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The Crossroads

The mother of one of the SOTT editors recently wrote to him about my post, The Hope, which compared the background ideology of the current U.S./Israel Administration to that formulated by the Catholic Church in the creation of the Inquisition. I think she was rather incensed that I compared the arrest of the Imams to such a dark period of history. She wrote:

I agree this administration is using fear to subvert the constitution and abridge civil rights. I’m not sure we have hit the Inquisition yet and I have hopes the political process will make a difference. …. maybe I am one of those who hides my head in the sand.

She has “hopes that the political process will make a difference”.

I think that a lot of people have such hopes. A lot of people in Nazi Germany also had such hopes as Sebastian Haffner’s book “Defying Hitler” so poignantly revealed. Anyone who takes the time to watch the BBC Series about the Nazis quickly understands that the only reason the Nazis were able to ultimately do what they did was because people simply did not understand that their government had been taken over by pathological deviants and that the political process itself had been co-opted to the use of these criminals. And the reason the German people did not understand this was lack of knowledge. This lack of knowledge led to two kinds of blindness: 1) they did not know what signs to look for; 2) even those who could see the signs and knew that they did not bode well did not fully plumb the depths of the problem.

Discussing the Inquisition, I wrote in the above referenced article that America is today at a crossroads:

In a certain sense, you could say that it was a war between spiritual freedom and spiritual corporatism. Western Civilization had reached a crossroad similar to the crossroad that the Cathars taught existed within the hearts of individual humans: a return to consciousness of Angelic realms, or anew cycle of repeating again and again the pain and suffering of existence in this vale of tears we call Earth.

Historian R. I. Moore has noted that the years around 1200 were a turning point that led to the “formation of apersecuting society”. Choices were made then that are still reverberating in human society.

And it is clear what choice was made then.

We are facing a similar choice today.

This choice is, as Sebastian Haffner made clear, a crossroads within the heart of every single individual. As I quoted in my last post, Charles Taylor wrote in Salon:

[Haffner’s] theory of how Hitler was allowed to flourish goes something like this: Haffner writes of his fellow Germans as a country of people who “had a spiritual organ removed: the organ that gives men steadfastness and balance, but also a certain inertia and stolidity. It may variously appear as conscience, reason, experience, respect for the law, morality, or the fear of God.” […]

“A generation of young Germans,” Haffner writes, “had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere.” […]

If Haffner’s tone sounds superior, remember that those words were written by a German who had seen no willingness to resist Hitler either inside or outside his country. The only comparison I can come up with for what follows, Haffner’s account of the ’30s, is to Don Siegel’s 1956 version (the first) of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

Well, there is another comparison, and it’s about to get way more real.

SOTT published an article by Henry See last week entitled Environment of Evil in which he wrote:

It doesn’t take an Einstein to see that things are bad on the planet. I can’t think of an adjective to qualify “bad” that sums up the actual state of things. Wars, starvation, inequality, injustice, disease, poverty, ecological disaster, and on and on. The developed countries consume the lion’s share of the world’s resources while the rest of the world starves. The United States consumes the lion’s share of the consumed resources. The vast majority of people in those countries accept the situation and think it is fine. If they have qualms, they aren’t so upset that they are actually doing anything about it.

People find excuses.

Indeed, people find excuses: “I’m not sure we have hit the Inquisition yet and I have hopes the political process will make a difference.”

Today, I want to try to make it a whole lot easier for everyone to understand just what we are facing. In the article Henry wrote, he referenced a study done by Bob Altemeyer, Associate Professor at the University of Manitoba.

Altemeyer has spent much of his career researching the personality profile of what he calls Right Wing Authoritarians. He has published an overview of his research called The Authoritarians. It offers an insight into that percentage of the population that is easily swayed by the pathological types. Unfortunately, Altemeyer has not factored in the existence of psychopathy and pathocracy as important realities in society, so while he can help explain the functioning of the system, he is incapable of either explaining its origins or arriving at a solution.

Altemeyer writes on his website about The Authoritarians:

OK, what’s this book about?

