Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ways of teh Wingnut, 1.1 - Terminology

I've been poking around online for over 10 years, and for the last 3 or 4 I've spent much of that time participating in a number of liberal and progressive communities that focus on political and cultural issues.

I didn't need to go online to know that we live in strange times, but the online communities I frequent have given form to the notion that our times have been made stranger and much more dangerous by the corrosive effects of the people that I and others call the wingnuts.

You may not be familiar with the wingnut world, or with the use of the term 'wingnut' in the context of politics, culture, history, science, art, or home cooking. Perhaps the clearest answer to, “What's a wingnut?” can be found by asking further questions:

...how many ordinary people do you think an evil authority would have to order to kill you before he found someone who would, unjustly, out of sheer obedience, just because the authority said to? What sort of person is most likely to follow such an order? What kind of official is most likely to give that order, if it suited his purposes?

Robert Altemeyer has studied and written extensively on wingnuts, though he uses the term “authoritarian” to describe the individual and social psychology underlying the phenomenon.

Wingnuttery is a psychopathic mindset that, among its top-level practitioners, is the route to unquestioned power and influence; while those at the bottom of the wingnut ladder see it as their best chance for validation and approval, as they remain unburdened by the more troublesome aspects of free will and critical thinking.

Dick Cheney may be one of the most brazen and powerful top-level wingnuts, and Rush Limbaugh one of the most shameless, but there are countless others in politics, government, organized religion, mass media, and the grass roots who help make the whole thing work.

Altemeyer has cataloged the characteristics of wingnuts at every level, again effectively framed as questions:

...research shows they are very aggressive, but why are they so hostile? ...experiments show they are almost totally uninfluenced by reasoning and evidence, but why are they so dogmatic? ...studies show the Religious Right has more than its fair share of hypocrites, from top to bottom; but why are they two-faced, and how come one face never notices the other? ...their leaders can give the flimsiest of excuses and even outright lies about things they’ve done wrong, but why do the rank-and-file believe them? What happens when authoritarian followers find the authoritarian leaders they crave and start marching together?

I plan to explore the “ways of teh wingnut” in more detail with a series of Tuesday posts, using Altemeyer's work and my own selections from G-list wingnut bloggers as the basis for understanding who these people are, and how they can be overcome.

No comments: