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Why Things Keep Getting Stranger in America?

Every time the modern Authoritarian Movement takes another step forward, things just get stranger in America.

Now, I doubt there’s ever been an age in American politics that lacked it’s share of irrationality.  But the modern Authoritarian Movement has pushed — and continues to push — irrationality to the forefront of American politics.  Indeed, it has made a cult of irrationality.  Nowadays, I believe you can all but guarantee some position is brainless if the Authoritarians back it.

Who are the Authoritarians? Perhaps the simplest way to describe them is as several groups of authoritarian followers and leaders who in modern times first became politically active in the US in the late 1970s (.pdf page 210).

They are often called “conservatives” but they do not resemble the Traditional American Conservative — the Goldwater Conservative — except in name.  Among the groups that comprise the Authoritarian Movement are Neocons, Social Conservatives, the Religious Right, and perhaps most Evangelical Fundamentalists.  The Authoritarian Movement, in other words, is marshaled under manny banners.

It is probably a mistake, however, to think of the Authoritarian Movement as no more than a coalition of people with either similar or compatible ideologies.  That’s because there is very strong evidence that authoritarian followers — the rank and file of the Movement — share a common psychology or temperament (.pdf).  In other words, the Authoritarian Movement is more profoundly based on a psychology, than it is on an ideology.  And part of that psychology — bizarre as it might sound — is a marked tendency towards irrational thinking.

Authoritarian leaders tend to think about as well as most people, but authoritarian followers are very much another matter.  The politest way to put it is to say Authoritarian followers perform below par on tests for cognitive skills.   But more bluntly, they are — when compared to the rest of us — illogical, inconsistant, prone to double standards, hypcritical, blind to themselves, profoundly ethnocentric, and ferociously dogmatic (.pdf).  Attempting to reason with them is just as successful as reasoning with a brick wall.

I was reminded of all of the above this morning when I read an article in The New York Times on the battle in California to ban gay marriage.  There’s a proposition on the ballot there — Proposition 8 — that would amend the California State Constitution to read, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California”.

The Times article quotes a number of Authoritarian leaders in the act of persuading their followers to support the amendment.  For instance:

“This vote on whether we stop the gay-marriage juggernaut in California is Armageddon,” said Charles W. Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries and an eminent evangelical voice, speaking to pastors in a video promoting Proposition 8. “We lose this, we are going to lose in a lot of other ways, including freedom of religion.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian lobby based in Washington, said in an interview, “It’s more important than the presidential election.”

“We’ve picked bad presidents before, and we’ve survived as a nation,” said Mr. Perkins, who has made two trips to California in the last six weeks. “But we will not survive if we lose the institution of marriage.”

It is striking how melodramatic the leaders get when speaking to their troops.  Gay marriage is “Armageddon”.  It will cost people their freedom of religion.  Defeating it is more important than anything else in this nation, for America simply won’t survive if gays marry.

Do the leaders actually believe that nonsense?

Although one can’t be sure, I suppose they don’t.  If they do believe it, they can have no greater cognitive skills than their followers.  They would all be like George W. Bush — absurdly incompetent. So, it’s difficult to believe every one of the leaders is just as impaired as the typical authoritarian follower.

The opposition to gay marriage is by no means the only irrational position indulged in by the Authoritarian Movement. In a previous post on this blog, I’ve written about the absurdity of supporting abstinence-only sex eduction, which is yet another position cherished by many Authoritarians.  So, too, are draconian restrictions on a woman’s right to reproductive choice, the notion the war in Iraq is justified, and the belief that markets will regulate themselves — among a myriad other positions, large and small, that are essentially bizzare.

I suppose the reason the Authoritarian Movement has almost patented the stupid and inane in American politics these days has something to do with the mental malfunctioning of its followers.  It seems to me the leaders have exploited that malfunctioning by pandering to it.  Hence, it’s they who are to blame.  In order to gain power, they have launched what might fairly be called “attacks on sanity” — attacks that appeal strongly to some of the most mentally confused people among us.  And with each new attack, the world of American politics just gets stranger.

20 thoughts on “Why Things Keep Getting Stranger in America?”

  1. It’s so wonderful to see how support for the gay marriage ban has united people from all walks of life….conservative Christians, evangelical Christians, fundamentalist Christians….this movement to oppose equality for everyone is reaching out to all!


