Friday, June 5, 2020

Is Right Wing Populism the Rubric of the Christian Right?

Excerpts from. Chip Berlet and Matthew N Lyons in “Right Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort.” New York, NY: Guilford Press, 2000. 


1. Producerism
One of the staples of repressive and right-wing populist ideology has been producerism, a doctrine that champions the so-called producers in society against both “unproductive” elites and subordinate groups defined as lazy or immoral… [. . .]White farmers, laborers, artisans, slave-owning planters, and “productive” entrepreneurs; it excluded bankers, speculators, monopolists – and people of color. In this way, producerism bolstered White supremacy, blurred actual class divisions, and embraced some elite groups while scapegoating others.[. . .]In the 1920s industrial philosophy of Henry Ford, and Father Coughlin’s fascist doctrine in the 1930s, producerism fused with anti-Semitic attacks against “parasitic” Jews.
Producerism, with its baggage of prejudice, remains today the most common populist narrative on the right, and it facilitates the use of demonization and scapegoating as political tools [Saxon, A “Rise and Fall of the White Republic, p 313].

2. Demonization and Scapegoating 
Jean Hardesty argues that the contemporary Right has frequently relied on “mobilizing resentment” as an organizing process (Hardesty, JV. “Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers”. Boston, MA: Beacon, 1999).  
Demonization of an enemy often begins with marginalization, the ideological process in which targeted individuals or groups are placed outside the circle of wholesome mainstream society through political propaganda and age-old prejudice. This creates an us-them or good-bad dynamic of dualism, which acknowledges no complexity or nuance and forecloses meaningful civil debate or practical political compromise.  
The next step is objectification or dehumanization, the process of negatively labeling a person or group of people so they become perceived more as objects than as real people. Dehumanization often is associated with the belief that a particular group of people is inferior or threatening. 
The final step is demonization, the person or group is framed as totally malevolent, sinful and evil. It is easier to rationalize stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, scapegoating and even violence against those who are dehumanized or demonized (Aho,JA. “Phenomenology of the Enemy.” Seattle: University of Washington Press, pp. 107 -121. Young-Breuhl, E. “Anatomy of Prejudices.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univerisity Press, 1996.).  
The word scapegoat has evolved to mean a person or group wrongfully blamed for some problem, especially for other people’s misdeeds. We use the term scapegoating to describe the social process whereby the hostility and grievances of an angry, frustrated group are directed away from the real causes of a social problem onto a target group demonized as malevolent wrongdoers.  
The scapegoat bears the blame, while the scapegoaters feel a sense of righteousness and increased unity. The social problem may be real or imaginary, the grievances legitimate or illegitimate, and members of the targeted group may be wholly innocent or partly culpable. What matters is that the scapegoats are wrongfully stereotyped as all sharing the same negative trait, or are singled out for blame while other major culprits are left off the hook (Alport, GW. “Nature of Prejudice,” Cambridge MA: Addison-Westley, 1954, pp 243-260. Girard,R. “The Scapegoat.” Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1986.).  
Scapegoating often targets socially disempowered or marginalized groups. At the same time, the scapegoat is often portrayed as powerful or privileged. In this way, scapegoating feeds on people’s anger about their own disempowerment but diverts this anger way from the real systems of power and oppression.  
A certain level of scapegoating is endemic in most societies, but it more readily becomes an important political force in times of social competition or upheaval. At such times, especially, scapgoating can be an effective way to mobilize mass support and activism during a struggle for power. 

