Saturday, March 04, 2006

Social Dominance Orientation And Conservative Identity Politics (Pt4 in the Series)

While RWA is associated with group prejudice in various ways, that was not its specific focus. It is the conformity with authority that is its core focus. The willingness to discriminate against or attack members of a stigmatized group is one dimension in which this is expressed.

We now turn to a second factor that is also strongly associated with group prejudice. However, unlike RWA, it has group prejudice as its central focus. That factor is known as Social Dominance Orientation (SDO). Because it, too, is correlated with political conservatism, it provides further evidence that conservatism functions as a form of identity politics, and gives further evidence of how this works. SDO is also part of a more comprehensive theory which focuses attention on how hierarchical structures and values endure, while rationales may change—or even directly contradict what people actually believe. This last is a crucial point when addressing the persistent fictions that “real conservatives” support balanced budgets, states rights, “judicial restraint,” etc., despite repeated evidence to the contrary.

SDO Introduced

SDO is considered to be “the degree to which individuals desire and support group-based hierarchy and the dominance of ‘inferior’ groups by ‘superior’ groups.” It is an orientation that encompasses a whole range of group biases, based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality or religion. It is one aspect of Social Dominance Theory (SDT), a theory that places individual SDO into a larger context which serves to explain the maintenance and perpetuation of hierarchically-structured societies. This includes factors contributing to SDO, as well as results following from SDO.

SDT argues for a common basis for a wide range of group prejudice, while not denying the role of specific factors as well. It also argues for an asymmetry between dominant and subordinate groups. While prejudice can go both ways, prejudice favoring dominant groups over subordinate groups is the defining rule in how hierarchical societies are structured. It has pervasive realworld consequences.

SDO is measured using the SDO scale, developed during the 1980s and 1990s by Jim Sidanius, Felicia Pratto and colleagues. Their book Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression is the source for the vast majority of information in this post—though some extrapolations are mine. The SDO scale went though a number of refinements, but contains similar statements, words or phrases to be responded to, such as “winning is more important than how the game is played,” “to get ahead in life it is sometimes necessary to step on other groups of people,” and “social equality between groups.”

SDO has been found to correlate with negative attitudes toward low-status groups such as: women, poor people, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Democrats, Hispanic civil rights groups and Black civil rights groups. It has been found to correlate with positive attitudes toward high-status groups such as: whites, Republicans, business executives, and politicians.

SDO has also been found to correlate with a number of legitimating ideologies or beliefs, including: racism/ethnic prejudice, sexism, nationalism, cultural elitism, patriotism, political conservatism, Protestant work ethic, and the rejection of noblesse oblige. It also correlated with attributing poverty to the internal failings of poor people, and rejecting the role of external conditions.

Social Dominance Theory: Basic Outline

SDT begins with the empirical observation that surplus-producing social systems have a three-fold group-based hierarchy structure: age-based, gender-based and “arbitrary set-based,” which can include race, class, caste, ethnicity, religious affiliation, etc. Age-based hierarchies invariably give more power to adults and middle-age people than children and younger adults, and gender-based hierarchies invariable grant more power to men than women, but arbitrary-set hierarchies—though quite resilient—are truly arbitrary. There is no pre-set formula for what groups will become dominant.

SDT is based on three primary assumptions:
  1. While age- and gender-based hierarchies will tend to exist within all social systems, arbitrary-set systems of social hierarchy will invariably emerge within social systems producing sustainable economic surpluses.
  2. Most forms of group conflict and oppression (e.g., racism, ethnocentrisim, sexism, nationalism, classicism, regionalism) can be regarded as different manifestations of the same basic human predisposition to form group-based hierarchies.
  3. Human social systems are subject to the counterbalancing influences of hierarchy-enhancing (HE) forces, producing and maintaining ever higher levels of group-based social inequality, and hierarchy-attenuating (HA) forces, producing greater levels of group-based social equality.

Four factors contribute to SDO: group status, gender, socialization and temperament. In turn, SDO affects acceptance of influential “legitimating myths” (LMs)—whether hierarchy enhancing (HE) or hierarchy attenuating (HA). LMs are defined as “values, attitudes, beliefs, causal attributions, and ideologies that provide moral and intellectual justification for social practices that either increase, maintain, or decrease levels of social inequality among social groups.” The HE-LMs provide support for social polcies that in turn sustain group-based social hierarchies through three mechanisms: individual discrimination (personal decision-making), institutional discrimination (rules and procedures with biased outcomes, intentional or not) and behavioral asymmetry (various ways that subordinate groups participate in their own subjugation).

