Abortion, Dominionism, Freedom and Liberty, Politicians and Scoundrels, Politics

The Pro-Life Conspiracy

(About a 3 minute read)

“I am not a conspiracy nut. But in this case no other word than conspiracy will do. We did what we did covertly, telling supporters one thing, and telling leaders on the inside of the political establishment another thing.

“There was one agenda in public, another one behind closed doors. And we changed America for the worse.” — Frank Schaeffer​

Most of us today no longer remember back when abortion was opposed, mostly, only by Catholics. Indeed, there was a time when it was condoned even by some of the most religiously conservative denominations in America. For instance:

In 1968, Christianity Today published a special issue on contraception and abortion, encapsulating the consensus among evangelical thinkers at the time. In the leading article, professor Bruce Waltke, of the famously conservative Dallas Theological Seminary, explained the Bible plainly teaches that life begins at birth:

“God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: ‘If a man kills any human life he will be put to death’ (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22–24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense… Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.” [Source]​

Southern Baptists were on record supporting abortion rights as late as 1976, and they did not officially reverse themselves until the 1980s. [Source]

So what caused the reversal? Why did abortion become the huge issue it is today for so many religious folks?

By most accounts, the one person who had the most to do with the reversal was Francis Schaeffer. He was Frank Schaeffer’s father. Francis was also the Protestant theologian most responsible — not only for creating the notion that abortion violated biblical teachings — but for propagating it. He, along with other people, did everything they could to make sure it became a popular issue.

Francis’ son, Frank, was heavily and intimately involved in his father’s efforts. And, according to Frank, those efforts crucially involved conspiring with Republican leaders to turn abortion into a means of creating a reliable, Republican-voting block out of America’s Evangelicals and other fundamentalists.

The deal was this: The Republicans would get the Evangelicals, etc delivered to them by the religious leaders in exchange for the religious leaders getting power and wealth.

So, in a vital way, the abortion issue boils down to the ancient story of political elites and religious elites finding reasons to be in cahoots with each other. That story has been a constantly recurring theme in human history since the first civilizations were founded 5,500 years ago.

Beyond that, I wonder how many of us are genuinely surprised by this? I know some of us will dismiss it and the evidence for it, but that’s only human nature. I’m not all that interested in them. But I am interested in knowing if anyone has been genuinely surprised to hear that the anti-abortion movement had its origins more in politics, than in unquestioned biblical principles?

A Little Further Reading:

The Actual “Pro-Life” Conspiracy That Handed America to the Tea Party & Far Religious Right (An Insider’s Perspective)

The Not so Lofty Origins of the Evangelical Pro-Life Movement

Authoritarianism, Bad Ideas, Class War, Cultural Traits, Culture, Dominionism, Equality, Fascism, Freedom, Freedom and Liberty, Ideologies, Memes, Neocons, Political Ideologies, Politician, Politicians and Scoundrels, Politics, Society, Wisdom

The Incompetence of Elite Classes

An argument made against democracy is that the people are incompetent to govern themselves.  That may be true.  But history shows the same is most likely true of the elites.

The Soviet Union certainly wasn’t a well run country.  Nor was Mussolini’s Italy — it was a lie the trains ran on time.  It took the Third Reich’s elites about ten years to reduce their nation to rubble.  And we’ve just been offered evidence that government by elite Wall Street insiders does not work all that well in the US.

One could go on and on: Elites down through history seem to be no wiser than anyone else when it comes to government.  The notion that a privileged class is better at governing a people than the people themselves does not seem to have rational support.

Authoritarianism, Dominionism, Fundamentalism, Ideologies, James Dobson, Poetry, Politicians and Scoundrels, Politics, Religion, Village Idiots

Poem to a Fundamentalist

I would so much more
Admire your god if,
Besides creating the universe
And all within it,
He could think
Even a little bit better
Than you do.

Authoritarianism, Bad Ideas, Dominionism, Fascism, Fundamentalism, Ideologies, Neocons, Oppression, Politics, Quotes, Violence, War

John Sterman on the Consequences of Fundamentalism

“Fundamentalism, whether religious or secular, whether the unquestioning belief in an all-powerful deity, the all-powerful state or the all-powerful free market, breeds persecution, hatred and war.”

