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“You Knew It Was True”: Conservatives, Evil And Psychopathy; Science Makes The Link!

It’s not the least bit surprising that Rush Limbaugh is still defending Donald Sterling, spinning an elaborate conspiracy theory about how Sterling was “set up,” as Elias Isquith described here at Salon: “Whoever set this up,” Limbaugh said with understated drama, “is really good.”

He continued: “They covered every base. They’ve got the media wrapped around their little finger. I mean, when you get rid of the anthem singer — I used to be in charge of anthem singers at the Kansas City Royals. When you can get rid of (the) anthem singer, you’ve got power.”

Sure, it’s so far gone it’s silly, but defending old white guys is Limbaugh’s thing. Especially rich old white guys. And when he does it, he’s simply being a good conservative. Defending wealth, power, privilege, hierarchy — it’s just what conservatives do. Now, however, some folks — including social scientists — are beginning to ask, in effect, if they’re not actually defending, even promoting, evil as well.

Sterling’s self-immolating drama vividly illustrates what the questions involve. It’s not just that Americans — unbeknownst to Sterling, Cliven Bundy and Limbaugh — have come to an overwhelming consensus that racism itself is evil, though that’s certainly enormously important in and of itself. But there’s also the additional factor of interpersonal depravity — psychopathy, if you will, which people are increasingly coming to see as significantly overrepresented in the 1 percent.

Let’s start with what I said about Limbaugh simply being a good conservative when he rushed to Sterling’s defense. That’s not just a liberal canard. It’s not just me trying to do to Limbaugh what Limbaugh does to liberals. It’s what conservatives themselves have said repeatedly over the years. The defense of hierarchy is what conservatism is all about, as Corey Robin reminded us all with his recent book, “The Reactionary Mind.”

What’s more, the differences between how liberals and conservatives think are reflected in a range of divergent cognitive processes, as summarized in a 2003 paper by John T. Jost and three co-authors, “Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition,” a “meta-analysis” that brought together findings drawn from 88 study samples in 12 countries:

“The core ideology of conservatism stresses resistance to change and justification of inequality and is motivated by needs that vary situationally and dispositionally to manage uncertainty and threat,” Jost and his co-authors wrote in the abstract. These are not merely American phenomena, nor is there any reason to think they’re particularly modern.

While Jost’s paper revealed a complicated array of different factors involved, two in particular have been shown to explain the lion’s share of intergroup prejudice: right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) and social dominance orientation (SDO). John Dean’s book “Conservatives Without Conscience” focused on the combined workings of these two factors. While there is some overlap between the two, RWA is more predominant among followers, who would probably make up the main bulk of Limbaugh’s audience, while SDO is more prominent in folks like Sterling.

SDO represents a generalized tendency to support groups’ dominance, whether the groups are defined biologically (men over women, the old over the young) or culturally (race, ethnicity, religion, etc.).

There have been several successive versions of the scale used to measure SDO (SDO 6 can be found here), with slight changes in the statements used. Subjects are asked to rate their agreement or disagreement with the statements from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Statements from SDO-6 include:

  • Some groups of people are simply inferior to other groups.
  • In getting what you want, it is sometimes necessary to use force against other groups.
  • It’s OK if some groups have more of a chance in life than others.

These are balanced with statements supporting equality, such as:

  • It would be good if groups could be equal.
  • Group equality should be our ideal.
  • All groups should be given an equal chance in life.

It’s not hard to see why SDO relates to defense of hierarchy, and can serve to support the defense of just about any privileged group. It’s not one and the same thing as conservatism, but it’s an integral part of the mix, and conservatives as a group routinely score significantly higher on SDO than liberals as a group do.

But what about the connection to evil?

A few weeks ago, I came across a reference to an unpublished conference paper, with the intriguing title, “Does endorsement of hierarchy make you evil? SDO and psychopathy.”

So I contacted the lead author, Marc Wilson, a New Zealand psychologist at Victoria University of Wellington, to ask him about his research.

First, a bit of background. Psychopathy — once thought to be an all-or-nothing condition — is now understood in a dimensional fashion (more or less) and is measured by instruments such as The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. While our understanding of psychopathy first developed largely from studying criminal populations, Hare himself has said, “I always said that if I wasn’t studying psychopaths in prison, I’d do it at the stock exchange,” so it’s fairly straightforward to measure and compare psychopathic tendencies and SDO. And that’s just what Wilson has done.

“The research shows that SDO and psychopathy have a reciprocal causal relationship over time — as people become more social dominant, they become more psychopathic, and vice versa,” Wilson told me. “This is based on longitudinal research that shows that, for example, increased SDO (or psychopathy) at time 1 predicts greater psychopathy (or SDO) at time 2. I’ve done this for both convenience samples (university students) and thousands of general population.”

