Understanding Your Right-Wing Authoritarian Neighbors And Why You Can’t Re-wire Their Minds

Based on the work of others, primarily Professor George Lakoff, an expert in cognitive linguistics – how the brain uses and responds to language, here is what I’ve come to understand about those who support people like racist, misogynist, DJT and other right-wing authoritarians who prefer using dog whistle language.

First here is a quote from John Dean (Nixon White House counsel) from his 2006 book Conservatives Without Conscience:

“Probably about 20 to 25 percent of the adult American population is so right-wing authoritarian, so scared, so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds. … And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told. They are not going to let up and they are not going away.” (Keep in mind that DJT secured about 26.7% of the eligible voters and they vote!!!)

The following is what I have taken from Lakoff’s work. This right-wing group adhere’s to a set of beliefs, or moral values, and related understandings which drive their policies and the people they support. These beliefs are foreign to your’s, mine and all progressives, but explains a lot about them and how their brains are wired differently.

First of all, they have a strong belief in a moral hierarchy for humans and all things non-human. At the top of this hierarchy is a Christian God. Next is Christian/successful white men. At the bottom are poor, single, black women with kids who all follow Islam. If you are successful (self-made), as DJT appears, and white, you must be Christian because only white Christians have the self-discipline to succeed. This belief in hierarchy then leads to an understanding that inequality must be normal and immutable. This then justifies harming of those inferior and pillaging the Earth’s natural resources with no fear of consequences or concern for systemic impacts.

These fellow Americans also believe individuals have singular control over their success – there are no external factors you can’t work around if you just work hard enough. If you have self-discipline, you will become a self-made success. So, successful corporations and billionaires deserve government welfare as reward for their singularly self-made success. Conversely, if you are not successful, it’s singularly your fault. You lack self-discipline and deserve what you have. You also deserve nothing from fellow, successful, Americans, especially via government controlled wealth transfer. Also, this self-discipline/self-made success begets a self-righteousness and moral superiority for those at the upper levels of the hierarchy.

Their self-made man belief is also based on a fundamental, easily observed and demonstrated, process called direct causation. (If you do ‘A’, ‘B’ will happen immediately and without question.) We have all learned it as part of growing up. The problem is that most right-wing authoritarians have only limited understanding of systemic causation (‘A’ will occur provided ‘B’ occurs, provided that ‘C’ happens, and ‘C’ happens provided ‘D’ happens, etc.), which plays a major role in one’s success or failure. This is why this group can’t accept concepts like global warming – there is no direct relation between extracting fossil fuels from Texas shale and extreme warming of the atmosphere over the North Pole.

Direct causation also contributes to a black and white view of the issues and those who support an issue. There is no grey. There are no extenuating circumstances. Issues/policies are morally right or wrong – no compromise. You are with them or against them. You are for the war on non-white terrorists or you are a traitor. Your success or failure comes singularly from your self-discipline and has nothing to do with when or where you were born, what family you were born into, who their friends are, the teachers or preachers who came and went, the laws in effect and whether they equally protected and empowered all or only those who were successful, etc.

Their favorite tool for reinforcing direct causation is abusive punishment, starting as early as 18 month’s of age. Refuse to learn their right-wing moral values and the punishment will escalate until you comply – thus a belief in war at any cost and torture. They believe that all children are born evil justifies this tool. Only severe punishment teaches what is morally right: hierarchy, inequality, torture, and self-made success.

Another side effect of abusive punishment is the severe reduction of one’s ability to empathize. Research shows that empathy, through mirror neurons, exists in every healthy brain at birth. However, abusive punishment suppresses empathy wiring to allow acceptance of social hierarchy and inequality. Abusive punishment combined with a social hierarchy liberates these folks from concern for other less equal/successful Americans.

Systemic causation, compassion, shades of grey, equality, all threaten the right-wing authoritarian worldview and their self-identity. Our beliefs are key to our self-identity and any facts to the contrary are a threat and result in a loud and violent defensive response for this right-wing group. They will apply abusive punishment, including civil and international war, to preserve their self-identity and it’s foundation – their beliefs.

These right-wing beliefs also lead to acceptance of government welfare for large corporations, to-big-to-fail banks, and billionaire hedge fund managers, and, conversely, to purposely leaving those without self-discipline to the vagaries of unrecognized systemic causation.

As John Dean said, these neighbors are “so right-wing authoritarian, so scared, so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds.” They are who they are because of what they believe. In their mind they are morally right and they don’t have the neural wiring to understand otherwise.

You cannot change their beliefs without rewiring decades of neural hard wiring and isolating them from endless hours of right-wing media that reinforces their beliefs.



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About Andy Hailey

Vietnam Vet, UT El Paso Grad, Retired Aerospace Engineer, former union rep, 60's Republican now progressive, web admin, blogger.

3 Responses to Understanding Your Right-Wing Authoritarian Neighbors And Why You Can’t Re-wire Their Minds

  1. joshuaism says:

    So half of Republicans cannot be reasoned with. Well what’s to be done about the other half? And how can you tell the two from each other so you don’t waste your time debating a right wing authoritarian?

    • Andy Hailey says:

      Sorry for the late reply.

      Try sharing the following definition of Government and asking to what extent they agree with it. If the totally reject it, don’e waste your time.

      Government of, by, and for all the People requires both:
      – Government with the moral purpose to equally protect and empower all the people such that 1) People’s individual freedoms are maximized, and 2) Economic, social, racial, and environmental injustices are minimized, and
      – Active participation (voting and paying citizenship dues) of a majority of the people to maintain such a government.

    • Andy Hailey says:

      And if you want to confirm they are not worth your effort, see if they totally agree with this definition:

      A government of, by, and for the successful requires:
      – Government with the focused purpose to protect and enrich only the successful such that their individual freedom and wealth are maximized without concern for any resulting injustices, and
      – Active participation (voting, lobbying and campaign payments) of just the successful, and their admirers, to maintain such a government.