John Sterman (page 526 .pdf)

Abuse, Authoritarianism, Children, Christianity, Citizenship, Dominionism, Emotional Abuse, Family, Fascism, James Dobson, Judeo-Christian Tradition, People, Physical Abuse, Politics, Psychological Abuse, Psychology, Religion, Society, Values, Violence

James Dobson’s Intriguing Views on Beating Dogs and Spanking Children

According to a 2002 ABC News poll,  62 percent of Southern parents, and 41 percent of non-Southern parents, spank their children.  In defense of spanking, people sometimes remark they themselves were spanked as children but nevertheless turned out well.  Many scientists, however, believe that spanked children who turn out well as adults do so despite the spankings they received as children, not because of them.

One of the foremost researchers on the effects of corporal punishment is Murray Strauss.  In various studies, Strauss has found that spanking apparently (1) increases anti-social behaviors such as lying, cheating, disobedience, and bullying; (2) decreases children’s IQs; and (3), increases the risk of sexual problems later on in life.  Other researchers have shown that adults spanked as children may experience greater depression and alienation, and that they tend to hold less desirable jobs and have lower earnings.  For those and other reasons, many researchers are against spanking.

It seems the researchers differ in that respect from some other folks, notably James Dobson.  Just as Murray Strauss is more or less the foremost American scientific authority on corporal punishment, James Dobson is more or less the foremost American advocate for corporal punishment.  Perhaps, given Dobson’s prominence these days, it can be fairly said he is  “America’s guru on spanking children”.

Among other places, Dobson explains his philosophy of spanking in his book, The Strong Willed Child.  In an extraordinary passage, he finds a parallel between spanking children and beating dogs:

“Please don’t misunderstand me. Siggie is a member of our family and we love him dearly. And despite his anarchistic nature, I have finally taught him to obey a few simple commands. However, we had some classic battles before he reluctantly yielded to my authority.

“The greatest confrontation occurred a few years ago when I had been in Miami for a three-day conference. I returned to observe that Siggie had become boss of the house while I was gone. But I didn’t realize until later that evening just how strongly he felt about his new position as Captain.

“At eleven o’clock that night, I told Siggie to go get into his bed, which is a permanent enclosure in the family room. For six years I had given him that order at the end of each day, and for six years Siggie had obeyed.

“On this occasion, however, he refused to budge. You see, he was in the bathroom, seated comfortably on the furry lid of the toilet seat. That is his favorite spot in the house, because it allows him to bask in the warmth of a nearby electric heater. . . “

“When I told Sigmund to leave his warm seat and go to bed, he flattened his ears and slowly turned his head toward me. He deliberately braced himself by placing one paw on the edge of the furry lid, then hunched his shoulders, raised his lips to reveal the molars on both sides, and uttered his most threatening growl. That was Siggie’s way of saying. “Get lost!”

“I had seen this defiant mood before, and knew there was only one way to deal with it. The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works. I turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me ‘reason’ with Mr. Freud.”

“What developed next is impossible to describe. That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling and swinging the belt. I am embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene. Inch by inch I moved him toward the family room and his bed. As a final desperate maneuver, Siggie backed into the corner for one last snarling stand. I eventually got him to bed, only because I outweighed him 200 to 12!”

“But this is not a book about the discipline of dogs; there is an important moral to my story that is highly relevant to the world of children. JUST AS SURELY AS A DOG WILL OCCASIONALLY CHALLENGE THE AUTHORITY OF HIS LEADERS, SO WILL A LITTLE CHILD — ONLY MORE SO.” (emphasis Dobson’s)

“[i]t is possible to create a fussy, demanding baby by rushing to pick him up every time he utters a whimper or sigh. Infants are fully capable of learning to manipulate their parents through a process called reinforcement, whereby any behavior that produces a pleasant result will tend to recur. Thus, a healthy baby can keep his mother hopping around his nursery twelve hours a day (or night) by simply forcing air past his sandpaper larynx.”

“Perhaps this tendency toward self-will is the essence of ‘original sin’ which has infiltrated the human family. It certainly explains why I place such stress on the proper response to willful defiance during childhood, for that rebellion can plant the seeds of personal disaster.”

In telling his sad story of beating Siggie, Dobson clearly believes he is explaining why he feels it is sometimes necessary to spank children.  Perhaps one of the most striking things about the passage, however, is that his explanation is more sermon than science.

Dobson has a doctorate in Child Development and was a professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California until 1977, yet his background in science has not given him a thoroughly scientific worldview.  Instead, he often seems to be more of a fundamentalist preacher than a scientist.  Perhaps that becomes somewhat less surprising once you understand his upbringing.

In the first place, it seems Dobson had a strict upbringing and was even beaten as a child.  According to one source, “His mother routinely beat [her] son with her shoes, her belt, and once, a 16-pound girdle.”

