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Fox and Dogmatism

How many of you have read The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba?  Go read it if you haven’t yet.  Altemeyer is the expert on the kind of people who do what other people tell them to do and the people who lead them.  John Dean referenced Altemeyer heavily in his book Conservatives Without Conscience.  Getting into the heads of the authoritarian follower is useful if you want to understand where right wing politics are going.  Don’t bother trying to convert the authoritarian follower.  They’re tough nuts to crack.  But it may be possible to head off potential problems and plan for the future by studying this group and understanding the era that produced them.

To that end, here is a very interesting talk about dogmatism from Judy Johnson professor of cognitive psychology at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta.  By the way, it’s curious that the authorities on authoritarianism and dogmatism are in Canada, isn’t it?  It’s like Canadian ethologists are studying Americans to try to figure out what makes us tick and maybe building even higher fences to keep us out.

When I viewed this talk, I was struck by the similarity of the highly dogmatic to the typical Fox News viewer.  Now, it is probably not a revelation to anyone that the typical Fox News viewer is highly dogmatic.  But I often ask myself, did they start out this way or did Fox News indoctrinate them?  After this talk, I’m pretty convinced that the Fox News viewer is a product of the 1950s and that the right wing is taking advantage of this natural constituency to drive politics even further to the right.  Johnson’s research also reinforces my hypothesis that the reason why the right wing has stepped up the crazy in the last couple of years is because it is running out of time.  There isn’t another demographic with this high degree of dogmatism on the near horizon until the helicopter parent generation of children is of voting age, and the degree to which they adhere to dogmatism may depend on how the internet is regulated in the future.  So, the authoritarians who are presently in charge are going to ram everything they can through federal and state legislatures in this election cycle and the next because their target demographic and critical mass is dying off.

With that in mind, we should ask ourselves why it is that Democrats are not simply digging in their heels and waiting it out.  Are they being lead by morons or not really an opposition party?

Anyway, here is Judy Johnson’s talk on Dogmatism: A Scar on the Face of Reason:

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25 Responses

  1. […] Filed under: General Tagged: authoritarians, bob altmeyer, dogmatism, Fox News, judy johnson, right wing politics The Confluence […]

  2. So the target demographic of the authoritarian right wing (until the children of helicopter parents come of age) would be my parents’ generation? Those who lived through the Great Depression and World War II?

    • I think it’s more the children of Depression-era parents.

    • My parents were born at the end of the Depression and were in their teens during the 50’s. Think Happy Days. Their parents were young adults during the Depression. The 50’s were an era of extreme conformity. Women of that decade had even fewer options than the one that preceded it. And somewhere I read that in the 50s, education of women actually deteriorated. That’s because their lives were supposed to be limited to house and family. In the 50’s, women married younger.
      Then, there was the Cold War, which greatly increased anxiety levels. Then there was the McCarthy era with and the unAmerican activities witch hunts. And the Civil Rights movement really got off the ground with Brown vs Board of Education school desegregation orders and the National Guard in Little Rock and civil unrest. Then there was Sputnik in 1958 and the realization that the country’s children were unprepared for the space race.
      Those Happy Days were simmering with discontent. There you had a very patriarchal authoritarian culture, post World War II, post nuclear bomb, in the middle of the threat of communism taking over the world, when women were not very well educated, through no fault of their own, and disenfranchised groups are demanding a bigger share of the pie. It’s a constricted, claustrophobic time of social change that is making everyone very uneasy. That’s the time the present set of seniors in their 70s grew up in. And that is what Fox is tapping into. You want to know why they’re freaking out about Obama being a socialist commie? It has nothing to do with socialism or communism, because quite frankly, Obama is more right than any president since Woodrow Wilson. It’s because young people of that age saw socialism and communism as the world’s biggest threats. It’s programmed into them to fear it. People who stepped out of line even a little bit during the 50s were persecuted for it, dragged in front of committees, blacklisted and had their lives ruined.
      Women had the least access to family planning options or legal abortions than decades preceding or following. If you got pregnant, you were either shamed or put your life in danger or just got married. The world came down very hard on women. Think Peyton Place or Blue Denim. These voters know humiliation.
      It was a more formal time. You wore gloves and a hat to go shopping. The lines of deference and authority and respect were more clear. And there was a pecking order by race and gender that was distinct and inviolable. People didn’t mix. You could get into trouble for talking to the wrong person. See Far From Heaven.
      That is what the right is working with and they are milking it for all it’s worth. These voters are very vulnerable to messaging that promises them safety from a volatile world because they lived through it when it was very scary at a time in their lives when their brains were most impressionable. And the message that was drilled into them over and over again was keep your head down, don’t step out of line, stick to the role assigned you and nobody gets hurt. And they’re looking at their lives now and thinking, well, we’re doing ok. We have social security and medicare and pensions and our houses are paid for and that’s because we behaved ourselves and stuck to the rules and did as we were told. There’s not a lot of self-reflection or analysis going on with that generation because they don’t have to worry about their lives.

