Intentional Bigotry And Clinical Level Denial

People like Rush Limbaugh have always existed in the US. With an authoritarian mindset, he and his funders felt the need to espouse intentional* bigotry over the radio airwaves in many ways for years. He was a horrific figure because millions of us could see how he was playing to and stirring up the fears and uninformed, regressive biases of his listeners. He promoted beliefs in false perceptions of reality that served only to hold the world back from being a better place. He promoted regressive, mean spirited, and fear based perspectives.  All so he and his listeners could feel a (very false) sense of superiority.

We know he and his kind (intentional* bigots)1 are people almost always steeped in authoritarian mindsets.

But most of us, given any real facts around the benefits of egalitarianism, and any choice whatsoever, want to build societies based on the values of pluralism, peace and security, and truly having equal opportunities for all to pursue their versions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

To get there, we have to have healthy cultural norms. In order to choose healthy norms, we must recognize and eradicate a tendency towards authoritarian notions of power –aka unhealthy assumptions about power ‘over’– in as many people as possible. See other articles on this site for more information on that.

Intentional bigots on the other hand, try to keep using abusive forms of power, (they almost universally benefit from -at the direct and indirect expense of others). The loudest of intentional* bigots promote their beliefs in abusive forms of power in efforts for these dynamics to remain “acceptable” enough in the larger culture.  They are often deeply funded by folks obsessed with power, and so they get over amplified and widely spread out into the wider culture.

And crucially: they -routinely- use lies, fear, distortions, and will actively try to suppress reality based perspectives that expose the stuntedness of their ideas in numerous ways (book bans, lost career opportunities for speaking in favor of peace/equity, laws against giving out information on certain topics, etc.).

Fear Mongering And ‘Power Over’ Others

Deliberate fear mongering meant to try to drum up bigotry is systematically and intentionally be employed and endorsed by some very power hungry folks in the 21st century. They are doing this for no other reason than to try to consolidate political power ‘over’ others. Which is incredibly stunted (and also a huge symptom of Cultural PTSD).  As of 2022, we can see this on multiple fronts and in various parts of the world. Entire political parties are being co-opted by very insecure, power hungry, stunted and amoral actors who openly espouse bigotry. So unfortunately, the number of situations where intentional* bigots feel okay about espousing their stunted beliefs is increasing. How we collectively respond to this is important.

At the same time, having to think deeply about intentional* bigotry is just so tedious because it is so unnecessary (and antithetical) to good living. Also, for me personally, and I suspect many of us, it’s hard to believe we still have to deal with this truly grade school level thinking. But here we are.

They Create Strife (click to expand)

Strife Wastes Time And Energy (click to expand)

They Are Wrong About So Many Other Things, Too

And another, rather glaring issue, is the intentional bigot often gets directly in the way of effectively addressing other social problems we face. The next few paragraphs explore WHY they are wrong about so many other things.

Authoritarians Value Power, Not Reason

Intentional bigotry certainly appears to be far more common among those who hold positive beliefs about authoritarianism. More about  mindsets related to authoritarianism here.

Authoritarians (consciously or unconsciously) value the physical ability to rule ‘over’ others. They don’t much value or operate from real reason or logic.  

They see the need for power ‘over’ situations (and ‘Others’) as the PRIMARY way to ensure their safety. Unlike the vast majority of folks who may have a few blind spots, but still want to work for a world where all people are seen and treated as equals and with dignity (a power ‘with’ others stance), an authoritarian view assumes Others (not like them) -are- lesser and need to be kept in subordinate positions, or they will somehow ruin things. 

This is a hugely important point because it is a radically different (and truly depraved) way of looking at the world and people in it.

And we NEED to collectively understand that.

Misfiring On All Cylinders, They Become Driven (click to expand)

Denial Is Not A River In Egypt (click to expand)

A Toxic Brew Of Ingredients

So: hyper-focuses on power, the incredible levels of defensiveness around it, and the relative lack of logic based -reason- are all super important to keep in mind when thinking about intentional bigots (and authoritarians for that matter).

Three other factors that contribute to why authoritarians and intentional bigots tend to be so wrong about so many other social issues. 

1) Authoritarians and intentional bigots don’t operate from unconditional love/care for all, or from beliefs in equality for all.  That really limits how they can positively contribute to the common good.

2) They really can’t be expected to play by the rules of fairness. By virtue of thinking they are better than others their mindsets often allow for them to focus only on their own interests. They will just dismiss other perspectives. Some will cheat consciously (or even more insidiously, unconsciously cheat) because they are do not care about the effects of their actions on folks they do not respect, nor see as equals.

But probably most importantly: because they believe in things that are simply not true:

3) Neither authoritarians nor intentional bigots can argue in good faith. At all. Around these issues. They -have to- use illogic and/or flawed arguments to hold the positions they hold.

Good faith says we will debate fairly using agreed upon rules and understandings of logic and reason to find mutually agreeable solutions to conflicts. The legal definition also implies a lack of malice…Intentional bigots simply can’t operate in good faith because their positions won’t hold up to logic, AND their positions are full of malice.

The Implications Of Not Being Able To Argue In Good Faith Are Huge

Whether they do it knowingly or unknowingly, ALL intentional bigots will simply deny or discount virtually all the faults in their arguments. They will routinely dismiss MOUNTAINS of evidence about the weaknesses of their arguments. You know who dismisses mountains of evidence? People in clinical level denial. And sociopaths.  No one else. 

And, because they don’t consistently apply rules of logic and reason, they tend to be more susceptible to other lies, distortions and propaganda. So you get people who are (for example) racists who also fall for outrageous lies (QAnon, anti-vax lies) and are more likely to believe in extreme religious doctrines (Christian Nationalism).

