The Science of Political Science
By: Mark W Adams

I'm a big fan of "putting the science" into political science. Mostly this consists of polling and sophisticated statistical analysis, demographic and census tracking, case studies, or historical comparisons of current events. Of course, there never will be anything like a mathematical precision that's applicable to politics -- even in science fiction.

Bob Altemeyer's work studying "authoritarian personalities", famously brought to everyone's attention by John Dean’s Conservatives Without Conscience, goes beyond mere analysis and adds some experimentation -- essence of the scientific method -- which is highlighted by "Moonbat" at The Mahablog. Get it all in handy E-Book (pdf) form, free, from Altemeyer himself.

Frighteningly predictable results were documented when experimenters secretly divided over 130 or so volunteers into two groups -- by whether they exhibited authoritarian personality types or a more benign psychological profile -- and then unleashed them upon a virtual world.

I've seen this dynamic at several Model United Nations Conferences I (along with my good friend and fellow Kossack, TimRoff) helped run back in the Reagan years. I saw both types of folks of course, since no effort was made to segregate the delegates from each other by any artificial means other than the fact they desired to attend.

We solved most of the world's problems in less than a week, every year!

Of course, we were indeed segregated much along the lines Altemeyer positis, just not consciously. By attending, the students attending implicitly acknowledged that diplomacy in general, and specifically the United Nations, was something worthwhile, something with a genuine purpose and worthy of learning as much as possible about. Needless to say, there was a distinctly liberal bent to the participants overall. You don't even read the brochure, let alone come up with the cash to travel to Cleveland ... in January ... for a week ... unless you disagree with John Bolton's idea of the UN's utility.

Indeed, I would hazard that the vast majority would think that diplomacy is a means to solve problems, not simply Bolton's insistence that, "Diplomacy is not an end in itself if it does not advance U.S. interests." Rather, it's a way of getting the parties to enter into mutually beneficial arrangements, a way of Getting To "Yes."

If only they took their top-down mentality to it's logical conclusion. That is, instead of simply buying into the idea that what is good for the corporate and powerful elites is good for everyone -- all benefits trickling downhill -- but that what is good for the planet as a whole will trickle down to their greedy pockets too.

When Altemeyer put the Authoritarians in charge, those with:

  • a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society;
  • high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities; and
  • a high level of conventionalism.

... they blew up the planet in short order. When the game was restarted with proper admonitions that with nuclear warfare, the only winning move is not to play...

The authoritarian world ended in disaster for many reasons. One was likely the character of their Elites [self-appointed leaders -- Mark], who put more than twice as much money in their own pockets as the low RWA [Right Wing Authoritarians -- Mark] Elites had. (The Middle East Elite ended up the World’s Richest Man; part of his wealth came from money he had conned from Third World Elites as payment for joining his alliance.) But more importantly, the high RWAs proved incredibly ethnocentric. There they were, in a big room full of people just like themselves, and they all turned their backs on each other and paid attention only to their own group. They too were all reading from the same page, but writ large on their page was, "Care About Your Own; We Are NOT All In This Together."

The high RWAs also suffered because, while they say on surveys that they care about the environment, when push comes to shove they usually push and shove for the bucks. That is, they didn’t care much about the long-term environmental consequences of their economic acts. For example a facilitator told Latin America that converting much of the region’s forests to a single species of tree would make the ecosystem vulnerable. But the players decided to do it anyway because the tree’s lumber was very profitable just then. And the highs proved quite inflexible when it came to birth control. Advised that “just letting things go” would cause the populations in underdeveloped areas to explode, the authoritarians just let things go.

Now the Global Change Game is not the world stage, university students are not world leaders, and starting a nuclear holocaust in a gymnasium is not the same thing as launching real missiles from Siberia and North Dakota. So the students’ behavior on those two successive nights in 1994 provides little basis for drawing conclusions about the future of the planet. But some of what happened in this experiment rang true to me. I especially thought, “I’ve seen this show before” as I sat on the sidelines and watched the high RWAs create their very own October crisis.

Maha has been sharing his insight into what exactly IS a conservative lately, and why on earth they get away with the crap we've suffered since the dawn of civilization. My own take is that ever since Caesar waded across the Rubicon signaling the emasculation of democratic institutions that carried on in name only -- yet ceded their powers to a would-be despot "for the good of the people" whose democratic principles were squashed in the name of (ironically) the Republic, nobody has been able to adequately diagnose the commingling of genetic markers that allow the apathetic and exploitative to continue down this evolutionary dead end. Reflect and meditate.

Mind you, there's a lot to be said for just calling them lying crap-weasels, but that only encourages more lying and weasel crapping to sift through. When I talk of burying the GOP, neo-cons, and hyperventilating harpies of the right, I know deep down that we will not destroy them, but must co-opt enough of them, teach them the errors of their ways so that they reject the unsustainable and internally disconnected policies they bought into.