Of course, there is a difference between beating a child and spanking him.  Dobson does not advocate beating a child, and he lays out fairly strict limits on how much spanking should be done and who should do it.  One wonders, though, whether the childhood beatings had any influence on Dobson’s scientifically unsubstantiated notion that spanking benefits the child?

Perhaps more importantly, Dobson was raised by fundamentalists.  His father, for instance, was a preacher, and the religious environment in his home was quite intense:

“His parents somehow instilled so much guilt in young Dobson that he answered his father’s fervent altar-call, weeping at the front of a crowded church service and crying out for God’s forgiveness for all his sins, when he was three years old.  ‘It makes no sense, but I know it happened,’ Dobson still says of being born again as a toddler.”

Dobson’s fervently religious upbringing might go far to explain why his writings on so many things — very much including spanking — sometimes reference science, but are almost always more informed by religion than by science.

Another possible influence on Dobson’s views is his membership in the fundamentalist Nazarene Church.  Like many other Christians, the Nazarene’s believe their god rewards people who have faith in Him and punishes those who don’t.  Assuming Dobson agrees with that notion, he is probably inclined to think spanking children is in some way sanctioned by deity.  As a friend of mine once put it:

“In Mr. Dobson’s understanding, God treats him [that] way, doesn’t he? Isn’t Mr. Dobson threatened with eternal destruction should he not behave as God wishes him to? Then what could possibly be wrong with Mr Dobson treating his family the same?”

So, in Dobson’s worldview it might actually be considered self-evident that, “The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works.”

Thus, there seem to be several things in Dobson’s background that might work to explain why he tends to come across as more of a preacher than a scientist on the subject of spanking children, despite his formal training in psychology and child development.

All of this might raise the question of what Dobson hopes will be accomplished by spanking children.  In theory — but only in theory — there could be several answers to that question.  He might believe, for instance, that spanking children is a means to making them fully functioning adults.  Or that spanking children will encourage them to develop their talents and skills as fully as possible.  Or that spanking children will make them brighter and more independent thinkers.  But while it is technically possible Dobson could offer us those reasons to spank children, it seems highly unlikely he ever would.  So what does Dobson hope to accomplish by spanking children?

Apparently, he hopes spanking children will cause them to obey authority.  Not just the authority of their parents, however, but all manner of authority.  “By learning to yield to the loving authority… of his parents, a child learns to submit to other forms of authority which will confront him later in his life—his teachers, school principal, police, neighbors and employers.”  In other words, spanking is necessary to make the child turn into a submissive adult.

It cannot be doubted that a significant portion of Americans embrace the notion they — and others — should be submissive to authority.  Robert Altemeyer, for instance, argues that about 20-25% of the American population is comprised of authoritarian followers (p. 103 .pdf).  Dobson might very well be preaching to the choir when he calls for spanking children so they will turn into submissive adults, but it is a large choir.

Of course, one can dispute whether a society of free citizens needs more — or rather fewer — submissive adults among its ranks.  Dobson appears to be firmly on the side that wants the American people to be more — not less — submissive to authority.  His attitude, which some would characterize as “Anti-American”, is unsurprising if various reports of his politics are true.

For instance, Chris Hedges believes Dobson wants to impose a totalitarian system on America, and he has described Dobson as “perhaps the most powerful figure in the Dominionist movement”.  Moreover, Discernment Ministries characterized Dobson as belonging to the “Patriotic American” brand of Dominionism, and called him “One of its most powerful leaders”.  If these and other reports are true, it is quite obviously to James Dobson’s own political interests to raise a society of submissive adults.

Whether by design or happenstance, Dobson’s worldview is remarkably coherent when it comes to spanking children.   Spanking kids not only fits in with the behavior of a judgmental god — and therefore has some kind of metaphysical sanction — but it also seems to fit in with Dobson’s authoritarian politics.   However, if something is missing from Dobson’s view of spanking then that might be any science to back up Dobson’s claims that spanking is beneficial to the child.

Abuse, Authoritarianism, Citizenship, Dominionism, Fascism, Freedom, Ideologies, Neocons, Politics, Society

An Excellent Book: “The Authoritarians” by Bob Altemeyer

The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer

I’ve posted on this book before, but I thought I would do so again — this time using excepts from the book so anyone who is interested can get an idea of its contents.

Click on the chapter titles to view the full chapter in .pdf format.  The book is completely free, on line.


“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.”

Chapter One — Who Are the Authoritarian Followers?

