Monday, January 25, 2016

Regressive Left-Wing Authoritarianism

Yesterday, I wrote a piece analyzing the ultimately religious nature of the Regressive Left, or more broadly the Religion of Identity Politics (in that both form Ideologically Motivated Moral Communities, IMMCs, which I argued are the correct generalization of religions). I encourage you to read it before continuing here, as I will use some of the concepts, though I'll try to at least casually define them as I go. Today, my goal is to explain the manifestation of the authoritarian impulse within the Regressive Left and characterize it according to Left-Wing Authoritarianism, an adaptation of an established psychosocial concept known as Right-Wing Authoritarianism. I want to illustrate how the IMMC of the Regressive Left exhibits similar traits and clarify what could be meant by Left-Wing Authoritarian. Indeed, I hope to do so by defining a general Ideological Authoritarianism and letting Left- and Right-Wing variants define themselves accordingly.

So, first, some lingo.

An IMMC (read: "imm-cee") is an ideologically motivated moral community, that is a community defined along likemindness in certain moral attitudes (which I call a moral framework) that has defined certain of those attitudes as sacred, that is being regarded as having infinite value and absolute correctness.

The absurd-sounding term ophobophobia refers to the irrational fear of being labeled a bigot in the form of something-ophobe. Examples include Islamophobophobia (fear of being seen as an Islamophobe) and whore-ophobophobia (fear of being branded a sexist for giving off attitudes that might be considered "slut-shaming"). It is my contention in the previous piece that ophobophobia is the largest driving animus of the Religion of Identity Politics and thus the Regressive Left--the fear of being socially stigmatized as a bigot, which in pluralistic societies, like we rightly honor in the West, is one of the most damning insults. This is seated primarily in a strong psychological need for personal esteem, though as I explained, there are other elements as well.

Right-Wing Authoritarianism is "a personality and ideological variable" characterized by three attitudes (drawing from the Wikipedia entry, linked to above, these being drawn ultimately from Bob Altemeyer's analysis.)
  1. 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.
  2. Authoritarian aggression — a general aggressiveness directed against deviants, outgroups, and other people that are perceived to be targets according to established authorities.
  3. 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.
Odd as it sounds, Right-Wing Authoritarianism need not correlate with right-wing political attitudes, but attempts to attach it to left-wing attidudes have proven difficult. This essay will attempt to use the phenomenon of the Regressive Left to reformulate a more general Ideological Authoriarianism model and clarify how both the Left and the Right can be Authoritarian in that way. Something important to keep in mind here is that I think "Right" and "Left" here apply to social politics, not economic positions, though these are often conflated (and thus often argued in tandem).

First, some psychological philosophy

Before getting into that, I want to try to address why IMMCs in general will tend toward authoritarian impulses, and the reason is the generalization of faith which follows directly from the adherence of sacred values.

As I argued previously,
Of course, what sacredness describes is a belief-state, then, not a knowledge-state. We cannot know anything, much less something as complicated as a moral attitude, with such finality, however sure we can be about anything. When something is held as sacred, it is believed to be both completely right and completely settled, and hence unquestionable. This point of view is subjective, of course.
When one believes herself completely and finally right and imbues that attitude with a sense of righteousness, authoritarianism is almost certain to follow--even in cases where she actually is right. Why? She's maintaining the belief, even if correct, for the wrong reason, one that isn't actually reasonable at all. In place of epistemic justification--knowing how she knows it--there is simply blinding adherence, and in reality, this essentially only occurs in wanting and in place of epistemic justification.

Any deviation from the belief on anybody's part initiates cognitive dissonance in a mind holding such an attitude, and that dissonance is uncomfortable and must be resolved. The authoritarian impulse is little more than the cheapest avenue to settling the issue: do what she can do to force other people to agree with her. A more reasoned approach would seek to persuade or convince, but in the cases where persuasion cannot be achived by careful reasoning, what's left is the authoritarian impulse. Note, additionally, that that is usually impossible with any sacred value (if for no other reason than assigning infinite value to any idea isn't likely to be reasonable).

Notice that I'm not saying that holding a sacred belief will certainly initiate the authoritarian impulse. I'm saying that the authoritarian impulse frequently arises out of that circumstance. The degree to which it doesn't is the degree to which the person in question holds an attitude of secularism, in the broad sense (that sacredness is subjective, thus local, and not objective and global).

