I’m reading this neat book called “The Authoritarians” by Prof. Bob Altemeyer. Thanks to bgansel9 for suggesting the book. Altemeyer has developed a test for authoritarians, and he found that most of them are right-wing politically.
In the book, we find studies that correlate high RWA’s with other characteristics, and some of these seem to fit Internet birthers (birthers who comment on the Internet).
Chapter 3 of the book has a list of characteristics for these authoritarians. What follows each topic is a brief excerpt from the book in italics, selected to most closely sound like birthers.
How Authoritarian Followers Think
Intrigued, I gave the inferences test that Mary Wegmann had used to two large samples of students at my university. In both studies high RWAs went down in flames more than others did. They particularly had trouble figuring out that an inference or deduction was wrong. To illustrate, suppose they had gotten the following syllogism:
All fish live in the sea.
Sharks live in the sea..
Therefore, sharks are fish.
The conclusion does not follow, but high RWAs would be more likely to say the reasoning is correct than most people would. If you ask them why it seems right, they would likely tell you, “Because sharks are fish.” In other words, they thought the reasoning was sound because they agreed with the last statement. If the conclusion is right, they figure, then the reasoning must have been right.
When I read that, I could not help but think of the birther reading of the Supreme Court case of Minor v. Happersett.
Highly Compartmentalized Minds
As I said earlier, authoritarians’ ideas are poorly integrated with one another. It’s as if each idea is stored in a file that can be called up and used when the authoritarian wishes, even though another of his ideas–stored in a different file– basically contradicts it. We all have some inconsistencies in our thinking, but authoritarians can stupify you with the inconsistency of their ideas.
…they don’t seem to scan for self-consistency as much as most people do.
Here I would point to the birther assertions that President Obama’s father is both Barack Obama, Sr. and Frank Marshall Davis.
I have found many other instances in which authoritarian followers show a double standard in their judgments of people’s behavior or the rightness of various causes.
I see this all the time, such as the demand for a double blind study to evaluate the Xerox 7655 experiments, while accepting extremely unscientific results claiming that Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery.
For example, the leaders of authoritarian movements sometimes accuse their opponents of being anti-democratic and anti-free speech when the latter protest against various books, movies, speakers, teachers and so on.
We see this in the censorship that appears widely on birther web sites.
Blindness To Themselves
… they have no idea how much they differ from others in that way. And most of the time they get it quite wrong, thinking they are not different from others, and even that they are different in the opposite way from how they actually are.
Birthers seem fairly unaware that most people who are well informed and intelligent disagree with them.
A Profound Ethnocentrism
Well, aren’t most people likely to trust someone who seems to agree with them? Probably, but people differ enormously in gullibility. Low RWAs are downright suspicious of someone who agrees with them when they can see ulterior motives might be at work. They pay attention to the circumstances in which the other fellow is operating. But authoritarians do not, when they like the message.
…the authoritarian follower makes himself vulnerable to malevolent manipulation by chucking out critical thinking and prudence 92 as the price for maintaining his beliefs. He’s an “easy mark,” custom-built to be snookered….
The birthers have a willingness to continue to believe Mike Zullo even though he is obviously stringing them along.
Dogmatism: The Authoritarian’s Last Ditch Defense
It’s easy to see why authoritarian followers would be dogmatic, isn’t it? When you haven’t figured out your beliefs, but instead absorbed them from other people, you’re really in no position to defend them from attack. Simply put, you don’t know why the things you believe are true. Somebody else decided they were, and you’re taking their word for it. So what do you do when challenged?
Well first of all you avoid challenges by sticking with your own kind as much as possible, because they’re hardly likely to ask pointed questions about your beliefs. But if you meet someone who does, you’ll probably defend your ideas as best you can, parrying thrusts with whatever answers your authorities have pre-loaded into your head. If these defenses crumble, you may go back to the trusted sources. They probably don’t have to give you a convincing refutation of the anxiety-producing argument that breached your defenses, just the assurance that you nonetheless are right. But if the arguments against you become overwhelming and persistent, you either concede the point–which may put the whole lot at risk–or you simply insist you are right and walk away, clutching your beliefs more tightly than ever.
I found debating on Birther Report that many birthers don’t have a clue what they believe, and when confronted with iron-clad evidence that they are wrong, then retreat to a more general position, like Obama is the worst president ever.
The Chapter 3 characteristics are not the only things I found that might link birthers to high RWA’s. One other is:
Authoritarian followers score highly on the Dangerous World scale…. High RWAs are, in general, more afraid than most people are.
I can’t say how afraid birthers are in general. Conspiracy theorists in general seem to think that the world is dangerous and that it is being manipulated by sinister forces. At least some of the denizens of Birther Report have adopted the idea that various government plots are directed at them, and their guns. Jade Helm 15 conspiracies bear that out.
What is really needed to decide the question is to administer the RWA test to a number of birthers and see how they score.