Fear and Authority

Bob Altemeyer’s excellent (free!) book The Auhtoritarians goes into a fair bit of detail about how the Right Wing Authoritarian (RWA) mindset works,  and how it happens. It’s a great book you should go read. 

The RWA followers are ruled by fear of a world that is changing out from under them. To deal with that fear,  they turn to authority figures to protect them,  and cling to rules and authority.  The Just World Fallacy tells them that bad things only happen to bad people,  and good things happen to good people.  So the authorities must be good and trustworthy,  because they have power,  and the poor and oppressed must be bad,  because they’re having a tough time of it. Fear and faith in authority create a group of people that do a lot of worrying things. 

My uncomfortable realization about myself is that the things keeping me from the ranks of RWA Followers is not my courage.  I’m terrified of the world and all its awfulness. What I lack is any faith that authority can be trusted. I’m equally,  if not more,  afraid of authority figures,  who in any case have more power to inflict harm on me.  

If we posit a two-axis grid of fear and trust,  I think one ends up with an interesting map of political groups.  It makes some sense,  for example,  for the anti-science left,  who distrust the authorities and are afraid of what the world is doing to human health (Vaccines!  Chemicals!) vs.  the anti-science right (climate change denial,  young Earth creationism) ,  who are also scared but back the rich and powerful. What you’re afraid of matters. 

The right wing side thinks the powerful can save us,  if we’ll just submit enough, while the fearful cowards like me on the left think the powerful are just something else to be afraid of. 

The crossover in traits,  for myself,  is a deep devotion to rules. Not,  in my case,  rules imposed by an authority,  but in observed rules. I look at the world an try to come up with rules to avoid danger. Don’t put your finger in the electrical socket.  Don’t piss off someone with the power to hurt you. Don’t startle predators. Find out what upsets the most dangerous people around you,  and don’t do any of those things. 

It’s not that breaking the rules will mean that you deserve what comes after,  but it will come anyway. The alternative is that bad things happen without any reason whatsoever,  and there’s nothing to be done about it. And that’s even scarier. 

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