Coming out of the wood work? John Quiggin asks a pertinent question about right-wing authoritarians in Australia



It's true... some people are happy to see the planet blow up

Noted economist and commentator, John Quiggin wonder if last weeks CO2 tax rally is indicative of a resurgent One Nation:

Until a month or so ago, I was under the impression that the One Nation party had shuffled off into history. So, I was surprised, attending a lunch at which Joe Hockey spoke, to hear repeated questions from reporters about the role of One Nation in attacks on Hockey’s standard against the appeals to racism allegedly advocated by (Lib Immigration shadow) Scott Morrison. Then, on a recent visit to Sydney I heard David Oldfield spruiking the One Nation line on 2UE. And now Pauline herself appears at an anti-carbon tax rally, along with a bizarre cast of characters including Angry Anderson and the League of Rights. Does anyone have any insight into what’s going on here? Is this just some bandwagon-jumping or is there a real resurgence of One Nation and similar groups?

One Nation, for those outside Australia, was a divisive and (clearly) racist minority party that appealed to the darker side of the electorate.

I posted a reply, but thought it worth while expanding my argument.

We are at an interesting point in history, living in the years following 9/11, the wars in Iran and Afghanistan, the Bali Bombings, terrorism, the rise of various fundamentalisms (Muslim, Christian and market) the Global Financial Crisis and growing concerns over climate change and environmental collapse.

In my mind we are living through a time not dissimilar to the 1920s and 1930s…

With such existential threats such as climate change looming, people are either getting very angry or burying themselves in denial.

A similar pattern could be seen during the 1920s and 1930s with people flocking to the Left/Right extremes of politics. It was also an age of spiritual mediums (today’s New Age), new forms of entertainment (then it was movies and radio, today the internet) and a cynical and wear weary public harbouring resentment against politicians and “other elites”.

It was also during the 1920s and 1930s that the “anti-Relativity” movement was in full swing.

Sound familiar?

The RWAs

People feel powerless and look for agents causing them harm: conspiracy theories to help make sense of the world and thus regain some control. Scientists are lying – dare we say conspiring – to get more funding and control the world! Thus climate change is not real!

On a deeper level, there are personality types attracted to the messages of the climate sceptics and right-wing shock jocks.

These are referred to as “right-wing authoritarians” (RWA):

“Right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) is a personality and ideological variable studied in political, social, and personality psychology. It is defined by three attitudinal and behavioral clusters which correlate together:[1][2]

Authoritarian submission — a high degree of submissiveness to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives.

Authoritarian aggression — a general aggressiveness directed against deviants, outgroups, and other people that are perceived to be targets according to established authorities.

Conventionalism — a high degree of adherence to the traditions and social norms that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities, and a belief that others in one’s society should also be required to adhere to these norms[3].

There are also “highly destructive”, as a series of psychological studies indicate:

In roleplaying situations, authoritarians tend to seek dominance over others by being competitive and destructive instead of cooperative. In a study by Altemeyer, 68 authoritarians played a three hour simulation of the Earth’s future entitled the Global change game. Unlike a comparison game played by individuals with low RWA scores, which resulted in world peace and widespread international cooperation, the simulation by authoritarians became highly militarized and eventually entered the stage of nuclear war. By the end of the high RWA game, the entire population of the earth was declared dead…”


But does it not sound familiar?

The game itself is fascinating:

“A large map of the world is laid out. The game involves up to 70 participants or more (depending on the size of the venue). Each participant is randomly assigned to one of the 10 regions in the world: North America, Latin America, Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Africa, The Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, China and the Pacific Rim. Each player represents roughly 100 million people. Each region begins with realistic assets and problems. North America, Europe and the Pacific Rim are well off, but India and Africa are in extreme poverty. Food supply, medical facilities and employment opportunity tokens are distributed accordingly based on actual figures in reality. Likewise, military strength also mirrors that of the real world. The passing of time represents the number of years. Normally the span is around 30 to 40 years.

