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The Psychology of Christian Fundamentalism
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PostPosted: Tue May 30, 2006 4:27 am    Post subject: The Psychology of Christian Fundamentalism Reply with quote

Do you know anyone like the personality described below?
The Psychology of Christian Fundamentalism

"I know you're a Christian, but who are you a Christian against."
Kenneth Burke

In Apocalypse, a patient study of Christian fundamentalism based on extensive interviews over a five year period with members of apocalyptic communities Charles Strozier identifies four basic beliefs as fundamental to Christian fundamentalism. (1) Inerrancy or biblical literalism, the belief that every word of the Bible is to be taken literally as the word of God; (2) conversion or the experience of being reborn in Christ; (3) evangelicalism or the duty of the saved to spread the gospel; and (4) Apocalypticism or Endism, the belief that The Book of Revelations describes the events that must come to pass for God's plan to be fulfilled. [1] Revelations thus becomes an object of longing as well as the key to understanding contemporary history, to reading the news of the day and keeping a handle on an otherwise overwhelming world. Each of these categories, Strozier adds, must be understood not doctrinally but psychologically. What follows attempts to constitute such an understanding by analyzing each category as the progression of a disorder that finds the end it seeks in Apocalyptic destructiveness.

Before undertaking that examination a note on method. My goal is not to number the streaks of the tulip with respect to Christian fundamentalism but to get to the essence of the thing by offering a psychoanalytic version of the method Hegel formulated in the Phenomenology of Mind. My effort will be to describe the inner structure of the psyche implied by fundamentalist beliefs by examining those beliefs in terms of the psychological needs they fulfill. The examination of each belief will reveal its function in an evolving "logic" that traces the sequence of internal operations required for the fundamentalist psyche to achieve the form required to resolve the conflicts that define its inner world. The difference between my method and Hegel's is this: Hegel's effort was to describe the sequence of rational self-mediations required for the attainment of absolute knowledge. Mine is to record the sequence of psychological transformations that must take place for another kind of certainty to be achieved: one in which, as we'll see, thanatos and not reason attains an absolute status, freed of anything within that would oppose it. In effect, my goal is to offer fundamentalists a self-knowledge they cannot have since it is precisely the function of the belief structure we shall examine to render it unconscious and all the more powerful and certain of itself by virtue of that fact. What after all is religion but a desire displacing itself into dogmas all the better to assure the flock that what they desire is writ into the nature of things?

Who does the structure we'll examine describe? George W. Bush and some of those closest to him? The 42% or 51% of those Americans who now call themselves fundamentalists? The 80 or 90% of practicing Christians, the over 1 billion viewers worldwide, who found Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ a singularly compelling expression of their faith and who are thus already far more fundamentalist in their hearts than they realize? The power of any religious belief system derives from how deeply it taps into collective needs and discontents. In this regard we may already be living in a fundamentalist Zeitgeist with the collective Amerikan psyche now defined, even among those who have never (or seldom) seen the inside of a church, by the emotional needs and principles of operation that find their most seductive realization in fundamentalism. We may in fact find the same "faith" informing a project that initially appears to have nothing to do with fundamentalism--global capitalism.

Though he does not share their beliefs Strozier often comments on the charity and gentleness of his interviewees seeing in that a sign that we should always temper any criticism of fundamentalism by acknowledging the good things it does for people, many of whom would be lost or miserable without it. Be that as it may, in terms of the psyche a far different condition might maintain with a pronounced dissonance between the sincerity of the surface and the depths where something quite different has taken hold of the psyche. Moreover, in the psychoanalysis of a belief system the primary concern must be not with the sheep but with the Grand Inquisitors. Or, to put it in psychoanalytic terms, with those who fashion the Super-ego which is the agency essential to the hold that any religion assumes over its followers. Our concern, in short, must be with fundamentalism not as a pathetic phenomena, a halfway house for drug addicts and a panacea for those who find in it the infantalization they seek, but for those who have fashioned in it what Nietzsche would call (though with horror) a strong valuation, an attempt to take up the fundamental problems of the psyche and fashion a will to power out of one's resentment by developing a faith that will make one strong and righteous in that resentment, like Falwell, smug in its smug certitudes like Dubya, confident in the right to rule over those it reduces to the status of sheep, dumb and blissful in their blind obedience to the will that is collectively imposed on them.

Religion remains of course the one thing we are enjoined to treat with kid gloves as if this is the one area of life where criticism and a rhetoric that tries to energize the force of criticism is verboten. Violating this rule is also the quickest way to lose what current statistics indicate will be the 93% of one's audience who say they believe in God. It is thus important that I indicate up front that this is not a contract I can honor. Like Freud, I think it can be demonstrated that religion is a collective neurosis. In fact one implication of the following examination is that Freud didn't go far enough. But let me reformulate this hypothesis in a more convivial spirit. Let's bracket the whole question of whether religion has an object. On second thought, let me concede it, the utter ontological truth of all the basic beliefs, ever each one. Only then perhaps can we focus on the question that constitutes the inherent and lasting fascination of religion. Not what people believe, but why. The consideration of religion as a psychological phenomenon-and as such perhaps the one that offers the deepest insight into the nature of the psyche and its needs.

I. Literalism
"I don't do nuance."
Literalism is the linchpin of fundamentalism; the literalization, if you will, of the founding psychological need. For an absolute certitude that can be established at the level of facts that will admit of no ambiguity or interpretation. (Fundamentalists, ironically, are the true positivists.) But to eliminate ambiguity and confusion one must attack its source. Figurative language. That is the danger that must be avoided at all costs because in place of the literal figurative language introduces the play of meaning. The need to sustain complex connections at the level of thought (not fact) through the evolution of mental abilities that are necessarily connected with developing all the metaphoric resources of language. The literal in contrast puts an end to thought. It offers the mind a way to shut down, to reify itself. It thereby exorcises the greatest fear: interpretation and its inevitable result, the conflict of interpretations and with it the terror of being forever bereft of dogmatic certitudes. A metaphor is the lighting flash of an intelligence that sees, as Aristotle asserts, connections that can only be sustained by a thought that thereby liberates itself from the immediate.
Literalism is the attempt to arrest all of this before it takes hold. It's innermost necessity is the resistance to metaphor. For with metaphor one enters a world that has the power to unravel the literal mind. Let me offer one example. "There is no God and Mary is his mother." In this great aphorism Santayana asserts an ontological impossibility and a psychological necessity. I once tried it out on some fundamentalist friends. They were at first puzzled by the unintelligibility of the statement then amazed that Santayana and I were so dumb we couldn't see the contradiction. Finally the light went on, almost in chorus, the literalist deconstruction of the statement: "If he wasn't a God how could she be a mother?" All attempts to suggest that the statement wasn't meant to be taken literally only produced further confusion then frustration then anger. Santayana's statement made no sense precisely because it was a koan, a paradox intended to produce reflection, even introspection. It was there I suggested that one would find the key to its meaning; not in the assertion that its meaningless constituted evidence that Santayana was perverse or mentally unbalanced. We were, of course, talking at irretrievable cross-purposes with no way to bridge the gulf between us. Which was, of course, the point of the exercise.

Literalism is the first line of defense of a mind that wants to put itself to sleep. A sensibility that like Nietzsche's last man can only blink in blank incomprehension at anything that can't be immediately understood. It is the great protection against a world teeming with complexities. Literalism offers a way out, a way to keep the mind fixed and fixated at its first condition. The way: the refusal to comprehend anything that exceeds the limits of the simple declarative sentence. Two reductions thereby feed on one another: the world is reduced to facts and simples; the mind reduced to a permanently blank slate.

Fundamentalism feeds on and fosters this reduction of the mind to the conditions of the immediate. For in fundamentalism literalism is raised to the status of a categorical imperative. It is the law that assures deliverance from all confusion. There is a single text, the Holy Bible. It contains clear, simple direct messages-proclamations-that establish the Truth once and for all. All of life's questions and contingencies are resolved by statements that are beyond change and interpretation. Literalism reduces reading and interpretation to the Cratylean dream: one need only point to the appropriate passage and "Pouf" all doubt and ambiguity about what one should think, believe, or desire on a given situation vanishes. One need no longer wrack one's brain or one's heart or live in the terror that the world exceeds one's grasp. The Book's unequivocal meaning and Life are adequated to one another in a relationship of stark and simple imposition. You see God has a plan for us and unlike secularists and post-structuralists He speaks in clear and unmistakable terms.

When approached literally the Book of necessity takes on a number of other characteristics. Everything in it must be factual and nothing outside the book can contradict those facts. The very possibility of scientific investigation is sacrificed a priori to the need to proclaim the text's inerrancy. Every word of it must be the unalterable and unchanging word of God, which of course can contain no contradictions. One of the ironies of fundamentalist reading is the rather considerable constraints it places on the deity. He proclaims and what he says remains so forever, beyond growth, development, change, revision. Whatever abomination of sex hatred one unearths from Leviticus must remain gospel today. The Book cannot be read progressively or retroactively, despite Christ's repeated claims to cancel the old law. An eye for an eye remains true for all time however out of keeping with the law of charity. After all, "It's in the Bible." That repeated assertion expresses the essence and fundamental paralysis of the literal mind. The idea of reading the Book along the pop-Hegelian lines pursued by Jack Miles as the story of how as He develops God changes his mind, softening his prematurely hardened heart is anathema. God's role is set by the limitations of the literal "imagination." His job is to lay down the law, once and for all, and in no uncertain terms; to be that super-ego who operates by the only logic that literalism permits-binary opposition. All conflicts and confusions must be resolved into a sharp, simple, and comprehensive opposition between Good and Evil. Else comes again the fit of contingency and ambiguity. Binarism is the realization in logic of the literalist attitude toward language. The reduction of language to the declarative statement is matched in binarism by a logic that turns everything into an abstract allegory.

The most interesting reach of literalism comes, however, in the interpretation of the prophetic writings, especially Revelations. Here confronting what even it must see as image and metaphor, literalism performs the only operation that makes sense to it. The metaphoric is literalized. Armageddon must takes place on the plain of Jezreel near the ancient military fortification of Megiddo (35 miles southeast of Haifa), even though this patch of land "is not tomb enough and continent to hide the slain." Gorbachev must be the Beast (how else account for that red swath on his forehead); Saddam Hussein must be the Antichrist-or Arafat or Bill Clinton. Anything and everything that happens in the Middle East must be scanned as a sign that we are indeed moving toward the Tribulation. When he speaks prophetically God is playing a little game with us, to activate what in fundamentalism passes as the exercise of imagination. To make sense of the text requires the precise matching of its ornate and expressionist images to persons, places and events which are thereby assigned the only meaning they can have. Mapped onto history the Bible offers us an absolute certitude about history, thereby vanquishing the greatest contingency. In dealing with the Middle East , for example, we need not confuse ourselves with the messy details of political history or develop a nuanced appreciation of Islam. Such things only breed confusion. All we have to do is literally match a prophecy to a contingency and Voila! we have attained literal certitude or, what amounts to the same thing, the fantasmatic imposition upon reality of what we want to believe. [2]

In all these operations sustaining a literal interpretation of the Bible is a desperate necessity. Once let go of that and the Book slips away into the hands of those who eventually will find anything in it-liberation theology, Bonhoeffer's religionless Christianity, a searing message of love-since they will be guided in their reading by nothing but the attempt to sustain a heart in conflict with itself using a book to pry open the deepest and most conflicted registers of its own interiority. Who can tell, perhaps this approach could even lead to the discovery that the Book hates the simple minded; that it is indeed Kafkaesque in offering parables and prophecies that only deepen our burden by demanding an intelligence equal to the complexity of the human heart.

Literalism is a cardinal necessity of the fundamentalist because it guarantees the primary psychological need. For a certitude that in its simplicity puts an end to all doubt, even to the possibility of doubt. That is what one must have and once attained what nothing can be permitted to alter. The literal meaning of words one need only point to for that meaning to be established must be imposed on the world without a blink of hesitation, a shadow of doubt, and when necessary beyond any appeal to the simplest claims of our humanity. Two examples. Perhaps the most chilling moment in a recent CNN special on fundamentalism occurs at the end of an interview with a young girl-between 8 and 10-who was saved at an earlier age (3) and is now so firm in every article of the faith that she is no longer in need of her parents or teachers. Earlier when the mother was asked if she'd ever let the children watch South Park the young girl chimed in: "I wouldn't want to watch a program like that." The interview ends with this question: "what happens to those who don't believe?" Like a trumpet call, in the blinking of an eye, even less, without batting an eyelash the child answers: "They go to hell" What made this statement so chilling was the absence of the slightest sign of doubt or pity. If there is an innocence left here it lies in the possibility that, unlike her parents, the child has not yet started to feast on images of the damned. She is however already in league with where fundamentalism will take her because she's attained the correct posture: the assumption of an absolute certitude in which there is and can be no conflict of the heart with what it is told to believe, no possibility of wondering about a God who is capable of the titanic condemnation she's just asserted as an assured article of faith. Nor of course is there the possibility of the only legitimate choice such a "truth" would demand-the rejection of such a God. 2 +2=5. Whatever one is told the Book says becomes the truth. One then clutches it to one's bosom with literal precision, locking in step to its every command, Kadavergehorsamkeit. My second example comes from poor Mel Gibson who judging from a TV interview accepts with apparent indifference the belief that barring conversion to Catholicism his own wife (mother of his 7 Catholic children) will suffer eternal damnation. Such is the literal nature of his faith and the ability of that literalism to seal off everything else in him so that we need not fear that Gibson will ever find himself in the place of Milton's Adam who choose death because he couldn't bear the thought of an eternity apart from the woman he loves. Literalism protects the heart from everything, even its own deepest urgings.

There is something terrifying in our first example; something appalling in our second. Together they reveal the emotion in which the literalist passion is grounded. Hatred--of all complexities; of anything that can't be reduced to the simplicity of absolute dogmas and the need to impose that hatred upon the world in a totalizing way. It is sometimes alleged that fundamentalists are just like the rest of us, confused by the world and seeking something to hang onto as a portal in the storm. This view is invalidated by the nature of the answers that the fundamentalist finds: answers that annihilate the problem, turn the desire for knowledge into a farce, and make of confusion the motive for self-infantalization. (By their answers ye shall know them.) Literalism is the way, but hatred is the through line. That is why fundamentalist certitude always becomes rectitude with the Bible mined for all the things one can label abomination. Thereby a sensibility that wants to have nothing to do with the world takes revenge upon it. On the surface literalism looks like a characteristic of fundamentalism free of psychological motives; on investigation it reveals itself as one of the clearest signs of the psychological need in which the entire project is grounded. Literalism is the first realization of the psychological root of fundamentalism: a fear and hatred of the contingencies that constitute being in the world. That is the first threat that must be vanquished. The second is found at a more intimate register.

II. Conversion
"But if a man is to become not merely legally but morally a good manthis cannot be brought about through gradual reformationbut must be effected through a revolution in the man's dispositionHe can become a new man only by a kind of rebirth, as it were a new creation."
Immanuel Kant

This category is best approached through narrative. Fundamentalism is in love with a single and common story it never tires of telling. This story is the key to the nature of the transformation it celebrates and the absolute split that transformation produces. A subject finds itself lost in a world of sin, prey to all the evils that have taken control of one's life. A despair seizes the soul. One is powerless to deal with one's problems or heal oneself because there is nothing within the self that one can draw on to make that project possible. The inner world is a foul and pestilent congregation of sin and sinfulness. And there's no way out. One has hit rock bottom and (so the story goes when it's told best) teeters on the brink of suicide. And then in darkest night one lets Him into one's life. And all is transformed. Changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born. Before one was a sinner doing the bidding of Satan. Now one is saved and does the work of the Lord. The old self is extinguished. Utterly. One has achieved a new identity, a oneness with Christ that persists as long as one follows one condition: one must let him take over one's life. Totally. All decisions are now in Jesus' hands. He tells one what to do and one's fealty to his plan must be absolute. There can be no questioning, no doubt. For that would be the sign of only one thing-the voice of Satan and with it the danger of slipping back into those ways of being that one has, through one's conversion, put an end to forever. The person or self one once was is no more so complete is the power of conversion. A psyche has been delivered from itself. And it's all so simple finally, a matter of delivering oneself into His will, of following His plan as set forth in the Book and of letting nothing be within oneself but the voice of Jesus spreading peace and love throughout one's being.

The most striking thing about this narrative is the transparent nature of the psychological defense mechanism from which it derives and the rigidity with which it employs that mechanism. Splitting. Which as Freud and Klein show is the most primitive mechanism of defense employed by a psyche terrified of its inner world. The conversion story raises that mechanism to the status of a theological pathos. Though the story depends on recounting how sinful one's life once was(often in great even "loving" detail) the psychological meaning of conversion lies in its power to wipe all of that away. Magically one attains a totally new psyche, cleansed, pristine, and impermeable. One has, in fact, attained a totally new self-reference. The self is a function of one's total identification with Jesus. Consciousness is bathed in his presence. It has become the scene in which his love expresses itself in the beatific smile that fills ones face whenever one thinks of one's redemption, the tears that flood one's blessed cheeks, the saccharine tone that raises the voice to an eerie self-hypnotizing pitch whenever one finds another opportunity to express the joyous emotions that one must pump up at every opportunity in order to keep up the hyperconsciousness required to sustain the assurance of one's redemption. The whole process is a monument to the power of magical thinking to blow away inner reality, and as such a further sign of the primitive nature of the psychological mechanisms on which conversion depends.

The power of conversion to produce a saved self makes the Catholic confessional the operation of rank amateurs. There through forgiveness one gets temporary relief from sins that in all likelihood both priest and penitent know one will commit again. One gets a momentarily cleansed psyche but not a lasting transformation. Through conversion, however, one achieves an absolutely new beginning. One's life is divided in half. Split between B.C. and A.D. Everything one once was is washed away. Everything one now is is its antithesis. Such was the miracle that came upon Dubya by the end of his walk along the beach with Billy Graham. The man George W. Bush was is no more. It was merely the stuff the dream of conversion was built on and now has vanished leaving not a rack behind. Dubya is reborn to the very depths of his being. And everything that follows becomes a pure expression of the new self he now has. Thanks to Jesus. For that's the key both to conversion and its aftermath. One has finally little or nothing to do with the transformation. Agency is the Lord's. He enters one's psyche and performs precisely what the psyche could not do for itself. Moreover, the new agency that results from conversion is also his. All that one now does derives from his Will. One has become the medium through which the Diety achieves its purpose. One's own will finally has nothing to do with it. One is but the servant of his Will, doing what he tells one to do as He makes that purpose known. That's also why errror is inconceivable, when when asked Dubya is unable to discover any mistake he's made as President. And of course that must be so in service to a deeper exigency. It is His will that put one in the position of the most powerful man in the world and He must have done so because He had something special in mind.

Such for the fundamentalist is what it means to have a self. To live an abstract allegory. Devil before, god after. With the self dissolved under the force of the one agent or the other. And never the twain shall meet. Except as absolute antagonists. One could say that conversion transforms the self, but it would be more appropriate to say that it annihilates it. That is in fact its function. For salvation to occur the self is precisely that which must be rendered powerless then transcended through a transformation that can only come from without. That transformation accordingly produces a split that is absolute and must be maintained at all costs. For it is what the psyche depends on to deliver it from everything disruptive and unstable in itself. Even if at times one finds oneself again a sinner, that sinfulness is all the work of the Big Other, Satan. Salvation is deliverance and such is the fundamentalist despair over the self that deliverance must be total.
Conversion is thus the antithesis of what happens in an authentic psychoanalysis. A contrast between the two will bring out what happens within the psyche when it embraces conversion. The key to an authentic analysis is the assumption of full responsibility for who one is through the attainment of a concrete and intimate knowledge of one's psyche, of the unconscious desires and conflicts that have structured the history of one's life. Attaining such knowledge entails three steps. (1) Recognition that one is the author of one's condition; not Satan, not the parents, not demon rum in its effects on a pre-existing physiological condition. The state of one's psyche in its bankruptcy is the function and fruition of a desire. That is why, as Freud said, one must listen to the details of one's illness-not the appeal of remote and general causes-because it is in those details that much that is of value to one's future life must be derived. (2) Through the second recognition: that the problem of the psyche is not to extinguish desire but to reclaim it by freeing oneself from the self-defeating ways one has lied to oneself about it. To do that one must see that the trauma or traumatic event that has produced a crisis or breakdown in the psyche is the fulfillment of its own plan for itself. It is the thing one has brought upon oneself, like Oedipus, through one's effort to avoid it. As such it is what first puts one in the position to know oneself. As a being defined by conflicts that cannot be transcended but must be sustained.. The task is not to escape them but to enter into them in the right way. Conflict is and remains the reality and burden-of the psyche. (3) Which begets the third recognition. The recognition that one never escapes one's psyche nor achieves some form of ego-identity that guarantees a stability outside or beyond conflict. Change requires a radically different discipline-and change is what psychoanalysis is all about. What it teaches is that the possibility of change involves taking on a total responsibility for one's psyche. One does so not by fleeing one's conflicts but by deepening one's engagement in them. Life is a process of becoming responsible for oneself by deepening one's awareness of all that within oneself for which one must assume responsibility. A genuine analysis turns on the assumption of a tragic agency; it "ends" when that agency has become the relationship that one lives to oneself. One is not freed from one's disorder but delivered over to it. The depth of the interrogation one continues to pursue about one's psyche becomes the basis of the agon one continues to have with oneself. That is the ethic that psychoanalysis makes possible, an ethic of existential change that is terminated only with one's death. To exist is to be in the difficulty of what it is to be a subject burdened with itself.

Working through (Durcharbeit), the most important part of any analysis, is essentially an education in the process of assuming a tragic relationship to oneself. It is the art of learning to sustain tragic emotions-the kind we're told we must avoid or shed as quickly as possible since all they can do is made us sad-as the emotions that put the subject in touch with its inner world. Depressive melancholy must become, for example, what Keats saw it as: "the wakeful anguish of the soul." The route to self-knowledge is a progressive deepening of a knowledge of one's disorder through the suffering of it. This possibility depends on a single circumstance: the concrete and bitter immersion in the particulars of one's life and one's responsibility for those particulars. No satanic agency caused one's condition and no messianic agency will come to blow it away. One must know and accept the concrete causes in oneself that have shaped the self-lacerating history of one's heart. One is not delivered from it; one is delivered over into it. There is only one source of inner strength and it is found in a full acceptance of relating to oneself in depth by sustaining the suffering that relationship entails. The answer to the problem of the psyche lies in the maximization of the problem. Self-analysis is based on the recognition that there is no deliverance from desire and inner conflict. Satan, in contrast, is the blank check that puts an end to that process before it can begin. Consider the contrast between two statements. " I was a lustful man and a fornicator who worshipped the Beast within me." "I was a man who hated women and used sex to injure them psychologically in order to feed the emotional conflicts of my relationship with my mother." The difference between the two statements is enormous. The first obliterates the need for further description, exorcising the possibility of self-knowledge and genuine responsibility. The second is but the overture to the painful problem of taking on responsibility for every word of it.
Conversion is the flight from that action. The psyche is safely delivered into the hands of abstraction. One was under Satan's power when one did all those terrible things. That's how He works. He invades a soul like a thief in the night and under his power we do all sorts of things that are against our nature. But once we let Jesus in we are cleansed. Born again. All before was the work of an otherness that invaded us. It is now burnt and purged away. We can of course feel remorse but at the same time those we harmed should know it was not really our doing. The cause is not in ourselves but in the virus that invaded our soul.

Psychoanalysis delivers the subject over to itself as the one relationship that cannot be transcended. Conversion delivers the subject from itself. What one was is not the depth of a disorder one must plumb concretely in the full horror of all one must come to know about oneself as author. It is rather all that one can blow away through one's conversion! Such is the power and pleasure of splitting as a mechanism of defense. In the absolute reliance on that mechanism fundamentalism renders up its secret.
Here, then, is the real truth of conversion. Fear and hatred of the psyche and a desperate desire to be rid of it. The psyche is that which one must find a way to escape and then to deny. Any sign of its continued presence after conversion produces panic anxiety. That is why for conversion to work one must maintain a carefully limited subjectivity given over to the self-hypnotic iteration of all the signs or behaviors one maintains in order to reassure oneself of one's salvation. The presence of anything else within fills the fundamentalist with terror and loathing and the need for a fresh exorcism. The psyche is the problem in fundamentalism not because it's sinful but because it's exacting. Sustaining a relationship with it requires the constant opening of oneself to the suffering of truths not about the devil but about oneself; not about evil but about the actual things one has done to other's harm, which is the bottomless discovery that psychoanalysis inflicts on us as the price of remaining human. Such a tragic discipline can have no meaning for the fundamentalist except as the condition one must be delivered from. How perfect then to find a way to be done with the whole thing, to shed one's former life the way a snake sheds its skin and then be reborn in the conviction that one has consigned it to the past. But the only way to sustain that state is by living the life of a subjectivity under surveillance needing and giving itself constant reassurance that it is saved by pumping up all the positive emotions (and happy talk) that witness one's oneness with the Lord while guarding against the expression of any of the old, negative emotions that would suggest the opposite. Expressing the emotions of the saved has become an obsessional necessity. One thing alone is needful. Giving the proof at all times-especially to oneself-that one is on God's side.

To be saved is to enter a condition in which one only has "positive" emotions, Christian emotions, which are always played "over the top" because the primary purpose of the performance is to engage in an ongoing act of self-hypnosis. In keeping with a duty that cannot be shirked: one must become the walking embodiment of one's simplest version of the love that God has for you since any other kind of love would be exacting whereas this one offers the bliss of self-infantalization. That's the source of the monotonous sameness of the fundamentalist congregation, the aping and mimicking of one another; the identical smile of mindless bliss, the tearful displays, the saccharine tone in the prosletyizing voice, the need to constantly proclaim how wonderful it feels to be saved and to bear witness to that fact by turning every possible occasion into a chance to inflict a bevy of dimensionless emotions and sentiments on others as if being a Christian amounted to being a walking Hallmark card. In all this one labors under a manic necessity. But it isn't enough. That mania must find a practice that will offer lasting reassurance by enabling one to repeat (as it were) the process and content of one's conversion.

