Left Foot, Right Foot, Left Foot, Right Foot (or – Walking not Hopping)
May 9, 2008
In New Scientist 2641 published in February this year I read an article which suggested that whether we are right-wing or left-wing, like so many other things, may well be decided by our genes and not by choice. John Alford, a political scientist hailing from Houston in Texas posits that our political views are deep seated and built into our brains. According to Alford it would be quite as useless trying to turn a right-winger left-wing as it would be offering a Caucasian a pamphlet urging her to consider the virtues of being Asian.
Of course there is no gene which tells people to favour tax cuts for the super-rich, but Alford believes there is sufficient evidence to say that key personality traits are genetic, and that these personality traits will have a large role to play in which political ideals appeal to us and which repulse us. He focuses, for example, on the fact that identical twins brought up together are shown through tests to be far more likely to share personality traits and political views than non-identical twins who were also brought up together. Regardless of whether or not he is right about personality traits being genetic, most would agree that we have little conscious choice over our personality, even if we opt for the nurture rather than nature solution.
It won’t surprise many readers to find that in the mentioned studies high levels of dogmatism were an indicator of a likely right-winger, although far more interesting is that those who featured high levels of fear, especially mortal fear, also tended to turn out to be right-wing.
This links in very nicely with an excellent free online book I have just finished called “The Authoritarians” by Bob Altemeyer (essential reading – http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/). Altemeyer’s focus when it comes to explaining the cause of personality type is on upbringing, but they both agree that heightened levels of fear are a key factor. For Altemeyer it is put upon them by controlling or over-protective parents and religion, and for Alford wrapped around a double helix, but both agree that to be right wing is to be afraid, to be very afraid.
In the first chapter of the book Altemeyer writes:
We shall probably always have individuals lurking among us who yearn to play tyrant. Some of them will be dumber than two bags of broken hammers, and some will be very bright. Many will start so far down in society that they have little chance of amassing power; others will have easy access to money and influence all their lives. On the national scene some will be frustrated by prosperity, internal tranquillity, and international peace–all of which significantly dim the prospects for a demagogue -in-waiting. Others will benefit from historical crises that automatically drop increased power into a leader’s lap. But ultimately, in a democracy, a wannabe tyrant is just a comical figure on a soapbox unless a huge wave of supporters lifts him to high office.
So if the tyrant is a pathetic figure until a wave carries him to power, shouldn’t we worry more about the wave itself, than the tyrant? This is Altemeyer’s focus; he exposes and analyses the Right Wing Authoritarian Follower (high-RWA). The high-RWA is essentially an inert but potentially dangerous segment of society which favours above all other things to conform and for everyone else to conform to what they conform to; to oppose any changes to what they are used to; to stay within their safe in-groups (often ethnic and/or religious); and to submit to authorities who know best and can protect them. This, so asserts Altemeyer, is driven by a fear instilled at an early age that the world is dangerous and on a slippery slope downwards; that they must be wary of all those who wish to harm and corrupt them, obey laws and stay clean in a dirty world.
But high-RWAs are by themselves not malevolent; they do not form their own ideas, but are given them by Authorities. In the studies (taken out mostly in super-religious America) the chief source of views is Religious Authority, but the biggest dangers are when those ideas are fed by individuals who by rare personality type are Authoritarians (or Social Dominators) – particularly when they happen to be politicians who have an agenda to pursue.
A geopolitics simulation game is described which was played several times. In one case the players entirely consist of low-RWAs (anti-authoritarians – which I am happy to say that according to a test at the beginning of the book I am an extreme version of) and the world deals very well with its problems. No wars are started, an environmental crisis is averted through international cooperation, death rates through poverty are kept low; all in all a model of a well run world. Later he tries one with just high-RWAs, and almost nothing happens. No wars are started but no problems are dealt with. The environmental crisis looms and is not dealt with, taking a massive death toll. Poverty soars and deaths increase while the different states fail to communicate with each other and the world slowly chokes. But throw in seven Authoritarians, a couple into each ‘nation’ in the otherwise high-RWA filled game, and fire works go off. The Authoritarians instantly take the role of leaders and the stage quickly becomes violent. The environmental crisis is acknowledged and ignored and the millions still die, poverty is still ignored but through heartlessness rather than indecision and wars flash across the world continually. Just before the game ends, the nations are on the brink of all out global nuclear holocaust. The high-RWAs, who without leadership are bumbling and indecisive, suddenly become willing servants and hard working foot soldiers of the Authoritarians. For the most part they whole-heartedly agree with the direction they are being led and it seems they simply want to be led; to have their decisions taken care of by a strong and mighty leader. The various tests throughout the book show how painfully easily the high-RWA will happily march behind their leader into some of the most appallingly amoral dead-ends. And under every circumstance they believe they are not just moral in doing so, but that they are the only truly moral people in the world.
