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A Basic Cause of Terrorism
[Jungle/Savanna Heritage Roots]

"When the nations on this planet fight for existence-when the question of destiny, 'to be or not to be,' cries out for a solution-then all considerations of humanitarianism or aesthetics crumble into nothingness; for all these concepts do not float about in the ether, they arise from man's imagination and are bound up with man." Adolph Hitler

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration exhibits many earmarks of authoritarianism, most obviously in its black-and-white thinking, tolerance for bigotry, and support for religious fundamentalism in its public pronouncements and actions. It was Mr. Bush himself who proclaimed to the world: "You are either with us or against us." He is not the first US president to exhibit authoritarian tendencies. He is just the first to try to make a virtue of it.

Others have recognized how the authoritarian concept relates to politics. Right Wing Authoritarianism RWA differs in approach from that taken by Adorno, which was Freudian. Quoting from Wikipedia:

    The RWA construct was developed by Robert Altemeyer, drawing on Adorno's post-WWII research on the concept of an authoritarian personality based on Freudian theory which contained conservative, pro-fascist, prejudiced and ethnocentric beliefs. Taking an empirical approach based on statistical analysis and disregarding the theoretical construct, Altemeyer found that just three facets of this authoritarian personality were statistically significant and cross-correlated: conventionalism, authoritarian aggression and authoritarian submission. [emphasis ours] Conventionalism is the tendency to accept and obey social conventions and the rules of authority figures. Authoritarian aggression is characterised by an aggressive attitude towards individuals or groups disliked by authorities, and authoritarian submission is submission to authorities and authority figures. (The Authoritarian Specter)

Altemeyer's contruct affirmed three basic findings of Adorno, and further Altemeyer showed that all three traits tend to occur together. Conventionalism is rigidity or inflexibiity in practice. And that means that aggression and submissiveness to authorities demanding aggression are both rigid parts of a personality. These are the features that led to the many massacres in Viet Nam. They were also behind the genocides led by Milosevic in Bosnia, Bagosora in Rwanda, Pol Pot in Cambodia, and many others. Abu Ghraib is also explained by the Adorno/Altemeyer construct.

[Ed note: Altemeyer reinterpreted Adorno's work without the trappings of Freud, which are now somewhat in disrepute. His application of statistics raises the correlations to the level of factual. They are real and not to be doubted until something better comes along. What is left is to explain why the correlations exist; only then will the correlations rise to being a scientific theory. It seems likely that genes for violence as well as those for herding may be involved fundamentally. This appears to be a field ripe for further research. See Altemeyer, Milgram and Zimbardo for additional background. ]

See Barbara Tuchman's "March of Folly" for what this personality means when it substitutes its canons for wisdom. This book won a Pulitzer Prize. This personality type seems built into our genes, evolving from much earlier times, and present in most of us. See: Milgam.

Robert Bolton captured the essence of an authoritarian:

"A belief is not merely an idea the mind possesses.

It is an idea that possesses the mind."

Authoritarian personalities permeate all societies. Fundamentalists of any of the major monotheisms are usually authoritarian personalities. So are dictators and too many governors of democratic societies. Most authoritarians are basically good people and lead productive lives in pursuits where their particular rigid styles are appropriate in professions such as accounting, the military, and medicine. As leaders, their narrow uncompromising views not only often miss the better solutions, but they alienate their peers as well as those of different persuasions. With enough charisma and deceit, they can sway voters into giving them power even in the most advanced democracies. This happens because most voters themselves have a streak of authoritarianism in their personalities.

We see this in our time: Mr. Bush is the most polarizing president ever to sit in the White house. He wears his rigid views as a badge of honor. He really seems to believe he can do no wrong, is never in error, never entertains self-doubt. He behaves as if, as the most powerful single person on earth, and by virtue of his office, he alone has the wisdom to see the war on terror in its most proper light. History is quite likely to write chronicles otherwise, for the situation in Iraq is not at all what he clams it to be. In spite of the gush for freedom shown by the Iraqi election, Iraqis only feel safe within their own homes, and some not even then. Political divisions are driven by ethnicity, religions, and long memories of injustice. With a civil war brewing, neither the short term nor long term looks very promising for Iraq.

