Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Get Off Your Knees, Part 2

Authoritarians side with authority. They can't help themselves. When--not if--their authority disappoints them, they will choose a new authority and repeat the process. Over and over.

People are authoritarian because they were raised to be authoritarian. There are some people who choose authoritarianism, but generally it is instilled in them from birth. Obey your parents. God is watching over you. Respect your leaders--they are there to help you and have your best interests in mind. Highly educated, wealthy people earned their high position and are better than you. Political leaders want what is best for the country. You know the drill.

They are wrong. They are wrong when they blindly support conservatives and they are wrong when they blindly support liberals. Both situations come from the same place: there is a hierarchy and we are both better off and happier when everyone obeys his leader.

We have discussed the Milgrim experiment before; in that experiment people (thought they) shocked a stranger when a man in a lab coat told them he was conducting an experiment and that they must do as he said. The test subjects continued shocking the (fake) victim even when they didn't want to do so, even when it greatly upset them and they wanted to quit. They did not quit, because someone in authority told them it must be done. All the test subjects had to do was refuse, get up and walk away, but most did not. The habit of obedience to authority was too strong. Their minds had been trained to overcome their instincts, their morals, their fears, and obey.

To overcome this training we have to admit to ourselves that obedience is dangerous, that our parents did not always have our best interests at heart for whatever reason, that they forced us to obey without consideration for who we are or what we need. They probably thought they were doing the right thing, training us to be successful in society, repressing bad character traits, developing self-discipline, following God's commandments so we can get into Heaven. They might have also thought that they were forced to obey so their children must also. Or the parents are damaged and do not know any better; they raise their children the way they were raised. In the end it doesn't matter, although it is much easier to realize that abusive parents are wrong than it is to realize that good, loving parents can be wrong and inflict harm on their children.

Obama is hurting us. We either admit it or we remain children, waiting for someone to rescue us, parents us, love and respect us. Someone who will never come.

We are not children. It is time to take control of our own lives. Otherwise we will continue to watch our world slide slowly into poverty and misery, while the rich steal from us and the venal tell us that we are bad and we deserve to suffer.


The parent demands absolute obedience from the child. The child learns that obedience is the price for love. We all need love and to love others; we cannot thrive without it. When parents give their children love they give them the belief that they are worthy of love, that they are good people who deserve to be valued by others and treated with respect. People who are given self-respect (or who against all odds manage to find that within themselves on their own) and who like and therefore trust themselves do not need an authority to obey. They trust themselves enough to do what is right.

Authoritarians must obey authority. It was how they gained "love" as a child and is the source of self-esteem and self-image. They cannot live without it. The authority demands the follower give up free will, give up the right to make his own choices and decisions. His leader tells him what is right and it is neither his responsibility nor his right to make decisions for himself. The authoritarian follower earns merit by following, and the better he is at proving his obedience to his authority, the more he is rewarded emotionally. It is not necessary that he actually do in private what he professes to do in public; conformity is a public act and as long as the follower continues to publicly conform to authority, he has adhered to the rules.

Around 60-70% of the country is authoritarian. We cannot reason with them, educate them, or change them. They would have to choose to leave their political party, their religion, their tribe. They would lose their sense of belonging, self-worth and self-esteem. It is far too much to expect of them; they would have to decide to reject everything that authoritarianism gives them, which is almost everything.

So here we are, with most of our fellow countrymen firmly convinced that they are exceptional by virtue of birthright, that if anyone else has something they are being cheated, and that obedience to their tribe is more important than truth, justice or competence. And if we were able to convince them that their authority is wrong and harming them, they will just pick another authority to take his place.


Downpuppy said...

So you say.

and I do more or less agree. Still looking for a feasible way to join the struggle, because every effective struggle, even against the concept of Authority, needs organization.

Kathy said...

Look at the organizations the MOTUs & conservatives are working so hard to destroy:
Our Free Press is already destroyed. Voting rights being destroyed, and easily manipulated machines used to tally votes. The Executive & congressional branches have been corrupt for a long time, but now the Judicial is also ignoring the rule of Law.

All that's left are Unions, and the governments (State & Fed) are going after them. Right now the FAA is shut down for a month because Delta wants to crush their Union.

People banding together and striking is just about the only powerful weapon we have remaining against the Corporations that own this country.

There is an anti-authoritarian strain in liberals that makes it hard for us to come together or stick together. But striking is just about all we have left.

