W hen I saw this post on Twitter, I really resonated with it. The answer to her implied question is rooted in a couple of issues that have been addressed on Ye Olde Blogge: groupthink and the authoritarian personality.
If you search for groupthink on the blog, you come up with thirty wonderful posts all explaining and referencing groupthink in some way, shape, or form. Thirty! Groupthink or Group Cluster… Explaining the Modern GOP is one of the best because it goes through an in depth explanation of groupthink. I just re-read it (and corrected typos and a few awkward phrasings), and it is really really good.
For those of us who are in too much of a hurry to actually go read it, let me summarize it for you. In 1982, Irving Janis published his first works describing groupthink as a way groups consider problems as options once they become extremely tight knit. He outlined eight symptoms (from What is Groupthink?):
- Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
- Illusion of invulnerability –Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
- Collective rationalization – Members discount warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
- Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
- Stereotyped views of out-groups – Negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary.
- Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
- Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.
- Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.
Because group members are reluctant to challenge the accepted group views by voicing dissent, the group tends to rock along making really bad decisions until they make a fatal decision. The classic example is Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs fiasco, but the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution could be one, too.
Go through the list and see what is applicable to recent decisions by the Congressional Repubes, the Christian conservatives in general, and the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s gang. With the exits of Mattis and Kelly, there isn’t a lot of hope for a dissenting voice in the White House.
But, we don’t even need groupthink to make shitty decisions, all we need to do is get together and try to make a decision as a group. Yes, that’s right, groups tend to make more extreme decisions than individuals do. So if you ask a bunch of individuals whether it is okay to separate parents and children without a plan on getting them back together again and to store those children in cages until you can quietly sell them into whatever slave trade you initially had in mind, you get a rather reasonable, fuck’s wrong with you? response unless you’re Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, and then you just pop a boner and stuff your hands in your pockets and scuff your feet about refusing to make eye contact. But, if you put people into a group and ask them how we can make coming to the US so wildly painful that no one will want to do it — tourism in the States is down, so you tired of winning yet? — then you get the New Cruelty plan outlined above.
Ye Olde Blogge has addressed authoritarian personality no less than eleven times. Two posts are particularly relevant here. First is the post outlining authoritarianism, The Authoritarian Threat to our Democracy Illustrated by the Week’s News, and in #Resisting Authoritarianism — Updated, I outline the tenants of an authoritarian personality. Both are great snarky, sarcasticky, profaney reads from an earlier simpler saner time in the reign of the New Cruelty.
We all have a good solid vernacular understanding of authoritarianism: it’s the tendency to be completely obedient to a head honcho, ese, boss, commander, official, you get the idea. Theodor Adorno put together a list of authoritarian characteristics back in the 1950’s:
- Aggression towards those who violate conventional thinking or who are different
- A professed belief that all people are bad and will lie, cheat, and steal in the right circumstances
- A love of strong leadership and displays of unbending power
- Using simplistic solutions and polemics to address problems
- Black and white thinking, an inability to see gray areas
- Projecting feelings of rage, fear, and inadequacy onto a specific group
- Being preoccupied with violence and sex
- Willingness to submit to an authority
- Conventional morality
And if that don’t sound like the Ol’ Pussy Grabber and his thug-base, I don’t know what does. Like many psychologists in the post-war era, Adorno et al. were trying to figure out just how the fuck Nazi Germany and fascism happened so that we might could just maybe avoid an encore of that fucked up shit. Looks like we may have failed.
So, now we have all of the component parts to weave together to form an answer Khashoggi’s Ghost’s question, Are there that many truly evil, selfish authoritarian people in America? The answer is a deeply satisfying yes and no.
I think about a third of Americans have authoritarian personalities and are drawn like moths to a flame to assholes like the Ol’ Pussy Grabber. They just love them some simplistic solutions and polemics to address problems. And what is simpler or more polemical than living under an authoritarian regime? As we used to say in Reagan’s time, it’s easier than thinking.
Unfortunately, there is probably about a third that is eminently swayable. They don’t give shit enough to have an opinion and will just follow the social trend. Today we’re marching for freedom, tomorrow we’re ignoring the stench of six million Jews being cremated. You know, whatev.
But, even then, they would probably not really put a person in an oven if they were asked to make the decision on their own in isolation. But, put an authority over them telling them that the experiment requires that they electrocute the other party sitting just out of sight in another room, and two-thirds of us will giggle and fidget and shrug and do it. Thanks, Milgram.
Put all those authoritarians together (don’t think that the right has the market cornered, by the way. Bernie Bros and other purists are essentially authoritarian personalities with a thin veneer of liberal values smeared over them), and they start making bad choices. And, because they are authoritarians, the mindguards start coming out and cracking the heads of dissidence to the cheers of the others real quick. Anyone who’s dissed Bernie on social media has found themselves at the business end of BernieBro abuse.
So, Khshoggi’s Ghost, no there aren’t really that many truly evil, selfish authoritarian people in America, it’s just when you put them all together and ask them to come up with a policy or two, we come up with some extremely truly evil, selfish, authoritarian shit which is about the same as there being that many of them in America.
People evolved to work in a group. We are at our best in groups, but also we can be pretty fucking dangerous and self-destructive in groups, too.