The above example is simplified, but not exaggerated, please read the book yourself and see how test after test after test bears out this result. There is much more complexity described than I have detailed here. The chapters on the two types of Authoritarians (especially the Double Highs) are downright chilling, although I won’t detail that here as I doubt any of my readers need a detailed explanation of what a rotten bastard is.
The high-RWA is essentially the right-winger and of course it is nothing new for left-wingers to berate right-wingers and vice versa, therefore the reader might suspect I’m just using a book about a series of tests and studies to take another in a long series of digs which has been going back and forth between left and right for centuries. But no, that’s not my intention here. My intention is to point out that left-wingers need to break out of the meme that if we hammer our message hard enough and long enough the right wingers will “come around”. More importantly we need to recognise that we should stop seeing our political opposites as enemies as they are not inherently bad, only capable of doing bad things when deliberately led to do so by Authoritarians. Whether through genetics or through upbringing those people who will blindly follow Authoritarians are all around us. If they are this way through upbringing our only chance to change this is through the long-shot of a future society where no one is brought up instilled with deep fear of the world. If you go along with the more depressing genetic view, they always will be there full stop. Either way, they are here now so let’s stop pretending they aren’t. Socialist groups in the UK can meet in halls and discuss how good the world will be when “the revolution comes” but that bus stopped running years ago, and its getting cold and lonely at the bus stop. “But we’re right!” the irritated socialist might scream, but it doesn’t matter, because a chunk of the population will be terrified of the change you propose and there will be Authoritarians adept at using that fear to their nefarious ends. What we need is for a direction which welcomes the traits of both low-RWAs and high-RWA, uses the best traits of both to defeat the agenda of the Authoritarians, who of course are laughable figures without followers.
High-RWAs, or right-wingers, are not ‘the baddies’ and they are not without positive traits either. In the aforementioned New Scientist article the dominant traits of left and right wingers are laid out: Left-wingers are more open to change, and see unfamiliar events as opportunities rather than problems, they are more extroverted and communicate well with people from different backgrounds. The right-wingers lack these traits but are far more focussed on conscientiousness than left-wingers – they are organised, self disciplined, responsible, motivated and good at performing tasks with enthusiasm. How many members of left-wing groups would love to see a little more of that at play in their dynamic? How well could society run without it? If it is true they are mobilised by fear, surely all that is wrong with this picture is that they are afraid of the wrong things and the wrong people?
There is nothing scarier than an Authoritarian when the curtain is drawn back and their true agenda is revealed. The Authoritarian tells the right-winger exactly what they want to hear, in the US focussing mainly on the Religious Right’s fear that their religion is losing grip on society, in the UK focussing more on the fear of immigration, in both and in every other Western country the fear of terrorism has outstripped all other contenders as the Authoritarians favoured tool of fear. The right-winger hates change, but doesn’t realise the Authoritarian has plans for radical, dangerous, and most importantly SCARY change – all that is between the right-winger running for the hills away from the clutches of the Authoritarian is INFORMATION. That’s all. The Truth Will Set Them Free. Right-wingers may fear change almost as much as they fear death, but if they were to realise the entire system of authority they have been subservient to has planned an agenda of awful and permanent change for the world they will certainly be ready to work with all of their admirable discipline against them.
So the challenge then is to counter the propaganda put out by the Authoritarians (who will of course always strive to make the people as afraid as possible) with solid and verifiable information which will show right-wingers their fear is directed at the wrong target? Yes, but it doesn’t stop there. You see, according to Altemeyer, while the personality type you were instilled with through your development cannot be wiped clean and re-set, it is not set in stone either. High-RWAs through experience can become less extreme, but ominously all of us, at least temporarily, can flip to the high-RWA type, because the high-RWA is essentially a deep sense of fear. Authoritarians will always be able to rely on the segment of society that is high-RWA by upbringing to be as malleable as clay, but with the right prompting they can turn an entire society high-RWA (at least temporarily) over night. Just scare the shit out of them. Altemeyer writes:
People can end up with extreme scores on the RWA scale in other ways. Cataclysmic events, for example, can undo everything you have learned before
Has there been a cataclysmic event recently? A Catalysing, cataclysmic event like a New Pearl Harbour perhaps?