      • RD, I feel really annoyed when you tar my entire generation with this brush! We were also the generation of 2nd wave feminism, the anti-war movement and the push for universal human rights. We were unsuccessful in getting the ERA adopted, but we sure tried. Yes, a percentage of my generation fits your picture, but another large percentage does not and never has!

        • I’m not sure which generation you actually belong to. Technically, I’m at the tail end of the baby boom generation but I think more like a Gen Xer. Plus, I don’t know what your socio economic background is. My impression of my mother’s age (in 1960, she was only 21) was that women of her socio economic group had very limited opportunities to go to college. Even if her family and friends didn’t think she was getting above her station, so to speak, there just wasn’t any money for it. She did end up taking some classes when we lived inCalifornia, because it was dirt cheap back then and for what I understand, she was an excellent student. But with all our moving around in the Navy, she had to give it up.
          There is no one in my family on either side who was anything like what you are describing. One of my aunts who was about 10 years younger than my mom was a hippy chick who hitchhiked the country and cooked in a couple of communes but when she was about 21, she too got married and became religious. I only had on aunt who married into the family who went to college to become a teacher. She had 7 kids. I suspect my grandmother was a lot more liberal and radical than her son and she was the only one of my grandparents who graduated from high school. (the other grandmother skipped several grades and then dropped out at 16). But she too lived a very conventional life in the suburbs, wore an apron around the house, had a part time job at a gift shop and only occasionally worked on a political campaign probably stuffing envelopes. What a waste because my grandmothers were both really smart.
          In fact, i was the first one in my family to rock the boat. I was the first feminist, first college graduate, first scientist, first one to openly live with my boyfriend (god, what a scandal that was). And that was in the late 70s, early 80s. I come from decent, hard working blue collar and middle class people and I never met a woman like the ones you described until I became one. I suspect you are either younger than my mom’s generation or from a more educated background. Not only that but the women my mother hangs out with who are in their 70s are EXACTLY like her with no exceptions.

          • I’m 71 years old. My parents graduated from high school in the mid-30s. My great grandfather lost all his money in the “crash” of 1893, so my grandfather had to leave school after grade 8. He was, however, one of the best and most broadly read people I have ever known and rose to the top of his field. Both my grandmothers were highly literate and intellectually curious as well. Yes, a high value was placed on education in my family. However, self-education was considered just as legitimate as formal education. Some of my earliest memories are of heated political discussions around the dinner table. There was quite a mix of opinion, and everyone made sure he or she was heard.
            We had television in early 1946. (My dad built it from a Transvision kit.) The House Unamerican Activities committee was a major topic of concern. Edward R. Murrow was must-see family TV. In my mind’s eye, I still see him bringing down Joseph McCarthy.
            While we don’t get to choose our families, we do get to choose our friends. I choose mine based on their kind eyeballs and generosity of spirit, plus a distinct penchant for open mindedness.

