Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Returning to the Study, Groups and Group-Think

Since it has been so long, sorry, since the previous posts (see Posts April 19 and April 13) on why some are so easily led and why that leads to aggression; here are some excerpts.
April 13:
Why such aggression lately. Aggression such as carrying a gun so near the President of the U.S. Aggression such as seen during the health care reform debates in Congress and at the town-hall meetings. The list goes on and on.
Have you ever noticed that groups basically are made of the followers, submissives, and the leaders or dominators.
April 19:
Dr. Altemeyer explains that in his books on authoritarians he is mostly discussing extremely submissive “followers” of established authorities, “attacks others in their name, and is highly conventional.”
He lists 3 of the personality traits of the “followers”:
1)a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate, authorities in their society;
2)high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities; and
3)a high level of conventionalism.
RWA Scale:
“The RWA scale is a personality test disguised as an attitude survey.”
the mid-point of the scale is 100. The higher the score the more the tendency to be an authoritarian follower.

Why the name “right-wing”:
The use of the word right as used here is “an adjective, right, lawful, proper, correct...”

Double Highs:
Social Dominators who also score high on the religion, fundamentalism, scale but the why is interesting. These people go to church more often than most but they go to “project a good image...”
and “It is more important to create a good image of yourself in the minds of others than to be actually be the person others think you are.”

Remember submission to “their” authorities and highly conventional. So keep in mind we are not always talking about political conservatives.

Now on to Question 2 Why are some so aggressive...
(I think it still pertains to being led and believing false “facts”.)

Lets start with more on the compartmental mind to help us understand why many can be led to an aggressive state.

The compartmental mind had no trouble in “believing that America stands for international cooperation and the peaceful resolution of conflict on one hand, while on the other hand insisting it has the “right” to attack whomever it wants...” (from The Authoritarians)

Here is a quotation from another source which I think fits nicely:
“Meanwhile a newly powerful states’ rights movement is demanding that the federal government not intrude into our affairs—a nice illustration of what Orwell called “doublethink”: the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in mind while believing both of them, practically a motto for our times.”

From the same story:
“But in a brilliant exercise in doublethink, people are led to hate and fear the deficit. That way, business’s cohorts in Washington may agree to cut benefits and entitlements like Social Security (but not bailouts).

At the same time, people should not oppose what is largely creating the deficit—the growing military budget and the hopelessly inefficient privatized healthcare system.”

And according to Mr Dean in his book Conservatives Without Conscience, “Many conservatives, particularly those who are clearly authoritarians, are not aware of their illogical, contradictory, and hypocritical thinking. If made cognizant of it, they rationalize it away, neglect to care or attack those who reveal their human weaknesses.” (page 27)

Now back to aggression and prejudice.

First let us examine more from Mr. Dean as regards the “followers”.

In Conservatives Without Conscience, Mr Dean discusses Stanley Milgram'swork “...on obedience to authority.” (Milgram's experiments were set up to study delivering electrical shocks to “learners” in obedience to an authority figure.) Milgram uses the term “agentic state” to describe how a person can ignore their normal conscience “...when the individual becomes part of a group, with the individual's conscience often becoming subordinate to to that of the group or to that of its leader.” But Mr Dean does not think that the behaviors of some can be explained in this manner. (see page 44 discussion of Gordon Liddy and see pages 78-81 on I. Scooter Libby)

According to Milgram, "the essence of obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out another person's wishes, and he therefore no longer sees himself as responsible for his actions. Once this critical shift of viewpoint has occurred in the person, all of the essential features of obedience follow." Thus, "the major problem for the subject is to recapture control of his own regnant processes once he has committed them to the purposes of the experimenter." (Milgram, 1974, pp. xii, xiii). In addition to this presumed agentic state, Milgram goes on to explain, a variety of factors lock the subject into the situation. These include situational factors such as politeness and awkwardness of withdrawal, absorption in the technical aspects of the task, the tendency to attribute impersonal quality to forces that are essentially human, a belief that the experiment serves a desirable end, the sequential nature of the action, and anxiety.
A Cognitive Reinterpretation...On Obedience to Authority

Further into chapter two of Conservatives... Mr Dean paraphrases and quotes Dr. Altemeyer concerning our RWA and aggression thus; “ showing “general aggressiveness” toward others when such behavior “is perceived to be sanctioned” by established authorities...” (John Dean page 53)

In his book Dr. Altemeyer does discuss and study the religious beliefs of the RWA but as I have, at this point, some disagreement with him I will go back and restudy the chapter. Then perhaps at some point write a post on just the religious questions involved.

