Continuing: Holland’s ongoing use of The Bomb!


A tribally pleasing discussion: These are highly tribal times. If you want to avoid being dumb in the oldest and dumbest ways, we would make two suggestions.

First suggestion: If some study says the other tribe is more likely to think X, Y or Z, always ask yourself this: How much more likely are they?

For background, see yesterday's post.

It’s easy to read a statement like that and think The Others are all like that. That’s kind of the way the headlines worked when Salon reprinted the interview we’ve been discussing, the interview between Joshua Holland and Chris Mooney:
SALON HEADLINES (11/7/13): Can science explain Tea Party rage?
Conservatives, one study shows, find it easier to dismiss the unpleasant consequences of their beliefs
For starters, please note that science isn’t being asked to explain anything about our tribe’s behavior.

That headline assumes that our tribe is all right. As always, it’s the other tribe which needs explaining by science.

Beyond that, the headline says conservatives find it “easier” to dismiss unpleasant consequences of their beliefs. Who knows? That may be true, in some sense.

But even assuming that it’s true, how much easier do conservatives find it? Could it be just five percent easier? If so, is it worth discussing?

(By the way, did you note that the headline says we're talking about one study?)

Headlines like that may lead you to picture absolute differences between the two tribes. If you want to avoid being dumb, you should learn to challenge that impulse.

This would be our second suggestion: Don’t take your bombs to town!

As we noted yesterday, Joshua Holland brandished an A-bomb midway through his session with Mooney. Out of nowhere, he said this:
HOLLAND (10/31/13): And we’ve discussed authority before. That’s really central to understanding the conservative mindset. There’s been a lot of research on the so-called authoritarian personality type, and I want to connect this with the idea of political polarization.

One of the things that we understand about authoritarians is that they have a stronger sense of the importance of loyalty to one’s own in-group. How does that factor into this equation, do you think?
All of a sudden, the fellows were talking about “authoritarians.” Warning! A-bomb alert!

Talk like that is dangerous. All of a sudden, you’re creating a very powerful category. Through its use, you can easily start constructing The Other.

For our money, Mooney didn’t put up much of a fight concerning the use of that loaded term. We’d say he was eager to play:
MOONEY (continuing directly): Again, this is an area where liberals and libertarians differ from conservatives markedly. Liberals and libertarians aren’t particularly tribal in the sense of having loyalty to their group, and they aren’t particularly authoritarian in the sense of thinking you have to follow a strong leader. And basically, authoritarianism is also associated with sort of black and white, “you’re with me or you’re against me” thinking. But it’s also about deference to authority, whether that’s the police officer or your father or God. You must obey authority and if you don’t, that’s a moral wrong.
It sounds like a very bad thing to be an “authoritarian.” But just like that, Mooney said that this is an area where the two tribes “differ markedly.”

Mooney’s comments are rather disjointed, but he’s talking very pleasing tribal talk. The other tribe is markedly more likely to exhibit a trait—a trait which sounds very bad.

There is no attempt to define this trait, or to say how markedly the two warring tribes may differ. How many people are authoritarian? There’s no attempt to explain that either!

By the way: Is it your experience that liberals “aren’t particularly tribal in the sense of having loyalty to their group?” That isn’t our experience either. But that’s what Mooney said!

Be careful! When we liberals start dropping our R- and A-bombs, tribal juices start flowing. Personally, we think opinion leaders should be very careful when they brandish such weapons. In the case of this discussion, impressionable readers may not realize they really have no idea what these fellows are talking about. Unfortunately, they’re hearing history’s oldest and falsest tale:

Our Tribe contains all the good decent people. The Other Tribe does not.

Sure enough! With the A-bomb rattling about, silly season gets started. This was the next exchange:
HOLLAND (continuing directly): Jonathan Weiler at the University of North Carolina did a study which found that you can predict a person’s ideological leanings by how they answered just a few questions about child rearing. And one of the questions was whether someone values obedience or creativity more in a child. It’s really—it’s telling stuff.

MOONEY: Yeah, this is another way of measuring authoritarianism, because the theory is—and it seems pretty sound to me—that if you’re an authoritarian, one of the places it’s going to come out is in how you view child rearing. That is a situation in which the parent has to exert some level of authority, but parents interpret that differently. And if someone interprets parenting as sort of a strict father model—you need to obey the rules—then that’s an authoritarian style of parenting. So he’s just saying, “Let’s ask about parenting and we’ll figure out who our authoritarians are,” and what’s good about that as a scientific method is that you’re not actually asking anything that seems politically tinged. You could be confounding your variables if people get the sense that you’re asking them something political, but that’s not the case here—you’re just asking about parenting. That’s what’s nice about it.
By now, the conversation is very deep in the weeds. But a pleasing tribal story is being advanced: Their tribe has a bunch of authoritarians. Our glorious tribe does not.

What exactly are these fellows saying at this point? Do you really have any idea? Do you think these guys really know what they’re talking about?

Holland says Jonathan Weiler has shown that “you can predict a person’s ideological leanings by how they answered just a few questions about child rearing.”

