The real divide between us

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Written by: Miri
April 21, 2022
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It's not exactly a ground-breaking revelation to state that we live in a very divided society: perhaps more divided than we have ever been. We're divided over Covid, over Brexit, over the environment, over diet, over pretty much any and all issues you can think of (and, of course, this is largely manufactured and by design - united societies stand together, divided ones fall apart).

However, I have come to the conclusion that it is not the nature of these conflicts that really divides society. While I, like everyone, generally gravitate towards like-minded people - those with similar beliefs - I do also have friends with significantly different beliefs to me over politics, over religion, hell, even over vaccines (well, one). I'm quite happy for other people to hold beliefs that aren't carbon copies of my own, and I don't hector and lecture them and demand they change their beliefs to conform with mine. Equally, the friends I have who have different beliefs to mine, don't do that to me.

There is a very sizeable subsection of the population, however, that does do that: that is totally intolerant of other people's rights to think differently, to make different choices, to prioritise different things, and those are people with authoritarian personalities.

I never realised until Covid just how common authoritarian personalities are, but, by God, I realise it now... An authoritarian personality (in case by some miracle you've had the good fortune to sidestep them up until now...), is defined as someone who is very obedient to those they consider "superior" to them (doctors, scientists, politicians, etc.), and extremely domineering and controlling towards those they consider "inferior" (you and me). As the name might suggest, they're completely obsessed with perceived authority - either other people's or their own, and seeing that it is "correctly" observed. Hence, they are beloved of such phrases as, "oh, so you think you know better than a doctor, do you?", meaning - the doctor is the authority and you are subordinate to that authority, so just how very dare you challenge it! Leading on from this is that what authoritarians absolutely cannot bear the most is when those whom they consider as inferior to them, challenge them, disagree with them, or refuse to be controlled by them.

As you can imagine, then, authoritarian personalities make up a disproportionately high number of managers, and they are, overall, concentrated in environments where they can feel superior to and have control over others. Consequently, any movement that presents itself as conferring great moral and/or intellectual superiority to those who join it, disproportionately attracts authoritarians. Some examples of this would be academia and medicine (apparently, psychopathic traits are very over-represented in surgeons), but also, "alternative" movements that suggest they can confer special privileges or insights onto those that join them ("new age" / "spiritual" ones can be particularly bad for this). Of course that doesn't mean every person in academia, medicine, or spiritual movements is an authoritarian, but it means they are more likely to attract them than environments which don't operate on authority/subordinate models.

What I have come to realise very acutely throughout "Covid" is this is the real line in the sand - not what specific beliefs people have, but whether they are authoritarian and therefore are both vulnerable to illegitimate "authority" telling them what to do, and inclined to impose their own imagined "authority" onto others.

That's why Covid divided society so dramatically and so immediately - not because of differences in belief about the severity of the threat, but that because, regardless of the severity, authoritarians believed the government had the right to impose draconian diktats on the populace and non-authoritarians didn't. And that is why such a robust movement has developed around opposing the Covid restrictions - it's not about whether Covid is serious or non-serious, whether masks work or don't work, whether vaccines help or don't help - it's about the fact non-authoritarians believe in the absolute freedom of personal choice and that people have the inalienable right to determine their own lives and not have the state (or any other self-appointed authority) dictate it. Even if Covid was serious and masks etc. worked, a non-authoritarian would believe equally fervently that the state has no right to force these things on people. It's not about what "works" or "doesn't work". It's about personal liberty and the inviolable right of people to choose - including the right to make what might be perceived by others as bad choices.

This doesn't just apply to Covid, though. Authoritarianism is streaked throughout the population on every issue, and it is this - and not the specifics of what people believe - that is the true divide in society. What I have realised in the last two years is that the trait I admire most in others is non-authoritarianism, rather than any other specific belief or ideology they might hold. To quite a large extent, I don't care WHAT people believe - as long as they don't try to force it on me, and equally, I do not try to impose my beliefs or value systems on others.