SDO And Liberal/Conservative Ideology

SDT, and the correlation between SDO and conservatism, is strongly compatible with the fundamental relationship between liberalism, egalitarianism, and social progress extending over the past 500+ years—all of which conservatism has opposed.

The rise of egalitarian values has had a profound effect on the nature of modern societies. Because we live in a nominally egalitarian society, Sidanius and Pratto note, there is a need for “plausible deniability, or the ability to practice discrimination, while at the same time denying that any discrimination is actually taking place.” This need is not limited to specific practices, it is generalized to encompass entire political philosophies.

Indeed, the connection between liberalism and egalitarianism has been the focus of fierce conservative propaganda for the past 40+ years. The rhetoric of a “liberal media” and “liberal elite” is part of this attack on the egalitarian thrust of liberalism. But a large part of the juice comes from the dramatic power-shift of the 1960s, when legal segregation and the legal subjugation of women were both dealt crippling blows.

The loss of racial and gender privilege was a traumatic event—especially, but not exclusively, for those most privileged: white males. But it was also traumatic for others who strongly identified with the existing social order, even if it did not objectively favor them, or even treat them fairly. There are at least two mechanisms—one psychodynamic, the other cognitive-developmental—that can help explain why women and blacks could also be traumatized, which we will discuss later in this series.

For now, we can simply say that the pre-existing system, however unequal it was, was taken to be fundamentally just by a wide range of people—on the assumption, key to SDO, that some folks are better than others, and they were simply getting what was just. Hence, any change in it was taken to be an attack on the moral order—which, indeed, is how the right has always characterized the 1960s. (Of course, they dare not say—sometimes even to themselves—what they really think: that it was the uppity blacks and uppity women who spoiled everything. So they talk about sex, drugs, crime and rock ‘n roll. This is an example of displacement.)

We have already seen evidence of this earlier in this series—in the numbers of people who said that blacks had too much power back in 1964, for example. And we saw that this belief was strongly correlated with the hard core of conservatism—operational conservatism.

Affirmative action was a particularly fruitful flash point for a conservative counter-attack, because it provides a means to ostensibly argue for equality, and to argue against a policy that is widely identified with liberalism. Hence, if liberals support affirmative action, the argument goes, they are clearly opposed to equal treatment.

As it turns out, SDO is particularly helpful in piercing this mythology, which the book, Social Dominance, does with some thoroughness.

On the one hand, the authors give us a dose of reality, reviewing the international literature on affirmative action. A survey of 19 job audit studies in 5 countries found evidence of discrimination against subordinate groups (in the U.S., blacks and Latinos) in every single study, despite the presence of affirmative action in one form or another. These are general audit studies, which look at how people looking for jobs are treated. A Dutch study, looking specifically at how affirmative action programs work, found that an affirmative action rule favoring minorities outright—a standard deemed unconstitutional in the U.S. since 1977—only succeeded in producing a true level playing field, not a tilt in favor of minorities.

Thus, all the scientific evidence shows that the folk belief is false. Affirmative action really is an egalitarian social policy, not reverse discrimination.

On the other hand, the authors examine how SDO relates to arguments against affirmative action. Not surprisingly, Pratto and Sidanius found that opposition to affirmative action correlates with SDO. Those opposed to affirmative action are more likely to favor dominance of some groups over others, despite their egalitarian rhetoric to the contrary. (Remember, this is a statistical finding about group attitudes. It says nothing about any specific individual.)

However, Pratto and Sidanius go further, and examine the role of specific beliefs used to justify attitudes toward affirmative action. They found that SDO correlates with seemingly egalitarian rationales. First, the beliefs that “Affirmative action will increase racial conflict.” Second, the belief that “Affirmative action just increases the idea that certain groups are not as good as others.”

Some who offer these rationales for opposing affirmative action could be sincere—those scoring low in SDO. But statistically, these arguments come far more often from people who agree that “in getting what you want, it is sometimes necessary to use force against other groups.” In other words, these arguments are strategies of denial and propaganda far more often than they are sincere arguments expressing the values people actually hold.

