Monday, June 18, 2007

Authoritarian thinking in action

"The west is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism. If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so unless the British government apologises and withdraws the 'sir' title" - Pakistani religious affairs minister Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq on Britain knighting Salman Rushdie


Being a ghost and all, I get to talk to other ghosts. Here's what the ghost of Tom Paine had to say in response to ul-Haq:

To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture. Enjoy, sir, your insensibility of feeling and reflecting. It is the prerogative of animals. And no man will envy you these honors, in which a savage only can be your rival and a bear your master.

Robert Green Ingersoll also chimed in:

And how any human being ever has had the impudence to speak against the right to speak, is beyond the power of my imagination. Here is a man who speaks -- who exercises a right that he, by his speech, denies. Can liberty go further than that? Is there any toleration possible beyond the liberty to speak against liberty -- the real believer in free speech allowing others to speak against the right to speak? Is there any limitation beyond that?

So, whoever has spoken against the right to speak has admitted that he violated his own doctrine. No man can open his mouth against the freedom of speech without denying every argument he may put forward. Why? He is exercising the right that he denies. How did he get it? Suppose there is one man on an island. You will all admit now that he would have the right to do his own thinking. You will all admit that he has the right to express his thought. Now, will somebody tell me how many men would have to emigrate to that island before the original settler would lose his right to think and his right to express himself?

In The Authoritarians, Altemeyer observes that a mind that has been corrupted by authoritarian thinking is compartmentalized, capable of massive doses of double-think, and highly resistant to change.

A filing cabinet or a computer can store quite inconsistent notions and never lose a minute of sleep over their contradiction. Similarly a high RWA can have all sorts of illogical, self-contradictory, and widely refuted ideas rattling around in various boxes in his brain, and never notice it.

So can everybody, of course, and my wife loves to catch inconsistencies in my reasoning when we’re having a friendly discussion about one of my personal failures.But research reveals that authoritarian followers drive through life under the influence of impaired thinking a lot more than most people do, exhibiting sloppy reasoning, highly compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, a profound ethnocentrism, and--to top it all off--a ferocious dogmatism that makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds with evidence or logic.
Here we see that in full effect, with this authoritarian individual being unable to see the inherent contradiction between being upset that "the West is accusing Muslims of terrorism and extremism" while simultaneously justifying a potential extremist act of terrorism.

Altemeyer is careful to point out repeatedly not to make the mistake of thinking that an authoritarian thinker is in possesion of some sort of qualitative mind difference that makes he or she an authoritarian: authoritarianism springs from mind traits that are instrinsic to human nature. In other words, the authoritarian mind consists of a quantitative difference.

How does religion fit into the picture, then? Religious fundamentalism is parasitic upon the worst characteristics in the human mind, reinforcing and amplifying one's capacity for authoritarian thinking by providing a template for dogmatism.


From Notes and Comments, another response to ul-Haq

Insult is it. Rushdie earned notoriety is it. Harm to our image is it. Contemptuous is it. What about the serious and dedicated effort to get the novelist murdered merely for writing a story about 'early Islamic figures' you contemptible apologist for theocratic tyranny? What about that? Eh? Eh? Why are you so worried about an award given to a novelist and so unworried by murder and attempted murder? Why do you have such a pathetic, ludicrous, immoral, twisted sense of priorities? What is the matter with you?
And also from Notes and Comments, in regards to the BBC reporting that Rushdie "offended Muslims worldwide"

It's terribly misleading to say that Rushdie's novel 'offended Muslims worldwide' without qualification. There's an enormous amount wrong with that offhand statement. One, many and probably most people who were 'offended' by Rushdie's novel never read it, so the simple and active phrasing there - his book offended Muslims - is just inaccurate. An accurate version would be something more like 'some Muslims were offended by what they heard or were told about Rushdie's novel and by the fact that he had written it.' Yes but they don't have the space to say that in the second sentence. Okay, but if they don't have the space, they shouldn't say anything - they shouldn't say something grossly and tendentiously misleading instead, especially not about someone who is under a standing death threat for doing the very thing they described so ineptly and inaccurately. What they do by phrasing it that way is half-endorse the attitude of the people who issued the fatwa, and they really ought not to do that on the basis of bad sloppy inaccurate phrasing.

But what do we do about this authoritarian fundamentalism? Well, for starters, as "OB" points out, we don't give it any ethical or moral legitimacy. Secondly, we must strive to encourage secularism and an end to indoctrinating children with hateful dogma (easier said than done, I know.) Thirdly, we must work to reduce the geo-political factors that are conducive to the growth of religious fundamentalism (another big BIG easier said than done.)


Anonymous said...

I've probably mentioned this before, but this sort of thinking conjures up William James to me. His defining a "moral holiday" explains this phenomenon well. A person with religious conviction has given over his morality to a religious interpretation which should not be questioned. All a person with such conviction has to think is “God wills this” and off we go into a brick wall. Questioning the religious authority is in itself a sin, so reason has no “room to operate” as Hume might say in a vacuum like that.

C2H50H said...

I do not wish to be difficult, but, in fact, we can all talk to whatever ghosts we wish to address.

It's hearing their answers that sets some of us apart.

I'll listen to Tom Paine any time.

Unknown said...

Well I say to the Religion Minister of Pakistan that Islam is not the problem. ALL RELIGION is the problem.

I recently came across some t-shirts and coffee mugs that say "ATHEISM CURES RELIGIOUS TERRORISM." Just very pointedly illustrates the link between religion and the insanity in the world today. I plan to wear this quite a lot in coming days.

If anyone wants to see the t-shirts etc they are posted here:

For now, we can still wear shirts like this in America. I imagine it would get you stoned to death in Jordan, Palestine, Egypt or elsewhere in the Middle East.