Authoritarianism, or how you believe in limited government and still love the police state.

Like many suburban Texans I was brought up in a Republican household. The first two political books I ever read were written by Rush Limbaugh. As a young adult I had not heard of libertarianism, but I did hear a lot of rhetoric from the right that I liked; limited government, liberty etc.

I found myself more and more confused at how Republicans supported policies that were the definition of Big Government- drug wars, bans on gay marriage, sodomy laws, blue laws, pornography prosecutions etc. Logically, I could not understand how a political party could espouse limited government and support for the war on drugs in the same platform? How can you be against Obamacare because you oppose big government and against gay marriage? The cognitive dissonance must be overwhelming.

I stumbled upon the answer about a year ago when I read “The Republican Brain” by Chris Mooney. The answer, authoritarianism. Wikipedia can explain this better than I can. Why not copy and paste?

Right-wing authoritarians want society and social interactions structured in ways that increase uniformity and minimize diversity. In order to achieve that, they tend to be in favour of social control, coercion, and the use of group authority to place constraints on the behaviours of people such as gays and lesbians, political dissidents, ethnic minorities, immigrants, feminists and atheists. These constraints might include restrictions on immigration, limits on free speech and association and laws regulating moral behaviour. It is the willingness to support or take action that leads to increased social uniformity that makes right-wing authoritarianism more than just a personal distaste for difference. Right-wing authoritarianism is characterized by obedience to authority, moral absolutism, racial and ethnic prejudice, and intolerance and punitiveness towards dissidents and deviants. In parenting, right-wing authoritarians value children’s obedience, neatness, and good manners.

Right-wing authoritarianism is defined by three attitudinal and behavioral clusters which correlate together:

Authoritarian submission — a high degree of submissiveness to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives.

Authoritarian aggression — a general aggressiveness directed against deviants, outgroups, and other people that are perceived to be targets according to established authorities.

Conventionalism — a high degree of adherence to the traditions and social norms that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities, and a belief that others in one’s society should also be required to adhere to these norms.

Authoritarians are easy to spot, just listen to any Dallas AM talk radio station, save 1310. They also make horrible jurors in criminal cases, and the bright red counties surrounding Dallas are full of RWAs (right wing authoritarians). Authoritarian jurors want to believe the police, they want to trust the prosecutor. They are not open to new experiences, they have a disdain for uncertainty, they enjoy passing judgment on others and their distrust of outsiders usually works against the defendant.

The authoritarian brain is driven by fear. Fear of change, outsiders, those who are different, inter alia.

Fear-based thinking is one reason we convict so many innocent people in Texas. RWA jurors are scared that the defendant may have committed the crime, so why not err on the side of caution and lock up a potential predator, even though there are a few reasonable doubts?

Authoritarians are also likely to believe government experts and embrace junk science because they are submissive to authority and trust law enforcement. How else could a juror be conned into believing in “dog scent lineups” etc if not already neurologically predisposed to trust the authorities?

Texas is infested with RWAs and they have made a mess of our criminal justice system. Also troubling is that authoritarianism and it appears to be part of a person’s neurology, which makes change difficult. Sometimes it takes a truly horrible experience, like fighting to keep a person in prison only to find out they are innocent, to make an authoritarian revaluate their beliefs.

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