Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Authoritarians

[Regla 2.718]
I've just finished reading this excellent book, The Authoritarians, by Bob Altemeyer. It's available as a free e-book, so go read it now. Seriously. For once, I'm not going to complain about a meaningless detail in the translation, mainly because I don't think there is one. Instead, I wish to discuss exactly how great it is.

The subject is a specific personality type, which he calls right-wing authoritarians (Which are not necessarily political right-wingers). Curiously enough, these authoritarians are followers rather than leaders (the latter are also discussed, but aren't the main focus of the book). The author developed something called the RWA scale, which basically measures proclivity to submit to authority. Traits common to people with high RWA scores are that they tend to obey authority in almost any circumstance, they are highly prejudiced, they prefer to stick with their kind, they have worse-than-average critical reasoning skills, they are usually unable to spot their own hypocrisy, they tend to consider themselves and the authorities they follow as morally superior regardless of their actual actions, and many, many more things in that line. There is a huge number of experiments on high RWAs compared to low RWAs that confirm all of this, it's not just wild speculation.

What caught my attention is that many of these traits are very common in a group of people I've always found fascinating, religious fundamentalists. This was not particularly surprising, since the guy who gave me the link made a comment to that effect and the author explained from the beginning that certain questions in the RWA scale are related to religion. Still, Chapter 4 (titled Authoritarian Followers and Religious Fundamentalism), matched and explained a lot of my observations on fundies. Submitting to (religious) authority? Check. Prejudice? Check. Double standards? Check. Poor grasp of facts when they disagree with their preconceived ideas? Check. Shitty critical reasoning skills? Hell yeah, that's almost their definition. (If you ever think I'm being unfair in my characterisation of fundies, I invite you to take a good look at the FSTDT archives). The fact that it was related to this previous interest of mine probably played a part in my finding this book so awesome, but if you live in a country where high RWAs are trying to seize political control (Americans, this means you), then odds are you'll find it appealing as well.

On that note, a large part of the reason this book is freely available is the political implications of right-wing authoritarianism. I mentioned before this isn't just about political right-wingers, but rather people who think they are in the "right" (as in, I'm right, you're wrong). I used the example of the US, but most countries have some sort of pro-religious political movement, or some other kind of party that appeals to the high RWAs. The implications of authoritarians in power are, well, frightening. Read on three different runs of the Global Change game by high RWAs (chapter 1, page 30 and chapter 5, page 182) if their personality traits don't convince you of this. Chapter 7 is dedicated to analysing what can be done to prevent this. Amongst other things, spreading the word, which is why I'm posting this in a blog with zero readers. I'll have to take a few more measures, I think. Damn.

I'm a mediocre writer, so I'm not exactly qualified to discuss that particular aspect, but I'll just say I enjoyed it immensely. The tone is relaxed, easy to read, and it invites you to keep on. There are numerous footnotes, which can at times be a bit distracting, but they are well worth reading. The author clearly references sources and experiments, which is always a big bonus, and avoids plaguing it with numbers, which I'm sure some will appreciate (I don't mind numbers, but I can see why others do).

Overall, it has science, studies on personality types, some humour, it's well written, and has some good suggestions if you care about them. I repeat my previous exhortation: Seriously, read it. Now.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Things I don't worship

People are constantly telling me that you need to believe in something, that it's part of the human nature to worship, that the non-religious worship this guy or that thing or whatever. I don't know how much of it is based on human psychology and how much on simply projecting their own need of belief on someone else, but I do know that, like most general statements, "All humans worship something" is wrong. I myself am an example. Yet it's still awfully common for me to hear "You worship X" whenever X is the topic of discussion and I've already explained my religious stance. For reasons that are at the moment unclear, and probably involve the phrase "I have too much time in my hands", I have decided to compile this list of things I've been accused of worshipping, together with a small comment of probable reasons the claim has been made and why I do not worship them:

Ungod: Worshipping him is pointless, since he doesn't give a fuck. (also it's a joke religion)

Satan: I know demonizing the opposition is easier than actually talking to us, but no. I don't buy into any part of your myth, including that one.

Atheos: Not a clue who that is, but it's named often, alongside with Athe.

Allah: Because it's so much simpler if you can divide people in two clearly separated groups.

Jesus: I've lost count of the times I've been told that everyone believes in Jesus, and that I'm just in denial because I'm in love with sin.

Evolution: Some people are stuck in the stage of human civilization where every explanation for natural phenomena is part of a religion. The rest of us have science.

Scientists: Sometimes all of them as a single entity, sometimes one in particular. Darwin, Newton, Einstein, Hawking, etc. Yeah, they're pretty great, but they are not gods.

Human reasoning: I consider it one of the most powerful forces in the universe in some cases, but I don't equate it to God.

The Internet: I might think it's the best thing since sliced bread, but no worship. Incidentally, I don't worship sliced bread either.

Myself: I like who I am and all, but not to that extent.

The concept of nothingness: There's a comment that needs to be made about the difference between the set that contains zero as its only element and the empty set, but I won't make it. Instead, I'll just point and laugh.

Barack Obama. I state my opinion that he would be better than the alternative, and suddenly I think he is the Second Coming of the Messiah. Gimme a break.

Sex: For some reason, all atheists are stereotyped as sex-crazed sluts. Yes, most have quite a few less inhibitions in that regard. That doesn't mean worship, and in any case it doesn't apply to all of us.

Ra, Osiris, Zeus, Jove, and other pagan deities: I have been known to say Holy Ra! on occasion, but this is ridiculous.