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In 2006, Canadian psychologist Bob Altemeyer wrote a book called 'The Authoritarians' detailing his research on the subset of the population that seem to thrive on following orders. They have a high degree of submission to established and legitimate societal authorities, display high levels of aggression in the name of these authorities, and a high level of conventionalism.

With the recent lockdown, it would seem the whole world is getting a lesson in authoritarianism, and the authoritarian followers are all out in force. Snitching on neighbors, calling the police for any slight disgression against stay at home orders, screeching, both on social media and in person at anyone not staying at home, (whether they have a good reason or not) and actually demanding the lockdown stay in place, despite the harm it's doing. It seems these times were made for authoritarian followers, while the rest of us, independent thinkers as we are, suffer their wrath.

Join us on this episode of Objective:Health as we discuss the authoritarian follower. What is a thinking person to do in the face of this tyrrany?

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Running Time: 00:47:02

Download: MP3 — 38.5 MB

Here's the transcript of the show:

Elliot: Hello everyone, and welcome to this week's edition of Objective Health. My name is Elliot, I am going to be your host for today's show. Joining me in our virtual studio are Doug, Erica and Tiffany. Welcome to the show everyone.


Elliot: In today's show we are going to be talking about a topic which I think is very pertinent, especially with everything that is going on in the world today. If you follow the show then you will know that in the past month or two we've been primarily talking about Coronavirus and the social, political and economic events surrounding it along with the repercussions that it might have on society at large and on us as individuals.

In today's show we are going to be specifically looking at a phenomenon referred to as authoritarianism. For a basic definition of authoritarianism it can be broken down into three different personality traits. One is a degree of submission to established and legitimate societal authorities. Another is levels of aggression in the name of these authorities. The third is a level of conventionalism.

The reason we are going to be talking about authoritarianism today is because as the hysteria has built up over the Coronavirus and as we've had more intensive social measures and social lockdowns across the world what we've all been noticing is there have been many different news article coming out by the day indicating that people are generally behaving in crazy ways. As all of this stuff has been happening in the world it seems that there are certain people who display a set of personality characteristics which you would define as authoritarianism. It seems that many authoritarians have sprung up out of nowhere. We see that there are people who are now snitching on one another, people who are blindly following all orders from any form of authority without questioning it.

Even worse, these individuals seem to be revelling in the idea of enforcing that on other people as well. This fundamentally relates back to authoritarianism. What we are going to be talking about today is why certain people may have authoritarian tendencies, how that can affect society and how that affects the people who live in society, why that might affect some people and not others, and then how authoritarianism - blindly following authorities without questioning - can potentially cause problems for collective humanity. What have we got there guys?

Doug: It has been pretty crazy. I guess we could bring up the book by Bob Altemeyer called The Authoritarians. Bob Altemeyer is a Canadian psychologist who has done a lot of studies on the authoritarian personality type. He ran a lot of different experiments, I think eight in total, and he came up with a questionnaire which is designed as if it is an opinion questionnaire but it is actually designed so that when you evaluate the answers you come up with a score of how much a person leans towards the authoritarian personality type.

This has been around since the 90's I think, it has been around for quite a while. He wrote it a while back and at the time he was writing about the fundies and neocons in the US who tended towards this authoritarian personality type. I checked out his website and he hasn't really been updating it. I was curious to see if he would talk about the leftwing authoritarianism that seems to have risen more recently. If you want a more thorough investigation of what authoritarian followers are like and how they are different from those who are a little bit more free-thinking it's an excellent book to read.

Tiffany: It was certainly apparent when this first broke out who the authoritarians were. Maybe not so much, I think at first a lot of people just got caught up in the fear and as time went on people were starting to relax. There is only so long that you can be living in fear. I guess there were a bunch of people who fell for the whole scam right away, the whole "nothing burger" that this is. They were washing their hands and wiping everything down with bleach wipes and as things progressed they started wearing the mask. When the lockdowns came those people were relieved and they would look at people funny if they saw them out and they were urging people to stay at home.

Now that people are protesting lockdowns, these are the people who are calling the protesters selfish and they're saying "you're going to kill grandma and all you care about is money". I guess the responses that these people have to the happenings that are going on reveals their personalities deep down. I think that these are the people - much more so than the elites at the top who are actually issuing orders - the people who are following the orders and who are wanting to make sure that other people follow the orders, those are the people that we've to fear. There are very few of the people at the top, if everybody said no they wouldn't get very far. It's the people who enforce everything that we really need to look out for.