It’s about what’s happened to the American government lately. It’s about the disastrous decisions that government has made. It’s about the corruption that rotted the Congress. It’s about how traditional conservatism has nearly been destroyed by authoritarianism. It’s about how the “Religious Right” teamed up with amoral authoritarian leaders to push its un-democratic agenda onto the country. It’s about the United States standing at the crossroads as the next federal election approaches.
“Well,” you might be thinking, “I don’t believe any of this is true.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “What else is new? I’ve believed this for years.” Why should a conservative, moderate, or liberal bother with this book? Why should any Republican, Independent, or Democrat click the “Introduction” link on this page?

Because if you do, you’ll begin an easy-ride journey through some relevant scientific studies I have done on authoritarian personalities–one that will take you a heck of a lot less time than the decades it took me. Those studies have a direct bearing on all the topics mentioned above. So if you think the first paragraph is a lot of hokum, or full of half-truths, I invite you to look at the research.

For example, take the following statement: “Once our government leaders and the authorities condemn the dangerous elements in our society, it will be the duty of every patriotic citizen to help stomp out the rot that is poisoning our country from within.” Sounds like something Hitler would say, right? Want to guess how many politicians, how many lawmakers in the United States agreed with it? Want to guess what they had in common?

Or how about a government program that persecutes political parties, or minorities, or journalists the authorities do not like, by putting them in jail, even torturing and killing them. Nobody would approve of that, right? Guess again.
Don’t think for a minute this doesn’t concern you personally.

Let me ask you, as we’re passing the time here, how many ordinary people do you think an evil authority would have to order to kill you before he found someone who would, unjustly, out of sheer obedience, just because the authority said to? What sort of person is most likely to follow such an order? What kind of official is most likely to give that order, if it suited his purposes? Look at what experiments tell us, as I did.

If, on the other hand, you’re way ahead of me, and believe the extreme right-wing elements in America are poised to take it over, permanently, I think you can still get a lot from this book.

The studies explain so much about these people.

Yes, the research shows they are very aggressive, but why are they so hostile?

Yes, experiments show they are almost totally uninfluenced by reasoning and evidence, but why are they so dogmatic?

Yes, studies show the Religious Right has more than its fair share of hypocrites, from top to bottom; but why are they two-faced, and how come one face never notices the other?

Yes, their leaders can give the flimsiest of excuses and even outright lies about things they’ve done wrong, but why do the rank-and-file believe them?

What happens when authoritarian followers find the authoritarian leaders they crave and start marching together?

As Henry points out, the roots of the problem of “authoritarianism” are not really addressed by Altemeyer. The cause IS addressed by psychologist Andrew Lobaczewski who studied the matter first hand both under the Nazis and the Communists in Poland. In his book,Political Ponerology, he gives one type of the “Authoritarian” personality a clinical name: Schizoidal psychopathy and tells us that it is, most often, hereditary.

Carriers of this anomaly are hypersensitive and distrustful, but they pay little attention to the feelings of others, tend to assume extreme positions, and are eager to retaliate for minor offenses. Sometimes they are eccentric and odd.

Their poor sense of psychological situation and reality leads them to superimpose erroneous, pejorative interpretations upon other people’s intentions. They easy become involved in activities which are ostensibly moral, but which actually inflict damage upon themselves and others. Their impoverished psychological worldview makes them typically pessimistic regarding human nature. We frequently find expressions of their characteristic attitudes in their statements and writings: “Human nature is so bad that order in human society can only be maintained by a strong power created by highly qualified individuals in the name of some higher idea.” Let us call this typical expression the “schizoid declaration”. […]

Because of their one-sidedness, they tend to consider themselves intellectually superior to “ordinary” people. […]

The quantitative frequency of this anomaly varies among races and nations: low among Blacks, the highest among Jews. […]

A schizoid’s [ability to generate evil] should be evaluated in two aspects. On the small scale, such people cause their families trouble, easily turn into tools of intrigue in the hands of clever individuals, and generally do a poor job of raising the younger generation. Their tendency to see human reality in the doctrinaire and simplistic manner they consider “proper”, transforms their frequently good intentions into bad results. However, their ponerogenic role can take on macro-social proportions if their attitude toward human reality and their tendency to invent great doctrines are put to paper and duplicated in large editions.