Really? How well can you make such a prediction? Do you think Holland has any idea? But in this instance, it’s Mooney who makes the leap. According to Mooney, you can tell if someone’s “an authoritarian” by the way he rears his child!

That is probably true, of course. But how many “authoritarians” actually exist in the world? The boys have made no attempt to speak to that rather obvious question. But they’re making it sound like there’s quite a few, and they’re all in The Other Tribe.

This is loose, lazy tribal talk. At the start of the book to which Holland refers, Weiler actually spends several pages discussing the danger of using a loaded term like “authoritarianism.” He criticizes John Dean for his lazy, politicized use of the term in the 2006 book we liberals all knew we should love.

It is “nearly impossible to discuss [authoritarianism] in nonscholarly circles,” Weiler writes, early on in the book Holland cites. As you can see, warnings like that aren’t likely to slow the loose talk at Salon.

Holland mentions “the tendency of people with authoritarian personalities” at one more point in the session. Again, he makes it sound like he’s talking about a lot of people and they’re all in the other tribe.

Do you think he knows what he’s talking about? Second question:

When you throw bombs around in such tribal ways, could that be seen as a vaguely “authoritarian” thing to do?

People! We’re just asking!


  1. I always look for a link to these studies, but never find them in the article. I am forced to believe the writer's representation.

    1. The interviewer Holland is talking about a book by Mooney. Books are not online. Later, the discussion about authoritarian personality is also talking about a book. There is a link to info about the book but not to the book itself because books are not online. The books in turn reference research studies by individuals. Presumably the citations for those articles are in the notes for each book. That is not Somerby's fault. The extent to which you rely on the writer's representation no doubt reflects an authoritarian personality.

  2. And if someone interprets parenting as sort of a strict father model—you need to obey the rules—then that’s an authoritarian style of parenting. So he’s just saying, “Let’s ask about parenting and we’ll figure out who our authoritarians are,”

    Statistically liberals don't appear to believe in any father model much less a strict one. Those inclined toward "consequential thinking" might find that interesting.

    1. I think this comment illustrates the type of crap that TDH is talking about. "Liberals" don't believe in things, models included. Individual people who are liberal might believe in things like models. "Models" in turn are abstractions, and in the case of "a strict father model," not particularly well-defined. Just like "believe in" is a point on an uncalibrated scale of faith. And finally, statistics can't have anything useful to say about such unmeasured and unmeasurable abstractions.

      It's safe to say that to you it appears that "statistically" "liberals" don't "believe in" a "father model." But that tells more about you than it does about liberals or fathers or the two in tandem.

  3. Bone-gnawer - the only A Bomb was used by the U.S.

    The US has fought 240 plus wars from its birth to now all on foreign soil except the revolutionary war and killed countless millions and devastated the environment of war-theaters the US military machine has operated in.

    Bone-gnawer - don't constantly mug liberals if you want any change for the better in this country.

    As to your implied notion that windbag Gore would have been less violent than baby bush - it is non-sense - it was Susan Albright who said killing 500,000 children was worth it.

    Bush carried out a classic military invasion - but Clinton/Gore would periodically attack Iraqi soldiers sleeping in barracks in their own country. The inherent violence of the US can only be reduced by the ascendancy of liberal ideas.

  4. This article illustrates Bob's theme of liberals behaving as badly as dittoheads. It claims that Ann Coulter wrote that “black heroes” are the people who dare to be happy when a person is killed. However, Coulter's actual article (not linked by Schilling) says that "black heros" are blacks who speak out against or testify against other blacks who have committed serious crimes. See

    A dear niece of mine, a history professor no less, posted Schilling's false and malicious claim on Facebook. When it was pointed out that the claim was untrue, she didn't apologize. Her only expressed regret was that she provided Ann Coulter with publicity.

  5. Bone-gnawer's bone-gnawing is rubbing off on his acolytes, as illustrated by the maliciously lying partial quote above.

    The full quote (Schilling was only paraphrasing Coulter, but he got the spirit of what she was trying to say - things like "Andrea Reid, who was on the subway car during the shooting, testified: Those "punks were bothering the white man ... those punks got what they deserved."" ) is

    "These “black heroes” are the people who dare to be happy when a person is killed. Ann has had it up to here with all the black folk sticking up for their race. They should be glad when a black criminal gets shot."

    You can win brownie points from the bone-gnawer-in-chief only if you stop at the first sentence. (Man, those liberals are such lying scum).

    This bone-gnawing is a losing game for losers.

  6. Give me a break, AnonymousNovember 17, 2013 at 8:23 AM. Coulter didn't say Andrea Reid was a hero because Reid was happy about the death of a black person. Note that the word "happy" doesn't appear in Coulter's column, nor does any of its synonyms. Coulter clearly said Reid was a hero because she publicly criticized a black criminal who deserved criticism.

    This sort of twisted paraphrasing is the kind of thing Bob has been writing about.

  7. I don't want to continue this bone-gnawing duel - you weaseled down to "twisted paraphrasing" from "false and malicious claim".