  2. Paul:
    I hope some day you do recognize the fact that Republicans and Democrats are two sides of the same coin. While Republicans want to control your personal freedoms, Dems want to control your income and expenditure.
    I put it more lightly as the Donkey wants control over your pocket, while the Elephant wants to control your zipper!
    Is there any visible movement for freedom (not merely democracy or spending/taxing rights) in the US now, whereby you can be free from all State control outside of the military, police and law courts?


  3. rambodoc- Your coin analogy does not hold. A coin serves the same function, is in fact the same thing, even though it looks entirely different from different sides. One need only to look at the goals of Republicans and Democrats to see that this is not true of them. Republicans want to control some personal freedoms because they fear the exercise of these freedoms may lead to consequences that they do not wish to face. Democrats (to the degree that this is even true) tend to favor more taxation to establish the resources for social programs without spending into the red. For your analogy to hold Democrats would have to try to control how you spend your money, or Republicans would have to conscript people into federal service. Instead Republicans put limits on behavior rather than affirmatively directing it and Democrats let money that you keep be spent in any way you want.


  4. We have a similar on the Florida ballot right now. A concerted effort by Baptists ministers is pushing for the ban to be passed from the pulpit. It is an attempt to inject discrimination into our constitution. These religious, authoritarian ministers should have their tax exempt status removed.


  5. @ Eric (Spinks): LOL! It’s such a wonderfully broad based coalition!

    @ Meleah: How do you handle that? Is it difficult?

    @ Doc: My main concern these days is not with Republicans and Democrats but with Authoritarians. Currently, I find one of the best ways to oppose today’s Authoritarian Movement is to support Obama and a few other Democrats. But I don’t expect that to last.

    I don’t know of any party that is solidly anti-Authoritarian, Doc. Consequently, I’m not a member of any party.

    The problem with these Authoritarians is they migrate to whichever party is dominant, and eventually corrupt it. They are essentially opposed to freedom and liberty wherever they go.

    @ Erik: Excellent analysis! I hadn’t thought of that.

    @ Da Frog: I think you’re right to demand the ministers pay taxes. Their tax exempt status is not fair to taxpayers who hold political views that differ from theirs.


  6. Erik:
    I maintain that the coin is the same: control of personal freedom. Taxation is one of the most visible actions of force by the State: if what you earn is not all yours, you have no freedom, period.
    State extortion at the point of a gun is called taxation. Plus sales tax, excise, VAT, customs duties, education cess, etc, etc. And, on top of all that, the propensity of the Government to print paper currency and create inflation is another tax on your hard-earned money.
    By this yardstick, the Democrats are anti-freedom Authoritarians, in Paul’s language. Of course, the Republicans are, too.


  7. rambodoc,

    I think you are off the mark with your interpretation of Paul’s use of the word “Authoritarian.” To understand what he means you’ll probably need to go read the book he’s been linking to over the course of a number of recent posts, or at least the introduction.

    That issue aside, your choice of violent language regarding taxation is interesting and seems to put you either within the extreme anarchist or extreme libertarian camp. Your leap from any constraint on how what you earn may be used to total loss of freedom is overblown rhetoric. By this definition of personal freedom one may achieve it only if one is entirely self sufficient. Any need to pay for basic life requirements, such as housing, food, water, etc is a constraint on how you use your earnings and therefore eliminates personal freedom. Personally I think freedom is a much broader concept than how I can spend my money.

    Taxes establish the resources to provide a myriad of returns to the tax payer, including infrastructure and safety, that allow a broader freedom to exercise behaviors than would be the case without a functioning State to provide them. The return on investment, as it were, of income in the form of taxes is increased personal freedom. Laws restricting non-harmful private activity do not also increase personal freedom and are therefore a net loss.


  8. I heard a quote recently – and, sorry, i don’t recfall who said it – something to the effect of, ‘I don’t mind paying taxes. Taxes buy me civilization.’

    You want to do away with taxes? OK. Mind you, you’re also doing away with highways, what standards exist in the quality of food and medicine, air traffic control, etc.