Elliot: I think that is an essential point to understand. There are a couple of commentators on nazi Germany who are modern historians who have explictly stated that that's one of the reasons why the nazi authorities had so much power and why they were feared. They presented an image of having complete and total control when in fact their technology at that time was not sufficient to give them all of the information about the population as a whole in the way that they were presenting it as. It was the authoritarians, the citizen policemen, your next door neighbour, who would snitch and would be feeding the information to the authorities.

Tiffany: To piggyback on what you were saying, it wasn't that the gestapo was going door to door and kicking in everyone's doors and forcibly pulling them out of the house. Of course, they did those things, but most of it was that it seemed like they were sorting through all the information that was fed to them by people just snitching on each other and people turning their neighbours in. The gestapo encouraged that but it wasn't like they were the ones that were at the front lines of everything.

Erica: REally, you don't need a police force or a national guard to do your regulating if you convince your citizens to do their job for them.

Doug: There was an interesting article on Spiked-Online by Brendan O'Neill, I think he is the editor of that site. It was called Lockdown Fanatics Scare Me more than Covid-19. It was an interesting article. Spiked has been publishing a number of articles that are quite good at calling out the hypocrisy of the lockdown and the fact that the economic devastation is going to be much worse than the virus ever was. I'll just read one quote from him, he says,

"Here's why lockdown fanaticism unnerves me more than Covid-19. The coronavirus pandemic is clearly a very serious health challenge."

I would disagree with him on that but we'll give that to him.

"The Covid threat is not the apocalypse we were warned about. Its death rate is low. Its impact on younger people is negligible. Just 0.75 percent of deaths in the UK have been among under-40s, and the majority of those were people with underlying health conditions."

Wait, that wasn't the paragraph I was trying to say.

Tiffany: I know where you are going, I see the quote that I think you want. This is it.

"Covid is just a virus. It doesn't know what it is doing. It spreads to survive. But the lockdown fanatics are conscious human beings. They know - or ought to know - the destructiveness of the path they are carving out for Britain and other nations. They know the economic calamity and anti-social culture of fear they are foisting upon society, with all the mass unemployment, denigration of public services, and even death that this will cause. And yet they carry on."

Is that the one?

Doug: That was it, that was the one. I got lost there somehow. I thought it was a good illustration of the mindset of the authoritarian. It's like they believe the authorities to such an extent that any consequences of believing them and acting in their name is completely brushed aside. All the economic concerns, all the health concerns that are going on right now, take second place to what the authorities have said we must do.

Tiffany: Like all these politicians who are enforcing these executive orders which aren't even necessarily laws. Even if they were they would be completely immoral and stupid. Even all the celebretards who are on their Instagram virtue signalling about how great it is while they are living in their mansions. These dumb people who are demanding that the lockdown continue I guess you have to be completely in poverty. Maybe if you have a nice cushy desk job and maybe if you have the privilege of being able to work from home during all this, maybe that does give you a bit of a cushion where you can't empathise with a trash collector or somebody who has to go out in public and make their living and work with other people and not just with widgets.

These people are demanding that the lockdown continue. There's about 200 celebrities who signed this letter saying that they don't want the lockdown to stop which is just so bizarre. It just shows how pampered and spoiled these people are that they think that it's okay for the entire economy to be shut down and for people to be in their houses and not be able to do their jobs.

Elliot: They're very much living in a bubble in many ways. There are those who can quite easily work from home, say a bureaucrat of some sort. They can plonk thier laptop on their lap and do their paperwork and be done for the day. Whereas, it's not the same for people who work manual labour jobs, bin men, people who work in restaurants, people who work three or four jobs and who rely on that monthly paycheck to feed their children.

It's ironic to hear that they feel like they can make decisions for other people based on that. They are very much entitled in many ways and privileged in many respects. They're disconnected from the average working class individuals which makes up the majority of people. What I find interesting as well is the sheer force with which many of these authoritarian types are coming down on the general public. In the article that Doug was talking about he was discussing an experience that he had in Hyde Park in London I think?

Doug: That was a different article. That was on Spiked as well but it might have been the same author. Keep talking though, I'll find it.

Elliot: It was another one on Spiked by a guy called Brendan O'Neill. This individual was recounting his experience of walking through Hyde Park on a sunny day in late spring. It would ordinarily be packed full of people. He was talking about how you have these police officers who are patrolling the almost empty park and who are challenging people for sitting underneath a tree by themselves, not within 20 meters of anyone else, not breaking social distancing. You have police officers who are challenging this individual and saying "you should be at home". He was explicitly saying that based on the laws in the UK this guy who he was witnessing being picked up by the police officer wasn't breaking any law. The police officer had quite happily taken the law into his own hands and built upon that and enforced that imaginary law on this individual who was not causing anyone harm and who was not a threat to anyone.