This discussion about SDO and affirmative action is really just the tip of the iceberg, in ways that Social Dominance suggests, but does not follow up. Sidanius and Pratto are justifiably focused on laying out how their theory elucidates what see in our present-day hierarchical society with egalitarian pretensions, with occasional attention to other societies as well. By itself, this is a tremendous accomplishment. But they say very little about how their theory can elucidate social change—both how progress is achieved, and how comes to be contained. And here, their theory has enormous explanatory potential, as their discussion of affirmative action suggests. SDT and SDO provide a perspective, as well as analytic tools that can be brought to bear to help dissect how new hierarchicy enhancing narratives and justifications are developed and advanced in an environment that ostensibly rejects the very values they serve.

The next post in this series will examine this process more closely, and show how it furthers the argument that conservatism is not, fundamentally, an ideology, but a form of identity politics. It is composed of narratives repeatedly refashioned to rejustify hierarchy after old positions have proved untenable. While the outward appearance of these narratives is ideological, their inner substance, function and purpose is the preservation of hierarchy, and the method is the narrative creation of fictive identities whose very being is bound to the hierarchies in whose interests they are created.

The discussion about SDO and affirmative action is exemplary of a much wider phenomena in a contemporary sense as well. There is a vast abundance of information showing that women and minorities are subject to unequal treatment (discussed in some detail by Sidanius and Pratto) but this information is routinely marginalized in public discourse. The ways in which this is done are themselves examples of how hierarchy is preserved through the institutional control of information, which is a crucial component of social power, without which organized social change is extremely difficult. The suppression of such information then allows privileged groups to portray themselves as victims of unequal treatment, and champions of equality against their “oppressors”—including, of course, liberals as oppressors of freedom-loving conservatives.

Thus, it comes to pass that narratives of “unqualified minorities” advancing are everywhere, reinforcing conservative’s sense that “everyone knows” this is the way it is, while empirical studies proving the exact opposite are virtually never mentioned, even by occasional liberal commentators. Those who actually know the facts come to feel awkward, and ashamed to simply tell the truth. This is the social dynamic of self-policing state of repression, in which, ironically, everyone feels repressed, liberal and conservative alike, although for quite different reasons.

Supporting this process is the background assumption of group superiority embodied in SDO, as well as related attitudinal structures, to be discussed in a later post. But the influence of SDO is not limited to dominant groups.

SDO And Consensual Legitimating Myths

A key facet of SDT is the role played by consensual beliefs shared by dominant and subordinate groups. Indeed, Sidanius and Pratto see such beliefs as crucial in the maintenance of hierarchy. When subordinate groups cease to believe the myths that legitimate dominant power, dominant groups are increasingly pressed to either resort to force, or grant concessions. This happens in part because rejection and resistance by subordinate groups is echoed by dissention within dominant groups, refusing to support the use of violence. The authors cite as examples the Algerian war of independence, and the American civil rights movement. They point out that black acceptance of segregation was key to its survival. While the majority of blacks never accepted a large body of white racist ideology, they did accept assumptions about social power, and did internalize a good deal of negative self-images that prevented the emergence of a mass movement for decades, until those beliefs were successfully challenged within the black community.

Although they do not mention it, a similar process took place in the early 1800s, when the relatively small free black community developed an opposition to the dominant white ideology of the time—colonization. Colonization was supposed to “solve” America’s race problem by shipping all blacks back to Africa. It was never a serious solution, but it was politically convenient because it provided common ground for northern and southern whites in a theoretical fantasy. The development of organized opposition within the black community, expressed in the counter-ideology of abolitionism, was the precursor to the development of white abolitionist activism.

Thus, subordinate acceptance or rejection of HE-LMs is a crucial matter. To a very large extent, hierarchies are preserved through the subordinates’ acceptance of ideological myths directly damaging to them. Sidanius and Pratto refer to the underlying phenomena as “consensual SDO” and the related HE-LMs as “consensual” LMs, such as “consensual racism.”

For example, they note the results of a 1997 Gallup Poll, which asked whether blacks in their communities had the same chance as whites to get any kind of job, to get equal education or equal housing. The numbers believing in equal chances were:

Equal chance re jobs:
    White: 79%
    Black: 46%

Equal chance re education:
    White: 79%
    Black: 63%

Equal chance re housing:
    White: 86%
    Black: 58%

While Gallup focused on the difference in beliefs, Sidanius and Pratto call attention to (1) the large majorities of whites who mistakenly believe equal opportunity exists and (2) the large numbers of blacks who agree, despite their own direct experience, or knowledge of friends’ and family’s experience. They then go on to develop the more general argument that consensual SDO—shared by dominant and subdominant groups alike—plays a dominant role in legitimating hierarchical social policies.

