Authoritarian Followers

It’s Probably Time to Become Alarmed, People!
May 4, 2016

I’ve remained relatively quiet concerning the crazy goings-on south of our (so far) unwalled border. But, with the announcement Tuesday of fellow Canadian-turned-Texan Ted Cruz’s withdrawal from the Republican leadership race, leaving The Donald only 200 delegate votes away from victory, it’s now time for us to become very concerned.

Truth be told, it really isn’t Ted Cruz’s departure that has me raising the alarm. It’s science fiction. In fact, it’s the latest novel from my favourite Sci-Fi author, Canadian writer Robert J. Sawyer – and his chilling scientific research – that has sent shivers of concern down my spine.

I’ve been a fan of Rob’s for years. Ya, we’re on a first-name basis… or at least I am after receiving several personalized and thoughtful replies to my fan emails. Rob’s novels are truly Canadian, wonderfully character-driven, and scientifically well-founded. He bases his stories on extensive research and plausible extrapolations of what the latest cutting-edge science might eventually lead us to. In fact, he typically becomes so knowledgeable about the scientific fields of which he writes that he is frequently asked to give keynote addresses on these topics at science symposiums. Even scientists respect him and want to hear what he has to say.

Rob’s latest book is entitled Quantum Night. It’s the story of a peaceful, thoughtful man who discovers a brief memory gap in his past which he feels compelled to explore (why don’t these people ever leave well-enough alone?) To his horror he finds that his mind – in fact his very personality – has been inadvertently tampered with, and that during his mental power-outage he became a despicable person who committed heinous crimes. The story becomes an engrossing mystery as our “hero” explores how and why this has occurred, and comes to grips with the global ramifications. The possible cause of such an inexplicable change to a man’s nature is where the real science comes in.

Sawyer’s research into the nature of consciousness & personality begins with the seminal works of Sir Roger Penrose, the esteemed British mathematical physicist and philosopher, who postulated that consciousness itself is a manifestation of quantum states within the human brain… quantum states that can lead to different personalities. I won’t go into all the details – you can learn more by reading Rob’s terrific book – but suffice it to say that there are essentially four consciousness states.

Don’t worry, I’ll get around to the overall point of my blog in a moment. But for now please indulge me as I summarize. And I don’t think any of this qualifies as spoilers for Rob’s great book. At least I hope not.

Like I said, in Rob Sawyer’s story there are four distinct consciousness states classified as Q0 which is pure zonked-out unconsciousness, Q1 which is known as a philosophical zombie or p-zed (p-zee in the USA?), Q2 or psychopath (yeah, psychopath! cool, huh?) and Q3 or consciousness-with-conscience (CWC or “quick” for short). According to my friend Rob, each of us falls into one of these four categories.

So just what kind of people result from these 4 mental quantum states? Well, Q0s are out cold, so they’re of no real concern to us here. That leaves the Q1s, Q2s, and Q3s.

Q1s are essentially mindless crowd followers with few, if any, inner thoughts of their own to clutter up their brains. They don’t think with an inner voice. In fact, they don’t really think at all, but instead respond reflexively to what’s happening around them. They re-act rather than act. They follow tried-and-true subconscious scripts in the course of their daily activities and social interactions. Their opinions echo those around them. In this sense they are true lemmings. That’s not to say that Q1s act like mindless mimic machines. They’re otherwise quite normal people who say and do all the typical things… they’ve just learned how to do it without any conscious thinking. An idle Q1 is truly idle both physically and mentally. Rules and learned regimen are therefore of crucial importance to these people. Without them, like an actor without a script, they’re lost. As a result, they may find themselves confused and uncertain in unfamiliar situations. So keeping connected to others is essential to Q1s because they adjust their behaviour to match what others are doing.  The cell phone and social media are the Q1’s best friends. Because of this lack of inner thinking, Q1s cannot be said to be truly conscious in the self-reflective, cognitive sense. They follow because they don’t have the mental initiative, drive, or ability to lead. Q1s make good workers, but not good leaders or idea people.

However, contrary to what you might be thinking, Q1s are not brainless morons. They’re simply doers, not thinkers. Because they don’t waste time mulling things over, or painfully deliberating, they can be quite efficient and effective in their activities. Visualize factory workers quickly and deftly assembling a product… they just do it without thinking about it because they know how. It’s automatic. Q1s live their whole lives like that.