It seems as though it was purely the police officer exercising his power. It seems that in recent times - and we've been talking about things like police brutality - you see these authoritarian types who will quite happily exert force, and excessive force, and exert their power over people who they feel are below them. But in this case, it seems that many of these personality types are springing up out of nowhere and they take pleasure in enforcing that power on others.

Tiffany: I have an example of that, people seeming to take pleasure from it. The governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer - the fact that she is governor shows that she likes to be in charge of people - has taken this to the hilt. There are people in Michigan who are protesting the restrictions and the fact that they can't go to work, and she says that because people are protesting she is thinking of extending it to punish them! "You naughtly little slaves aren't following these directives and you are out protesting, so to punish you we are going to extend it further than we said we were just because you are so naughty."

Doug: That's unbelievable.

Tiffany: She is calling the people irresponsible and that we might have to think about extending "stay at home" orders which is supposedly what they were protesting. Yet, she goes around and says that she respects their right to protest, but she doesn't respect it so much that she actually listens to what they are saying, she'll just punish them like the naughty little children they are.

Elliot: This is consistent with the authoritarian personality type and this is something that Altemeyer laid out all those years ago. It was the idea that when someone steps out of the conventional box, or when they act in a way that is not considered normal or is non-conventional, or in this case, is in some way challenging, or in many cases not challenging authority, but that is perceived as somewhat as a threat. The authoritarian personality type will take pleasure in doing what they can to bring this person back in line. It's almost like it produces an internal sense of discomfort that people do not fit with the conventions and they will do all that they can to try to bring that person back in line.

It is especially dangerous in the context of someone who does have authority, who does have power over others or who is in a position where they can exert that power. It means that in fact anyone who does wish to question the authorities and the official narrative and perhaps protest against that will find that this is what they're up against.

Doug: It's almost like there is a segment of the population that doesn't really get civil liberties, they don't really understand that concept. They feel like they should be told what to do and everybody should do that. There's a leader, that person has my best interests at heart, that person is in charge so everybody should just do what they say we should do and then everything will be fine.

They don't recognise that these leaders are flawed humans like the rest of us - maybe not like the rest of us, maybe even more flawed - and that they don't necessarily have your best interests at heart. They should be questioned at every decision that they make, they should be questioned. They don't understand that. They will get mad at somebody else for not following the rules because they are not following the rules. "Everybody will get along much better and everything would work a lot better if we would just follow our leaders."

Tiffany: Those people are just as dangerous as the ones who do know what liberty is but 'the rules are for thee and not for me'. Like the guy who was having an affair with his married mistress, Neil Ferguson, the one who came up with all the models. Obviously, he doesn't believe his own lies, but everyone else should follow them just because. The rules don't apply to him, he's above the law.

Doug: There have been multiple examples of that.

Elliot: With these types of individuals, it seems as though their primary value is authority. It's not truth, it's not liberty. They might proclaim to value those things and they may display some of those values. They may value those things to some degree; however, the word of the authorities or the recommendations of the authorities come first. It's almost like for a certain portion of the population we can see that if the authorities are making sense, if they're being rational and if they're telling the truth then of course it's a good thing to follow the rules. But at the same time, if the authorities are objectively bad and are lying to us and are telling us to do things which make absolutely no sense, then we are of a right mind to question that.

If you value truth, if you value honesty, then that comes before the authority.

Doug: Exactly.

Elliot: Whereas, with these authoritarians it is the other way round. It's the authority that comes first, even if it doesn't make sense, even if the recommendations, the guidelines or laws even, do not make sense, even if they do not objectively benefit anyone and in fact cause utter destruction, that doesn't really matter to the authoritarian. I don't know if it's necessarily that they don't have the ability to question authority. I think it's that they value it so much that they don't question it. I'm not entirely sure, it's a bit of a mind-boggle for me. I think it probably is for all of us on this show. {laughter}

Tiffany: I think that people can argue that it's because of the school system and how people were brought up to believe in authority and to respect the flag, respect your teachers and respect adults; "put your hand on your heart and pledge allegiance" and all that, but pretty much everybody on earth who is living at this time went through that sort of system no matter what country they were raised in. I think it's something that is innate in certain people. Yes, we can't figure out what that is!

Doug: I think that's true. They are trying to blame it on helicopter parenting as well. Because the parents are in complete control of their kids' lives, they schedule their playdates and they're constantly watched, they're never on their own to just figure out life on their own, they are more likely to be more authoritarian when they grow up, but I don't know.