It needs to be noted that the extreme ideas they are most likely to fall for will be those that are -also- built on on authoritarian assumptions about how the world operates. 

Part Of The Population Descends Fully Into Denial (click to expand)

People In Denial Are Dangerous To Themselves And Others

If that also sounds a bit harsh, well, again, so is dying from their violence, which…has happened far too often in history where entire groups of people have been targeted and in hate crimes today.  Like it or not, clinical level denial is a huge piece of any social problem. And it is also a dynamic that psychology hasn’t been able to reliably crack yet. 

And unfortunately, compassion based strategies directed toward bigots is rarely effective against their denial. The harsh reality is people can and do DIE from denial based beliefs on a frighteningly regular basis.

So, for us fair minded folk, a very large problem with THEIR denial is that effective problem solving strategies usually appeal to fairness and reason -which intentional* bigots distort, or are impervious to

So what are we, people of good faith left with? We’ve got folks where no amount of logic and compassion based reasonable arguments is going to be terribly effective. 

And meanwhile the intentional bigot is just bashing through all kinds of guardrails that the rest of us use to try to create a better world (kind of like a drunk driver).  Reframing “The Tolerance Of Paradox, only slightly -as others have suggested- seems like the best strategy from my perspective. This view says:  Intentional* bigots are -constantly- breaking a PRIMARY social contract that the rest of us agree on, and therefore the tolerance given to others in that social contract -should not- to be given to them. All people who believe in tolerance give tolerance. If you don’t believe in tolerance for all, you are breaking the social contract, and do not belong in this society. Full stop.

Clearly, appeasement of any kind won’t help, and will ONLY make things worse. Again, I’m talking about intentional bigots. The actively destructive ones. The ones who normalize their depraved, stunted, and fear based beliefs.  We NEED goals and strategies for those who have made themselves unable and/or unwilling to engage in good faith.

Wait! What About Accidental Bigots? (click to expand)

How Can We Get Them Not To Exist?

Personally my end goal is (quite honestly) for intentional* bigots to simply not exist. Yup, I’ll say it. I wish intentional bigots did not exist. And I seriously wish millions of us would put that goal on bumper stickers, force media outlets to publish opinion pieces about it, bring it up in conversations, put it on our social media profiles, etc.

Intentional* bigots are abusive people. And I can think of no good need for abusive people to keep existing in the 21st century. They slow us down in countless ways from addressing real problems that they often cause, and rarely help resolve in good ways.

And I don’t think walking around their feelings, or appeasement of any kind is a good strategy with intentional* bigots. 

And to be very clearthere are—at least— two ways for people who fit the intentional bigot category to “not exist.” 

They Can Grow Up (click to expand)

They Can Leave, Shut The Hell Up, Or…(click to expand)

I certainly don’t have all the answers for what to do with intentional bigots.  But I do know they are as useful in the 21st century as drunk drivers. And just like drunk drivers: at the end of the day they CHOOSE to engage in their behaviors. Even folks in full denial about their alcoholism can choose not to drive drunk. So when they do, they should face serious consequences.

What Is Real Compassion For Everyone?

Let’s do a thought experiment. What if we imagine intentional* bigots as potential drunk drivers for the sake of argument? Imagine they are interspersed throughout our neighborhoods. And let’s assume they’ve refrained from driving drunk (or airing their stupid ideas) for years. But then for some reasons, some of these kinds of folks become empowered, and they start encouraging each other to come out and drive drunk…

How should the rest of us them really think about them?  What should we do about them?

Do we turn the other cheek? Do we try to unify with them even after they’ve mowed down kids in the neighborhood?

Or do we get vocal, and start organizing to ensure they stop their behaviors?

What if we did nothing? What would it be like if bigots really got to drive drunk all the time, freely? They’d elect other drunk driver advocates, we know that.

Not sure what you come up with, but for me, I find almost nothing more absolutely appealing than the idea of not having to deal with intentional bigots ever again. And I don’t have too many concrete ideas beyond that -except I do think that stating that you want a world without intentional bigots is a good start. So I’d like to propose we all make an effort to loudly express that sentiment, as an intentional strategy of working toward creating a better world.

Happy February 17th.

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Let me define what *I* mean by intentional bigot: a person who willfully espouses or acts on unfavorable views about a group of people (a group not trying to harm anyone else) in ways meant to depict the members of the group as “less than” or somehow inferior to the bigot’s favored groups.
To be consider an intentional bigot, the person has to somehow contribute to that group being -unfairly- oppressed or discriminated against (via words or deeds). Having bigoted thoughts you try to transcend or keep to yourself isn’t being an intentional bigot in my definition.

People who continue to voice or act in ways that are offensive, after being explicitly told that the views or acts they engage in are bigoted fit the definition of intentional bigots. It doesn’t matter if they (are in denial or) don’t believe they are being offensive –because they have been told their views are bigoted (similar to how drug abusers in denial may not believe they have problems, but their actions still make them drug abusers).

I am emphatically NOT talking about a person who commits a micro aggression and when the issue is brought to their attention, they cease to do the thing and (realistically: maybe after a little bit of defensiveness) attempt to learn from the situation. This is called being a human.
Rather, I am talking specifically about people who reasonably should know their views are offensive and choose to air them anyway towards a group or groups that that have been historically under represented and intentionally oppressed by others.

Tl, dr: those who know that they are punching down and do so anyway.

Karl Popper’s idea of the paradox of tolerance was a section in his book Open Societies and Its Enemies. We should embrace tolerance for virtually all things people do and the ideas they have that do not harm others. But If we allow the intolerant to behave intolerantly, eventually the intolerance will take over. It’s a little bit more involved than that, and it does get sticky around free speech issues, but that’s the gist of it.