Moralised Pro-Authoritarianism – Collectors’ Edition

Sometimes there are those perfect moments in politics when the foundational moral intuitions which support the superstructure of politics are laid bare for all to see in their stark rawness.   The archaeologist digs layer by layer to find the foundations of the discovered ancient site.  The layers are peeled back and eventually the original foundations can be revealed and identified, often times the site is much older than previously imagined.  Political Conservatives have the sense that their own in-group, culture, identity or (and this is a fairly recent technology) the Nation ought to command our esteem on the basis of its inherent moral worth or value.  They have, in other words, a moral intuition that properly constituted authority is a social good.  Over time of course their beliefs about what properly constituted is, has evolved through hierarchy to feudalism to monarchy to democracy.

Now when the Senate Intelligence Committee reported on the CIA Detention and Interrogation programme revealing widespread abuses amounting to torture the response from the Conservative news broadcaster Fox News on the day of the release of the report induced the type of shock and cognitive dissonance associated with foundational moral intuitions about the moral goodness of the United States being cast aside.

See an instructive two minutes here

Torture is “depravation and water boarding and so on an so forth”, “playing Christina Aguilera and water boarding” and the “United States of America is awesome”.  The flip side of seeing moral worth in your in-group is seeing the depravity of your enemies with crystal clarity.  If there have been failings then the cause of the failings is the wickedness of the enemy.  Of course the North Korean government justifies its own use of Detention and Intelligence on the basis of the moral actions of a just authority defending the state against it’s evil enemies.  North Korea however does not have a Senate.

This Fox News revelation of ultra strong moralised pro-authoritarianism attitudes is not typical of political Conservatism, even in the United Sates. There must be with all these intuitions a spectrum with some Conservatives weakly pro-authoritarianism and others more strongly so.  Strong enough in total though to fundamentally shape right wing politics and attitudes everywhere and at times.

On the left as observed in an earlier post on this blog and here that the political left is characterised by the inverse process of strongly and weakly represented moralised anti-authoritarianism.  Strong moralised anti-authoritarianism is famously represented by Noam Chomsky, perhaps the most famous social scientist in the world.  For Chomsky unlike Fox News, the “United Sates is a terrorist superpower” and “whatever the establishment is, I’m against it”.

The theory of moral intuitions hold that people reason to support their emotions and emotions in turn support moralised intuitions about right and wrong.  A recent news story perfectly illustrated both this point and the pro/anti authoritarianism dichotomy of the left right split.  The biggest news story of the 21st century was the decision of the US and some allies “a coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq on the basis of its possession of weapons of mass destruction.  In the immediate aftermath of the invasion and for some years afterwards no weapons were thought to be found and the left critics of the war rejoiced, reasoning that an inherently corrupt in-group authority had been exposed in its corruption and malevolence, the possibility of honest error being excluded. On the right this  difficulty was over-looked and many American rightists were simply happy to assume that they had been found using a sort of fill in the blanks confirmation bias.

In Autumn 2014 the NYT reported that Chemical Weapons had indeed been found but the liberal NYT asserted but that they did not constitute as justification for the war in the terms set out as the program found was an old one and not a new one as alleged before the war.  Broadly the left refused to acknowledge the find in spectacular display of confirmation bias in not seeing what you choose not to see.  If authority didn’t lie then we don’t want to know.  The response of the right was more muted and more interesting. One commentator (weakly pro-authoritarian?) saw vindication but most on the right stayed silent. The reason for this was the fact that weapons found had been made by technology supplied by the US when Iraq was a US ally against Iran in the 80s.  Bad news for the moralised pro-authoritarians: the US supported a genocidal tyrant with the means to make weapons of mass destruction.

The story died, the prospective vindication of the single biggest even in the 21st century was homeless.  The left didn’t want them found and the right didn’t want US weapons whose creation they facilitated found. No one wanted this news, or hardly anyone wanted this news suggesting that Haidt’s authority foundation is salient and its pro-anti split more so.