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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Those crazy conservatives
I like this article, basically it says that conservatives are whiny little scaredy cats who can't deal with uncertainty or mortality, and people who are able to maintain rational thought in the face of death are politically liberal (The source paper by Jost's group is great - via Coturnix).

Following 9/11, most lifelong liberals did not go through outright conversion or shift their preferred candidate. Yet many liberals who didn't become all-out conservatives found themselves nonetheless sympathizing more with conservative positions, craving the comfort of a strong leader, or feeling the need to punish or avenge. Many in the political center moved to the right, too. In aggregate, over an electorate of millions—a large proportion of whom were swing voters waiting to be swayed one way or the other—even a subtle shift was enough to tip the balance of the Presidential election, and the direction the country took for years. "Without 9/11 we would have a different president," says Solomon. "I would even say that the Osama bin Laden tape that was released the Thursday before the election was sufficient to swing the election. It was basically a giant mortality salience induction."

If we are so suggestible that thoughts of death make us uncomfortable defaming the American flag and cause us to sit farther away from foreigners, is there any way we can overcome our easily manipulated fears and become the informed and rational thinkers democracy demands?

To test this, Solomon and his colleagues prompted two groups to think about death and then give opinions about a pro-American author and an anti-American one. As expected, the group that thought about death was more pro-American than the other. But the second time, one group was asked to make gut-level decisions about the two authors, while the other group was asked to consider carefully and be as rational as possible. The results were astonishing. In the rational group, the effects of mortality salience were entirely eliminated. Asking people to be rational was enough to neutralize the effects of reminders of death. Preliminary research shows that reminding people that as human beings, the things we have in common eclipse our differences—what psychologists call a "common humanity prime"—has the same effect.

"People have two modes of thought," concludes Solomon. "There's the intuitive gut-level mode, which is what most of us are in most of the time. And then there's a rational analytic mode, which takes effort and attention."

The solution, then, is remarkably simple. The effects of psychological terror on political decision making can be eliminated just by asking people to think rationally. Simply reminding us to use our heads, it turns out, can be enough to make us do it.

If the psychologists keep this up they're going to turn conservatives into Scientologists.

**Update** I'm enjoying the source paper so much, especially how conservatives have long been understood to be proto-fascists - and by long I mean that the Nazis used to look for conservative behaviors in recruits because they made good Nazis. Ha!

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minimalist said...

I've had similar thoughts, but I didn't realize there's been actual research about this already! Good thing I'm getting out of lab science; all my good ideas have already been taken and I'd get sick of being scooped left and right.

Anyway, this phenomenon has been pretty apparent in people like Chris Hitchens or James Lileks. Admittedly some of them are pretty conservative to begin with (like Lileks), but 9/11 broke something in their fragile little minds, and they went over the edge. It's pretty apparent that the issue is excessive, irrational fears over safety -- in Lileks' case, particularly his child's safety. Look how his every Arab-hatin', liberal-bashin' post is pretty much about "OHHH curse this fallen world, well if we have to kill ten million Arabs in order to reduce the inifinitesimal chance that Gnat will get a boo-boo in a terrorist attack, so be it!"

I try to remind myself of that every time he posts something newly enraging, but it's tough. Especially when he posts vile bilge such as support of torture, and his idea to execute liberals who oppose it, every time torture yields "useful" information -- seriously.

9:31 AM, January 09, 2007

Anonymous said...

Yawn, this blog is so pretentious and BORING. Shut up and actually do something to make the world a better place instead of yammering on and on with such one-sided drivel. Talk about retarded ....

9:30 PM, January 09, 2007

Rev. Dr. said...

We do that too, don't worry.

10:23 AM, January 10, 2007


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