However, I can see Dr. Altemeyer's points about the RWA self-righteousness and their feelings that they are “guardians of the public morality”. He also mentions their view of the “ as a dangerous place...” (Dean page 55)

If you back a dog into a corner while threatening him. Watch out now as you are facing “fight or flight”. By backing him into that corner you are interfering with his ability to flee the source of his fear so he will fight or he will submit depending on his place in the pack order. Well yes, there is the issue of his genealogy but for most dogs you will get one of these responses.

Back to Conservatives Without Conscience:

“By and large these Americans have never been troubled by the execution of a prisoner,,,, and there has never been a war in with the United States engaged that they did not support.” (John Dean page 55)
Here Mr. Dean is writing his own thoughts on the church-going authoritarians and their politics.

In the last section of chapter 2, Mr Dean begins with questions of his own and some answers he gleans from Dr. Altemeyer's studies.

“...why are right-wingers often malicious, mean-spirited, and disrespectful of even the basic codes of civility?...

Here are some of the answers he found:

“This heightened level of aggressiveness has a number of psychological roots. Right-wing authoritarians, as we have seen are motivated by their fear of a dangerous world, whereas social dominators have an ever-present desire to dominate. The factor that makes right-wingers faster than most people to attack others, and that seems to keep them living in an “attack mode,” is their remarkable self righteousness.”

(John Dean pages 66, 67)

As to the leaders of these authoritarian followers with a little on prejudice:
(Remember Double High Social dominators score high as both leaders and followers. They answer the follower questions as they would have others follow them not as true “submissives.)

“Experiments reveal that right-wing authoritarian followers are particularly likely to trust someone who tells them what they want to hear, for this how many of them validate their beliefs. Social dominators, on the other hand typically know exactly what song they want to sing to followers.

Ordinary social dominators and ordinary authoritarian followers both tend to be highly prejudiced against ethnic and racial minorities.
Double Highs, however possess “extra-extra unfair” natures, and they can be ranked as the most racially prejudiced of all groups. It seems that two authoritarian streams converge in them to produce a river of hostility, particularly regarding rights for homosexuals and women.”
(Dean, page 60)

In describing more of Altemeyer's observations concerning Double Highs and the seriousness of their threat to society, Mr Dean gives us the idea that the followers are “uninclined to think for themselves...” while the Double High leaders may well lead the intensely dangerous movements. (Dean page 61)

In both books Hitleris mentioned as, I guess, the ultimate Dominator. I would say the most obvious Dominator. I can think of some milder ones. Does anyone but me think of McCarthy and the Red Scare. Or should I say Red Scares Of course, Mr Dean relates much of his early chapters to President Nixon and reasons for Watergate. I think too of recent political leaders and their use of fear and knowledge of the followers' needs. Here is a link to an article I read this morning that pertains to some recentillogical thinking.

In this post mostly using these two books we see some answers to our questions about aggression and prejudice as well as little on who their leaders are and why. We have lots of fear in these authoritarians.
We have lots of prejudice, though I don't cover all of it. The leaders are devious and mostly out to fulfill their needs for power. The followers are deceiving themselves when they consider themselves on the moral high-ground. While the followers need leaders, they fear leaders that challenge their beliefs, not just religious beliefs either. I think their beliefs about the world too.

We now have a glimpse into some reasons,theories, behind the“group dynamics” we discussed in the first post (April 13). I am trying to give the gist of the books while trying to keep the posts relatively short. As mentioned previously, I have some disagreement with Dr. Altemeyer's analysis of religion, fundamentalism, and “ineffective consciences”. I shall go back and reread his chapter on it before commenting further. Maybe I have misread.

Anyway we have spent some time with these two books* and maybe it is time to move on to other theories. Social Darwinism and Just World? I will let you know.

*Bob Altemeyer; The Authoritarians,2006 and see website
John W.Dean; Conservatives Without Conscience,Penguin Books, 2007 or visit
Mr. Deans' blog


  1. I really learned some things here and I will learn more after I read it again..

    I was reminded of a song when I read parts of your post.. I had a hard time remembering it and so it was hard to look it up. Let me post a link here , and I will put the most appropriate part that will explain why it came into my head however imperfectly:
    And he plays at stocks and shares,
    And he goes to the regatta,
    And he adores the girl next door,
    'Cause he's dying to get at her,
    But his mother knows the best about
    The matrimonial stakes.