 3.  Conspiracism 
Conspiracism is a particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames the enemy as part of a vast, insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm. Like other forms of scapegoating, conspiracism often, though not always, targets oppressed or stigmatized groups. In many cases, conspiracism uses coded language to mask ethnic or racial bigotry, for example, attacking the Federal Reserve in was that evoke common stereotypes about “Jewish bankers.” 
 Far right groups have often used such conspiracy theories as an opening wedge for more explicit hate ideology. Conspiracism differs in several ways from legitimate efforts to expose secret plots. First, the conspiracist worldview assigns tiny cabals of evildoers with superhuman power to control events; it regards such plots as the major motor of history.
Conspiracism blames individualized and subjective forces for political, economic, and social problems rather than analyzing conflict in terms of systems, institutions, and structures of power. Second, conspiracism tends to frame social conflict in terms of a transcendent struggle between Good and Evil that reflects the influence of the apocalyptic paradigm.
In its efforts to trace all wrongdoing to one vast plot, conspiracism plays fast and loose with the facts. While conspiracy theorists often start with a grain of truth and “document” their claims exhaustively, they make leaps of logic in analyzing evidence, such as seeing guilt by association or treating allegations as proven fact (Hofstadter, R. “Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays.” New York, NY: Knopf, 1965, pp 37-38.).  
Conspiracist attacks can be directed either “upward” or “downward.” Antielite conspiracism (or antielite scapegoating) targets groups seen as sinister elites abusing their power from above. Countersubversive scapegoating targets groups portrayed as subversives trying to overturn the established order the established order from below or from within[. . .]What these versions share, and what especially defines antielite conspiracism, is that the scapegoat is seen as a subjective, alien force that distorts the normal workings of society. Thus, despite its “radical” veneer, antielite conspiracism shares the mainstream assumptions that the United States is fundamentally democratic, and that any injustice results from selfish special interest groups, not from underlying systems of power and oppression.  
 As Donner argued, “In a period of social and economic change during which traditional institutions are under the greatest strain, the need for the myth is especially strong as a means of transferring blame, and outlet for the despair [people] face when normal channels of protest and change are closed (Donner, FJ. “Age of Surveillance: The Aims and Methods of America’s Political Intelligence System.” New York, NY: Knopf, 1980, pg 11.)  
In these ways, countersubversive scapegoating has played an important role in this country’s system of social control, bolstering elite privilege and power. 

4.  Apocalyptic Catastrophizing
Apocalypticism – the anticipation of a righteous struggle against evil conspiracies – has nfluenced social and political movements throughout US History. In its generic sense, the word apocalypse has come to mean the belief in an approaching confrontation, cataclysmic event, or transformation of epochal proportion, about which a select few have forewarning so they can make appropriate preparations.  
Those who believe in a coming apocalypse might be optimistic about the outcome of the apocalyptic moment, anticipating a chance for positive transformational change; or they might be pessimistic, anticipating a doomsday; or they might anticipate a period of violence or chaos with an uncertain outcome (Bromley, DG. “Constructing Apocalysm.” pp 31-45. Wessinger, C “Millennialism With and Without Mayhem.” pp 47-59. Both in Robbins, T & Palmer, SJ (ed.). “Millennium, Messiahs and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements.” New York, NY: Routledge, 1997.). 

5.  Millenial Visons
Millennialism is a specific form of apocalyptic expectation. Most contemporary Christian fundamentalists believe that when Christ returns, He will reign for a period of 1,000 years – a millennium. Yet not all contemporary Christians promote apocalyptic demonization. Within Christianity, there are two competing views of how to interpret the apocalyptic and millennial themes in the Bible, especially the book of Revelation.  
One view identifies evil with specific persons or groups, seeking to identify those in league with the Devil. A more optimistic form of interpreting apolcalyptic prophecy is promoted by Christians who see evil in the will to dominate and oppress. Apocalyptic thinking, in this case, seeks justice for the poor and weak.  
The two interpretations represent a deep division within Christianity. The dangerous form of millennialism comes not from Christianity per se, but from Christians who combine biblical literalism, apocalyptic timetables, demonization and oppressive prejudices… These social movements sought to influence public policy, social conduct, and cultural attitudes, sometimes coming into conflict with the established order and state power.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Perhaps a Clearer Message for Jill Rodrigues

I hope that, somehow, this message makes its way to you.

I know that people love you and I am grateful that people show you their love for you tangibly.  I am grateful for that family that shared food with you so that you can provide for your children.  I take no pleasure in the idea that your needs are not met.

I saw this video today after considering again that disagreement about the details does not mean hate. It really is the hard work of seeing the world as it is and learning compassion and mercy from the compassion and mercy that we are shown.  We learn it when others model it for us.

My tenure in hard-edged Christian fundamentalism lacked mercy for others, and I see so much of that harshness in the culture that you occupy -- for all of the right reasons.  I know how cutting and painful that can be.

All of that said, I also extend this message to you, too.  No matter the tension between us, the ground is all level at the foot of the Cross.   There is no hatred or a sense of being better than another there.

