Hypocrisy of the Authoritarians
Sun, 07 Sep 2008 15:15 EDT
As Sarah Palin's vice-presidential nomination continues to energize the religious right, the hypocrisy of right wing authoritarians becomes more apparent than ever.
According to psychologist Robert Altmeyer, authoritarian personalities are characterized by hierarchical submission to traditional authorities, aggression and conventionalism. Altmeyer has done extensive empirical research on the subject, which is summarized in his book, 'The Authoritarians'.
In the US, authoritarians gravitate towards politically conservative groups. The religious right movement is a natural fit for them as it holds socially conservative views of fundamentalist religions - the highest traditional authority one can imagine. This is why the religious right tends to support, or reject, a potential leader based on his/her personal decisions and position on matters of personal choice (such as a right to abortion).
Sarah Palin projects herself as a real person with solid values, a super-mom and a successful politician - the very picture of a female leader for the conservative electorate. However, almost immediately after she appeared on the political scene, the image began to crack. Revelations about her teen daughter's pregnancy made a splash, and unsettling facts of her own biography continue to emerge.
One would expect the religious right's support of Palin to falter. Surely, if it were Hillary Clinton's teenage daughter who got pregnant, or if it were Barack Obama who once was a member of a separatist party, the public outcry would have been tremendous, wouldn't it? But, exactly the opposite happened - religious conservative blogs and organizations rallied behind Palin more than ever.
It appears that, when it comes to one of their own, the religious right can adjust, twist and fit anything into their set of values. If that fails, they just deny the facts and call them "a smear campaign". You would expect them to think Palin a "bad mom" for returning to work when her baby was only three days old, or for failing to instill the values she preaches into her daughter. But no, she is a "good mom" because she supports her daughter, and because abortion wasn't an option in their family. There are many other examples of such thinking. McCain had an affair with a lobbyist? Unsubstantiated rumors; this simply cannot be, and who cares anyway. George W. Bush used drugs and alcohol? He has found Jesus since then and is forgiven. Etc, etc.
These people, incidentally, are the ones claiming to have absolute moral values, unlike the "liberal" moral relativists.
This paradox shows once again that the rigid absolute moral values of the authoritarians are nothing more than "moral exo-skeletons", externally imposed moral structures that need to be enforced by laws or punishment. Inside of such an exo-skeleton, there are no self-chosen values, based on wisdom and empathy. Instead, there is a sort of amorphous lymph that takes the shape of its vessel, into which any new fact, or moral challenge, is dissolved when internalized.
It appears that authoritarian followers have only internal value, or rather an instinct: they view the world in terms of "us" (the good and virtuous "in-group" where they themselves belong) and "them" (the evil "out-group", on which negative stereotypes are projected). In a sense, they operate straight out of their reptilian brain, which is concerned with basic goals: survival, establishing home territory, and social dominance. This agrees with the ideas of psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski, who linked the inability to develop an "authentic hierarchy of values" to a low level of emotional development.
To create and maintain a cohesive picture of "us" vs "them", the authoritarian personality is constantly molding the facts into its beliefs of what reality should be. This is highly subjective thinking.
Redefining terms and ideas, erecting straw men and knocking them off are all tools of the authoritarian subjectivity. As an example, consider the celebratory statement of "Concerned Women for America", a conservative organization, in response to Palin's nomination:
For years the feminist movement has acknowledged for leadership only those women who embrace a radical agenda.[..] Take that feminists -- here is a woman of accomplishment who brings a fresh face to traditional values [..]."
In a typical right-wing jargon, feminism is subtly redefined as a leftist radical movement of pro-abortionists, bent on destroying families. The real definition is quite different: feminism is a philosophical and political movement that advocates equality for women and women's rights. Feminism protects women's interests in both family and career pursuits. Barbara Ehreinreich, a veteran feminist, said it best: "[Feminism] is a moral stance and one that has always valued the stay-at-home mothers just as much as the corporate strivers."
The accomplishments of feminism have enriched the lives of virtually every woman living in the developed world today. Mrs. Palin, as a government official, is no exception: historically, only a short time ago, women couldn't vote, not to mention being the ones voted for. But, although Mrs. Palin's career relies on what feminism has achieved, she herself is no feminist, as "Concerned Women for America" rightly suggest. This, however, should not be a cause for celebration, if we look past the straw man (or is it a "straw woman"?) of a radical lefty feminist.
On contrary, it should be a cause for concern since Mrs. Palin clearly doesn't value all women equally. E.g., she slashed funding for a state program that helps teen mothers earlier this year. The attitude behind this decision, of course, doesn't apply to Mrs. Palin's own daughter. So, those other teen mothers are deemed sinful, justly poverty-stricken, and not deserving of any help, which is in obvious discord with Jesus's teachings; while the one who happened to be part of the "in-group" is a good girl who had a stroke of bad luck. Somehow, this picture makes sense to the authoritarians. That's hypocrisy, plain and simple.
The authoritarian mind doesn't simply adjust reality to its beliefs; subconsciously, it also adjusts ITSELF to the most apparent currents of the objective reality around it. Because of this, the authoritarians are conformists and conventional thinkers. This has been shown repeatedly in research, notably by Milgram. Following his thought, conformity can be linked to respect for the power of authority, including that of consensus. Robert Altmeyer made another profound observation. Since authoritarians have no genuine internal convictions, they simply lack basic individuality and sense of identity:
[..] I also discovered that if you ask subjects to rank the importance of various values in life, authoritarian followers place "being normal" substantially higher than most people do. It's almost as though they want to disappear as individuals into the vast vat of Ordinaries. [..]
They are quite capable of adhering to the beliefs emphasized by their in-groups when these conflict with what is held by society as a whole. Nevertheless, they do get tugged by what they think everybody else is saying and doing. [..]
Altmeyer also mentions that:
[T]hirty years ago the solid majority of high RWA students in my samples said premarital sexual intercourse was flat-out immoral. Now most say it is moral if the couple plans to get married.
Now we understand why Sarah Palin has indicated specifically that her pregnant daughter plans to get married to the baby's father. This makes the situation acceptable to her authoritarian followers. They also see no conflict in Mrs. Palin parading her family as an appeal to home and child-centered conservative mothers, while strenuously pursuing her career. Recent surveys show that evangelicals "have wholeheartedly embraced the idea of women in the workplace"; somehow, this doesn't contradict their traditional Biblical values, at least as long it concerns someone from the "in-group."
Palin herself is quite adept at conforming and shape-shifting. In a recent incident worthy of mean girls in a high school cafeteria, she laughed alongside a radio-show host who threw outrageous insults at her political opponent Lyda Green. Then, she gauged the situation and decided she better put in a call to Senator Green to "apologize" and distance herself from what had happened. Or, her record indicates that she doesn't support sex-education programs, and she stated so on a one widely publicized occasion in 2006 - but in another public statement weeks later, she amended her views to include a vague pro-contraception statement. It remains to be seen how she will deal with her affiliation with a controversial and, by all accounts, extremist church. But, her drive to be normal, be average, be someone like your next-door neighbor, has been clear from the very beginning.
The authoritarian followers are easily swayed by psychopathic leaders - highly authoritarian dominant people, devoid of empathy. Newest data describes Palin as power-hungry, mean, vindictive, and ruthless. By the time her followers wake up to her true nature, it might be too late.