At the beginning of the game, the three nuclear powers are asked whether they wish to disarm their nuclear armaments. Players who do not have food, health care and employment are given a black arm band; any player who receives three will be declared dead. Regions can also declare refugees, however if no other region offers them asylum, they perish into the open ocean. When the game is in play, the facilitators will move around to determine if proposals for certain problems are feasible or not and reward or punish the groups accordingly. For example, the poor management of the environment can lead to famine, strife and pestilence. Facilitators will also announce random problems at specified intervals, ranging from ozone depletion to global warming.

Leaders are chosen in the beginning of each game to lead their respective regions; these leaders are given coats ties and hats to give them the aura of leadership. They control the finances and military strength and are allowed to pocket the wealth of their regions as they deem fit. To win, one must be the leader of a region and acquire the most wealth.

Leaders can also choose to declare war: Victory is determined by the army tokens. Once victory is achieved, the loser’s territory and assets belong to the winner. If the army tokens are equal then both sides lose not only the armies but also the wealth. A victor can control the invaded territory by stationing troops in the conquered land. Nuclear war wipes out the entire earth population…”

Here comes the criticisms about “models” and “psychology is BS” from certain segments of the WtD’s readership…

Still, I maintain some elements of the denial movement would rather see the planet burn and our species wiped out than concede the point that there might – just might – be some truth to the science.

I’d recommend people jump over to Google Books and have a look at the book “The Authoritarian Specter by Altemeyer.

Fascinating and frightening reading.

The RWAs never went away…

John Quiggin asks “Where are all these people from?”

They’ve always been there.

Indeed, within every society they exist.

They’ve simply migrated from one conservative “cause” to another: whether it is opposing a carbon tax, vilifying “boat people” as queue jumpers or “all Muslims are terrorists” they’ve always been pursuing their dark agenda.

Last weeks protests simply threw a light on their continued existence.

The tragedy was the leader of the Liberal Party standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them, giving them a legitimacy they should never have.

Note: Left-wing authoritarians (LWAs) also exist, which Altemeyers books explores. I know enough about history and the Soviet Union to understand it exists on both sides of the spectrum.


12 thoughts on “Coming out of the wood work? John Quiggin asks a pertinent question about right-wing authoritarians in Australia

  1. ianash says:

    You can see in the ramblings of people like Geoff and JeffT the almost cult-like devotion to people like Bolt, Plimer, ‘Professor’ Bob, Monckton, etc. And the cult-like fear and manic denial of anything that goes against their indoctrination.

    Fringe groups like TCS provide a fertile breeding ground for these disenfranchised, lonely and (lets be honest) sad and deluded individuals. All of a sudden, people just like them actually want to hear their ill-considered denialist views. Rather than being laughed at, their pottiness wins them plaudits. They start to feel that their version of lunacy is actually a valid alternative to real science. And what it also does is encourage ever more exremist views to breed – racism, xenophobia, conspiracy theories. And with this comes ‘hatred of the other’.

    Unfortunatley, these poor people are just the stooges – pathetic bit-part players in a much larger game. Some eventually wake up, but most are so deeply and emotionally invested in the denialist cult that they cant ever break away.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      True, I’ve always maintained the average “sceptic” is being used and abused by the professional denial machine.

  2. john byatt says:

    I live about 50KM from Gympie QLD which was said to be one nation capital, I find no evidence that the people are anymore “different than any other community in Australia,

    What they now have is the internet, groups like “just grounds” to vent their spleen through, probably a good thing that they can do that, if you go there you will find not more than a dozen regulars participating, farmers claiming to represent all farmers , most farmers i know are too busy to sit on the internet all day,

    just grounds has probably lost a lot of participation through the climate sceptics taking over just about every thread, There would be few able to tolerate the likes of Jefft (Porkie} and debate with their “bestest” minds, Geoff and Jeff and you would be a heretic and not a true Australian to boot

    Others however think they are a bunch of wankers ,

    • JeffT says:

      That must be why I’m a member of Just Grounds, and post occasionally, and Johnny Byatt “is no longer a member”, but an anonymous lurker on Just Grounds, just to cherry pick a few words or an off post to impress his followers.

