People like Rush Limbaugh have always existed in the US. With an authoritarian mindset, he felt the need to espouse intentional* bigotry over the radio airwaves in many ways for years. He was a polarizing figure because millions of us could see how he was playing to 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. And we know that these folks are now in the minority and that a majority of people in America (and probably the world) 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.
Yet a disturbing number of people are still fighting hard for authoritarianism (Cultural PTSD Theory says they over value and fight hard for ‘power over’ others in ways that resemble how people with PTSD act. See other articles on this site for more information on that). These people steeped in authoritarian ideas peddle lies and espouse intentional bigotry. What should we do about it?
It’s An Urgent Issue
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
Intentional bigots create conflict and strife by the way they treat and talk about others. It is their unfair treatment or words towards others that are the causes of strife. Intentional bigotry is abusive words or actions towards others they see as “lesser.” Full stop.
Many have fanned it purposefully. Those who understand the idea of divide and conquer as a tactic used to maintain ‘power over’ others, also usually understand how effective it can be. And, by its very existence, the tactic of divide and conquer also serves to keep us in a (primitive) ‘power over’ paradigm about how to use power.
Strife Wastes Time And Energy
Beyond the harm intentional* bigotry can cause to the targets, it’s important to note it stops us from solving other serious problems. When there are these intentionally set fires to put out, we don’t have as much time or energy left for other pressing issues that affect the quality of life for us all on the planet (climate change and wealth inequity are two large ones).
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 the 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. This is a hugely important point because it is a radically different (and primitive) way of looking at the world.
We need to collectively understand that: Logic and REASON are simply not central features in the authoritarian world. Not only are they not central, they are –often– actively derided and eschewed. Attaining a sense of POWER for themselves and “their group” is the goal. It is what matters to them and their focus on it tends to become more obsessive over time, in the same way as other compulsions (like drinking) often tend to become worse over time.
While the rest of humanity tends to gravitate toward logic and reason as primary tools to try to create a better world, facts and logic are usually applied as window dressing, rather than given central focus by authoritarians. Indeed, when used by authoritarians, facts and logic are routinely only used as strategies or justifications for taking power-not for driving policies or morality.
A simple reflection on history shows us that denial and rationalizations have been at the root of basically all atrocities humans have perpetrated on themselves and the planet.
Many commentators, writers, and ordinary people have noted how different groups of people are perceiving different realities in the US. And this is exactly what happens in clinical level denial. In denial, beliefs about reality are substituted for the actual reality, but only around certain issues. Your tax accountant might be able to do great work in his field, and tend his roses just fine, while at the same time he is full clinical level denial about his excessive drinking. Functional alcoholics abound. Functional intentional bigots and authoritarians also abound.
And the folks most impaired by authoritarian thinking are on high alert precisely because they are obsessed with the notion of maintaining or getting power over others. It is almost as if it is their ‘drug.’ I would argue that many folks prone to authoritarian ideas are not fully conscious of this, but clearly dudes like Limbaugh and many of his listeners had -some- self awareness around these issues. So while they may keep their flower gardens looking nice, part of them will relentlessly focus on maintaining or gaining a sense of power ‘over’ others. Thus any whiff of a challenge to their sense of superiority and they will become as defensive as any active alcoholic is when someone says they are concerned about how much he drinks.
So 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.
Three other factors that contribute to why authoritarians in general and intentional biogts in particular tend to be so wrong about so many other social issues.
1) Intentional bigots don’t operate from unconditional love for all, or from beliefs in equality. They may talk about loving “their” family, or “their” race, or “their” country, but it is a conditional love for certain folks, not an unconditional love for everyone involved. That limits how they can positively contribute to the common good, because their conceptions of the common good extend only to them and people they approve of.
2) Intentional bigots will not play by the rules of fairness. By virtue of thinking they are better than others based on anatomy, skin color, religious beliefs, bank account size, and, in many of these cases: their willingness to let others suffer or even die unnecessarily to get their way, their mindsets often allow for them to focus only on their own interests and to discount other perspectives. Some will cheat consciously (or even more insidiously, unconsciously cheat) because they are acting against folks they do not respect, nor see as equals.
But probably most importantly: because they believe in things that are simply not true:
3) Intentional bigots -have to- use illogic and/or flawed arguments to hold the positions they hold. Intentional bigotry -requires- they break or only selectively use the rules of logic or reason. Because if they used the full scope of the situation, and then applied all the rules of logic and reason, they simply couldn’t support their positions.
And that, in turn means: intentional bigots -cannot- operate in good faith. Good faith says we will debate fairly using agreed upon rules and understandings of logic and reason. 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.
Think again about the alcoholic in denial who will dismiss mountains of reasonable evidence that prove his alcoholism. The dynamic is virtually the same. The Rush Limbaughs of the world repeatedly and emphatically deny they are racist, and then turn around and refuse to support reasonable voting rights laws, while proposing outrageously discriminatory ones (for example).