University students get tested a lot — as Wilson indicated, they’re quite convenient. But sooner or later it’s bound to raise questions of just how well the results hold up in a larger population. So it’s significant that he’s already taken that step, and found confirmation as well.

“When SDO was originally proposed, it was argued that group dominance (as measured by SDO) is not the same thing as individual level dominance, and indeed that’s what the original research appeared to show,” he explained. “More recently there have been a few studies that have suggested SDO and psychopathy are related, and I’ve collected a lot of data now that leads me to believe they’re flip sides of the same coin — interpersonal dominance (psychopathy) on one side and group dominance (SDO) on the other.”

This is just what one might informally conclude from listening to the Donald Sterling tape. His personal abusiveness and unwarranted accusations against V. Stiviano is on one side of the coin; flip it over, and his contempt for black people is on the other. Jerk on one side, racist on the other.

“Therefore, it makes sense that environments that promote social hierarchies will also be fertile breeding grounds for individual dominance, and vice versa,” he continued. Digging down a bit into specifics was quite illuminating.

“By ‘environments’ I can imagine a few that are good candidates — financial markets for example,” Wilson said. “Indeed, some of my other work shows that people who work in commerce focused on hierarchy-enhancing wealth consolidation also tend to be more social dominant (an old finding) but also more psychopathic — indeed, people who study commerce at university are not only more psychopathic than people in other fields of study but less psychopathic commerce students are more likely to switch majors to more hierarchy-attenuating disciplines, while more psychopathic arts students (for example) are more likely to switch to commerce degrees.”

Crazy artists? Try crazy businessmen. Crazy stock-traders. That’s what Wilson’s research shows you’re far more likely to find. Not the wild-eyed kind of crazy we’ve all been led to expect, but the button-down, conservative kind we heard in the Donald Sterling tape — or that we can hear on Limbaugh’s radio show, or see on Fox News any day of the week.

 

By: Paul Rosenberg, Editor for Random Lengths News, Columnist for Al Jazeera EnglishSalon; Salon,  May 1, 2014

May 2, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sexism Still Tolerated In A Way Racism Isn’t”: Why Clinton’s Gender Problem Will Not Be Like Obama’s Race Problem

Here’s an SAT analogy question for you: Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign IS TO race as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign IS TO _______. If you said “gender,” you’re only half right.

I’ll get to what I mean in a moment, but this is something Isaac Chotiner raises today at The New Republic: in 2016, we’ll get into a similar dynamic we see now, in which “the attacks on Clinton will be seen as sexist by liberals, which in turn will lead to conservatives feeling falsely accused of sexism. You can count on MSNBC, for example, to turn nearly every attack on Clinton into an attack on Republicans for hating women.”

It’s true that there will be an extraordinary amount of sexism directed at Clinton, just as there always has been. But unlike Barack Obama, who spent years planning how to make white people comfortable with his race (which worked for a while, until his victory became a real possibility), Clinton has never tried to make her gender unthreatening. I suppose we could mention the way she stepped back from policy and did more traditional First Lady stuff after the Clinton health care plan failed in 1994, but that was a brief interregnum between times when she in effect told the country that she was going to be just as smart and knowledgeable and ambitious as a man in her position, and if they didn’t like that, then it was their problem and not hers.

The other thing that’s different is the way people, and particularly conservatives, talk about gender versus the way they talk about race. To put it simply, a lot of conservatives are still unashamedly sexist. When MSNBC calls out Rush Limbaugh for saying something sexist about Clinton, he doesn’t try to convince people that it’s a calumnious charge and he is in fact deeply committed to gender equality. He doesn’t much care, and neither do a lot of other people.

To what degree that ends up working in Clinton’s favor politically, we’ll have to see. Race both helped and hurt Obama (researchers are still sorting through which way the scales tipped on net), and on first blush something similar is likely to happen with Clinton: there will be people who won’t vote for a woman, and there will be people excited about voting for the first woman president. There will also be women who are so disgusted by the misogynistic attacks on her that it pushes them toward voting for her.

But there is going to be absolutely no subtlety in the sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton, and the people making them will barely attempt to argue that they aren’t being sexist. Instead of “How dare you call me that!” their response to the accusation will be more along the lines of, “Shut yer trap, girlie!”

