There’s a must read item today at the Huffington Post by Jonathan Weiler, co-author of the excellent book Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics. Weiler argues (as have I) that the “Republican war on science,” a term that I coined, is really just a subset of the “Republican war on reality.”
And not just that. Weiler further asserts that we’re seeing this right now because the Republican party is full of authoritarians—people who think they’re 100 percent right and everyone who disagrees with them is 100 percent wrong, and who have little tolerance for ambiguity or complexity.
All my research on ideology points to this conclusion as well—but I’m not sure Weiler fully articulates how authoritarians can be so factually wrong, and also sure of themselves and unable to admit correction.
To me, what seems to occur in authoritarian reasoning is that you firmly define in your mind an outgroup (liberals, environmentalists), and you then automatically take any claim that denigrates that outgroup (socialists, traitors) to be true. And then, if this claim is refuted, you’re outraged and you come to believe the false claim even more strongly than before. You double down. (This, of course, would explain why Tea Party climate deniers are so sure of themselves.)
And that’s not all. If you’re an authoritarian, you also probably leap to ideologically friendly conclusions to begin with. And when your ideological opponents are making an argument that’s characterized by a lot of nuance, you attack a caricatured, simplistic version of it.
Indeed, you probably find the making of nuanced arguments—and the expression of uncertainty—to be inherent signs of weakness. And you probably find people who constantly talk in nuanced ways, like President Obama or most university professors, to be suspicious, untrustworthy. Who do authoritarians trust? A strong leader who states it clearly, plainly, and toughly and doesn't waver.
If Weiler is right—and I think he is—then what this means is that we probably have a bias asymmetry in American politics. And that’s a really big deal.
Journalists, fact checkers, and so on go around acting as though there is a ‘pox on both their houses’—everybody has their own biases, everybody lies and distorts, so we need “balanced” journalism to handle this equally distributed nonsense. But Weiler suggests that this is not actually true. Rather, it should be the case that one group gets more things wrong, misrepresents and distorts more, and is less willing to admit to error or correction, or to change its mind.
Does that sound like modern American politics? Does that sound like the climate fight, or the healthcare fight, or arguments over economic policy?
It sure does to me…but don’t expect authoritarians to ever admit it!