Nevertheless, the mere fact that this genetic type also exists in the most peaceful of nations (Norway and Portugal for Western examples) gives us hope that our genetic heritage need not do us in. The evidence is compelling; millions of people have found peace in violent times.

Authoritarianism is not ethnicity speaking, nor is it religion. Rather, it is expressed by personal rigidity, desire for control, and conformity. Groups often take on the character of its leader and individuals often follow--as Hitler and his German citizens did. Authoritarianism thus has a political connotation.

Authoritarianism--Political definition:

A political system where the administration of government is centralized. The ruler's personality usually plays an important role in maintaining the system and advancing the notion and practice of extreme authority as a political virtue. It is characterized by the curtailment of individual freedoms; excessive reliance on actual, and the threat of, violence and punishment; virtual unaccountability of government officials; and the aversion of the decision-making process to consultation, persuasion and the necessity of forging a policy consensus.

When statesmanship is needed, authoritarian politicians often fail badly. And that is our concern, on both sides of this modern chasm of war and terror versus peace. Notice that it is war and terror versus peace. Are war and terror the same thing. Not always. Their definitions differ mostly in the number of participants, not in their horror. War is an effort by the state while terror is an effort by an individual, small group, or in our present times, by movements often devoid of state authority. Each case reflects an effort to dominate, or right a real or perceived wrong. Each case usually involves the innocent. Each case involves violence against people and property. When small groups band together under a common banner such as Islam, their terrorist activities are in effect more akin to war than terror. When armies uproot a populace in whole or in part, they take on the trappings of terror, as Israel did in Palestine. When a terrorist such as bin Laden, and Zarqawi in Iraq declare jihad with their ability to reach around the world, it is difficult not to consider those declarations as being akin to war. Either way it is deliberate violence to the innocent, bystanders, and children.

Our nation at present is more polarized than at any time since the Vietnam war. Of course bin Laden played a role, but he was only the trigger for what followed. Afghanistan had to happen, of course. But Iraq is an unrelated issue designed to project Mr. Bush's image as the all-knowing, all-wise leader projecting the latest form of imperialism. Authoritarian thoughts for sure.

That image began to clarify in September 2001. Bill Maher made a politically incorrect crack about Bush. So what? Comedians and cartoonists alike feed on such stuff, and so do their audiences and readers. Presidents are often the subject of caricatures. But such behavior didn't sit well with the Administration. Its response the same month:

"There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not the time for remarks like that." Ari Fleischer (Mr. Bush's press secretary)

In other words, freedom of speech is now on hold.

Another such flap over Maher was commented on by Bryan Zepp Jamieson

[Discussing Maher's TV show] "...someone called the people who hijacked those planes and crashed them 'cowards' and another guest pointed out that anyone willing to die in service to their cause was no coward, and Maher rejoined, 'We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. Thats cowardly." [And that is also what Bill Clinton did, except his target was bin Laden himself and he was too late.]

"Nobody could miss the fact that it was a reference to the Gulf War. And thats pretty much what we did: we stayed back, well out of harms way, and used our technology to massacre hundreds of thousands [more like 158,000 Iraqis - Pub] of people, mostly civilians. Not only is this not a secret, but Ive yet to encounter a single person who didnt understand that Maher was talking about the Gulf War. We killed people by remote control, at no greater risk to ourselves than playing a Gameboy might present."

The Administration and most Americans believe what Islam hates about America is its freedoms. Nevertheless, Ari Fleischer set the tone for what was to come. See Eroding Liberty for more on that story; Mr. Bush is eroding our very strength--LIBERTY.

Iraq followed Afghanistan in true authoritarian fashion -- "You are either with us or you are against us." And when France and Germany did not join with us, they were excluded from the rebuilding efforts, even though their presence would lend further legitimacy to the rebuilding efforts. They are badly needed now.

Mr. Bush alienated international friends for the sake of a principle, a principle with some validity perhaps when there are only two options, but not on the world stage where other options abound. He never looks back, but pays enough lip service to having made mistakes to keep his credibility among his authoritarian followers. And he never seems to regret a decision. Over 25,000 civilians have died in Iraq as a result of military action, some 2500 of the alliance.