Susan of Texas said...

I agree, we must find a way to fight back in an organized manner. I don't know what to do but I'll keep trying to figure it out.

Dr.BDH said...

S of T, I love your blog and the comments you leave on other blogs. However (you knew this had to be an "however" comment, didn't you?), as one who came late in life to parenthood and thought I knew all about what parents needed to do, I came to realize there are many instances in which children must obey their parents. Coping with traffic, for example (parking lots, street crossings, bike rides), or how to respond to a stranger, or when to go to bed, or stop teasing your brother or hitting him. Also diet. Children don't function at the mental and emotional level of healthy adults. They need direction and instruction as well as enormous amounts of unconditional love.

I never imagined how much obediance I have had to insist upon from my children. But I don't believe any of that has warped them into authority-worshippers.

I suspect none of your readers are children and don't need a parent figure to tell us what to do. So I agree with a good part of what you wrote, but I don't think the authoritarian personality can be laid at the feet of parents who insisted their children obey the rules that are meant to keep them healthy and safe.

Susan of Texas said...

I agree with you 100%. It would take too much time to get into the details right now but yes, there's a huge difference between
teaching your kids and forcing blind obedience.

BillCinSD said...

Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians covers this in good detail

zuzu said...

Does anyone else remember when Obama used his big email list to essentially encourage people to stop donating to independent progressive organizations and send the money to OFA?

fasteddie said...

Love it. But I disagree that "Obama is hurting us". Yes, he is not our "savior". He is not the authoritarian who will save us. WE are the savior we are looking for. There is no "victory". The thugs will fight us forever and our choice is to fight or lose. We cannot stop fighting.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

fasteddie, Obama is hurting us.

That's why we have this problem: what do we do? Before, we voted for Democrats, organized for Democrats, and we got Democrats elected.

Then it's Meet The New Boss!

Now we have no major political party speaking for us, nor any of the corporate media. In fact all of those want us to shut up an be quiet.

It's easy to say "keep fighting", but out there people are losing their jobs, their health care, and their ability to even get anyone to listen.

Coldtype said...

@ Dr BDH

I think this essay by Arthur Silber from back in 2004 on the subject of obedience will go a long way in unpacking what Susan was getting at in her post.

Saphron said...

Sign me up! I am done! Done, done, done! Someone tells me to show up, I'm there! We have to take to the streets and we have to recognize that we're up against oligarchs and those oligarchs have infected both parties. This game is rigged! If the majority of people want taxes on the rich and it can't even be considered, how can you say we're a democracy? Oligarchs have completely fleeced the middle-class (we now have greater income inequality than the Gilded Age), oligarchs are funneling tens of millions of dollars into Wisconsin as we speak. The Tea Party is an oligarch-funded astroturfed movement. We have 9.2% unemployment and we're cutting the deficit? We're cutting the social safety net when we're in the deepest recession since the Great Depression? And yes we need organization, but we need an organization that isn't beholden to oligarchs.

Egg Berry said...

Well, if we hurry, we could apply to be an assistant at the Atlantic:

Atlantic Media recruits for two personal attributes in its candidates. The first is force of intellect – reflected in discipline and rigor of thought as manifested, often, in exceptional academic performance. The second is a personal spirit of generosity – a natural disposition towards service and selfless conduct
(via TBogg)

Lurking Canadian said...

That's fascinating. Megan is not qualified to be her own assistant.

Susan, I would someday love to read more of your thoughts on non-authoritarian child-rearing. We're doing our best with our son, but more advice is always welcome when it comes from a trustworthy source.

Downpuppy said...

A clear, ugly look at authoritarian child rearing is in Time -

Holden's recordings provide rich context for what causes a parent to spank. The data are particularly unsettling because many of the infractions that led a mom to hit involve petty misbehavior, like turning the page in a book before it was time. While listening to his mother read The Tortoise and the Hare, for example, one boy began touching the pages, garnering a slap.

"At 2:03:31, the mother says, 'No, Justin,' and continues reading," according to a transcription describing the incident. "Then at 2:03:34 she smacks him, and says, 'No, Justin. If you want me to read, quit messing with the pages. Cause you're moving it while I'm reading.'"

Lurking Canadian said...

I read one at pandagon the other day about a guy explaining that he hit his daughter hard enough to split her lip because "she was licking my fingers". It's not just that the punishment was disproportionate; I don't even see the infraction.