          • jackyt, I am 65 and, like you, don’t recognize anything familiar in RD’s accounts. Of course, my family was not religious and maybe that makes the difference.

          • Nope. There is a reason why so many women identify with Mad Men. There’s also a reason why Betty Friedan wrote the Feminine Mystique. There’s a reason why education for women hit a low point in the fifties.
            Just because YOU didnt experience it personally or were unaware of it, and you must have been hiding under a rock to have missed it, doesn’t mean that what is am describing never happened. It most certainly did happen. Movies, novels and television shows have been written about that era and how soul crushingly repressive it was for women and other disenfranchised groups. Perhaps you were just too young or too male to be paying attention.

          • In fact, ralphb, you must have really been out of it because I started school in the mid 60s and even I remember the duck and cover drills and the cold war. It was the class of girls two years before me that couldn’t wear pants to school and had to take home ec when the sexes were segregated. So, while I didn’t have to do any of that stuff, I was quite aware of other people having to. I was extremely lucky to have gone to an experimental middle school with open classrooms and former war protestors for teachers. It was in that sheltered environment where my school amade a committed attempt to provide equal opportunities for both sexes that I read teen novels about girls who had to travel to New York state where we lived when they needed an abortion. I was lucky to have lived in a state where I would have had access to one at no charge at that time if I had needed it. And that was the early 70s.
            So, Ralph, you are not being honest. At all.

          • Okay RD. Now you’ve lost my eyeballs. You are so convinced you are right about an ENTIRE generation that you are the erasing history of many of us who lived it. And by the way, far from hiding under a rock, I started out my career as a commercial artist on Madison Avenue NYC, in the heart of Don Draper world. Best wishes in your parallel universe.

          • Jacky, obviously, there were Betty Friedan types. But the reason the Feminine Mystique was so successful was because Friedan had so much material to work with. Just because there were pockets of feminine enlightenment in the 50s doesn’t mean you can ignore all of the social restrictions of that decade. You can’t write off the cold war, communism, Little Rock and segregation.
            The fact that we here on this political blog are so well -informed about current events does not mean we are at all typical of our culture. It means we are quite UNusual. Political bloggers and readers are a tiny subset of the population. Just think of the last time you had dinner with people who are not political junkies. The level of misunderstanding is almost unbearable.
            And so it was in the 50s. If you were part of some group of women who had zero obstacles to getting an education, getting a job and were never hit on at work or discriminated because of your sex, then great! Tell us all about it. But don’t try to rewrite history and tell me that the vast majority of women had it as good ad you did. That would be untrue.

          • Oh I remember duck and cover drills. But seriously don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about when you describe people of my, or only a slighter older, generation.

            You’re convinced you’re right because of your families experience but have no damn idea what you’re talking about from a more general perspective. Your references from pop culture and whatever passed for hip literature are far off base for the norm but I have no expectation that your mind is changable so have it FWIW.

          • ??? There’s plenty of cultural material from that era. There were radio and television shows and movies. I don’t have to rely on nostalgia programming. I can go watch I Love Lucy or Leave it Beaver or Father Knows Best. I can go on youtube and watch the old high school health videos about dating and premarital sex. You and Jacky are making the 50s sound like a Brave New World of perfect equality where everyone ran around in unisex jumpsuits. I’m not sure what world you were living in but you aren’t winning this argument with all of the documentary evidence around.
            Try this one and check out what they say about girls who go parking:

            Or this one. Story three just blows your account of the 50s and early 60s out of the water:

            or this one:

            or this one

            or this one:

          • Oh and here’s one more about social class boundaries.

