A desire for “conformity and obedience” as a result of COVID-19 could boost authoritarianism in the wake of the pandemic

Interesting research findings from an international project conducted by psychologists in Cambridge and elsewhere. The Abstract reads:

What are the socio-political consequences of infectious diseases? Humans have evolved to avoid disease and infection, resulting in a set of psychological mechanisms that promote disease-avoidance, referred to as the behavioral immune system (BIS). One manifestation of the BIS is the cautious avoidance of unfamiliar, foreign, or potentially contaminating stimuli. Specifically, when disease infection risk is salient or prevalent, authoritarian attitudes can emerge that seek to avoid and reject foreign outgroups while favoring homogenous, familiar ingroups. In the largest study conducted on the topic to date (N > 240,000), elevated regional levels of infectious pathogens were related to more authoritarian attitudes on three geographical levels: across U.S. metropolitan regions, U.S. states, and cross-culturally across 47 countries. The link between pathogen prevalence and authoritarian psychological dispositions predicted conservative voting behavior in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and more authoritarian governance and state laws, in which one group of people imposes asymmetrical laws on others in a hierarchical structure. Furthermore, cross-cultural analysis illustrated that the relationship between infectious diseases and authoritarianism was pronounced for infectious diseases that can be acquired from other humans (nonzoonotic), and does not generalize to other infectious diseases that can only be acquired from non-human species (zoonotic diseases). At a time of heightened awareness of infectious diseases, the current findings are important reminders that public health and ecology can have ramifications for socio-political attitudes by shaping how citizens vote and are governed.

The study, claimed to be the largest yet to investigate links between pathogen prevalence and ideology, reveals a strong connection between infection rates and strains of authoritarianism in public attitudes, political leadership and lawmaking. The article is an open-access one but a useful TL;DR summary is available. Here’s an excerpt from it:

While data used for the study predates COVID-19, University of Cambridge psychologists say that greater public desire for “conformity and obedience” as a result of the pandemic could ultimately see liberal politics suffer at the ballot box. The findings are published in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology.

Researchers used infectious disease data from the United States of America in the 1990s and 2000s and responses to a psychological survey taken by over 206,000 people in the USA during 2017 and 2018. They found that the more infectious US cities and states went on to have more authoritarian-leaning citizens.

The US findings were replicated at an international level using survey data from over 51,000 people across 47 different countries, comparing responses with national-level disease rates.

The most authoritarian US states had rates of infectious diseases – from HIV to measles – around four times higher than the least authoritarian states, while for the most authoritarian nations it was three times higher than the least.

This was after scientists accounted for a range of other socioeconomic factors that influence ideology, including religious beliefs and inequalities in wealth and education. They also found that higher regional infection rates in the USA corresponded to more votes for Donald Trump in the 2016 US Presidential Election.

Moreover, in both nations and US states, higher rates of infectious disease correlated with more ‘vertical’ laws – those that disproportionately affect certain groups, such as abortion control or extreme penalties for certain crimes. This was not the case with ‘horizontal’ laws that affect everyone equally.

It’s the authoritarian personality stuff all over again. Sigh.

Friday 24 September, 2021

The Hall at sunset

Seen on our walk the other evening.

Quote of the Day

”I am reading Henry James and feel myself entombed in a block of smooth amber.”

  • Virginia Woolf

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

The Dubliners | Barney’s Banjo Solo


Something you’re unlikely to ever hear in the Royal Festival Hall.

And if you’re feeling exhausted by the end, then welcome to the club.

Long Read of the Day

A manifesto for the future

Lovely critical review by Andy Beckett of Aaron Bastani’s manifesto,  Fully Automated Luxury Communism — a rare example of a lefty thinking like someone from Silicon Valley.

Andy sums it up thus:

Some readers will finish this book exhilarated and energised. Others will be unconvinced, or utterly baffled. There are more ideas crammed in here than in a whole shelf of standard politics books. And in today’s fraught world, the time to read whole shelves of politics books may have passed.

This review convinced me I should, perhaps, read the book.

Our Faculty Success Initiative Redefines Everything You Thought You Knew About “Faculty” and “Success”

Wonderful spoof by Andrew Berish. But if you think it’s off target, maybe you ought to check in at your Alma Mater.

Thank you, everyone, for completing the Faculty Success Survey. During these challenging times, we understand that many of you are feeling great stress managing your classes during a global pandemic and financial crisis. We have collected and analyzed your thoughtful responses.

As your Provost, I have spent several careful minutes thinking about the results. But before I present the findings, along with our new Faculty Success Initiative, I want to emphasize how important every part of our university family is to our continued growth: our students, our doctors, our corporate partners, our generous alumni donors, our pets, our lovely campus flora and fauna, our golf carts, and you, our faculty. You do so much—you meet, you talk, some of you exercise at the recreation center, and a lot of you teach. There are rumors that you also write things, although the library has no books, so who really knows.

The survey results show a faculty that is dedicated and happy to have employment at this university. The data is pretty conclusive: 46 percent of you are not actively looking for work, 30 percent of you feel confident your academic unit will survive the upcoming budget cuts, and 24 percent of you report feeling only slightly panicked most of the day. That means an impressive 100 percent of you are happy with the university and working hard every day to help students graduate as quickly as possible.

Yet, I still believe there are ways to improve faculty productivity and my standing as an Academic Leader at the Forefront of Success and Innovation in Higher Education. That is why I am announcing the following initiatives. Although we cannot pay you more, we believe we can transform what it means to be a successful faculty member:

And yes — you guessed it — the first ‘initiative’ is…

An e-Dashboard Tracking Faculty Best Practices.

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