Monday, May 20, 2013

Altemeyer is still fundamentally confused

At least since 1950, Leftist psychologists have been fascinated by the concept of authoritarianism.  They have good reason to be.  The most authoritarian regimes in recent history have been socialist:  From the Communist Lenin, Stalin and Mao, through the national socialist Hitler to the ghastly Pol Pot.  So authoritarianism is in the bones of Leftists. We also see that orientation in their virtually universal refusal to condemn the gran lider of Cuba ("Great Leader", Fidel Castro) and their unrelenting attempts to fasten the bonds of regulation around  most aspects of life in the USA. And they are always eager to spend your money for you whether you want them to or not.

But authoritarianism is repugnant to most people gripped by it so the Left have a need to deny the authoritarianism which is innate to them.  They need to pretend to be something else.  And they are rather good at that. They pretend to be do-gooders even though most of what they do turns out badly.

Another very useful way of deflecting criticism is simply denial.  If you say often enough that you are not authoritarian, people might believe you.  And a very effective way of reinforcing such denials is of accusing your opponents of what is really true of yourself.  Freud called that "projection".  So Leftist psychologists have made great efforts to prove that conservatives are the authoritarian ones, not themselves.

That merry little scheme started with the work of Marxist theoretician Adorno in 1950 but foundered eventually on the poor evidence for the various Adorno assertions.  I cover that here.

The Adorno work was however refurbished from 1981 on by Robert Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba in Canada and I have pointed out from early on how sloppy Altemeyer's work is (e.g. here and here and here) .

Altemeyer has however continued to write books on authoritarianism and has gained a certain degree of notice outside academe,  particularly through the blog of Jonathan Turley.  Not much about Altemeyer's story has changed over the years but maybe there is by now a case for me to update a little my comments on his work.

Altemeyer has compiled a set of statements (the RWA scale) which in his view reflect "Right Wing Authoritarianism".  But he is very shifty about what he means by "right-wing".  Sometimes he refers to it as meaning conservative and at other times he admits that it is uncorrelated with vote for conservative political parties.

In other words his research is about conservatives who are as likely to vote Democrat as Republican!  A truly odd bunch!  The truth, I suspect, is that Altemeyer would not know a conservative if he fell over one. I have  no doubt that the Psychology Dept. at the University of Manitoba is the standard Leftist bubble that one expects of such Depts so strange beliefs about conservatives and much else could flourish in that environment.

So what the RWA scale really measures is anybody's guess.  I see it as measuring an old fashioned form of extreme conservatism that no longer has political relevance or, indeed, any relevance at all.  So the political relevance of Altemeyer's various research findings exists only in Altemeyer's imagination and need detain nobody for any time at all.

But if Altemeyer is vague about "right wing", he is quite clearly wrong about authoritarianism.  He makes it clear that it is not dictators he is talking about but rather their followers.  He claims that he is measuring a tendency for people to submit to authority.  But there is no such thing.  Nobody just respects authority per se.  Different people respect different authorities.  Altemeyer is convinced that conservatives in the USA are characterized by a respect for conventional authority.  Yet most American conservatives these days almost spit when they talk about the President, Congress and the Supreme Court.  Not much respect for the conventional authorities of America there!

And even the old mainline churches get short shrift among conservatives.  Conservatives tend to respect "rebel" evangelical churches, churches with a strong streak of independence.

Altemeyer has some awareness of the political  irreverence of American conservatives so to save his theory he nominates Rush Limbaugh and his ilk as authorities that conservatives respect.  But Limbaugh is no authority at all.  He is just a radio commentator!  People listen to him because they agree with him, not for any other reason.  In Altemeyer's world, agreeing with anybody is dangerous!

And it is not only in conservative politics that one finds an absence of a general tendency to respect authority.  I set out here some evidence from psychological research which shows that respect for authority in one field does not generalize to respect for authority in other fields.  That being so, Altemeyer is studying a unicorn (or perhaps more specifically, a chimera).

So wherever you look at Altemeyer's theories you find that he is not studying what he thinks he is studying.  He is studying something that exists only in his own imagination.

But a relatively recent work of his really puts the cap on his intellectual confusion.  He has written an extensive history and analysis of the Tea Party movement.  And he does get one thing right.  He notes that a lot of the Tea Partiers are evangelical Christians.

Even Altemeyer cannot avoid noticing however that Libertarians are prominent in the Tea Party movement too. So are Libertarians authoritarian? Good old Altemeyer sticks to his guns and says they are. He calls libertarians "The Other Authoritarian Personality". That people who comprehensively reject authoritative control over our lives are also submissive to authority must be one of the most crosseyed assertions in contemporary politics. Black might as well be white. Again Altemeyer is living in a little world of his own imagination.

Altemeyer also likes the "Social Dominance Orientation" theory of Pratto and Sidanius but I have pointed out the large holes in that some time ago.

Finally, the whole idea that you need to be a particular personality type to support an authoritarian regime is contrary to the evidence. Well-known experiments by both Milgram and Zimbardo showed vividly  that perfectly ordinary people can be conned into supporting extremely authoritarian actions and prewar writers such as Roberts and Heiden agree that by the late 30's Hitler was quite simply the most popular man in Germany. They LIKED his claim that they were a Herrenvolk (Master race)! His support ranged from the intelligentsia to the workers and, contrary to the usual Marxist piffle, the hard-core Nazis (the SA) were predominantly working class -- usually the more rebellious element of society.


Oops, maybe government is tyrannical

By Marta H. Mossburg

Less than two weeks ago President Obama stood in front of graduates from The Ohio State University and told them to reject those who warn of government tyranny.

