemeyer has developed what he calls the RWA scale, which measures receptivity to authoritarian influences, and he's devised a simple test, which I reproduce here:
Altemeyer's RWA Test writes:
This survey is part of an investigation of general public opinion concerning a variety of social issues. You will probably find that you agree with some of the statements, and disagree with others, to varying extents. Please indicate your reaction to each statement on the line to the left of each item according to the following scale:
Write down a -4 if you very strongly disagree with the statement. Write down a -3 if you strongly disagree with the statement. Write down a -2 if you moderately disagree with the statement. Write down a -1 if you slightly disagree with the statement. Write down a +1 if you slightly agree with the statement. Write down a +2 if you moderately agree with the statement. Write down a +3 if you strongly agree with the statement. Write down a +4 if you very strongly agree with the statement.
If you feel exactly and precisely neutral about an item, write down a 0.
("Dr. Bob" to reader: We’ll probably stay friends longer if you read this paragraph.) Important: You may find that you sometimes have different reactions to different parts of a statement. For example, you might very strongly disagree ("-4") with one idea in a statement, but slightly agree ("+1") with another idea in the same item. When this happens, please combine your reactions, and write down how you feel on balance (a "-3" in this case).
The established authorities generally turn out to be right about things, while the radicals and protestors are usually just "loud mouths” showing off their ignorance.
Women should have to promise to obey their husbands when they get married.
Our country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us.
Gays and lesbians are just as healthy and moral as anybody else.
It is always better to trust the judgment of the proper authorities in government and religion than to listen to the noisy rabble-rousers in our society who are trying to create doubt in people’s minds
Atheists and others who have rebelled against the established religions are no doubt every bit as good and virtuous as those who attend church regularly.
The only way our country can get through the crisis ahead is to get back to our traditional values, put some tough leaders in power, and silence the troublemakers spreading bad ideas.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with nudist camps.
Our country needs free thinkers who have the courage to defy traditional ways, even if this upsets many people.
Our country will be destroyed someday if we do not smash the perversions eating away at our moral fiber and traditional beliefs.
Everyone should have their own lifestyle, religious beliefs, and sexual preferences, even if it makes them different from everyone else.
The "old-fashioned ways” and the "old-fashioned values” still show the best way to live.
You have to admire those who challenged the law and the majority’s view by protesting for women’s abortion rights, for animal rights, or to abolish school prayer.
What our country really needs is a strong, determined leader who will crush evil, and take us back to our true path.
Some of the best people in our country are those who are challenging our government, criticizing religion, and ignoring the "normal way things are supposed to be done.”
God’s laws about abortion, pornography and marriage must be strictly followed before it is too late, and those who break them must be strongly punished.
There are many radical, immoral people in our country today, who are trying to ruin it for their own godless purposes, whom the authorities should put out of action.
A "woman’s place” should be wherever she wants to be. The days when women are submissive to their husbands and social conventions belong strictly in the past.
Our country will be great if we honor the ways of our forefathers, do what the authorities tell us to do, and get rid of the "rotten apples” who are ruining everything.
There is no "ONE right way” to live life; everybody has to create their own way.
Homosexuals and feminists should be praised for being brave enough to defy "traditional family values.
This country would work a lot better if certain groups of troublemakers would just shut up and accept their group’s traditional place in society.
To score the test, go to page 13 of Altemeyer's book, the link is at the top of this message. I scored 44.
Are you an authoritarian? Take the test and find out!
Apologies about the link to Altemeyer's book, it works now, here it is again: The Authoritarians.
1. It isn't hard to see how to mess with the results. 2. There are some questions that are more about political or other beliefs than just your attitude to authority.
Right you are, and Altemeyer is aware of this. Beginning on page 13 he says, "Let me give you three compelling reasons why you should treat your personal score with a grain of salt..." The book's a good and fun read. I hate reading books on-line and I'm already up to page 35.
If there was anything I got out of Psychology 101 way back in the early 70's, it's that psychology is a very, very mathematical science. It sure wasn't engineering that taught me how to do correlation studies!
Of course, psychology has to live with its now largely discredited historical superstars like Freud and Jung, and so there's the constant suspicion that the hard mathematics hides a soft foundation.
I didn't think you went overboard in your criticism because there is a branch of psychology (the part that I think of as psychoanalysis, but I'm just a layperson) that is largely responsible for psychology's reputation as a soft science. Sociology is similar in this way, often very rigorous and mathematical but with some portions devoted to ideas with a very soft evidential foundation.
Because the submission occurs to traditional authority, I call these followers rightwing authoritarians. I’m using the word “right” in one of its earliest meanings, for in Old English “riht”(pronounced “writ”) as an adjective meant lawful, proper, correct, doing what the authorities said. (And when someone did the lawful thing back then, maybe the authorities said, with a John Wayne drawl, “You got that riht, pilgrim!”)
In the paragraph you quoted I think he may have fallen victim to equivocation, using left-wing authoritarians to refer to political left-wingers, right-wing authoritarians to refer to political right wingers, and RWA (standing for Right Wing Authoritarians) to refer to those vulnerable to authority. This is confusing, but I believe you're correct that he's indicating that in the book he's not talking about political left-wing people high on the RWA scale, but about political right-wing people high on the RWA scale.
This thread has itself proved to be an effective RWA test. Just it's mere existence sent two of our highest scoring RWA members (I feel sure of this even though they were so outraged they never took the test, their sense of righteous indignation is more than enough of an indicator) over the edge, past their breaking point, and into permanent suspension. What amazing predictive power this RWA scale has!!! :D