THE AUTHORITARIAN PERSONALITY

Posted in Rants on November 21st, 2011 by Ed

As an ideology conservatism makes sense. That's not an endorsement, merely a recognition that it is an internally consistent set of ideas. This is surprising only inasmuch as conservatives themselves – at least of the American variety – are about as logical and internally consistent as Mars Volta lyrics.

Being a modern American conservative is an exercise in holding contradictory viewpoints without an ounce of self awareness. They believe in fiscal conservatism and stratospheric levels of military spending. They believe in individual freedom and that the government should legislate Christian-approved morality. They preach about the Constitution and rights but love it when the government infringes upon them in the name of security. Yes, the contradictions are many, but none is more reliably amusing than belief that government is oppressive, nefarious, and untrustworthy combined with blind, fanatical support of the police, military, and other forms of gun-wielding authority.

Over on the ol' Gin and Tacos facebook page (which you should totally follow, if you do not already do so) I posted a picture of the UC-Davis police officer pepper spraying passive, seated students blocking a sidewalk (oh, the horror!) Since I happened to be among the first wave of people to post the picture, many G&T fans shared the post on their own Facebook walls. As a result, it was seen by a vast number of people who are…not part of my regular audience. Think of every crazy uncle and right wing knucklehead on your Facebook friend list and you'll see where this is headed.

I can't say it surprised me that people defended the cop. There are always people who will defend the cop. Believe it or not, I was taken aback by just how stupid their arguments were even though such things should not surprise me anymore. Most of all, though, it's amazing the extent to which these people who believe that government is pure evil will argue that A) the role of the citizen relative to the police is one of absolute, unquestioning obedience, B) the police are to be taken at their word at all times, and C) whatever type and amount of force the police choose to use is inherently right.

If one of the defining characteristics of government is possession of a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within its borders, then the police are government at its most elemental. They are the government's way of perpetuating itself and enforcing rules and social order. If government is evil, oppressive, or misguided then by definition the police – the muscle behind the corrupt system – must be as well. Yet rather than seeing the state using questionable (to put it charitably) levels of force against its own citizens as another sign of a brutal, corrupt, and broken system – which, for the record, is what they see when police/military are used to crush popular demonstrations in other countries – they cheer on its excesses and defend it to the last man.

Maintaining this curious set of beliefs depends on their equally curious understanding of what exactly the police are for. To the average conservative – old white people, suburbanites, the wealthy, moral traditionalists, etc. – the police are a personal valet service charged with protecting them from the brown people, the poor, the homeless, and the punk kids with their boom-boom music and bouncing cars. The rights of those groups are not an issue, you see, because they have no rights. Only "good, hard working Americans" truly have rights, and others forfeir their rights by their actions. If the police ask you to move from the sidewalk and you don't, then you no longer have any rights. They can do whatever they want and it's your own fault.

Of course that might be a more convoluted, less helpful way of restating Adorno's ideas about the authoritarian personality type: submissiveness to authority, aggression toward outgroups defined by that authority, and the unwavering belief that others should conform to one's own understanding of socially acceptable behavior. Thus we have Nixon's "Silent Majority", at once scared, angry, and aggressive, filling our social and political discourse with the mantra that the government that they worship blindly and submit to completely is inherently evil. I suppose it makes more sense if you don't understand how logic works.