Ideological Authoritarianism

Let me do a little tinkering with Bob Altemeyer's formulation of Right-Wing Authoritarianism to generalize it to Ideological Authoritarianism (my additions/changes are italicized, outright deletions struckthrough):
  1. Ideological Authoritarian Submission — a high degree of submissiveness to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the social hierarchy defined by the IMMC to which one adheres.
  2. Ideological Authoritarian Aggression — a general aggressiveness directed against deviants, outgroups, and other people that are perceived to be targets according to established authorities.
  3. Ideological Conventionalism — a high degree of adherence to the traditions and social norms that are perceived to be endorsed by the IMMC and its established authorities, and a belief that others in one's society, both within and outside of the IMMC, should also be required to adhere to these norms.
Let me quickly justify my changes, and then I'll get specific about Left-Wing Authoritarianism as exhibited by the Regressive Left and broader Religion of Identity Politics. I'll also note quickly here that these traits shouldn't seem surprising in the context of the psychological note I made just above.

On authoritarian submission, I have changed the phrasing "society in which one lives" to "social hierarchy defined by the IMMC to which one adheres." The reason is that the relevant variable is the operating moral framework, and where it talks about "authorities," it must be remembered that the social hierarchy defines those. Generally, I'd suggest that Right-Wing Authoritarians often define goodness in their moral framework in terms of the status quo, or more often, the imagined status quo of an idealized yesteryear. I suspect, generally, Left-Wing Authoritarians would define it vaguely in terms of an imagined idealized (maybe utopian) future. Note that the tendency for Regressive Leftists to eat their own is a feature of this trait, not a deviation from it. It's simply the result of ideological purity campaigns changing the guard.

I made no changes to the wording of authoritarian aggression, although it's likely to be the case that the Left and Right engage in this sort of behavior or impulse differently. My general impression is that the Right is more inclined to resort to physical, police, and military violence than is the Left, and both are highly prone to using social shaming along framework-moral axes that resonate with their moral intuitions (see Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind for elaboration). Again, I urge the reader to remember that "authorities" here is to be taken in terms of authoritative voices or persons within the relevant social hierarchy, as defined by the relevant IMMC or IMMCs in operation.

To conventionalism, I struck "the traditions" for two reasons: one is that traditions can be understood already as social norms, and the other is that Right-Wing moral frameworks are more concerned with traditions than are Left-Wing moral frameworks. I also changed "the society" to "the IMMC," for the same reasons as before. I added that the second reference to society demands conventionalism both within the IMMC, which is best referred to as conformity, and upon the broader society outside of the IMMC, which is really the root of the more concerning authoritarian impulse, which we could label submission. This is the difference, by analogy, between the American Religious Right (who evangelize and demand conservative Christian-based theocratic legislation) and the Amish, who by most accounts are far more conservative and conformist and yet do not expect outside submission.

That should give us a working definition of Ideological Authoritarianism that isn't politically biased to the Right and that can be applied locally to any IMMC, regardless of its political or social orientation.

(Regressive) Left-Wing Authoritarianism

I've placed "Regressive" in parentheses here because it is nearly redundant. Ideological Authoritarianism, as defined above, is probably inherently Regressive, even when it's in service to apparently progressive social politics. The Regressive Left, however, isn't purely redundant in that term because they are explicitly motivated by a non-obviously socially regressive politic on intrinsic characteristics (like race and gender) and upon cultural views (like religion), though some conditions apply (like that Christianity and Judaism are considered fair game because of a greater emphasis on Westerness and "whiteness" in those religions whereas Islam is not because of a significant emphasis on victimization by Western/Christian/Jewish imperialism and colonialism and "brownness," even though that doesn't properly apply except by bigotry).

As my generalized definition of Ideological Authoritarianism indicates, the relevant object for the Regressive Left and this brand of Left-Wing Authoritarianism is the operative IMMC that defines it. I described that IMMC in detail in my previous essay, and I argued that it is largely, but not entirely, based in ophobophobia.
Given the Regressive Left's ophobophobic adherence to the Religion of Identity Politics, it is unsurprising that the language that facilitates the overlap of these two branches of Regressive Leftism is hyperbolic accusations of bigotry. From their deepest fear they swing their hottest brand. These frequently bogus and horrifically consequential accusations of bigotry seem peculiar at first because they flow only along grossly oversimplified, caricatured lines of social hierarchical power--defined in almost cartoonish evaluations of social grievance and oppression. The blinding nature of adherence to the Regressive Leftist IMMC renders invisible to ophobophobes that such social power dynamics are often far more complicated than they recognize.
I also explained that the notion of victimhood is central to these closely related IMMCs.
The two [major denominations of Regressive Leftism] overlap in that their central animus is victimhood. Islamophobophobes perceive Muslims as victims, often of Western imperialism, militarism, exploitation, and disapproval (for their religious views). Adherents to the more solipsistic brand perceive themselves and those like them mainly as victims, though they have an entire moral hierarchy of victimhood, defined almost entirely on intrinsic characteristics instead of content of character. Both present with a marked hyperirritability to a perceived victimhood by systemic social forces, on e in which beliefs about systemic power dynamics, exaggerated, accurate, or invented, trump the realities of victimhood, exploitation, unfairness, bigotry, and harm in the real world.
The rest of that essay details ways in which the Regressive Leftist IMMCs present and potential psychosocial motivations for those presentations.