May Our Tears be Translated When the Bell Tolls for Us

I just poured my heart out in a post on No Longer Quivering -- about an expression of grief about the pain what is essentially cognitive bias which ends up leaving us with the feeling of cognitive dissonance when reality breaks through our fantasy.

We see what we want to see as we begin our journey in life.  In high demand groups, we must take the diversity of the world and transmute it into a scheme of black and white.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

COVID19 – How Anti-Intellectual Christians Ruin Things for the Rest of Us

Thank you to Suzanne at No Longer Quivering for posting this letter to government officials who may be in a good position to reach the Rodrigues Family with some information that may finally curtail their life-endangering recklessness as our communities and our nation respond to the COVID Pandemic.

The family hobnobs with Bill Gothard's inner circle of Advanced Training Institute homeschooling families including the Duggar Family (TLC Cable Reality TV Personalities). Good stewardship for Christians should begin with love for others and concern for them by first showing them that they have inherent worth. They have equal value to all others regardless of their beliefs and religion, and their physical bodies are just as important as their individual souls. They are precious, their phsycial bodies are precious, and their part in society has as much value to society as that of any Christian – right here 
in the here and now.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Lamenting Labors and Legacies

I always find great pleasure when speaking with Dr. John Weaver. As he waits for the upcoming release of his latest work, Technology, Management and the Evangelical Church, he's busy thinking about his next book – all of which became necessary for him to write after learning more about the complicated tapestry of abuses within the modern Evangelical Church in the US. I love how he sets me thinking about the language that I use, his rich sense of scholarship that drives questions about the origins of terminology, and how it affects us. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Remembering Sir Nicholas Winton and Hot Dogs on Independence Day

Image pirated from
[ETA:  I learned the day after I published this that Sir Winton passed away in 2015, not 2019.  Though I'm glad for the error because of the common themes between what he did for innocent children and what many children currently suffer at the US/Mexico border.]

Today, we Americans celebrate the Declaration of our Independence from crazy King George III and the British Parliament's entitlement to our then colonial livelihood. Informed and misinformed by a host of influences, my understanding of it all and my cause to celebrate continues to change, but I don't hesitate to do so. I celebrate for sundry reasons and causes of heritage, lineage, religious freedom, and the precious gift of liberty. For those who are denied such blessings, I pray, grieve, and mourn.

I descended from a family of three French militia mercenaries who claimed Pennsylvania as their home and marched under a flag bearing a rattlesnake.  Dr Forrest Moyer who is known as the “Father of Pediatrics” in Allentown, PA spent three days and nights in a cot beside me after my birth, years before the advent of neonatal intensive care units there. He told my parents to expect my death, and I am proud that I was baptized as a Moravian that morning.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Continuing the Discussion of Cognitive Bias

Here we are, still plugging along in the ongoing discussion of cognitive biases. Track the progress here and via guest posts at No Longer Quivering to learn more about common CranioRectal Inversions that can put us at risk.

This focus aims at improving our habits to ensure our safety and self care, especially during recovery from a spiritual abuse experience. Further discussion of Judith Herman's stages of recovery from trauma await as we are still on the first one

I plan to update the index of related posts a few times a year, but please don't hold me to it. (Search queries are your friend.)

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Culture that Created a Need for Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans( RHE) captured the attention of many – some who praised her, and others who are still bubbling over with miserable things to say about her. She was like a fresh breath of honesty, wrapping words around the frustrations of a whole generation of American Evangelicals. I find myself thinking of the analogy of breathing as quite fitting in light of her untimely death, reminding us all of the fragile and temporary nature of life itself. We are but a vapor. We know the exhalation of her creative expression which endures in her absence, but do we understand the culture which she drew into herself which prompted her message?

Consider that 70% of American adults identify as Christian with the Great Awakening revivals as factors that solidified the predominantly Protestant demographic. The First (1730-40) gave us many Puritans, Presbyterians, and pietists, and the Second Great Awakening (1790-1820) produced Methodists and Baptists.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Self-Justification's Role in Cognitive Dissonance

Whether we consider memory, our personal history, or a decision we made today, without our notice, our trait of consistency likely rules us. If anything was truly an innate trait that we humans suffer because of the Fall of Man, surely it is the illusion that we are independent, self-sufficient creatures. Self-justification rests the heart of our struggle to comfort our egos and acts as comfort's right hand. We strive to be enough on our own, free from a Creator, and our very own brains write the narrative to convince us that it is so.

