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February 2007
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Authoritarians and the Drug War

In recent years, I’ve been doing a lot more thinking about the concept of authoritarianism, its dangers to our society, and the kind of people who are taken in by it.
I’ve just discovered the work of Bob Altemeyer, an Associate Professor of Psychology who has researched authoritarianism pretty much his entire life, and whose work provided much of the support for John Dean’s book Conservatives Without Conscience.
Altemeyer has been writing an easy-to-read (but not dumbed-down) book on his methods and how authoritarianism manifests in its followers. And he’s providing it free on the internet — The Authoritarians — in a series of chapters released every two weeks or so (the first five chapters are already up and the last one will come out on Monday.
In chapter one, he sets up his RWA scale (Right-Wing Authoritarianism scale — a different meaning of right-wing than most people assume, which isn’t necessarily attuned to liberal or conservative in U.S. politics). He provides a test that you can take to determine your own RWA score on a scale of 20 to 180 (I scored a 28, and I’m betting that most readers here will score below 90).
Turns out this scale can fairly accurately predict a variety of specific authoritarian behaviors including the tendency to ignore facts and reason and mindlessly support what they are told by authority figures if it agrees with their world-view.
For example, he gave tests to two large groups of students:

In both studies high RWAs went down in flames
more than others did. They particularly had trouble figuring out that an inference or
deduction was wrong. To illustrate, suppose they had gotten the following syllogism:

All fish live in the sea.
Sharks live in the sea.
Therefore, sharks are fish.

The conclusion does not follow, but high RWAs would be more likely to say the
reasoning is correct than most people would. If you ask them why it seems right, they
would likely tell you, ‹Because sharks are fish.Š In other words, they thought the
reasoning was sound because they agreed with the last statement. If the conclusion is
right, they figure, then the reasoning must have been right. Or to put it another way,
they don‰t ‹get itŠ that the reasoning matters–especially on a reasoning test.

This is, of course, extremely dangerous, as Altemeyer says “because it shows that if authoritarian followers like the conclusion, the logic involved is pretty irrelevant.” He is careful to note that this is not an absolute, and that lots of people have problems with syllogisms, but it is a measurable factor. And this can go beyond the inability to accept syllogisms and continue on to complete rejection of logic, science, reason, education, and more.
[Note, for simplicity in communication, even though the psychology is different, I am using the term authoritarian for both those who are authoritarian followers, and those opportunistic leaders who often manipulate the followers in order to increase power.]
Let’s take a real-world drug policy example. Some of our good friends here at Drug WarRant have been having some excellent discussions on the Sean Hannity messageboard. One of the pro-prohibition (and clearly authoritarian) posters had brought up, in opposition to marijuana, an early study by Dr. Tashkin that showed potential for precancerous links to marijuana. Our folks countered with Tashkin’s later comprehensive study that conclusively showed no link between even heavy marijuana use and lung cancer. How did the authoritarian respond? Carefully analyze the evidence? Look for more studies? No. Here was his reaction:

This is exactly why all funding for research should be stopped immediately. The Universities and Colleges of America are the enemy in the war on drugs. They harbor druggies, they employ druggies and they are the epitome of the drug culture. […]
Marijuana should not be studied. There’s been too much study. It’s just time to condemn the Demon Weed for all eternity as well as all who partook of the Demon Weed. To HELL WITH THEM ALL. I hate them, I hate their misdeeds, I hate all they stand for and I don’t want them studied, I want them prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and made to pay for their crimes.

These are the soldiers being actively recruited and egged on by the drug warriors.
Those of us in drug policy reform have been aware of the dangers of authoritarianism for some time — probably before much of the rest of the country even realized the degree of prevalence of the trait in this country.
I think Altemeyer is really on to something, and it helps to explain why some of our opponents seem so resistant to fact and reason. It’s also good to understand the psychological connection between drug war authoritarianism and the current political authoritarianism that has manifested in the practical alliance between the neocons and the religious extremists.
What I don’t know is whether this information helps provide any kind of strategy for us. Altemeyer notes that RWA scores have a natural tendency to increase with fear and in times of crisis (which is why authoritarian leaders pull the fear card so often). Theoretically then, if we could ease people’s fears, we could reduce their RWA score and make them more open to facts and reason. But how do we do that?
I’m just thinking out loud, here. What do you think?