Q1s can be valued friends. Of course they have feelings like anyone else, yet they often seem to know the right things to say in any given situation. That’s because they don’t agonize over every word. What they say comes straight from the heart (or the hip), so to speak, without passing through a mental filter. As a result, Q1s can be forthright and genuine people. Sometimes, it would seem, an empty mind can actually be a good thing. But they can also be opinionated gasbags. Q1s form (or echo) opinions without much, if any, thought behind them. They act more on gut feelings and shared attitudes than they do on forethought and individual reasoning. It’s all instinct and peer acceptance for Q1s. They therefore tend to be highly nationalistic, opposed to abortion, they support capital punishment, favour gun ownership, question government control, are intolerant of other races and nationalities, defend traditional gender roles, and show little respect for social equality. Clearly, lack of mental activity makes them intolerant, fearful, misogynistic, and opinionated people.

Q2s, on the other hand, do have inner thoughts, but without any significant conscience or consideration for others. They are often clever, even brilliant, heartless, and motivated by pure self-driven ambition. Think Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. The intelligent ones make good doctors because they can inflict pain on others without being moved. They can hire and fire with equal guiltless neutrality. Q2s are good at delivering bad news, and at making the tough decisions. The concerns or woes of the disadvantaged don’t faze them in the least. In social and career situations, the Q2 psychopath can be thought of as assessing each situation with the question “What’s in it for me?” It may be wealth, power, control, recognition, reward, pleasure, or even something as simple as bragging rights. That’s why most Q2 psychopaths tend to be over-achievers and fierce competitors. To them, winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. They care only about themselves. Q2s do not make good team players since they see themselves as the star. And they’re not sensitive or responsive to the emotions of others. They don’t even cry at sad movies. As a result, Q2s can come across as emotionless, unfeeling sots. If Mr. Spock was human, he’d be a Q2. But then again, there was that time when Spock got all choked up, and a tear came to his eye right after… um, but I digress.

That leaves Q3s. Q3s are arguably who we should all aspire to be. They have an ongoing mental dialog and are self-aware and reflective. This time think Leonard Hofstadter. Q3s tend to be compassionate, empathetic people. They are typically creative, sensitive, thoughtful, and caring. However, because of their unceasing inner dialog, Q3s are often wracked with guilt, doubts, regrets, and second thoughts… feelings that Q2s lack. Q3s make great poets and intellectuals. But Q3s can sometimes come across as indecisive because all decisions must pass through several levels of reflective introspection and analysis.

If Q1s are often conservative Republicans (more on this below), Q3s are often liberal or even social Democrats. Q2s can find it frustrating to work along-side Q3s, perceiving their sensitivity, introspection, and indecision as major weaknesses. Q2s would rather deal with (i.e. control) unquestioning Q1s. If they must interact with – read “compete with” – a Q3, they’ll often do everything they can to quickly dispense with them, or “destroy” them (metaphorically speaking of course), to get them out of the way.

According to Sawyer, discounting Q0s who are fully unconscious (by way of drugs, mental illness, or brain damage… but not sleep because you’re not fully unconscious when you’re asleep), Q1s make up nearly 60% of the world’s population. That’s almost 4 billion mindless drones going about their copy-cat business, looking and acting like normal people by following the example of others around them. Q2s – those cold, calculating psychopaths – make up almost 30% of the world’s population. Bet you thought it would be much less, huh? That’s almost 2 billion clever, competitive, self-centred people who are only looking out for number 1. Q3s, who think deeply about things with consideration for others, make up the remaining roughly 10% of the population. That means there’s only 1 billion truly concerned, fully self-aware, and enlightened people on this planet.

Because of the inner dialog and reflection going on in the minds of Q2s and Q3s, only they can be said to be truly conscious in the classical, self-reflective sense. That’s also why Q1s are called philosophical zombies, because their minds are devoid of any ongoing reflective thought, making them function internally more like sophisticated automatons than like thought-full people. It’s just that Q1s do it so well that they are, to all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from fully-conscious individuals.

Now, Q1s and Q3s may at first seem benign and harmless because they aren’t driven by a self-serving agenda – Q1s tend to follow the crowd, while Q3s tend to consider the needs of others in their decisions and actions. But these groups are just as capable of violence, anger, or socially unacceptable behaviour as Q2s… just for different reasons. By being habitual followers, Q1s can easily get caught up in the passion of a wild mob gone berserk, or the influence of a bully (a dominant leader) who convinces a band of followers to commit violence against a helpless victim, or a kidnapper who persuades a Q1 to accept his point of view. Newspaper heiress Patty Hearst showed classical Q1 behaviour back in 1974 when she exhibited what is now known as the Stockholm Syndrome by voluntarily fighting along-side her extremist captors, the Symbionese Liberation Army. And given the right threatening circumstances, a thoughtful Q3 may resort to aggressively defending themselves or another from harm, or expressing hostility toward a bully or leader who victimizes others. It turns out we all have a potentially dark side.

