Saturday, May 07, 2011

Collapse of authority breeds authoritarianism

Deformed: Authoritarian undercurrents in education, Part VI

It is ironic but understandable that in an era of the almost universal discrediting of all traditional authority the phenomenon of authoritarianism would seem to be increasing. Corporations, government, religion and media have all proved to be untrustworthy over the past 20 to 30 years. Even within the past 10 years we've seen corporate scandal and failure, from Enron and Worldcom in the early aughts to the banking and finance scandals later in the decade. Religions such as the Roman Catholic church have been shown to harbor slews of pedophiles, even moving them around to avoid detection and prosecution.

Traditional media has become corporatized and emasculated. It is no longer a challenger of power, as envisioned in the “Fourth Estate” tradition, instead succumbing to the same corporate forces that are now threatening education. Last September Gallup found that distrust of U.S. Media was at a “record high.” Maybe that's because rather than challenge politicians' fear-generating rhetoric, traditional media, with a few important exceptions, tend to echo claims of existential threats while adding their own literally mind-numbing melodrama to the mix. It's a given that the business press, again with a few exceptions, is usually nothing more than public relations spin for Wall Street.

In short, it has, or should have, become exceedingly difficult to know who to trust in today's world.

Given their authoritarian submission, this creates a problem for authoritarian followers. Who to submit to? They cope with this collapse of confidence in traditional authorities by first trying to deny the lack of trustworthiness of their authorities: they are very forgiving of them. As Altemeyer writes:
Once someone becomes a leader of the high RWAs’ in-group, he can lie with impunity about the out-groups, himself, whatever, because he knows the followers will seldom check on what he says, nor will they expose themselves to people who set the record straight. Furthermore they will not believe the truth if they somehow get exposed to it, and if the distortions become absolutely undeniable, they will rationalize it away and put it in a box. If the scoundrel’s duplicity and hypocrisy lands him on the front page of every daily in the country, the followers will still forgive him if he just says the right things.
Second, they tend to coalesce into a closed mode of existence: They have their own media, religion, schools and even business. They have constructed a way of being that severely restricts the chances that they have to seriously engage people different from themselves. This sets up the resistance to diversity that authoritarian scholars cite, and can easily morph into an us-versus-them mindset.

The authoritarian trends in education deform mirror changes in other sectors of our society. Since 9/11 the country has trended politically towards the authoritarian and militaristic. Tributes to the military are now de-rigueur at public gatherings, most prominently in entertainment and sports. No Super Bowl or Masters golf tournament would be complete without an Air Force flyover, free tickets to conspicuously placed service members, and a TV interview or two with military representatives.

Ordinary soldiers are routinely cited as heroes, and apparently cannot ever be publicly addressed without first thanking them for their “service.” This applies as much to a marine who was shot in Afghanistan as to an Air Force pilot who remotely operates drones from the safety of places like North Dakota or the Nevada desert. Only the bifurcated thinking of an authoritarian could reconcile such disparate brands of heroism, equating the act of remotely dropping bombs that kill women and children half-way around the world to the acts of a soldier in the field.

Following the attacks on 9/11 a new era of religious and cultural bigotry took hold in the US, intensifying already existing prejudices against Arabs in general and Muslims in particular. After the collapse of communism as a bogey man in the 1990s a fear of terrorism had already been put in place as a way to motivate authoritarian voters with a new existential fear of the “other.”

Scapegoating of immigrants has a long history in the US, and is getting a strong expression against undocumented workers from Mexico with racist laws being enacted across the country, particularly in Arizona. Authoritarian laws discriminating against homosexuals are wrapped in Orwellian named legislation such as the “Defense of Marriage Act.” How two gay people getting married threatens a heterosexual's marriage was never explained, as politicians of all stripes, including the liberal Paul Wellstone, voted for the act. The act demonstrated that the pull of resistance to diversity and conventionality were so strong at that moment that they could not be opposed, even by a liberal Democrat icon.

Tomorrow: Replacing democracy with authoritarianism 

Part I:  Deformed: Authoritarian undercurrents in education
Part II: The danger to education and democracy posed by authoritarianism
Part II:  School choice birthed in authoritarian racial animus and market fundamentalism
Part IV: Education deformers' achieve political success through a culture of lying, repitition, and compliance, not logic, reason and evidence
Part V: Deformed schools: Reduced diversity, authoritarian education styles, narrowed curriculum, and harming of critical thinking skills

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