    'Cause he's oh, so good,
    And he's oh, so fine,
    And he's oh, so healthy,
    In his body and his mind.
    He's a well respected man about town,
    Doing the best things so conservatively.

    I got this portion of the lyrics here .

    A very informative post. I want to thank you for researching this and bringing it to us.

  2. Phooey, I lost my own comment.
    Thanks for commenting. There is such a lot of information to take in..
    It took me a while to recognize the song, then I heard it in my head.
    I stayed with the early chapters in John Dean's book as that part relates heavily to the Authoritarians.
    He has much of interest in the book about religion and the politics of the "neoconservatives". I may use it later when I go back over Dr. A's chapter on religion and authoritarianism.
    Thanks again.

  3. Kanna: This post has it all. You've covered the ground and make all the right points. My only suggestion is to keep gnawing on this bone. Every repetition will help polish your thinking and help simplify and clarify it. Academics love to delve into the details and revel in nuances. But for most of us, we want the "sound bite", the summary, the "bottom line". You've covered the material so you have all the right ideas. Now you need to focus on working through it, restating it, simplifying, polishing, until you can present your ideas as a compact gem.

    I have a weakness for this topic since I spent my youth rebelling against the narrow conventionalism of RWA mentality. Here it is RWA in a nutshell: "America, love it or leave it."

    Funny, the religious dissenters did just that. They left England for America. But the demented RWA-types have appropriated that slogan an apply it to America despite the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution which are founded on Enlightement ideals of tolerance, compromise, democracy, rule of law, and civil society. The "love it or leave it" crowd fit better in a totalitarian regime, but they see themselves as "true Americans". Isn't history ironic!

    While I was never a "hippie" (I just couldn't see how you maintain a decent standard of living with the wild idealism of hippies), there is something wonderful about the hippie ethic. Unlike the RWA viewpoint, the hippies wanted an inclusive, caring, community where each person was valued as an individual and encouraged to "blossom" into their fullest potential. That is a wonderful ideal! It is the very opposite of the rigid, top-down, defined-for-all-eternity viewpoint of the RWA-types. Hippies believed in a consensual society while the RWAs were authoritarians who believed that one eternal, immutable, set of rules should be obeyed unthinkingly.

    Sadly the hippies lost the culture wars during the 1970s. Most people turned away from communalism into a self-absorbed me-first practice of religion/meditation and shrank from civic and public engagement.

  4. RY,
    Thanks for the suggestions. I plan on going through all the posts at an end point on the Venn diagram of aggression, prejudice, etc of groups and the individuals that form the group. Mostly I am doing this selfishly. I want to see if I can still stay with it and then write myself a "research paper". Really just for myself.
    In the meantime I hope to share my studies with those who are interested enough to read along with me.
    The suggestion is made in both books that there is great danger of totalitarian regimes with the RWA follwers and the Double High Dominators.
    As for the Hippies, I remember them well. The spouse and I were in Atlanta for much of the time. We were not far from Peachtree, very different area now. Then the black militants came along. Very interesting mix.
    When we moved to the DC area the antiwar riots hit. We knew people on both sides of the antiwar "war". Both had their points.
    Just plain interesting times all the way.
    I think a lot of hippie generation grew older and tired as did we all.
    I am reading the rest of Conservatives Without Conscience. Mr. Dean has a different reason for what he writes than a "liberal" would. Which makes it very interesting.
    His other book, Broken Government is interesting for the same reason.
    thanks again for the comments

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Excellent! I am really enjoying the fruits of all your labor. There is so much to digest.

    To me Altemeyer's research can help us understand how the unimaginable events that occurred in Rwanda, Kosovo, Poland, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Sudan, Iraq, and even the excesses of McCarthy and Hover right here in America could have occurred.

    And, more importantly, help us to understand that these same unimaginable things can also occur right here in America if the "double-highs" and their authoritarian followers continue to gain power in our society.

    Man is capable of doing amazing things, both good and bad.

  7. Thanks for the comment.
    I do appreciate hearing what people think and find interesting about the research thus far.