Every once in a while I’ll stumble upon an amazing resource online that makes me want to recommend it to anyone who will listen. With that in mind, probably the best thing I’ve read all year is a free ebook written by psychologist Bob Altemeyer called The Authoritarians. The amazing book discusses political ideology from a psychological perspective. Basically, people who vote Republican or are Evangelical can be described as authoritarians– they crave authority in order to feel safe and secure in the world. It doesn’t matter if the authority is deeply flawed, if it takes the form of a president who sends us to useless and meaningless wars, or in the form of literal readings of a religious text which has so many holes in consistency that it could be swiss cheese. All that matters is that there is an authority ready to tell them what to do.
Based on extensive psychological research, Altemeyer argues that certain people (about half the population) are wired to crave authority above all and everything else. To them, secular relativism is just way too anxiety provoking. It’s just way too difficult for them to get on in the world if there are no absolute laws or morality. The authority doesn’t have to make sense, doesn’t have to have any kind of internal consistency or logic, and definitely doesn’t have to give a crap about the welfare of those “others” (and those who seek authority all know who those others are). Above and beyond all else, the right authority must be very strict, very harsh, and extremely punitive. Seems very sadomasochistic to me.
What does all of this have to do with sexuality? Well, when it comes to sex, authoritarian attitudes really get people into trouble. The thing is that much of sexuality is not black and white. It’s somewhere gray. Authoritarians, who crave answers to everything, are much more likely to see things in terms of right and wrong. In their mind, there is right sex and wrong sex. And of course that attitude has nothing in common with the real world.
What ends up happening inevitably is that if the authoritarian finds himself interested in something that his authority claims is wrong, there is nowhere else to turn but harsh self-criticism and judgment. Hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, probably hate a part of themselves because they think their sexuality is wrong. Helping people to recover from their internal condemnations is a large part of the work I do.
So can an authoritarian personality be cured? That’s a harder question to answer. I do think that some people are wired temperamentally to be more authority-seeking than others. But I think everyone can learn to be just a little more accepting of themselves.
I think anyone who likes an absorbing, challenging and thought-provoking ready will love The Authoritarians. You can download by clicking on this link.