I usually share new videos by contextualizing them a bit, but I do that IN this video, so I’ll just go ahead and post the transcript below. One thing I’ll add that isn’t in the video, though, is that this piece came together little-by-little over the past few years, and a couple of influences/reference points were Umberto Eco’s “Ur-Fascism” and Amanda Taub’s “The Rise of American Authoritarianism.” There’s also stuff like Zeynep Tufekci’s “America’s Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent” or even the episode of Last Week Tonight that dug into authoritarianism both in the US and beyond. Lots of good resources out there, and like I say in the video itself, this is much less about the specific vocabulary word and more about exploring some of the ideas underneath it.
I guess if there is a more focused “point” to this piece, it’s about exploring how authoritarianism can manifest not just as a method of governing, or a political system, but also as a set of attitudes, values, and ideals that impact a wide range of real-world issues and situations. Here’s the video, with the full transcript below (transcript contains some notes meant for the text version of this piece):
Hey- I’m about to share something new, but just to frame it a little bit: I probably said this in my last video, but since most of my poems go up on Button Poetry’s channel, I haven’t been using my own channel much. I do, however, have some plans for it for this coming year, including a series that should kick off shortly. Before any of that is released, though, I wanted to just do a little test run of my setup.
So THIS is a piece that never really found a home anywhere. It isn’t really a spoken word poem. It isn’t really an essay, or a speech. There was a specific thing I wanted to say, and so I let the content kind of drive the form… and the form it ended up taking was that of a parody of a specific 90s standup comedy routine: Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck if…”
So the piece is written to kind of mimic that 90s standup comic delivery style but it’s about something really serious… and actually memorizing it and turning into a performance art piece, just didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. So I’m going to share it here, and I’ll also include the full text at my website. And hopefully it can be useful in some way to someone out there.
YOU MIGHT BE AN AUTHORITARIAN IF…
(takes mic off stand, begins pacing back and forth across the stage) Wow! It is so great to be here. Thank you all so much. I love being back in the United States. Real quick: who here is from from the US?
Yeah, you know what’s up. See, I was born and raised here and so, naturally, I grew up around a lot of people… with authoritarian personalities.
Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about! If you don’t, though, well, people with authoritarian personalities have a strong desire for order, a fear of difference, a fear of outsiders. This fear, makes authoritarians look for strong, decisive leaders, who can sometimes become de facto father figures, who are all about hierarchy, discipline, conformity, following the rules, and enforcing those rules with violence. And I’m not a social scientist: I’m using the word “authoritarian” here, but you could imagine a venn diagram of “authoritarianism” and “fascism” and “far-right nationalism” and whatever term you use, you’d be pointing in the direction of the thing we’re actually talking about.
And of course, authoritarians exist all over the world, but there are a lot of them in the US.
(wild applause, laughter)
…And if you’ve never met one, you might not catch it right away; in fact, you might be an authoritarian yourself and not know it. So I figured tonight, I would share a few tips and clues that might help you figure out, whether YOU …might be an authoritarian.
(wild applause and laughter, which continue after each example presented below)
For example: if you see a group of marchers protesting police brutality, and your very first thought is “what a bunch of whiners,” or “they just want attention,” or “get a job!” …you might be an authoritarian. See, authoritarians often assume all protestors are “paid protestors,” or drugged out hippies, or ignorant kids who don’t know how the world works, because authoritarians can’t imagine anyone actually being upset about the wonderful, ordered status quo in which we live.
If you hear someone say “white people maybe shouldn’t use the n-word,” but you hear it as “I think the government should put you in jail for saying any words I don’t like,” …you might be an authoritarian. Because authoritarians, when presented with a moral or ethical argument, tend to only be able to process it through the lens of laws, rules and regulations.
Like, if you’re perfectly okay with ICE agents tearing families apart, targeting activists, deporting people who have never known any other home, traumatizing children… all because, you know, “the law is the law” or “they should have followed the rules,” …you might be an authoritarian.
If you hear a story about a man using his position of power to badger and pressure a woman into sex, but rather than saying “yes that is wrong and should be condemned” you say “yes but you know: that’s not technically illegal,” …you might be an authoritarian. Authoritarians love black-or-white, all-or-nothing propositions. Like, if you think the #MeToo movement means that no man can ever again say anything to any woman ever, because that’s easier for you than just, you know, striving to be more respectful, …you might be an authoritarian.
Yeah, authoritarians love that all-or-nothing stuff, that hyperbole. If you respond to an accusation of racism not with “I am not racist,” but with “I am the least racist person in the history of the universe,” …you might be an authoritarian. If you say that your political enemies aren’t just wrong, but that “they hate our country,” “they hate freedom” …you might be an authoritarian.
And of course, hyperbole isn’t just about words; it’s about actions too. If you believe that an acceptable punishment for shoplifting, or running away, or having trace amounts of drugs in your bloodstream, or just talking back to a police officer is immediate, extrajudicial execution, …you might be an authoritarian.
Authoritarians are also really, really good at projecting their own flaws and insecurities onto others. So if you assume a man calling out misogyny is just “virtue signalling,” because you’re a man, and you would never call out misogyny, so any man who does must be doing it for nefarious purposes …you might be an authoritarian.
If you think scientists warning us that climate change is a threat to human civilization are just doing it to get famous, or for the grant money, but you have total faith in the politicians, whose campaigns are funded by fossil fuel companies, saying that climate change is a myth, …you might be an authoritarian. Authoritarians, even poor and powerless ones, are drawn to power, and trust the powerful implicitly.
Right: the poor person getting welfare is greedy; the rich person with more money than he could ever spend is aspirational. The public health expert saying we should wear masks to protect each other must have an ulterior motive, but your boss, telling you to clock in and do your job as if everything is normal, is the American Dream. Again and again, when the conflict is between those who hurt people and those who get mad about those who hurt people, authoritarians will never address the hurt, only the “divisiness” of calling it out, the pc police run amok, the “cancel culture” that won’t just roll over and let them do whatever they want.
If you say “I don’t hate immigrants or trans people or muslims on a personal level; I just want them all to look and speak and dress and act exactly like I do, and also not live in my neighborhood or go to my child’s school,” you might be an authoritarian. If you think everyone should speak the same language, and it just HAPPENS to be the only language YOU speak, you might be an authoritarian. If you can only understand choice through the lens of power, empathy through the lens of the law, value through the lens of conformity– you might be an authoritarian.
There’s no punchline here. There. is. no. punchline. here. Authoritarianism robs us, as a society, of our ability to create a more beautiful, more open, freer world. It hurts people. It is an ideology rooted in fear, in greed, and violence, and must be resisted in our politics, our institutions, our interpersonal relationship, and in ourselves. Because it isn’t just tyrants and dictators who can be authoritarians; it’s something that lives in us, the people. And it is our job to kill it. It is our job… not to stand up FOR power, but to stand up TO power, to stand up for one another, to work together, to build relationships, to do all the things that those in power, those with authority, have tried to stomp out for generations.
That’s my time! Hope you all have a wonderful night.
(wild applause, commercial break)