That doesn't mean not talking about your beliefs or never hearing different views: it means understanding there's a big difference between sharing your beliefs in an appropriate way, and trying to forcefully impose them on other people, e.g. if someone feels the need to wear a mask, I'm not going to order them not to. Even though it's my belief masks are useless and dangerous and that it would be preferable nobody wore them, a person nevertheless has a right to wear one if they want to. However, if the mask-wearer attempts to insinuate I also should be wearing one, then we have a problem. Equally, if someone wants to join a fringe religious movement that insists they only eat purple peas on Wednesdays, that's fine too - and I will even get a store of purple peas with which to accommodate them should they choose to visit me mid-week - but when they start trying to pressurise me to join in these rituals too, then, again, we have a problem. Of course, everyone has their personal line in the sand about to what extent they will accommodate others, but once again, choosing not to accommodate someone else (e.g. not offering them an alcoholic drink because you are teetotal - "I don't keep alcohol in the house, sorry") is very different to trying to force your beliefs upon them ("... because it's bad for you and you shouldn't drink either").

I think it's fair to say I'm repulsed by people who try to exert control over me (it's not too strong a word), and also horrified at the idea of trying to control others. I don't want to be either a guru or disciple - as they say, don't walk behind me, as I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me, as I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend. (That doesn't mean we have to believe all the same things.)

Like most people, I do attract authoritarians from time to time who want to try and control what I think / say / do, and there was a slightly comical/incredulous incident recently, where someone wrote a long, link-heavy comment on one of my posts, which I hadn't got round to approving (because I wanted to read it properly, check out the links, etc.). Well, when I didn't instantly approve the comment and this individual couldn't therefore see it as having appeared on the site (as I have a moderation filter to keep out all the spam), he wrote a furious message stating, "thanks for deleting my comment. Clearly this is just an ego trip not worth supporting if you're going to do that." This is from a complete stranger, by the way.

A non-authoritarian person would never believe they had any inalienable right to impose their views on someone else's platform, much less lash out at the site owner if they "deleted" their comment (not that I did, but so what if I had - the site is called 'Miri AF', which I guess I hoped might give some vague clue as to whose content it's primarily designed to host...).

Now, I know, my critics may sneer (as they have...), "oh, so you just want a sycophantic echo chamber, do you? You don't ever want to be challenged?" - and if you're talking about the aggressive, confrontational challenges authoritarian types typically issue, where all they're interested in is forcefully imposing their views, not a genuine open-minded exchange, then you're damn right I don't want it. This is where the authoritarian arrogance is really exposed - just because I don't want to waste precious time and energy being hectored and hen-pecked by you, doesn't mean I don't subject my own beliefs and prejudices to constant critical examination and challenge. I expose myself to a wide and diverse range of viewpoints every day - every day, I read both the "left wing " and "right wing" mainstream media, I read a variety of alternative news sources. I have about 7,000 friends over my two Facebook platforms and therefore about 7,000 different viewpoints to peruse every day.

Believe me - I'm not in an echo chamber, and my views evolve all the time. But, as a meme I once made attests (you know the one with the guy with a coffee sitting in a park at a table inviting opponents to challenge him): "online arguments never changed anyone's mind on anything. Change my mind." (I thought that was rather good, actually...)

And that goes for offline, too. People trying to force their views on each other in arguments (and I've NEVER seen a so-called "debate" that doesn't very rapidly become a nasty, vicious spat) achieves nothing except draining time and energy and often creating lifelong enemies. That is not how people learn and grow, and nothing I've ever learned of any value was ever forced upon me by an authoritarian in an argument.

We all know how to seek out alternative viewpoints if we want them - indeed, in the information age, it's basically impossible to avoid them. So that tired old authoritarian defence - "I have to force my beliefs on people, otherwise they're living in an echo chamber" - is transparently null and void. And again, to reiterate, there's a big difference between the appropriate airing of different views, and the forceful imposition of them on others. To non-authoritarians, this difference is instinctive and obvious. To authoritarians, there is no difference.

So that's it: that's the true social divide, and really the ONLY social divide. It's not Covid sceptics versus Covid enthusiasts, it's not pro-vaxxers versus sane people (tee hee...), it's not vegans versus carnivores, it's not this religion versus that one.

It's authoritarians versus the rest of us. That's it. That's the only thing that ultimately divides us, and once we've identified and detached from the authoritarians in our lives, then - regardless of the specifics of what others around us believe - we can start to create real unity.

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