|By Alan Hall, originally published in the May 2010 Socionomist|
The Source of Authoritarian Expression, And The Road Ahead
Sociologists typically study authoritarianism within a left-right political spectrum. But as we showed in Part I, a society’s authoritarian impulse is rooted in social mood. Our socionomic Nolan chart illustrates how a bearish mood can push a society with very low interest in authoritarianism into a significant authoritarian/anti-authoritarian conflict.
Part I showed that over the past 200 years, the world’s most notorious authoritarians rose to power or committed their worst atrocities during or soon after bear markets. Our Authoritarian survey chart plots the Dow against the appearance and activities of such tyrants as Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mao Ze Dong, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein.
Part II of this study explains the grassroots sources of authoritarian desire, and forecasts key trends that will accompany rising authoritarianism.
Who’s Our Daddy Now?
Social mood declines generate increasing fear. As society becomes more fearful, many individuals yearn for the safety and order promised by strong, controlling leaders. In such environments, autocrats can rise to power via popular demand or coups d’état. Either way, fear creates the conditions under which such individuals gain control.
“Authoritarianism and Economic Threat: Implications for Political Behavior” by Edward J. Rickert finds that when people feel threatened and vulnerable, they are more likely to submit to authority. They are also less tolerant of and more aggressive toward other groups and dissenters. As Robert Prechter showed on pages 227-233 of The Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior and the New Science of Socionomics (HSB), these are classic bear market behaviors.
Bob Altemeyer, author of The Authoritarian Specter, notes that some individuals are more likely than others to welcome authoritarianism. He writes in his online book, The Authoritarians:
Authoritarian followers … . are in general, more afraid than most people are … . A person’s fear of a dangerous world predicts various kinds of authoritarian aggression better than any other unpleasant feeling … . We do have to fear fear itself … . Fear can increase submission as well as aggression.19
As HSB (pages 149, 174) explains, the survival-oriented portions of the brain respond strongly to fear. The emotion overwhelms rational thought, alters individuals’ perceptions, and causes people to bond with in-groups and become hostile toward out-groups. The desire to belong to in-groups becomes most intense during a negative mood trend. Figure 2 in Part I shows that history’s most prominent displays of collectivism (in Russia and China) and group submission (in Nazi Germany) follow large-degree bear markets.
Altemeyer found that predisposed followers of authoritarians are willing to behave aggressively on behalf of those authorities, especially when they believe the authorities will sanction punitive action against some out-group. He notes that predisposed authoritarians are prone to:
… sloppy reasoning, highly compartmentalized beliefs, double standards, hypocrisy, self-blindness, a profound ethnocentrism, and … dogmatism that makes it unlikely anyone could ever change their minds with evidence or logic. These seven deadly shortfalls of authoritarian thinking eminently qualify them to follow a would-be dictator.20
Herding’s Role in Authoritarian Submission
The 1960s Milgram experiment, mentioned in Part I of this study, shows that herding influences individuals’ willingness to submit to authority. Milgram assigned participants three roles. An authority figure—the experimenter—led the team. He directed the teacher, the experiment’s unwitting subject, to dole out tasks and punishment (electric shocks) to another participant. This person—the learner—was an actor who pretended to attempt the tasks and suffer shocks when he failed.
Milgram recorded the subject teacher’s responses to the experimenter’s orders. One scenario seated the subject with two planted teachers. When the planted teachers disobeyed the experimenter and refused to continue increasing the punishment, 90 percent of the subjects joined their peers and disobeyed the experimenter. But when the two planted teachers submissively continued shocking the learner, 92 percent of the subjects also delivered the top voltage.
The experiment shows that 90+ percent of people will submit to the pressure of an authority when they see their peers doing so. The reverse is also true:
When an individual wishes to stand in opposition to authority, he does best to find support for his position from others in his group. The mutual support provided by men for each other is the strongest bulwark we have against the excesses of authority.21
Prechter and Parker made a related observation in their 2007 Journal of Behavioral Finance paper, “The Financial/Economic Dichotomy in Social Behavioral Dynamics: The Socionomic Perspective”:
When people are uncertain about the relative values of available options, they typically default to a herding impulse … . When humans do not know what to do, they are impelled to act as if others know.22
The Authoritarian Progression
Based on the evolution of authoritarian regimes in the past and what we observe in society today, it is logical to expect the progression from social fear to authoritarianism to unfold in roughly the following fashion:
A general bearish fear of the future causes people to coalesce into groups with polarized views on the authoritarian/anti-authoritarian issue. These disparate groups exclude all messages that contradict their opinions. Cass R. Sunstein, in a 2001 essay in The Boston Review, notes the growing power of information consumers to “filter” what they read or see. He writes, “insulation from alternate views breeds increasing extremism.” Socionomists, however, would say increasing extremism breeds insulation from alternate views. Aspiring authoritarian and anti-authoritarian leaders alike use exclusionary propaganda to leverage this tendency. Leaders encourage their groups to see other groups as threats; actions escalate in a quid pro quo.
As society’s consensus diffuses into fearful discord, authoritarianism gains footholds. The majority of people see each authoritarian step as merely temporary, necessary inconveniences—small freedoms traded for promises of safety. As fear increases, society makes ever-larger concessions. If a negative trend in social mood is large enough, blatantly authoritarian leaders emerge and promise security. They attract support as well as strident opposition. In most cases, we can’t say which side will ultimately prevail. One gauge of a society’s fear may be the degree of surveillance proposed, implemented and/or resisted. For example, neighbors spied on neighbors in Nazi Germany, the USSR and elsewhere. We want to avoid those countries where the authoritarian expression is strongest. George Orwell would agree.
Here are several specific forecasts and examples that typify the authoritarian trend generated by the deepening bear in mood:
Governments will shut down sections of the Internet
A government that feels threatened by its citizens usually clamps down on the information flow. This makes the Internet a prime authoritarian/anti-authoritarian battleground. In November 2009, the Italian Interior Ministry requested that Google, owner of YouTube, remove a video showing high-school boys in Turin, Italy, taunting a boy with a mental disability. Google complied rapidly, but on February 24, 2010, Italy convicted three of the company’s executives for violating Italy’s privacy laws. The judgment “could have sweeping implications worldwide for Internet freedom” by setting a new precedent for regulation and control of the Internet, according to The New York Times.
With its authoritarian past, China should be a leader in the decline of information freedom. Beijing repeatedly pressured Google to censor its search results in the country; finally in January the search engine shut down its Chinese website altogether. In April, Bloomberg reported that China is continuing its campaign to intimidate information providers:
China passed amendments to its state secrets law that requires the nation’s telecommunications carriers and Internet companies to assist authorities with investigations of leaks … . [The changes are] aimed at making people, companies and organizations more responsible for protecting state secrets.23
Paranoid governments have plenty to worry about. For example, Wikileaks, a whistleblower website, illustrates how an unfettered Internet undercuts governments’ ability to control information. The website publishes sensitive or secret files submitted anonymously. Among the content posted to date are the U.S. military’s operating manual for the Guantanamo prison camp, and more recently, a video of U.S. helicopter pilots killing Reuters journalists in Iraq. Once such incendiary content is on the Web, other sites mirror it almost immediately, thwarting governments’ abilities to force the material back into secret. The days of unrestricted whistleblowers on the Web are numbered.
Reliance on indebted governments will become a flashpoint in the authoritarian debate
Americans’ reliance on government is at an all-time high, according to The Washington Times (March 2): “For the first time since the Great Depression, Americans took more aid from the government than they paid in taxes.” The extreme optimism of a Grand Supercycle peak in social mood generated huge, unsustainable government spending in many countries. That debt is fueling anger as the bear market progresses. Many citizens already feel dependent on the government and vulnerable to its every decision. Such social stresses will impel both authoritarian policies and opposition to them.
Governments will continue to curb economic freedoms
The Grand Supercycle mood peak produced near-anarchies of no-rules, anything-goes economics. In 1999 the hottest dot-com companies had no products, no earnings and high “burn rates” of cash. In 2006 the government encouraged no-money-down, no-collateral mortgages for unqualified homebuyers. Society had trended to an extreme view of economic “normal.” That trend has reversed. The August 2009 issue of The Socionomist forecast that governments will raise taxes and redistribute wealth. Other efforts to deal with economic crises—from bailouts to regulation to confiscation—will compound the loss of economic freedom. In 2002, Conquer the Crash described one likely action in the United States:
It is easy to imagine such talk in the next crisis, directed at requiring wealthy people to forfeit their retirement savings for the good of the nation. [The government] need merely assert, after a stock market fall decimates many people’s savings, that stocks are too risky to hold for retirement purposes. Under the guise of protecting you, it could ban stocks and perhaps other investments in tax-exempt pension plans and restrict assets to one category: “safe” long-term U.S. Treasury bonds. Then it could raise the penalty of early withdrawal to 100 percent. Bingo. The government will have seized the entire $2 trillion—or what’s left of it given a crash—that today is held in government-sponsored, tax-deferred 401(k) private pension plans.24
This scenario may yet materialize. A Fidelity Investments review of 11 million accounts found that the average 401(k) fund balance dropped 31 percent from its peak by the end of March 2009. The U.S. Treasury and the Labor Department have devised a plan to “promote the conversion of 401(k) savings and IRA accounts into annuities or other steady payment streams.” The February 17 Investor’s Business Daily explained what this plan means:
In plain English, the idea is for the government to take your retirement savings in return for a promise to pay you some monthly benefit in your retirement years. They will tell you that you are ‘investing’ your money in U.S. Treasury bonds. But they will use your money immediately to pay for their unprecedented trillion-dollar budget deficits.25
Authoritarian/anti-authoritarian court battles will increase dramatically
A well-timed new documentary, “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” recounts one of the most successful anti-authoritarian actions of the past century. During the height of the Vietnam War in 1971, American military analyst Daniel Ellsberg released 7,000 pages of secret, war-related documents later dubbed The Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg faced 115 years in prison but went free because of government misconduct against him. Since the 2000 peak in social mood, however, many governments have expanded their power. Ellsberg recently said, “The Patriot Act and related legislation have the effect of legalizing most of the actual crimes against me by [former U.S. President] Nixon.”
