I’ve been wondering what to make of book-spammers. These individuals travel from blog to blog, comments thread to comments thread, with no intention of actually participating in the discussion. Their sole intention is to dump (as a seabird would a heap of guano) a cut-and-pasted blurb about some paradigm-shifting tome promising to change your thinking about x, where x equals evolution, or the existence of deities, or education policy, and so on, and so on.
The following, whom I’ve encountered, may ring a bell, especially if you frequent blogs in the Atheosphere: the Young Earth Creationist cdavidparsons (Google “c david parsons The Quest for Right, a series of 7 textbooks created for the public schools”), Christian apologist Gerry Rzeppa (Google “My name is Gerry Rzeppa and I’ve written a short children’s book in answer to the works of Richard Dawkins”), and Edbooked, whose agenda (beyond getting you to read and purchase a certain book that purports to solve whatever ill-defined problems he sees in the US public education system) is unknown (Google “Twilights Last Gleaming On Public Education a portion of which may be viewed online”).
In The Authoritarians (See? Now I’m doing it!), University of Manitoba Associate Professor of Psychology Bob Altemeyer describes authoritarian followers. To some degree we all submit to authority, he acknowledges—when we obey traffic signals, for instance—and we would all be much worse off if this were not the case. Authoritarian followers, however, believe we ought to submit to authority not for utilitarian reasons but simply for the sake of submitting to authority. They would address the Heinz dilemma thusly: “The law is the law and must be obeyed” (though I admit to not having read enough of The Authoritarians to discover if Altemeyer thinks authoritarian followers—a.k.a “High RWAs”—would be at Stage 1 or Stage 4 in Lawrence Kohlberg’s schema of moral development, or even if Kohlberg’s moral theory is covered in the book at all). High RWAs, The Authoritarians argues, are characterised by three main personality traits:
1) a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society;
2) high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities; and
3) a high level of conventionalism.
Altermeyer emphasises that he’s drawing on an Old English sense of “right”—“for in Old English “riht”(pronounced “writ”) as an adjective meant lawful, proper, correct, doing what the authorities said”—and being a (psychological) Right Wing Authoritarian doesn’t necessarily mean one has right-wing political views. It just happens to be the case that (at least in North America) people with high RWA personalities turn out to have conservative political views, as well as a tendency to belong to fundamentalist religions.
Here’s my hypothesis: book-spammers are textbook examples of authoritarian followers. And the reason they cut-and-paste the same blurb in the comment threads of as many unfortunate blogs as they can find is because reasoned discussion is the last thing on their mind. To parrot(?) Altemeyer, “authoritarian followers aren’t going to question, they’re going to parrot.” I would add (and again, I’m not sure if it’s covered already), there is a presupposition on the part of the book-spammer that most if not all readers of your blog think like authoritarian followers think, and have the same a priori reverence for (claimed) authority. It’s in a book, therefore it must be true. Or he said it, therefore it must be true. This same kind of reasoning motivates the Darwin deathbed recantation myth, as well as the Christian apologists’ promotion of “Famous Atheist Deconverts!” tales and their own “deconversions” (e.g. Kirk Cameron, Lee Strobel, Alister McGrath). Heck, why do you think Gerry Rzeppa wants to give Richard Dawkins $64,000 in cold, hard cassssshhhhhhhh if Dawkins answers a questions about Rzeppa’s turgid doggerel? Because they think we think like they do. If Darwin recanted, evolutionary biology falls. If Dawkins converts to fundamentalist Christianity on the spot (becoming $64,000 richer in the process), millions of non-believers the world over will follow their Pope and Supreme Leader into the open arms of Jeebus. Here’s this wonderful book. It’s written by an Authority I revere without question. He wouldn’t lie to me: he’s an Authority. His book is intriguing, enlightening and socially relevant. You may view a portion of this fascinating book online. See if you agree with the potential solutiions presented. Use this book as a point of departure for discussions with your friends . . .
(I wonder if we all have a little RWA spammer in us, though? Back in the early years of this decade I used to spam the inboxes of family and friends with news articles and agitprop regarding issues such as mandatory detention and the war in Iraq, until I was told in no uncertain terms to cease and desist. I was shocked and angry about what was going on at the time, but they weren’t interested, so I backed off, opting to pester the denizens of Tolkien discussion boards until the advent of blogging gave me a more appropriate venue to push my wheelbarrows.)