    And public schools. Before you argue that “I don’t send my kids to public schools,” allow me to remind you that public schools are not for *your* kids; they’re for *everybody’s* kids. An ignorant populace is not in the best interests of a free nation. Even if you _can_ afford to send your children to “the best private schools”, the children of the people who (even with “vouchers”) can’t afford that need to be educated to (at least) some minimal degree, because their votes are going to count just as much as your kids’ votes do. The degree to which you want those kids to grow up to be adults capable of making an informed decision about their government should be equal to your willingness to fund their schools.

    Actually, in a sense, it IS equal.

    – M. \”/


  9. Erik:
    Any person who defends freedom and individual rights will disagree with you. There is no way of escaping the use of force and the absence of consent in taxation. Schools, roads, water, and anything else is an individual matter, and should be taken care of at the level of trade, just like your need for clothes, condoms or internet.
    This does not mean that any one of us needs to be self sufficient: quite the reverse. It is because none of us can produce or do everything that we need to trade.
    The only legit functions of the State are the institutions that protect the rights of citizens: the military, the police and the law courts.
    For anything else, voluntary trade is the answer.
    I do understand that there is possibly no meeting ground with you and possibly others on this issue. I will leave you now, and not continue this debate, as it will merely crowd up Paul’s space, and we would be no closer to an agreement!


  10. I disagree with you Rambodoc. In fact, you disagree with yourself. You claim that “any person who defends freedom and individual rights” should only be forced (without consent, I assume) to pay for police and the military – the very institutions that exist for the sole purpose of robbing individuals of their freedoms – not to mention “individual rights” many people believe in.

    Maybe you hate the idea of paying for a society with universal access to education, but I hate equally the idea of paying for state sponsored violence.

    I do have an idea how both of us can pay our taxes and still feel satisfied the money is being spent in a way that reflects our very different values. When we file our taxes, we should be given the opportunity to cut our contributions up like a pie. You and others like you can pay for institutions of state violence and whatever else you care about, while I and others like me can choose to pay for education and health care. (Neither of us would have to pay for corporate welfare.)

    I’ll bet that in no time, if we were all given the opportunity to prioritize the spending of our tax dollars, we would soon begin to see a lot less war and a lot more schools.


  11. Considering I LIVE in the same house as my parents and I am 34 years OLD…its VERY HARD when they try and tell me what to do.

    Ive learned to say “Oh that’s a great idea Ill think about it”,,,,and then just do whatever the hell I want.

    But forever being under their control / watchful eye with lack of any privacy whatsoever is rough. To put it mildly.


  12. I post this reply not for rambodoc, since he’s taken his leave of us and apparently won’t be reading this, but for anyone else choosing to follow this thread. I’m afraid that I can’t leave rambodoc’s bald, and wrong, assertions unanswered, and no one should get the last word because he’s the first to say “I’m outta here.” As far as rambodoc’s concern about crowding Paul’s space, I’ll happily cease and desist any time our host asks me to, but I can’t imagine a thread with 13 comments is breaking his server. I guess we have gotten a bit off topic, though, so I’ll defer to Paul’s judgment about when to cut off the discussion.

    Any person who defends freedom and individual rights will disagree with you.

    I suppose you mean to say that, by definition, I do not defend freedom and individual rights, since I clearly do not disagree with myself. While this is a ridiculous argument on its face, I shan’t ask those reading this exchange to take my word for it that I’m a pretty staunch defender of freedom. Given the near universal existence of taxes within democratic societies, a sizeable number of people on the planet don’t seem to disagree with me. For your argument to be true either all of us are anti-freedom or you have some wonderful conspiracy theory involving duping whole countries to share.

    There is no way of escaping the use of force and the absence of consent in taxation.

    Of course there are punishments, force or coercion I suppose you’d say, for failing to pay taxes. This is true, in a democracy, for any action that harms the society as determined by the society. Thus the “force” would not exist without the consent of the society. In fact, anyone who remains within a society past the age where they could remove themselves from it tacitly consents to the rules of the society. They may disagree with the rules, but if they remain in the society the only avenues open to them are to follow the rules, work to get the rules changed, or transgress the rules and accept the consequences if caught.

