Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Obedience and Politics

The following is in response to aimai's comments in the previous post.

Authoritarianism is the product of a certain type of upbringing. The parent demands obedience from the child by giving or (especially) withholding love from the child based on his level of obedience and how much the child satisfies the parents' needs. The parent expect the child to make the parent feel good about himself. The parent's own parents did not give him unconditional love and the parent spends the rest of his life looking for that love from other people. Since only children can experience unconditional love, they are always going to be disappointed. They will look to religion to give them that love--God's unconditional love, which authoritarian religions use to control people; follow these rules and God will love you.

Or politics. You only have to take on look at Republicans en masse to realize that they become involved because they need a group to reinforce their dubious beliefs. Facts, logic and compassion aren't on their side but they can forget all that when they are surrounded by people like them. Which is why they only want to be surrounded by people like them.

But just because authoritarianism is weaker on the left side of the continuum doesn't mean it doesn't exist at all. Liberals seek to feel good about themselves by helping others, because it confirms the positive feelings they have about themselves or because it gives them positive feelings about themselves. The first reinforces self-esteem, the second creates self esteem in people who need outside reinforcement.

If a person backs Obama while admitting that Obama has done things that are against our beliefs, it is not a sign of authoritarianism. If a person backs Obama and refuses to admit Obama has done what he has actually, factually done, then the person is denying reality and is supporting Obama out of need, not pragmatism. The difference is huge because someone who sees Obama as an equal, who knows his own needs are as important as his leader's needs, will not hesitate to push for what he wants. Someone who sees Obama as an authority that must be supported no matter what will not argue the facts, they will argue obedience to that authority.

If we examined whether Obama's policies have helped more than they've hurt, we could figure out what to do. But instead people insist that Obama hasn't done anything harmful, even when the facts say otherwise, or that the gain outweighs the harm, which has not been proven. They accept actions from Obama that they would never accept from a Republican, which of course tilts the scales in Obama's favor. Let's hear the arguments--all of them, from both sides. If the thought make people uneasy or afraid, there is a reason for that fear--avoidance of pain.

Have you read about the Asche conformity experiments?

In the basic Asch paradigm, the participants — the real subjects and the confederates — were all seated in a classroom. They were asked a variety of questions about the lines such as how long is A, compare the length of A to an everyday object, which line was longer than the other, which lines were the same length, etc. The group was told to announce their answers to each question out loud. The confederates always provided their answers before the study participant, and always gave the same answer as each other. They answered a few questions correctly but eventually began providing incorrect responses.

In a control group, with no pressure to conform to an erroneous view, only one subject out of 35 ever gave an incorrect answer. Solomon Asch hypothesized that the majority of people would not conform to something obviously wrong; however, when surrounded by individuals all voicing an incorrect answer, participants provided incorrect responses on a high proportion of the questions (32%). Seventy-five percent of the participants gave an incorrect answer to at least one question.

We put enormous pressure on ourselves to conform. We want people we like and respect to accept us and we want to be part of that group. We want people to hit the like button. So we avoid anything uncomfortable, anything that creates a dissonance between what we know is true and what we want to be true. To do that we have to lie.

We can compromise, we can negotiate, we can even submit, but we can never lie to ourselves. It makes us dependent on outside sources for self-esteem, which leaves us wide open and vulnerable to abuse, as well as abusing others to keep the lie intact. At the very least it makes us indifferent to others' suffering, being so much preoccupied with our own.

All of this discussion of Obama depends on our acceptance of him as our leader and us as his followers. The discussion is entirely confined within the borders of our system, which is set up to extract money from the poor and middle class for the further enrichment of the elite rich. It is a game the rich play to distract us from the Greater Game, their acquisition of wealth through political, social, religious and of course monetary control. I want us all to turn our backs on the present political system, do good and feel good by helping others, especially the poor during these times. It would undercut the rich, enrich our own lives, and give us a reason to hope for better times.

I also want a pony, preferably pink.


xenides said...

I agree with this. God, I'm pathetic.

Kathy said...

We need to keep in mind at all times that Obama and all the others in the House & Senate are our elected Representatives, not our Rulers.

We chose someone we thought would be a Leader, but isn't. I'm darned if I can explain what Obama is. Kind of a Blind Men & Elephant scenario.

Susan of Texas said...