Bloomberg’s lawsuit against the U.S. Federal Reserve is a more recent challenge to authority. It seeks to ensure that the public is “informed of how the Fed is safeguarding the public’s money.” Similar suits by Fox News and The New York Times confront a powerful alliance of Wall Street banks and the Fed. On May 11, after 17 months of litigation, the U.S. Senate passed a scaled-back provision for a one-time audit of the Fed’s economic crisis response programs. Rep. Ron Paul wrote, “While it is better than no audit at all, it guts the spirit of a truly meaningful audit of the most crucial transactions of the Fed.”
Authoritarians will continue to use the fear of terrorism to institutionalize a culture of surveillance and control
Australia has not seen a significant terrorist incident since 1978. Yet Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently declared that his country “had become a target for terrorists and it is under ‘permanent’ and increasing threat … . Australia will start taking face scans and fingerprints from visitors from 10 ‘high risk’ nations.” (Daily Telegraph, February 23, 2010)
Real acts of terrorism will lead to much stronger responses. Last year, the U.S. Homeland Security Department said that private aviation “does not present a serious homeland security vulnerability requiring the Transportation Security Agency to increase regulatory oversight.” Following Joseph Stack’s February 18 airplane attack on IRS offices in Austin, Texas, however, the TSA is proposing background checks for everyone boarding private jets. New regulations target 15,000 private business jets that “could be used effectively to commit a terrorist act” (USA Today, February 19, 2010). Private plane flights are drawing other scrutiny as well. Since 2000, universities, businesses, churches and companies concerned about security or competition have used a little-known federal program to remove their flight records from the FAA database in order to hide them from the public. The April 8 USA Today described a successful 15-month effort by ProPublica—an independent investigative journalism group—to obtain the FAA’s list of aircraft whose flights have been removed from its database. Fasten your seatbelts and raise your tray tables; the era of secret flights is over.
The recent Times Square car bomb failed to explode, but imagine the public and government response if it had detonated. A single successful U.S. car bomb or improvised explosive device (IED) would expand airport-like security measures to a far broader landscape. The Department of Defense is already preparing for this eventuality. Its February 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Report (QDR) says:
The QDR directs a series of enhancements, including … domestic capabilities to counter improvised explosive devices.26
Domestic anti-IED capability will require even more surveillance and restrictions on travel freedom, a potential that socionomists saw coming. The October 2003 Elliott Wave Theorist made a series of forecasts “based upon the conjecture that social mood is about to accelerate toward the negative within a Grand Supercycle degree decline.” One of those forecasts reads, “The U.S. will require internal travel papers.”
Governments will increasingly employ technology to monitor and control their citizens
The U.S. government is pushing hard for unfettered access to cell phone records and GPS data. It is also fast-tracking the use of miniaturized sensors that monitor and report motion, temperature, chemistry, biological changes and power consumption. The tiny computers are increasingly pervasive and mobile. A New York Times article describes advances in “Smart Dust” technology such as Hewlett-Packard’s “‘Central Nervous System for the Earth,’ a 10-year initiative to embed a trillion pushpin-size sensors around the globe.” Other data-gathering projects use cell phone sensors to “calculate an individual’s personal environmental impact.” Under the right regime, such a program could expedite consumption- and population-control efforts. (See “A Socionomic Study of Eugenics,” The Socionomist, November 2009.)
Authorities will use new tools acceptable to a broader swath of authoritarian-leaning individuals
In the past, authorities frequently met civil disobedience with nightsticks, water cannons and tear gas. Later they progressed to rubber bullets and pepper spray. Television exposed authoritarian violence in the civil rights struggle, sparking nationwide civil rights demonstrations and riots from 1963 to 1970. Authorities suffered bad publicity again in the 1991 Rodney King police beating. In 1993, the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas, escalated into televised violence that killed 76 people, more than 20 of them children. Polls later showed that the majority of the American public believed the federal government had engaged in serious misconduct. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark commented, “History will clearly record, I believe, that these assaults on the Mt. Carmel church center remain the greatest domestic law enforcement tragedy in the history of the United States.”