    Schools, roads, water, and anything else is an individual matter, and should be taken care of at the level of trade…

    Three sentences, three unsupported assertions. Why, pray tell, should these items be an individual matter? Meowlin addresses this issue pretty well with regard to schools, but exactly how do highways get built on an individual level? How about water? I suppose the person with the lake can just charge whatever they want for a glass of water, and I have the “freedom” to die of thirst. Pure libertarian fantasy. To jump ahead in your argument, somehow you exempt military, police and law courts from your fantasy of individual sourcing. How do you propose to pay for these without taxes? Perhaps everyone will voluntarily donate? But wait, that’s what a tax is. Unless you think it would be OK for individuals in your utopia to not donate, and everyone else will just cover that guy’s share. There’s some game theory that might help you figure out the end result of that plan. Actually law courts could be privatized. Since everything in your utopia is taken care of at the “level of trade” parties to a dispute could hire a judge to hear the dispute and that could be taken care of at the level of trade too. It’s just possible, though, that the person with more to trade would be happier with the outcome of the hearing.

    This does not mean that any one of us needs to be self sufficient: quite the reverse. It is because none of us can produce or do everything that we need to trade.

    Talk about force and lack of freedom. For anything that I am not self sufficient in and require I have no choice (no freedom) but to accept the price named by the seller or do without. Including, per your argument, water, which as I mentioned is tough to go without for long. That isn’t freedom by your definition. Not when the seller can force me to give up more of my money than I wish to give up for that which I can’t produce myself.

    Were your vision of utopia so self-evident we might expect to see some societies, States if you will, actually using this model. Yet we don’t, unless you count those countries commonly referred to as “failed states.” Hardly a ringing endorsement.


  13. Remember that Authoritarians are not defined by party lines—-Biden and Palin agreed on gay marriage in the Vice Presidential debate, and Obama refused to even have his picture taken with Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco, for fear that he would be associated with the pro- gay marriage movement.


  14. @ Meleah: I’m sorry to hear how difficult it’s been for you. At the same time, I admire you for dealing with it. My best wishes!

    @ Kimchi: That’s a good reminder. However, the current crop of authoritarians seem mostly concentrated in the Republican Party and Fundamentalist Christianity today. I am sure that could easily change, though.


  15. Hi Erik! I only have three policies on comments. First, I require they be original and not cut and pastes or plagiarisms. Second, I really don’t appreciate bizarre, off-topic political rants — especially when written in caps. And third, I require that commentators keep it civil. Let’s criticize ideas all we want, but not each other. You’re doing just fine. So, post away!


  16. I think authoritarians are perhaps more visible amongst some Republicans, but overall I think it’s a mistake to assume they are concentrated in only one party.

    The number of Democrats who voted to endorse the Patriot Act and the recent FISA amendment doesn’t speak to your claim that it’s mostly Republicans who are authoritarians. And both bills are quite authoritarian, far beyond the issue of gay marriage.


  17. I think Kimchi is right to refocus us on the topic at hand. While the evidence seems to bear out that the Republican party has more appeal to Authoritarians due to its focus on traditional ways of doing things (even if those traditions exist only as cherry picked memories and fairy tales of better, simpler times), it certainly isn’t the case that by labeling oneself a Democrat that makes one immune to such thinking.

    For example, there are plenty of Democrats that are highly religious. While they might be members of a more progressive tradition, reluctance to contradict religious doctrine or authority makes them susceptible to Authoritarian leaders and Authoritarian thinking, at least in one area of their lives. In fact, even scientists who by virtue of inclination and training are apt to be skeptical often fall prey to authoritarian thinking around the issue of religion. And of course there are plenty of people who are Democrats more due to economic factors than social factors. My impression is that authoritarian thinking is more likely to center on social issues than economic ones, so this subset of Democrats might be more likely to exhibit authoritarian tendencies.

    Dale McGowen has a post addressing the issue of raising moral kids that cites some work suggesting that the best way to raise less moral children is to approach the issue in an essentially authoritarian manner.


  18. @ Kimchi: That’s a very good point. I would indeed be mistaken to assume authoritarians were limited to only one party. Still, I think the Authoritarian Right is much more active and influential these days than the Authoritarian Left. That could all too easily change, though. In fact, I predict it will — just as soon as the Democrats are dominant, many authoritarians will gravitate to them. We should then witness a rebirth of the Authoritarian Left. At least that’s my hunch.

    @ Erik: Thanks for the link! It makes intuitive sense to me that raising a kid in an authoritarian manner would produce a less moral person.

    I think any party that has well established itself in power will find it’s ranks filling with authoritarians. They tend to gravitate towards power, don’t they?


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