“Because this book is called The Authoritarians, you may have thought it dealt with autocrats and despots, the kind of people who would rule their country, or department, or football team like a dictator. That is one meaning of the word, and yes, we shall talk about such people eventually in this book. But we shall begin with a second kind of authoritarian: someone who, because of his personality, submits by leaps and bows to his authorities. It may seem strange, but this is the authoritarian personality that psychology has studied the most.”

Chapter Two — The Roots of Authoritarian Aggression and Authoritarianism Itself

“Sometimes it’s all rather predictable: authoritarians’ parents taught fear of homosexuals, radicals, atheists and pornographers. But they also warned their children, more than most parents did, about kidnappers, reckless drivers, bullies and drunks–bad guys who would seem to threaten everyone’s children. So authoritarian followers, when growing up, probably lived in a scarier world than most kids do, with a lot more boogeymen hiding in dark places, and they’re still scared as adults. For them, gay marriage is not just unthinkable on religious grounds, and unnerving because it means making the “abnormal” acceptable. It’s yet one more sign that perversion is corrupting society from the inside-out, leading to total chaos. Many things, from stem cell research to right-to-die legislation, say to them, “This is the last straw; soon we’ll be plunged into the abyss.” So probably did, in earlier times, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, sex education and Sunday shopping.”

Chapter Three — How Authoritarian Follows Think

“But research reveals that authoritarian followers drive through life under the influence of impaired thinking a lot more than most people do, exhibiting sloppy reasoning, highly compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, a profound ethnocentrism, and–to top it all off–a ferocious dogmatism that makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds with evidence or logic. These seven deadly shortfalls of authoritarian thinking eminently qualify them to follow a would be dictator. As Hitler is reported to have said,“What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.”

Chapter Four — Authoritarian Followers and Religious Fundamentalism

“So here’s the trip map for another seven-stop chapter. First we’ll square up the terms “fundamentalists” and “evangelicals.” Then we’ll bring the discussion into the context of this book, authoritarianism. We’ll analyze the ethnocentrism you often find in fundamentalists. We’ll see how some of the mental missteps we covered in the last chapter appear in them. We’ll appreciate the positive things people get from being fundamentalists. Then we’ll come up against the intriguing fact that, despite these benefits, so many people raised in Christian fundamentalist homes leave the religion. We’ll close our discussion with some data on shortfalls in fundamentalists’ behavior, including a surprising fact or two about their practices and beliefs. By the time we have ended, we’ll have learned many disturbing things about these people who believe, to the contrary, that they are the very best among us.”

Chapter Five — Authoritarian Leaders

“Social dominators and high RWAs have several other things in common besides prejudice. They both tend to have conservative economic philosophies — although this happens much more often among the dominators than it does among the “social conservatives”– and they both favor right-wing political parties. If a dominator and a follower meet for the first time in a coffee shop and chat about African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Jews, Arabs, homosexuals, women’s rights, free enterprise,
union leaders, government waste, rampant socialism, the United Nations, and which political party to support in the next election, they are apt to find themselves in pleasant, virtual non-stop agreement.”

Chapter Six — Authoritarianism and Politics

“After all you’ve learned about right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance, you’ll probably be disappointed to learn that these personality traits connect only moderately to the political preferences of ordinary people. But the modest connections can be easily understood: people, darn it, are more complicated than psychologists want them to be.”

Chapter Seven — What’s to be Done?

“It is one-sided if we conclude that authoritarians have no good qualities whatsoever, for they do. High RWAs are earnest, hard-working, happy, charitable people, undoubtedly supportive of their in-group, good friends, and so on. Social dominators are ambitious and competitive–cardinal virtues in American society. It’s as big a mistake, I have to keep telling myself, to see people as all-bad as it is to see them as all-good.”

“But the downside remains, and I want to emphasize that it’s really there. The presentation of the research in this book has not passed through any kind of theoretical or ideological filter. In almost every experiment, low RWAs and low Social Dominators had as much a chance to look bad as their counterparts on the high end. But they seldom did. I have not stolen past any praiseworthy findings about authoritarians; I have always reported any bad news that turned up about lows. I know it seems very one-sided, but that’s the way the data tumbled. While authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders have their good side, their bad side is pretty broad and hard to miss.”