Mr Bush motivated others to join him on what are now known to be false pretenses that even his own analysts did not believe. This authoritarian man expects every American to be submissive and accept this result as a great victory instead of the political disaster it is. Ari Fleischer set a tone from which Mr. Bush has not deviated. See Eroding Liberty for more.

Ranana Brooks captures the essence of the danger when an authoritarian becomes head of state:

"George W. Bush is generally regarded as a mangler of the English language. What is overlooked is his mastery of emotional language--especially negatively charged emotional language--as a political tool. [This is a page out of Hitler's book--Publisher.] Take a closer look at his speeches and public utterances, and his political success turns out to be no surprise. It is the predictable result of the intentional use of language to dominate others. President Bush, like many dominant personality types, uses dependency-creating language. He employs language of contempt and intimidation to shame others into submission and desperate admiration.

..."Another of Bush's dominant-language techniques is personalization. By personalization I mean localizing the attention of the listener on the speaker's personality. Bush projects himself as the only person capable of producing results. In his post-9/11 speech to Congress he said, "I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people." He substitutes his determination for that of the nation's. In the 2003 State of the Union speech he vowed, "I will defend the freedom and security of the American people." Contrast Bush's "I will not yield" etc. with John F. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

"The word "you" rarely appears in Bush's speeches. Instead, there are numerous statements referring to himself or his personal characteristics of folksiness, confidence, righteous anger or determination as the answer to the problems of the country. Even when Bush uses "we," as he did many times in the State of the Union speech, he does it in a way that focuses attention on himself. For example, he stated: "Once again, we are called to defend the safety of our people, and the hopes of all mankind. And we accept this responsibility."

This feature is what won him the 2004 election. Mr Bush is a natural egocentric, authoritarian in other words. Being mostly kindred authoritarians, enough Americans put him in the White House where he will soon change the social landscape that made America so vibrant with one that is divisive. He will do this by packing the Supreme Court with his own kind. By the time average Joe/Jennifer Authoritarian fully realizes what s/he has lost it will be too late.

Brooks provides an accurate perspective of this man who occupies the White House. Brook's words also indict American society which spawned and still supports the likes of George Bush. We buy into what he says!



What gives our present time its significance is that an authoritarian culture (Islam) now has its back to the wall after having once been the foremost society on Earth. At the same time, Islam is mirrored by the equally authoritarian approach of the Bush Administration. See Eroding Liberty for some ways Mr. Bush is accomplishing his objective of restricting the liberty of American citizens.

Most religious terrorists have authoritarian personalities, but only a very small fraction of Authoritarian Personalities ever become terrorists or dictators. They may become quite able and stable doctors, lawyers, engineers, tradesmen, service rendering people, armed services members, public safety employees, or heads of households. Authoritarians just don't make good scientists, social workers, religious leaders, law makers, or heads of state. Nevertheless, many authoritarians are driven to achieve power and actively seek positions in command and control.

Dictators can be open about it. In democracies, authoritarians must wear sheep's clothing until their moment arrives. If they have been given enough power by a naive electorate, they can redefine words such as "compassionate" (only for the rich in practice), "conservatism" (further enrich the already rich), and "trust me" (even as mistakes pile on mistakes). They often seem to have enough charisma to persuade others of the beneficence of their authority even in the face of ample evidence to the contrary.

  • Authoritarians are not limited to politics. Many of the CEOs of the dot.com bust were/are authoritarian personalities.
  • Authoritarians are commonly religious, giving rise to religious authoritarianism in the Church.
  • Being an authoritarian provides no guarantee of piety, wisdom, or good character.

BACKGROUND: Authoritarian Personality Believed to be the result of an upbringing of rigid discipline and conditional affection (Adorno et al. The Authoritarian Personality, 1950). Authoritarians are at once obedient and bossy in a hierarchy because they like it that way.

Authoritarianism is an individual feature. However, since individual features are embedded in particular societies, it is valid to consider authoritarianism as a distinguishing feature in societal differences. In fact, beyond authoritarianism, Karen Horney has shown that different societies tend to produce different personality types. Horney showed our basic natures can be molded by nurturing.

Since Islam, Christianity and Judaism are more authoritarian than are the other religions and philosophies, it should be no surprise that Fundamentalism is driving up the incidence of terror worldwide.

