It has been interesting to watch the reactions to the Occupy Wall Street protests, for they mirror what our society has become. There seem to be three broad types of reactions, all with a common theme. You can see all three in a recent Daily Show clip about the protests (video below).
- Clueless mainstream media types trying to figure out what exactly it is these people are protesting, so as to put them in some kind of political box they can understand
- Those supportive of the protesters who are trying to put them in a leftist/liberal political box
- Those disdainful of the protesters who are trying to put them in the same anti-right political box
Those in the first group can't handle the ambiguity. They require specific goals and affiliations. Do these hippies want to redistribute the wealth? Do they want to get corporate money out of politics? Do they want X? How about Y? And I say: how about all of the above? As I said in a recent post, the protesters' message is America Sucks! Sucks Big Time! If you're asking what their specific goals are, you might as well use a process of elimination that begins with "well, what doesn't suck in America?"
Those in the second and third groups are likely to say the protests are the liberal version of the Tea Party, which makes for easy comparisons. It thus becomes easier for them to put the protesters in a cardboard box, put some gift wrapping it, tie it all together with a ribbon and bow, and using the the United States Postal Service—if the post office no longer exists, you can use UPS or FedEx—mail them to:
Lights Are On But Nobody's Home
P.O. Box 666
Oblivion, The State of Denial
Jon Stewart belongs to Group #2 above, as you will readily see in the video below. He supports the protesters—I think he does, it's hard to tell—but wants to confine them to the anodyne world of the pre-packaged "Rally For Sanity" as quickly as possible. Stewart does his usual schtick, focusing on the dismissive reactions of Group #3—the Fox News/Tea Party/Ann Coulter/Sarah Palin/Sean Hannity/Mitt Romney/Herman Cain wing of American life. Thus Stewart seeks to box up (kettle?) the protests.
For some time now I have been trying to properly characterize Group #3. Their hate-filled, over-the-top reactions to the protests seem to have concentrated my thinking along these lines. In the video below Ann Coulter compares the protesters to Nazis, whereas the psychological truth is just the opposite. Ann Coulter would make a splendid Nazi. In a standard list of psychological defense mechanisms, this is called projection, whereby
Projection is the misattribution of a person’s undesired thoughts, feelings or impulses onto another person who does not have those thoughts, feelings or impulses.
Nazis (and fascists in general) were very much on everyone's mind in the 1950s, with World War II and the Holocaust still fresh in living memory. At that time, various psychologists developed the concept of the Authoritarian Personality, by which they meant the type of person who is prone (or susceptible) to fascism. These psychologists came up with elaborate theories purporting to explain how such people come into being, but these theories are jargon-bound, and unimportant for our purposes today. Let's simply describe the authoritarian personality and compare it to the sort of people we see on Fox News. Here's the dictionary definition.
A personality pattern reflecting a desire for security, order, power, and status, with a desire for structured lines of authority, a conventional set of values or outlook, a demand for unquestioning obedience, and a tendency to be hostile toward or use as scapegoats individuals of minority or nontraditional groups.
[My note: like the #occupywallstreet protesters.]
Here's another description.
The authoritarian personality does not want to give orders, their personality type wants to take orders. People with this type of personality seek conformity, security, stability. They become anxious and insecure when events or circumstances upset their previously existing world view.
[My note: like the #occupywallstreet protests.]
They are very intolerant of any divergence from what they consider to be the normal (which is usually conceptualized in terms of their religion, race, history, nationality, culture, language, etc.) They tend to be very superstitious and lend credence to folktales or interpretations of history that fit their preexisting definitions of reality... They think in extremely stereotyped ways about minorities, women, homosexuals, etc. They are thus very dualistic- the world is conceived in terms of absolute right (their way) Vs. absolute wrong (the "other" whether African American, liberal, intellectual, feminist, etc.)
And here's a list of characteristics.
Those with an authoritarian personality tend to be:
- Hostile to those who are of inferior status, but obedient of people with high status
- Fairly rigid in their opinions and beliefs
- Conventional, upholding traditional values
- Ethnocentric, i.e. the tendency to favour one's own ethnic group
- Obsessed with rank and status
- Respectful of and submissiveness to authority figures
- Preoccupied with power and toughness.
We see that people with authoritarian personalities are slavishly devoted to the status quo, and will react with venomous hostility to anything that might upset the apple cart. They thus feel extremely threatened by these Wall Street protests, though not in sense that Jon Stewart is, and will go to any lengths to dispose of these threats.
There's much more to it, but I would say that the reactions to the protests of those in the Fox News group are very, very close to what we might expect from those best characterized as authoritarian personalities.
That's enough to chew on today. I'll be referring to authoritarian personalites in the future. I think the implications of these observations are all too obvious. Here's the video.