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 9, 2014

April 13, 2014 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Racism, Sexism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Mad About Vlad!”: The Increasingly Awkward Conservative Crush On Putin

All the way back in 1946, with Nazi Germany defeated and the cold war commencing, George Orwell wrote a brilliant essay on James Burnham. The author of The Managerial Revolution and a leading political philosopher, Burnham was a frequent contributor to the young National Review, and, more broadly, a leading voice of postwar American conservatism.

What Orwell found in his analysis of Burnham was that this ostensible democrat and cold warrior held deep regard for–and even envied–authoritarian or totalitarian powers, including Stalin’s Russia. This is why, Orwell explained, Burnham originally predicted a Nazi victory in World War II. (Britain, typically, was considered “decadent.”) In later years, Orwell continued, Burnham would write about Stalin in “semi-mystical” terms (with a “fascinated admiration”), comparing him to heroes of the past; Burnham didn’t like Stalin’s politics, but he admired his strength. Of Burnham’s odd quasi-regard for Stalinism and its supposedly destined victory over the forces of sickly democratic regimes, Orwell added: “The huge, invincible, everlasting slave empire of which Burnham appears to dream will not be established, or, if established, will not endure, because slavery is no longer a stable basis for human society.”

Orwell, then, was not merely critical of Burnham’s pessimism (Orwell himself could be overly pessimistic.) He also saw this pessimism as reflective of a mindset that prioritized vicious power-wielding and coercion over other things that allowed states to succeed and prosper.

This variety of pessimism did not end with Burnham, unfortunately. During the nearly 50 year Cold War, Americans were informed time and again by rightwingers that the Soviet Union did not allow dissent, and could therefore pursue its desired policies without protest. While the Soviets were single-minded, we were, yes, decadent. Soviet leaders could fight wars as they pleased, but freedom-loving presidents like Ronald Reagan had to put up with what Charles Krauthammer laughably called an “imperial Congress.”  (Some of the same type of commentary shows up about today’s China: look how quickly the Chinese can build bridges! And, as Thomas Friedman proves, it isn’t coming solely from the right.) But more unique among conservatives is the desire for a tough leader who will dispense with niceties and embrace power.

The reason for all this ancient history is the situation today in Ukraine, where an autocratic Russian leader who exudes manly vibes has ordered his armed forces into Crimea. It is unclear whether this move on Russia’s part will prove successful, but, amidst uncertaintly among western leaders over what to do, there has arisen a new strain of the Burnham syndrome. Conservatives don’t just see the west and President Obama as weak; they also seem envious of Putin’s bullying. “There is something odd,” Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote in New York magazine, “about commentators who denounce Putin in the strongest terms and yet pine for a more Putin-like figure in the White House.”

Sarah Palin, for example, said this last night to Sean Hannity:

Well, yes, especially under the commander-in-chief that we have today because Obama’s — the perception of him and his potency across the world is one of such weakness. And you know, look, people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates. We are not exercising that peace through strength that only can be brought to you courtesy of the red, white and blue, that only a strengthened United States military can do.

Put aside the syntax for a moment and ask: is there not a bit of envy here? Isn’t Palin very clearly desirous of a tough-guy president who wrestles bears and drills for oil? (The swooning over Bush’s landing on that aircraft carrier was a telling sign.) Now read Rush Limbaugh:

In fact, Putin—ready for this?—postponed the Oscar telecast last night.  He didn’t want his own population distracted.  He wanted his own population knowing full well what he was doing, and he wanted them celebrating him.  They weren’t distracted.  We were.

If only America wasn’t distracted by silly things like the Oscars, perhaps we would have the strength to stand up to the tough Russia. (On his web page, Limbaugh has a photo of a shirtless Putin.) In case the point isn’t obvious enough, Limbaugh continues:

Well, did you hear that the White House put out a photo of Obama talking on the phone with Vlad, and Obama’s sleeves were rolled up?  That was done to make it look like Obama was really working hard—I mean, really taking it seriously. His sleeves were rolled up while on the phone with Putin! Putin probably had his shirt off practicing Tai-Chi while he was talking to Obama.

Limbaugh quite clearly wants this kind of leader.

Also on view over the past few days is the idea that Putin must be smarter and cagier and stronger: “Putin is playing chess and I think we’re playing marbles,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The Russians are thus necessarily craftier than our weak and vacillating (key word) democratic leader.

The silliness inherent in all this talk is that when American presidents have generally acted above the law, or engaged in stupid and immoral wars, or bullied neighbors, or cracked down on domestic dissent, it has backfired in the worst ways on them and the country. (The examples are too obvious to list.) Moreover, I notice that conservatives seem to view some of Obama’s domestic actions–appointing czars, for example–as being the result of a vindictive, bloodthirsty, and authoritarian mindset. However absurd the particular claims may be (Cass Sunstein as Stalin), it is proof that the people who seem to secretly pine for an American Putin don’t really want one.