They report the results of a large Texas study in which attitudes towards classical racism and sexism were studied. People were asked “Which of the following objects, statements, or events do you have a positive or negative feeling toward?” The classical racism scale items such as “racial equality,” “a Back president of the USA,” “white superiority,” “Mexican immigrants,” etc. The classical sexism scale included items such as “a real man should avoid showing emotion,” “most feminists are a little too aggressive,” “traditional sex roles,” “women supervisors,” “male nurses,” etc. While whites scored higher than minorities and men scored higher than women, these differences were relatively small compared to the level of agreement: 13% of the variance in racism scores was due to race, while 22% of the variance in sexism scores was due to gender. A similar study, with similar results was done using a Soviet sample as well.

[Note: This is consistent with some data presented (but not analyzed) earlier in this series—the degree to which conservatives and liberals agree on social spending. It is not surprising from a social science perspective, but it does go strongly against common beliefs, which assume a far more unified group perspective than actually exists on virtually any subject.]

Sidanius and Pratto go on to provide data from their studies, showing correlations between consensual SDO and LMs on the one hand, and opposition to redistributive social policies on the other. Political conservatism was one of the LMs in their study. This is important to note, since it reminds us once again that RWA and SDO are present across all political lines. They are simply present more intensely among conservatives.

More significant is the different functions of these factors among different groups. One example is what’s called outgroup favoritism--the tendency of subordinate groups to prefer the dominant group over their own. This tendency runs counter to the tendency toward ingroup favoritism found in classic ethnocentrism, for example. In contrast, amongst dominant groups, the two tendencies reinforce. Outgroup favoritism among blacks has declined significantly since the pre-Civil Rights era, and has even vanished by some measures. But a basic comparative relationship remains unchanged, as Sidanius and Pratto note, reporting the results of one large study: “[I]ronically, the more that dominants (Whites) believed U.S. society to be free of racial discrimination, the more they actually showed ingroup bias in favor of their racial ingroup. The opposite pattern was found among the two groups of subordinates. [Latinos and blacks]”

This finding is worth reflecting on a bit. As Sidanius and Pratto show in some detail, there is overwhelming evidence that the U.S. is not free of racial discrimination. So the tendency to believe it is free of discrimination is a tendency toward denial, for both dominants and subordinates. Yet, if it were the case, then the tendency among subordinates would be straightforwardly rational—the absence of discrimination would remove the need for stronger group ties, and make positive attitudes toward others a net good, since such feelings would generally be reciprocated from a larger and wider range of people.

OTOH, the tendency among dominants doesn’t make the same sort sense in terms of the non-discriminatory fantasy—unless one adds the sorts of beliefs that surround affirmative action. That is, increased ingroup favoritism makes perfect sense if one feels that there is no discrimination, but minorities are getting ahead via false claims that it persists. This is, of course, precisely the sort of narcissistic self-pity that is cultivated to keep the white backlash alive decades after the Civil Rights Movement.

The above offers yet another perspective on why conservatives are more cohesive, and have stronger feelings of group superiority, as well as persecution. Furthermore, the fact that whites have higher SDO, but that cross-racial consensual SDO is stronger than SDO differences between races, helps illuminate how SDO contributes to political conservatism as a form of identity politics centered around whiteness, but not limited to whites. The same goes for maleness, Christianity, and heterosexuality.

SDO and RWA

At one point, Altemeyer examined SDO and RWA together. His paper summarizing this comparative investigation provides a concise comparison of the two factors in their starkest terms. Altemeyer wrote:
    “Right-wing authoritarians...seem to be highly prejudiced mainly because they were raised to travel in tight, ethnocentric circles, and they fear that authority and conventions are crumbling so quickly that civilization will collapse and they will be eaten in the resulting jungle. In contrast, High SDOs already see life as ‘dog eat dog’ and—compared with most people—are determined to do the eating.”
Altemeyer was describing the core logic behind the two factors, expressed in terms of the extremes. While relatively few people actually think this way either purely or consciously, the core logic influences us profoundly in many ways, even if we would forcefully reject such a bald statement of what it ultimately stands for.