“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems,” he said.

To young, idealistic people his words likely sounded insightful — until last week. That’s when it became officially impossible to deny that the government abuses its power for political gain.

Practically overnight people labeled conspiracy theorists by the elite were proven prescient interpreters of how big government operates when news broke last Friday that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny in their tax-exempt applications. The media pile on against the administration is so ferocious Fox News could run live feeds from its competitors without losing a beat.

It should be so because the partisan treatment of hundreds of groups is stunning.

Ginny Rapini saw the IRS in action firsthand. The volunteer coordinator for the NorCal Tea Party applied for 501(c)(4) status for her group in July 2009. In the spring of 2010 the IRS asked for more information. She sent in the information immediately but didn’t hear from the IRS again until January 2012, she said. At that point the agency sent the group a list of 19 questions, including a request for the names of donors, every email the group sent and minutes of each board meeting, with the requirement that everything be returned within two weeks or the agency would consider the application void, she said. She sent the IRS 3,000 pages of information prior to the deadline — but did not include the names of donors. “I think they wanted to intimidate me, but instead they made me mad,” said Rapini.

After Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) spoke about NorCal’s problems with the IRS on the floor of the House and wrote to the agency, she got a favorable response to her application in the summer of 2012 — three years after the initial request, not unlike many other organizations treated to years of silence in between harassing questions.

What makes the IRS’s actions even worse is that top officials knew about the inappropriate questioning of conservative groups since 2011 but didn’t say anything about it to Congress. Steven Miller, the acting IRS commissioner, was fired earlier this week, and should be the first of a long line of people held accountable for the agency’s flagrant mistreatment of political opponents by one of the most powerful government agencies.

On top of the IRS scandal, the Department of Justice (DOJ) last week admitted to secretly taking records of incoming and outgoing calls on work and personal phones of Associated Press (AP) reporters, its main lines in New York, Washington and Hartford, CT., and for the AP number in the House of Representatives. It took records on more than 20 lines in total in April and May of 2012 — lines used by more than 100 journalists.

Asked by National Public Radio how many other news media phone records the DOJ had taken Attorney General Eric Holder said, “I’m not sure how many of those cases…I have actually signed off on…I take them very seriously.”

So, confidential sources are not confidential if the government wants to know who they are. Whistleblowers beware.

That all of this is happening as the IRS is in the middle of hiring potentially thousands of new employees to write and enforce ObamaCare regulations should make everyone afraid. It is also happening while the IRS is in the middle of creating a giant information center with other federal agencies called the Data Services Hub to assist with rolling out ObamaCare (See here) that will provide one stop shopping on everything but what color underwear someone is wearing for the day.

The government promises, “Protecting the privacy of individuals remains the highest priority.” But after the last week, Americans should know there is no guarantee of personal privacy with the government or impartiality in how their information is used. It should also put Americans on notice that their political party could determine the quality of their health care. Welcome to the real world, Ohio State graduates.



Fight the Power

Mona Charen

It's plausible to grant that Obama himself did not know that IRS agents were targeting tea party groups, Jews and other -- one almost wants to write "enemies of the state" -- for audits, harassment and delay. If Obama understood the conservative critique of big government even a little, he would know that his lack of knowledge is expected. In fact, it's part of the problem. As David Axelrod put it, the government is just "too vast" for the president to control. Who would have thought?

Obviously the government has always been too large for any one person to control. But our brilliant founders arranged matters so that power would be diffuse. Interest would counter interest, branch would check branch and transparency would ensure accountability to the voters. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51:

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?

The tea party movement -- those the IRS harassed -- dressed up as Founders, a rich irony. A good progressive, Obama finds Adams, Jefferson and Co. passe. He doesn't recognize the capacity of government to abuse power when in the proper (i.e. Democratic) hands -- or, more likely, doesn't care. His arrogance about his own good intentions for the "middle class" -- odd that he almost never speaks of the poor -- makes him contemptuous of those who agree with Madison that government power must always be carefully constrained.

You needn't believe that Barack Obama personally texted IRS agents and instructed them to harass conservatives to know that he disdains the constitutional order. The evidence is in the legislation he signed. Both the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank create boards with utterly (in the case of Dodd Frank) and nearly (in the case of Obamacare) unreviewable power. Both are the subjects of lawsuits challenging their constitutionality.

Dodd Frank (aka "Dodd Frankenstein") creates at least two panels that are insulated from Congress's power of the purse. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Financial Stability Oversight Council derive their funding directly from the Federal Reserve. The president can appoint the director of the CFPB but can remove him only in very limited circumstances. The courts, which can normally overturn agency actions deemed "arbitrary or capricious," have limited review. The president highlighted his contempt for law by illegally naming the current director of CFPB as a "recess appointment" - when the Senate was not in recess.

The FSOC can declare firms "too big to fail" and thus obligate taxpayers for bailouts. The courts will have no say.

Under Obamacare, the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) is exempted from the notice and comment rules of federal agencies. IPAB dictates automatically become law unless Congress itself intervenes, but Congress has little time to do so and must vote by a three-fifths majority to modify an IPAB decision. The courts are not permitted to review its rulings.

Even abolishing IPAB has been made virtually impossible by the law.

At his Thursday press conference, Obama promised that if "there's a problem in government, we'll fix it." But his overweening signature legislation guarantees that power will be abused. Shielding government agencies from judicial and congressional review is an open invitation to the kind of misuse a wiser person would guard against. Wiser men did. They created our constitution, which Obama and his progressive allies flout.



Still one of the funniest photos of all time

Vice-President Biden and a very startled official


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