Orwell’s response to this sort of thinking was to write, of Burnham, “He ignores the advantages, military as well as social, enjoyed by a democratic country.” Of course this is not a guarantee that this crisis will play itself out in a way that is beneficial to American or Western (or Ukrainian) interests. But the presumption that Russia has just masterly played the Great Game, and that our weakness will doom us, is nearly automatic among large segments of the American right. (Olga Dukhnich, in The New York Timesmakes the point that this crisis may backfire just as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did. Whether correct or not, it is a nice counter to the reigning right-wing ultra-pessimism.)

Orwell closed his essay as follows:

That a man of Burnham’s gifts should have been able for a while to think of Nazism as something rather admirable, something that could and probably would build up a workable and durable social order, shows what damage is done to the sense of reality by the cultivation of what is now called ‘realism’.

It is now Team Obama that styles itself realist, in quite a different way than Orwell was talking about. And large chunks of the American right would now also scorn the term. What they haven’t scorned is the mindset, which is the problem in the first place.

 

By: Isaac Chotiner, The New Republic, March 4, 2014

March 8, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Pete Sessions And The GOP’s ‘Immoral’ Conservatism”: Allowing People To Die To Advance A Political Philosophy Isn’t Just Bad Policy

“It is immoral.”

That was the judgment of Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican and committee chairman, on the House floor this week. But the subject of his sermon wasn’t the Assad regime in Syria or human trafficking. What Sessions found immoral was the repugnant notion that the government would help Americans who lost their jobs and are looking for work.

Sessions was preaching in response to Democrats’ pleas that the Republican majority hold a vote on restoring unemployment-insurance benefits to the 1.7 million who have lost them since the benefits expired six weeks ago and the 70,000 or so who are losing them each week. Sessions, on the floor to usher through the House “sportsmen’s heritage and recreational enhancement” legislation, explained why he wouldn’t bring up jobless benefits: “I believe it is immoral for this country to have as a policy extending long-term unemployment to people rather than us working on creation of jobs.”

In fact, the economy has added about 8.5 million private-sector jobs in the last 47 months, and overall unemployment, at 6.6 percent in January, would be substantially lower if Sessions and his colleagues hadn’t been so successful in their “work” of cutting government spending when the recovery was fragile.

One result of the Great Recession, though, has been historically high long-term unemployment — 3.6 million people out of work 27 weeks or more, according to Friday’s Labor Department report. This is falling — by 1.1 million over the last year — but those still searching, from all parts of the country and all walks of life, need help.

Republican opponents of the benefits extension said they would consider extending that help if it were “paid for” by saving money elsewhere. So Senate Democrats drafted a three-month extension that was paid for using an accounting method Republicans have supported in the past. Republicans responded with another filibuster — and on Thursday they again succeeded in blocking an extension of benefits.

Those opposing unemployment insurance were conspicuously absent during the debate. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) was brave enough to issue a statement: “We can get Americans back to work and our economy booming again, but this is not achieved by Washington turning a temporary federal benefit into another welfare program.”

That echoes the Sessions complaint that extending benefits is “immoral.” And, as is often the case, these complaints, in turn, echo Rush Limbaugh. After President Obama on Jan. 31 signed a memorandum directing the federal government not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed, the radio host responded: “So he says, ‘I’m directing every federal agency to make sure we are evaluating candidates on the level, without regard to their employment history.’ What if they’re fired because they’re drunk? What if they’re fired because they were having affairs with the boss’s secretary? Doesn’t matter. Can’t look at that.”

Of course, the memorandum says no such thing. Limbaugh and his congressional apostles are justifying indifference to the unemployed much the way one denies a panhandler under the rationale that he would use the money only to buy more booze. But these are not panhandlers; these are, by definition, people who had been working and are trying to work again.

The Sessions/Inhofe/Limbaugh definition of morality is based in the ideal world of universal productivity they’d like to see, but it offers little help for human misery in the real world. This morality can be seen, too, in the attempt, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and embraced by many conservative lawmakers, to repeal the “risk corridors” that protect health insurers from unanticipated losses under Obamacare. That would likely bring down the entire health-care law, as its foes desire. But a collapse would also cause 30 million to 40 million additional people to lose their health insurance suddenly, with no obvious solution or easy way back to the old system. “It would precipitate a crisis,” says Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This morality is also at work in the decisions by 25 states under Republican control to reject the expansion of Medicaid offered under Obamacare. The states generally object because they are philosophically opposed to entitlement programs. But a new study from researchers at Harvard Medical School and City University of New York calculates that 7,115 to 17,104 more people will die annually than would have if their states had accepted the Medicaid expansion. The researchers, who favor a single-payer health system, examined demographic data and past insurance expansions.