Authorities have changed their tactics but not their intent. A March 2010 Harpers Magazine article describes huge advances in “non-lethal … media-friendly” crowd-control technology:
Electrical weapons that shock and stun; laser weapons that cause dizziness or temporary blindness; acoustic weapons that deafen and nauseate; chemical weapons that irritate, incapacitate or sedate; projectile weapons that knock down, bruise and disable; and an assortment of nets, foams and sprays that obstruct or immobilize.27
The author says this arsenal is the result of what “appears to be the first arms race in which the opponent is the general population.” As social mood continues its decline, more of that same general population will approve the use of such weapons.
Radical actors will attack authority; some will gain hero status
When Joseph Stack flew his fuel-loaded plane through the window of that IRS office in February, he committed—to our knowledge—the United States’ first domestic suicide bombing since the Bath School disaster in 1927. Stack’s online manifesto attracted anti-authoritarians and inspired “Facebook shrines to his martyrdom” that are similar to accolades for suicide bombers in the Middle East. One Facebook fan compared Stack’s patriotism to that of George Washington. The New York Times reports that “Politicians, including the newly minted Tea Party hero Scott Brown, were publicly empathizing with Stack’s credo.” In a Fox News interview, Brown said, “People are frustrated. They want transparency … . Certainly no one likes paying taxes, obviously.” According to the AP, deep animosity toward the IRS is a trend:
Threats against IRS employees have steadily increased in the past five years, climbing from 834 in fiscal 2005 to 1,014 threats in 2009, according to J. Russell George, the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration.28
Recent suicide bombings in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Russia represent radical challenges to authority in those countries. The 2010 riots in Greece, Thailand, Iran, Kyrgystan, and Indonesia expressed similar defiance.
Authorities will become wantonly repressive
The October 2003 issue of The Elliott Wave Theorist listed a number of forecasts. Here is one more:
Terrible secret activities that we could not even imagine will take place, some to be revealed only years or decades later. (It was revealed decades later that the U.S. government [allegedly for the greater good] conducted syphilis experiments on citizens beginning in 1932, the year that the Supercycle wave (IV) bear market bottomed.)29
Authoritarian actions often lead to a kind of ratcheting up of responses. For example, the bear-market authoritarianism of the Wilson era ushered in Prohibition and, in turn, soaring rates of alcoholism. Federal officials then responded with what the chief medical examiner of New York City called “our national experiment in extermination” when they ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols, known ingredients of illegal spirits. The public largely supported the program, and by the end of Prohibition, according to Deborah Blum, author of “The Poisoner’s Handbook,” it killed an estimated 10,000 people, all in the name of protecting the public.
In the 1970s bear market, U.S. and Mexican governments sprayed the pesticide Paraquat on marijuana fields. The U.S. government then tried to deter marijuana smokers by publicizing the threat of poisoning.
Authoritarians always claim that they are acting for the good of the people, but it is never true.
Authoritarianism is a Recognizable Trend
Alan Greenspan famously said, “It’s impossible to know that you are in a bubble when you are in one.” Years hence, someone will say something to the effect that it is impossible to know you are in an authoritarian trend when you are in one. We disagree on both counts. Socionomics provides a map of where society has been and where it likely will go. Map in hand, you can watch for signs along the way and seek the safest path.■
19, 20 Altemeyer, R. (1996). The authoritarians. Self published and online: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/, 55. See also: Altemeyer, R. (1996). The authoritarian specter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
21 Milgram, S. (1974). The perils of obedience. Harper’s Magazine, Retrieved from http://www.age-of-the- sage.org/psychology/milgram_perils_authority_1974.html
22 Prechter, R. & Parker, W. (2007). The financial/economic dichotomy in social behavioral dynamics: the socionomic perspective. The Journal of Behavioral Finance, 8 (2), 84-108.
23 Bloomberg News Service. (2010, April 29). China amends law to force internet companies to help in probes. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aDHGyKRHLBuY&pos=9
24 Prechter, R. (2002). Conquer the crash. Gainesville, GA: New Classics Library, 216, 217.
25 Gingrich, N. Ferrara, P. (2010, February 17). Class warfare’s next target: 401(k) savings. Investors Business Daily, Retrieved from http://www.investors.com/NewsAndAnalysis/Article.aspx?id=521423
26 Department of Defense. (2010). Quadrennial defense review report. Washington, D.C.
27 Arike, A. (2010, March). The soft kill solution: new frontiers in pain compliance. Harper’s Magazine, 38-47.
28 MacDougall, I. Carleton, J. (2010, February 22). Pilot who crashed plane into irs office in austin is hailed as a hero by some on the fringe. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://mobile.chicagotribune.com/inf/infomoview=nationworld_article&feed:a=chi_trib
29 Prechter, R. (2003, October). Elliott Wave Theorist, 9.
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