III. Evangelicalism
" This is deadly work."
Clov in Samuel Beckett's Endgame

Evangelicalism is the manic activity whereby the split in the psyche that conversion creates is projected onto the world. Thereby one confirms the identity one has attained through a fresh exorcism of the one that conversion vanquished. Evangelicism offers the fundamentalist the only way to sustain the reborn self: by trying to recreate the experience of one's conversion in others in order to reenact an unending exorcism. In the other one locates the split off self one once was now placed totally outside oneself. It becomes the fantasm of what must be the condition of one's auditors, of those who, whether they know it or not, are lost, wallowing in error and sin, their minds awash in the torrents of secularism, dumb to the clarity that comes from the Words one now speaks to bring them enlightenment, could they but hear. This is the root cause of the frustration that quickly comes if we make the mistake of bidding entry when the fundamentalist knocks on the door. We offer discourse in vain to those who are seized by a necessity. It's not just the repeated literal citation of the Bible as absolute truth ("do you know that satan was once an angel close to God; that's why he's so powerful") or the repeated refrain that puts an end to all discussion ("well I believe the Bible and the Bible says"); or the inability to hear anything we say except as a sign that we've not yet grasped the truth that's galling. It's the recognition that despite the charitable demeanor, evangelical activity is based on a total lack of respect for the minds of those they are trying to convert.

That lack of respect is, however, necessary. Anything less would be a confession of doubt. Which would make the other a threat when they can only be one thing: an image of what one was prior to conversion, of what the world in its unregenerate condition represents. Namely, the place where one projects all that conversion supposedly removed from the psyche. Through evangelicalism one engages in the repetition compulsion that has become one's innermost necessity. The only way to prevent a return of the projections is through their continued projection. By locating them outside oneself and waging an "attack" on that externalization one is delivered from the fear of what can no longer be within. Everything bad is now outside oneself and one must do everything to keep it there. One can share with one's auditor the confession in the abstract that one is a "sinner" too but the discussion better shift quickly to the evils of the world: to homosexuals and abortion and the entertainment industry and best of all the imperiled state of a nation bereft of "moral values." One is well tuned then. The manic drive has been unlocked and sweeps to a revenge upon anything that can be even remotely associated with one's former self; for one has entered a dream state and readies desire for wrathful discharge upon a world drenched in sin. Evangelicalism offers the psyche a chance to be cleansed again of everything that may still fester deep within somewhere, longing to break out. This is an operation fundamentalism shares with its most famous offshoot-Alcoholics Anonymous. Though splitting and projection produce denial, one is always in danger of slipping. One needs a ritual to reestablish who one is by again exorcising what one was. What the meeting does for the alcoholic proselytizing does for the fundamentalist.
It should now be evident that what looks at first like the least important of the four characteristics of fundamentalism fulfills perhaps the deepest psychological necessity. Without this activity the fundamentalist psyche would implode. The obsessional need to preach the gospel, to find a way as soon as possible to let every stranger one meets know that one is a Christian, born again, are practices that derive not from a lack of social skills but from a manic necessity. For the saved there is and can be nothing but the story of their salvation. It is the master narrative to which all lives must conform, the tale one must tell as often and ardently as the Ancient Mariner tells his. Though for antithetical reasons. The Mariner tells his tale to relieve an inner pain by injecting it into the consciousness of listeners who will be existentially individuated by the tale. Evangelists tell theirs to reassure themselves about their "identity" by trying to compel others to participate in it. Structurally and psychologically, however, both tellers labor under the same necessity. Repetition as the attempt to retain an identity in order to flee something else-in the Mariner's case a suicidal depression; in the fundamentalist perhaps the same thing -- that is of necessity buried deep in the unconscious. One piece of evidence in support of this hypothesis: without the chance to engage in evangelical activity the fundamentalist psyche sinks into a state of empty boredom.

Thus the lassitude of Dubya before 9-11 and the hectic messianic energy that has defined him since. 9-11 gave him what he needed-the chance to transform a stalled Presidency by adopting an evangelical stance toward the entire world. Preemptive unilateralism is not just a political credo. It's an evangelical article of faith. The world must of necessity be divided into Good and Evil. And one must bring that message to the world in the same way the fundamentalist visits the doorstep of the unconverted. If those one addresses-the United Nations, other countries, members of the Republican party-aren't converted to the Word that can only be a sign of their error. Or worse. As Ashcroft never lost an opportunity to remind us, their complicity with the enemy. The whole world is either with us or against us. And nothing anyone says can have any other meaning. We cannot let our message be altered by doubts or fears. The fundamentalist mind, closed off from discourse by its own certitude can only project itself upon the global stage in the way demanded by inner psychological necessity. Manic activity under the guise of certainty as the proof that one has triumphed over all inner conflicts. And thus the beckoning of a new necessity. The need to extend the opposition between Good and Evil as far as possible-from Afghanistan to Iraq to the Axis of Evil to the 60 nations identified as supporters of terror-in the assurance that God has chosen one for a mission not just to convert the World but to wage war on whatever one labels evil, the only certainty being that one will always find fresh targets because doing so has now become the projective necessity of a mania that drives toward the omnipotence it seeks by pushing the war on terror toward an ultimate realization. Moreover, whatever one must do in waging this war is justified without the possibility of any appeal to conscience. Thus another doctrinal innovation that distinguishes Dubya from all previous Presidents: the assertion of the right for a first strike use of nuclear weapons and with it the developments now under way to create a host of new "tactical" nuclear weapons. To deliver the world from the spectre of nuclear war we must ready ourselves to wage a nuclear war on the world. (Paranoia thus projects the possibility of an omnipotence beyond MAD as policy.) And so we should all indeed be trembling in our boots to know the mind-set that now has its finger on the nuclear trigger. Happiness is a warm gun.

The war on terror has many meanings, not the least of which the blank check to disseminate an Orwellian fear whenever the Adminstration desires. Perhaps its deepest meaning, however, is to mark the founding moment in which politics in Amerika becomes inseparable from the projection of a religious ideology. 9-11 told Dubya that the time was ripe for a mission that the Diety elected him to perform. A seamless transition thus offers itself to us, from an evangelical presidency to the fourth characteristic of fundamentalism, the one that, as we'll see, informs and completes the others taking us to the heart of the disorder, the innermost necessity that hallows all its dreams.

IV. Apocalypticism-The Heart of the Ulcer
"Devout believers are safeguarded in a high degree against the risk of certain neurotic illnesses; their acceptance of the universal neurosis spares them the task of constructing the personal one."

Apocalypticism is the capstone that completes the process of fundamentalist self-fashioning. Without it, as we'll see, the entire edifice would crumble. In the Apocalpytic moment the disorder at the core of the fundamentalist psyche achieves a final form, thereby passing over to the register of the sublime. The sublime is the register of the psyche that is reached when the informing desire is given an unbounded expression. All conflicts are then resolved in a release of tension that is total and constitutes what Lacan means by jouissance. The psyche has found a way to fulfill and complete the desire that structures its inner constitution. As we'll see, each structure described in the previous sections requires Apocalypticism and achieves completion in it. In the Apocalyptic fantasm an ultimate expression is given to the conflicts that define the fundamentalist psyche through an action that brings an end to those conflicts.

The necessity of Apocalypticism is a direct outgrowth of the psychological mechanism on which fundamentalist relies to structure the world. The only way to prevent a return of the projections is through a final evacuation. This desire can only come to fruition with the picturing of a world beyond redemption held under the brand of an all-consuming wrath. That image finalizes the split that defines the psyche by giving sublime expression to the way one must view the world when seeing it from the standpoint of one's salvation. Apocalypticism thus brings to completion the psychological operation that has been employed repeatedly from the beginning. First, one cleanses oneself by projecting one's disowned desires unto the world. The resulting split must then be maintained rigorously with nothing allowed to fall outside its scope. The psyche must be voided of everything save the serenities of the saved. For that to happen, however, the world must become the object of an unstinting attack on all that one has externalized there. This act must be endless lest the projections return. By its internal logic fundamentalism is thus driven ineluctably to a need for quantitative expansion through the discovery of greater, more insidious forms of evil. The mathematical sublime beckons, the need to produce greater and greater magnitudes. The world becomes the polluted chamber of one's foulest imaginings with no way to check the demands of that vision. Within the psyche an even greater transformation occurs. One craves the constant exercise of an emotion that one must just as strenuously disclaim. Hatred. One needs fresh supplies of it as badly as the U.S. needs to ransack the globe for fresh supplies of oil. No matter how loudly one proclaims one's salvation, purified in the blood of the lamb, hatred has become the innermost necessity to which one is wedded. And that necessity has now broken lose of any containment. Hatred of one's former self is no longer sufficient. One now hates the world and is driven to seek out everything in it that one can claim caused or can cause an inner condition other than the purity of the saved. One hates, that is, everything that resists surrender and absolute obedience to the system of literalism and literal commands to which one has committed oneself. As the scope of what one hates grows apace it finds fruition in the binary opposition that is essential to it. Good and Evil divide the world in two, giving ontological form to the rigidity of the split that defines the fundamentalist psyche. All differences, all particularities, all complexities must give way to the demands of a comprehensive abstraction. And the fury of that abstraction can and will brook no exceptions. Everything thus resolves itself into the ultimate necessity required by the informing hatred. One longs for and demands an end to all the contingencies that have from the beginning been sources of fear and confusion. It is what one has always sought. To be done with all of it. With the contingency of the human. To be done with all ambiguity and complexity and confusion. Done with the feeling that history has no purpose other than chaos or meaningless repetition. Done with embodiment itself- and all the unwelcome desires it imposes on us. Done with the very sources of all that one hates and fears. To locate it all ontologically in a single principle-evil-and then be rid of it all once and for all through the triumph of that force that has the power to extinguish it all.
Literalism tried to keep the world at bay by reducing everything to the simplest formulas, the mind itself to the most unproblematic blink of consciousness in stupified adherence to the narrow fixations needed to banish metaphor, ambiguity, and uncertainty. But it wasn't enough. The world keeps seeping it. There must be a way to be done with it, once and for all. To find what one has craved from the beginning. The end. And a proper end-one that will give sublime expression to the desire that has fed the whole thing. Death. The longing for death transformed into a sublime celebration of death. Life in its complexity demands too much of us. That in a nutshell is the fundamentalist message. Only death can deliver one from the threat life poses. Only when life is done is one safe from a return of the projections and an eruption of the repressed. One has always longed for deliverance into a realm free of desire and all its temptations. Death alone offers the comfort one seeks. The resentment in which the psyche has centered itself demands no less. One must work one's hatred of the world into a frenzy and feed that hatred with sublime images of evil in order to bring it to a fevered pitch. Release and satisfaction then come with the delivery of that world over to the hands of an angry God expressing his wrath in an orgy of pure destructiveness. Thank God for The Book of Revelations. For the only way both to satisfy and to purge one's hatred is to express it on a massive world-shattering scale. The death one seeks projected into the death one delivers. The self is thereby done with life and freed for transport of the saved split off self to a realm of bliss freed from all cares. A psyche wedded to thanatos has found in thanatos the final solution. One's resentment against life has been turned into a righteous and of necessity cosmic attack upon it.

In Transformations Wilfred Bion tries to conceptualize a destructiveness "that goes on working after it destroys personality, time, and existence." Such is the desire that feeds the fundamentalist fixation on The Book of Revelations. A psyche wedded to thanatos seeks sublime expression of that desire. It finds it satisfied repeatedly in Revelations, as if its author, like the director of the next disaster movie, keeps seeking the perfect image to feed the underlying venom or to bring it, with each repetition, closer to that image in which destructiveness will find its objective correlative. One makes allowances of course for the author of Revelations, what with his people under genocidal persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire. But how account for the fixation on such images, as if they were the only real source of pleasure, of those whose greatest fear is that their wife will find the G spot or that Mommie's little darlings will see MTV before the V chip is installed? How account for the persistent unscratable itch for picturing the great Whore of Bablyon and anticipate the delicious synesthesia of the golden cup "in her hand filled with abominable things and the filth of her fornications? How account for the thrill that comes as one reads again the rich description of all the plagues that will be visited upon the earth? And how else account for the necessity of the grand crescendo to which it all moves as the enraptured reader approaches Armageddon and the final battle that will put an end to that folly, human history, giving the reader the true pleasure of the text since one has known all along that history could have no purpose or meaning other than its destruction? One loves this book and longs to see the coming to pass of all it promises in fulfilling on a cosmic stage the very process that has given structure to one's psyche, as if the apocalypse one suffered on the little stage were but a prefigurement meant to whet one's appetite for the Big One.

Here then a reading of the function that Revelations plays in the fundamentalist psyche. In the depths of its psyche fundamentalism is ruled by catastrophic anxiety, a self tottering on the brink of a dissolution in which it will fragment imprisoned in a world that will impose all of its terrors and evils upon it. We will fail to understand fundamentalism as long as we resist seeing how close it is to a psychosis. Fundamentalist rage is the attempt of a subject to hold itself together in the only way it can: by waging war on all that terrifies it. The psyche commits itself to destructiveness to allay a destruction that already threatens it from within. That condition results in a paradoxical situation that finds its only possible solution in Revelations. Destructiveness must be given a full, unchecked expression and the psyche must somehow survive that act. The drive toward death repeats itself in increasing magnitudes as it moves toward a final conflict that obliterates all future conflict and transports the self to a realm of unending bliss. The slight textual support (1 Thessalonians 4:17) notwithstanding, the Rapture is a psychological necessity. It embodies the magical thought that the coming of global destruction is also the coming of salvation. One has always longed for a feast of destructiveness as the signal for one's transport to a condition free of the world. That's why when that moment comes it is impossible to prevent the surfacing of a long suppressed and twisted sexual desire. As destruction approaches so too does ascent to a realm in which one is free to project a marriage consummated in the sky with Christ serving as the Bride. The delights of that image should not prevent us from seeing what has happened here. The longing for death has been turned into an ecstatic embrace of it; a rapture so complete in its jouissance that one can no longer disguise the fact that all of ones libidinal energies have gone into the quest for such a complete and final unbinding, an extinction within consciousness of all save the ecstatic recognition that one is saved and that all the connections that once bound one to the world have been severed once and for all. The psychotic attack on linking finds its apotheosis in Apocalypticism. The Rapture must be interpolated into Revelations at precisely this point because one's salvation corresponds with the arrival of something else-the dawning of the cataclysmic aggressions that must be vented in order to bring destruction upon the earth and usher in the millenium. In the clouds, safe with Jesus, one can continue to rejoice free of life or cast a cold eye upon it from time to time like one looking back on the moment just before one's conception but free now (an angelic Onan) to nip it in the bud. Or to spend the 1000 years millenium assured that though peace reigns it will come again, one last time, the dead themselves resurrected so that they can be slain again in a greater destruction than has ever been visited upon the earth ( Revs. 19-20) and then, as if that isn't enough, consigned to torment day and night forever. Only then is the rage that informs John's text discharged. And only then can love be expressed without leading to a new burst of rage. [3] Only then can a new heaven and a new earth be celebrated in language admittedly of great beauty with God himself wiping away all tears, putting an end to death, pain, and sorrow, making all things new, delivering believers from realities that they could never see as anything but arguments against life, Revelations confirming this fact long before Nietzsche conceptualized it. The great love feast--it's a pretty fantasy. As if once rage fashions its masterpiece the heart will open and what has been frozen for so long will become a warm and virgin spring.
Historically the great transformation in the use of Apocalypticism to incite fundamentalist believers to political action came in the 1980's, during the Reagan years, when Jerry Falwell (to cite but one example) shifted from the pre-millenarian belief that the faithful can do nothing but spread the gospel and wait as the modernist evil that will bring about the Tribulation runs its course to the activist position that fundamentalism must become a political force, indeed take over the country if possible, and make it a Christian Nation worthy of being spared as well as the one chosen to advance the movement toward that long sought, long delayed, deeply longed for and blessed Apocalyptic event. George Herbert Walker Bush was finally a man of restraint with a keen appreciation of the realities of global politics. Dubya labors under no such restraints. His is a mind unencumbered by an countervailing pressure that the world might offer to his singleness of vision. Thus there's no telling where the faith will lead now that Dubya has his mandate and must deliver to satisfy the grandiose conception of what God himself elected him to do. Even perhaps find a straight shining path from the cataclysmic future that defines that paranoic present that constantly recedes before us unless, that is, the Apocalyptic future can become the Evangelical present? Under Dubya that is now one term for reading what is going on in the Middle East.

It is hard to conceive the extent of the contempt for life that informs fundamentalism. As a final example, however, a testimonial to the environmental policies of the Bush Administration, consider the quaint piece of fundamentalist folklore known as "dominion theology." This tenet of the faith was openly professed by former Secretary of the Interior James Watt, the mentor of the current Secretary Gale Norton. Dominion theology holds that the Bible commands us to use up the earth's resources. We glut ourselves not just for capitalist greed but by biblical mandate. Indeed, as the end approaches it is our duty to do so globally since there's little time remaining to complete the job and thereby bring that final day ever closer. Besides, why bother preserving the planet. After the Second Coming none of it is going to matter. And so with each new success-the hole in the ozone, the melting of the ice caps, drilling in the national wildlife refuge, the Alaska pipeline - we give further proof that history is moving in the right direction. Since all is yellow to the jaundiced eye, the only thing the fundamentalist, like the capitalist, can see in Nature is that which must be conquered, used up, then subjected to disposal. The oft-chronicled battle of fundamentalists against environmentalism is dictated by the demands of the manic triad. Triumph, contempt, dismissal. Thereby destructiveness is projected onto life itself. The sublime for the fundamentalist is not found in the rain forest, but in its ravaging. Through such acts one finds another way to project one's hatred of life onto another object that has the power to deepen our entry into and love of it.

It is hard to know which is colder, crueler: the logic of fundamentalism or the logic of capitalism? But then that question assumes they are different in some fundamental way. And let's face it we want to hang on to that difference because it offers reassurance, even a guarantee, that we can play the two off against each other. Those currently in charge of our country suffer from no such illusion. Maybe that's because they know the secret we need to fathom if we're to historicize the connection that Max Weber saw between Christianity and Capitalism and thereby learn that Christian fundamentalism and Global Capitalism correspond to one another because they derive from the same seedbed and feed on the same destructive violence.

In concluding I offer a summary of how thanatos works in the fundamentalist psyche binding everything to the necessity for a sublime discharge. Apocalypticism expresses both the final evacuation needed to prevent a return of the projections and the jouissance required to fulfill the demand of thanatos for that complete unbinding that can only come by putting an end to everything. The hatred in which the psyche is grounded requires no less: it is total in its control over the inner world and thus demands a matching totalization. In the images of destruction that warm its heart one sees externalized the process that has ravaged the inner world. In that sense fundamentalism is the most extreme act of sado-masochism toward oneself that has yet been devised. As such it offers us perhaps the deepest insight into the super-ego as the force of death in the psyche, as an agency that is satisfied with no less than soul-murder, the bending of the entire psyche in blind service to its commands. Literal obedience to literal commands is merely the tip of that iceberg. It is within that the true process of soul-murder takes place. In a psyche that is willing to sacrifice everything in itself in order to placate an authority that is vindictively cruel in the wrath it directs on the slightest opposition to its will. In an attempt to achieve identification with that force the psyche wages war first on itself and then upon the world. The former act reveals the power of the super-ego; the latter act offers a way to confirm one's identification with it. In sacrificing everything in oneself to the super-ego one attains the right to become the walking embodiment of its wrath. The fundamentalist can loudly proclaim his or her love of God but the fact of the matter is that one fears Him because terror is the only relationship He permits. Fear-that is the thing one has never been able to overcome. That is why all transgression or the mere thought of transgression unleashes an overpowering guilt under which the psyche unravels. That guilt is the power of the super-ego to maintain control over the psyche. Super-ego guilt is thanatos in its immediacy ravaging the psyche by punishing it with the loss of a "love" that is indistinguishable from hate so absolute is the sacrifice it requires.

But how does such an agency come into being? On what must it draw to create the enormous energy that gives it such power over/within the psyche. Could it be that this too has and must have its beginnings in love? We have traced the effects of the destructiveness to which the fundamentalist psyche is wedded but we have not yet considered the cause. Sections 1-4 trace the dialectical progression of a disorder that we must now consider in its genesis. To do that we need to strike through the sound and fury of fundamentalist rage and get at what Ahab called "the little lower layer" by showing how thanatos first takes root in a soul and why it continues to ulcer there until it finds fulfillment in Apocalyptic expression.
Before turning to that examination a brief summary of the psychoanalytic understanding we've developed of the four characteristics that Charles Strozier isolates as fundamental to fundamentalism. (1) Inerrancy as the need to reduce all complexities to the literal in order to confine the mind to its simplest operations; (2) Conversion or the use of the primitive psychological defense known as splitting to establish an absolute separation of the saved psyche from the damned; (3)Evangelicalism or manic activity as the way to sustain and project that split; (4) Apocalypticism or thanatos incarnate as the desire for an event that will satisfy the hatred and the death-drive that has come to define the fundamentalist psyche. In discussing these characteristics I deliberately withheld the issue of sexuality until now not in order to minimize its importance but to maximize it by creating the context of characteristics that only make sense once we grasp the sexual disorder that informs them. Fundamentalism will then emerge in its proper meaning, as one of the clearest examples of the old and oft forgotten Freudian insight that sexuality is at the center of the human psyche and the dialectical opposition of eros and thanatos at the center of culture.The previous sections describe a super-ego "morality" grounded in thanatos. The following section attempts to describe the sexual roots of the disorder and thereby offer an explanation of how thanatos can take over the life of the psyche and channel all energies into its service.

V. Sexual Roots of the Fundamentalist Psyche

"Think of the depressing contrast between the radiant intelligence of a healthy child and the feeble intellectual powers of the average adult. Can we be quite certain that it is not precisely religious education which bears a large share of the blame for this relative atrophy?" -- Freud
My goal is to plumb the root cause of phenomena that are well-known. Fundamentalists live in a world obsessed with sexuality. It provides the primary texts of Biblical citation. It's the concrete referent of the fulminations against secularism, secular humanism, post-modernism, ethical relativism, feminism, deconstructionism, etc. It's also what the vaunted claim of "moral values" is all about. Morality is not about a life of charity, or the pursuit of justice, or the opening of oneself to the depth of human suf

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PostPosted: Tue May 30, 2006 4:29 am    Post subject: The Authoritarian Personality Reply with quote

Theodor Adorno, director of the German Frankfurt Institute of Social Research during the 1930s did studies on the causes of the rise of fascism in Germany. One study focused on the "authoritarian personality." This list is closer to some of the NeoCon bloggers I had contact with:

Here is a profile of an authoritarian personality On "Moral Values" Code Words for Emerging Authoritarian Tendencies in Americans:

1. Desire for a strong leader.

2. Conventionalism: Rigid adherence to conventional, middle class attitudes.

3. Authoritarian Submission: Submissive, uncritical attitude toward idealized moral authorities of the ingroup.

4. Authoritarian Aggression: Tendency to be on the lookout for, and to condemn, reject, and punish people who violate conventional values.

5. Anti-intraception: Opposition to the subjective, the imaginative, the tenderminded.

6. Superstitions and Stereotypical: The belief in mystical determinants of the individuals fate; the disposition to think in rigid categories.

7. Power and Toughness: Preoccupation with the dominance-submission, strong-weak, leader-follower dimension; identification with power figures; overemphasis upon the conventionalized attributes of the ego; exaggerated assertion of strength and toughness.

8. Destruction and Cynicism: Generalized hostility, vilification of the human.

9. Projectivity: The disposition to believe that wild and dangerous things go on in the world; the projection outwards of unconscious emotional impulses.

10. Sex: Exaggerated concern with sexual "goings-on" of other people.
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city trader

PostPosted: Tue May 30, 2006 8:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


while Karl Marx was writing the "Communist Manifesto" under the director of one group of Illuminists, Professor Karl Ritter of Frankfurt University was writing the antithesis under the direction of another group. The idea was that those who direct the overall conspiracy could use the differences in those two so-called ideologies to enable them to divide larger and larger numbers of the human-race into opposing camps so that they could be armed and then brainwashed into fighting and destroying each other. And particularly, to destroy all political and religious institutions. The work Ritter started was continued after his death and completed by the German so-called philosopher Freidrich Wilhelm Nietzsche who founded Nietzscheanism. This Nietzscheanism was later developed into Fascism and then into Nazism and was used to foment World War I and II.
"Around 1910; one Israel Zangwill wrote a play entitled "The Melting-Pot." It was sheer propaganda to incite the Negroes and Jews because the play purportedly visualized how the American people were discriminating against, and persecuting Jews and Negroes. At that time nobody seemed to realize that it was a propaganda play. It was that cleverly-written. The propaganda was well wrapped-up in the truly great entertainment in the play and it was a big Broadway Hit.

The legendary Diamond Jim Brady used to throw a banquet at the famous Delmonico Restaurant in New York after the opening-performance of a popular play. He threw such a party for the cast of "The Melting-Pot," its author, producer, and chosen Broadway-celebrities. By then I'd already made a personal mark on the Broadway Theater and was invited to that party. There I met George Bernard Shaw and a Jewish writer named Israel Cohen. Zangwill, Shaw, and Cohen were the ones who created the Fabian Society in England and had worked closely with a Frankfurt Jew named Mordicai who had changed his name to Karl Marx; but remember, at that time both Marxism and Communism were just emerging and nobody paid much attention to either and nobody suspected the propaganda in the writings of those three really brilliant writers.
During his early years; Mr. Fagan was also "Dramatic Editor" for "The Associated Newspapers," including the "New York Globe" and various Hearst newspapers. But in 1916 he took a "SABBATICAL" from the Theater and served as "Director of Public Relations" for Charles Evens Hughes; the Republican Candidate for the Presidency - he refused a similar post offered him for the Hoover campaign in 1928; thus, Mr. Fagan's career encompassed the Theater, Journalism and National Politics, and he is a proven expert in all those fields.