The effect 9/11 has had on Western society is to send the majority of society temporarily off the RWA scale and submit completely to madness. The stakes are as big as they could possibly be; at this time information is of paramount importance for all of us from every political persuasion. The main stream media, the source of information most relied on by the majority, is nothing but the Authoritarian’s mouth piece; the sheepdog of those dark shepards who seek to herd us back between our fearful little fences. And now, when so many people are starting to awaken blinking from that spell and the Authoritarians must surely be planning the next big scare to send them back into their nightmare, it is the responsibility of everyone in possession of the truth to spread it far and wide. Ignorance in the wrong hands will be the death of all we value most.
The charge thrown near continuously at 9/11Truth from left-wing and socialist groups is that it is a distraction from ‘genuine’ left-wing activism which would ‘really change the world’. Well the evidence, both in the fact that partisan protest has changed nothing in the past, and in the conclusions of these psychological and genetic studies, is that it is a welcome distraction. Left-wing groups, like right-wing groups, will never succeed in changing society because they both act only to amass huddles of the members of just one half of the political spectrum together and deepen the divide between the two leaving the door open for the Authoritarian to swoop.
The left-wing sees the right-wing as their enemy as so huddles, feeding into the right wing’s favoured meme of safe in-groups and scary out-groups. The right-wing turn to the Authoritarians for protection and the left-wing are marginalised and with few options but to walk up and down with placards. But as long as those placards espouse opinion and not information they will never act to unite the poles, only push them further apart. The marginalisation is completed by the fact that great effort has gone into distracting the majority from political thinking altogether through mass entertainment and celebrity replacing real news.
Divide and conquer.
The stakes are too high and the ramifications of inaction too great for us to continue playing into their hands like this. The political divides must become a thing of the past and INFORMATION and not opinion must become the focus of activism. We need to expose an Authoritarian lie big enough to wake the right-wingers up to the danger posed to their way of life by the very people they are following. And we have one. And it is working.
9/11 Truth does not espouse political views or solutions; it has no proposed society it wishes to usher in. Already among its ranks sit people of every political persuasion, every age, every race and religion and background. How could so many diverse people be united? Because it is simply about information – simply about the truth – and the truth is universally revered.
After years, decades and centuries of this divide, so convenient as it has been to the Authoritarians, something has come along that has brought us together under a single banner as a world wide movement of every demographic. What we have here is very special and it works because everyone, even the apolitical, cares about the truth when they feel it affects them. There have been big lies and crimes of governments before and continue to be, those who care about politics know them well but to most people such issues are just boring. For someone who cares about politics that might make you angry (believe me I’ve been there and visit back often) but let’s be pragmatic, anger is not a solution. Even those people who think the news is ‘Heat Magazine’ and important issues are the next pair of shoes, or the next episode of their favourite soap opera, still believe they know what happened on 9/11. They feel it has changed their lives, they have noticed the climate is changing fast and they will stand up and be counted when they realise they have been lied to on such a massive scale and why. This is not rhetoric – I have seen it. And when the truth is known world-wide we will finally have our chance to start anew, together, in a world where the two political types work together and not endlessly bicker and fight.
The world needs the creativity, vision, compassion and openness of left-wingers but the world also needs the efficiency, conscientiousness and task-orientated focus of the right-wingers. The only danger in right-wingers is how easily they are led by Authoritarians. If through information we expose the Authoritarians for what they are the right-wingers will no longer turn to them to deliver them from fear, they will rightly fear them and work with us to send them back, mouths foaming and fists clenched, to the top of the soap boxes on the street corners where they came from. And then (and perhaps this is an optimistic fantasy too far but hey, it’s my blog, let me fantasise) perhaps the right-wingers will stop being scared for good and there will no longer be such a thing as right-wing or left-wing. We will be one people and reach our potential, united by love. But regardless of whether or not we can erode and eradicate this divide for good, if we are here on this planet today, left and right, we need to find a way to carve a society which seeks to slot the pieces of this human puzzle together. It could be that in our endless political squabbling we have been foolishly fighting to see which is better: the lock or the key.