      Johnny Byatt (B3) was subject to “venting of spleen” by many exasperated members of JG, who couldn’t take his B/S any longer.

      I have posted the notice that is displayed in Google here on WtD.

  3. Adam says:

    At the moment there is no obvious financial mechanism that can punish people who delude themselves.
    It would be good to offer deniers a contract that they sign after careful examination that forces them to pay a fee upon their acceptance of RWA mistruth.
    So if they agree that boat people numbers represent more than 1% of the Australian population then they should pay $500. If they think that the planet has been cooling since 1998 then another $500 and so on.

    They would soon shut up.

  4. john byatt says:

    Sponsors for their No understanding rally on Saturday , interesting

    God seems to have two floats,

    • john byatt says:

      Wonder how many will end up wandering around North Sydney looking for Hyde park ?

    • JeffT says:

      Good to see South Australian Liberal Senator Corey Bernadi’s Cando website is represented.

      Watt’s Up Johnny Byatt, haven’t you cracked Cando yet ?


      • john byatt says:

        what a twit

        CORRIE BERNARDI not corey bernadi ,

        Bernardi quote ‘ “Islam itself is the problem, it’s not Muslims”

        another thick as a brick denier

  5. JeffT says:

    @ Adam (06:01:10) :

    “At the moment there is no obvious financial mechanism that can punish people who delude themselves. ”

    Just think of the funds that could be gleaned from Tim Flannery every time he made stupid predictions.
    But our stupid government keeps on hiring him to make more Climate Change proclamations.

    If you want an opinion on immigration/asylum seekers/ illegal immigration.
    Check out the illegals over the border from Mexico problems, and the cost to American workers.

    Remember that Australia is an island, it takes considerable time, effort and money to return illegal immigrants. They just cannot be rounded up and returned across the border.

    Then check out Denmark’s problems and answers -starting with this:-

    Then more rumblings from The Netherlands:-

    And a touch of France :-

    Now if you would like to play golf at the Kooralbyn 5 Star golf Resort –
    it is too late, it appears to have been obtained for asylum seekers (Prime News tonight 31/3/11 )
    This 100 room resort-golf course has been up for lease/sale for a while. From their blog site, there are golfers who were expressing their desire for re-opening of the course.
    And it’s close to Beaudesert and Brisbane (and Cooloola).

    I am not expressing an opinion on the matter of immigration, but just reporting from a few sources. My stand is mostly neutral on immigration. I do however believe it is not right to queue jump legitimate immigrants

  6. Unfortunately Mike, I think the behaviour is as much the result of nature as it is nurture.

    I like Dawkin’s discussion about the wasteful nature of trees – how they place all of this effort into growth not to acquire more sunlight than they would at ground level, but to get more than their neighbour (obviously without conscious thought however). If they could all come to agreement, it would save a lot of effort and needless death. The same between predator and prey relationships etc… Nature is a struggle for existence as brutal and heartless as it sounds.

    Of course, this is not a good methodology even for nature, being as pitiless as it is, so why would it be good for an intelligent species such as ourselves who are capable of high reason?

    It clearly isn’t, but regardless, we waste billions of dollars on defense every year. Inequality obviously develops societies of decreasing social worth (ie. safety, health, happiness etc). Short term policies over long term prosperity…

    It’s little more than the primitive behaviour of resource control for individualistic goals. When so many people are still slaves to their more obvious animal instincts, how could we expect them to be conscious of something so subtle and insidious?

    I don’t think we’re even close to improvement on this behaviour and the best people like yourself, your more intelligent readers and I can do is look down on such behaviour as we would any other indecent and quite primitive behaviour.

  7. Jim Prall says:

    Hi Mike.

    I saw your link to Bob Altemeyer’s earlier book, and wondered if you’ve seen hus more recent 2006 one, The Authoritarians? It’s posted online for free download as a PDF. He also has brief supplements on the 2008 U.S. Elections and on the Tea Party movement.

    I quite like his writing. His style is approachable and even “chatty”‘ not at all the dry academic, yet he gets across a fair bit of insight into psychology and the statistical principles of his research.

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