Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Cruelty is the Whole Point

 No, actually, the cruelty is the whole point.

I often hear friends commenting that some law or act in the news seems so cruel, that the folks responsible somehow do not recognize that they are being cruel and need to be educated.  Alas, my friends are blessed or cursed with empathy, and that makes recognizing some things terribly difficult.

The cruelty behind these actions and laws is really the whole point.  It’s the chosen tool of a large fraction of the population for enforcing their social norms, and they know exactly what they are doing.

If someone is seen as “too different”, or “out of line”, if they make others uncomfortable in some way, then they are seen as failing to fit into their assigned slot in the social hierarchy.

Cruelty is the tool used to correct this.

It may be cruelty applied directly by self-appointed enforcers in the form of harassment, beatings, or killings.  It may be formalized cruelty, denying basic necessities, medical care, policing, and imprisonment or involuntary commitment to an institution.

About a quarter of US adults:

  • Are naturally submissive to authority figures they consider legitimate
  • act aggressively in the name of these authority figures
  • are conventional (ie conformist) in thought and behavior

These are “right-wing authoritarians.”  

“Right-wing” refers to their desire for a rigid hierarchical structure, and dates back to the loyal royalists who gathered in 1789 in the National Constitutive Assembly following the French Revolution, on the right side of the hall.  Those who wanted to reduce the powers of monarchy were on the left wing.

“Authoritarian” refers to favoring strict obedience to authority, particularly in government, at the expense of personal freedom.

The right-wing authoritarian seeks to increase uniformity and minimize diversity, using social control, coercion and the use of group authority to constrain those seen as undesirable.  They are drawn to leaders who are seen as being at the top of a hierarchy, and are themselves believers in rigid social hierarchies. 

Right-wing authoritarians are more likely to make incorrect inferences from evidence and to hold contradictory ideas resulting from compartmentalized thinking. They are also more likely to uncritically accept insufficient evidence that supports their beliefs and they are less likely to acknowledge their own limitations.  Measured against other factors of personality, authoritarians generally score lower on openness to experience and slightly higher on conscientiousness.

They believe they know better than those they see as stepping out of line.  They see the failure to adhere to what they see as the proper social hierarchy, and they will conscientiously work to correct this failure, for what they see as the good of all.  Oh, they almost certainly do not think through the rationale for their behavior in such detail.  If anything, they would consider themselves simply as people addressing a perceived problem, or perhaps as bullies for the greater good.

“One day you’ll thank me for this.”

Or not.

Morning Consult conducted a survey using the Altenmeyer scale for measurement of right-wing authoritarian tendencies.  The findings point to a significant problem growing in the USA.

  • A scale measuring propensity toward right-wing authoritarian tendencies found right-leaning Americans scored higher than their counterparts in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.
  • 26% of the U.S. population qualified as highly right-wing authoritarian, Morning Consult research found, twice the share of the No. 2 countries, Canada and Australia. 
  • The beliefs that voter fraud decided the 2020 election, that Capitol rioters were doing more to protect than undermine the government and that masks and vaccines are not pivotal to stopping COVID-19 were similarly prevalent among right-leaning Americans and those that scored high for right-wing authoritarianism.