Nonetheless, it seems that it’s the Q2s we really need to be concerned about, because their actions are self-serving, and show no regard for the needs or concerns of others. But doesn’t 2 billion seem like an awful lot of psychopaths? That can’t be right, can it? If there are so many of them, why don’t we see them everywhere?

Actually, we do. They’re all around us. For every 7 people who read this blog, 2 of you will be clinically-certifiable psychopaths. In fact, for every 7 friends you have, 2 of them are psychopaths. They’re just not necessarily the violent or destructive kind. Instead, we know them by other names. They may be bosses, control freaks, doctors, CEOs, politicians, lawyers, pushy friends, teachers, police chiefs, hackers, engineers, military officers, coaches, student council presidents, evangelical preachers, or committee chairpersons. Even gym teachers, or jerks who tailgate (I’ll bet you had your suspicions.) Of course, not all such people are psychopaths. Q3s often choose the above careers with the intentions of helping others. It’s just that Q2s are more drawn to positions of power, authority, and control. If you prefer, you can think of them as benign psychopaths. They are people who tend to lead because they need to be in control of others, and to have a direct say in how events around them unfold. It’s only violent or demented psychopaths who draw our attention, or get the p-word classification assigned to them by the news media or authorities. But these other everyday dominant types nonetheless share the same cognitive traits as mass murderers and fascist dictators. The only thing that prevents a benign psychopath from becoming the next Paul Bernardo or Hitler is some circumstance that triggers their latent violence, hatred, or depravity. A sobering thought, eh? Fortunately, most psychopaths have either little in the way of innate deviant tendencies, or have (fortunately) learned to keep them in check.

That said, I’m sure glad that Rob Sawyer’s story is fiction, am I right?

Well, sorry to say it folks, but this ain’t fiction. It’s corroborated, scientific fact. Usually, one can read a Sci-Fi novel with the reassurance that the plot is based on science stretched to the implausible. And there are some aspects of Rob’s story that do just that. But not its underlying premise. That’s founded on real science. At the end of his book, Sawyer lists page-after-page of research papers, publications, and peer-reviewed journals upon which he based his story. The man is nothing if not thorough.

One reference, in particular, applies directly to the point of my blog (told you I’d eventually get around to it). It’s a book by University of Manitoba Psychology Professor Emeritus Dr. Robert Altemeyer who, for over 40 years, studied how people respond to authority. If you’re like me – and there’s a 1-in-7 chance that you are – Altemeyer’s eye-opening book (which is free to download in PDF format from will give you chills and keep you up nights better than any fiction. Through extensive and repetitive study, Altemeyer has shown that behaviour can be rated according to the tendency to either blindly follow, or to question, authority. He categorizes those who blindly follow (the Q1 p-zeds) as Authoritarian Followers, and those who aggressively lead (the Q2 psychopaths) as Social Dominators.

In his research studies, Altemeyer fleshed out further details about Q1 followers and revealed a particular type that comprises the bulk of this group. These particular Q1s tend to prefer (trust and follow) a paternal, if somewhat punitive and judgmental, leader. He calls these people Right-Wing Authoritarians (RWA) because they prefer a leader who exhibits cocky assuredness, who promises aggressive enforcement of order and civility, who is intolerant of those who are different, disadvantaged, or needy, who promises a return to good old-fashioned values, who mocks science, intellect, and change, who reinforces fear and paranoia (especially a fear of outsiders), who espouses fundamentalist beliefs, who appeals to faith and blind trust, and who openly attacks those who don’t share these views and values. Sound familiar? I had Donald Trump in mind, but yeah, I suppose it applies equally as well to Stephen Harper. And since followers follow other followers (that’s their modus operandi), as the support for such a “strong leader” builds, the movement takes on an almost unstoppable momentum. I’m sure that too sounds familiar.

