Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

A repeat from one year ago today; more apropos than ever

by Rob - December 18th, 2016.
Filed under: op-ed, Uncategorized.

Foresight consultancy Idea Couture publishes a wonderful magazine called MISC. For their Fall 2015 issue, they asked me to contribute a piece on a “looming potential crisis nobody is talking about.” This is what I had to say in MISC; I explore this theme in much greater depth in my upcoming 23rd novel Quantum Night, to be released March 1, 2016:

In all cultures there are a few manipulative authoritarians who wish to lead — and many who are predisposed to follow them blindly. Bob Altemeyer, a professor at the University of Manitoba, demonstrated that whenever authoritarians gain power disaster ensues, as we saw with the invasion of Iraq based on fabricated intelligence. But that fiasco was small potatoes: Altemeyer’s simulations suggest a nuclear holocaust will eventually occur as authoritarian leaders in different parts of the world come into conflict.

His research is still largely ignored even though former Nixon White House counsel John Dean highlighted it in his 2006 book Conservatives Without Conscience. Oh, we panic when Al-Qaeda radicalizes millions, but we’ve paid no attention as the practice has become blatant among political and religious leaders in the West. Indeed, whenever someone tries to draw a parallel to the most obvious historical example — Germany falling under Hitler’s thrall — Godwin’s Law is invoked to falsely insist that no such comparisons are ever apt.

George Orwell said that mind-controlling messages would soon be pumped into our homes — but he would have been astounded that millions voluntarily tune into them in the form of FOX News and conservative talk radio. As Altemeyer has shown, huge numbers have already been radicalized in this way, and they ignore overwhelming evidence that they’ve been lied to. (The failure of blind followers to accept evolution is merely galling; the failure to accept anthropogenic climate change is an existential threat to our species.)

Is there hope? Perhaps. But until we begin to guard against the ways in which whole societies are easily manipulated by charismatic authoritarians, we’re still in enormous danger.

Although a PDF of Bob Altemeyer’s book is available for free here, I recommend the Audible version, which has an updated introduction by John Dean.

Robert J. Sawyer online;

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