Implications Of Not Being Able To Argue In Good Faith
Though the differing perceptions of “the common good” is already a huge barrier, the second and third points have even larger implications for all of us fair minded folks. 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-up to and including to the extent of denying reality.
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 authoritarian assumptions about how the world operates.
Part Of The Population Descends Fully Into Denial
Because having a sense of power is so important, and reasoning is not nearly as not central to their worldview, those susceptible to authoritarianism and intentional bigots will (and routinely do) engage in truly clinical level denial about facts they don’t like. When denial is in use, people are at least partially blind to the extent and impact of whatever they are in denial about. Denial is not “just” hardheaded stubbornness: People in denial really don’t see the full extent of the problem. They are impaired.
Most people are familiar with the idea of denial and alcohol or drug use, and understand that denial is a part of the disease. But many don’t understand that denial is very different from stubbornness: it is dangerously impaired thinking. Active alcoholics really don’t believe they have problems. Despite that fourth DWI. Really.
They are convinced they just enjoy drinking. That is how badly denial distorts thinking. People will minimize, distort, overstate, over generalize, make false equivalences, lie by omission, project their motivations onto others, rationalize their beliefs using ridiculous bits of anecdotal evidence and/or just make shit up. The same dynamic of denial (pretty obviously) applies to intentional* bigots. They simply don’t see it. If you’ve ever tried to engage in real debate about their stances with an intentional* bigot, you know this is true. They are simply impervious to reasonable arguments.
They will use any means available to them to justify their bigotry no matter how strained, unreasonable, narrow, or illogical—this true of all people who are in denial. And, not coincidentally, denial is common way for people to avoid very difficult facts, which is exactly what Cultural PTSD theory indicates people will do on both the personal and cultural levels.
And They Are Dangerous Because Denial Is Dangerous: It Enables Dehumanization
If that sounds a bit harsh, well, 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 denial is that our problem solving strategies usually appeal to… fairness and reason… which (I hope I’ve just illustrated) 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). I think we’re at a place where we really have to consider the paradox of tolerance about them in as many ways as possible.2
Clearly, appeasement of any kind won’t help, and will ONLY make things worse. And I do think finding ways to ostracize them whenever possible (don’t invite them to the neighborhood potluck) can help. That means others with privilege will need to learn to -not- look past their “quirks” and to really make it so they feel the sting of being primitive folks holding back society from being better. Because they are. And it matters.
Again, I’m talking about intentional bigots. The actively destructive ones. The ones who normalize their primitive and fear based beliefs.
Wait! What About Accidental Bigots?
After living in cultures full of prejudices and erroneous assumptions, a good majority of us do end up having some implicit biases…so, yeah good question! We need to talk about accidental bigots.The presence of accidental bigots is a huge issue that (I suspect) has kept us from being more effective at (metaphorically) blasting intentional bigots into oblivion.
Because here’s a hugely uncomfortable truth: even if we have somehow escaped having implicit biases, We are all likely to be accidental bigots sometimes, in some ways. No matter how committed we are to social justice and peace, we all screw up sometimes.
We are all human, we’ve all made poor choices in judgement about a wide variety of things (from how big of a portion of pasta we should take, to which people we should seriously consider for spouses, to picking bad jobs, to picking the wrong shade of paint for our walls). We have all made errors in judgement and said or done tactless things that we later realize were…umm, not cool towards others. Feminist men have talked over women without realizing it. White people wanting to be allies have discounted POC without realizing it. Able bodied people have made ableist remarks without meaning to.The list goes on and on. I have compassion for us.
And so do other folks. Generally, those targeted have been incredibly patient and given people the benefit of the doubt a million bazillion times. BECAUSE WE DO BELIEVE IN TREATING EACH OTHER WITH COMPASSION. We’ve been accommodating, and engaging in good faith…but we also need other strategies for those unable and/or unwilling to engage in good faith.
So, when I point to intentional* bigots, I’m NOT talking about most of us. I’m talking about those who in the 21st century feel the need to follow POC around in stores because they are POC, or say things like “Homosexuality is wrong.” or, “Blacks hate White people.” or, “Women should stop trying to act like men, they are meant to do other things.” I’m talking about people whose actions show they judge people as lesser or wrong based on innate traits, like skin color, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. I also extend that to things like people trying to impose their particular religious beliefs about morality onto millions of others who don’t (and never will) share them, and belief in blather about the poor bringing misfortunes on themselves.
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. I think it -might- help fair minded people see how much in the majority they really are, and force those that engage in it to think about their beliefs from a different angle. And yes, I could be entirely wrong, it could make intentional* bigots even more defensive (yeah, as if they aren’t defensive enough already). But I do think it’s worth exploring, because I don’t think walking around their feelings is especially helpful. That’s warranted when people are working in good faith. These people are not.
Appeasement is just not a good strategy with intentional bigots. I say that based on a rather large problem that occurred due to appeasement of Nazis, and that’s exactly what Nazis were: intentional* bigots.
And to be very clear: there are—at least— two ways for people who fit the intentional bigot category to “not exist.”