That said, it isn't difficult to conceive of the Regressive Left as something like a religious phenomenon in its own right (though non-theistic and not overtly religious, in that IMMC is the proper generalization for the concept of religion). The relevant social hierarchy is one of almost cartoonish assumptions about social power dynamics (arising from post-structualism and critical race/gender theory, largely, combined with a guilt-laden anti-Western perspective) combined with exaggerations of the psychological harms of unfairness. Its authorities are its most visible exponents and demagogues.

One of its most glaring traits is the simultaneous demand for conformity (in-group) and submission (out-group) to its moral framework of perceived victimhood, power dynamics, and their connections to Western attitudes and actions, and thus to the kinds of framework-proper behaviors in light of those things. These traits establish characteristics (1) and (3) almost beyond question for the Regressive Left as a form of Ideological Authoritarianism. Perhaps its most garish trait is its willingness to engage in vicious social shaming, including hyperbolic slurs, character assassination, social dogpiling, employer manipulation, blacklisting, and doxxing (the revelation of sensitive personal information to the mob on the Internet). This set of behaviors is consistent with (2), Ideological Authoritarian Aggression, again, essentially beyond question.

A Critical Distinction

A critical distinction where the authoritarian impulse is concerned has to be made regarding how that impulse is expressed. Usually, we think of the authoritarian impulse as being statist in nature, and this has apparently proven a major sticking point for explorations of both Right-Wing Authoritarianism and its proposed Left-Wing analogues. I think it's better to think of as statism as a means to the authoritarian end that some people (both on the Right and on the Left) are prone to, though in different ways. Statism is a simple way to effect power, after all.

Generally speaking, Regressive Leftists seem to fall into statist and anti-statist camps, complicating the understanding their authoritarian impulses. Some are outright statist and easily understood in the authoritarian context: this or that (speech or behavior) should be made illegal and carry heavy sentences, the state (or university) should serve as an effective nanny to care for us, and so on. Some are outright anti-statists (Glenn Greenwald is a clear example) and recoil against the notion of state application of such laws and punitive actions. (I'd suggest that this arises from a deeper mistrust of state actors than anything else, but I digress.) Some--probably most--aren't sufficiently clear on the potential roles of the state, how states work, or any such thing to fall neatly in either category and thus float nebulously and often inconsistently between statist and anti-statist attitudes regarding their ideologically driven views.

Their uniting feature, however, is that both groups, however much state intervention they seem to desire, want to achieve their authoritarian impulse via social dominance. They want to change the culture so that that which they deem unthinkable is what everyone deems unthinkable, and that's an authoritarian impulse. They want call-outs. They want social shaming, sometimes on grand scales. They want serious real-world consequences, like no-platforming, blacklisting, firings, individual marginalization (to be distinguished from the marginalization of ideas), and perhaps even vigilante retributions (which may not actually include physical violence) in response to perceived deviations, often vastly in excess of any reasonable definition of "justice." They want punishment, and they want to make examples of offenders. That's an authoritarian impulse. Whether the state acts upon it or not, the mob, or as they would have it, the prevailing culture, can act just as (or more) effectively and with equal (or greater) force and consequence.

Not All Regressive Leftists

As a final note, I want to reiterate a point I made in passing earlier. Not all (social) Leftists are Regressive Leftists, and not all Regressive Leftists are necessarily Regressive Left-Wing Authoritarians. The relevant variable, again, is secularism, in the broad sense.

For my part, I'm willing to accept that the Regressive Left is an identifiable IMMC that can, like any religion/IMMC, possess highly secularized members. One can hold the ophobophobic victimhood hierarchy sacred and yet not feel or act upon the authoritarian impulse it proffers. There are, indeed, noble ways to engage with it. Sacredness is an seduction to authoritarianism, but one need not fall for the lure. It is always possible to recognize that conversation and compromise, and the secularism that facilitate them, are competing sacreds as well. Like with all extremism, however, the authoritarian impulse and all its attendant problems often lies nearer to hand from within an IMMC than from outside of it.

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