Karen Stenner’s Authoritarian Dynamic Posts
Peter Turchin’s Ultrasociety & Cooperation Posts
We’ve been on kind of a tear playing with two new-to-us theories and models. First was Karen Stenner’s authoritarian dynamic as reported in her 2005 book of the same name. For deeper explorations of her work see the side bar. And, the second was Peter Turchin’s use of Cultural Evolution, the cultural multilevel selection model, and the Price equation to “prove” that inter-group competition promotes intra-group cooperation, the groups that have higher levels of cooperation and trust will “beat” groups that do not, and cooperation is the only what our huge ultrasociety can succeed as reported in his 2016 book, “Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth.” Also, see the sidebar for posts that delve deeper into the whole background thing.
In this post, the two approaches have an epiphanous car wreck to cement the long developing thesis that our decent into fascism is a feature not a bug in the Republican system of the past fifty years or so.
Effects of Extreme Individualism and Self-Interest
As Turchin notes, during the last 30 or so years in America, we’ve been running a huge social field experiment. From about 1945 to about 1975 when stagnation started, which set the stage for Ronnie Reagan’s ascension to sainthood, we had the most successful years of US politics: clear world leader, banging economy, evolving civil and gender rights, leading in scientific discovery and artistic creativity. We were doing what we always thought we could. We were living the big melting pot, we’re all in this together, the rising tide floats all boats dream, right? Sure there were some riots and assassinations and other signs of discord, but growing pains, know what I mean? But, we were achieving a more perfect union of all people being created equal. That’s the deal in broad strokes. Quibble with the thesis in the comments, okay?
Reagan and the Big Philandering Newt ushered in a new paradigm so we could compare the results with the old one. They brought a focus on extreme individualism and self-interest. That’s what they built the society around. Reagan broke the air traffic controllers union, cut student financial aide. bankrupted the country so we’d have to cut the social safety net; Newtie extolled the virtues of negatively framing Democratic opponents. Then, we got Karl Rove’s idea of turning strengths into weaknesses by lying your ass off, even if it meant destroying legitimate war heroes like Max Cleland, right Rick Wilson?
By promoting the win-at-all-costs strategy and emphasizing individualism and party loyalty over all other values, we started losing our ability to compromise as a large society. The underpinnings of trust and altruism that are necessary for the cooperation that an ultrasociety needs to function are fragile, easily broken, and difficult to repair. Once the glue of social cooperation and mutual trust has cracked and broken, social dysfunction occurs as evidenced by political instability and internal conflict.
Turchin and Sergey Nefedov studied eight examples of countries, societies, empires, or kingdoms that experienced such instability and published their findings in Secular Cycles. In each, internal conflict and declining levels of cooperation heralded social collapse. One of the phenomena that he sites in Ultrasociety is that as wealth and privilege build and income inequality widens, the elites become less interested in cooperating for the good of all and begin competing for greater individual gain.
Discontent Sets Off the Inner Authoritarian
When the elites begin to fragment, we see greater levels of discord in the country. It has a profound effect, because it activates the inner authoritarians of all those fragile snowflakes living amongst us. Yes, we are back to Karen Stenner’s authoritarian dynamic.
The authoritarian dynamic is her universal theory of the root causes of intolerance. Whether that is intolerance of ethnic differences as in racism, political intolerance as in the communist, socialist, fascist liberals hate us for our freedoms, or moral intolerance, the hate the sin, punish the sinner approach so popular among the religious right. This intolerance occurs when two conditions are met: (a) an innate disposition towards intolerance and (b) normative threat, when the world seems to be a chaotic mess of discord and conflict.
The Republican Tax Cut and Economic Collapse Cycle
As Republicans promoted individualism and individual gain, the pull yourself up by your bootstraps and then use those boots to kick those who can’t and passed as much of the money created by the hard work of the non-rich to the one percent as quickly as they could approach, the one percent started cooperating less and less with the rest of us and the government.
It used to be the fastest way to give the rich exponentially more money was to wreck the economy with incredible tax cuts for the wealthy job-creators, let a Democrat get elected president to fix the debacle, and then start all over again. This cycle led to the burgeoning income inequality today.
The Republican Dysfunctional Government Strategy
Republicans in office, particularly the Congress, started to actively obstruct and oppose anything that Democrats wanted to do whether they were in the majority or minority, whether they held the presidency or not. The Republicans did so that government would fail to provide for our citizens.
In diverse and complex multicultural societies, the things that make us an “us” – that make us one and the same – are common authority and shared values. Having institutions and leaders we respect and revere, and consensus on core beliefs and values is a large part of how we all understand “us”, and derive a sense of identity, meaning and belonging. For the “groupiest” among us, this is an even more important part of understanding oneself, making sense of the world, and feeling safe and valued within it.Karen Stenner in Magazine: Essay – Authoritarianism
So, what happens when institutions and leaders are no longer deserving of our respect because they no longer uphold the values that make authoritarians fell like “us?” What happens when the percentage of white people living in your county perceptibly declines and more PoC are living in YOUR neighborhood? What happens when you can’t be absolutely certain that the person in the stall next to yours producing the ungodly stench doesn’t have genitals that match yours?
Well for most of us, as Stenner has found in her research, we become more inclusive, tolerant, and lenient.
As leaders fail, democracy disappoints, and compatriots test our bonds, non-authoritarians grow less attracted to populist candidates and causes, just like they become more racially inclusive, more politically tolerant, more morally lenient, less harsh and punitive… in general, less eager to use collective authority to control other people’s behaviour.Karen Stenner in Magazine: Essay – Authoritarianism
For the asshole snowflakes as we’ve described them in posts past, they become more intolerant, racist, misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic, and all too happy to use government and violence to control other people’s behavior.
The Other Psychological Effects of Constant Stress
You know what else all of this long-term stress of living through such discord and strife produces, mass psychosis.
You know what else all of these authoritarians getting together to blow each other’s fragile facades up produces, groupthink.
When all of this started coming together over the past month or so, I literally felt a bit sick. If it hasn’t been clear that Republicans have charted a three to five decade-long course to get us to this point where our democracy is imperil, it should be now. While we are living through a perfect storm of psychotic masses of MAGAs willing to believe any lie that the Republican elites choose to throw at them, the immoral and disastrous decisions that get made when you don’t consider alternatives, the violence that ensues when you believe to your soul that you have to wrest your country from the heathen hordes that mean to do you and your kind in, we have to come to recognize that it is not an accident. It has been deliberately constructed.
And, yet there is hope. The hope that is born of the realization that cooperation will best conflict. That the authoritarian inner beast can be lulled back into its hibernation. That the non-authoritarians outnumber, and frankly, can outsmart the authoritarians. That the seeds of their own destruction have already been sown and they will not be able to outlast us. We have hope yet.
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