In the first part of my series I examined the dehumanization of Christians as a critique of right-wing authoritarianism (RWA). This theory stipulates that certain individuals tend to use authoritarianism in a global manner. I showed that those who exhibit authoritarianism against radicals and feminists are different from those who exhibit authoritarianism against conservative Christians. The notion of authoritarianism as a personality trait limited to only certain types of individuals is simply not accurate.
Authoritarianism has been used to explain the actions of religious and political conservatives. In my last post I pointed out Dean’s argument that authoritarianism has led to Republican extremism. I have always struggled with such assertions as I see extremism in both political camps. Previous research in RWA suggests extremism on only one side of the political spectrum. My first stab at looking at Christian dehumanization did not ask the respondents about their religious and political identities. Fortunately, I followed up with two more surveys that allowed me to investigate whether it is only political and religious conservatives tempted to use authority figures to oppress those they define as deviants.
In addition to asking about religion and politics, I also asked the respondents about their sex, race, education, SES and a variety of other social/demographic factors. You know the sort of stuff we sociologists are socialized to ask about. I wanted to include a table where I compared those who scored in the top 25 percent of my Christian dehumanization scale (see my blog entry last week to get some idea on how it was constructed) to scores for the entire sample. But now I must sheepishly apologize for my poor blogging skills. I tried to include a table so that readers could see the breakdown of the results but I could not format it in an acceptable manner. However the information is available in the book and I can report on the general findings from my work here without a table. Regionally, both groups appear to be dispersed in proportion to the rest of society. However, we see that those with RWA tend to be married while Christian dehumanizers are not. Those with RWA tend to do better financially while Christian dehumanizers are poorer than average. Educationally, those with RWA do not score as high while it seems that Christian dehumanizers do as well as everybody else. I see these results painting a picture of those with RWA as those living in somewhat stable married lives. Conventional lives, if you will, to probably match their conventional beliefs. Christian dehumanizers may be just starting out in life and are not wealthy. They are likely to live the life of a single and thus are not as conventional in lifestyle as authoritarians. However, I suspect that some of the income and marital status differences may be due to my use of Amazon Mechanical Turk to collect my sample as I likely collected a lot of unattached, lower SES individuals who may be attracted to Turk to make money.
But these effects are relatively weak compared to the political and religious effects which reinforce my speculation of conventionality (Regression models supported this assertion about the power of political and religious effects). Reinforcing previous assertions about RWA I found that they are more politically conservative, more likely to be Christians, less likely to be atheists or agnostic and more likely to attend religious services than the rest of the sample. These findings comport with just about every other study of RWA that measured political and religious dimensions. But the results on Christian dehumanization were just as powerful that those who dehumanize Christians are more likely to be politically progressive, less likely to be Christian, more likely to be atheist or agnostic and less likely to attend religious services than the rest of the sample. Authoritarians have traditional religious beliefs and support a political ideology that reflects conventionality. Nothing really new here that has not been discussed in other scholarly treatment of RWA. Dehumanizers are the opposite of authoritarians with nontraditional religious beliefs. Not surprising that those with unconventional religious beliefs are more likely to dehumanize those with conventional religious beliefs.
I am certain that someone is eager to point out that I am using a non-probability sample which cannot be generalized to the entire population. That is a fair enough critique. However, research supporting notions of RWA are not based on probability samples either. I have yet to find a study using the RWA scale that was sent to a probability sample. Thus, if one wished to discount these results due to the non-probability makeup of the sample then one also has to discount the results supporting RWA. One could argue that there are many such studies of RWA compared to this single study of Christian dehumanization. A few points address that argument. First, one does not overcome the problems of non-probability samples simply by doing non-probability sampling over and over again. Second, my results concerning those who (higher religious/political conservatism) possess RWA conforms to other research about RWA. Why would we accept those results and throw out the other results? Third, all new research ideas start with a single study. Those who believe this study is an anomaly have the responsibility to do more research empirically showing that my assertions are incorrect. Merely stating that may study is the only one with these results is an insufficient response since this may be the first of many studies to come. Finally, there is research by myself and by Louis Bolce/Gerald De Maio indicating that political progressives and the irreligious are disproportionately likely to have animosity towards conservative Christians. My current research builds on that work by allowing us to see some of the consequences of that animosity.
But there is more to RWA than assertions about the misuse of authority figures. For example, proponents of theories about RWA have argued that those with authoritarianism are more vindictive and less able to critically think than other individuals. Fear may drive a lot of these negative outcomes. Those with right-wing authoritarians may be vindictive since they have fear of those they see as deviants and believe that those individuals must be stopped. Thus they are more willing to favor heavy punishment for those deviants. This fear can also interfere with their ability to critically assess social reality. Fear may lead right-wing authoritarians to make illogical assertions as long as those assertions support their presuppositions about social reality. Fear brings with it the idea that one cannot be wrong and one cannot lose the social/culture war that is being fought.
But if fear is the source of these other dysfunctions then are those dysfunctions limited to political and religious conservatives? Political and religious progressives may also see themselves in a social/culture war that they cannot fathom losing. My qualitative work with cultural progressives indicates a great deal of unreasonable fears such individuals have towards conservative Christians. It is possible that in a contextualized fashion we should see similar trends towards vindictiveness and non-critical thinking among those who dehumanize Christians.
In next week’s blog I will look at the propensity of those who dehumanize Christians to take on other negative characteristics linked to RWA. Due to space limitations I will only deal with vindictiveness however in Dehumanizing Christians, I also explored the propensity of those who dehumanize Christians to fail to engage in critical thinking. I will illustrate that the context of that vindictiveness matters but it is indeed the case that those who dehumanize conservative Christians also possess a good deal of vindictiveness. In doing so, I will argue that the desire to punish those who differ from us is not limited in scope or in intensity by political ideology.