We "hire" him, we pay him, yet when he lies to us and does not do what we need him to do, we're supposed to shut up? Why?

Aimai said...

Well, I'm not sure how to respond to this. Because Obama is not, in fact, a dictator who can rule by fiat. Therefore when we talk about what Obama has done, as opposed to what he said he wants to do, we have to take into account that there isn't a straight line between what he wants done and what gets done.

Take, for example, closing gitmo. He not only said he wanted to do it he tried to do it but was blocked by Congressional Democrats. Or take DADT--he had a strategy which was pretty good and which advanced the ball very far down court legislatively. He places a premium on doing things in such a way that they can't easily be reppealed. He's said so, and he's orchestrated the situation so that if he could get it through congress DADT repeal would be on firm ground. Now he's being blocked by the Senate. You can say that he should have seen this coming but I'm not sure that I agree that the right "solution" would to have been just to issue an executive order.

I'm not defending Obama while believing he lied to me. I'm not proposing to keep supporting Obama because I think he's the greatest thing since sliced bread. I'm defending (some) of Obama's policies as sincere but misguided tactically. I'm defending the current sitting Democratic President because all other options are, at this point, null and void or subtract from my ability as an activist to get things done.

I don't think people are supposed to shut up if they are dissatisfied and I don' think people should take it for granted that any political figure is who they say they are when they campaign for election. But in the case of Obama I don't really care if he represented himself as more of a fighter, or more of a progressive, than he really is. Its not relevant. He didn't take the election away from a more progressive candidate. There wasn't an ounce worth of difference between him and Clinton and there is no chance in hell that Edwards wasn't going to fuck up and betray us.

I'm way more left than most people in this country and I don't have a problem playing the political game as its currently constituted and saving my serious leftism for local politics where it can make some difference.

At the top of the American political tree we have an imperial presidency, a corrupt Senate and Congress, and a powerful plutocracy. Obama is the best we can do under the circumstances and still better than all other alternatives. That's not authoritarian thinking that's just practicality.


Susan of Texas said...

I agree with almost everything you say---but Obama was once a local politician. He managed to convince a lot of very smart people that he would be a progressive leader. How do we know that we won't keep doing the same thing over and over?

Aimai said...

We will keep doing the same thing over and over. When we elect someone we can only evaluate them against the continuum of other possibilities--or refuse to vote. Refusing to vote is actually a strategy that is often offered to us--by the ruling class. Its passive resistance without any hope of meaningful success.

I've been reading Montaigne, following on reading the new biography of Montaigne called something like Montaigne: A Life/One Question and 26 attempts at an answer. Montaigne's best friend wrote a long and very important essay about removing the consent of the governned from authorities. This essay reappeared in various forms right up until the present day. Originally it was considered extremely revolutionary because of the central argument that consent of the governed could be withdrawn by passive resistance/refusal to co-operate. Later it was taken up by various factions in their pursuit of power vis a vis the throne.

Apparently it recurs in modern day evangelical writings. The thing to realize about it, however, is that when we move from a condition of absolute servitude to an absolute monarch to a democracy we can "remove consent" and still vote--but refusing to vote doesn't so much remove consent as disable us and take from us one of our most important weapons.

I don't feel like I"m being "obedient" or "subservient" to authority when I choose to support the good things that Obama and the Dems can do, hold their feet to the fire to get them to behave better, and work to make sure that there are fewer Republicans and corporatist Dems in each election cycle. I think that's exactly what progressives have always had to do. Obama's not the worst example of a political figure I can *remember* let alone imagine.


Susan of Texas said...

We will not keep doing the same thing over and over. Sooner or later the consequences of our actions will be too great to ignore and we will be forced to change. Or we can force ourselves to ask why are constantly being surprised and duped.

When we elect someone we can evaluate them based on what they say, who they support, what they do, what they wrote. We compare that against what we want and what we know to be right. If we depend on others to tell us whom to support we end up letting them tell us what is right, because leaders seldom want the same things that followers want and they lie to get compliance from the masses. We don't choose the candidates, we are told which candidate to vote for. If we don't like him we are told to shut up.

And if we don't shut up, we are punished and shoved out of the tribe. In time we will form a new tribe, but that's going to take a lot of misery and upheaval.

We could go straight to the new tribe with a minimum of upheaval but people don't believe that the economy will get bad enough to make that necessary.