In 1930; Mr. Fagan came to Hollywood where he served as "Writer Director" with "Pathe Pictures, Inc.," then owned by Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the late President Jack Kennedy, and also at 20th Century Fox, and other Hollywood Film Studios. But he also continued in the Broadway Legitimate field.

In 1945, at the urgent request of John T. Flynn, the famous author of "THE ROOSEVELT MYTH," "WHILE WE SLEPT," "THE TRUE STORY OF PEARL HARBOR," etc.; Mr. Fagan attended a meeting in Washington D.C. where he was shown a set of micro-films and recordings of the SECRET meetings at Yalta attended only by Franklin Roosevelt, Alger Hess, Harry Hopkins, Stalin, Molotov, and Vishinsky when they hatched the plot to deliver the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Berlin to Stalin. As a result of that meeting; Mr. Fagan wrote two plays: "RED RAINBOW" (in which he revealed that entire plot) and "THIEVES PARADISE" (in which he revealed how those men plotted to create the "UNITED NATIONS" to be the "housing" for a so-called Communist One-World Government).
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The Analyst

PostPosted: Wed May 31, 2006 1:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A strong leader is also a major part of Nazi Germany's Occoultist beliefs.

The Fuer (The Leader)

History has shown that a strongman rule is extreamly dangerous to the ruled.

I was listining to a Bush supporter on a call in radio program, he was whining about wanting his "Cowboy President" back. What is it that creates a frame of mind that gives a person a Messiha complex, making people wish for a single strong ruler.

Its very important that we continue to attempt to understand the mindset of the Bush followers.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2006 3:54 am    Post subject: Re: The Psychology of Christian Fundamentalism Reply with quote

antifascist wrote:
Do you know anyone like the personality described below?
The Psychology of Christian Fundamentalism
In Apocalypse, a patient study of Christian fundamentalism based on extensive interviews over a five year period with members of apocalyptic communities Charles Strozier identifies four basic beliefs as fundamental to Christian fundamentalism. (1) Inerrancy or biblical literalism, the belief that every word of the Bible is to be taken literally as the word of God; (2) conversion or the experience of being reborn in Christ; (3) evangelicalism or the duty of the saved to spread the gospel; and (4) Apocalypticism or Endism, the belief that The Book of Revelations describes the events that must come to pass for God's plan to be fulfilled.
It is not necessary to believe in God to study this stuff. The first 3 qualities listed above are the mainstays of people who claim to be orthodox Christians. The last, Apocalyptic Furor, flares up and dies down, depending on the political climate and the oppression of human beings at the hands of tyrants. The "Tribulation" they go all gaga over is eternal, as the good Buddha says: all life is suffering.

Endism is anger at God, pure and simple. I grew up with these folks and I know their vulnerabilities. Like children, they want immediate gratification and see "fulfillment" in their own terms (something quantifiable like X number of converts or X dollars in the offering plate.) They place conditions on God, whose love for them was unconditional. Likewise, a Christian husband demands fulfillment from his beloved, or the Priest/Pastor does from his Church. Have ya seen any Ministers enflamed with rage at their congregations, or Christian men lording it over "their" women? Having been wooed by money-theism and gorged on consumer goods for so long, American fundamentalist Christians are at a fever pitch of God-hating. Same goes for Muslim and Jewish fundamentalists around the world. God has always placed the lesson of patience and forbearance in their path; it is central to the entire Bible--EVEN John's Revelation.

Here is my search for Patience in Revelations:
God!Smile wrote:

REV 1: 9 I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.

REV 2: 2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

REV 2: 3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

REV 2: 19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.

REV 3: 10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.

REV 13: 10 He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.

REV 14: 12 Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 01, 2006 6:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thankyou exellent stuff .
A sad thing started happening in the early 70s with the vacume of collasped dreams that was what ever hippydum was.Cults,Cults Cults....
The Process Church,Manson, Children of God,T.M. Moonies,Scientology,The Diffys and the born again holy roller bible thumping reationarys.
The sum total of all the followers and searchers is wanting to belong and get answers easy-- need for authority . Geez it could be a street gang or a bunch of sots down at the mason hall doing the secret handshake and thinking they are wiser than the Elks down the street.
It's pretty easy to understand if you wack yourself in the head with a claw hammer and want to run with the pack.If we can progress past this self destructive crap the world might survive it's battle with human Can't we have some spirituallity without starting wars about who has the best dogma ?
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The Analyst

PostPosted: Fri Jun 02, 2006 3:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Funny you mention the Masons thinking they are wiser then the Elks. I recall a coversation with a Mason on a simiular point, but it was the Eagles that he was denouncing, for it's ignorant working class membership.

What I'm seeing as the root of these Cults or the Occult is a common thread steming from the Masonic Orders, who were said to be founded by the Knights Templars, who were influnced by Jewish Mysticism which may have gotten its influence from Egyptian Secret Socities.

I was supprised to learn that the New York Times is owned by the Moonies. The NYT often acts as a hatchet organzation for the elite establishments. It has been said (Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent) that the times sets the reporting agenda for all other news organizations in America.

The Founder of the Church of Scientology has a Occult connection to a man who once called himself the evilest man alive and the "Great Beast", this man was none other then Alerister Crowley, aka "Mr. Crowley"

Other evidence indicates that the New Age movement and the WICCA movement were also founded by persons like Crowley who were high ranking members of the Masonic Orders.

And now with the Da Vinci Code sensation, its seems that there has been a historical and deliberate attempt by these secret orders to lead people away from mainstream relgion and herd them into the direction of mysticism and the super natural. Dan Brown's next book is reported to be focused on the Masonic Orders.

As far as this club or cult dogma goes, it is like the Dr. Seuss story about the star bellied Sneetches, unfortunatly the propagandist use this human defect to divide and conquor the population. We see this with the immigration/race issue, relgion vs non-relgious, left against right and so on.

It's important to continue to try to understand the means and methods that are being used to manipulate the masses.
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 16, 2006 9:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hey! Welcome aboard John Dean! Glad to see a Republican join the ranks of progressives and anti-fascists.
For about two years now I been presenting some key themes about fascism, and then find current examples of how this ideology is played out in our culture and civil society.

I first brought up the theme of authoritarian personality in dealing with Christian fundamentalism in the thread The Spirit of Capitalism and The Religion of Dehumanization.
What I was interested in particularly was research by Theodor Adorno, director of the German Frankfurt Institute of Social Research during the 1930s who studied on the causes of the rise of fascism in Germany. This study focused on the "authoritarian personality." Many of the Frankfurt Institute were refugees from Nazi Germany and witnessed first hand how German culture encouraged this personality type through culture, education, and religion. The Frankfurts research of fascism and authoritarianism predates the American studies by decades.

I specifically listed the authoritarian personality traits or characteristics in this tread. The Psychology of Christian Fundamentalism And Authoritarian Personality.

In the thread,
PanCorporatism: Culture of Repression and Deprivatization. I discussed how corporations, privatized tyrannies, encourage not just authoritarian personalities but psychopathic personalities in corporate culture that has slowly squeezed out any claim of privacy of individuals. Code word like "competitiveness" and "efficiency" are used to encourage psychopathic behavior and personalities. Psychological tests are used by corporations to identify psychopaths not to screen them out, but to select them for key management positions!

Further researching this theme in Human Liberation and Revolt and recounted Adornos study and discussed further the characteristics of this personality type. The Frankfurt Institute understood fascism as the expression of capitalist society values, institutions, and economic system. The fascist state is the fascist society. We need a new societal paradigm with its citizens having New Sensibilities to achieve a more humane society. The thread Blade Runner: What does it mean to be Human? has an extended review of the movie Blade Runner that deals with this question What is human? The Nazi Die Gote (The Good Man) and fascism is dealt with in this review.

There are further studies done on fascism by Herbert Marcuse of the Frankfurt school. After fleeing Germany he wrote a study entitled The Struggle Against Liberalism in the Totalitarian View of the State. (1934) which can be found in his book Negations (Beacon Press, 1968). Marcuse wrote this 1934 critique of German fascist society and attempted to identify those beliefs and philosophical themes found within fascist ideology. Marcuse believed that the seeds of fascism could be found in the Capitalist Democratic Liberal State, which over time mutate as Monopoly Capitalism gain control of the State as in the case of Germany. The evolution of Capitalism is also the concealed dialectic of Fascism. Those mutated liberal democratic ideas and values are betrayed by a totalitarianism based on action and force. I discussed the issue in the context of Nazi Law in this thread, but the theme of authoritarianism and Marcuses analysis is central.
Totalitarian Decisionism & Human Rights:The Re-emergence of Nazi Law

Lastly, the authoritarian personality is becoming the norm. In fact the psychopathic personality is dominating American society. This alarming trend can be seen in popular culture where simulated torture is the source of entertainment and actual torture is justified in movies and film. The purpose of such "entertainment" is to teach and make acceptable a certain set of norms and values.The use of stun guns, youth boot camps, game shows all promote cruelty and inhumanity as a virtue. See Film, TV, Barbie Doll Torture, and Coded Mythic Meaning.

For studies of fascism see the index post Index of Posts for Critique of Fascism.

Welcome aboard John Dean!
Triumph of the Authoritarians
By John W. Dean
The Boston Globe
14 July 2006

Contemporary conservatism and its influence on the Republican Party was, until recently, a mystery to me. The practitioners' bludgeoning style of politics, their self-serving manipulation of the political processes, and their policies that focus narrowly on perceived self-interest - none of this struck me as based on anything related to traditional conservatism. Rather, truth be told, today's so-called conservatives are quite radical.

For more than 40 years I have considered myself a "Goldwater conservative," and am thoroughly familiar with the movement's canon. But I can find nothing conservative about the Bush/Cheney White House, which has created a Nixon "imperial presidency" on steroids, while acting as if being tutored by the best and brightest of the Cosa Nostra.

What true conservative calls for packing the courts to politicize the federal judiciary to the degree that it is now possible to determine the outcome of cases by looking at the prior politics of judges? Where is the conservative precedent for the monocratic leadership style that conservative Republicans imposed on the US House when they took control in 1994, a style that seeks primarily to perfect fund-raising skills while outsourcing the writing of legislation to special interests and freezing Democrats out of the legislative process?

How can those who claim themselves conservatives seek to destroy the deliberative nature of the US Senate by eliminating its extended-debate tradition, which has been the institution's distinctive contribution to our democracy? Yet that is precisely what Republican Senate leaders want to do by eliminating the filibuster when dealing with executive business (namely judicial appointments).

Today's Republican policies are antithetical to bedrock conservative fundamentals. There is nothing conservative about preemptive wars or disregarding international law by condoning torture. Abandoning fiscal responsibility is now standard operating procedure. Bible-thumping, finger-pointing, tongue-lashing attacks on homosexuals are not found in Russell Krik's classic conservative canons, nor in James Burham's guides to conservative governing. Conservatives in the tradition of former senator Barry Goldwater and President Ronald Reagan believed in "conserving" this planet, not relaxing environmental laws to make life easier for big business. And neither man would have considered employing Christian evangelical criteria in federal programs, ranging from restricting stem cell research to fighting AIDs through abstinence.

Candid and knowledgeable Republicans on the far right concede - usually only when not speaking for attribution - that they are not truly conservative. They do not like to talk about why they behave as they do, or even to reflect on it. Nonetheless, their leaders admit they like being in charge, and their followers grant they find comfort in strong leaders who make them feel safe. This is what I gleaned from discussions with countless conservative leaders and followers, over a decade of questioning.

I started my inquiry in the mid-1990s, after a series of conversations with Goldwater, whom I had known for more than 40 years. Goldwater was also mystified (when not miffed) by the direction of today's professed conservatives - their growing incivility, pugnacious attitudes, and arrogant and antagonistic style, along with a narrow outlook intolerant of those who challenge their thinking. He worried that the Republican Party had sold its soul to Christian fundamentalists, whose divisive social values would polarize the nation. From those conversations, Goldwater and I planned to study why these people behave as they do, and to author a book laying out what we found. Sadly, the senator's declining health soon precluded his continuing on the project, so I put it on the shelf. But I kept digging until I found some answers, and here are my thoughts.

For almost half a century, social scientists have been exploring authoritarianism. We do not typically associate authoritarianism with our democracy, but as I discovered while examining decades of empirical research, we ignore some findings at our risk. Unfortunately, the social scientists who have studied these issues report their findings in monographs and professional journals written for their peers, not for general readers. With the help of a leading researcher and others, I waded into this massive body of work.

What I found provided a personal epiphany. Authoritarian conservatives are, as a researcher told me, "enemies of freedom, antidemocratic, antiequality, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, power hungry, Machiavellian and amoral." And that's not just his view. To the contrary, this is how these people have consistently described themselves when being anonymously tested, by the tens of thousands over the past several decades.

Authoritarianism's impact on contemporary conservatism is beyond question. Because this impact is still growing and has troubling (if not actually evil) implications, I hope that social scientists will begin to write about this issue for general readers. It is long past time to bring the telling results of their empirical work into the public square and to the attention of American voters. No less than the health of our democracy may depend on this being done. We need to stop thinking we are dealing with traditional conservatives on the modern stage, and instead recognize that they've often been supplanted by authoritarians.

John W. Dean, former Nixon White House counsel, just published his seventh nonfiction book, Conservatives Without Conscience.
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 18, 2006 10:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

John Dean in Truthout wrote:
They do not like to talk about why they behave as they do, or even to reflect on it. Nonetheless, their leaders admit they like being in charge, and their followers grant they find comfort in strong leaders who make them feel safe.
Part of NOT talking or reflecting is unacknowledged shame. People who are ashamed are the most easily manipulated and susceptible to BLACKMAIL by the amoral henchmen Dean mentioned. Karl Rove comes to mind as a blackmailer and a whole host of weak Republicans and Democrats come to mind as his victims.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 28, 2006 4:56 pm    Post subject: Conservatives Without Conscience by John Dean- Part 1 Reply with quote

"Conservatives Without Conscience" by John Dean - Part 1
Submitted by BuzzFlash on Fri, 07/21/2006
by John Dean

An excerpt of the introduction to "Conservatives Without Conscience." Get your copy of "Conservatives Without Conscience" from BuzzFlash.

Contemporary conservatives have become extremely contentious, confrontational, and aggressive in nearly every area of politics and governing. Today they have a tough-guy (and, in a few instances, a tough-gal) attitude, an arrogant and antagonistic style, along with a narrow outlook intolerant of those who challenge their extreme thinking. Incivility is now their norm. "During the Father Bush period, there was a presumption of civility," Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute observes, but "we lost it under Clinton," when conservatives relentlessly attacked his presidency, and "then the present President Bush deliberately chose a strategy of being a divider, rather than a uniter."1

Even more troubling, the right-wing presidency of George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney has taken positions that are in open defiance of international treaties or blatant violations of domestic laws, while pushing the limits of presidential power beyond the parameters of the Constitution. It is aided and abetted in these actions by a conservative Republican Congress that refuses to check or balance the president. These patterns were apparent long before the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, but the right wing's bellicose response to the events of that day has escalated into a false claim of legitimacy. Many authors (and journalists) have described the extreme hubris now present in Washington, along with the striking abuses of power. While some of this activity has ostensibly been undertaken in the name of fighting terrorists, much of it is just good old-fashioned power corruption.

Conservatives Without Conscience, however, is not a book about Bush and Cheney. My venture here is not to expose more malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance in places high or low in Washington, nor even to try to catalog it, for the gist of what is occurring under con-servative Republican rule is all too obvious. Although this is a report that cannot be given without frequent references to the administration's disquieting politics and governing, my effort, fundamentally, is to understand them, to explain why they are happening, while placing them all in a larger context, including the particular events that initially prompted my inquiry about people with whom I once thought I shared beliefs.

Frankly, when I started writing this book I had a difficult time accounting for what had become of conservatism or, for that matter, the Republican Party. I went down a number of dead-end streets looking for answers, before finally discovering a true explanation. My finding, simply stated, is the growing presence of conservative authoritarianism. Conservatism has noticeably evolved from its so-called modern phase (1950-94) into what might be called a postmodern period (1994 to the present), and in doing so it has regressed to its earliest authoritarian roots. Authoritarianism is not well understood and seldom discussed in the context of American government and politics, yet it now constitutes the prevailing thinking and behavior among conservatives. Regrettably, empirical studies reveal, however, that authoritarians are frequently enemies of freedom, antidemocratic, antiequality, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, power hungry, Machiavellian, and amoral. They are also often conservatives without conscience who are capable of plunging this nation into disasters the likes of which we have never known.

Although I have only recently learned the correct term for describing this type of behavior, and come to understand the implications of such authoritarian thinking, I was familiar with the personality type from my years in the Nixon White House. We had plenty of authoritarians in the Nixon administration, from the president on down. In fact, authoritarian thinking was the principal force behind almost everything that went wrong with Nixon's presidency. I had had little contact with my former colleagues, or with their new authoritarian friends and associates, until the early 1990s, when they decided to attack my wife and me in an effort to rewrite history at our expense. By then I had left public life for a very comfortable and private existence in the world of business, but they forced me back into the public square to defend myself and my wife from their false charges. In returning, I discovered how contemptible and dangerous their brand of "conservatism" had become, and how low they were prepared to stoop for their cause.

About 7:00 a.m. on Monday, May 6, 1991, I received a phone call that was both literally and figuratively a wake-up call, one that would dramatically change the political world as I thought I knew it. My last politics-related activity had been in 1982, when I wrote Lost Honor, a book about the consequences of Watergate during the decade that followed it. Since then I had focused exclusively on my work in merger and acquisition ventures, and I no longer had any interest in partisan politics. In fact, I had done everything I could to lower my public profile and regain my privacy by refusing to give press interviews. I became a true nonpartisan, sometimes voting for Republicans and sometimes for Democrats, always determined to select the best candidates for the job. I paid little attention to Washington affairs other than major events. I did maintain my relationships with old friends in Washington, including some still active at the highest levels of government and several who worked for Reagan and Bush I, but we seldom discussed politics too seriously. I discovered that I enjoyed life more outside of the political arena, and so I had no interest in returning to it.

When the phone rang that Monday morning, I assumed it was my wife, Maureen-"Mo" to family and friends-calling from Pennsylvania, where she had gone to care for my mother, who had recently suffered a stroke. I was instead greeted by Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes, and his producer Brian Ellis. Wallace quickly got to the reason for their call. "Have you heard about this new book about Bob Woodward?" he inquired referring to the Washington Post's star reporter and best-selling author. "I'm talking about a book called Silent Coup: The Removal of a President, by Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin."* Wallace explained that 60 Minutes was working on a story about Silent Coup, which St. Martin's Press was going to publish in two weeks, and Time magazine was going to run an excerpt from the book. Wallace said the book dealt not only with Woodward but also "with you, sir, John Dean."

"How so?" I asked. I knew about the book because Colodny had called me several years earlier looking for dirt on Woodward, and I had told him I had none. Later he called back to ask me some questions about my testimony before the Senate Watergate committee. But Colodny had said little about how I related to his book. I had assumed his project had died.

"Do you know a woman by the name of Heidi Rikan?" Wallace asked.

"Sure, Heidi was a friend of Mo's. She died a few years ago. What does Heidi have to do with Silent Coup? " Heidi and Mo had been friends before we were married and was a bridesmaid at our wedding. Wallace ignored my question.

Employing his trademark confrontational tone, Wallace began throwing hard balls. "According to Silent Coup, Heidi was also known as Cathy Dieter, and this Heidi/Cathy person, as they call her in the book, had a connection to a call-girl ring back in 1971 and '72. In fact, I gather she was the madam of the operation. According to Silent Coup, this call-girl ring had a connection with the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate. Apparently the DNC was providing customers for the call girls. The book says that your wife was the roommate of Cathy Dieter, and she seemingly knew all about this activity. In fact, according to Silent Coup, this call-girl operation was the reason for the break-ins at the Watergate."

I was, understandably, stunned. I had never heard or seen anything that would even hint at Heidi's being a call girl, and I could not imagine Mo's not telling me if she knew, or had any such suspicion. And I knew for certain that neither Heidi nor Mo had anything whatsoever to do with Watergate. My thoughts raced as Wallace continued with his questioning.

"Did you know an attorney in Washington by the name of Phillip Mackin Bailley?" he asked.

When I answered that I did not, he pressed. "Do you remember an incident while you were working at the White House, as counsel to the president, when an assistant United States attorney came to your office, a fellow named John Rudy, to discuss Phillip Bailley's involvement in prostitution, and you made a copy of Mr. Bailley's address book, which had been seized by the FBI?"

"I recall a couple of assistant United States attorneys coming to my office in connection with a newspaper story claiming that a lawyer, or a secretary, from the White House was allegedly connected with a call-girl ring. As I recall, we had trouble figuring out who, if anyone, at the White House was involved. But I never made a copy of an address book." My mind was searching, trying to recall events that had taken place almost two decades earlier.

Wallace now dropped another bomb. He told me that according to Silent Coup Mo's name was in Phillip Bailley's little black address book. He also said that Bailley had been indicted for violating the Mann Act, which prohibits taking women across state lines for immoral pur-poses, specifically prostitution. Silent Coup claimed that my wife was listed in the address book as "Mo Biner," along with a code name of "Clout." Supposedly, Bailley's address book also contained the name of Cathy Dieter. Before I could digest this information, Wallace added more.

"According to Silent Coup, sir, you, John Dean, are the real mastermind of the Watergate break-ins, and you ordered these break-ins because you were apparently seeking sexual dirt on the Democrats, which you learned about from your then girlfriend, now wife, Maureen." When I failed to respond, because I was dumbfounded, Wallace asked, "Does this make sense to you?"

"No, no sense at all. It's pure Limbaugh. How could I have ordered the Watergate break-ins and kept it secret for the last twenty years?"

"Fair question," Wallace responded. He explained that the book claimed I arranged the break-ins through my secret relationship with former White House consultant E. Howard Hunt-Hunt, who along with Gordon Liddy, had been convicted two decades earlier of plotting the Watergate break-ins.

"I recall meeting Hunt once in Chuck Colson's office. Hunt worked for Colson. I don't think I ever said anything more than ‘hello' to Howard Hunt in all my years at the White House. The only other time I have spoken to him was long after Watergate, when we gave a few college lectures together. Anyone who says I directed Hunt to do anything is crazy." Still trying to sort out the various claims of Silent Coup, I asked, "Did you say this book has me ordering the break-ins because of a call-girl ring?"

Wallace said the manuscript was not clear about the first break-in. Indeed, he said it was all a bit unclear, but apparently they were saying that the second break-in was related to Bailley's address book and a desk in the DNC. "Are you saying that none of this makes any sense to you?" Wallace asked again.

"Mike, I'm astounded. This sounds like a sick joke."

"The authors and the publisher claim you were interviewed," Wallace said.

"Not about this stuff. I was never asked anything about Mo, or Heidi Rikan, nor was there any mention of call girls. I assure you I would remember."

Wallace wanted me to go on camera to deny the charges. I said I was willing, but I wanted to see the book so I could understand the basis of the charges. But 60 Minutes had signed a confidentiality agreement with the publisher, and was prohibited from providing any further information. When the conversation with Wallace ended I called Hays Gorey, a senior correspondent for Time magazine, who had not only covered Watergate, but, working with Mo, had co-authored Mo: A Woman's View of Watergate. Hays had known Heidi as well. He was aghast, and could not believe that Time was going to run such a flagrantly phony story without checking with the reporter who had covered Watergate for them. After a quick call to New York, he confirmed that the New York office had purchased the first serial rights to Silent Coup, and they were preparing both an excerpt and a news story.

Mo found the story laughable, and could not believe anyone would publish it. She had no information that Heidi had ever been involved with a call-girl ring, and did not believe it possible, because Heidi traveled constantly and was seldom in Washington. Mo had never heard of an attorney by the name of Phillip Mackin Bailley, and if her name was in his address book, it was not because she knew him.

By the time Mo returned home 60 Minutes had backed away from the book, because neither the authors nor the publisher could pro-vide information that confirmed the central charges. Phillip Mackin Bailley, the source of much of the information, was "not available." Notwithstanding 60 Minutes's rejection of the book, Time's editors were still proceeding. They asked Hays to interview us for our reaction, even though he had told them the story was untrue. Hays had called a number of men he knew who had worked at the DNC at the time the call-girl operation was said to be flourishing in 1971 and 1972. They all told him it was impossible that such activity could have existed without their knowing of it. One former DNC official told Hays that had there been such an operation he would have been a top customer. Traveling from Washington to California to interview us, Hays read the material in Silent Coup relating to the Deans, and could not understand why Time was treating it as a news story. Nor could I when he loaned me his copy of the book so I could see what was being said. The material in the book relating to the Deans ran about 180 pages, and as I skimmed these pages I could not find one that was not filled with false or misleading information. All the hard evidence (the information developed by government investigators and prosecutors) that conflicted with this invented story was simply omitted. I could find no real documentation for their charges. I did not understand how the authors and St. Martin's thought they could get away with their outrageous story without facing a lawsuit from us. Hays wondered the same.

