Authoritarianism Grows While We Fight Over Nothing   1 comment

I’m sure you’ve noticed that Twitter and Facebook and your local newspaper’s comment section is awash with the fear of Donald Trump. You’d think he was a “walker” for the terror he inspires. According to some sources, George Orwell’s 1984 is back on the best-sellers list because apparently some people believe that Trump’s becoming president is a harbinger of a Orwellian dystopia.

I’m reading a book right now called If You Can Keep It, that concerns why Americans have let the principles of liberty, which were the foundation of this nation, erode and how we might assert them again. The introduction references Orwell’s novel extensively so I read it again. I last read it at the start of the Obama administration.

Guess why? I had a sneaky suspicion that we were entering an authoritarian era. I wasn’t wrong about that, though I’ve come to the conclusion that authoritarianism in American politics has been growing for a long time. We’ve seen hints of it in the past, but it’s now becoming obvious to anyone with any sense.

Image result for image of right and left authoritarianismWhat people need to understand is that the election of 2016 gave us a choice between two authoritarian candidates, so there really was no good way to vote. I voted against Hillary because I don’t like to be told how to live my life by someone who has evidenced a strong inability to live her own. I chose also to vote against Donald because his populace message was laced with authoritarian overtones. Neither was a good choice, so I opted for the non-authoritarian candidate who didn’t have a prayer of winning.

I feel good about that choice because I couldn’t see a dime’s worth of difference between Hillary and Donald. They’re the same martinet dressed up in different uniforms.

But what exactly is authoritarianism? I’ve discovered that most people on social media have no idea and it seems to be that if you fight hard against one politician for being an authoritarian, you’d best be sure that your alternative isn’t also an authoritarian.

Authoritarianism is the desire to impose one’s own worldview on others in one’s society through institutionalized coercion.

Authoritarians see punishment as an appropriate response when members of “the group” with which they identify (the United States for the purpose of this discussion, but you could apply this to any number of groups) diverge too far from values that the authoritarian believes are best for society. It doesn’t matter to the authoritarian that the person to be punished has not caused direct harm to another or infringed another’s rights. They have crossed some red-line that must not be crossed.

Now, we all have moral underpinnings that trigger responses in a dictatorial direction. There are things we personally consider unacceptable in society. And we’re free to hold that opinion, which might be quite valid, and to try to influence those around us to adopt that opinion. It is acceptable for churches, for example, to tell a member who is caught up in ongoing immorality that is addressed in the Bible that they may not attend the church until they repent. Social organizations also can impose ethical standards on their members. There’s nothing wrong with imposing ethical and moral standards within a subgroup of society. Authoritarians, however, don’t want to use moral persuasion, education and freedom of non-association. They seek to use the power of the state to coerce those around them to live the way the authoritarian wants. And because they seek to use the power of the state, they would impose that coercion on the entirety of society.

They mean well, usually. They often have good intentions regarding the ends they wish to achieve, but their intentions and the ends don’t make their political methods any less coercive. Think about the non-smoker who wants to ban smoking on the streets. She has good reason for that desire. Smoking isn’t healthy, it makes your clothes stink, and the cloud of noxious gasses around you scents the clothes of passersby, some of whom might be adversely affected by the PM 2.5 particles. She believes her fellow travelers would be better off if cigarettes were simply not available. She puts up posters and stands on a soapbox shouting her message and some people quit smoking, while others at least move their filthy habit away from people who are offended. Yeah, up to this point, she’s on moral and ethical high ground. She crosses the Rubicon, though, when she starts garnering support for an ordinance that punishes smokers for choosing to engage in an unhealthy and stinky habit.

The risk here is that the smokers might perceive this coercion as a threat and construct ways to combat it, including using coercion against those who treat them like lepers. They’re not wrong for defending themselves and their chosen way of life, but of course this leads to competing subgroups trying to control one another through the power of the state.

Many progressives responded to Trump’s election with real shock. They can’t believe it. This isn’t Wisconsin anymore and they never realized their neighbors were so “hate-filled”. This isn’t their America and Trump isn’t their president. They aver on social media that the millions of people who supported Trump’s election are subhuman troglodytes with evil intent who should really be regarded as morally backward aliens by the enlightened, defined as those who voted for Hillary.

If you voted for Gary Johnson, you’re considered delusional, which is another discussion altogether. Some of us prefer to think of ourselves as woke up and aware.

Recognize that the other side — those “troglodytes” — feel exactly the same way about the Hillary supporters who are currently freaking out on social media. From the trog’s perspective, the social warriors on the progressive side are destroying America, spending like there’s no tomorrow, indoctrinating their children in sexually harmful behaviors, and interfering with the troglodytes’ right to make a living and speak his or her mind.