Conservatives dispute the study’s findings, and I hope the critics are right. Allowing people to die to advance your political philosophy isn’t just bad policy. It’s immoral.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 7, 2014

February 10, 2014 Posted by | Medicaid Expansion, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Fundamental Dynamic Hasn’t Changed”: No, We Aren’t Getting Closer To Immigration Reform

Yesterday, congressional Republicans released a set of principles on immigration reform which are supposed to guide the writing of an actual plan. This has led some optimistic people to say that perhaps some kind of compromise between the two parties might be worked out, and reform could actually pass. I’m sorry to say that they’re going to be disappointed.

I might be proved wrong in the end. But I doubt it, because the fundamental incentives and the dynamics of the issue haven’t changed. You still have a national party that would like very much to pass reform, and individual members of that party in the House of Representatives who have nothing to gain, and much to lose, by signing on to any reform that would be acceptable to Democrats and thus have a chance of passing the Senate and being signed by the President. So it isn’t going to happen.

Now it’s true that in the wake of the government shutdown and the various debt ceiling crises, House conservatives have slightly less power to force the rest of the GOP to bend to their will. But only slightly. One thing hasn’t changed: the average House Republican still comes from a safe district where the only real threat to his job is a primary challenge from the right. He knows that his primary voters are people who watch Fox News and listen to conservative talk radio, where they hear things like Laura Ingraham telling them that jingoistic Mexicans are trying to take over America, which is why “your language [that'd be English] is gone,” while Rush Limbaugh rails at the Republican immigration principles as the wolf of “amnesty” in sheep’s clothing. Today’s Drudge Report featured a graphic of John Boehner in a sombrero, and it wasn’t a compliment. As one Southern Republican member of Congress told Buzzfeed, “If you go to town halls people say things like, ‘These people have different cultural customs than we do.’ And that’s code for race.”

Even in the slightly less bombastic reaches of the conservative media, forces are pushing against doing anything on immigration. “Bringing immigration to the floor insures [sic] a circular GOP firing squad, instead of a nicely lined-up one shooting together and in unison at Obamacare and other horrors of big government liberalism,” advises the Weekly Standard. “Since there really is no need to act this year on immigration, don’t. Don’t even try.” The National Review offers the same counsel, for the same reason. “The correct course is easy and eminently achievable: Do nothing…the last thing the party needs is a brutal intramural fight when it has been dealt a winning hand on Obamacare.”

And here’s the thing: they’re right. The best outcome for the Republican party as a whole is the passage of reform with their cooperation, which might at least begin the process of healing all the damage they’ve done to their image with Hispanic voters. But the worst outcome is a lengthy, angry debate about immigration in which there are lots of ugly comments made by their more conservative members, and which ends in reform failing, which would of course be blamed on the GOP’s antipathy toward Hispanics. And that is by far the most likely outcome.

In theory, John Boehner could bring to the floor a bill like the one the Senate passed last June, with increases in border enforcement and a long and difficult process for undocumented immigrants to eventually find their way to citizenship. But he’s already promised never to do so. Too many House Republicans—and not just the most ardent Tea Partiers—won’t accept a bill that includes any path to citizenship.Somebody obviously told Republicans that they are no longer allowed to use the phrase “path to citizenship,” but must now use the phrase “special path to citizenship” when saying they oppose it. It’s ridiculous, because of course any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is going to be special—it will be particular to them, and different from the path that a documented immigrant will take, in that it will be much more difficult and take a lot longer. But saying they oppose a “special” path to citizenship is a handy excuse for opposing any path to citizenship. (This may remind you of how conservatives used to say they opposed “special rights” for gay people, which meant things like the right not to get fired or kicked out of your home for being gay.) The statement Republicans put out yesterday is a bit vague, but it seems to imply some kind of second-class citizenship for undocumented immigrants, wherein after jumping through a whole bunch of hoops, they’d be given some kind of legal status, but they couldn’t become citizens.

And for lots of House Republicans, even that’s too much. So I’m pretty sure that before too long, Boehner and the rest of the House leadership are going to realize that there’s just no point in moving forward. If anyone asks, they’ll say they put out a proposal, but it couldn’t go anywhere because of dastardly Democrats who wanted to give every undocumented immigrant amnesty. But mostly they’ll just try to find something else to talk about.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 31, 2014

February 1, 2014 Posted by | Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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