We gave Hays a statement the next morning that made clear we were preparing for legal action. Hays gave us his telephone number in Salt Lake City, where he planned to stop to visit with family en route back to Washington. Several hours later we called him, because I had had another idea, and I asked if he thought it would be worth my effort to go directly to Henry Muller, Time's managing editor, to ask him to reconsider. Hays could not offer any encouragement. It was Friday evening in New York, and this issue of the magazine was heading for the printer. In addition, he confided that Time had paid fifty thousand dollars for the serial rights. But he gave me Muller's office number, and told me, "Only someone like Muller could pull a story at this late stage." I called Muller's office, and arranged to fax a letter. Rather than threatening legal action, I tried to appeal to Muller's journalistic good sense. They were reporting a story that 60 Minutes had investigated and rejected, and their principal Watergate reporter, Hays Gorey, had told them the story was baseless. Surprisingly, the effort worked. Within less than an hour of sending the letter, Hays called back. "You did it, Muller pulled the story. The whole thing. We're not going to even mention Silent Coup. I have only seen that happen once before in my thirty years with Time." Hays was ebullient, clearly proud that Time had done the right thing.

I decided to try again to persuade Tom McCormack, chairman and CEO of St. Martin's Press, to reconsider the publication of Silent Coup. McCormack had refused to talk with me earlier, so I faxed him a letter to let him know he was walking into a lawsuit. A day later we received McCormack's answer, when CBS's Good Morning America (GMA) called on Saturday morning to tell us that Colodny and Gettlin would be appearing Monday morning, May 21, 1991, to promote their newly published book and GMA wanted to give us a chance to respond. We faxed them the statement we had given Time. Clearly, a book tour was underway, but by pushing 60 Minutes and then Time, we had mortally wounded the book and destroyed the carefully planned launch, which might have given the story credibility. Now it would be difficult to treat Silent Coup as legitimate news.

Watching the authors on Good Morning America, we felt encouraged. Colodny, the older of the two, who looked to be in his early fifties, was a retired liquor salesman and conspiracy buff. Gettlin, who appeared to be in his forties, was a journalist. This was their first book. Both were tense. GMA's host, Charlie Gibson, an experienced journalist, was not buying the Silent Coup story relating to the Deans, so his questions focused on the material in the book related to Bob Woodward and Al Haig, which was as unfounded as the material relating to us. (Woodward was accused of CIA connections; Haig had allegedly plotted the "coup" of the title that had removed Nixon from office.) With St. Martin's publicity department pumping out information about their sensational new book, requests for responses and appearances became so frequent we had to put a message on the answering machine to handle the requests. Not wanting to do anything to attract additional publicity to the book, however, we declined all appearances and issued a statement explaining that the charges were false.

We watched the authors again on CNN's Larry King Live. Bob Beckel was the substitute host in Larry King's absence. Colodny claimed that he and Gettlin were "not making any charges against Maureen Dean." Yet I had made a note during my quick read of the book that they claimed that Mo's alleged "acquaintanceship with [Phillip Mackin] Bailley, and the true identity of her friend Heidi [Rikan]...[were] the keys to understanding all the events of the break-ins and cover-ups that we know under the omnibus label of Watergate." That was some "no charge." After a commercial break, well into the program, both Colodny and Gettlin simply disappeared without explanation, as if snatched from their seats by hooks. In their places were Howard Kurtz, a media reporter for the Washington Post, and Gordon Liddy, Watergate's most decorated felon. Beckel asked Liddy for his "theory" of why 60 Minutes and Time had "pulled" their stories on Silent Coup. Liddy said, "Well, I don't have to go for a theory with respect to those two things, because they are on the record." Liddy claimed none of the people charged by the book would appear on 60 Minutes. "They wanted to get John Dean, etcetera," Liddy claimed. "They wouldn't come on the program and face these two men. Time magazine just said, you know, the thing is so densely packed that it did not lend itself to being excerpted and they felt that they couldn't do it."

Liddy's remarks were untrue, for I had agreed to do 60 Minutes (as had Woodward and Haig) and I had a copy of the Time excerpt, not to mention my letter, which had killed it. Mike Wallace, who had obviously been watching the show, called in to correct Liddy's false characterizations. Wallace reported that he had read Silent Coup, and had interviewed Colodny and Gettlin. "And we intended to go, just as Time magazine intended to go. We checked, Gordon. I did talk to John Dean," he said. "We objected to the fact that the authors refused or declined to let the objects of their scrutiny, these three [Woodward, Haig, and Dean] in particular, see the book, read the book ahead of time, so that they could face the charges." As to the charge that I was the "mastermind" of Watergate, Wallace explained, "We could not, on our own, source the thing sufficiently to satisfy ourselves that it stood up as a 60 Minutes piece. That's why we didn't do the piece." Mo applauded when one of America's best-known journalists knocked down the book's central charge.

As a hard news story Silent Coup was now for certain dead and would undoubtedly have been headed for the remainder table, but St. Martin's had a lot of money tied up in it, and was determined to make it a best seller. Their plan was to sell the book to Nixon apologists and right-wingers, giving them a new history of Nixon's downfall in which Bob Woodward, Al Haig, and John Dean were the villains, and randy Democrats had all but invited surveillance. Who better to peddle this tale than uber-conservative Gordon Liddy? Although we did not know it at the time, Liddy had been a behind-the-scenes collaborator with Colodny in developing, sourcing, and writing Silent Coup's version of the Deans' involvement in Watergate. In fact, without Liddy's sup-port St. Martin's might well have abandoned the project, for neither Colodny nor Gettlin had actually written it. St. Martin's had hired a freelancer, Tom Shachtman, to assemble a story based on material that Liddy and other right-wingers had helped Colodny assemble. Schactman himself was contractually immunized from any legal liability, and shortly before Silent Coup's publication, St. Martin's had doubled its insurance coverage for defamation and worked out a plan for Liddy, who was already a St. Martin's author, to lead a charge to the best-seller list. To compensate Liddy for his efforts, and to give him an excuse to be out promoting, St. Martin's reissued a paperback edition of his autobiography, Will, with a new postscript that embraced Silent Coup as the definitive account on Watergate. In that material Liddy claimed, without any explanation, that I had duped him in "an exercise in sleight-of-hand worthy of The Amazing Randi himself," and that he had not truly understood Watergate until Colodny explained to him what had purportedly transpired, by telling him of Phillip Bailley's story. According to this revised accounting of history, Liddy's former partner-in-crime Howard Hunt was merely my pawn, working secretly for me unbeknownst to Liddy. (And unbeknownst to Howard Hunt as well, for he, too, denied the Silent Coup account.)

Liddy's involvement in this specious attack did not surprise me. He had once planned to kill both Howard Hunt and me , he had said in Will, but his orders to do so had never come-although he did not say who he expected would send them. "Howard Hunt had become an informer," he wrote, and when Hunt agreed to testify he became "a betrayer of his friends, and to me there is nothing lower on earth....Hunt deserved to die." About me, Liddy wrote that the "difference between Hunt and Dean is the difference between a POW who breaks under torture and aids the enemy, and Judas Iscariot."2 The subtext of Liddy's statement is that the U.S. government had become his enemy and that Richard Nixon had become something of a Christ figure for him. Attacking Howard Hunt and me was consistent with both his conservative politics and his personality. He sought to resurrect Nixon for conservatives and blame others for his destroyed presidency. His attacks on Mo, however, were inexplicable. It did not strike me as consistent with his macho perception of himself to attack a noncombatant woman, yet he traveled the country repeating the false story that Phillip Bailley had told him. Clearly, Silent Coup had come at a perfect time for Liddy. Since the first publication of Will in 1980 he had made a living by putting his dysfunctional personality on display. By the early nineties speaking engagements were becoming less frequent for him, and his business ventures, including several novels, were unsuccessful. Silent Coup put him back in the spotlight, where he loved to be-publicly misbehaving.
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 28, 2006 5:47 pm    Post subject: Conservatives Without Conscience by John Dean - Part 2 Reply with quote

"Conservatives Without Conscience" by John Dean - Part 2
Submitted by BuzzFlash on Fri, 07/21/2006
by John Dean

Part 2 of 3.

An excerpt of the introduction to "Conservatives Without Conscience." Get your copy of "Conservatives Without Conscience" from BuzzFlash.

My former colleague Chuck Colson's appearance on national tele-vision to endorse Silent Coup truly surprised me and stunned Mo, who was deeply hurt by his gratuitous attack. Chuck and I had crossed swords at the Nixon White House only once, and even then we had not communicated directly. I had had virtually nothing to do with his office, or its nefarious activities, except for the time Chuck had wanted to firebomb and burglarize the Brookings Institution, convinced that this Washington think tank had copies of documents the president wanted. When I learned of his insane plan I flew to California (where the president and senior staff were staying at the Western White House) to plead my case to John Ehrlichman, a titular superior to both Chuck and myself. By pointing out, with some outrage, that if anyone died it would involve a capital crime that might be traced back to the White House, I was able to shut down Colson's scheme. As a result, over the next several months I was told nothing about Colson's shenanigans, such as his financing the infamous burglary by Liddy and Hunt of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office after Ellsberg released the so-called Pentagon Papers, which was a precursor to the later Watergate break-ins.

After I eventually broke rank with the Nixon White House, Colson had set about trying to destroy me for telling the truth, though he backed off after purportedly finding God. He also became rather busy with his own problems. On March 1, 1974, Colson was indicted for his role in the Watergate cover-up, and six days later he was indicted for his involvement in the conspiracy to break into the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Chuck, no doubt, sensed even more problems to come, because the Watergate Special Prosecution Force was considering charging him with both perjury and subornation of perjury.3 He was facing a lot of jail time. However, the prosecutors allowed him to plead guilty to a single-and given what he was facing, innocuous-charge in exchange for his cooperation, although in the end he proved to be utterly useless as a government witness, since the prosecutors could not vouch for his honesty.

Chuck and I had agreed to let bygones be bygones during the Watergate cover-up trial when we found ourselves only down the hall from each other, under the federal Witness Protection Program, at the Fort Holabird safe house in Maryland, just outside Washington. Until Colson started promoting Silent Coup I had taken him as a man of his word, and we had even continued to visit from time to time after Watergate was behind us. When I saw Colson promote Silent Coup on Crossfire, I was still unaware of his earlier prepublication discussions with Colodny about this invented history. (Colodny had illegally tape-recorded all of his telephone conversations.) Why, of all people, would Chuck Colson promote Silent Coup's conspicuously phony account of Watergate? Where was his conscience? How could he call himself a Christian? I promised myself I would find answers to these questions, because I did not understand what was compelling his behavior.

The promotion campaign to sell the book to conservatives worked, thanks to Liddy's nationwide tour, in which he appeared on countless right-wing talk-radio shows. By July 7, 1991, Silent Coup had peaked at number three on the New York Times best-seller list. On July 12, 1991, our answering machine handled a very early call. When Mo checked the message I heard her shriek, and ran to find her standing beside the answering machine sobbing and shaking. "What is it?" I asked but she could not speak, as tears poured from her eyes. As I held her I could feel every bone in her body trembling. "What is it?" I asked again.

"Liddy. He's called our house." Before Mo could explain, the phone began ringing and I answered.

"Is this John Dean?" an unfamiliar voice asked.

"Yes, it is. Who's this?"

"Wow, that's cool. This is really John Dean?"

"Yes. Who is this, please?"

"Oh, I'm nobody. I was just listening to the radio and Gordon Liddy was on, and he gave out your telephone number, so I thought I'd try it. Talk to you later. Bye."

Immediately the phone rang again, this time it was a collect call, which I refused. To prevent further nuisance calls I used a technique that makes all our phone lines busy. This diverted Mo's attention and calmed her, and she now asked me to listen to Liddy's message, so I played it.

A smug-sounding voice said, "This is G. Gordon Liddy, calling you from the Merle Pollis Show. John, you have..." "W-E-R-E Cleveland, let's get our call letters in," the host interrupted. Liddy then continued, "...you have promised that you will sue me and Len Colodny and Bob Gettlin. Let's get this suit started, John. We want to get you on the stand, under oath, yet again....Come on, John. I'm publicly challenging you to make good on your promise to sue." The host added, "John, this is Merle Pollis, the host of the program. Would you say hello to Maureen, for me? I said she was the prettiest of the Watergate people, next to G. Gordon Liddy. I hope she's still just as pretty. I, ah, this, this new book, however, reveals some things about Maureen that irk me. I didn't want to think of her in that way, and it makes me very sad, and it also makes me feel, well, never mind. Thanks, John."

Liddy would get his lawsuit, but on our terms, not his. Rather than give him the publicity he desperately wanted, we spent the next eight months collecting evidence and preparing the case. For eight years our lawsuit made its way through the federal courts, and St. Martin's tried every possible ploy to prevent its going to trial. Had we taken the case to trial, Phillip Mackin Bailley, the key source for the story about the purported call-girl ring, might rank as the worst possible source of information in the annals of defamation law. Bailley had been in and out of mental institutions throughout his adult life. When we deposed him, Bailley's attorney arranged for a psychiatrist to testify under oath that his client's mental condition made him unable to distinguish fact from fiction. While St. Martin's and the other defendants were spending over $14 million of insurance company money trying to make us go away, it eventually became clear to them that we were prepared to go whatever distance necessary to make fools of them all, and that we had the evidence to do it.4 By the fall of 1998 we had also accomplished our underlying goal of gathering the information necessary to show that Silent Coup was bogus history. Ultimately, it seems, they had hoped to win the lawsuit by simply outspending us, but when that strategy failed, they sought a settlement. Neither Colodny nor Liddy wanted to settle, however. Colodny had somehow used a rider on his homeowner's policy to get the insurance company to pay for his defense in the litigation, though ultimately his insurer forced him to settle. Liddy, on the other hand, had nothing at risk, since all of his assets were in his wife's name and St. Martin's was paying for his attorney. After we settled with St. Martin's and Colodny, U.S. District Court Judge Emmett Sullivan put an end to the litigation.5 While the final settlement agreement prohibits me from discussing its terms, I can say the Deans were satisfied.

Despite most of the news media's fitting dismissal of Silent Coup's baseless claims, the protracted litigation provided time for the book to gather a following, including an almost cultlike collection of high-profile right-wingers. Among them, for example, is Monica Crowley, a former aide to Richard Nixon after his presidency, and now a conservative personality on MSNBC, cohosting Connected: Coast to Coast with Ron Reagan. Other prominent media-based conservatives who have joined the glee club are James Rosen and Brit Hume of Fox News. How these seemingly intelligent people embraced this false account mystified me, and I wanted to know.

Throughout the prolonged Silent Coup controversy it had gradually become clear to me that St. Martin's, Colodny, and Gettlin were in it for the money. Had Phillip Bailley, or some other such source, claimed that Pat Nixon had ordered the break-in, they no doubt would have turned history upside down to try to sell that story as well. When we contested the bogus account, they all fought to save face. In addition, Colodny, who called himself a Democrat, had never been given much attention until he was embraced by the right wing, where he has found new friends. Liddy wanted revenge, even though Silent Coup showed him as a greater fool than history already had; promoting it did, however, provide an outlet for his aggression-not to mention that it also landed him his own talk-radio show, which has thrived. As for Colson, his reason for promoting Silent Coup remained a complete mystery for me, as did the motives of people like Monica Crowley, James Rosen, Brit Hume, and all the other hard-core conservatives who embraced this spurious history and made it a best seller. The only thing I could see that these people had in common was their conservatism.

As much as anything, the lawsuit made me realize that during the years I had been focused on business the Republican Party and conservatism had undergone drastic changes. The Republican Party had shifted to the extreme right, resulting in longtime hard-right conservatives like Liddy and Colson, who had once been at the fringe, finding themselves in vogue. That philosophical shift and its implications became even clearer to me when I returned to Washington for an extended period of time during the Clinton impeachment proceedings and experienced for myself the new conservative climate that has enveloped the nation's capital. Most of these conservatives had arrived after Nixon's fall, and in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

They were not good losers. So when they lost the White House in 1992 they began what would be an unrelenting and extended series of attacks on the Clinton presidency, which reached their peak when Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky was revealed in early 1998. At that time I began receiving an increasing number of requests for television interviews, and Silent Coup was all but forgotten publicly (and we were in settlement discussions). While I had no idea then whether the president was telling the truth about his relationship with Lewinsky, it was clear to me that the First Lady was correct in her contention that there was a vast right-wing conspiracy attempting to destroy the Clintons, for I still had a number of knowledgeable conservative contacts. Because each of the various scandals of the Clinton White House-the travel office firings, Whitewater, Vince Foster's suicide, the Paula Jones lawsuit, and the Lewinsky affair-was predictably declared by Republicans to be "worse than Watergate," I felt someone needed to set the record straight.6 In reality, these scandals, even collectively, did not come close to Watergate in their seriousness. So I began to speak out. I did not speak as a partisan, but rather as someone who understood the difference between the Clinton and Nixon scandals, as well as the gravity of impeachment. (I was well versed in this topic because I had once studied the impeachment and trial of Andrew Johnson, and, of course, had firsthand knowledge of the Nixon proceedings.)

During the time the independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, was building his case against Clinton for impeachment, I agreed to work exclusively for MSNBC in Washington as an on-camera consultant, or "anchor buddy," beginning my assignment soon after Starr made a formal referral to the House Judiciary Committee on September 9, 1998, and sent the thirty-six boxes of damning evidence to the House of Representatives. Over the next several months, during Clinton's impeachment and trial, I spent more time in Washington than I had, cumulatively, in the preceding twenty-five years, and it could not have been a more eventful time to be there. One did not need to be a knowledgeable Washington veteran, though, to perceive that conservatives in Congress were hell-bent on overturning the 1996 election and removing Clinton from office.

MSNBC's studios in Washington are on Capitol Hill, not far from the Senate side of the Capitol building. A core group of on-air consultants were placed on various shows throughout the day, but during the impeachment hearings and the trial, a few of us were requested to stay on the set with the anchors as long as official proceedings continued. During the many hours I was in the studio or the green room, I probably spent more time talking with legal analyst Barbara Olson than anyone else. Barbara, who was tragically killed on the 9/11 flight that crashed into the Pentagon, was smart, savvy, engaging, and never shy, least of all in her opinion of the president and his wife. "I really hate the Clintons, and I want to run them out of town," she told me. Barbara, who frequently made calls on her cell phone during breaks, made it impossible not to overhear her conversations, and she explained to me that she was receiving talking points from her network of conservative Republicans, who were observing all of the media's coverage of the impeachment proceeding. "Do you really believe you can remove a popular president?" I asked her during the hearings. "Absolutely. It's a done deal," she said. "How about the Senate?" I asked. "We're working on it," she replied with a conspiratorial smile and a wink. I had little doubt, from the time I spent with Barbara, that votes had already been counted in the House of Representatives, and nothing was going to stop them from voting for impeachment. There were simply too many Democrats in the Senate, however, for the Republicans to muster the requisite two thirds for a guilty verdict and removal. The entire undertaking was designed to tarnish Clinton, and the Democrats.

During this period I was able to visit with members of the House and Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, who streamed through the MSNBC green room or the studios, often with key members of their staff. I had many fascinating, and informative, conversations that were invaluable to the education I received during this period. I learned, for instance, that Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and majority leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) were both exerting enormous control over the GOP. Some Republicans told me that Gingrich was betting his Speaker's seat on the impeachment drive's adding additional Republican members to the House. DeLay, it was clear, had influence because the rank-and-file House Republicans feared his wrath, and he was determined to impeach Clinton. Several Republicans told me that this was payback to the Democrats for what had been done to Nixon, and when I pointed out that Republicans had been part of that undertaking, a typical response was, "Yeah, but they weren't conservative." In fact, there were conservatives involved in the effort, but I was not looking for debates about Watergate.

Notwithstanding Clinton's soaring popularity, conservatives had become myopic; they were fixated on getting rid of him. Five days after the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to begin an impeachment inquiry (with all Republicans, who controlled the committee, voting for it, and all Democrats voting against), a Washington Post public opinion poll showed that 62 percent of Republicans dis-approved of impeaching the president. Knowledgeable Republicans passing through the MSNBC green room privately explained that House Republicans would pursue the impeachment anyway, on behalf of the 31 percent who wanted Clinton removed. (Seven percent of the Post poll of the GOP had no opinion.) The motive of the GOP leaders was simply to please the party's "base"; the wishes of the base were their command. That base was composed primarily of Christian conservatives, in particular evangelicals. Republicans with whom I spoke before the November 1998 midterm elections were convinced the party would be vindicated at the polls for its treatment of Clinton. As it turned out, however, they had misread the mood of the country, and they lost the great "impeachment election" when Americans refused to make the election a referendum on Bill Clinton's behavior. Republicans, who controlled the House and the Senate, not only gained no seats in either body, but lost five seats in the House; Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned after his plan was defeated. What was even more stunning was that the election results did not stop these hard-core conservative Republicans from continuing to push for Clinton's impeachment and, at the same time, issue increasingly stern demands for party loyalty. As someone who had previously spent over twenty years in Washington observing Congress up close, I found this new level of party discipline remarkable. I understood that DeLay scared them, but so badly that they would vote against their consciences? I was relieved that a few of the conservatives with whom I spoke believed the GOP leadership was going too far.

Last edited by antifascist on Fri Jul 28, 2006 6:09 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 28, 2006 6:07 pm    Post subject: Conservatives Without Conscience by John Dean- Part 3 Reply with quote

"Conservatives Without Conscience" by John Dean - Part 3
Submitted by BuzzFlash on Fri, 07/21/2006
by John Dean

Part 3 of 3.

An excerpt of the introduction to "Conservatives Without Conscience." Get your copy of "Conservatives Without Conscience" from BuzzFlash.

While not exactly naive to the ways of Washington, I was amazed, if not at times dumbfounded, by these events, and the remarkable hypocrisy displayed during them, as I watched from my ringside seat. Ostensibly, Clinton was impeached and being tried for lying about a sexual liaison. If truthfulness about extramarital affairs had been a requisite for everyone in Congress to hold their seats before they voted to oust Clinton, neither the House nor the Senate could have formed a quorum. While the people responsible for Clinton's impeachment called themselves conservatives, this was not a conservatism with which I was familiar. In past years problems of this nature had been resolved without threatening the nation's well-being. During Watergate, for example, Barry Goldwater, Hugh Scott, and John Rhodes traveled to the White House to tell Nixon it was time to resign. And in 1987, notes Washington Post reporter Peter Baker, "Democratic leaders agreed to forgo impeachment proceedings against Ronald Reagan for the Iran-Contra affair once former senator Howard H. Baker, Jr. took over as White House chief of staff, pledging to put things back on track."7 In both these cases constitutional crises had been avoided. But now, so-called conservatives who controlled the House of Representatives had pushed the process for political spite and cheapened an extremely important constitutional check by using impeachment solely to attack a president of whom they did not approve. Conservative demagogues shamed themselves in ways far worse than Clinton had himself, and their behavior was certainly more threatening to the democratic process than anything the president had done.

At the height of Watergate, conservative historian Daniel J. Boorstin gave an extended interview to Congressional Quarterly in which he noted that radio and television enabled countless Americans to follow the proceedings. "We used to think of the conscience as being a private, intimate, still, small voice within," he said. "Now the conscience of democracy becomes the whole community sitting in their living room watching what has been done." The conscience of a democracy, Boorstin said, was "what could be called the conscience of the marketplace-the people's feeling of outrage at the violations of common decency, of legal and constitutional rules." This, warned Boorstin, should be distinguished from "what might be called the judgment of the marketplace. The judgment of the marketplace is lynch law, and that is something we must beware of."8 If Boorstin's analysis was applied to Clinton's impeachment, the House of Representatives would be seen as having rejected the "conscience of the marketplace," and having imposed the judgment of a lynch mob.

Conservatives attracted to conspicuously false history, as occurred with Silent Coup, and conservatives with the mentality of a lynch mob, were foreign to me, but they certainly got my attention. In now writing about them, by myself, I am not proceeding as this project was initially conceived. It started as a joint undertaking with the late U.S. senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona, whom I had the good fortune of knowing almost his entire political career. His oldest son, Barry, Jr., has been my close friend since the early 1950s, when we were roommates at Staunton Military Academy in Virginia, which was also the senator's high school alma mater. Senator Goldwater was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1952, resigned in 1964 to pursue an unsuccessful bid for the presidency as the Republican Party's standard-bearer, and was reelected to the Senate in 1968, where he served until his retirement in 1985. After leaving the Senate he remained active and interested in Republican politics until his death in 1998.

I discovered Senator Goldwater's political thinking during my college years, when, like countless other college students of the early 1960s I read his book The Conscience of a Conservative and experienced a political awakening. The senator made conservatism respectable, unlike the witch-hunting Senator Joe McCarthy and the screwball absurdities of the John Birch Society. Senator Goldwater's conservatism was sensible and straightforward, and therefore appealing. Given the influence he had on my thinking, as well as my admiration for him, it is not surprising that I still consider myself to be a "Goldwater conservative" on many issues. Be that as it may, while my core beliefs have not changed significantly in the past forty years, the Grand Old Party to which I once belonged has moved so far to the right, that on the contemporary political spectrum I now often fall to the left of the Republican center. Like many Republicans uncomfortable with the right-wing extremists who control the party, I reregistered as an Independent.

It was not Senator Goldwater's politics, however, that prompted me to call him after the 1994 midterm elections, when the Republicans won control of Congress for the first time in forty years. I called to solicit his thoughts about the Silent Coup lawsuit, and to talk to him about the conservatives who were so aggressively promoting, and buying into, this false history. Following the senator's unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1964 he had filed a defamation lawsuit against the publisher of FACT magazine, Ralph Ginsberg, who had claimed during the 1964 presidential campaign that the senator was crazy, a judgment he based on a ludicrous and highly partisan poll of psychiatrists. Although it took years, Senator Goldwater eventually won. His case made new law, which I told him would help my wife and me, as public figures, prevail in our suit.9 He was aware of the attacks on Mo, and he immediately put our situation into a larger context, while counseling that we vigorously pursue the litigation.

"I heard that jackass Liddy on one of the talk-radio shows," the senator told me. "I don't think anyone believes him, John. He's a fool." "Frankly, I find it offensive that he calls himself a conservative," the senator added.

"Why's that?" I asked.