There was certainly strict parenting in the past, maybe not so much helicopter parenting but the really strict "do it my way or you're gone" kind of parenting. I'm thinking about the stereotypical hard dad from the 50's. I don't think that those would necessarily produce more authoritarian individuals. I'm more inclined to agree with you is what I'm saying Tiff. I think that maybe this is something that is actually innate. There might be some influence from parenting style or schooling, but I think that maybe some people just have a spark in them where - I don't know how to finish that sentence.

Tiffany: Maybe some people also just need to be hit with a sledgehammer over the head and maybe for some people this is not enough and they are not going to get it until somebody is at their front door jamming a needle into their arm. Even then some people will still go along. It won't even have to come to that. But I think that in general it takes a lot of energy and a lot of mental fortitude to be on guard and to be pursuing the truth and be looking out for lies. It takes a lot of effort to keep your eyes open. Plus, you have to have some idea within you, even without anyone telling you that something seems kind of fishy or if something is not quite right.

If you spend most of your time going along with the herd or watching television - that's a whole bit part of it - if you're watching TV 12 hours a day, of course you are not going to know anything so why would you protest? You are just doing what the TV tells you to do.

Erica: It's almost like Martha Stout's paranoia switch. People's brains are being hijacked on that fear that you are talking about Tiff, from the TV or from the environment, friends and family. Clear thinking or critical thinking about questioning authority isn't there. They just go along with it because they're concerned about their livelihood or their families. It's almost self importance: how am I going to be perceived if I "rebel" or speak out against it? Seeing things on Facebook and not wanting to share them because you are afraid of the response that you're going to get, the backlash. It's acting out of a fear mechanism.

Elliot: I think that in all likelihood that probably plays a really big role. This is something that a lot of people have spoken about. When individuals are in a state of fear then they are more likely to tend towards authoritarianism if that is there, or they're more likely to stick in line with what they are told to do by the authorities. At the same time, is that enough to explain the sheer divide that we see? I think in some cases it is, but there also seems to be a fundamental difference. For certain individuals it seems that no matter how hard you try to get it through to them, they just cannot conceptualise it. It's almost like it doesn't compute. It's like they don't have the machinery to be able to think in a way that is not in line with everything that they're told by the authorities. They literally do not have the capacity.

It seems like this fundamental difference, it's almost like a divide though I'm not sure what the percentage is. It seems like some people - like Joe was saying when we interviewed him a couple of weeks ago - have a sense of individual autonomy. They have a sense of individualism in that they can make their own decisions about what is true, what is not true, what they want to do and what they don't want to do and things which relate to them as an individual.

But then it seems like there are others, and it's difficult to quantify how many there are, I would hate to think, but it seems like there is a large, large number of people who don't seem to have that ability. In fact for them, rather than this individual sense of autonomy it's like they need the authorities or this external locus of control to make decisions, to know what to think, what to do, what to believe and what not to believe. They need to be told, they need to be told by some kind of guiding force.

I think historically to a large extent religion has been that authority figure, it has been that guiding force. In our modern world, particularly in the West, as the prevalence of religion has seemed to reduce, and people are embracing atheism and whatnot, they are more likely to need an external authority figure. And who's the authority figure? It's the government, it's the state. If you have these types of people who need this external authority figure and you take away the local community, you take away religion, you take away all of these other forms of authority then the only place that they have to look is the state and the government. That seems to be what happens.

Doug: I know we are running low on time, but there was an article written which reminded me of what you guys were just talking about. It was from 2006 by a guy named Andrew Schmookler. It was called Moral Endo-skeletons and Exo-skeletons: A Perspective on America's Cultural Divide and Current Crisis and it was this idea that some people have this moral endoskeleton which is like an internal morality.

They have an internal sense of what is right and wrong and how they should act versus other people who have a moral exoskeleton, their morality is external to them and they need to be told or that morality has to be enforced from outside. Be that religion or government or whatever it may be. Their moral standing is completely dependent on what they're being told from outside. It was an interesting article. I haven't read it in quite some time but it is a different way of talking about the same thing.

Elliot: We see how that is actually a really important concept to try to get your head around in the context of social or collective events which have happened in the past and which we may be moving towards now, an example which we've already spoken about is Nazi Germany. You wonder about when people read that in the history books, I'm interested to know how people believe that that came about, how people believed. If you ask anyone on the street, 99.9999% of people, aside from those who proclaim themselves to be Nazis, the large majority of people are going to say that they would not have supported something like the haulocaust. Yet, how did you have a large proportion of German citizens seemingly accepting that and not doing anything about it and actually supporting it?