Authoritarianism, Citizenship, Dominionism, Elections, Fascism, Freedom, Neocons, News and Current Events, Politics, Society, Values

Naomi Wolf and the Closing of American Society

The notion you can give powers to politicians that they will not eventually abuse is fashionable these days.  Yet it was the belief of the Founders that any powers you gave to government would indeed be abused.  That is the primary reason the Founders were so careful to set up a system of checks and balances.  In one sense, Naomi Wolf’s argument basically boils down to pointing out how that system of checks and balances is not working these days, and how we are consequently at grave and immediate risk of rediscovering the truths known to the Founders of this country.

Go to My America Project for more information.

Authoritarianism, Dominionism, Elections, Fascism, Ideologies, Late Night Thoughts, Liars Lies and Lying, Mental and Emotional Health, Neocons, News and Current Events, Politics, Society, Values

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.

Authoritarianism, Barack Obama, Dominionism, Elections, Fascism, Neocons, News and Current Events, People, Politics

What Will Happen to the Republicans?

As you know, if Obama wins in eleven days, he will have a chance to realign the electorate over the next four years.  Whether he succeeds or not will depend on how well he governs.  So, this morning I’m wondering whether the Republican Party will become a more or less permanent minority party if Obama succeeds to any great extent in realigning the electorate?  And if it does, will the Republican core be authoritarian — comprised mainly of neocons and the Religious Right?

Authoritarianism, Dominionism, Fascism, Freedom, Idealism, Ideologies, Meaning, Neocons, Politics, Values

A Difference or Two between Traditional Conservatives and Authoritarian Conservatives

I was talking with a friend the other day who is a self-described neocon and member of the Religious Right.  He and I get along fine on a personal, “discuss his kids and swap jokes” level, but we share very few political, economic, social, or philosophical views.  So, when we got to talking issues the other day, I was struck by some of the differences between him and me.

If I had to characterize my opinions, I would guess my views range from liberal to traditional conservative on most voting issues.  I hold some radical views too, but they are mostly on things we folks don’t vote on — such as epistemology.  Yet, I very seldom sit down to characterize my beliefs, and I’ve not tested how accurate that description of them is.

In contrast to me, my friend seems to know exactly how to characterize his beliefs.  He knows his views are almost all neoconservative or Christian fundamentalist.  (And that’s one of the ways we differ.  He concerns himself with where his views fit on the ideological spectrum, while I largely do not.)  I think it is important to him his views are endorsed by the “right people”, or the “right authorities”, and consequently he is sensitive to their provenance.  At least, that’s the sense I make of why he — or anyone — would be very concerned with how ideologically pure his views are.

Another thing that struck me while the two of us were discussing issues the other day — he does a lot of quasi-parroting.  That is, he doesn’t exactly parrot the talking points of, say, the Republican Party, but he does pretty much stick to what the “right people” or the “right authorities” are saying.  He just puts what they’re saying into his own words.  I suspect that’s about as far as he can depart from what his “authorities” are saying without risking his views might no longer be endorsed by them.

Yet, the most fundamental difference between us seemed to be over the meaning of life.  To be sure, we didn’t indulge ourselves in directly discussing that subject.  But it came up in a rough, oblique way when we were talking about young people.  We agreed young people needed to turn their talents into skills, but we disagreed about why they needed to turn their talents into skills.  I saw it as a matter of their realizing their full human potential in a socially responsible manner consistent with their being true to themselves.  He saw it as a matter of their getting a job, supporting themselves and their family, and being a productive and respected member of society.  To give him credit: His view is a lot easier to understand than mine.

So far as I can see, my friend is not in most ways a traditional conservative.  I suspect he would pay lip service to the notion humans ought to be free to do whatever they want so long as it doesn’t unduly or unjustly abridge the rights of others.  Yet, he’s not at all deeply committed to that notion.  Instead, the closest he comes to valuing human freedoms seems to be his sense humans ought to be free to get a job, support themselves and their family, and become productive and respected members of society.  Or something like that.

I’ve come to consider my friend an authoritarian conservative, rather than a traditional conservative.  I think he values security — especially economic security — above freedom and liberty.  I think he values the endorsement of authorities much more than he values reason and evidence.  The traditional conservatives I’ve known would find themselves in opposition to him on both those points, and would reject his views for not being “truly” conservative views.

He and I had a nice chat on the issues, which never really got heated, but I wondered while we were chatting if he ever realizes how unlike traditional conservatives he is.  In America today, his brand of conservatism has all but driven traditional conservatives out of leadership positions in the Republican Party.  It has been responsible for the disastrous Bush presidency.  And it has proved itself on nearly all levels to be a false and dangerous guide to action.  Yet, about all that he seems to have put on blinders.  To him, authoritarian conservatism is neither discredited, nor failed, nor misguided, nor dangerous.  And I suspect he will always continue to believe in authoritarian conservatism unless or until his “authorities” tell him to stop believing in it.