            You know, I think you and Jackyt protest too much. I’ve hit a nerve, haven’t I? Judy Johnson’s description of the dogmatic group is eerily close to the pre-baby boom generation. What Johnson was describing is the kind of environment that leads to dogmatism in populations that are capable of extremism. And what do we have in the Fox News cohort? Dogmatic extremists who are terrorizing the nation with anti-female, pro-wealth, pro-social hierarchy attitudes. Fox has been extremely efficient at picking out who these extremists are and playing to their upbringing and personalities. And we know that they are seniors, mostly white, mostly women.
            You two may be exceptions to the rule but it is what it is. When the pre-baby boom generation dies out, we may be able to turn around the present pattern of social decline. In the meantime, the Republican party is going to use them to get as much as they can because that generation knows how to obey authority.

  3. one day.when they least expect it.us Women will rise up. 🙂

  4. I read Altmeyer’s book a few years ago – it is excellent. Thanks for the link to Judy Johnson’s piece! I will have to reread The Authoritarians, too.

    My mother is a child of depression-era parents – poor farmers in rural Georgia. She is a Fox News devotee. She is also the most paranoid person I have ever known. Two of my sisters and I have inherited anxiety attacks from her. Mom suffers from night terrors. She makes up things to worry about – she once got excited because I was going to call the Country Extension to test my soil – she thought they’d charge me a fee and I would not pay it and they’d come get my house.

    I think paranoia plays a huge role in conservative’s thought process.

  5. P.S. I don’t think conservatism will ever die out – there’s plenty of paranoia to go around for ever and ever.

  6. Yes, my parents are both conservative and so are my in-laws and step parents. They believe they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and everyone else should too.

    What I find really interesting about my parents generation is their idea that the world works a certain way. They believe in things that actually don’t happen or work and when faced with evidence to the contrary, they absolutely DO NOT believe their lying eyes.

    Oh and they totally get ginned up about stuff like prayer in school (like it is good) and then don’t ever step foot in a church themselves. They don’t see the irony.

    They adore (ADORE!) the idea of punishment and authority. Guilty until proven innocent and they really want abortion of the table for the shaming and example – once in a while it is about “life” but mostly the shaming and good “bad example” opportunity.

    They *HAD* to get married and damn it! they want that for everyone else too because it sucked so much. If they HAD to do something that was horrible for them, the world can’t be permitted to change because everyone else should suffer too.

    • Funny about the prayer in school thing. My mom is incensed by the war on Christmas. There’s only one problem with that. She has a very Puritan attitude towards Christmas. She hates it. No tree, no lights, no Christmas cards, nothing sentimental. During the holiday season, she gets the hell out of Dodge and goes on a cruise leaving the NJ contingent with no place to go. (no one wants to come to Jersey for the holidays and my siblings go visit in-laws or friends in other states.). I pointed this out to her when she went on one of her O’Reilly fueled rants about Christmas and she too didn’t see the irony.
      Yeah, they pretty much want everyone to be miserable. Don’t know why. It’s a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

  7. The DemParty leaders are RepParty collaborators. Their bipartisan mission is to jointly re-authoritarianize America to prevent or muffle or suppress the uprisings when the Republicratic Establishment intensifies their plans to cancel Social Security and keep all the money we paid, to sell all the National Parks and National Forests and National Wildlife Refuges to rich private upper class buyers at pennies on the benjamin, etc.

    I think the “legacy Democrats” and the “demwing” Democrats don’t share these goals, but they are psychologically invested in their loyalty to the Democratic Party even though it is now a Republican Party trojan-horse decoy front-organization. The “legacy DemWing” Dems will never break free from the Party. If the Party were exterminated all around them then they would be set free by default. But would they feel free? Or would they feel helpless and lost?

  8. I think you are all full of you know what to say conservatism comes from any one generation. Conservatism has been around for many of centuries, perhaps from the beginning of humans living in groups.

    Conservatism will always be around as well. In the U.S. the pendulum swings back and forth.

    “If you aren’t a liberal in your youth, you have no heart. If you aren’t a conservative in your old age, you haven’t learned anything.” Winston Churchill

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