“The Authoritariate”

Whenever a teacher or police officer is revealed to have engaged in abusive behavior, a certain group of people always crawl out of the woodwork to defend the person of authority. They’re prepared to ignore any amount of evidence presented and to blame any abuse victims for being overly sensitive or for failing to do what was expected of them by the abuser or by society.

Here’s a sample from comments on a recent story of abusive teacher behavior (I have friends who suffered under this teacher):

  • “Entitled brats and their parents. Sums up what’s wrong with society these days.”
  • “It’s called tough love and some kids need it!”
  • “It sounds like a Teacher who […] demands things of her students that society & her students don’t understand anymore to be good things, like desire, discipline and dedication.”
  • “I was so blessed to have an English Teacher like [the accused] in my high school years.”
  • “If those students, parents and Teachers are whining, it’s because they probably are not centered in the truth.”
  • “God did give [the teacher] the gift of Prophecy, which is what a Teacher has, essentially. They use their skills of the past & present & help students chart their future, teaching them with encouragement and teaching them skills, laws and rules to guide their lives.”
  • “Kids just have it too easy and have no discipline.”
  • “It is the insidiousness of the permissive parents where the problem begins, not in the classroom”
  • “I’m not buying into this. A tough teacher is always a target for weak children and their weaker parents.”

The perception among these commenters seems to be that individuals in certain professions are “blessed” and incapable of wrong-doing; that any claim against them must be invalid and/or made by errant individuals who are actually somehow responsible for the occurrence. They’re unwilling to accept the simple fact that people in all roles and professions, even “good” people, can do bad things.

The same kinds of comments appear when a police officer is reported to have committed abuse or misconduct, or when someone receives an unusually harsh sentence for a malum prohibitum crime. E.g. “[the abuse victim] probably disrespected the officer and got what he deserved”, “We’re coddling criminals”, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time”, etc.

I like to label this group “The Authoritariate”, but psychologists already have a designation with three associated traits:

  1. 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.
  2. Authoritarian aggression — a general aggressiveness directed against deviants, outgroups, and other people that are perceived to be targets according to established authorities.
  3. 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

The research section is fascinating and tends to show what one could already infer from the wealth of comments on YouTube and other sites:

  • “[They] are more likely to make incorrect inferences from evidence and to hold contradictory ideas [and to] uncritically accept insufficient evidence that supports their beliefs, and they are less likely to acknowledge their own limitations.”
  • They don’t value social equality; are prejudiced against racial and ethnic minorities, and homosexuals.
  • They’re highly nationalistic, and willing to suspend constitutional guarantees of liberty, and accept covert governmental activities such as illegal wiretaps.
  • They don’t value personal freedom and diversity, and obtain personal satisfaction from punishing criminals and deviants
  • “They 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.”

Aside: In the case of Ms. Whipple, it’s completely possible that she, in some aspects, is an effective instructor, and some of her incidents may fall under the classification “tough, but fair”, but the collection of evidence does not look good. Apparently the cumulative effects of her verbally and psychologically abusive and unpredictable behavior led to a classroom dominated by fear and lack of respect for her personally. I.e. a terrible learning environment. It’s certainly not a good sign for the school system that she’s been repeatedly returned to the classroom.

One thought on ““The Authoritariate”

  1. Dana John Hill says:

    Those comments are astonishing and reveal something troubling about society: namely that some people are both completely unsympathetic to the suffering of others, and are exceedingly willing to offer their heartless opinions on topics about which they have no firsthand understanding.

    I believe that there are plenty of entitled kids around. I also believe that there are plenty of teachers who are tough but fair, but who are unfairly characterized by others as being totalitarian monsters. It is a reflection of how we mis-apply accurate standards of virtue and vice that reaches its zenith in comparisons of any enemy, no matter how powerless or benign, to Hitler.

    Still, I was there. I experienced the arbitrary and capricious “discipline” of the above referenced teacher. It wasn’t normal. Indeed, it wasn’t really discipline at all. Discipline is when a student gets sent to the office for doing something wrong, like cheating, or being disruptive, or breaking an established rule. Sadism is when an authority figure simply invents new “rules” that no one can possibly follow because they both defy logic and change on a whim.

    When I was a kid I got disciplined for talking in class when I wasn’t supposed to. I didn’t like it, but I understood it because I knew what the rules were. I broke the rules, I got in trouble. But anyone would resent getting discplined for some violation that was simply invented on the spot to satisfy a malicious pathological impulse. A classic example would be getting pulled over by a policeman who says, “I pulled you over because one of your headlights is out”, and who then proceeds to break your headlight with his club.

    Perhaps some of the commenters would defend such an abuse of power. Perhaps they would find a way to blame the victim. I swear, they’re just like Hitler.

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