16 December 2007

The Insider Wannabes

We have seen in the first two articles in this series on insiders and outsiders that the insiders are a small minority, around 5 percent of the population, while the outsiders are the vast majority. So how is it that this small clique can maintain their power?

They have a support base. Let's call them the insider wannabes.

The insider wannabes are comprised of people who look to others for their values. They need to be told what to do, what to think, what to believe in, what type of clothes to wear, what food to eat and TV to watch. They don't develop their ideas themselves, they absorb them from their environment: their family, their friends and co-workers, from media proclaimed experts whose 'talking heads' appear nightly on the mainstream media. The insider wannabes repeat the sound bites they hear on the radio or from the TV. In short, they need an authority to tell them what is ok and what is not. The existence of this group is why so-called "talking points", that is, the list of pat phrases sent down the media hierarchy on what topics need to be addressed and how they should be framed, are so effective. When many people hear the same phrase or idea repeated over and over, they eventually come to accept it and eventually to parrot it as their own opinion. Whether the talking point is true or not doesn't matter. You have no doubt had the experience of hearing colleagues or friends repeating almost word for word arguments picked up from talk radio jockeys or the resident "experts" on Fox News. Jon Stewart makes fun of this quite regularly on his show when he edits all these pundits together repeating the same phrase over and over again.

Today in the United States, the insider wannabes support the Bush administration, support Israel's genocide of the Palestinians, support the dismemberment of Iraq, support the official story on 911, and many of them believe that Jesus will be returning in their lifetime, in spite of all of the suffering and horror, or, in the case of the return of Jesus, the fairy tale absurdity of the idea. Facts don't matter; authority does.

The funny thing is, a similar group of insider wannabes also existed in the former Communist states where the insiders were members of the Communist Party, and a good many of them have now found a comfortable home in the post-communist, capitalist world. For the insider wannabe, ideology isn't important. The insider wannabe is a personality type. If the insiders are communists, the insider wannabes are communists. If the insiders are capitalists, then the insider wannabes are capitalists. The shape or color of the authority the wannabes seek doesn't matter so much as the fact the authority is "the authority", is in power and gives the orders. Insider wannabes need orders. They don't like to think for themselves.

Bob Altemeyer, who spent his career studying what he calls the Authoritarian personality type, noted that:

...the most cock-sure belligerents in the populations on each side of the Cold War, the ones who hated and blamed each other the most, were in fact the same people, psychologically. If they had grown up on the other side of the Iron Curtain, they probably would have believed the leaders they presently despised, and despised the leaders they now trusted. They'd have been certain the side they presently thought was in the right was in the wrong, and instead embraced the beliefs they currently held in contempt. [The Authoritarians, emphasis ours.]

So it is important to understand that the issue of insiders and their supporters is not tied to political beliefs. We are dealing with a personality type, the psychological make-up of individuals that make them open to certain influences. According to Altemeyer, the personality type shares the following three traits:

  • Hierarchical Submission
  • Conventionalism, and
  • Aggression.

He discusses each in his book and suggests that they form approximately 20% of the population.(1)

Andrew Lobaczewski, in his book Political Ponerology, A science on the nature of evil adjusted for political purposes, proposes a complex structure of different pathological types whose different pathologies fit together to form a system of governance he calls the pathocracy, based upon studies carried out in secret under the communist governments in Eastern Europe. He notes that the insiders in Poland during the Communist period made up about 6% of the population, while double that figure, 12%, formed the support class. About this second group, he writes:

This second group consists of individuals who are, on the average, weaker, more sickly, and less vital. The frequency of known mental diseases in this group is at twice the rate of the national average. We can thus assume that the genesis of their submissive attitude toward the regime, their greater susceptibility to pathological effects, and their skittish opportunism includes various relatively impalpable anomalies. We observe not only physiological anomalies, but also the kinds described above at the lowest intensity, with the exception of essential psychopathy.

It is not yet possible to map Altmeyer's authoritarians directly to the group Lobaczewski called the "new bourgeoisie", however I think it would be interesting to pursue the research and see what overlapping might be found. It is possible that the group Altemeyer has defined as "Double Highs" or "Social Dominators", that is, individuals who score high on the Authoritarian scale and the Social Dominator scale would include individuals that would fall into Lobaczewski's 6% deviant category. Altemeyer himself writes:

There even seems to be a whiff of the sociopath about the social dominator. Somebody do the studies and see if any of these hunches is right. [The Authoritarians, p. 180]
In reading and comparing the descriptions of the types outlined by the two authors, there are certainly significant similarities.(2) Both models present us with a picture of a small deviant group with influence over a larger, highly influenceable support base. Both models suggest that the loyalty of the support base to their leaders is based upon qualities that are not permanent and have nothing to do with ideology or fundamental beliefs in one system or another. It is a question of opportunism, not principles. Shift the people in power and the support base could also shift.

This analysis suggests as a conclusion that the problem is the small deviant group in power. As long as they remain in power, the support base will be firm. Moreover, the real problem is not only individuals but rather the particular forms of deviancy among the insiders -- deviancy in the sense of how their thinking and emotions deviate from healthy forms, that is, from an objective perception and understanding of reality. The trouble is, these forms of deviant thinking occur everywhere, not only in the halls of power. That has been the problem historically: one group of deviants gets replaced by another and so the situation of the majority never changes.

This revolving door of pathological power happens because the pathological infection spreads throughout society and affects all of us to one degree or another, even in opposition groups. Deviance is not always clear-cut. There is a continuum spanning a wide range of variations from the pole of deviant thought to the other pole of healthy thought. If we think of each pole as a center of gravity exercising a pull over the individuals between them, you might imagine that the power of each would be about equal. However, what happens when the principal sources of information, the media, the institutions that form and educate children, our schools and universities, are themselves heavily influenced by the pathological minority? The pathological influence then vastly outweighs that of those who function normally. Add to that the influence of fundamentalist strains of the monotheistic religions and the pull coming from the deviant pole is clearly much stronger than the pull towards empathy and conscience.

The struggle against this deviancy comes down to a struggle against deviant behaviors. We do not need a clinical diagnosis of an individual in order to learn to avoid being manipulated by him or her. It doesn't matter whether or not someone is a born deviant or simply acting out because of being brought up in and immersed in a sick society; deviant behavior is deviant behavior whether it is acted out by someone who is pathological or is only under the influence.

The insider wannabes pretty well ensure that they will be manipulated by placing so much faith in authorities. Rather than thinking through problems themselves, they look to others for ready-made solutions, or worse, ready-made sound bites that replace solutions. If those in power change but are replaced by individuals contaminated with the same pathological modes of thought, the insider wannabes will once again fall under the sway of a deviant group.

Our job is to spot the manipulative behaviors and learn how to avoid the manipulations, as well as root out such manipulative behavior in ourselves. That is the only way to begin reinforcing the pole of conscience so that its influence can spread and a healthy alternative can become a reality.

(1) Altemeyer's research influenced John Dean when Dean wrote his book Conservatives Without Conscience.

(2) The question is how much time remains for us to continue and further this research? It feels to me as if things are speeding up, as if the vehicle of society is careening towards the wall of reality at an ever-increasing speed. We do not have much time.



Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home