Tag Archives: psychopathology

Politics and Psychopathology

While reading the always-entertaining Another Angry Woman blog, I came across a post about the psychology of right-wing authoritarianism.

Right wing authoritarianism (RWA) is a personality trait, conceived by psychologist Bob Altemeyer. The right wing authoritarian personality consists of three attributes:

Authoritarian submission: submissiveness and acceptance of authorities which are perceived to be legitimate and established in society, such as government or the police.
Authoritarian aggression: aggression against outgroups and “deviants”–people who the established authority mark as targets. Examples of this includes travellers, immigrants, Muslims and other kinds of scapegoats.
Conventialism: high adherence to traditions and established social norms. This can manifest in a respect for “traditional family values”, for example.
RWA is measured using a scale consisting of 20 items, with a score ranging from 20 (no RWA) to 180 (high RWA). I scored 22; try it for yourself. Depending upon the sample, university students often score around 75, while a large-scale American study found the average about 90.

I scored 47, which apparently makes me only 17% of the way to being a RWA.

Of course, the right can play at this game too. Indeed, a couple of years ago an American psychiatrist, Lyle Rossiter, tried to claim that liberalism is a mental disorder.

Dr. Rossiter says the liberal agenda preys on weakness and feelings of inferiority in the population by:

  • creating and reinforcing perceptions of victimization;
  • satisfying infantile claims to entitlement, indulgence and compensation;
  • augmenting primitive feelings of envy;
  • rejecting the sovereignty of the individual, subordinating him to the will of the government.

“The roots of liberalism – and its associated madness – can be clearly identified by understanding how children develop from infancy to adulthood and how distorted development produces the irrational beliefs of the liberal mind,” he says. “When the modern liberal mind whines about imaginary victims, rages against imaginary villains and seeks above all else to run the lives of persons competent to run their own lives, the neurosis of the liberal mind becomes painfully obvious.”

Yeah, yeah, whatever. But then I’m a liberal, so I’m probably just in denial.

I’m not in favour of labelling this or that political viewpoint – whether left or right – as a form of psychopathology. That sort of thing has an ugly historical pedigree.

But if one shouldn’t think of the ideas themselves as part of a mental health problem, might there be something to be said for looking at the people attracted to this or that political stance? I’m not so much thinking of the mainstream here. More of the extremes of left and right.

Back in my university days, I remember quite a few unhappy, alienated people who seemed to gravitate towards Trotskyist groups such as the Socialist Workers Party. It might be interesting to survey the rates of, say, depression among such groups.

While we’re on the subject of politics and mental disorder, I can’t help thinking of a certain breed of politician. Of the variety that seems to spend an inordinate amount of time furthering their media career, appearing on crass reality-TV shows and engaging in public feuds, all at the expense of actually spending time with their constituents.

Or, for that matter, of a certain kind of media pundit. The kind that’s required to be utterly outraged about something with each print deadline.

I wonder what would happen if one surveyed the rates of narcissistic or histrionic personality disorder for that kind of politician or pundit.

I won’t name any names for libel reasons, but you know the kind of public figures I’m talking about.