Open Thread and Drug War reading

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“bullet” Drug Sense Weekly

Another drug war victim?

Details are slow in coming in (which is, in itself, suspicious), but it appears that 17 year-old Daniel Castillo, Jr. may be the latest victim in an over-militarized drug war here at home. During a forced entry drug raid that, by some accounts, found no drugs, it’s looking like Daniel awoke to the sound of […]

Stupid post of the day

Every now and then I find some obscure blog post that is just astonishingly… odd.
L. Craig Schoonmaker, Chairman of the Expansionist Party of the United States (?) has a different idea for dealing with the poppies in Afghanistan. He suggests eradicating the poppy fields, but instead of chemicals, he recommends… nuclear weapons.

We can bomb them, strafe them, napalm them Ö even nuke them, literally, with tactical nuclear weapons that can wipe out an entire valley’s drug crops in 10 minutes. […] We have firepower the drug cartel can only dream about. The drug war must be militarized.

Update: Removed the link after a suggestion in comments. You can go find the idiot if you wish.

Keeping you up to date with Barry Cooper

Keith Plocek had a rather fascinating feature on Barry Cooper, the former cop who is marketing “Never Get Busted Again” in the Dallas Observer a couple of weeks ago. It may give you some of the flavor of the circus that is Barry Cooper. [Thanks, Kaptin] Scott Morgan at Flex Your Rights reviewed Cooper’s DVD […]

Open Thread

“bullet” Why isn’t the author of this piece locked up with the other pedophiles? “bullet” Lou Dobbs’ most recent convoluted declamation dressed up as a poll question:

QUICKVOTE: Are you outraged that the U.S. attorney had evidence sealed regarding a second drug load that was brought into the U.S. by the Mexican drug smuggler given […]

Proposed Illinois bill to drug test all new drivers

In the Daily Vidette:

As proposed by state Rep. Roger Eddy, House Bill 262 states that an applicant for an instruction permit who is under the age of 18 must undergo testing for controlled substances and cannabis and must be found to be free of controlled substances and cannabis before he or she may receive […]

HEA provision action alert

From Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an opportunity to take action: Visit http://www.SchoolsNotPrisons.com/aid/ to send letters to Congress and join more than 150 prominent organizations that are calling on Congress to finally repeal the law that has stripped financial aid from nearly 200,000 college students with drug convictions.

In the next few weeks, Rep. […]

Lou Dobbs week (continued)

Well, Lou Dobbs is definitely upset. He appears to be attempting to make up in passion what he lacks in coherence.

We must end the abuse of drugs and alcohol, and provide successful treatment for Americans whose addictions are destroying their own lives and wounding our families and society. Whatever course we follow in prosecuting […]

Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007

Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) has introduced (again) an industrial hemp farming bill. The bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Barney Frank (D-MA), Raþl Grijalva (D-AZ), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Jim McDermott (D-WA), George Miller (D-CA), Pete Stark (D-CA) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA)

“It is indefensible that the United States government prevents American farmers from growing this crop. The prohibition subsidizes farmers in countries from Canada to Romania by eliminating American competition and encourages jobs in industries such as food, auto parts and clothing that utilize industrial hemp to be located overseas instead of in the United States,” said Dr. Paul. “By passing the Industrial Hemp Farming Act the House of Representatives can help American farmers and reduce the trade deficit Ö all without spending a single taxpayer dollar.”

Indefensible is right. And yet, this bill has an extraordinarily low chance of passing, because most of Congress is too scared to do anything right if it could even be perceived as having a connection to drugs (although I’d love to be proved wrong).

[Thanks, DdC]

It’s actually a very simple and straightforward bill. It essentially amends the Controlled Substances Act to add the following:

(B) The term ‘marihuana’ does not include industrial hemp. As used in the preceding sentence, the term ‘industrial hemp‰ means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration that does not exceed 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. …
(i) INDUSTRIAL HEMP DETERMINATION TO BE MADE BY STATES.ÖIn any criminal action, civil action, or administrative proceeding, a State regulating the growing and processing of industrial hemp under State law shall have exclusive authority to determine whether any such plant meets the concentration limitation set forth in subparagraph (B) … and such determination shall be conclusive and binding.

How can you vote against that?