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.

No comments:

Post a Comment