In spite of their typical deficits, or even an openly schizoidal declaration, their readers do not realize what the authors’ characters are like; they interpret such works in a manner corresponding to their own nature. The minds of normal people tend toward corrective interpretation thanks to the participation of their own richer, psychological world-view. […]

During stable times which are ostensibly happy, albeit marked by injury to individuals and nations, doctrinaire people believe they have found a simple solution to fix such a world. Such a historical period is always characterized by an impoverished psychological world-view, a schizoidally impoverished psychological world-view thus does not stand out during such times and is accepted as legal tender. These doctrinaire individuals characteristically manifest a certain contempt with regard to moralists then preaching the need to rediscover lost human values and to develop a richer, more appropriate psychological world-view.

Schizoid characters aim to impose their own conceptual world upon other people or social groups, using relatively controlled pathological egotism and the exceptional tenacity derived from their persistent nature. They are thus eventually able to overpower another individual’s personality, which causes the latter’s behavior to turn desperately illogical. They may also exert a similar influence upon the group of people they have joined.

They are psychological loners who feel better in some human organization, wherein they become zealots for some ideology, religious bigots, materialists, or adherents of an ideology with satanic features.

If their activities consist of direct contact on a small social scale, their acquaintances easily perceive them to be eccentric, which limits their ponerogenic role. However, if they manage to hide their own personality behind the written word, their influence may poison the minds of society in a wide scale and for a long time. […]

In spite of the fact that the writings of schizoidal authors contain the above described deficiency, or even an openly formulated schizoidal declaration which constitutes sufficient warning to specialists, the average reader accepts them not as a view of reality warped by this anomaly, but rather as an idea to which he should assume an attitude based on his convictions and his reason. That is the first mistake.

The oversimplified pattern, devoid of psychological color and based on easily available data, exerts an intense influence upon individuals who are insufficiently critical, frequently frustrated as result of downward social adjustment, culturally neglected, or characterized by some psychological deficiencies.
Others are provoked to criticism based on their healthy common sense, also they fail to grasp this essential cause of the error.

Societal interpretation of such activities is broken down into the main trifurcations, engendering divisiveness and conflict. The first branch is the path of aversion, based on rejection of the contents of the work due to personal motivations, differing convictions, or moral revulsion. This already contains the component of a moralizing interpretation of pathological phenomena.

We can distinguish two distinctly different apperception types among those persons who accept the contents of such works: the critically-corrective and the pathological.

People whose feel for psychological reality is normal tend to incorporate chiefly the more valuable elements of the work. They trivialize the obvious errors and complement the schizoid deficiencies by means of their own richer world-view. This gives rise to a more sensible, measured, and thus creative interpretation, but is not free from the influence of the error frequently adduced above.

Pathological acceptance is manifested by individuals with diversiform deviations, whether inherited or acquired, as well as by many people bearing personality malformations or who have been injured by social injustice. That explains why this scope is wider than the circle drawn by direct action of pathological factors.

There are, of course, other authoritarian pathologies, and the ways in which they fit together like a huge macro-social mechanical Evil isa fascinating and essential study for the survival of humanity. Only when you know the signs can you know what you are seeing and what is the likely outcome. Knowledge Protects in the most amazing ways.

And now, for everybody who believes, along with my colleague’s mother …

I’m not sure we have hit the Inquisition yet and I have hopes the political process will make a difference.

… Here is your future:

Unauthoritarians and Authoritarians: Worlds of DifferenceBy now you must be developing a feel for what high RWAs [Right Wing Authoritarian] think and do, and also an impression of low RWAs. Do you think you know each group well enough to predict what they’d do if they ran the world? One night in October, 1994 I let a group of low RWA university students determine the future of the planet (you didn’t know humble researchers could do this, did you!). Then the next night I gave high RWAs their kick at the can.