They Can Grow Up
By far the most common way for intentional* bigots to cease to exist is for them to simply grow the f**k up. Seriously, they all can do that, but they just have decided not to, like stubborn little children. Meanwhile, the majority of adults have (often times very consciously combatted and) learned to outgrow their own bigoted mindsets.
As humans, we all have literally thousands of thoughts go through our heads all day, every day. And some of them are ridiculous. We correct and modify our own thoughts and ideas all day long, every single day, usually only half consciously. This is called being human.
Show me a person who says they have never had a bigoted thought, and I will show you a complete liar. Full stop. We all have bigoted, supremacist thoughts we don’t act on or voice. Full stop. Some of us have a lot fewer due to circumstances, and/or our own hard work, but we all have had them.
And we all CAN look at situations in far more than one way, unless we are severely limited by intellectual disabilities. We all CHOOSE which of our thoughts to believe or prioritize routinely. As humans, we continually reflect and correct our thoughts until we arrive at reasonable conclusions for the circumstances.
What separates intentional bigots from normal adults is normal adults simply discard offensive thoughts and …keep reflecting…thinking and –often very consciously— searching for the best ways to think about situations. This is how mature people live life. So mature people consider their thoughts, they act and speak thoughtfully, with some awareness of how their thoughts affect things. And while I might veer into whitesplaining here, I’m going to go ahead and say it: My (white, progressive, female) understanding of the term ‘woke’ basically refers to a person who holds the intention to try to stay aware and awake and thoughtful. It’s simply referring to a willingness to try to act with awareness. If you choose to be “anti-woke” well, you are choosing to believe in your reactive, bigoted thoughts. And that is despicable. Full stop.
Everyone Already Knows Not To Believe Or Act On Everything They Think
We do. I’m gonna repeat it: All of us already know not to believe, speak or act on everything we think. Being non bigoted is not the —eradication—of unkind or untrue thoughts, it is simply noticing that those thoughts are not true or helpful, and being honest and mature enough to consistently choose thoughtfully about how to think about, speak, and act on situations. Intentional* bigots could do this, they just don’t. They CAN and DO choose carefully about any number of things, ranging from what to order for their damned dinners in restaurants, to how they approach business issues, to how to treat their pets, to what to wear in the morning. And they learn from both their positive experiences and missteps in those realms. Non bigoted people do the same, but we ALSO extend this practice towards how we think about and choose to act towards other humans. It’s as simple as that.
Intentional bigots do not, or at least they don’t do it nearly enough. So: simply growing up and maturing beyond bigotry is how millions of adults do it.
Leaving And/Or Dying
So intentional bigots can cease to exist by growing up and out of their erroneous beliefs, like most of us have, or, the second way is…to leave the environment (physically leaving the US, shutting the hell up, or dying are three ways that come to mind). I’M A PACIFIST, I AM NEVER —EVER— GOING TO CALL FOR VIOLENCE, even though I will admit to feelings of relief and often glee when an intentional bigot departs or dies.
And while glee at their departure (in whatever form it takes) might seem shocking to those who don’t know what it’s like to have to continually deal with their stupidity, it’s really very much a survival reflex that hundreds of millions of us have had to tone down to be considered polite3.
I greatly value being polite, but the “don’t speak ill of the dead” adage is truly not helpful in the 21st century. Because it has masked far too many otherwise easily seen and understood truths. Truths like: people naturally feel great relief and freedom when abusive people die.
Hear me out. I am not talking about —or advocating for anyone to go— spitting directly in the face of a bigot’s widow, but that doesn’t mean I should in any way hide my relief or even happiness when an intentional bigot departs by any means available. Here’s why: when an intentional misogynist is no longer spouting sexist stuff, women (including me) are safer in the world, and the world is just a little more peaceful. When an intentional racist is no longer crowing racist ideas, millions of my brothers and sisters are safer, and the world is just a little more peaceful. When an intentional homophobe …departs, I am safer in my life, liberty, and my pursuit of happiness and so are millions of others who identify as LGBTQ, and the world is just a little more peaceful. See a theme here? And when a rapist uh, can no longer rape, the world seriously becomes kinder and safer for everyone. That’s just reality. And I think we should point out and be publicly grateful when the world becomes safer.
So I think we ought to be more vocal about that. Rush Limbaugh died on February 17 2021. I am purposefully publishing this piece on the first anniversary of his death. His horrific legacy of intentional bigotry is still with us, but at least he is no longer able to use his voice to try to legitimize things that simply are not legitimate points of view. He’s unable to do more harm BECAUSE he is dead, and I am grateful for that.
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.
1 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.
2 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.
3 And here, I feel the need to digress a bit and say: I am all for using reasonable rules of courtesy and being polite to others. Politness is a formalized way of showing good will towards others. It has —tons— of adaptive qualities. It is very much welcomed and —necessary— in a pluralistic society. And it’s essential for a planet based in love as well. I’m all in for being polite. When it doesn’t allow for corruption/harm to happen or continue.