"Why? I'll tell you why. Because he thinks like a thug, not like a conservative. Conservatives seek the wisdom of the past, not the worst of it," he snapped. He continued, "I was talking with [former Arizona Republican congressman and former minority leader of the House of Representatives] Johnny Rhodes, just a few days ago. He's still got the ear of the House Republican leaders. I asked him to tell those fellows back in Washington that I don't go along with their incivility. I told them they should back off on their attacks on Hillary Clinton. They're acting like jerks too, not conservatives. If they don't, I'm going to blast them. They're driving decent people out of public service. And they're turning off voters. It's dirty politics, and it should end."

"Why do you suppose that they do this?" I asked.

Without hesitation he said, "It's these so-called social or cultural conservatives. And I don't know what in hell possesses them. I'd like to find out."*

Senator Goldwater had no tolerance for such politics, and had never attacked his own political opponents personally. He was tough as nails, yet courtly in his courtesy. During the 1964 presidential race against President Lyndon Johnson, for example, one of Johnson's top aides and close friends, Walter Jenkins, was arrested in the men's room of the YMCA near the White House for engaging in a homosexual activity. After the Johnson White House whisked Jenkins into a hospital and hushed up the story, the senator's campaign people learned of the incident and wanted to use it against LBJ. Senator Goldwater refused, despite the brutal campaign ads the Johnson people were running against him.

When I called Senator Goldwater I had only recently learned more about Chuck Colson's involvement with Silent Coup. I asked the senator for his thoughts on Christian conservatives like Colson, and their increasing presence in Republican politics, and he minced no words. "Goddamn it, John," he began, with a combination of anger, frustration, and sorrow, "the Republicans are selling their soul to win elections." He saw trouble coming. "Mark my word," he said, "if and when these preachers get control of the party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. The government won't work without it. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them." He had absolutely no doubt that these people had made Washington more divisive than it had ever been, and he was concerned that their divisiveness was spreading throughout the country.10

My conversations with Senator Goldwater evolved into a plan to write a book together about so-called social conservatives. We would attempt to understand their strident and intolerant politics by talking with people like Chuck Colson, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell. We would learn more about their thinking, and try to determine whether they appreciated what they were doing to conservatism and to Republican politics. We would title our book Conservatives Without Conscience, an obvious allusion to Senator Goldwater's classic. But we had not progressed very deeply into our work before I realized it could become a burden for the senator, whose physical health was rapidly failing. I slowed the project down and soon had to place it on the shelf, hoping to resume when the senator felt better. Sadly, that did not happen, but because I wanted answers, I could not abandon our task. I wanted to understand why these so-called conservatives acted in such a conspicuously unattractive manner. What caused their aggression and the hostility that was changing the nature of politics? Our litigation and my experiences during the Clinton impeachment proceedings continued to provide insights into conservative thinking, and it was not attractive. But it was my even closer look at Washington after the 2000 election, when writing about Bush and Cheney, that convinced me I had to find answers. The serious deterioration and disintegration of conservative principles under Bush and Cheney, in all branches of the federal government, with the striking shift toward a very un-American-type of authoritarianism, compelled me to complete the project I had begun with Senator Goldwater.

Unfortunately, I no longer had the senator's experience, wisdom, or insights to draw upon. But I did have notes from our conversations, as well as access to his files, which he had pointed me to before his death. His personal political papers, housed at the Arizona Historical Foundation in Phoenix, are a treasure trove of raw material relating to American conservatism, and they served as an important resource for this book. While I have quoted from the senator's papers when appropriate, I have not taken the liberty of attempting to speak for him. I have also discovered, after reading a plethora of books on the subject, that nearly every question Senator Goldwater and I had discussed about the religious right has been answered in other works-all but one.11 That remaining question is rather basic: Why do those in the religious right act as they do? Are they motivated by religion or conservatism? Stated a little differently, is this what happens when Christians become politically active? Or do their actions simply reflect one type of person who is drawn to conservatism? In the pages that follow I have set forth the answers I found to these and many other questions about the current conservative sensibility.

Conservatives without conscience do not have horns and tails; if they did they would be easier to identify. Many of them can be quite pleasant, but at heart they are tough, cold-blooded, ruthless authoritarians. They are limited in their ability to see the world from any point of view other than their own, and they are narrow in their outlook. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are prototypical conservative leaders without conscience. The excessive secrecy of the Bush administration, in particular, was apparent even before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but because the mainstream media ignored this issue, I wrote about it myself in Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush. Unlike the consequences of Nixon's secrecy, those of Bush and Cheney have been lethal. Realizing that only a partisan would remain silent, I wanted to make people aware of what was happening, for I recognized that this was a dangerous presidency. In Worse Than Watergate I did not analyze Bush and Cheney's behavior, because I was not sure then what was driving them. However, after studying the matter, I believe that one can reasonably conclude that how they think, their policies, and their style of governing are based to an alarming extent on their own authoritarian personalities, which tolerate no dissent, use dissembling as their standard modus operandi, and have pushed their governing authority beyond the law and the Constitution.

"In his landmark book, Privacy and Freedom, Alan Westin...defines democracy and authoritarianism in terms of information policy," wrote Robert G. Vaughn, a professor at American University's Washington College of Law. Summarizing Westin's work, Professor Vaughn continued, "Authoritarian governments are identified by ready government access to information about the activities of citizens and by extensive limitations on the ability of citizens to obtain information about the government. In contrast, democratic governments are marked by significant restrictions on the ability of government to acquire information about its citizens and by ready access by citizens to information about the activities of government."12 I did not use that quote when writing about Bush and Cheney's insistence on secrecy because I did not then really understand the true nature of authoritarianism, yet I was struck time and again by the authoritarian nature of the Bush/Cheney administration. Now I realize that Bush and Cheney have given authoritarianism a new legitimacy in Washington, and it is taking us where we should not want to go.

Conservatism is not inherently moralistic, negative, arrogant, condescending, and self-righteous. Nor is it authoritarian. Yet all of these are adjectives that best describe the political outlook of contemporary conservatism. I make these observations not as an outsider, but as a conservative who is deeply troubled by what has become of a treasured philosophy. Conservatism has been co-opted by authoritarians, a most dangerous type of political animal.

How do people-particularly those who have never put their life on the line for their country-engage in, or condone, attacks on Senator John McCain's life-defining experiences as a Vietnam POW or question Senator Max Cleland's courage in building a new life after his loss of three limbs in Vietnam? What causes them to dispute Senator John Kerry's valor during voluntary combat duty in Vietnam or to contest Representative Jack Murtha's war record in Vietnam? Do they believe that by belittling the competence of White House counsel Harriet Miers, by forcing her to withdraw as a nominee for the Supreme Court, they are engaged in legitimate political debate? Why do they remain silent, or even defend, a president who has shamed the nation forever by endorsing an unprecedented and unnecessary use of torture against our enemies? These questions have clear answers. My aim is to explain how and why these conservatives operate as they do, with the thought that others may realize that this current breed of authoritarian conservatism, the behavior of both authoritarian leaders and their credulous followers, constitute a hazardous way for politics and governing. In fact, these people cannot be trusted to exercise the powers of government responsibly.

I have not written this book with the slightest expectations of ending the vile attacks of these authoritarian conservatives or of changing their Machiavellian attitudes. They cannot be stopped because their behavior is simply a function of the way they are and how they think, their dispositions, and the way they deal with the world. However, they can be understood, exposed, and watched, and there is compelling reason to do so. While their attacks on me and my wife may be considered harmless in the scheme of things, their larger undertaking is of great concern.

Certainly, not all conservatives are the same, and not all of them are authoritarians or without conscience. In addition, many of them do not actually know very much about the belief system to which they supposedly subscribe. While some conservatives will take visceral offense at this book, for I have recast the dominant contemporary conservatism in its true light as "authoritarian conservatism," my hope is that for others-particularly this movement's "followers," a category into which most conservatives fall-it will encourage reflection. As I see it, there are three kinds of conservatives: the good, the bad, and the evil. And this book is about the bad and evil ones. Many of my friends are conservatives, and they will remain my friends after reading this book, and some may even thank me for writing it. Moderates, progressives, and liberals may appreciate that someone with inside knowledge of conservatism has finally explained what the hell has happened to these people.

For those interested in learning more about the disposition, beliefs, and actions of those who presently dominate American politics, some understanding of conservatism is required. Providing this information is easier said than done, as contemporary conservatism is a jungle of twisted thoughts and strange growths. From earlier travels I know the terrain, but I know only a few of the people now occupying it. Now that I have explained how they got my attention, it is necessary to clarify what conservatism is and what it is not, which I believe will show why it has been so easily manipulated and corrupted by authoritarians.

In Chapter 1, I explain how conservatives think, and highlight the structural weaknesses that have allowed it to be pulled from its roots by authoritarian conservatives. Chapter 2 explores authoritarians, many of whom are conservatives without conscience. This material is derived from almost half a century of scientific study, which has been inexplicably ignored outside of academia and so has not been readily available to the general reader. In Chapter 3, I illustrate how authoritarians operate in their own images, when I examine neoconservatives and Christian conservatives, who currently dominate Republican politics and policy. And in Chapter 4, I conclude with examples of the ugly politics and evil policies resulting from current authoritarian rule, the work of people who are conservatives without conscience and who are taking America in an undemocratic direction. Finally, I have placed some additional information and analysis in appendices.

Much of what I have to report is bad news. But there is some good news, because while authoritarians have little self-awareness, a few of them, when they learn the nature of their behavior, seek to change their ways. Thus, by reporting the bad and the ugly, it may do some good. At least that is my hope.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 04, 2006 6:54 am    Post subject: A Review of John Dean's "Conservatives Without Conscien Reply with quote

Another great review of John Dean's new book on authoritarianism.
The Fast Lane To Fascism:
A Review of John Dean's
"Conservatives Without Conscience"

By Bernard Weiner,Co-Editor
The Crisis Papers
August 1, 2006

"How does the Bush Administration get away with it?" And: "How come, no matter what scandal or embarrassment or disaster Bush&Co. get enmeshed in, one third of the population still supports them?"

The answers to those oft-expressed questions are complex, to be sure, but with the publication of former White House Counsel John W. Dean's compelling new book "Conservatives Without Conscience," we now have more of a framework for understanding what drives the Busheviks and why so many continue to stand behind them.

Dean, whose insider testimony helped bring down President Nixon during the Watergate scandal, is a Goldwater-style conservative Republican. Like so many such "old-style" conservatives -- believers in small government, maximizing freedom of the individual, balanced budgets, caution in foreign affairs, etc. -- Dean is appalled by the extremists who now run the party, turning all the traditional conservative beliefs upside-down.

These so-called "conservatives" have taken the country down the slippery slope of extra-Constitutional rule, at the bottom of which, unless the situation changes, lies the reality of fascism.

"It would not take much more misguided authoritarian leadership, or thoughtless following of such leaders, to find ourselves there," Dean writes.


And here is the heart of Dean's intelligently-reasoned volume. In his 2004 book "Worse Than Watergate," Dean excoriated the CheneyBush presidency for its secrecy, unconstitutional over-reaching, and in-your-face nastiness. But, aside from revealing its dastardly governance, Dean didn't have an over-arching theory of why the Administration and their followers behaved that way. Here, in "Conservatives Without Conscience," he has come up with a believable explanation as to why those traits are so prevalent in rightwing circles.

So how did America wind up on the freeway heading toward the exit marked fascism? Dean finds a good share of the answer in the pulling power of authoritarianism, both as practiced by demagogic officials and as accepted by the third of Americans who, without much thought, permit themselves to be swayed so easily by those leaders.

But what explains the willingness of so many millions of American citizens to blindly follow such leaders?

Dean points to the power of fundamentalist religious thought, both in this country and in other areas of the world as well, no matter what the religious preference.

Dean keeps digging: What has led to the resurgence of fundamentalist belief systems?

In America, he notes, fundamentalist/evangelical Christians had political reasons for their renewed activism, including reacting strenuously to attempts to tax their schools, for example, or to Roe vs. Wade. But there is something much deeper, which is true as much in Afghanistan as it is in the U.S. of A.


To put it simply (in my words, not Dean's) there are those who are reasonably comfortable with major social changes, or at least can adapt to them, and there are those who find rapid changes off-putting, disorienting, even frightening. To the latter group, the world is a scary place, with so many conflicting options and alternatives, so much freedom and so many temptations. Many find psychic safety in returning to the old verities, the simple prescriptions for behavior, the clear reasons for acting this way and not that way.

Not having to think for themselves, or about themselves, provides a secure "container" for their anxiety. Conservatives have a "heightened psychological need to manage uncertainty," notes one social researcher quoted by Dean.

Fundamentalism, you see, seems to provide a safe harbor, a simple "quiet" way in the midst of all the world's ambiguity and "noise," that helps in dealing with the frightening and contradictory cacophony outside the religion. There is good and there is evil, a right way and a wrong way, Revealed Truth and dangerous falsehood, you're with us or with our enemies, that sort of simplistic understanding of the world. Got Mitt Uns -- God is on our side, so why should we compromise with or pay attention to those who do not believe in The Truth?

But, says Dean, in addition to the doctrinal underpinnings, something in the personality of many fundamentalist religious leaders, and their followers, may be working even more strongly: a built-in tendency toward authoritarianism.

He quotes from voluminous studies by social psychologist/researcher Bob Altemeyer, who -- after examining the attitude of tens of thousands of subjects in interviews and questionnaires -- concluded that "acceptance of traditional religious beliefs appear to have more to do with having a personality rich in authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism, than with the beliefs per se."


Dean says he writes as "a conservative who is deeply troubled by what has become of a treasured philosophy. Conservatism has been co-opted by authoritarians, a most dangerous type of political animal."

"[A]t heart," he writes, those in charge of the Republican party "are tough, cold-blooded, ruthless ... tolerate no dissent, use dissembling as their standard modus operandi, and have pushed their governing authority beyond the law and Constitution ... [O]ur nation's founders relied on reason, which is anathema for many of today's conservatives. ... [They] cannot be trusted to exercise the powers of government responsibly."

Conservatives, Altemeyer found, often engaged in right-wing aggression not only out of political belief but also "for the pure pleasure of it ... [They are] malicious, mean-spirited, and disrespectful of even the basic codes of civility ... [A]uthoritarians have little if any conscience when pursuing their causes, and reason gives way to expediency."


Altemeyer and other social scientists who have done the ground-breaking research on authoritarianism have also found that many political conservatives, both leaders and followers, possess "a need to dominate others."

Dean reminds us of the famous '60s experiment by Dr. Stanley Milgram where college students readily inflicted electrical shocks (or what they thought were such shocks) on supposed prisoners in their care because the supervising scientist in a white coat told them to do so, despite the prisoners' seeming writhing in pain. The experiment revealed in most of the subjects a clear readiness to bow to the orders of authority figures. Decades later, we saw photos and videotape of normal young U.S. soldiers tormenting, humiliating and torturing prisoners in their care at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. The hard-wiring is there and switches on in optimal social situations.

According to Altemeyer's research, "authoritarian aggression is fueled by fear and encouraged by remarkable self-righteousness, which frees aggressive impulses. ... [Lying is] easy for right-wing authoritarians to do because of their remarkable self-righteousness."

Not only do political conservatives tend to follow authority figures' orders more often, Altemeyer's research revealed, but they are "intolerant of criticism of their authorities, because they believe the authority is unassailably correct." In short, their leaders do not lie; but when they are found to have lied, they did so for good, godly reasons. After all, the righteous end justifies all means.

Outbreaks of dangerous authoritarianism have occurred throughout our nation's history, notes Dean, but the CheneyBush Administration has taken social authoritarianism to the extreme -- with Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay as dominator poster-boys for the movement.

They may think of what they are doing as akin to playing political chess, but, if so, it's a political game with extremely lethal consequences. Unlike most other examples of previous authoritarianism in earlier U.S. administrations, now when the leaders lie, a large number of people die. Another such example would be what happened in Europe in the 1930s; see "The Easy Slide Into Fascism: Germany in 1933."

Most everything in the Bush Administration is done for political reasons, often to feed its rock-solid fundamentalist/evangelical base. Rove's tested election strategy is built upon that base. By hook or by crook or by fraud -- dropping hundreds of thousands of Dem voters off a state's rolls, tying up oppositional phone lines, perhaps altering ballot tallies, and so on -- he's able to claim one more vote than the opposition and feels free then to assert that the GOP now has a "mandate" to rule.

And, of course, the run-up to the election is orchestrated to the drumbeat of constant fear and fright, against real or imagined enemies; these days, the buzzworded scapegoats are "gays," "illegal immigrants," "atheists," and that oldie-but-goodie "terrorists." (When the Bush Administration "continues to raise the threat of terrorism but refuses to implement even the minimum measures recommended by the [9/11] commission," writes Dean, "it is clear they are playing the politics of fear.")


What can America look forward to if the GOP holds onto the House and Senate in November? For sure, we can anticipate the further destruction of any opposition as the Republicans continue their drive for permanent one-party rule. "Our goal is to inflict as much pain as possible," said authoritarian GOP honcho Grover Norquist. "It is not good enough to win; it has to be a painful and devastating defeat. We're sending a message here."

In addition, we can anticipate continued packing of the appeals courts with more jurists in the authoritarian mode, serious cracking down on opposition websites and writers on the internet, the continuation of corruption at the highest levels as lobbyists buy corporate access to the writing of laws, and further movement toward the assumption of "unimpaired executive authority," to use Cheney's spine-chilling term.

And, no doubt, we can expect more wars abroad (Iran? Syria? Venezuela?), carried out with bullying, self-righteous certainty of victory -- which, since these guys never learn, and are clueless and incompetent as well, will backfire in America's face. Again. Chalk it up to greed, power-hunger and the arrogance of empire. (Bush's unwavering support of Israel's destruction of Lebanon is a proxy case in point.)

Is the situation hopeless in moving this country away from authoritarianism, and restoring America to its great foundations, its adherence to and respect for law? Dean concludes with this:

"Research, however, reveals there is a solid majority of Americans who are not right-wing authoritarians, that there are countless millions of liberals, moderates and conservatives with conscience, people who shudder at the prospect of giving away our hard-earned democratic principles, and who cherish our liberties. These are individuals who question their leaders and their policies, and that is as it should be.

"Democracy is not a spectator sport that can be simply observed. To the contrary, it is difficult and demanding, and its very survival depends on active participation. Take it for granted, and the authoritarians, who have already taken control, will take American democracy where no freedom-loving person would want it to go. But time has run out, and the next two or three national election cycles will define America in the twenty-first century, for better or worse."

Copyright 2006, by Bernard Weiner

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer-editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly two decades, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). To comment: crisispapers@comcast.net .
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 11, 2006 5:22 am    Post subject: Cracks In The Wall, Pt. I:Defining Authoritarian Personality Reply with quote

Cracks In The Wall, Part I: Defining the Authoritarian Personality
Thursday, August 10, 2006
by Sara Robinson

We need to stop this. We have gone on too long assuming that our right-wing opponents are, in all times and places, unchangeable and unchanging. Yes, their arguments are confoundingly short on evidence and fact. Yes, their logic loops are closed up so tight as to be frustratingly impervious to reason. Yes, they absolutely do mean to do us -- and our democracy -- grievous harm.

Here's the good news. That Great Wall that separates our little reality-based community from The Fantasyland Next Door is not a monolith. Nor are the inmates of that Otherworld necessarily locked in there for all time and eternity. There's evidence -- from scientists, from experience, from history -- that there are cracks in that wall. They are small and subtle, to be sure (that's why nobody's ever noticed them before): at this point, they are mere hairlines, faint traces that are hard to spot without a good flashlight in the hands of someone who knows where to look. But, as someone who's spent much of her life pacing one side or the other of this wall, I am here to tell you: there are places where it fails. People do cross it, and survive to tell the tale. And, rather than continue to wallow in our frustration, it's high time we mapped those cracks, find effective ways to widen them, and eventually exploit them to help both afflicted individuals and our larger culture break through the insanity.

It will be slow, thoughtful, methodical work. What I'm offering here is just an opening tour of the rockwork, an explanation of where the cracks are and why they formed. At first, actual opportunities to exploit these weaknesses will be small and fleeting. But my hope is, with time and practice, we'll get more observant, and more creative, and more adroit in taking advantage of them when they appear. That's the goal of this series.

This first installment summarizes some pertinent ideas culled from John Dean's new book, Conservatives Without Conscience. These are some of the basic ideas and definitions I'll be using as a springboard in the posts that follow.

Dean wrote this book with the express goal of using his own status as a bestselling author to popularize decades of social science research that should be -- but isn't -- common knowledge among politically-literate Americans. If I had to bet, I'd guess that grousing, joking, analyzing, and commiserating over the confounding nature of the non-reality-based community probably accounts for a quarter of all the words ever produced in Left Blogistan. For several years now, we've been trying to puzzle this riddle out on our own, with limited success. But, happily, it turns out that social psychologists have had the map to the right-wing authoritarian mindset nailed down for years. Dean wants us all to know what they know.

Research into "authoritarian personalities" began in the aftermath of WWII, as scientists tried to figure out how otherwise civilized people succumbed to the charisma of Hitler and Mussolini and allowed themselves to be willingly led into committing notorious atrocities. The inquiry continued through Milgram's famous experiments at Stanford in the early 60s; later, some of it became subsumed in the work of The Fundamentalism Project convened by Martin Marty at the University of Chicago in the 1980s and early 90s. Long story short: there is now over 50 years of good data on these people coming from every corner of the social sciences; but since almost none of this has been common knowledge outside the academy, nobody on the progressive side has really been putting it to use. Dean clearly wrote the book hoping to change all that.

The bulk of Conservatives Without Conscience is based on the research of Dr. Robert Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba, a social psychologist specializing in the psychology of authoritarianism. Altemeyer received the prestigious Association for the Advancement of Science prize for behavioral sciences for this research, and it is widely accepted in academia (though, as you might imagine, not so much among conservatives!). What follows is my brief synopsis of Dean's brief synopsis of some of Altemeyer's findings.

Leaders and Followers
Authoritarians come in two flavors: leaders and followers. The two tiers are driven by very different motivations; and understanding these differences is the first key to understanding how authoritarian social structures work.

Leaders form just a small fraction of the group. Social scientists refer to this group as having a high "social dominance orientation (SDO)" -- a set of traits that can be readily identified with psychological testing. "These are people who seize every opportunity to lead, and who enjoy having power over others," says Dean -- and they have absolutely no qualms about objectifying people and breaking rules to advance their own ambitions. High-SDO personalities tend to emerge very early in life (which suggests at least some genetic predisposition): you probably remember a few from your own sandbox days, and almost certainly have known a few who've made your adult life a living hell as well.

High-SDO people are characterized by four core traits: they are dominating, opposed to equality, committed to expanding their own personal power, and amoral. These are usually accompanied by other unsavory traits, many of which render them patently unsuitable for leadership roles in a democracy:

Typically men
Intimidating and bullying
Faintly hedonistic
Cheat to win
Highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)
Tells others what they want to hear
Takes advantage of "suckers"
Specializes in creating false images to sell self
May or may not be religious
Usually politically and economically conservative/Republican

Dean notes: "Although these collations of characteristics…are not attractive portraits, the are nonetheless traits that authoritarians themselves acknowledge." In other words, these guys know what they are, and are often quite unabashedly proud of it.

High-SDO people are drawn to power, and will seek it ruthlessly and relentlessly, regardless of the consequences to others. Many cultures (including ours, up until a few decades ago) have found these people so dangerous that they've evolved counterweights and backstops that conspire to either keep them away from the levers of power, or mitigate the damage they can do (and I'll discuss some of those in the last installment). However, modern America seems to have lost all vestiges of this awareness. Now, we celebrate our most powerful social dominants, pay them obscene salaries, turn them into media stars, and hand over the keys to the empire to them almost gratefully. They have free rein to pursue their ambitions unchecked, with no cultural brakes on their rapacity. They will do whatever they can get away with; and we'll not only let them, but often cheer them on.

We’re now at the point where these sleek Machivellian manipulators are recognized around the world as the face of American business and governmental authority. While the bulk of "Conservatives Without Conscience" goes on to explain the ways in which various members of the Bush administration have demonstrated classic high-SDO behavior, I'd also argue that our willingness to accept high-SDO leadership also accounts for toxic bosses, incompetent business planning, crooked accounting, political graft, and many of the other dysfunctions that afflict American corporate life as well.

And yet, while these leaders are compelling, they will not be the main focus of my discussion of authoritarians. As I said: these personality traits emerge as early as three or four, and people who have them are almost always well beyond the reach of change. They have always been with us, and probably always will be. Since they represent a very small slice of the population, dealing with them effectively will, in practice, largely involve strategies to recognize them, isolate them, and prevent them from aggregating large hordes of followers.

It's those followers that we need to look at -- because they are sometimes capable of change, if you know where the leverage points are. The next two parts of this series will focus exclusively on them; for now, let's look at what Dean and Altemeyer have to say.

While the high-SDO leaders are defined by Dean as dominating, opposed to equality, desirous of personal power, and amoral, right-wing authoritarian followers have a different but very complementary set of motivations. The three core traits that define them are:

1. Submission to authority. "These people accept almost without question the statements and actions of established authorities, and comply with such instructions without further ado" writes Dean. "[They] are intolerant of criticism of their authorities, because they believe the authority is unassailably correct. Rather than feeling vulnerable in the presence of powerful authorities, they feel safer. For example, they are not troubled by government surveillance of citizens because they think only wrongdoers need to be concerned by such intrusions. Still, their submission to authority is not blind or automatic; [they] believe there are proper and improper authorities…and their decision to submit is shaped by whether a particular authority is compatible with their views."

