Check out a Bob Altemeyer interview, podcasted here. If you don’t know who Altemeyer is, learn about him here. The interview takes a few minutes to get past the introductory material, but for connoisseurs of right wing psychology, it’s well worth the wait, to hear one of the world’s experts. Altemeyer covers a fair amount of ground in this 102 minute interview, but of interest to me were his thoughts on authoritarian followers (as opposed to leaders). Some takeaways:
- Lack critical thinking skills. If they like an argument’s conclusion, it doesn’t matter how stupid or flawed the reasoning was to arrive at it. This is also why logic doesn’t work with them.
- Have highly compartimentalized thinking. This means they often hold opposite or inconsistent views. For example, they may support democracy and freedom of speech, but also believe that rabble rousing leftists should be locked up. They will pull out whatever argument is needed given the current circumstance, seemingly unaware that they expressed the opposite position only minutes ago. They are easily prone to hypocrisy because of this. This comes through as a marked lack of fairness.
Altemeyer claims that his surveys of authoritarianism among college students show that it varies according to the times. Students scored low in the early 1970s, and high in the mid 1980s. The average score has been at a midpoint between these extremes for the last five or ten years. In students, the level of authoritarianism diminishes a bit as the student is exposed to the broader world. By contrast, parenting can increase a person’s level of authoritarianism.
It’s interesting to me, that most right wingers I know, have little interest in traveling outside the United States, desiring the least amount of exposure to people who are different than them. The converse is true for the most liberal people I know – they love foreign travel. And this is precisely what helps an authoritarian become less so.