Knowledge of how our minds work and why they work the way that they do can mature us. We can learn to slow down the knee-jerk self-justification process to give us more time to respond to life instead of just reacting to it. Whether we seek to minimize our own culpability for an error or craft a history that softens our regret, if we are aware of this very human quality, we stand a better chance of circumventing its pitfalls. We will never break free of bias, but we can learn to be better stewards of our own thoughts, feelings, and behavior. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

External and Internal Expressions of Cognitive Dissonance

The last post left us wondering about the results of Leon Festinger's study of forced behavioral compliance. Participants were placed into two separate groups, one of which was well paid, and the other which received a nominal amount to compensate them for their time in the tediously boring hour and the request to lie to the new test subjects on their way out. 

(Note the adjustment in the value of the reward in this blog post to approximate a contemporary value.) Only one group described the test as unpleasant, and the other claimed that they enjoyed performing the study, expressing positive feelings about it. But which group enjoyed themselves?

Monday, April 1, 2019

Studying the Stress of Forced Compliance

Read Part I here.

What evidence exists to support the claim that a person will change their thoughts and even their record of events to assuage the distress of cognitive dissonance? For that, we must travel back to Stanford in the 1950s to examine Festinger's study.

Students at Stanford were recruited with the understanding that they were helping the school to streamline their study design concerning “Measures of Performance.” The students did not realize that they were being observed to determine how they would handle the stress of cognitive dissonance, believing the study to be a measure to improve the research method that the school employed. Each student was paid for their time.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Revisiting Cognitive Dissonance

In our last discussion of bias, we took note of the human preference for consistency. Not only do we build upon previous learning and decisions with new choices when they are consistent with past behavior, we also strive for personal consistency in our thoughts, emotions, and actions. A lack of consistency and continuity among these three aspects of self causes an intensely uncomfortable mental distress. Information that challenges current thought, required behavioral compliance that contradicts thought and emotion, or the induction of intense, unpleasant feeling can create this disruption in the consistency of self. The experience of that painful stress is called cognitive dissonance. 

Elizabeth Loftus on the Memory Illusion

Saturday, March 30, 2019

When Swimming in Biases, Try Not to Drown

Heuristics or those 'rules of thumb' that we use to cut through dense amounts of information to help us make timely decisions often involve availability biases. We remember ideas and select rationales based on how available they are to us – how close to the surface of our conscious thoughts those rationales lie. (We humans will grab the ideas that are most "available" to us – and sometimes, they are the most absurd.) When we lack enough information about a chain of events, we also draw on heuristics to 'fill in the gaps' between them so that we can better comprehend them. But they are shortcuts, and when we use these methods, we run at least some risk of falling into error. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

Freeing Memory from Bias by Bringing it Captive

More About How Cognitive Bias Can Influence Memory

The process of memory awareness and noticing discrepancies and errors was named metamemory some forty years ago. We may recall something and have our memory of a place or an event in time, only to discover years later that we've misremembered elements of the narrative. Metamemory helps us understand the way that our self-justifying cognitive biases code and influence what we store as memory (which always differs somewhat from objective reality).

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Disparagements of Perspective or Lies of Malice? Be Free Indeed!

Totalist religion affords us a very tidy view of the world where little if any ambiguity exists. Some enlightened other came before and figured out all that people would need to know to guide themselves with great ease through the rough edges of life. That's how things were sold to me in my group of record as an adult. Critical thinking gets handed over to a religious overseer of souls, creating the illusion of moral blamelessness for members – a process dubbed 'moral disengagement'. 

But there are no pat answers to life's complex problems, and we complex and conflicted human beings make things all the murkier. If you live under a totalist religion, you can skip over the murkiness into a view of black and white, and life becomes a zero-sum game. If someone 'wins' an argument, it means that 100% of the spoils of merit go to one sole survivor, and there can be no merit spared for the other contenders. That all-or-nothingness bleeds over into other areas, too, like power and love and care. If a contender gets some of those valuable commodities, it means that there is less comfort and accomplishment left for everyone else. 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Thinking the Unthinkable: A Challenge for the Botkins

I thought about the Botkin daughters today – and it's approximately six weeks since I received their letter. As cognitive dissonance teaches us, all people find it uncomfortable when others believe unpleasant things about them, and it occurred to me that dissonance itself is something that I definitely share in common with these young women.