Authoritarianism is latent in almost every human being. We all have a view of how the world “should” work. It is also latent in almost every society. Societies are built on shared values and those values form a framework for how the majority of people in a society believe the world “should” work. But that desire to force others around us to do it our way is usually latent. If the world works as it “should” the majority of the time, we don’t feel like we need to coerce our neighbors into conforming … except on the freeway, but that’s a giant rabbit I think we shouldn’t chase today.

Authoritarianism becomes a significant force in the politics of a society when a psychological disposition to authoritarianism is activated among enough of the people who possess it. Generally, small countries with homogeneous populations don’t have a lot of people who are activated toward authoritarianism simply because they generally agree on stuff and when they don’t, they can fairly easily discuss the matter among themselves. Any large country has a significant minority that score highly for the authoritarian psychological disposition because they hold values that are different from those of the larger society. Again, it’s latent when we’re generally happy with our society and the politics surrounding us and so long as we don’t perceive the majority or another sizeable plurality as trying to coerce us into violating our values. At that point, resistance to authoritarianism blossoms and can grow in authoritarianism itself because one good coercion deserves a counter-coercion.

Political authoritarianism is a preference for infringing on people’s rights to enforce political and social norms. This can come from either the progressive or conservative side.

This preference arises when people begin to perceive that the range of behaviors and views that are tolerated in society is too wide for the society to continue to exist in a form that individuals can identify with. Sociologists call it a “normative threat trigger.”

A normative threat is experienced as moral or cultural alienation from the group with which one identifies. 46.1 percent of American voters voted for Trump while 48.2 percent voted for Hillary. The country is fairly evenly divided along geographic, urban versus rural, and cultural lines.

We all experience ourselves somewhat in terms of the groups with which we identify. Some of us experience this more or less than others. The Amish, known for their anti-authoritarian and inward looking views, are comfortable with their alienation from society. People raised in public schools steeped in a culture that “all men are created equal, endowed … with certain inalienable rights” are generally not comfortable being aliens in the nation they were born in. Authoritarians experience a feeling of alienation from the society with which they identify as a threat to their personal identities, which they seek to protect by supporting authoritarian methods to keep society in their cultural, moral or political comfort zone by using society’s institutions to reduce the influence of members of their society whose views diverge too widely from what they deem to be acceptable norms.

So if Trump voters represent a sort of right-wing authoritarianism that the Left wishes to put an end to, it might behoove the Left to know what normative threat those Trump voters are reacting to.

Of course, we all know what the ignition point was. Hillary Clinton assured enthusiasm by Trump voters when she infamously labeled a broad swath of them as “deplorables”. It was a soundbite to end all soundbites, a one-word put-down that “otherized” regular people. It didn’t just divide us into “deplorable” and presumably “laudable” camps. It represented a denial of our shared identity as Americans. It labeled “Us” (Hillary supporters) as morally superior to “them” (Trump supporters). We now see the results on social media where Hillary supporters advocate for political action that doesn’t take into account the concerns of Trump voters.  They presume that because they won 48.2 percent of the vote, that they should be in charge and everyone who disagrees should just sit down and be quiet, echoing a theme of the Obama administration. What Hillary supporters advocate for threatens Trump supporters even more because Hillary’s comment didn’t create the conditions of normative threat that allowed that comment to trigger self-protection. Those conditions already existed, well fertilized by the Obama administration’s “elections have consequences” … especially for those who “cling to their guns and religion.”

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a solely regional issue. As the election map showed, it’s more of a city versus rural/exurban issue. This shows a deep divide in our culture. Who are the Americans who felt so alienated by what Clinton represents that Donald Trump looked better by comparison?

They’re the Americans the media calls “racists” because they want to know who is coming into the country. They’re the ones who nettle when called a “transphobe” for thinking that a man in a dress is not exactly a woman and we shouldn’t pretend not to notice. They’re the ones called “sexists” because they question the interpretation of data on the wage gap because they know employers wouldn’t voluntarily reduce their profits to hire more expensive male employees when they could get the same work done with less expensive female workers. They’re the ones whose forehead veins pop when they’re called “fascists” because they believe that free speech, even when unkind or a minority view, shouldn’t be met with government force or opposition bullying.

Those “otherizing” labels have been used as weapons for a long time, both by the media and the progressives, and those multiple terms were chrystalized by Clinton’s “deplorable” put down. The otherizaton created the normative threat, which is experienced by those on the receiving end as “My own society is rejecting me, but I represent half the population.” Add to that the examples of oppression and persecution of what used to be ordinary American values and authoritarianism starts to look really attractive.

Authoritarianism in America is a two-way street. Those right-wing authoritarians are reacting to left-wing authoritarianism and they feed off each other.

The loudest part of the Left today like to call themselves “social justice warriors”. These folks overwhelmingly dominate some of the most influential segments of our culture — especially education, but also media and Hollywood – and are every bit as authoritarian as those they oppose.