The two factors correlate moderately with each other, as one might expect given that RWA includes authoritarian aggression, defined as “A general aggressiveness, directed against various persons, that is perceived to be sanctioned by established authorities.” Their interactions appear to be quite complex, as preliminary studies using different sorts of sample populations show different patterns of causal influences. But one thing is strikingly clear: between the two of them, they account for the biggest chunk of group prejudice. While other factors may play some role, no factor that is unrelated to them is anywhere close to them in level of importance.

This is also why I have chosen to highlight them in this series. To the extent that conservatism functions as a group identity, defined in opposition to inferior others, the most logical and economical explanation for it would rely on the same mechanisms that are at work underlying group prejudice in general. This assumption receives additional support from the fact that both RWA and SDO are correlated with political conservatism.

However, they are not the only psychological factors that have been found to be associated with conservatism. After the next post—which, as promised, expands on the example of affirmative action discussed above—the following post in this series will take a broader look at the most comprehensive effort so far to integrate all the findings out there into a single model. When it was published, it caused quite an uproar, which was, in its own way, as illuminating as the study itself.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Rightwing Authoritarianism and Conservative Identity Politics (Pt 3 in the series)

Rightwing authoritarianism (RWA) is one of two attitudinal constructs (along with social dominance orientation—SDO) that combine to account for a majority of group prejudice, which in turn is a major aspect of group identity politics. Both also correlate significantly with political conservatism. RWA is defined as the convergence of three attitudinal clusters:
  • Authoritarian submission: A high degree of submission to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives.
  • Authoritarian aggression: A general aggressiveness, directed against various persons, that is perceived to be sanctioned by established authorities.
  • Conventionalism: A high degree of adherence to the social conventions that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities.
As might be guessed, RWA is associated with a high degree of hostility toward outgroups, a key characteristic that correlates with findings discussed in the previous post in this series, indicating that hard core conservatism correlates with a strong resistance to power-sharing with various outgroups—blacks, Jews, Catholics, unions and women.

The construct was developed empirically by Canadian researcher Robert Altemeyer, who started by examining the more elaborate, Freudian-based construct presented in The Authoritarian Personality, which contained nine factors. The three factors Altemeyer identified were among the original nine factors, but he refined the questions defining the traits over time, developing a scale over time with stronger inter-item correlation. His findings are based primarily on research using questionnaires administered to his students, and secondarily to parents, but they have been administered to others as well, including members of a large number of American state legislatures. His uses standard correlation analysis, as well as comparisons and analysis focusing on those who score in the upper 25%, termed "High RWAs" or simply "Highs."

Altemeyer explains that “right-wing’” means a “psychological sense of submitting to perceived authorities in one’s life,” and is not identified with a specific political ideology. In the Soviet Union, “right-wing” meant a sense of submitting to communist authorities, and Altemeyer presented research showing this was so. This is what his RWA (right-wing authoritarianism) scale measured. It is obviously related to the perpetuation of hierarchy, and the use of force to impose “order.”

Altemeyer’s third book, The Authoritarian Specter reports and discusses Altemeyer’s extensive findings in considerable detail. He makes it quite clear that RWA explains statistical group tendencies, not individual behavior, and that environmental factors—such as being in a frightening emergency situation, like the United States just after 9-11—are far more powerful than attitude in predicting behavior.

Thus, he’s in no way trying to prejudge, stereotype and dismiss those who may be more conservative, or to praise those who are more liberal. Altemeyer himself scores about average on the RWA scale.

A Quick And Dirty Guide To RWA

Nonetheless, the group portrait of RWA is distinctly disturbing, as can be seen from the list of tendencies that Altemeyer compiled and listed at the end of The Authoritarian Specter as a sort of compressed summary. I’ve listed most of them in the tables that follow here, which provide some thematic coherence for them. The first is the one that goes most directly to the issue at hand—conservative identity politics, which is built around the “good us”/“demonized them” dynamic.
Table 1: Hostility & Fear Toward Outgroups

RWA’s are more likely to:
  • Weaken constitutional guarantees of liberty, such as the Bill of Rights.
  • Punish severely ‘common’ criminals in a role-playing situation.
  • Admit they get personal pleasure from punishing such people.
  • But go easy on authorities who commit crimes and people who attack minorities.
  • Be prejudiced against many racial, ethnic, nationalistic, and linguistic minorities.
  • Be hostile toward homosexuals.
  • Support ‘gay-bashing.’
  • Be hostile toward feminists.
  • Volunteer to help the government persecute almost anyone.
  • Be mean-spirited toward those who have made mistakes and suffered.
  • Be fearful of a dangerous world.
These items show broad and robust evidence of hostility toward designated outgroups. There’s also evidence of contempt, inability and unwillingness to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Systematically misunderstanding others is second nature with this sort of outlook, and is clearly related to the dynamics of an identity politics defined in opposition to groups of demonized others. The actual interior experience of others is something that such a mindset simply cannot dare to seriously consider. It is simply presumed to be “evil.”

On the flip side, are the tendencies toward their group identity cohesion.
Table 2: Not-So-Healthy Ingroup Cohesion

RWA’s are more likely to:
  • Strongly believe in group cohesiveness and ‘loyalty.’
  • Insist on traditional sex roles.
  • Use religion to erase guilt over their acts and to maintain their self-righteousness.
  • Be ‘fundamentalists’ and the most prejudiced members of whatever religion they belong to.
  • Accept unfair and illegal abuses of power by government authorities.
  • Trust leaders (such as Richard Nixon) who are untrustworthy.
The items in this table can be fairly be summarized as manifestations of tribalism: group cohesiveness and ‘loyalty’ are core values, religion serves the purpose of tribal unity and self-justification, sex roles keep people in their place, and leaders are to be trusted and obeyed, no matter what. Tibalism and cultism are clearly closely related, as will be discussed more fully in a future post. This is a strong indication that the cultism surrounding Bush is indeed consistent with conservatism, rather than a departure from it, as Greenwald assumed in his post that sparked this series in the first place. Here I am showing that it is consistent with attitudinal underpinnings. But those attitudes clearly translate into overt ideology and policies positions as well.

Related to such the fragile and unsupportable cartoon picture of the world shown in Table 1 (and less directly in Table 2) is a wide range flawed reasoning as well.
Table 3: Faulty reasoning

RWA’s are more likely to:
  • Make many incorrect inferences from evidence.
  • Hold contradictory ideas leading them to ‘speak out of both sides of their mouths.’
  • Uncritically accept that many problems are ‘our most serious problem.’
  • Uncritically accept insufficient evidence that supports their beliefs.
  • Uncritically trust people who tell them what they want to hear.
  • Use many double standards in their thinking and judgements.
One logical flaw which reflects both on misunderstanding of others and themselves, is RWAs elevated tendency to commit what’s called the “Fundamental Attribution Error” (FAE)—over-explaining others’ actions in terms of personalities and under-explaining them in terms of situational factors. This what lies behind uncritically trusting people who tell them what they want to hear—they believe what the person is saying is a true expression of how they feel, and ignore the contextual evidence that they are simply pandering. This also helps to explain why they trust unscrupulous leaders, such as Nixon and Bush.

As for self-knowledge, although RWAs have a number of character flaws consistent with group identity politics generally and religious fundamentalism [already mentioned] specifically—see Table 4—they’re remarkably blind to their own failings—see Table 5.
Table 4: Profound Character Flaws

RWA’s are more likely to:
  • Be dogmatic.
  • Be zealots.
  • Be hypocrites.
  • Be bullies when they have power over others.
  • Help cause and inflame intergroup conflict.
  • Seek dominance over others by being competitive and destructive in situations requiring cooperation.
Table 5: Blindness To Own Failings

RWA’s are more likely to:
  • Believe they have no personal failings.
  • Avoid learning about their personal failings.
  • Be highly self-righteous.
  • Use religion to erase guilt over their acts and to maintain their self-righteousness.
The cumulative picture summarized in these five tables is clearly that of people who have a multifacted set of tendencies that work together to foster a conformist group identity that is maintained in part by demonizing others, and expresses itself in a propensity, or at least tolerance for violence.

Last, we turn to the more specifically political tendencies, some of which have been mentioned before, but are included here for the sake of completeness
Table 6: RWA’s Political Tendencies

RWA’s are more likely to:
  • Weaken constitutional guarantees of liberty, such as the Bill of Rights.
  • Accept unfair and illegal abuses of power by government authorities.
  • Trust leaders (such as Richard Nixon) who are untrustworthy.
  • Sometimes join left-wing movements, where their hostility distinguishes them.
  • But much more typically endorse right-wing political parties.
  • Be conservative/Reform party (Canada) or Republican Party (United States) lawmakers who
    1. have a conservative economic philosophy;
    2. believe in social dominance;
    3. are ethnocentric;
    4. are highly nationalistic;
    5. oppose abortion;
    6. support capital punishment;
    7. oppose gun-control legislation;
    8. say they value freedom but actually want to undermine the Bill of Rights;
    9. do not value equality very highly and oppose measures to increase it;
    10. are not likely to rise in the Democratic party, but do so among Republicans.

Three Broad Findings To Consider

I want to conclude this analyses by stressing three broad findings in addition to what’s gone before.

First, concerning RWA and fear: Among the most significant of Altemeyer’s findings—both implicit and explicit in what we’ve seen above—was the fearful nature of the RWA worldview, “High RWAs stand about ten steps closer to the panic button than the rest of the population,” he concluded, “They see the world as a more dangerous place than most others do, with civilization on the verge of collapse and the world of Mad Max looming just beyond.” This fearfulness is a good explanation for many of the tendencies listed above.

Second, concerning RWA and religion: The authoritarian relationship to religion is particularly troubling, as several different sorts of flaws tend to work together to blind authoritarians from seeing what they are doing. Perhaps most striking is the greater likelihood to compartmentalize their thinking, and not notice contradictions between compartmentalized beliefs. In a 1985 experiment, students were asked what they thought about two passages from the Gospels: “Do not judge, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged. (Matthew 7:1), and “Let he who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.” Altemeyer reports:
Twenty Christian Highs said we should take the teachings literally. Twenty-seven other Christian Highs said we should judge and punish others, but none of them explained how they reconciled this view with Jesus’ teachings. Apparently, they ‘believed’ both (contradictory) things. But the kicker came when I looked at various measures of authoritarian aggression I had gathered from these students. No matter what they said they believed, both these groups of Highs were quick with the stones on the Attitudes toward Homosexuals Scale, the ethnocentrism Scale, and Posse-Homosexuals (Enemies of Freedom, pp. 222-224).
Such compartmentalization also reflects problems with self-knowledge, already noted. Of course, it’s relatively easy for one religious group to see such flaws in another group. The really hard thing is to see it in yourself or in your group. It’s much, much easier for fundmentalists in different religions to inflame their followers against each other—and to put pressure on their more moderate co-religionists to join them. Naturally, this feeds into a number of different tendencies listed above.

Third,concerning RWA and politics: Altmeyer found that RWA becomes increasingly significant the more involved one is politically. Surprisingly, Altemeyer found that RWA only correlated modestly with party identification in Canada and America. It was always higher with the more conservative party (a 3-way comparison in most Canadian cases), but the differences were relatively modest. However, when he looked at how people perceived their elected representatives, the degrees of difference increased significantly. Then, when he looked at the representatives themselves, he discovered that they differed even more than their constituents thought they did.

In additional to Canada, he examined a large number of state legislatures in the United States. While a there were a few Democrats who scored very high on the RWA scale, the Republican Party as a whole scored dramatically higher on the scale, and showed far less variation than the Democrats did. Republicans in state government in every part of the country scored much closer to one another than did Democrats. In addition, the spectrum of American politics was higher on the RWA scale than the Canadian spectrum. That’s not to say there was no overlap, but the difference was striking, nonetheless.

These findings strongly suggest that RWA reflects something very fundamental about American politics, which cannot simply be overcome by wishing it away. It must be faced head-on and dealt with at a very fundamental level. Conservatives and the GOP are more unified, because they see the world more similarly—albeit not more accurately. It seems only logical to assume that this both reflects and reinforces the basic fact that their foundation is a form of identity politics, an expression of a shared identity, as opposed to the Democratic Party, which is openly and avowedly a coalition.

What About Leftwing Authoritarianism?

Altemeyer went looking for it. He didn’t find it. He didn’t find anyone who scored over 50% on the LWA scale he developed, which was a direct reflection of the RWA scale. In contrast, he has found numerous people scoring close 100% on the RWA scale. He concluded that LWAs are “as rare as hen’s teeth.” He did, of course, find authoritarianism among people on the left in the Soviet Union, as noted above. But this was due to their social conformity to the existing authorities in their society. And that’s what RWA is.

What’s Next: SDO

The next installment in this series concerns another attitudinal construct, known as social dominance orientation (SDO). As we shall see, it is even more directly associated with group identity.



The underlying material in this diary comes from Robert Altemeyer’s third and most comprehensive book, The Authoritarian Specter