Authoritarianism, Citizenship, Dominionism, Fascism, Freedom, Ideologies, Liars Lies and Lying, Neocons, News and Current Events, Politics, Psychology, Society, Values, Violence

“The Authoritarians” by Bob Altemeyer

Last week, Erik left a comment on this blog with a link to a free online book, The Authoritarians, by the research psychologist and professor, Bob Altemeyer.  Erik is a bright guy, so I was confident I would not be wasting my time to check out the link.  Now that I have checked out the link, I feel like naming my next born illegitimate child after Erik.  I got so wrapped up in the book, I read it in one sitting.

The book describes the psychology of authoritarian followers and leaders.  It does so in clear and easy to read prose.  Bob Altemeyer has a wonderful sense of humor and he laces his book with witty and funny comments.  But the core of the book is comprised of the scientific studies of authoritarianism that Altemeyer has been doing since 1966.  This is a hugely informative book that makes sense of a whole lot of stuff that’s going on in America and the world today.

So what is “authoritarianism”?  From the introduction:

“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 will change how you view militant authoritarianism forever.  For one thing, he demonstrates that it is not merely a political problem but profoundly a psychological problem.  Consequently, there are no politics that will make it entirely go away.  Instead, it must be repeatedly confronted and defeated in every generation — if representative democracy is to be preserved.

I recommend that everyone — and that means everyone and his or her dog — read the book’s introduction (at the very least), which can be found here (.pdf).  You can then decide for yourself whether you want to go on to read the rest of the book.  But please give yourself the opportunity to make that decision by reading the introduction (The introduction begins six pdf pages down — you can skip the dedication, which comes first).  If you read the book and do not then fervently wish to name your next illegitimate child after Erik — who, after all, gave us the heads-up on this book — I will be absolutely astonished.  And so will your child.

Last, please consider passing this book around.  It’s free and accessible to anyone who can read it online.

Community, Dominionism, Family, Ideologies, Intellectual Honesty, Liars Lies and Lying, Meaning, Religion, Truth, Values

How Often Can Fundamentalists be Reasoned with?

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that in most cases there is little chance of anyone’s persuading a fundamentalist through reason and evidence to drop their fundamentalist beliefs.

Conservative evangelicals — or fundamentalists — tend to hold a number of opinions that are easily challenged by well established facts.  For instance, they tend as a group to believe Noah’s Flood was an historical event; the theory of evolution is false; abstinence-only sexuality education is effective; gay marriage will destroy the sanctity of their own marriages; America was founded as a Christian nation; and so on.  A whole host of factually absurd opinions.

It is perhaps interesting those opinions seem almost as meaningful to fundamentalists as the notions God exists, salvation can be had through Jesus Christ, and one should live according to the Ten Commandments.  Put differently, it would be just as difficult to discuss the religiosity of fundamentalists without discussing their belief in abstinence as it would be to discuss their religiosity without discussing their belief in salvation.  So when talking about fundamentalist religiosity it is worthwhile to note how fundamentalism involves many more beliefs than just strictly religious beliefs.

Intellectually — through reason and evidence — it is easy to challenge nearly every fundamentalist belief.  I don’t know of another ideology so wrong on the facts and so devoid of sound logic.  These days on the internet, thousands of people busy themselves with debunking fundamentalist beliefs.  Those efforts seem to me effective in showing how intellectually untenable most fundamentalist beliefs are, but I think they entirely fail to address a key reason many — perhaps even most — fundamentalists hold their beliefs.

That is, I strongly suspect in a great many cases, asking a fundamentalist to give up their peculiar religiosity is the same as asking them to risk giving up their family, friends, and community. That’s the sense I get from many of the fundamentalists I know.

In a way, that might not be so different from the rest of us.  It’s common for humans to form social groups based at least in part on shared beliefs.  Anyone who declared themselves for the Republican candidate at the Democratic Convention might quickly find themselves an outsider.  So it shouldn’t surprise us that fundamentalists might hold their beliefs — not so much from intellectual conviction — but in order to gain the benefits of being part of a group.

If that’s so, then an intellectual attack on fundamentalist beliefs will not address the primary concerns of those fundamentalists who value their relationships with their family, friends, and community more than they value intellectual honesty and truths.  And, I imagine, that is a sizable majority of fundamentalists.  We are, after all, a social species — perhaps much more so than we are an “intellectual” species.