authoritarianism: a few more notes and an antidote

Authoritarian systems often subscribe to the "Just World Fallacy."

The Just World Fallacy goes something like this: if you follow the rules of our system, all will go well with you.

  • If you do what authority tells you, you won't be punished and you will reap rewards.
  • If you obey your husband and give him sex when he wants, your marriage will be perfect.
  • If you follow the parenting rules of the system, your children will be perfect.
  • If you pray enough, you'll be magically saved from tragedy and disaster.
  • In general: do as we tell you, and all will be well.

The problem with the Just World Fallacy is that there is no perfection here on earth. No matter how well you obey the rules, no matter how hard you run on the gerbil wheel, shit happens here on this big ball of dirt.

  • You might do your job perfectly, and still lose it when the economy crashes.
  • You might give your husband all the sex you can, and he might still have an affair.
  • You might follow all the parenting rules and your children, thank goodness, will still turn out to have minds of their own and leave the sinking ship of the authoritarianism that raised them.
  • You could be sitting around the house one day and a tornado could hit.
Clare Galway Friary, Ireland (photo:Andy Bruner)

Clare Galway Friary, Ireland (photo:Andy Bruner)

The Just World does not exist, except as wishful thinking and a tool for authoritarians to woo you with: "Pay your tithe here, and we'll tell you the rules that will keep you safe." 

Remember last time we talked about cognitive dissonance? That brain-melting, defensiveness-making thing that happens when you try to hold disparate ideas together in your head?

Yeah. The Just World Fallacy brings on the cognitive dissonance, bigtime.

So here's the question: what happens when the real world intrudes on the Just World Fallacy? How does the authoritarian system handle this cognitive dissonance?

Well, the authoritarian system can never admit that it's wrong. That would kill the whole game, and nobody would ever pay a tithe or vote their way or mindlessly obey, ever again.

So to explain away the fact that the emperor has no clothes, that the Just World doesn't exist and the rules are a sham, the system turns to lying and in particular some common forms of lying: victim blaming and scapegoating.

Victim blaming looks like Job's Comforter's, showing up to spew blame on the suffering:

  • "God is chastening you. When you learn what you're supposed to learn, this will stop."
  • "You should be praying more."
  • "You aren't praying in faith."
  • "You aren't praying sincerely enough."
  • "You must have sin in your life, which prevents your prayers from being answered."
  • "You didn't obey your husband/give him sex/make him enough banana pudding."
  • "You sent your kids to public school."

Scapegoating shifts the problem to something completely unrelated:

  • "Hurricane Katrina is God's judgment because of gay people."
  • "Gun violence is God's judgment because of abortion."
  • "Obama..." "But her emails..."

An authoritarian system requires a scapegoat and will include victim-blaming because the Just World Fallacy will inevitably fail, and when that happens, some usual suspects will be required. It can't be that the narrative of the system is wrong. No, never.

Here's a sad thing: some of us are so drenched in authoritarian toxicity that we're perfectly prepared to blame ourselves. Nobody else has to do it for us. We simply assume that when bad things happen, it's because we did something wrong. And then, when somebody scapegoats us, we just accept it as truth, because we've already been blaming ourselves anyway. Why wouldn't other people do the same?

Now, I wish at the end of this I could tell you that there's some way to make the Just World a reality, but I just don't think we have got that kind of control over other people, the oligarchs who've bought up the world, and/or the weather.

And this is the real issue for all of us: we all want control. Authoritarianism tells us we can have it, if only we are willing to pay its price: "Fall down and worship me," it says, "and I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth. You can have a faithful husband, obedient children, and no hurricane will darken your door, if only you follow my rules."

It's death to our ego to breathe down into our own small lives, to Love where we are, to bring justice and mercy where we can, to grieve through the ocean of sadness that is our reality some days, to welcome joy and peace wherever we find it, one mindful moment at a time, to continue to hope without guarantees.

But this is exactly what we need to counteract the amped-up egoism of authoritarianism. We don't need more ego, more power-tripping.

We will never conquer ego with ego.

We need the antithesis of self-serving ego: we need Love. 

A rich, present, true Love that embraces our neighbor as well as our self.

A Love that bandages the hurts of the world, rather than causing more pain with the relentless appetite of ego.

This is where contemplative practice comes in for me, making space inside of myself for Love, so that I've got something to give to others in need.

I'll post a video here of Richard Rohr talking about contemplative practice, if you're interested in learning about that.

Hear these first words: "Let's try to be here now, the place where everything happens, but the place that never seems like it's enough."

And that is everything that ego it not: acknowledging that we are not enough, that we do not know, that the answers are beyond us in this moment, and yet opening ourselves to the Love that might light our darkness anyway.

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