The setting involved a rather sophisticated simulation of the earth’s future called the Global Change Game, which is played on a big map of the world by 50-70 participants who have been split into various regions such as North America, Africa, India and China. The players are divided up according to current populations, so a lot more students hunker down in India than in North America. The game was designed to raise environmental awareness, and before the exercise begins players study up on their region’s resources, prospects, and environmental issues.

Then the facilitators who service the simulation call for some member, any member of each region, to assume the role of team leader by simply standing up. Once the “Elites” in the world have risen to the task they are taken aside and given control of their region’s bank account. They can use this to buy factories, hospitals, armies, and so on from the game bank, and they can travel the world making deals with other Elites. They also discover they can discretely put some of their region’s wealth into their own pockets, to vie for a prize to be given out at the end of the simulation to the World’s Richest Person. Then the game begins, and the world goes wherever the players take it for the next forty years which, because time flies in a simulation, takes about two and a half hours.

The Low RWA Game

By carefully organizing sign-up booklets, I was able to get 67 low RWA students to play the game together on October 18th. (They had no idea they had been funneled into this run of the experiment according to their RWA scale scores; indeed they had probably never heard of right-wing authoritarianism.) Seven men and three women made themselves Elites. As soon as the simulation began, the Pacific Rim Elite called for a summit on the “Island Paradise of Tasmania.” All the Elites attended and agreed to meet there again whenever big issues arose. A world-wide organization was thus immediately created by mutual consent.

Regions set to work on their individual problems. Swords were converted to ploughshares as the number of armies in the world dropped. No wars or threats of wars occurred during the simulation. [At one point the North American Elite suggested starting a war to his fellow region-aires (two women and one guy), but they told him to go fly a kite–or words to that effect.]

An hour into the game the facilitators announced a (scheduled) crisis in the earth’s ozone layer. All the Elites met in Tasmania and contributed enough money to buy new technology to replenish the ozone layer.

Other examples of international cooperation occurred, but the problems of the Third World mounted in Africa and India. Europe gave some aid but North America refused to help. Africa eventually lost 300 million people to starvation and disease, and India 100 million.

Populations had grown and by the time forty years had passed the earth held 8.7 billion people, but the players were able to provide food, health facilities, and jobs for almost all of them. They did so by demilitarizing, by making a lot of trades that benefited both parties, by developing sustainable economic programs, and because the Elites diverted only small amounts of the treasury into their own pockets. (The North American Elite hoarded the most.)

One cannot blow off four hundred million deaths, but this was actually a highly successful run of the game, compared to most. No doubt the homogeneity of the players, in terms of their RWA scores and related attitudes, played a role. Low RWAs do not typically see the world as “Us versus Them.” They are more interested in cooperation than most people are, and they are often genuinely concerned about the environment. Within their regional groups, and in the interactions of the Elites, these first-year students would have usually found themselves “on the same page”–and writ large on that page was, “Let’s Work Together and Clean Up This Mess.” The game’s facilitators said they had never seen as much international cooperation in previous runs of the simulation. With the exception of the richest region, North America, the lows saw themselves as interdependent and all riding on the same merry-go-round.

The High RWA Game

The next night 68 high RWAs showed up for their ride, just as ignorant of how they had been funneled into this run of the experiment as the low RWA students had been the night before. The game proceeded as usual. Background material was read, Elites (all males) nominated themselves, and the Elites were briefed. Then the “wedgies” started. As soon as the game began, the Elite from the Middle East announced the price of oil had just doubled. A little later the former Soviet Union (known as the Confederation of Independent States in 1994) bought a lot of armies and invaded North America. The latter had insufficient conventional forces to defend itself, and so retaliated with nuclear weapons. A nuclear holocaust ensued which killed everyone on earth–7.4 billion people–and almost all other forms of life which had the misfortune of co-habitating the same planet as a species with nukes.

When this happens in the Global Change Game, the facilitators turn out all the lights and explain what a nuclear war would produce. Then the players are given a second chance to determine the future, turning back the clock to two years before the hounds of war were loosed. The former Soviet Union however rebuilt its armies and invaded China this time, killing 400 million people. The Middle East Elite then called for a “United Nations” meeting to discuss handling future crises, but no agreements were reached.

