Yesterday, I wrote:
It is scary for people to admit that those who are supposed to be their “leaders” protecting them may in fact be human beings with complicated motives who may not always have their best interests in mind.
Indeed, long-term psychological studies show that approximately one-quarter of the American population has an “authoritarian personality“, where they look for a “strong leader” to protect them (that’s why even after his lies were exposed, Bush still stayed at approximately a 25% approval rating).
Authoritarians not only don’t want to hear that the most powerful people might be acting against their interest, they will aggressively defend against any such information.
But it’s not just the quarter of the population that can be said to clinically suffer from authoritarian personality disorder.
All of us - to one degree or another – have invested tremendous hope in the idea that our leaders and institutions will protect us.
As just one example, Americans have traditionally believed that the “invisible hand of the market” means that capitalism will benefit us all without requiring any oversight. However, as the New York Times notes, the real Adam Smith did not believe in a magically benevolent market which operates for the benefit of all without any checks and balances:
Smith railed against monopolies and the political influence that accompanies economic power …
Smith worried about the encroachment of government on economic activity, but his concerns were directed at least as much toward parish councils, church wardens, big corporations, guilds and religious institutions as to the national government; these institutions were part and parcel of 18th-century government…
Smith was sometimes tolerant of government intervention, ”especially when the object is to reduce poverty.” Smith passionately argued, ”When the regulation, therefore, is in support of the workman, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters.” He saw a tacit conspiracy on the part of employers ”always and everywhere” to keep wages as low as possible.
Similarly, many Americans have tended to naively believe that our leaders are selfless folks. They forget, of course, that the Founding Fathers loudly warned against relying on the charitable intentions of leaders, expressly set up a government based on the rule of law instead of the rule of men, and warned that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance in holding the feet of the powerful to the fire.
But both the left and the right are still very timid about openly examining whether those in power in government and business are working to help us or to exploit us.
By understanding that everyone – to varying degrees – has psychological resistance to such an examination, based upon the need to assume that the “big people in charge” will protect them and would never hurt them, we can begin to break through their defenses.
With the authoritarians, be prepared for passionate defense of their world-views. But for the other 75% of the population, you may break through by challenging their beliefs in benevolent parental figures and institutions.
You might need to wake some people up by saying something like “Do you assume that Daddy will always protect you? Or do you think we may need to assume responsibility for helping to run things ourselves?”
But beware: you will be touching on very deep emotions, and may be met with a backlash. However, if done right, you might plant seeds for future reflection which will lead to real change.