What a minute! Hit the brakes! How can a group with such different political goals from its opponents use very similar political methods?

The answer is that authoritarianism, like its opposite libertarianism, is less concerned about which political choices a society makes than about how it makes and implements those choices. It’s not a political philosophy so much as it is a political method. Libertarians care less how society chooses to conduct itself as that the choices are made freely by individuals and not by the exercise of force by some against others — in other words, the opposite of authoritarianism.

Similarly, authoritarianism has little moral concern over the ends of the choices made by the community. It is collectivist in nature. It is concerned that no one strays too far from, and so represents too much of a threat to, the norms and mores that are identified with the society.

This is not to say that particular libertarians and authoritarians can’t also have very strong opinions about how people should behave and the society they wish to see. I’m a libertarian and I do indeed have strong opinions on those topics. Libertarianism and authoritarianism can both be held consistently with conservative or progressive views.

Fearing the ascendancy of a strident, socially conservative political grouping that it doesn’t understand and will not tolerate, the cultural Left feels threatened. The threat meets the threshold for an authoritarian response for several reasons:

  • Trump as figurehead fails to share many of the progressive cultural concerns that are of particular importance to the left today. He doesn’t even pretend to respect them.
  • The degree and nature of support he received shocked millions of people who were caught off-guard, heightening the sense of threat and uncertainty.
  • Trump is extremely personally distasteful and unlikeable to many of his opponents, making it nearly impossible for them to relate to the people who voted for him.

With their own authoritarian elements triggered, many progressives follow the same basic political playbook as “the enemy” – but they step it up. Because they’re no longer in power, they feel they’re under threat, and that perceived threat justifies wielding the force of the state and legal institutions to coerce behaviors.

Examples? The claim that someone’s views can make someone else feel “unsafe,” that expressing that opinion or even just holding some opinions is the same as physical violence to a listener who identifies with a designated victimized (and therefore morally privileged) group. This equation between speech and physical action “justifies” an actual violent response, which we see on campuses to prevent speakers with diverse political views from being heard.

If I assert that your speech that I disagree with is actually violence perpetrated on me by you, then I am claiming that I have no control over its effect on me. But, hold up! Self-control is the basis of our humanity. It’s false to assume that rational human beings lack control over how they experience and react to ideas, claims, opinions, and assertions.

I can be mean to you with my words, but I can’t be violent against you with words. This is not like a punch you can’t block. You choose how you react. That’s an individual choice a person makes to mediate between the sensory information that comes in and the feeling you have about it.

Authoritarianism is dangerous, but this form is more extreme and dangerous, because if I can’t control my emotional responses, I am at your mercy. The reason why authoritarianism is attractive as a political method is it plays on our fear of what may happen to us if people aren’t prevented from believing and doing certain things.

I’m personally certain that regardless of what happens in American society, I will choose to be a Christian who is happy in my salvation and in control of myself even as society goes to hell in a hand basket. There are things I would choose not to do that might be required by society and I have resolved to accept the consequences for my choices.  My happiness is entirely within my own hands, even if my outside circumstances are not. Therefore, I don’t find authoritarianism to be particularly attractive.

On the other hand, if I don’t even believe in my ability to control my own experience when someone, maybe even a stranger, holds or expresses a different opinion from me, or sees me differently from how I see myself, then I can’t be anything but an authoritarian. If my happiness and even control over my own emotions is dependent upon others, then the only option I have is to control other people’s behavior.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. (C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock)



One response to “Authoritarianism Grows While We Fight Over Nothing

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Well said. We need to be reading what’s behind the news we get and offer a deeper analysis when minor and major decisions need to be made. As I recently heard, “Freedom is not free.” We need to guard it and be willing to fight to protect it.

    Liked by 1 person

What's Your Opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Joanne's Bargains

Bargains From Around The Web

Gospel Word Gardening in the Age of Decay

Jodie's Sewing Studio

Sewing Should be Fun

Webinar Starter Blueprint

The place to learn about doing webinars

Professor Eric Dent's Blog

A Scholar's View of the World

The Author Lab

A writing collective

The BookNook UK

You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book - Dr. Seuss

Unlearning Economics

Musings on the Current State of Economics

Christian Creative Nexus

Pursuing Our Creative Call Together


die welt aus der sicht eines einsiedlers

Becoming Christians

Every Christian's Journey Toward Eternity...

Ronel the Mythmaker

Life as a South African writer.


Horrors & Headaches. Macabre & Migraines. Sci-fi & Stressors. Phenomenal Realism & Phobic Relapse.

Author Carol Browne

Writer of speculative fiction and non-fiction

Upward Bound

Exploring the invisible and visible realms of God through writing & pictures

Angie Sim

"tonight we honor the hero"

Written In Shadows

Welcome to Valcrest

%d bloggers like this: