Friday, May 23, 2014

Disgust, homosexuality and conservatism

Haidt has produced some well-known research which shows that conservatives have much more complex moral attitudes than Leftists do.  There are a wider range of factors that enter into a conservative's judgment of what is good or bad.  Leftists, by contrast, have much more simply determined   moral attitudes.

That finding is of course exactly the opposite of what Leftist psychologists preached from 1950 onwards.  Leftists wanted to brand conservatives as the simplistic ones -- which is another example of my rule of thumb which says that you can find out what is true of Leftists by looking at what they say about  conservatives.  They are great projectors in the Freudian sense.

One of the things Haidt found was that conservative judgments were strongly influenced by feelings of disgust. Conservatives are disgusted by such things as mass-murder.  How quaint!  Haidt says that disgust  began as a guardian of the mouth (against pathogens), but then expanded during biological and cultural evolution to become a guardian of the body more generally, and of the social and moral order.

A recent study by Adams et al. mounted an experimental test of Haidt's theory.  They exposed people (mostly Christians) to a disgusting smell and looked at how that affected attitudes.  Some people got the smell and some did not.  They asked did being exposed to a bad smell instantly make you more conservative!

And they extended Haidt's thinking to test whether disgust is a determinant of attitude to homosexuality.  In the days before political correctness, disgust at homosexuality was frequently and widely expressed in the community so I felt I knew the outcome of that query in advance.

And so it was.  The authors looked at a wide range of conservative attitudes but it was only attitudes to sexual matters in general and homosexuality in particular that were much influenced by disgust.  And the issue that produced the biggest differentiation was:  "If a close friend of family member were gay, I would support their right to having a same-sex marriage.”  The non-disgusted group (those who had not been exposed to the bad small) almost universally supported such marriage.  And, reflecting the pressure of what is presently socially acceptable, about half of the disgusted group did too.  "Strongly agree" was however much less common among the disgusted (odor-exposed) group.  So some (but not all) people became less acceptant of homosexuality amid a bad smell.

To me the notable fact about the research was how little effect the smell had. A few correlations were statistically significant but all were trivial in magnitude.  The strongest correlation was with gay marriage attitudes but, as we have seen, the correlation there was a long way from perfect.  A large number of people were unaffected by the bad smell and thought gay marriage was just dandy!

The authors drew generally reasonable conclusions:
These data are consistent with theory delineated by Tybur and colleagues [13], which argues that disgust functions to decrease the occurrence (both in the self and society) of sexual behaviors that are perceived as increasing risk of pathogen transmission. Relatedly, and as noted by Haidt and Graham [11], conservative attitudes are driven not only by harm avoidance, but also by concerns about purity. According to these theories, shifts toward politically conservative views on sex may be basic, adaptive, and self-protective responses against perceived spread of pathogens or moral threats. When disgust is evoked, the behavioral immune system engages avoidance to prevent infection (e.g., less interpersonal contact [28]) and appears to moralize sexual conduct in ways that underlie conservative values of purity and sanctity [11], [26]. As seen in the results of our study, it is possible that exposure to a disgusting odorant caused increased feelings of disgust, which in turn activated the harm avoidance system and motivated a desire for purity (cleanliness). Once these two systems were activated, it is possible that participants began to adopt attitudes that they perceived as decreasing social harm and/or increasing moral purity.

There is a growing literature indicating that disgust has important consequences for political views and policy preferences. In the research presented here, exposure to a disgusting odor caused greater endorsement of conservative views, including: rejecting gay marriage, restricting sex to marriage, disapproving of the use of pornography, and increased beliefs in Biblical truth. Odor induced conservative shifts concerning gay marriage were particularly robust. It is possible that some forms of political conservatism, particularly those related to sex and sexuality, are basic and inherent in some populations and can readily emerge under threatening or taxing conditions [4], [29], [30].
This study will undoubtedly be bruited about by Leftists touting it as "proof" that conservatives are irrational.  So it should be noted that the researchers did not say that.  They in fact saw the role of disgust as healthy and adaptive.

The one issue I would have with the researchers is that they have overgeneralized their findings.  They did not find ANYTHING about conservatism in general, despite testing that.  And the few correlations they celebrate in their conclusions above were in fact of trivial magnitude. Only the "Gay marriage" correlation was of some substance.  It was however nice to have a confirmation that homosexuality is still associated with disgust even amid a tyranny designed to erase such disgust.

There's a journalistic version of the study here.  The original journal article is Disgust and the Politics of Sex: Exposure to a Disgusting Odorant Increases Politically Conservative Views on Sex and Decreases Support for Gay Marriage


How political insiders control the ballot

by Jeff Jacoby

BALLOT-ACCESS hurdles are a classic incumbent-protection device, one of the techniques political insiders use to protect their monopoly from pesky challengers and citizen initiatives.

So it's tempting to chortle when one of those hurdles trips up an incumbent as seasoned as Representative John Conyers Jr., a Detroit Democrat serving his 25th term in Congress, who was disqualified last week from the Democratic primary ballot for failing to submit the 1,000 valid voter signatures Michigan law requires.

There are plenty of reasons why voters in Michigan's 13th congressional district might want to usher Conyers into retirement. The man is 85, he has been in Congress for half a century, and in recent years he has compiled an embarrassing record of ethical lapses and controversies. He is often visibly befuddled; veteran Detroit News editor Nolan Finley notes that "stories abound about Conyers' gaps in lucidity."

But none of that is relevant to the petition-signature requirement that knocked Conyers off the ballot. His campaign turned in more than the necessary number of signatures from registered voters in the district — 1,236 of them, according to local election officials. But nearly half of those signatures were thrown out because the petition circulators hired to collect them weren't themselves registered voters.

Why in the world should it make the slightest difference whether the people canvassing for signatures outside the local supermarket or at the town dump are registered to vote?

It shouldn't. Conyers fell afoul of a proviso whose only real purpose, like so many other election-law conditions, is to ensnare the unwary or to make ballot access more difficult for insurgents and outsiders. Such traps are not just obnoxious, they are unconstitutional: In 1999 the Supreme Court struck down a Colorado law that required petition circulators to wear identification badges and be registered voters in the state. Under the First Amendment, the court ruled, such "undue hindrances to political conversations and the exchange of ideas" are intolerable. So Conyers and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Michigan law, and arguing that the valid signatures collected by the all of the congressman's canvassers should be counted and his name placed on the ballot.

Volunteers collecting signatures to repeal the automatic gas-tax increase must follow scrupulous rules. A stray mark on a petition can result in a page full of voter signatures being thrown out.

Political elites, especially in initiative and referendum states, love to complain that access to the ballot is too easy, and that just about any special interest with a bank account can buy the signatures it needs to put an issue before the voters. The Conyers debacle is a timely reminder that the opposite is true. Politicians and their cronies, jealous of sharing power with the great unwashed, devise inventive ways to keep people and propositions off the ballot. Collecting the necessary signatures and jumping through all the other needed hoops to put something on the ballot is a lot harder than many realize.

In Massachusetts this week, the ballot campaign to repeal the automatic hike in gasoline taxes is rallying around the state to collect the 11,000 signatures it needs to place the issue before the voters in November. (That's on top of the 88,000 certified voter signatures the campaign submitted last fall.) But the rules are so onerous that organizers know that to be sure of clearing that hurdle, they need to get more than twice as many voters to sign: Their goal is 24,000. Volunteers circulating the petitions are given detailed rules for handling the forms. Number 1 on the list: "No marks on the paper. The Secretary of State's office throws out all papers with marks on them." Under Massachusetts law, one errant squiggle, highlighting, or underline on a petition is enough to disqualify every signature on the page.

It is strange that some members of the political class should be so hostile to letting voters occasionally have more of a say on an issue that particularly exercises them. Legislators on Beacon Hill introduce bill after bill aimed at crippling the ability of voters to take an issue to the ballot. One tries to double the number of signatures required to qualify an initiative petition. Another demands publication of an official "fiscal impact statement" by the governor. A third insists that petition circulators sign an affidavit on each page they turn in.

To keep uppity voters and outsiders in their place, it seems, any pretext will do. It shouldn't only make news when a congressional lifer like Conyers is hoist on the same petard.



What The VA Scandal Exposes About Liberalism

President Obama is “madder than hell” about the scandal at the Veterans Administration. How do we know? Dennis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, told us so.

Between fundraisers and golf outings, the president took time from his “busy” schedule to inform his chief of staff aside how angry he was that his administration was, in effect, issuing death sentences to veterans by hiding them on secret wait lists so as not to endanger performance bonuses bureaucrats receive for ensuring those vets did not, in fact, die.

The president must be so angry he’s lost the ability to speak – at least for two weeks when he couldn't be bothered to say or tweet a word about the mistreatment of veterans by his team. Finally forced to break his silence Wednesday, he delivered a statement filled with all the passion of a bag of dirty laundry. But I’m not here to complain about the president’s failed leadership – at this point it’s commonplace, his “style,” and God only knows how much worse things would be if he decided to be “hands on.”

No, I’m not going to mock him since it’s hard to mock a parody anyway. Nor am I going to run through the litany of things “the smartest guy to ever become president” has found out about through media reports and not his paid staff whose very job it is to keep him informed of the happenings in his administration. (The great Washington Free Beacon has a video of some of them worth watching here.)

No, others can do that much better than I. But there is one thing I noticed in the McDonough distract-a-thon over the weekend that I found to be incredibly telling, not just about the president, but about liberalism in general.

When McDonough was on CNN with Jake Tapper, he was confronted with proof the White House knew for years about the hidden VA wait times and the consequences of that act. Rather than offer an apology or simply admit the truth, he offered what is standard fare for liberals – a distraction. But the distraction in this case is the crystallization of liberalism.

McDonough told Tapper, “The president has seen dramatically expanded investments in Veteran’s Administration operations over the course of these last five years … year-on-year historic increases in that budget. At a time, by the way Jake, when we’ve seen budgets under intense pressure, we will continue to make those investments.”

Did you catch it? The president has spent more money on the VA than anyone else has, and to liberals that’s the solution. No concern for how the money is spent – whether it is being spent effectively, being wasted or stolen - just that it’s being spent. The appearance of caring, coupled with a big check, is enough.

We see this not only in the Veteran’s Administration, but in just about everything liberals touch. Washington, D.C., spends nearly $30,000 per student and fully 83 percent aren’t proficient in something as basic as reading.

In Maryland, another big-spending state, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley is gearing up for a presidential run by touting how the Old Line State is No.1 in national reading tests. What he leaves out is that’s in large part because Maryland exempts more students who would score lower on that test that any other state – by a lot. As the Washington Post put it, “The state led the nation in excluding students on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, posting rates that were five times the national average and more than double the rate of any other state.” (Emphasis added.)

As I’ve said before, when you choose the unit of measure, or invent one out of whole cloth (jobs saved or created), you’ll always come out on top. When it comes to caring, liberals have set that unit of measure as money – always other people’s money. With that as the yardstick, no one cares more than liberals. But, like a distant rich parent in movies and novels that raise horrible children, a bottomless checkbook is no substitute for results. And when it comes to results, at least in the real world, be it health care, education, anti-poverty programs, the Veterans Administration, or anything else big government attempts to “fix,” liberals are sadly lacking.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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