Altemeyer’s most frightening finding is that it’s almost impossible to change the mind of an Authoritarian Follower. That’s because they compartmentalize their views and are capable of holding, and even defending, contradictory and even logically-inconsistent opinions without blinking an eye. You see, facts do not play a big role in the mind of a Q1. This is because the raising of a Q1 requires a kind of dogmatic, military-like training. “It’s true because I (or the Bible) say it’s true!” is the typical drummed-in mantra of their upbringing. So they cannot easily be swayed from their blind faith in something they truly believe in, like a powerful Social Dominator, even if that person is later found to be in contempt of the law or caught in an act of corruption. Like a pit bull, the Authoritarian Follower will not be swayed from their faith in a charismatic Social Dominator by mere facts, even if those facts prove that person to be corrupt, dishonest, or even certifiably crazy. Because, once they latch onto a leader, anything that leader does will be found justifiable within the context of the Authoritarian Follower’s unquestioning rationalization. To this day, millions of American Q1s still defend Bush’s senseless attack on Iraq despite overwhelming and conclusive evidence that it was an illegal and immoral act of unnecessary and unwarranted aggression.

This may explain how the US populace was able to be sold on the “need” to invade Iraq despite lack of any ties between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks, and without any conclusive evidence of it possessing weapons of mass destruction. This may also explain how Hitler was able to rally the support of a war-torn Germany looking to regain its rightful place as the major powerhouse in Europe. It may also explain how China is able to maintain such strict control over 1.5 billion people. In fact, it may explain how any charismatic leader can rally the masses to support them despite their obvious dictatorial tendencies. After all, according to these studies there are 4 billion willing and unquestioning followers out there just waiting to be led.

Which brings me to the Republican leadership race (finally!). Donald Trump is clearly a Q2 psychopath who is taking advantage of the nearly 90 million Q1 Authoritarian Followers in the USA who are looking for a “strong”, paternal Social Dominator to lead them to a Republican victory in the next US federal election. Listening to Trump’s campaign comments it’s almost as if he has read Dr. Robert Altemeyer’s book and is saying all the things that Q1 AFs want to hear. But – and Trump has openly admitted this – his bluster and vitriol is all just reality theatre, an act, meant to play gullible delegate voters for all they’re worth. And that’s where the calamity of the situation lies. It’s democracy itself that Trump is playing with. Granted, he may be a shrewd, savvy businessman, but otherwise he’s nothing but a bully, a classless buffoon, and a tactless huckster. The American people deserve better from their President. Much better!

As voters, we expect our politicians to show concern for the needs of their constituents. And by-and-large most do, or at least most set aside a few hours each day to address these expectations. But the frightening truth is that it only takes one self-driven, charismatic Q2 psychopath with an eye to his or her own personal motives to cleverly manipulate the hopes of a population, and to amass a virtual army of potentially millions of mindless Q1 followers. It has happened too many times in the past with catastrophic results. Canada just got rid of one of these, a man who almost single-handedly came close to dismantling the very fabric of our once proud Canadian democracy, and who all but lost our nation its once sterling international reputation. And Toronto’s recent encounter with a Q2 mayor – a man not unlike Trump – made it the laughing stock of the world. Do Americans really want that? We must all be constantly vigilant for such abuses of our voting freedoms, for what essentially amounts to democratic terrorism.

Okay, let’s take a step back and not panic. It must be understood that all these studies were conducted on large groups of people, in controlled research settings, over many studies, and spanning many years. And the results, however interesting, merely represent statistically significant trends. Individual human beings, on the other hand, defy simple classification into such distinct groups and in accordance with such limited and stereotypical rules. In other words, we can’t easily be pigeonholed according to our individual willingness to cooperate, or not cooperate, with the powers of authority. Perhaps we encompass mixtures of these traits depending on the time, place, and circumstances. For example, a person may be a mindless drone at work, but a thoughtful companion at home. Another may be a caring, sympathetic person with her friends, but a ruthless psychopath behind the wheel of her car. That seems more realistic. Nevertheless, these findings do shed light on otherwise perplexing human behaviour… light that hopefully one day may illuminate our way to understanding each other.

If you’ve followed me this far, I urge you to read Dr. Robert Altemeyer’s book. I guarantee that it will open your eyes – and have you looking over your shoulder. A bit of a warning, though; Altmeyer’s research findings are so one-sided, so left-leaning, that you may suspect that this supposedly impartial academic had a biased liberal agenda. But when you reach the end you’ll see that his only agenda is to draw our attention to this startling and worrisome aspect of human nature, and to open our eyes to what may underly the otherwise inexplicable behaviour of millions of mindless followers and the people who seek to lead (use) them. But also be forewarned, don’t read this book if you want to go on naively believing that the majority of the world is just as kind, considerate, and thoughtful as you. Or that people can change if exposed to the truth. Because it turns out that only about 1 billion of us can.

I’m just sayin’.