2. Aggressive support of authority. Right-wing followers do not hesitate to inflict physical, psychological, financial, social, or other forms of harm on those they see as threatening the legitimacy of their belief system and their chosen authority figure. This includes anyone they see as being too different from their norm (like gays or racial minorities). It's also what drives their extremely punitive attitude toward discipline and justice. Notes Dean: "Authoritarian aggression is fueled by fear and encouraged by a remarkable self-righteousness, which frees aggressive impulses."

3. Conventionality. Right-wing authoritarian followers prefer to see the world in stark black-and-white. They conform closely with the rules defined for them by their authorities, and do not stray far from their own communities. This extreme, unquestioning conformity makes them insular, fearful, hostile to new information, uncritical of received wisdom, and able to accept vast contradictions without perceiving the inherent hypocrisy.

Conformity also feeds their sense of themselves as more moral and righteous than others -- a perception that's usually buttressed by the use of magical absolution techniques that they use to "evaporate guilt," in Dean's words. Because they confessed, or are saved, or were just following orders, they can commit heinous crimes and still retain a serene conscience and sense that they are "righteous people." On the other hand, when it comes to outsiders, there is no absolution. Their memory for even minor transgressions is nothing short of elephantine (as Bill Clinton knows all too well).

Dean lists other traits of right-wing authoritarian followers, most of which flow directly from the three core traits above:

Both men and women
Highly religious
Moderate to little education
Trust untrustworthy authorities
Prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals, women, and followers of religions other than their own)
Uncritical toward chosen authority
Inconsistent and contradictory
Prone to panic easily
Highly self-righteous
Strict disciplinarian
Severely punitive
Demands loyalty and returns it
Little self-awareness
Usually politically conservative/Republican

Remember this list, because these specific characteristics form the foundation of the discussion that will unfold in the next two posts. It is these traits that we will find the cracks in the wall.

As a final point: Dean's book puts to rest once and for all the right-wing shibboleth of "liberal fundamentalists" and "liberal authoritarians." Altemeyer and his colleagues have found, through decades of research, that authoritarians almost universally skew toward the far reactionary right on the political scale. This very much includes Stalinists and other "left-wing" totalitarians: though these men used socialist rhetoric to create "Communist" political orders, they're classic examples of high-SDO leaders taking control by whatever means they had at hand, and using them to create archetypal far-right authoritarian states. Dean and Altemeyer make it clear that authoritarianism is, by long-accepted definition, overwhelmingly a right-wing personality trait.

Dean is also emphatic that authoritarianism, in all its forms, is completely antithetical to both classical conservatism (he still considers himself a Goldwater conservative), and to the founding ideals of America. We must be clear: when right-wingers threaten liberals, they are directly threatening the seminal political impulse that created our nation. An operative democracy depends on having a populace that is open to new ideas, able to think for itself, confident in its abilities, willing to take risks, and capable of mutual trust. America was founded as the world's first radically liberal state. History has shown us that the nation's best moments, past and future, are created by people with a strong liberal orientation.

Authoritarians aren't merely constitutionally incapable of this kind of cultural and political openness; they are actively hostile to it, and seek to stamp it out wherever they find it. Everything in their souls drives them to dismantle the democratic impulse, and bring people under the heel of hierarchical authority -- which is why history has also shown us that the nation's worst moments, past and future, are created by people with a strong right-wing authoritarian orientation.

In my next post, I'll move away from Dean's book, and into a deeper look at the psychology of right-wing followers. We'll take a brief look at some of the reasons people are drawn into right-wing authoritarian belief systems -- and a longer look at the events that cause some of these same followers to eventually choose to abandon those systems.

It's in those reasons that we'll begin to find the cracks of daylight. See you Saturday.
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 11, 2006 5:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Altemeyer and his colleagues have found, through decades of research, that authoritarians almost universally skew toward the far reactionary right on the political scale. This very much includes Stalinists and other "left-wing" totalitarians: though these men used socialist rhetoric to create "Communist" political orders, they're classic examples of high-SDO leaders taking control by whatever means they had at hand, and using them to create archetypal far-right authoritarian states. Dean and Altemeyer make it clear that authoritarianism is, by long-accepted definition, overwhelmingly a right-wing personality trait.

Bing, bang, boom. This just says it all.

Of course, I've known it for a long time. Every far-right wingnut I've seen here so far had an authority complex--either he thought he was the law, or he was a faithful, unquestioning enforcer...even when the law stank.

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sherry razor
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 11, 2006 6:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

How about the grand plans for Cuba, already being written about in the "business" section of all of MSM the last week?

ya think they'll greet us as liberators?

knowing the Bush Crime Family, battle plans are already in place Crying or Very sad Crying or Very sad Crying or Very sad
"I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I'm a human being, first and foremost, and as such I'm for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole."

Malcom X
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 12, 2006 12:37 am    Post subject: The Authoritarianism of Right-Wing Radio Reply with quote

The Authoritarianism of Right-Wing Radio
by Guy Reel
August 11, 2006
by CommonDreams.org

In his new book “Conservatives Without Conscience,” John Dean describes his journey to discover why some of today’s right-wingers have drifted so far astray from many of the classic notions of conservatism – limited government, limited executive power, reduced foreign entanglements, respect for individual rights, etc. What he found is rather alarming – he concludes that among many of today’s right-wing are streaks of both authoritarianism and a personality type described as “social dominance orientation.”

Dean’s ideas, along with UC Berkeley professor George Lakoff’s notions of framing of political debate, explain a lot about how those on the right side of the spectrum think – and why right-wing talk radio is successful while “liberal” talk struggles.

According to Dean, authoritarians see the world as a competition in which the strong and righteous prevail and prosper; failure is tantamount to weakness or unworthiness. These authoritarians believe the world is dangerous and threatening, and the best way to fight “evil” is through force. Social dominators, on the other hand, scoff at notions of equality and will move forward with little conscience or restraint. They don’t believe much in right or wrong – it’s more about what they can get away with. (If that seems harsh, notes Dean, this is not his view – it’s how these people describe themselves when they undertake personality tests.)

More troubling than these categories are those who adopt the characteristics of the authoritarians AND the social dominators. These people are unaware of their own hypocrisies – consider the religious right’s defense of detainee abuse, war, tax cuts for the wealthy and aid cuts for the poor – while believing their own motives not only right but necessary to win against a litany of enemies, including “liberals.” Such people also have an uncanny ability to merely stop thinking about something if it doesn’t fit in with their worldview. In addition, they are openly hostile and aggressive toward those who disagree with them.

Lakoff has also examined the thought processes of conservatives in his “Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America’s Most Important Idea.” In this work, Lakoff concludes that in many cases those on the right consider only notions of direct causation for problems and solutions, while liberals more often think of the systemic factors in problems and solutions. For example, a conservative might believe that to fight crime, we should stiffen sentences, imprison more people and build more prisons to house them. This is a class direct-cause-response mechanism for fighting crime. Liberals, on the other hand, may see an array of factors that produce crime, including individual responsibility, poverty, lack of education, lack of role models, opportunity, etc. Thus, to fight crime, a liberal might argue for better education and job opportunities – options that are far less expensive than building new prisons and housing people for long-term sentences. Yet, among dominators with authoritarian/direct-cause thought processes, the idea of improving education to fight crime is ludicrous and soft. And many will despise anyone who would suggest otherwise.

This may explain why conservatives claim to believe that liberals are beholden to a “belief system” that doesn’t fit with reality. It’s much easier – and for many, makes more sense — to simply think of the “war on terror,” or “good vs. evil” than to consider gradations of history, economics and politics as responsible for a complicated world in which a variety of responses are necessary to fight terrorism. In their vitriol, they may express their contempt in different ways – as a rejection of nuance, or as a repudiation of the “church of liberalism.” Right-wing Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania described liberalism as an ideology, while maintaining that conservatism is common sense. For these thinkers, according to some psychologists, it is impossible for them to consider these matters in any other way.

Lakoff says the conservative way of thinking is more of the “strict father” mode while liberal thinking is more like the “nurturant mother.” The strict father tells us what’s good for us and we’d better obey. The father is the last word. That’s why talk radio works so well for the right-wing worldview. The father preaches to the children, and they follow blindly, with devotion, while sputtering frothy, childish contempt for anyone who disagrees.

Thus, the hosts of the right-wing radio programs, from Limbaugh to Hannity to Savage — to all the local right-wingers in cities across America — are almost all authoritarians, “strict-father” in their worldview, and social dominators. In other words, they blame victims (consider their laughing at Katrina victims), liberals and media for any problems that arise in the world, and insult anyone who disagrees. The answers to problems are simple and usually involve strength. The format of these talk shows gives them a forum to monologue while taking puff calls from supporters, or “dittoheads,” who have exactly the same view.

Consider some of the common direct-cause/authoritarian frames that you can hear on right-wing radio:

The “drive-by” media are liberal and hate Bush. They must be fought at every turn.

We are fighting World War III and any response other than a warlike one is tantamount to treason.

Liberals don’t want you to know the truth because they want to suppress you. We must expose liberals everywhere.

Government is the enemy of prosperity. Taxes stunt growth. We must cut government and lower taxes, particularly on the rich.

Never mind that the actual facts get in the way of these statements. That doesn’t matter if you’re a social dominator. What’s important is winning, not whether what you say is true.

But if you accept these arguments, then the outcome of attempts by liberal talk show hosts to imitate the format and the vitriol of the world’s Limbaughs is easy to predict – it won’t work. Liberal talk-show hosts (such as, for example, Randi Rhodes) come across as trying to imitate the characteristics of authoritarian/social dominators, and the resulting tone doesn’t fit with the message – that the problems and solutions to our problems are complicated and require a variety of strategies. For example, one might argue that the best way to fight the war on terror is through special ops, police work, top-rate intelligence AND terrific force. That’s a bunch of gobbledygook for the right-wingers. It’s good versus evil, they say. Kill them all. Never mind that that strategy only leads to more terror. It’s cause and effect, and it is impossible for them to think differently about the problem.

The so-called “liberal” radio that does work – most notably NPR – is given to lengthy reports on the issues, often including multiple perspectives. That is why those who wish for a liberal Rush Limbaugh are misguided. There can’t be a liberal Limbaugh. There can only be a response that indicates what most people already know, deep down: We must work together to find multiple solutions to fight problems and defeat enemies; any other way is simply suicide.

Guy Reel is an assistant professor of mass communication at Winthrop University. He can be reached at reelg@winthrop.edu.
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PostPosted: Sun Aug 13, 2006 7:05 am    Post subject: Cracks In The Wall, Part II: Listening to the Leavers Reply with quote

This is a great series on authoritarianism and specifically fundatmentalism. This is part II.
Cracks In The Wall, Part II: Listening to the Leavers
Saturday, August 12, 2006
by Sara Robinson

Who Follows? Everyone, Sometimes
After all these decades of research and inquiry, it can be said fairly that we're starting to get a decent handle on what makes people gravitate toward authoritarianism.

Alice Miller points to abusively authoritarian child-rearing practices, which teach the child anger and fear, and train out compassion or respect. George Lakoff points out the ways in which Strict Father conservatives try to apply this same logic to government. Emmanuel Todd points out that a nation's family structures are almost always mirrored in its political structures, as well as its tendency towards imperial ambition. Several observers, including Kevin Phillips, point to the authoritarianism inherent in certain religions, and in the regions of the country they dominate; other historians have contrasted the relative levels of social hierarchy countries that were colonized by Catholic versus Protestant countries.

Felicia Pratto and Jim Sidanius, who developed social dominance theory and the SDO scale, might tell you that, for some of us, at least, such tendencies appear so early in life that it's hard to credit nurture alone. Milgrim and Zimbardo both found that while most subjects participated more or less eagerly in their experiments, there were a few who were so offended by the scenarios that they outright refused. Nurture plays a huge role; but humans under stress have gravitated toward strong-man dictatorships since the beginning of history; and we've never been too short of would-be high-SDO strong men eager to step up and oblige us.

Taken together, this chorus seems to paraphrase the Bard: some are born authoritarian, some achieve authoritarianism, and some have authoritarianism thrust upon them. Most of us fall somewhere along a wide continuum of willingness to follow authoritarian leadership. Our place on that scale is determined by the culture and religion we grew up in, how our parents treated us, our education and life experiences, and our inherited temperament. These things conspire to make a few of us desperate to follow, and a few others obstinate in their outright refusal of all authority. The vast majority of us fall somewhere in between, open to seduction only in certain circumstances.

We know something about those circumstances, too. We know, for example, that fear can transform the behavior of otherwise rational and not particularly authoritarian people. Fear creates physiological changes that impair the brain's ability to reason, and drives people to fall in behind whatever leader presents himself without asking too many questions. Like all herd animals, we are biologically driven to close ranks tightly behind the alpha in times of trouble. Resisting that impulse sometimes means fighting our own evolutionary imperatives. And, as we are now too well aware, unscrupulous leaders will not hesitate to create, manipulate, and perpetuate fear in order to activate that instinct and keep their followers at heel.

Thus, some people who've never been natural followers sometimes get caught up in authoritarian religion and politics in the wake of deep personal losses: unemployment, divorce, a death in the family, arrest, and so on. Entire populations (or, at least, a good fraction of the whole) can take the same path when faced with large collective losses. Kevin Phillips, in American Theocracy,, points out that the South's authoritarian streak (which always ran deep) grew rigid and hard after their loss in the Civil War. Karen Armstrong, in The Battle for God, points out that fundamentalist movements commonly begin in communities that perceive themselves under economic, political, or geographic siege. The way America came together under FDR after Pearl Harbor is the stuff of national legend. And the Bush Administration has exploited this tendency shamelessly in the wake of 9/11.

Cut loose from our moorings, in over our heads, we all look for something solid to hold onto. No matter how strong we are, we've all got areas where we are brittle and vulnerable. It's hard for any of us to say for sure that we'd walk away from an authoritarian leader who promised us precisely the right kind of salvation in precisely the wrong moment. This is something to bear in mind whenever we deal with authoritarian followers: they have simply responded to an impulse that exists -- at least to some degree -- in all of us.

Pushed To The Wall
For the past five years, I've been a member of a large and busy online community of former fundamentalists. Through years of discussion, we've learned a lot from each other about how and why people become fundamentalists -- and also how and why they find themselves inspired to leave authoritarian religion behind. We've noticed patterns in the various ways people are seduced into fundamentalism; and also a predictable progression in the steps they go through in the agonizing months and years after enlightenment dawns. We've also discovered that we seem to fall into readily-identifiable subgroups, and that each of these subgroups wanders down somewhat different paths and uses different techniques as they approach the wall, determinedly hoist themselves over it, and then set about coming to terms with life here on the reality-based side.

Two or three times a week, we find new members on our doorstep. Safe in the anonymity of the Internet (and often under cover of night -- these missives are typically time-stamped in the wee hours of the morning, usually posted furtively after weeks or months of lurking) we're often the first people they've ever whispered their doubts out loud to. Their introductions are often heartbreakingly miserable: "I can't believe this any more -- but my husband will leave me if he knows." "My whole family is fundie. I can't tell my parents I've stopped going to church -- it will kill them if they ever find out." "I'm a deacon at my church. If I start asking these questions, I'll lose my whole community."

These people know that the tiny flicker of enlightenment kindling in their minds is about to set their entire lives ablaze. And yet -- with a courage that I always find astonishing -- almost all of them forge ahead anyway. Some race for the wall. Others pace back and forth for months, planning their escape. A few disappear for a while, but return again a year later, having put their lives in order and ready to go at last.

We must never, ever underestimate what it costs these people to let go of the beliefs that have sustained them. Leaving the safety of the authoritarian belief system is a three-to-five year process. Externally, it always means the loss of your community; and often the loss of jobs, homes, marriages, and blood relatives as well. Internally, it requires sifting through every assumption you've ever made about how the world works, and your place within it; and demands that you finally take the very emotional and intellectual risks that the entire edifice was designed to protect you from. You have to learn, maybe for the first time, to face down fear and live with ambiguity. On the scale of relative trauma, it's right up there with a divorce after a long marriage; and it requires about the same amount and kind of grieving.

Over the years, I've talked to scores of former fundies about the moment that the light first sparked. Through their stories, I've discerned a few patterns, most of which map very neatly onto John Dean's list of traits for authoritarian followers. What follows is far from science; it's more akin to clinical experience, or a scouting report from the front on battlefield conditions. The degree to which any of this might apply to non-religious authoritarians is open for discussion -- though my reading of Altemeyer's work is that all forms of authoritarianism come from the same deep character traits, and so it seems sensible that politically-based authoritarian followers might undergo a recognizably similar process. It's a topic for discussion, anyway.

Depending on why they became fundie in the first place, the moment of exodus generally dawns in one of the following ways:

1. Betrayal by Authority
Dean notes that authoritarian followers voluntarily choose their leaders, usually on the basis of how strongly those leaders support the follower's belief system. Cultural or political leaders who don't support the belief system (for example, federal court judges, scientists, progressive celebrities) are seen as illegitimate authorities, and become targets of followers' aggression.

We've all come up against these people, and have been totally confounded with their "my leader can do no wrong" attitude. They believe outrageous lies, and forgive all manner of sins. Democratic strategists keep trying to run campaigns that will reach these people on the basis of evidence and fact -- and are perplexed to find their attempts at education totally rebuffed. George Bush may have lied us into a war, wrecked our economy, saddled our great-grandchildren with debt, savaged the poor, and alienated the entire world; but he is Our Leader, and we will always take his word over anyone else's. We do not accept you as a legitimate authority. We don't care what you have to say, because you have no standing at all in our little world.

Mere political or cultural betrayal, no matter how destructive, does not cut through this piece of the wall. The guilt-evaporation process applies to both followers and leaders: you must forgive all wrongs committed by someone inside the fold. Our leader didn't lie; he was misunderstood, his words distorted by our enemies. Besides, he would never lie to us. Besides, he is just following orders -- or God's will, which is beyond our understanding. Besides, our own forgiveness depends on our ability to forgive, and so we will -- never mind the contradictions.

And yet, even so: There is one -- and only one -- sin so heinous that it cannot be rationalized away by the authoritarian thought process. It is this: the leader's main job is to protect his abused and terrified horde from personal harm (or, for that matter, any sudden negative change to their immediate status quo). A leader who wantonly allows one of his followers to intimately experience such harm breaks that contract. It is in that moment of betrayal that some followers come to their senses, and start looking for a reckoning.

It's important to note: the betrayal must be an intensely personal breach that has a deep, immediate, life-changing impact on the individual follower. Fundies don't think in abstracts. Big national debts, epic political prevarications, and other people's suffering (even on a global scale) do not impress them. But there are plenty of authoritarian parents across the country who proudly sent a son or daughter off to war -- and later received that precious child home under cover of darkness, in a wooden box, with minimal explanation. That's the kind of personal and profound loss I'm talking about. For many of these patriotic parents, it was also the searing moment of deep betrayal that broke the spell and shoved them off in the direction of the Wall.

Among fundies, the most common perpetrators of these betrayals are parents -- particularly fathers -- and pastors. As the most intimate authorities in their followers' lives, they're at close enough range to inflict the kind of high-impact personal damage that's necessary to create the first crack. Many of the ex-fundies I know made their break in the aftermath of sexual abuse, ruinous financial treachery, public humiliation, or power grabs that threatened their marriages or children. They saw, in devastatingly vivid color, what their leaders were capable of. Their endless loyalty was shattered, because they realized it was not being returned in kind.

Such betrayals break through because they offend several of the follower characteristics Dean lists. The betrayed follower is no longer bound to submit to or give loyalty to an unworthy authority. Nor are they bound by the rules, because the authority charged with enforcing them has broken them. (While this was forgiveable in the abstract, in this case the consequences are too personal and acute to ignore.) They are brought face-to-face with the contradictions and hypocrisies in a shocking and unforgiveable way. Having felt the sting of the leader's aggression, they may realize the true cost of aggressively defending that leader -- and thus become more acutely sensitized to intolerance, bullying, and mean-spiritedness.

Perhaps most importantly: having their own boundaries so heinously violated makes them suddenly aware (as most authoritarian followers are not) that they have their own legitimate emotional, physical, and social needs; and that they deserve to have those needs respected and met. Once that self-awareness is awakened, the soon-to-be-ex fundie can be seen making a beeline for the Wall.

2. Permission from Authority
A cute twist on the above scenario is the fundie who gets subtle or overt permission from an established authority to go over to the Wall and push on it.

These authorities aren't easy to come by. Everything in authoritarian society is set up to identify heretics and preachers of false doctrine, and eject them forcefully from the community immediately upon discovery. Still, the occasional and quiet non-authoritarian can be found in positions of leadership within a fundamentalist community -- for example, young pastors from more liberal seminaries, Christian counselors with some secular psychological training, missionaries who have returned from exotic far-away places, or church-affiliated social services people whose sense of compassion has overwhelmed their fear of church leadership.

Because these people are operating under color of Established Authority, if they suggest that it's OK to ask questions, the followers will accept that as valid permission to open their minds. One recovering fundie recalls a fateful meeting with a Christian counselor: "He told me that fundamentalist Christianity was toxic," she said. Her exodus began with that brief comment. Later, she remembers finding still more affirmation: "I told my Christian college professor that I no longer believed that there was one way to spirituality, and was now pro-choice. He applauded me." Since she accepted both these men as valid religious authorities, their encouragement gave her the freedom to approach the Wall with a clearer conscience.

Such authorities are rare birds -- both because fundies don't breed many of them, and also because they quickly banish the ones they discover in their midst. But for the brief season they are allowed to operate, they can plant the seeds of open-mindedness in hundreds of willing followers, facilitate education, bypass zealotry and dogma, promote open examination of hypocrisy and contradiction, and enhance self-awareness.

3. Life Gets Bigger
Fundamentalist parents work overtime to keep their children from "the things of this world." Your average Yuppie helicopter parent is a slacker compared to these people, who obsessively vet all incoming media, homeschool, seek out Christian colleges, chaperone all "courtship" activities, and otherwise ensure that their children receive no information about the world that doesn't support their belief system.

This willful narrow-mindedness continues on into adulthood and right through life. Church members spy on each other with the enthusiasm of Stasi informants; deacons call miscreants in for disciplinary meetings to keep the faithful on the path of righteousness. One wonders if Jesus intended them to take the metaphor of shepherd and sheep quite so literally, but they do.

This anti-intellectualism appears on Dean's list in several guises: Moderate to little education, narrow-minded, intolerant, dogmatic, uncritical, inconsistent and contradictory, prone to panic. They are precisely what you'd expect from people who've had minimal exposure to the world, and hence lack the basic skills -- including flexibility, risk-taking, and spontaneity -- that most of us rely on to deal with it.

Still, the world is big and insistent, and sometimes it comes flooding through that wall of denial despite their best efforts. The most common culprit is education -- either formal, or informal -- that allows the follower to see with clarity that the outside world is not nearly so evil as they've been told. This education can take many forms -- some obvious, some not so obvious.

Many, if not most, fundie youth who end up at secular colleges soon find themselves enjoying the view from the top of the wall. This happens so reliably that most fundie parents regard secular universities as the worst nightmare this side of hell. They know they're not gonna keep 'em down on the farm once they've seen State U.

Travel, especially outside the country, is another major eye-opener for people who have long believed that their way is the only way. We're not talking bus tours and chain hotels here -- it needs to be a style of travel that demands plenty of individual interaction with local people and their language, customs, and culture. Homestays, where the connections can become personal, are particularly potent -- which is why missionaries-gone-native feature largely on the list of permissive authorities discussed above.

Authoritarian upbringing is not designed to foster a sense of personal competence. But any kind of training that builds a creative skill -- especially one that will be valued by the secular world -- will tend to increase the follower's sense of self-worth. Even if s/he gives all the glory to God (an expected modesty among fundies), mastering one's craft imparts a sureness and independence of mind that reduces susceptibility to authoritarian logic. Knowing your stuff cold, even in one limited area, imparts confidence to call people on their Limbaugh in other areas.

Events that bring fundies together, one-to-one, with people from other groups in common cause can be very effective at lowering defenses. For one woman in our group, the door through the wall was an innocuous Christian women's sewing circle. She writes:

"I got involved in a small community volunteer sewing group and was around some women from different churches…It started to open my eyes to the possibility that other people might have a good thing going too…Basically it was that they were loving, caring women just wanting to reach out and touch someone's life with their sewing ability, and they weren't some evil people on the dark side like my pastor tried to tell us in sermons about those outside our church and belief system.

"When my husband wanted me to stop going because someone had seen me going to this interfaith ministry center which they graciously let us use for the sewing meetings and the pastor thought it would look bad for me to be seen there, I realized how foolish that was. Weren't we just trying to help others regardless of our religious beliefs? I also had a good talk with the woman in charge of the group and she seemed understanding about my concerns and assured me that we weren't there to discuss religious topics so it shouldn't be a problem."

Political action plays a role here, too. On the rare occasions that authoritarians make common cause with more progressive folk -- usually on non-partisan local issues such as land use and utility management (but not schools!) -- there's an opportunity to find common ground and build a foundation of trust on it.

Placing authoritarian followers in relaxing, non-threatening situations where they can safely explore the common ground they share with others can be a liberalizing experience. Most fundies are taught to keep outsiders at a discreet arm's length. They generally won't accept invitations to visit non-believers in their homes, unless they're intending to proslytize. But meetings on neutral ground, based around shared concerns and values, can lead to individual friendships that will in time increase their general trust in outsiders -- and, more importantly, put the lie to their leaders' insistence that reality-based folk are pure evil.

For some in our group, the first glimmer was the stunning realization that "the Jews" included "my friend Rachel, who I met at the gym". "The gays" included "my kids' dance teacher". "The French" included "that darling family we met on the train last summer". And those "frivolous" women who have abortions included "my neighbor, who already had four kids and a husband with no job". Through repeated exposure, these followers' superb sense of loyalty attaches itself to someone outside the circle -- and, in very short order, their awareness of the smallness of that circle becomes too stifling to endure.