At this point the ozone-layer crisis occurred but–perhaps because of the recent failure of the United Nations meeting–no one called for a summit. Only Europe took steps to reduce its harmful gas emissions, so the crisis got worse. Poverty was spreading unchecked in the underdeveloped regions, which could not control their population growth. Instead of dealing with the social and economic problems “back home,” Elites began jockeying among themselves for power and protection, forming military alliances to confront other budding alliances. Threats raced around the room and the Confederation of Independent States warned it was ready to start another nuclear war. Partly because their Elites had used their meager resources to buy into alliances, Africa and Asia were on the point of collapse. An Elite called for a United Nations meeting to deal with the crises–take your pick–and nobody came.

By the time forty years had passed the world was divided into armed camps threatening each other with another nuclear destruction. One billion, seven hundred thousand people had died of starvation and disease. Throw in the 400 million who died in the Soviet-China war and casualties reached 2.1 billion. Throw in the 7.4 billion who died in the nuclear holocaust, and the high RWAs managed to kill 9.5 billion people in their world–although we, like some battlefield news releases, are counting some of the corpses twice.

The authoritarian world ended in disaster for many reasons. One was likely the character of their Elites, who put more than twice as much money in their own pockets as the low RWA Elites had. (The Middle East Elite ended up the World’s Richest Man; part of his wealth came from money he had conned from Third World Elites as payment for joining his alliance.) But more importantly, the high RWAs proved incredibly ethnocentric. There they were, in a big room full of people just like themselves, and they all turned their backs on each other and paid attention only to their own group. They too were all reading from the same page, but writ large on their page was, “Care About Your Own; We Are NOT All In This Together.”

The high RWAs also suffered because, while they say on surveys that they care about the environment, when push comes to shove they usually push and shove for the bucks. That is, they didn’t care much about the long-term environmental consequences of their economic acts. For example a facilitator told Latin America that converting much of the region’s forests to a single species of tree would make the ecosystem vulnerable. But the players decided to do it anyway because the tree’s lumber was very profitable just then. And the highs proved quite inflexible when it came to birth control. Advised that “just letting things go” would cause the populations in underdeveloped areas to explode, the authoritarians just let things go.

Now the Global Change Game is not the world stage, university students are not world leaders, and starting a nuclear holocaust in a gymnasium is not the same thing as launching real missiles from Siberia and North Dakota. So the students’ behavior on those two successive nights in 1994 provides little basis for drawing conclusions about the future of the planet. But some of what happened in this experiment rang true to me. I especially thought, “I’ve seen this show before” as I sat on the sidelines and watched the high RWAs create their very own October crisis.

At the close of his article Henry wrote:

We are facing the second scenario, not as a simulation, not as a game, but as our own future unless the knowledge needed to change society is propagated and put into practice. Frankly, I don’t think there is a hope in hell that we can succeed in such a task, but ending on that note wouldn’t be very helpful or encouraging. So instead, let me turn the problem around: if we are going to save ourselves, it is up to each of us to learn what we can about psychopathy and ponerology. Psychopaths are found in our lives as individuals, and they are clearly running the show on the global scale. Our only hope is that each of us begins to immunize himself to their manipulations, works to spread the knowledge so that others, too, can become immune, and begin to exercise that part of us that separates us from our predator: our conscience. If we can do this work, then the pole of conscience can become something more than an idea. It can become a reality, a living example of how life can be lived in a new way.

Now, certainly, even with all of the evidence of history, the evidence of psychology, the evidence of the eyes and ears – and even, dare we say it – the Heart, can anyone still say:

I agree this administration is using fear to subvert the constitution and abridge civil rights. I’m not sure we have hit the Inquisition yet and I have hopes the political process will make a difference.

How many of you are willing to bet the lives of your children and grandchildren on that delusion? We are at the crossroads: which road will you take?

Originally Published 2007_04_14