If you take into consideration this idea of the moral endoskeleton or moral exoskeleton or authoritarianism, the people who rely on that external morality, when that external system of morality is good then they are good, right? Whereas, when you have a situation that becomes pathological, the authority figures are no longer good, in fact are highly pathological., you have Hitler, you have communist Russia etc.,. when they become the authorities, this authoritarianism, the people who follow those authorities and who look to that external force for that morality, they then adopt the same values as whatever authority figure is currently in charge. If those values are pathological, if they are unhealthy, then that is what the authoritarian or the moral exoskeleton portion of the population will adopt, if that makes any sense.

Doug: Exactly.

Elliot: You then have a situation where things can go downhill very quickly. You can go from a previously healthy society to a place where you are setting up the stage for some terrible atrocities to occur without many people blinking an eyelid.

Tiffany: I think that frequently it creeps in so slowly that if they are not paying attention then most people don't really notice what is happening. The window moves over ever so slowly. We've been doing this show for what, six or seven years? A long time. There have been people around who have been looking at this kind of thing for 20 or 30 years, longer than a lot of us have been alive.

To us, it's not really a surprise. We saw that they were laying the foundation for what is happening right now for years and years, way before we even started doing the show. Most people don't pay attention to that and so to them it just seems like another year passed and another year passed. But for us, we look at it and we see the slow creep of everything that's been coming about. Unless you've studied history or you have talked to your ancestors who have lived through tyranny, you have no idea. It's easy to fall into the trap.

Erica: Very easy, especially when your comfort is at stake. 'I can just stay home and I can watch my Netflix and I can use my toilet paper and I'm ok', but any sort of looking into the future about what these kinds of laws and control mechanisms will mean in 10 or 15 years is a no-go subject. "I don't want to think about that. Everything is going to go back to normal."

I recently said to a coworker in response to, "I can't wait to get back to normal", "Do you remember 9-11? This is 9-11 on steroids". They said "Oh, you think so?!" They were completely shocked and didn't even think about the possibility that we wouldn't go back to normal.

Elliot: I know we are coming up on time now, but it reminds me of something Jordan Peterson has said in the past. I think it's really important for us all to keep a close track on reality and keep up to date with what's going on and the developments and observing other people, observing the social dynamics and observing the authoritarians. It's a very important exercise.

It brings me back to talking about authoritarians. The example Jordan Peterson gave was about an SS Nazi officer in the concentration camps. He said "If you believe that you would not be one of those, if that would not be you, then the chances are you probably would have been one of those." We all have these tendencies, there's always the possibility that we could go down that path. It's an easy path to take and we have to continually observe reality, observe what's going on and keep a level head so that we're not swept up in the hysteria and so that we don't lose track of ourselves, so that we don't lose ourselves. Does anyone else have anything else on this topic?

Tiffany: Not anything that can be summed up in a short amount of time. I think that a lot of these order followers, or these people who think that it couldn't have been them or think that they never would have been an SS guard or a member of the Gestapo, I think that the people who actually were have compartmentalised their minds. They were following orders and it's not really them who was carrying out the orders. It's just some robot that steps in and takes their place and then at the end of the day they can go home and have dinner with their families and not even think about the fact that they just delivered an electric shock to somebody or something like that. I think that people who are capable of doing such things don't think that they think that it's them who is actually doing it. It's like some entity called the government who has taken them over and it's the government that's acting through them. It's not them personally. Maybe that's how they rationalise it. I don't know. Anyway, that's all I have to say about it.

Elliot: If that's everything for this week then I hope people found that interesting. Keep a close eye out. I hope that if you haven't already looked at Bob Altemeyer's work then take a look at it. I'm pretty sure there is a free E-book or PDF of the book online. It has been a couple of years since I have read it, but it is an excellent book and it does give you a good insight into what you might be seeing and might not be able to make sense of. I know it can be very confusing to see the way that people behave, and at the same time it can make you really frustrated. But if you have a bit of a better theoretical understanding of the kind of thing that goes on or the driving forces behind that in terms of psychology, then it can help you to understand it and observe it and to avoid it. As always, knowledge protects.

Tiffany: If you don't remember anything else, remember snitches get stitches. {laughter}

Doug: Exactly.

Elliot: And, in times like these we have to be cautious about what we are doing these days. You never know, round the corner there may be someone who is jumping on the opportunity to snitch on you. That wouldn't be good would it? [{Laughter}

Doug: You're not wearing a mask.

Elliot: If you liked this video, or if you found it helpful then please "like" and subscribe to our page. You can find us on Facebook and we will be making another show like this. We put one out most weeks. If there are any recommendations, drop them in the comments and until then thanks to my co-hosts and we will see you next time.