    A classic case of "indignation gap" - Bone-gnawer and his acolytes would bristle with rage out of concern for one who DID SAY THIS

    "We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too. Otherwise, they will turn out to be outright traitors," Conservative Political Action Conference, January 2002.

    She has NEVER been called to account for this as far as I know, by bone-gnawer or anybody else. Just because she is a woman and (bottle) blonde she gets away with really horrific utterings and as long as she promises to be housebroken for the duration of any particular show, she can even appear on Network TV.

    Now THAT is the degradation of discourse that ought to concern people, not the jealous manufactured outrage of a loser.

  8. Let's see -- Coulter once said something you consider outrageous, anon, so it's OK to mischaracterize what she said in a way that makes her look like a horrible racist. You don't owe a duty of integrity, when it comes to the other tribe.

    BTW Ann Coulter later said she had one regret about her comment about Liindh:

    Only that I didn’t say it loud enough and in a large enough public forum. And when I said we should “execute” John Walker Lindh, I mis-spoke. What I meant to say was “We should burn John Walker Lindh alive and televise it on prime-time network TV”. My apologies for any misunderstanding that might have occurred.

  9. "Coulter once said something YOU CONSIDER outrageous,"

    (capitals supplied).

    There you have it folks. The Chief bone-gnawer is playing some kind of kabuki theater here and I guess only his acolytes have the inside track on how the game is to be played.

  10. Part 1

    The truth is that conservatives and authoritarians DO think differently.

    this has been known for quite some time. Milton Rokeach described and explained the essence of dogmatism in his classic work, The Open and Closed Mind. Rokeach noted that all people have belief and disbelief systems, and those systems can be more “open” or more “closed.” An individual’s perception can be characterized as “open” or “closed” based on “the extent to which the person can receive, evaluate, and act on relevant information unencumbered by irrelevant factors...arising from within the person or from the outside.”

    More recently, four psychologists conducted a meta-analysis of more than 80 studies on political conservatism performed in a dozen countries. They found –– consistent with Rokeach’s work on dogmatism –– that “people embrace political conservatism (at least in part) because it serves to reduce fear, anxiety, and uncertainty.” It helps these people “to avoid change, disruption, and ambiguity; and to explain, order, and justify inequality among groups and individuals.” But in a democratic society based on values like equality, justice, and tolerance, it creates a dangerous paradox. The researchers noted that “conservatives share a tendency to rationalize existing institutions, especially those that maintain hierarchical authority,” and that “conservatism as an ideological belief system has embodied many things, including the desire for order and stability...adherence to preexisting social norms...punishment of deviants, and endorsement of social and economic inequality.” They note that dogmatism is “indicative of closed-mindedness,” and while those on the left can be dogmatic, “the highest dogmatism scores are still obtained for conservatives.”


    Those who score highly on scales designed to measure dogmatism also “score higher in prejudice, and wish they could pass laws limiting the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right of assembly, and other freedoms guaranteed in the Bill ofRights. They want to impose strict limitations on abortion, they favor capital punishment, and they oppose tougher gun control laws.” They are not prone to cognitive reflection and critical thinking. In a nutshell, conservative perception is summarized well by a comment George W. Bush made at a conference of world leaders: ““I know what I believe and I believe what I believe is right.” We are still paying handsomely for those erroneous beliefs.

  11. Part 2

    In an April, 2012 column in The Washington Post, long-time, respected Congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein pointed the finger of blame for gridlock in government at conservative Republicans in Congress. They wrote:

    “We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional...we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party. The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition...the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right.”


    Former Nebraskan Republican senator Chuck Hagel (now Defense Secretary) called his brethren “ideological,” “narrow” and “intolerant.” A long-serving Republican Capitol Hill staffer called them an “apocalyptic cult” and “intensely authoritarian.”

    To simplify it a bit, conservatives –– which means most of the current crop of Republicans –– tend to be highly dogmatic. And that’s highly problematic in a democratic republic that was created on a platform of values that include popular sovereignty, freedoms for all citizens, equality, justice, tolerance, and promoting the general welfare of society. Conservatives are opposed to them all.

    Indeed, it was conservative presidents operating under conservative supply-side economic policies that piled up debt and broke the economy (and refused to take any responsibility for it.). It is conservatives (Republicans) who’ve made every effort to suppress voting. It is conservatives who oppose gay marriage and abortion rights. Conservatives argued that George W. Bush had unlimited powers as commander-in-chief, launched a war on manufactured and manipulated “intelligence,” refused to pay for it, and bungled it badly. Conservatives deny the science of global warming (and evolution). Conservatives today represent corporations and plutocrats, and are obstructing policies and programs that represent a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

    The link below illustrates what conservative policies have given us. It isn’t pretty, nor is it healthy.

    But this startling inequality is not enough for them. They want even more. And that’s what makes them so very dangerous.

    Conservatives ARE different. They are more dogmatic and fearful (and Fox sells a lot of fear). They are more authoritarian and accepting of inequality, more intolerant, and more resistant to change. In a democratic society that is rapidly changing, they are, in essence, anti-democratic.