There seems to be an inescapable connection between monotheism and violence. See for example: Religion and Violence. It therefore is logical to consider authoritarianism as a root cause for most of today's terror.

To expand on the above, consider behavior trends of the US leadership:

Narrow disciplined outlook, ("either/or" thinking "With us or against us" view , Plutocratic political actions that polarize the world into haves and have-nots, catering to evangelical fundamentalists.)

Rigid eagerness to apply the death penalty when there is no proof that such extreme penalties are any deterrent to crime.

Control and power ("America-First" attitude with respect to the environment, oil resources, and the Women's Rights Treaty; going into Iraq with three allies instead of 30, all apparently to make a statement.)

Sexual intolerance (Total disdain for the real accomplishments of the Clinton Administration aside from the Monica scandal.)

Destructiveness (weakening gun control laws when guns murder more people than they save; standing by for days of looting in Iraq; neglecting to protect women in Iraq.)

Cynicism and arrogance (belief that allies don't matter; redefining words with long established meanings in self-serving ways--"collateral damage = murdering civilians" [Webster's definition of murder] for example.)

Belief that others see the world as they do (that the Middle East will accept democracy like a row of dominoes falling.)

Lack of introspection and insight (Mr. Bush's arrogance can leave no room for these; aides say he never worries about possible error; he formulated a National Security Policy that is reactive, without any search for, or even mention of any need for, insight into the reasons behind conflict in the world.)

In the real world, none of these categories is black and white. Many of us might fit into one or two of the above behaviors. Mr. Bush is certainly fixed in his ideas, sees only the black and white world, demands obedience, and is pushy about religion. These features, plus his others, fit to the authoritarian personality and show he is thoroughly authoritarian in behavior. The US leadership is not alone in this affliction and this too gives us pause. For how this affects peace consider the 68-year-old moderate Mr. Abbas, the man endorsed by the US and Israel as the only Palestinian leader with whom they will do business." [This is a narrow-minded authoritarian approach (on both sides) if there ever was one. It is a recipe for continued conflict.] The most explosive flash point in the Middle East seems to have no middle ground--where peace can only be found. Subsequent history, of course, has HAMAS coming to power through democratic means! So much for the Neocon agenda.

At the other extreme, of course, are the bin Ladens, the fundamentalist mullahs, and the Bushes, each vowing to destroy the other.

Curt Systma offers an insightful take:

A Humanist Manifesto

In every age, the bigot's rage requires another focus,
Another devil forced on stage by hatred's hocus pocus.
The devil used to be a Jew and then it was the witches,
And then it was the Negroes who were digging all the ditches.
The devil once was colored pink and labeled Communistic,
Now, all at once, in just a blink, the devil's Humanistic.

The Authoritarians have at last recognized the rest of us! {:-)=



It seems ironic that Osama bin Laden and George W Bush both behave in authoritarian ways. In each case they command an hierarchical organization. In each case, they view the gulf of separation as a natural "either/or" in their pronouncements. In each case they use daily prayer as a ritual to bolster their own source of authority to do pretty much as they want, as if inspired by the almighty, well, not the same one! The plight of women concerns neither. Can it be that authoritarians rising to leadership positions need a God to be subservient to and guided by? That is one of the earmarks!

Of course they are not the only authoritarians that have ever been around; the personality type was first formally described by Hitler when discussing what was bad about the Jews. Communist societies are also largely authoritarian in nature. The personality type seems to permeate all political or religious persuasions. Even the Buddhists are not totally immune from one feature, the hierarchy within the family.

As Americans we can only be saddened when our own leadership takes on some of the authoritarian socio-political trappings that can point to no historical successes, other than wars that begot wars.

It will be a sad day indeed if Mr. Bush wraps himself in the flag of terror and convinces the rest of us that we must give up our liberty in order to be safe while he works on mastering the world.

Nevertheless, we support our individual men and women caught up in wars abroad. At the same time, we support the idea that since we are there and created the problem, we must now try to leave Iraq with a stable governance. If we do not, then a civil war will erupt with a genocide with wider area involvement possible if not probable.

See Authoritarian Personality for more detail.

See also:
Internal Locus of Control
External Locus of Control
Muslim Mind
Terror in the Name of God
Suicide Terrorism
Zionism.

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