4. Resolution of Fear
Once in a while, our little cyber-halfway house takes in a befuddled spouse whose wife or husband -- heretofore a sane, decent, and resolutely secular individual -- has suddenly, without warning and for no apparent reason, pitched themselves headlong off the religious deep end. These partners are usually distraught: there's a familiar body in the house, but the person who once inhabited it has vanished. In their place is someone they have never met; can no longer have a rational conversation with; and can't imagine spending another week with, let alone their entire lives. (Too often, these terrified spouses are also afraid for their children -- and watching their retirement funds disappear into church coffers at an astonishing rate.) They're looking for advice -- anything that will bring back the beloved person they knew.

On further questioning, it almost always comes out that the wayward spouse has recently (usually within the past year) sustained a loss or trauma that simply overwhelmed every resource s/he had. Afraid, alone, and often clinically depressed, this poor soul was a sitting duck for the depredations of an authoritarian religious leader.

This is hardly news, of course: it's also why cult leaders prey on college students, travelers, the inner-city poor, single mothers, prisoners, and other people under stress and cut off from their support systems. What's important to note is that this also works (at least sometimes) in reverse: identifying and addressing the stress and restoring the support system can create the conditions for the broken self to heal, and eventually perhaps usher the return to the reality-based world.

We tell the grieving spouse to identify the initial source of the loss, and do whatever it takes to help their partner address it as directly and concretely as possible. We stress that this is a five-alarm family emergency (though they usually already know that, it helps to have it affirmed) and getting appropriate help for the underlying issue needs to be the first priority -- whether this involves professional counseling, medical treatment, or moving the spouse to another town, far away from the leader and church. We stress the importance of family and social support networks, and of taking steps to protect themselves legally in case the worst should happen.

We give this advice because we've seen it work among ourselves. Most of the adult-onset fundies in our group joined up because they were in a similar place of sheer overwhelm. Leaving was not even possible until this sense of panic and loss subsided, and the sense of personal competence (already higher in people who weren't raised in authoritarian homes) began to reassert itself. When it did, those people found that it got easier to question authority, and eventually to contemplate moving on.

And it's an ongoing battle, at least for a while. That three-to-five year transitional period is full of stress-inducing unknowns; unsurprisingly, recent ex-fundies are strongly tempted to deal with unfamiliar situations by reaching for the old familiar tools. In those cases, too, we need to look for the underlying causes of our distress, and find ways to address the fear directly rather than resort to the old superstitions. Anything that ratchets down the fear factor makes it harder for authoritarianism to get and keep its hold on people's minds.

5. Turning Points
Ironically, though, even though stress is a path into authoritarianism, it can also provide a path out. A number of our members decided to make their break during these same kinds of traumatic stress events -- especially major life transitions. The death of a parent, a move, a job loss, marriage, parenthood, mid-life crises, and widowhood have all come up as key exit points for people who left. Typically, these situations dramatically illuminated the ways in which the predictable authoritarian answers were no longer working for them. They needed more help than their leaders could offer, and decided it was time to look outside the wall for it. Or a natural breaking point occurred -- their old life was past, and they quietly resolved to reach out and see what a new one might hold. In major life transitions, everything is up for grabs -- even for authoritarian followers.

Next Steps
This report from the front is admittedly incomplete: I'm looking forward to hearing from readers about various other conditions that led them (or people they knew) towards daylight. We cannot create truly effective solutions to the problem of authoritarianism until we understand not only the situation that drive followers into that system, but also the situations that open the door for them to leave it.

In my next post, coming Monday or Tuesday, I'll build on the above observations (and any others that crop up in the comments) to draft a rough outline of specific approaches we might use to begin disarming and constructively engaging the authoritarians in our personal and political lives.

Thanks again to everybody who has posted such terrific comments. Keep 'em coming: this is a mutual-education effort, the beginning of a dialogue I hope we'll all keep having until we collectively get this figured out.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 17, 2006 7:54 am    Post subject: Cracks in the Wall, Part III: Escape Ladders Reply with quote

Cracks in the Wall, Part III: Escape Ladders
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
by Sara Robinson

Assorted polls -- usually focused around questions such as belief in evolution, strict opposition to all abortion, self-identified fundamentalism, voting patterns, and so on -- have in recent years put the number of hard-core religious and political conservatives at somewhere between a quarter and a third of American voters. Wherever the number actually falls within that range, there are certainly enough of them in the voting base to dominate our political landscape. (To put it in a historical perspective: in 1932, when Hitler was elected president of the Reichstag, the Nazi party was consistently garnering 31 to 38 percent of the German vote. That's all it takes for an organized, passionate group to take control of a country.)

I've looked in vain for hard evidence that these percentages have grown or declined in the past 30 years (and would appreciate a pointer to this kind of data if it exists). However, there's no doubt that this group carries far more clout when it comes to defining our politics, our economics, and our culture than they've had at any point in the past 80 years. Good political organizing, coupled with the fulsome noise of the Mighty Wurlitzer, have indeed added former liberal constituencies -- blue-collar workers, Catholics, and so on -- to the Republican column. Many of these former moderates were drawn into the far-right fold by targeted political messaging that played up their fears and activated (to at least some degree) the fear-and-submission response characteristic of right-wing followers, as well as expansion-oriented conservative religious groups that replaced fraying community, family, social, recreational, and personal support networks.

Which is not to say that there weren't very real reasons for increasing levels of social fear. In Wealth and Democracy, Kevin Phillips laid out the economic fact that American middle-class prosperity peaked in 1972, and has been in decline ever since. For all but the richest, the dollars (in real terms) are fewer, and they don't go as far as they used to. In the late 70s, decades of misbegotten foreign policy in the Middle East came home to roost, shattering a sense of American invulnerability that had already been severely dented by Vietnam. By the early 80s, Reagan's promise of "morning in America" sounded forced -- but a disheartened and newly fearful middle class was eager to believe. 9/11, of course, put whole new factions of the country into a fear-induced malaise. Republican messaging since the mid-70s has kept all these threats uppermost in the American imagination, creating a climate of fear that supports authoritarian thinking even in people who should know better. And, as mentioned above, Republican hostility to any kind of investment in social capital has left these people a) enraged at the foreclosure of opportunities their parents took for granted and b) left with nowhere to turn but churches.

All these issues, and others, provided ripe openings for the disciplined organizers of the authoritarian right. It's like they've slapped stick-on hot buttons onto all of us -- and now keep pushing them for all they were worth to activate a Pavolvian fear response. ("Abortion! Faggots! Affirmative action! Brown people! Flag-burning!") There has always been -- and probably always will be -- a hard core of natural authoritarian leaders and followers in any society. But their numbers have almost certainly been swelled (my non-supportable guess is that it's been at least doubled) by tens of millions of "soft-core" authoritarians who've been shanghaied onto the authoritarian bandwagon over the past three decades.

John Dean tells us that we are not likely to change the hearts of the authoritarian leaders. And their hardest-core followers may be lost causes, too: most of them grew up with that model, have lived their entire lives by it, and in many cases have been so damaged by it that getting them to accept any other way of viewing reality is likely to be futile.

However, those two factions probably don't comprise even half of the current horde that's commandeered our country. And the rest -- the "normal folks" who got swept up in the right-wing hysteria of the past three decades -- have already demonstrated a certain fluidity: many of them have crossed the Wall once already and have at least some memory of life on the other side. Not all of them will return, of course (though it's always surprising to see which ones decide to make the jump) -- but bringing a good slice of this group back may not be as hard as we've been prone to think.

The experiences described by people who've left authoritarian religious systems point to possible ways we might convince individual authoritarians (of whatever type) to at least take a peek over onto our side of the Wall. This installment talks about some of the ways we can create the conditions that will encourage individual authoritarians to come take that look.

Save Your Breath
The angry hard-core authoritarians -- especially those raised in acutely authoritarian homes, and those with a long history of active participation in authoritarian movements -- are not likely to be interested in reality-based thinking. And people with a long history of addiction may actually do better in the highly-structured, rule-bound culture of authoritarianism -- at least, until they do the hard work of resolving their core issues. Remember the old caution about pigs and singing lessons, and be realistic about your limits.

On the other hand (and as a gross generalization), there are a few groups of people who are more likely to be open to change. Women, whose worldview tends to be more nurturant and relationship-oriented, may be more open than men to liberal points of view. Even those who've spent their entire lives in authoritarian systems get frustrated at times with their lack of power and privilege, the unfairness of the men who outrank them, and the overt bullying. In addition, women are generally less conforming than men, and more likely to reject one-size-fits-all moral systems in favor of ones they see as more just and fair.

People who are under stress without a support system -- college students, single mothers, travelers, prisoners -- are often open to anyone offering ideas for how they can increase their sense of security and connectedness. While this drives many of them straight into waiting authoritarian arms, it could just as easily become an opportunity for them to learn to trust their own inner authority instead.

Those undergoing major life transitions may be similarly receptive: the newly married, new parents, the recently relocated, career or job-changers, the newly divorced or widowed, people who've just lost a parent, and the recently retired are all in positions where the old answers are up for questioning, and the prospect of the larger world outside the wall may look very welcoming. And, of course, people undergoing major self re-creations -- emerging gays and lesbians, new immigrants, and those in the midst of large-scale socioeconomic change -- are likely to be very open to new way of strengthening their confidence, and learning to navigate their brave new worlds.

Fear Is The Mind-Killer
In talking to right-wing authoritarians (RWAs) -- in any situation -- the first and greatest challenge is to reduce the level of fear and increase the level of trust. They cannot hear or see you at all until this happens. A few thoughts on how to accomplish this:

Stand on Common Ground -- Keep the conversation focused on the things you agree on. You may find more in common than you might have imagined, especially with "classical conservatives" who are outraged by the Bush Administration's spending, foreign policy blunders, and neglect of important domestic infrastructure. (Small businesspeople, in particular, can give you a real earful.) Move away from potential areas of conflict as soon as they appear, or state your position in a non-threatening way and then move right back to the safe zone. Remember, you're trying to reduce fear, not arouse it.

Avoid Ambiguity (yourself) -- The liberal penchant for seeing life in infinite shades of grey annoys the hell out of conservatives in general, and authoritarians most particularly. It's the main reason they think we don't stand for anything. "It depends" is not an answer they find comfort in, and long explanations are seen as obfuscation, not clarification.

Yet there are things we do believe in -- fervently, and with great passion. We should not be afraid to state our moral principles, especially the ones that can be fairly articulated in near-absolutes and with a certain amount of zeal. They're impressed by zeal, and are often surprised to find that we have our own share of it. If you can unambiguously and firmly state a principle that you share with the RWA (marriage, family, and community are great topics for this kind of commonality), you'll find them warming to you quickly.

Affirm Ambiguity (in them) -- Once in a while, you'll hear the RWA start to give a long, hairsplitting answer (for, in sooth, many of their odder theories of the world have no short explanation). In these moments, they're embracing exactly the kind of ambiguity they usually go way out of their way to avoid (and criticize in us). When this happens, note it: "You're so right. This world is a pretty complicated place, and the answers aren't always easy, are they?" The key here is to create a comfortable, easy, give-and-take atmosphere in which reasonable people can reason together -- and remain friends even if they don't agree on the ultimate answer.

This isn't an experience that most RWAs are used to having, even within their own precincts. Having it with someone who can be fairly classified as the enemy can be a life-changing experience, for reasons I'll discuss further below.

Appeal to "Legitimate" Authorities -- When citing authorities, try wherever possible to refer to authorities they recognize as legitimate. RWAs have far more respect for established authority than liberals do; but, at the same time, they usually don't accept our reality-based authorities (and often hold them in total contempt). The only way around this is to support your points by finding and citing authorities they accept.

You need to get creative here. An RWA may not regard Al Gore as an acceptable authority on the environment; but Richard Nixon (who passed the Endangered Species Act, and founded the EPA) might well be.

If you must quote an authority they're likely to regard as dubious, do what you can to establish that sources' bona fides. "Did you know that Bill Moyers is a Southern Baptist minister?" It won't always work among the harder core -- Moyers isn't in the SBC now, and therefore has forfeited any authority he may have had -- but for the softer core, this at least puts a little grease on the ball. If you can't find a direct source they'll respect, at least try to find a source that's been vetted and given the Seal of Approval by someone they do trust.

For religious RWAs, there's nothing more authoritative than God's own literal words. Biblical literalists are often astonished when a knowledgeable liberal starts quoting unfamiliar passages back at them. While they've usually been inoculated by their preachers with "correct" interpretations of difficult passages, the fundie reading of the Bible is highly selective, and it's not hard to find passages they're completely unaware of. They may not like it -- but they've got no choice but to accept it, at least until their pastor can "set them straight" again. If the pastor can't do that (they're only trained to respond to the most common objections), then you've undermined the pastor's omniscient authority, and set up a pattern of questioning that may not stop until the RWA is safely on the other side of the wall. (A large subset of ex-fundamentalists started their exodus just this way.)

Keep it Literal
As I mentioned in the last post, fundies (and most other flavors of authoritarian) do not think in abstracts. While they can usually summon empathy for people in their own belief communities -- people who are very much like them -- they have a very hard time imagining themselves in the shoes of people who are different. And the greater the difference, the harder this is.

This inability to empathize makes it very easy to demonize outsiders, accuse them of all manner of vile motives and outrageous actions, and eventually move toward dehumanization and eliminationism. In turn, this can come back around to feed a very active persecution complex. The fear that results from this failure of imagination is the driving force that keeps them huddled behind that Wall.

This is why it's important to keep any critiques of ideas and people as personal and literal as possible. You need to draw a clear, bright line connecting the negative personal harm that particular RWA has sustained as the direct result of a policy, and the specific leader who implemented it. As we know all too well, there's no limit to the amount or degree of abuse a determined RWA will forgive; but making people see the concrete damage their leaders are inflicting on them personally may in time re-direct their sense of persecution, and undermine the legitimacy of their accepted authorities.

Literal, personal critiques work in a wide range of situations. They're useful in getting across the effects of bad policy, the policies of bad leaders, hypocrisies and contradictions, and inaccurate information. Any time you can frame a point in terms of, "This person/policy/action has harmed you , this much and in this way," you're more likely (though still far from certain) to get your point across. If you can't say, with proof, that "Bush did this to you, you probably won't get through.

It's important to note that positive attributes can also be presented this way. "We should do this because it's fair to minorities" cuts no ice at all with RWAs. "We should do this because it's in your own self-interest" will get you a lot farther. And don’t neglect to spell out every possible benefit, as clearly and specifically as possible. Don't assume they'll make the logical leaps to see those on their own. These are very concrete thinkers: leaping isn't their strong suit.

Sometimes, keeping communication personal and literal can even short-circuit the guilt-evaporation mechanisms Dean discussed. God may have forgiven you, or you may have just been doing what you were told and following the rules, or the person who harmed you may merit forgiveness -- but the fact remains that your actions (or a third party's) have demonstrably harmed someone who matters to you, or created problems in your own life. Absolution may clear your conscience, but it doesn't clean up the mess. Associate personal actions with their direct results, and you may stand a chance of making them realize the full brunt of their behavior.

Be an Enlightened Witness
The great psychologist Alice Miller, who did seminal work on the role child abuse plays in shaping authoritarian personalities, often discussed the importance an "enlightened witness" plays in preventing an abused child from becoming an amoral or abusive adult:

"When I began to illustrate my thesis by drawing on the examples of Hitler and Stalin, when I tried to expose the social consequences of child abuse, I encountered fierce resistance. Repeatedly I was told, "I, too, was a battered child, but that didn't make me a criminal." When I asked for details about their childhood, I was always told of a person who loved them, but was unable to protect them. Yet through his or her presence, this person gave them a notion of trust, and of love.
"I call these persons helping witnesses. Dostoyevsky, for instance, had a brutal father, but a loving mother. She wasn't strong enough to protect him from his father, but she gave him a powerful conception of love, without which his novels would have been unimaginable. Many have also been lucky enough to find enlightened and courageous witnesses, people who helped them to recognize the injustices they suffered, to give vent to their feelings of rage, pain and indignation at what happened to them. These persons never became criminals."

The enlightened witness not only affirms the child's better character; s/he also models a higher standard of behavior. Dave has often discussed the importance of providing a clear, positive standard of expected community behavior as the first response to hate crime or petty terrorism. The offenders must understand, in no uncertain terms, that they are not expressing the will of the community, and that their actions are considered unacceptable. As far back as Stanley Milgram's study, it's been understood that people are far less likely to misbehave -- and far more likely to rise to the expected standard -- if someone else is there upholding a higher moral standard.

RWAs are sadly accustomed to subordinating their own needs to those of their superiors; in fact, one of the struggles we often see in recovering fundies is a complete inability to even acknowledge that they have needs of their own, let alone identify them, let alone act to meet them. They simply don't know where to begin. Also, because their own authorities use guilt and shame to control them, they've seldom been allowed to see themselves as truly good and moral people.

Giving an RWA permission to recognize, give voice to, and take action to satisfy his or her own needs is a powerful act. In affirming that they are not just allowed, but entitled (in the name of fairness) to feel their own emotions, own their own goodness, indulge a few harmless appetites, enjoy themselves, assert their boundaries, or stand up and say "no" to overweening authority, you are being an enlightened witness to their true self -- something many of them have seldom if ever had. In the process, you are also giving them a direct view over the wall. Often, it's a view that they never forget, and will keep coming back to until they're persuaded to go over it for good.

This admittedly requires a strong belief in our own best liberal ideals -- most particularly, in meeting with people where they are, and dealing with them as they are. If they believe that their goodness and strength flow from the grace of God, don't quibble. At least they're focusing on their strength, instead of leading with their fear! They have a right to whatever moral context they're comfortable with. It's the core of their moral reasoning, and often of their identity.

Focus on the Family
We need to be having much more open conversations with the RWA community about our views on family. Weird as it sounds, they honestly, literally believe that we don't care about families, don't really have them ourselves, and are out to destroy theirs as well. I know, it sounds ridiculous -- but it's true.

The best writing on this I've seen comes from Unitarian writer Doug Muder, who has taken George Lakoff's model of "strict father" versus "nurturant parent" politics one step further, and uses it to explain precisely how the right wing came to believe this preposterous notion. (Hat tip to the estimable Trefayne.) Muder asserts that, while Lakoff's right that family models are the right frame, the real dialectic is between families of "inherited obligation" versus those based on "negotiated commitment". Go read the article, then come on back. We'll be here.

Muder's thesis highlights very specifically where and why our divergent models of family lead to disagreements on everything from abortion to homosexuality (and also answers our exasperated questions about how these particular issues became such hot political potatoes in the first place). At the same time, it also points up the places in which we have strong commonalities with RWAs that they don't typically see. For example, authoritarians typically don't believe that those of us who assemble families of choice feels as committed to those families as those who are bound to their kin by blood ties and birth. And they tend to view "family" as a stage script, with set roles for mothers and fathers and grandparents. If you don't have people filling all the roles, it is, by definition, not a family.

Being aware of the way RWAs model and value their families allows us to present our own family values in ways that they can begin to understand. There is a lot of common ground here, most of which they're apparently totally unaware of. It also gives us a clear view of the ways in which progressive "negotiated commitment" families can indeed be seen as a threat to their worldview. With this understanding, we can begin to acknowledge those fears directly, address them head-on, and perhaps begin to defuse one of their biggest sources of fear and mistrust.

Make the World Bigger
Anything that gets RWAs interacting with people outside their narrow realm is a good thing. Travel, formal or informal education, community interactions with unknown and feared groups (especially those based on shared concerns, interests, and values), and activities that increase a sense of personal achievement and competence all enhance their ability to trust themselves and others, without having to rely on the rules of their system to maintain their fragile sense of safety.

If we're serious about reducing the number of authoritarians in our midst, we need to greatly increase the number and frequency of our engagements with them. As noted in Part II, are very literal thinkers, and capable of tremendous loyalty. An RWA who knows just one gay person, up close and personal, often finds that their sense of loyalty will force them to resist their leaders' generalizations of gays as evil. The more contact they have with the demonized Other, the greater the cognitive dissonance grows, and the more their accepted authorities are discredited.

We need to actively start creating ways for the authoritarians in our midst to make contact with people outside of their cocooned communities. The means and methods are many; but this is perhaps the most important work we can do. Start by committing random acts of kindness (just to mess with their assumptions, if nothing else). They need to see us as trustworthy allies, valuable contributors to their own well-being -- and perhaps, in time, friends.

Landing Zones
Finally: we need to make safe landing zones for those just arriving from the other side of the Wall.

It takes courage, time, and support to come out of an authoritarian mindset. Most RWAs are used to having people tell them what to think, where to be, what to do, and who to trust. In the reality-based world, we tend to assume that people can do this for themselves. While exiting fundies typically feel exhilarated with the freedom they feel in the first weeks after leaving; they've also got a huge new world to navigate, and acquiring the necessary skills takes time. They're often wobbly on their feet for a while until they get the hang of it.

There is the emotional work of learning to trust your own perceptions, accept your own feelings, and act on your own judgment -- something people in authoritarian systems never really learn to do. There's also the business of learning to navigate in a looser, more do-your-own-thing social structure, which can be hard for someone used to ready-made social hierarchies. There are the practical matters of telling family and friends on the other side of the Wall that you've left, and coming to terms with their reactions. There's all the work involved in sorting through all your new intellectual and moral options, and deciding for yourself which values you're going to build your new life on.

It helps tremendously to have friends and guides who understand what you're going through, and can supply guidance and hugs when it all seems overwhelming. They are far more likely to succeed if we offer them consistent (but not hovering) friendship and support -- and a bit of patience while they make their first steps into the reality-based world.

Micro to Macro
The above discussion, long as it is, is just a beginning. The more time we spend talking to soft-core authoritarian followers, the better we'll get at understanding their motivations, calming their fears, and framing our arguments in ways they can clearly understand.

However: as kum-bay-yah (and stereotypically liberal) as all this talk of "understanding" individual RWAs may be, it doesn't mean that we stop holding the authoritarians in our midst accountable for the misbehavior of their public figures and the recklessness of their policies. It doesn't mean that we stop correcting the media when it misrepresents our views, or aggressively fight for solutions that will ultimate break the cycle of right-wing authoritarianism that now dominates American politics. While the work of bringing these missing Americans back into the larger fold is gentle and slow (we may well spend a decade or more bringing the bulk of them back), the work of recovering America as we knew her requires a fierce energy that draws firm boundaries, demands an honest reckoning, and requires constant and determined assertion of our own good values.

In the fourth and final part of this series, I'll look at some of the ways authoritarians can be turned back at the community, state, and national level.

Last edited by antifascist on Fri Aug 18, 2006 3:11 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 17, 2006 8:01 am    Post subject: Red Family, Blue Family Reply with quote

The above post refers to this article and I found it so good that it should be presented in full here.
Red Family, Blue Family
Making sense of the values issue
Doug Muder

Right after the election, I heard the same words over and over: “The country has gone crazy.”

You may have heard something different. I run in liberal circles - east coast, urban, educated, liberal circles, to be more precise. My friends are the kind of people who watch PBS and read The New Yorker for more than just the cartoons. They are accustomed to having explanations for things, and get agitated when they don’t. They can’t just shrug and let mysteries be mysteries.

And that, more than anything, was what had them pulling their hair out last November. Not that we had lost. (Deep down, most of us had expected to lose, even when the early exit polls said otherwise.) But that we could not understand it. The thinking of more than half the country seemed unfathomable. Like Butch Cassidy, we kept looking over our shoulders and asking: “Who are those guys?”

The polls didn’t help. Some large number of Bush voters told the pollsters that they based their vote on “moral values.” Well, duh. When we’d voted against Bush - the reverse Robin Hood, the warmaker, the guy who kept hinting (against all evidence) that Saddam had been about to give nuclear weapons to al Qaeda - we’d voted our moral values too. Moral values didn’t explain any better than they’re crazy did.

Lack-of-understanding is only about two aisles away from paranoia. If such unfathomable folks really were the majority now, what might they support next? Another war? Patriot Act II? Concentration camps?

We couldn’t say.

Fortunately, two men in different fields, on opposite sides of the country, had already been thinking about the moral-values voters for a long time. Their books, if you read them back-to-back, paint a very interesting picture. Like most accurate pictures, it was a little worse than I hoped but better than I feared.

The Families in our Heads

George Lakoff’s friends are probably even more liberal than mine. He’s a professor at Berkeley, a cognitive scientist who started applying his work to political cognition in the mid-nineties. His 1996 book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think still stands as the most complete analysis of the polarized worldviews of the American political scene. For liberals who want a quicker read, he recently published Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. You can also find his ideas on the website of the Rockridge Institute, a think-tank Lakoff helped form.


Lakoff’s general approach, which he developed long before he started writing about politics, is to recognize that the human mind works in metaphors: Life is a struggle; business is a game; time is money - stuff like that. The mind casts every abstract idea in terms of more immediate experiences. Struggles, games, and money, in turn, have their own metaphoric interpretations, and (to make a long story short) it’s turtles all the way down. There’s no ground floor where we think of things as exactly what they are.

And so, when Lakoff wants to understand how someone thinks about something, he first asks what metaphors the person uses. He refers to those metaphors as the frame around the facts of the situation.

Frames are usually unconscious. When you think about the flow of traffic, for example, you aren’t consciously deciding to view the highway as a pipe and the cars as a fluid - you just do it. And you effortlessly switch to a hallway metaphor when you think about entrances and exits.

And frames are not neutral or objective. They have content which is all the more powerful for being unconscious. When you talk about spending time or wasting time, for example, you invoke the Time-is-Money metaphor, with its implication that time is scarce and valuable. But nothing about the nature of time forces you to think of it that way. You might just as easily talk about passing the time - a frame in which time is so abundant that we don’t always know what to do with it. Changing the frame you put on a situation can change your whole experience of it.

Common sense, Lakoff came to see, is the unconscious content of our frames. It is the information that has been added to the situation by the metaphors we use without thinking. That’s why your common sense seems so obvious to you, even if others disagree: Its conclusions have already been baked into the situation before you start thinking about it consciously.

Frames can also be sources of conflict. If you frame our discussion as a cooperative search for truth, and I frame it as a game I am trying to win, odds are excellent that you will get angry and I will think you are a sore loser. So long as our frames stay unconscious, we have no way to recognize the true nature of our conflict, much less resolve it.

America is a Family

When Lakoff looked at American politics, he saw two constellations of positions with no obvious connection.

What does opposition to abortion have to do with opposition to environmentalism? What does either have to do with opposition to affirmative action or gun control or the minimum wage? A model of the conservative mind ought to answer these questions, just as a model of the liberal mind ought to explain why liberals tend to have the cluster of opposing political stands.

It’s very difficult to state a simple principle that separates liberal positions from conservative positions. And even if you can do so, most of the other liberals and conservatives can’t. So the link, whatever it is, must be unconscious for the vast majority of people.

Lakoff applied the standard analytic tools of cognitive science to this problem. He looked at the divergent words and phrases that liberals and conservatives use to describe the same situations. He studied the differences between liberal common sense and conservative common sense. And he asked himself: What underlying metaphors would explain all this?

The first piece of Lakoff’s answer is surprising, because he found a commonality rather than a difference: Both liberals and conservatives use what he calls the Nation-As-Family metaphor. Both talk about the government as if it were a parent, and citizens as if they were siblings. The government defends, educates, rewards, and punishes its citizens - like parents with children.

The difference Lakoff found between liberal and conservative thinking, however, came from the frame each put on family. In other words: What is the stereotypic ideal family that the nation should be modeled on?

From conservative rhetoric, Lakoff constructed a frame he called the Strict Father family. (The red and blue boxed text comes from the Rockridge Institute website.) Liberals, on the other hand, seem to use a frame Lakoff called the Nurturant Parent family.

In a talk at my Unitarian church, I put it this way: Strict Father families focus on children’s original sin, and want to train it out of them. Nurturant Parent families focus on children’s original blessing, and want to develop it.

Notice a subtle point: Lakoff doesn’t say that conservatives come from Strict Father families, have such a family, or even want such a family. He only says that when they use the Nation-as-Family metaphor, this is the kind of family they’re assuming. Ditto for liberals and Nurturant Parent families. Naturally, any real parent has to be both strict and nurturing, depending on the situation. Lakoff is merely pointing to a difference in emphasis.

What Lakoff’s Family Models Explain

Moral Politics fleshes out this thesis to show how conservative positions are the common sense of the Strict Father frame and liberal positions the common sense of the Nurturant Parent frame. For example, he describes liberal common sense about social programs like this:

It is natural for liberals to see the federal government as a strong, nurturant parent, responsible for making sure that the basic needs of its citizens are met: food, shelter, education, health care, and opportunities for self-development. A government that lets many of its citizens go hungry, homeless, uneducated, or sick while the majority of its citizens have more, often much more ... is an immoral, irresponsible government.

Conservative common sense is quite different:

To them, social programs amount to coddling people – spoiling them. Instead of having to fend for themselves, people can depend on the public dole. This makes them morally weak, removing the need for self-discipline and will-power. ... A morally justifiable social program might be something like disaster relief to help self-disciplined and generally self-reliant people get back on their feet after a flood or fire or earthquake. ... If people were not rewarded for being self-disciplined and punished for being slothful, there would be no self-discipline, and society would break down. Therefore, any social or political system in which people get things they don’t earn, or are rewarded for lack of self-discipline or for immoral behavior, is simply an immoral system.

He goes through the full spectrum of issues - abortion, environment, taxes, crime - explaining in each case how the conservative and liberal positions follow from their respective images of family.

The message of the book for liberals (with whom Lakoff identifies) is that they need to stop letting conservatives portray themselves as pro-family and liberals as anti-family. Instead, conservatives are pro-one-kind-of-family and liberals are pro-another-kind-of-family. And there’s a case to be made (as I put forward in my last article) that our kind of family works better than theirs.

Real Families

Lakoff’s theory is a brilliant intellectual achievement, an ingenious analysis of words and concepts. But I found myself wishing that it had more dirt under its fingernails. Somebody, I thought, ought to get out there and see how real liberal and conservative families live.

Somebody had. Or at least some other academic with a bunch of liberal friends had gone out to study conservative families - and hadn’t been totally repelled by them.

In the 1980’s James Ault was a struggling young sociologist with a simple question: Why weren’t more working-class women attracted to feminism? He started by studying working-class women in the right-to-life movement, but before long he got interested in the small, upstart, Falwell-style church in Worcester, Massachusetts that he calls Shawmut River Baptist. Eventually, he made the PBS documentary Born Again, which, coincidentally, was part of his own professional rebirth as a film-maker.

Apparently Ault lost his publish-or-perish discipline when he left academics, because it took until 2004 for him to finish a book on his experiences - Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church. In exchange for the wait, we get the kind of book no academic sociologist would write: a first-person account of Ault’s Northern-Exposure-style culture shock and the personal re-evaluation it caused him. Whether you are fascinated or disgusted, envious or intimidated by the members of Shawmut River, you’ll keep turning pages to find out just how far native Ault is going to go.

As you would expect from Lakoff’s theory, Ault noticed a profound difference between the families of Shawmut River and the ones he was used to finding among his friends. But the nature of the difference is somewhat surprising: The families Ault found at Shawmut River - extended families in which multiple generations remain deeply involved in each other’s lives - aren’t supposed to exist any more, especially not in a Massachusetts edge city like Worcester.

Though a life of mutual dependence within a family circle was commonplace among members of Shawmut River and other new-right activists I met, it was foreign to people I knew in academia and the New Left, as well as to other educated professionals I knew. Most of us were prepared, from the moment we left home for college, to leave family dependencies behind and learn to live as self-governing individuals. This left us free to move from one city to another for graduate education or for those specialized jobs for which our training qualified us. In the process, we learned to piece together a meaningful life with new friends and colleagues alongside old ones. Our material security did not rest on a stream of daily reciprocities within a family-based circle of people known in common, but rather on the progression of professional careers, with steadily increasing salaries and ample benefits to cover whatever exigencies life would bring.

Like Lakoff, Ault makes the connection between family structure and moral outlook:

As I looked around, I realized that virtually all the unmarried men and women at Shawmut River ... still lived “at home.”

By contrast, by the time my friends and colleagues and I married - even if just out of college - we generally had established ourselves as independent individuals removed from daily cooperation with parents and other relatives. Rather than conform to an existing moral code shared by our elders, to whom we were bound in daily cooperation, we were encouraged and needed to fashion our own moralities within an environment where diverse and unreconciled ones jostled uneasily with each other, and in which perhaps the only standard we might readily share was mutual tolerance for different values. We did not choose to be moral relativists; the lives we lived, in some sense, required it.

Being at home has another connotation, one that is similar to Lakoff’s notion of common sense: a place just feels right to you. Ault puts his finger on a key distinction that accounts for the immediate at-homeness members reported feeling at Shawmut River:

I came to see ... why some people felt immediately “at home” when they first attended Shawmut River, even if raised in quite different churches or in no church at all. Its villagelike atmosphere was simply an extension of the kind of sociability prevailing in their own family circles, within which ... relationships were seen and acted on as given rather than chosen.

Given Families and Chosen Families

As impressed as I was by Moral Politics, I was not completely happy with it, for a couple of reasons. First, making the parent/child relationship central to American political discourse marginalizes a lot of people. Singles, childless couples, non-custodial parents, and empty-nesters who either don’t have grandchildren or rarely see them - all wind up on the outside looking in while our-kind-of-parents argue with their-kind-of-parents. My wife and I are childless, for example, but we’ve managed to remain happily married for more than twenty years while playing a positive role in our church community. I’d like to think that our moral values should be part of the conversation too.

Second, the Strict Father family is too unattractive. Lakoff does a good job of explaining how someone lives this way, but not why. Moral Politics tries hard to be fair to Strict Father families, and clearly Lakoff put a lot of time into translating their language and getting inside their heads. But it always remains foreign territory to him. The Strict Father family seems unsustainably joyless. Surely the majority of the country does not live this way.

Ault’s insights about fundamentalist families give a clue as to where Lakoff went wrong. The right distinction isn’t between the conservative nuclear family and the liberal nuclear family, but between two completely different ways of experiencing family. Those two modes of experience may express themselves in families that are not nuclear at all.

The key distinction in Ault’s account is not strictness vs. nurturance, but the Given vs. the Chosen. What, in other words, is the source of your responsibilities to other people? Are you born with obligations? Or do you choose to make commitments? As with strictness and nurturance, every actual person experiences some combination of obligation and commitment. But emphasizing one or the other makes a striking difference.

I, for example, feel some sense of obligation to my 82-year-old parents, but its practical value is limited by the fact that they live a thousand miles away. I maintain a relationship with my similarly distant sister and nephews, but this feels more like a choice than an obligation. My marriage is almost entirely a negotiated commitment, even if it looks fairly traditional from the outside.

With Ault’s distinction in mind, I have constructed descriptions of the Inherited Obligation family and the Negotiated Commitment family. Consider them not as replacements for Lakoff’s Strict Father and Nurturant Parent family models, but as envelopes that contain them. Lakoff’s two family types each exist inside a much wider context.

The Inherited Obligation family may or may not resemble either the family you grew up in or the one you are raising. But in any case it should not look totally foreign. In essence, it is the family of the medieval village

I doubt many Negotiated Commitment families existed prior to the 20th century, and I’m not sure how many exist even now outside the United States, Europe, and a few other highly westernized countries. A number of factors of modern capitalism combined to make the Negotiated Commitment family: affluence, the need for a mobile work force, cosmopolitan markets comprising people from diverse backgrounds, careers that last less than a single lifetime rather than being passed down through the generations, and the recognition of overpopulation as a potential problem.

Values and Issues

Several liberal/conservative issues become much clearer in this analysis than they are in Lakoff.

Abortion. In the Inherited Obligation model, having children is an obligation, not a choice. Of course a pregnant woman may find it inconvenient to have a child at this point in her life, but that’s no reason to let her opt out - obligations are almost always inconvenient. In the long run, however, children are a good deal; their obligation to you pays off when you are old. In demanding that a young woman carry a fetus to term, then, society is looking out for long-term interests she may not yet have the perspective to see.

Conversely, in the Negotiated Commitment model nurturance is a gift, not an investment. A child is more like a work of art and less like a retirement plan. Having a child out of obligation, without a sense of commitment, is seen as a recipe for disaster. Pregnancies that result from rape, ignorance, or a birth-control failure are set up for such a disaster. If society is going to hold a prospective mother responsible for the welfare of her child - and it should - she must be given a chance to decide whether this child is her project or not.

Same-sex marriage. The husband/father and wife/mother roles in the Inherited Obligation model are timeless, unchangeable, and necessary. Someone has to be the husband/father and someone has to be the wife/mother. Same-sex couples just can’t cover both roles, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

But no comparable difficulty exists in the Negotiated Commitment model. A child has needs, and the parents have to negotiate a plan to meet those needs. Whether the parents are a mixed-sex couple or a same-sex couple - or even a single parent with a lot of committed friends - the problem is the same.

If the government recognizes same-sex marriages and same-sex couples as parents, then it is tacitly siding with the Negotiated Commitment model of marriage and parenthood, and undermining the Inherited Obligation model. This is why conservatives believe that marriage needs to be “defended” from same-sex relationships. But from the Negotiated Commitment point of view, “defense of marriage” is nonsense. How a same-sex couple negotiates its relationship has no effect on the negotiated relationships of mixed-sex couples.

Social programs. The social safety net is an absolute necessity for the Negotiated Commitment model. Negotiated relationships, by their nature, are based on some notion of fair exchange. But what happens to people who have little to offer? In the absence of a prior obligation, who would volunteer to take responsibility for an indigent person in an irreversible coma? Unless the government steps in, people will fall through the cracks.

The Inherited Obligation model, on the other hand, is ambivalent about the social safety net. On the one hand, it is good that people don’t just die when they have no one to take care of them. But on the other hand, the safety net weakens the network of familial obligations. A young adult who moves to the big city to seek his fortune doesn’t come home when he fails, he draws unemployment. Social Security and Medicare may provide an excuse not to take care of aging parents.

Freedom. The Inherited Obligation model is likewise ambivalent about freedom. Freedom to fulfill your obligations according to your best judgment is a good thing. But the kind of freedom that releases people from their obligations is not. In the Negotiated Commitment model, a life without commitments is empty, and there can be no commitment without freedom.

Taxes. As Ault observed, the Negotiated Commitment household is mobile. Particularly if it is educated and professional, it could easily move to another country. Consequently, the Negotiated Commitment individual views his citizenship as a voluntary commitment, and sees taxes as part of the deal. (If you don’t like American taxes, go somewhere else and pay their taxes.) The Inherited Obligation individual is not aware of any such deal, because the network of obligations binds him to this country. As long as the government is helping the individual fulfill his obligations (to defend the country, for example, or to provide basic infrastructure) taxes are just another obligation. But to the extent that government is doing something else with the money (supporting immoral art, say, or paying for abortions), taxes are predatory.

Why now?

If the Inherited Obligation family is the older, more extended form, and the Negotiated Commitment family was streamlined in the wind tunnels of modern capitalism, why doesn’t liberalism have the political momentum? The pressure of mobility and the diversity of cosmopolitan society have only increased in the last few decades. Why aren’t there more Negotiated Commitment families now, and therefore more liberals?

The answer, as best I can put it together, is that there almost certainly are more Negotiated Commitment families every year, which is why previously unmentionable issues like same-sex marriage can arise now at all. But Democrats used to get a large number of votes from Inherited Obligation families, and now they don’t. Which raises another question: Why not?

The New Deal Coalition

We can ask the same question in a different way: Why were Midwestern farmers, urban Catholics, rural white Southerners, and blue-collar workers key members of FDR’s New Deal coalition two generations ago, but mainstays of the Christian Right now? Their families didn’t get more traditional in the last 70 years. Why do they vote more conservatively?

Lakoff addressed the question like this:

Because people do not use the same models in all aspects of their lives, ... a political liberal could use Strict Father morality in his family life but the Nurturant Parent model in his political life. ... Contemporary conservative politics tries to link the family use and the political use of the models more closely ... to convince others with the Strict Father model of the family that they should be political conservatives. I suspect they are being successful. ... For example, blue-collar workers who may previously have voted with liberals because of their union affiliation or economic interests may now, for cultural reasons, identify with conservatives and vote for them, even though it may not be in their economic interest to do so.

Although this passage does tell us who the swing voters are – people who have both models in their heads and can be persuaded to apply either one to the political issues of the day – it does little to resolve the conundrum. Why now? Why couldn’t Alf Landon or Wendell Wilkie have connected with Strict Father values the way that Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have?

The Liberal Backlash

FDR’s coalition, which gave Lyndon Johnson a landslide as recently as 1964, and kept returning Democratic majorities to Congress into the 1990s, was all about economic interest. Its diverse component groups shared a sense of oppression by richer, more powerful groups: labor by management; poor immigrant Catholics by the Protestant establishment; the rural South by the industrial Northeast; and farmers by the railroads, banks, and big commodity traders.

To many liberals, the New Deal economic alignment is the natural state of things. They are enraged when hamburger-flippers vote for politicians whose first priority is to cut rich people’s taxes. Working-class conservatives, they believe, are just being stupid. The rich have used hot-button emotional issues to dupe them into voting for a plutocratic agenda.

This kind of indignation ripples through the book What’s the Matter With Kansas? by Thomas Frank, who describes the working-class conservatism of his native Kansas as derangement.

If you earn over $300,000 a year, you owe a great deal to this derangement. Raise a glass sometime to those indigent High Plains Republicans as you contemplate your good fortune. It is thanks to their self-denying votes that you are no longer burdened by the estate tax, or troublesome labor unions, or meddling banking regulators. Thanks to the allegiance of these sons and daughters of toil, you have escaped what your affluent forebears used to call “confiscatory” income tax levels. It is thanks to them that you were able to buy two Rolexes this year instead of one.

Frank concludes on this far-from-uplifting note:

The fever-dream of martyrdom that Kansas follows today has every bit as much power as John Brown’s dream of justice and human fraternity. And even if the state must sacrifice it all – its cities and its industry, its farms and its small towns, all its thoughts and all its doings – the brilliance of the mirage will not fade. Kansas is ready to lead us singing into the apocalypse. It invites us all to join in, to lay down our lives so that others might cash out at the top; to renounce forever our middle-American prosperity in pursuit of a crimson fantasy of middle-American righteousness.

Satisfying as this line of thought may be to an educated liberal, politically it is a dead end - even if plutocrats share the perception that they have Kansas duped. Working-class conservatives know that Republicans are cutting taxes for the rich and tailoring government regulations to suit large corporations. They don’t expect the federal government to solve their personal healthcare problems or revitalize the dying centers of their small towns. If they’ve been duped at all, it is by politicians who campaign against abortion and homosexuality, but soft-pedal these issues once they get to Washington. Even if such duped Kansas voters catch on, they’re not going to help the Democrats.

Fundamentalist History, and What It Explains

Christian fundamentalism, oddly enough, started in cities like Boston and New York around the turn of the 20th century. Only later did it spread to the small towns and rural areas of the South and Midwest, which are its power centers today. Even now, Ault notes, it has not penetrated some communities where we might expect it to dominate.

Later in my research, I met a young anthropologist who had just completed fieldwork in a rural white community in South Carolina, where a family-based economy was still so strong that land changed hands largely outside the marketplace, through family ties. She noticed that members of the Southern Baptist church in this community had so little comprehension of the conflicts then raging between liberals and conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention that they had to have a special representative sent out from the convention to explain it to them. Where mutual dependence among kin was not threatened, new-right enthusiasms might not only hold little interest but even be incomprehensible.

In other words, Ault is saying, fundamentalism is not the natural state of the Inherited Obligation family. It is, rather, a kind of antibody that such families generate when they feel threatened. He fleshes this idea out:

In an early and influential article, Richard Niebuhr, dean of American religious studies, interpreted American fundamentalism as a movement “closely related to the conflict between rural and urban cultures,” a movement he found most prevalent in “isolated communities ... least subject to the influence of modern science and industrial civilization.” Revisionist scholars criticized Niebuhr’s view, pointing out, rightly, that fundamentalism first arose in cities. But if we consider fundamentalism as a defense of a rural way of life, a life organized in family-based networks of mutual dependence, whether in city, town, or countryside, would not such a defense arise only where it was eroded and threatened - first, among rural and small-town migrants to the new urban centers of industrial society on the threshold of the twentieth century, and then, two generations later, in the burgeoning cities of the New South and, in the case of Shawmut River, in rural and small-town communities overrun by the suburban expansion of Worcester in the 1960s and 1970s?

The virtue of this explanation is that it makes sense of the Inherited Obligation family’s swing to the Right, rather than making nonsense of it. The family consistently chooses its politics in order to face what it perceives to be the greatest threat to its continuance as a social system. In FDR’s day, that threat was economic and came from big business. Today, many Inherited Obligation families believe that the threat is cultural: the pressures of modern capitalism and the rise of a competing vision of family threaten to break the bonds of obligation that hold the family together.

What’s a Liberal To Do?

In this section I’m going to drop the small amount of objectivity I have managed so far, and speak as a liberal to other liberals.

It’s always nice to understand things, but understanding is an empty experience if it doesn’t help us figure out what to do. In order to profit from the work of Lakoff and Ault, liberals need to re-vision not just the Christian Right, but ourselves as well.

What’s So Scary About Liberalism?

Liberals tend to view themselves as live-and-let-live people. It’s the other side, we believe, that wants to start wars, keep the poor in their place, and make second-class citizens out of gays, non-Christians, non-English-speakers, and anyone else who didn’t come out of their cookie-cutter. We’re the nice guys. We believe in tolerance, diversity, and letting people be what they have to be. It’s hard for us to credit the idea that someone could be afraid of us.

Someone is. And for good reasons. Understanding that uncomfortable fact is the first step towards grasping what has been going on in this country’s politics for the last quarter century.

Our belief in negotiated commitment - that people are not obligated to relationships they did not choose - is like one of those devastating European germs that white settlers spread throughout the world three centuries ago. We are immune; our families are based on negotiated commitments and (though they are far from perfect) work quite well in that environment - as long as we can maintain the social safety net.

But Inherited Obligation families are not doing nearly so well. Blue states consistently lead red states in statistical measures of familial success - low divorce rate, low drop-out rate, low violent crime, low teen pregnancy. Divorce rates in particular seem to vary inversely to liberalism: conservative Baptist marriages fail far more often than those from more liberal Christian denominations.

We have trouble grasping how tolerance can be threatening. Ault explains:

Liberally minded people often do not realize ... that rather than respecting fundamentalists views, they are denying them by insisting that religious beliefs or ethical standards be seen as personal, private matters we must all tolerate in one another - that moral standards are relative, not absolute. ... Shawmut River’s commitment to absolutes was in keeping with the binding character they saw in the family obligations through which their world was organized. To see moral standards as personal and relative, on the other hand, widened the scope of individual autonomy and freedom in ways that denied and threatened to undermine lives that depended upon seeing family obligations as nondiscretionary - not as something individuals can choose or not choose, but as absolutes they have to accept.

Should We Just Give Up?

As I have discussed these ideas with my friends, surprisingly often they jump to the conclusion that I’m advocating surrender. “So what are saying? That they’re right? What do you want us to do, give up?”

Not at all. But I am saying that we have to drop our self-image as nice guys. The mere fact that people think I’m advocating surrender demonstrates just how attached we are to that image. It’s comforting to think that we only want what’s best for everybody, and that the only reason people oppose us is because they’re stupid. But it’s not true.

Liberals have a vision of how the world should be. I believe in that vision. It is a fairer, more just world than has ever existed before. It is better adjusted to the realities of modern life. And it is, in my opinion, the only vision of the future that does not eventually lead to competing fundamentalisms fighting a world war.

But no matter how peaceful and good our vision is, eggs will be broken to make our omelet. Eggs have already been broken. We need to take responsibility for that. And we can’t expect people with cartons of half-broken eggs to simply shrug and let us do our thing.

The Shadow Frame

Because we don’t admit that people have reasons to be afraid of us, we end up scaring them unnecessarily. We communicate badly with the Christian Right, and just as our incomprehension of them leads to paranoia, so does their incomprehension of us.

Republican propagandists take advantage of that misunderstanding by projecting a shadow frame onto us. Their demonic liberal is a person with no moral depth or seriousness. Convenience is his only true value. Words that we revere, such as freedom and choice, rebound against us: We like these words because we want to be free of our obligations and choose the easy way out.

Just as married people sometimes imagine the single life as far more licentious and libidinous than it ever actually is, so people born into life-defining obligations imagine a life free from such obligations. The truth about liberals – that we more often than not choose to commit ourselves to marriage, children, church, and most of the other things conservatives feel obligated to, and that we stick by those commitments every bit as faithfully, if not more so – easily gets lost.

The virtue of the Negotiated Commitment model is that it is flexible and efficient. The negative framing of those qualities is slippery and slick. Democrats cooperate with their own demonization when they talk about “moving to the center.” Such tactical moves emphasize our slipperiness: We feel free to re-choose our positions whenever they become inconvenient to our quest for power.

This explains why Democrats never seem to get to the center, no matter how far they move. Swing voters aren’t waiting for us to say something different, they just doubt that we mean what we say. The more we change our message to court them, the more our slickness turns them off.

Framing Liberal Positions

The most important fact that conservatives don’t know about liberals is this: We believe that a life without commitments is superficial and empty. Unlike the demonic liberals you hear about on Fox News, real liberals are morally serious people who are not looking to take the easy way out when there are greater issues at stake.

Consider, for example, liberal parents. The Negotiated Commitment model offers them very little in exchange for the effort and expense that they put into parenting. They don’t have to do it, and they can’t demand that children reciprocate after they grow up. Most liberal parents understand the situation. But they volunteer to raise children anyway. Liberals join the Peace Corps, work in soup kitchens, and stand together with unpopular oppressed peoples rather than walking away from. Why? Because liberals are serious, committed people.

Our rhetoric needs to capture the seriousness of our beliefs and commitments. We should, for example, miss no opportunity to use words like commitment and principle. Our principles should be stated clearly and we should return to them often, rather than moving towards a nebulous center whenever we are afraid of losing.

John Kerry didn’t lose because he was a liberal. He lost because people couldn’t figure out what he was. They couldn’t recite his principles or predict where he would come down on future issues. Republican slanders stuck to him because he projected no clear image of his own.

There is a lot to promote about liberalism and the Negotiated Commitment model behind it. We take people as they are, rather than demanding that they fit themselves into an increasingly outdated set of roles. We face problems directly, rather than making people jump through hoops that may or may not be relevant. And so, for example, we ask: “Who is going to feed the child, teach the child, protect the child, and love the child?” rather than “Who is going to be the father and who is going to be the mother?”

The Negotiated Commitment model is tolerant by its nature. It recognizes the freedom of other people to negotiate their own commitments differently than we negotiate ours. In a country whose citizens have so many different backgrounds, and a world with so many cultures - each with its own notion of inherited obligations - such tolerance is a necessity.

We are committed to maintaining and extending the social safety net. We are committed to giving everyone an opportunity to succeed. We are committed to finding common ground with other countries and building a global consensus that works.

And, in spite of the cultural values that currently divide us from the working-class families of Kansas and Shawmut River and thousands of other communities around the nation, we remain allied with their economic interests. For some people that will never be enough, and we will never get their votes.

But many, given an accurate view of liberals and the values that motivate us, may come to see that we are not so scary, and that their differences with us can be bridged. And as the plutocratic agenda of the Right lets jobs continue to be lost, wages continue to stagnate, and the gap between rich and poor stretch ever wider, they may recall that the New Deal was not such a bad idea after all.
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