But it's not just about being abusive. My sister would never so much as spank her kids, but she was bragging to me the other day about how she was training her kids not to ask why when given an order. She wanted "Because I said so" to be sufficient. As usual, when familial peace is at stake, I kept my horror inside.

John E. Williams said...

Something I say often baffles people on both the Left and the Right, which is that I don't consider the President or Congress to be my 'leaders' at all, at least not in an authoritarian sense. This is basic American citizenship 101. They work for ME, they are hired to look after MY interests, they answer to MY ass. They serve the same role as an accountant or a gardener. Just tend my flowers and balance my checkbook, jack.

Interestingly, some of the same Rightwingers who scolded me for not obeying Bush and Cheney's every command think my theory is dead on when it comes to Obama.

Pete said...

Someone tells me to show up, I'm there!

I wish I were certain that this is meant to be funny.

Saphron said...

It's not at all meant to be funny.

Anonymous said...

swear to god I was singing that tune about,oh,a week into Obama's presidency. Didn't we learn all we need to know with the announcement of his economic team. And what we needed to know was "We're doomed." He threw me off track for a minute with the whole close down Guantanamo Bay thing, but we know how that turned out.
Fasteddie, he's hurting us. I don't think a post Bush2 Republican president could accomplish anywhere near as many Republican policy goals.

Pete said...

Taryn, I don't want to be mean or rude, but I find it amusing that in a post about authority & authoritarians, the phrasing chosen was "someone tells me to ..." I know the feeling, and certainly the vast majority of the rallies, phone banks, lit drops, etc etc I have participated in were not ones I actually organized (some were, and some were personal acts) ... but I do like individual initiative. And I say that with a smile, honest. I appreciate the energy, I don't have a magic bullet, and I do think that lots of different ideas need to be tried, some of which I am sure I have never thought of. I hope you find one that works for you, and tell us all about it. Because I completely agree with the rest of your comment!

Saphron said...

I think the argument here is that we have deferred to Obama for too long. I don't think it's pro-anarchism or anti-organization.

So, I don't think it's necessarily inconsistent to say that we need to stop deferring to this authority and organize (and yes, that organization can have figures of authority).

I took Susan to be making a statement about a psychological tendency to defer to authority that in the present case has to be overcome. I did not think she was saying that all authority is illegitimate.

Saphron said...

Oops - that posted too soon:

Anyway, that is the critical distinction. We have a psychological tendency to defer to authority and that tendency must be overcome in this instance because Obama is hurting us.

This doesn't mean that we cannot organize or that we must reject all authority. It only that we cannot BLINDLY accept authority.

It means that we should reject illegitimate and corrupt authority. But we can organize. And we can respect legitimate authority.

Otherwise, what good would rejection of authority do. The other side is well-funded and incredibly organized. Out-and-out rejection of all organization and all authority would not allow for effective opposition. In fact, all we have is our collective power.

Saphron said...

Ugh - that just posted again too soon. Excuse the typos and whatnot. I think the gist of the argument and the distinction I am making is clear enough.

Pete said...

I agree about collective power. That's why I'm a member of a union, even though I don't have to be, and didn't quit it just because I got really mad at the then leadership (though I did reduce my activity). But I have a mordant and sometimes inappropriate sense of humor.

Susan of Texas said...

I agree that all we have is our collective power. The only thing I can think of doing so far is live according to my principles and that's not going to affect very many people, the internet notwithstanding.

Susan of Texas said...


Justin said...

Long ago I recall reading an anarchist mom blog. She wrote something about her kids diet, she had receieved questions about whether she lets her children decide what to eat, and if so, does she care that they eat junk food.

Her response was that she had just this situation and was filled with anxiety about compromising her parenting values around training her children to be autonomous decision makers from an early age. She swallowed her concerns and let them eat whatever they wanted without pressure. (The situation developed at the point her kid was old enough to start requesting food preferences.) After a day or two of gorging on junk, her kid went right back to healthy food without any input from her. The junk made her kid feel like crap.

As to the below Taryn convo, um, I see no contradiction in a post about authoritarianism and saying that you are willing to participate in a movement you agree with. Autonomy and agency does not mean you have to do everything alone, independently, and if anyone gives you a good idea or invites you to a function that you can't go as a matter of agency vs. authoritarian control. Important enough to call out I think.

Saphron said...

OK, Here we go folks: