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Social Psychology, Politics, and Disgust

I saw this item at Reason.com the other day.  It’s a short piece reflecting on a video of a speech by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt talking about how one’s “sensitivity to disgust” is supposedly some sort of predictor of one’s political views.  I haven’t watched the whole video yet, but the speech was given at the Museum of Sex in New York City, so some amount of its content seems designed to appeal to the audience that would be attending a speech in that location.

Jim Epstein at Reason.com summarizes the key points of the speech as follows:

“Morality isn’t just about stealing and killing and honesty, it’s often about menstruation, and food, and who you are having sex with, and how you handle corpses,” says NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who is author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics.

Haidt argues that our concern over these victimless behaviors is rooted in our biology. Humans evolved to feel disgusted by anything that when consumed makes us sick. That sense of disgust then expanded “to become a guardian of the social order.”

This impulse is at the core of the culture war. Those who have a low sensitivity to disgust tend to be liberals or libertarians; those who are easily disgusted tend to be conservative.

The full video of the speech is available at the above link.

My reaction to all this is that it 1). depends on how one defines conservative, and 2). it depends on what kinds of things one labels or considers to be examples of disgust.

With respect to point 1)., I think that a large portion of the conservative coalition is rather heavily libertarian-leaning, and it just makes more sense for us to identify as conservative and vote for Republicans because  the Libertarian party seems doomed to remain a fringe party, at least as long as that party’s leadership continues to endorse an isolationist or head-in-the-sand approach to foreign policy.  Now while it may be the case that many traditional “social conservatives” have a “high sensitivity to disgust” with respect to issues of sex, I’m not even convinced that that is as widely the case as Haidt’s remarks suggest.  I’ve heard socially-conservative Christian ministers talk about sex in ways that show they may have a better understanding of the variety of human sexual experience than many academics who claim to be experts on the subject.

On the other hand, with respect to point 2)., I can find many, many examples of “disgust” fueling the attitudes of liberals and leftists.  One could begin by looking at their intense hatred of Sarah Palin and anyone like her.  Some of that hatred, I would argue, was fueled by a disgust at the lives of anyone who doesn’t live the life of a modern liberal in a major coastal city.

Most modern liberals are disgusted by hunting, by the people who shop at Wal-Mart, by the petroleum industry, by the food industry, by the military, by evangelical Christians, and by the reality of life in small-town, rural America.  James Taranto and British Philosopher Roger Scruton call it “oikophobia”: it is a worldview which accepts or excuses the transgressions of select special-interest groups or of non-western cultures, while it judges the familiar by a harsh standard and condemns them with expressions of disgust at the nature of their lives.

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21 Comments

  1. Via Jimmy’s LaSalvia twitter

    Gruenhagen: Homosexuality is a ‘sexual addiction’

    “It’s an unhealthy, sexual addiction,” state Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen said Wednesday.

    http://www.startribune.com/politics/blogs/193674061.html

    Comment by rusty — March 2, 2013 @ 8:18 pm - March 2, 2013

  2. “Those who have a low sensitivity to disgust tend to be liberals or libertarians; those who are easily disgusted tend to be conservative.”

    Funny – I’ve always found it to be the opposite. Libtards often tend to have a very low threshold for what they perceive to be “disgusting.” Conservatives tend to have their disgust-o-meter registering quite high.

    Case in point: look at how many in academia tend to be the most offended, yet the most privileged. Same in politics.

    Regards,
    Peter H.

    Comment by Peter Hughes — March 2, 2013 @ 8:51 pm - March 2, 2013

  3. How weird! I just clicked over here from Reason online, where I saw that report. Great minds think alike.

    I do think that most Americans need to stop being such Heathers about being manipulated by the politics of disgust. Voters who shriek “Eeeew! Gross!” at the polls about everything they dislike, attempting to simply illegalize it, will always be dupes for tyranny.

    Comment by Lori Heine — March 2, 2013 @ 9:47 pm - March 2, 2013

  4. Humans evolved to feel disgusted by anything that when consumed makes us sick. That sense of disgust then expanded “to become a guardian of the social order.”

    Spare me, please!

    “Humans evolved to…..” May I see the scientific research which supports this statement of fact?

    The science behind natural selection is one thing, but when the whole rant is based on a claim of “evolution” it is clear that true science has been hi-jacked by the religious belief in faith-based evolution, not the science in evolution. Show me the biology.

    Naturally, in the religion of evolution, those who have evolved the most are disgusted by the crassness of the flock they have risen above in the process of natural selection. They are the high priests and priestesses that serve as self-anointed “guardians of the social order.” They gather their “scientific evidence” from a league of buttinskies, snakes, busybodies, meddlers, fussbudgets, snoops and gossipmongers.

    There is a world of difference between the “disgust” aroused by facing rancid meat as a meal and the “disgust” that is generated by disdain, arrogance, supercilious superiority and self-proclaimed imperious refinement.

    When liberals talk of “evolution” it is merely a way of separating themselves from the people they disdain and relegate to being less evolved and therefore closer to the ape.

    Comment by heliotrope — March 3, 2013 @ 8:41 am - March 3, 2013

  5. [...] Gay Patriot discusses psychology, politics, and disgust [...]

    Pingback by Sorta Blogless Sunday Pinup » Pirate's Cove — March 3, 2013 @ 9:48 am - March 3, 2013

  6. When liberals talk of “evolution” it is merely a way of separating themselves from the people they disdain and relegate to being less evolved and therefore closer to the ape worthy of being shipped off to the gulag.

    I think the clever abbreviation is FIFY?

    Comment by Bastiat Fan — March 3, 2013 @ 11:42 am - March 3, 2013

  7. True that. I was so busy picking off fleas and throwing poo that I missed the obvious. Your FIFY correction is spot on.

    Comment by heliotrope — March 3, 2013 @ 12:57 pm - March 3, 2013

  8. Lori Heine wrote: “Voters who shriek “Eeeew! Gross!” at the polls about everything they dislike, attempting to simply illegalize it, will always be dupes for tyranny.”

    That certainly seems to be the case. In trying to come up with good counterexamples, I mostly only come up with things that would already be illegal for violating the rights of others anyway.

    Heliotrope–with regard to your points about evolution, I’ve noted that it is always very interesting how most liberals like to change the meaning of the term to suit their needs in a debate. When they want to be relativists, they will explain that evolution only means that things change over time to meet changing circumstances, and therefore, that evolution isn’t the same as progress, but when they want to be progressive moralists, they use talk of evolution in the ways you describe.

    Comment by Kurt — March 3, 2013 @ 1:02 pm - March 3, 2013

  9. I think it really does come down to what the thing is that disgusts. I also think cultural norms come into play. Liberals often believe that it is wrong to condemn other cultures, unless of course they do something that they don’t like.

    I am also pretty certain that liberals often come at a problem with preconceived notions and make the facts often fit those notions.

    Comment by Just Me — March 3, 2013 @ 2:37 pm - March 3, 2013

  10. To give Haidt’s book its due: He identifies six nodes of moral decision-making, found across cultures:

    care/harm,
    fairness/cheating,
    liberty/oppression,
    loyalty/betrayal,
    authority/subversion,
    sanctity/degradation.

    His polling studies indicates that liberals are sensitive only to the first three, while conservatives add the final three to their six. You can assert then that conservatives have a wider and more archetypal moral sensibility than the cramped liberal version.

    Excellent point, though, about the “oikophobic” disgust that libs express over people who are not like them.

    Comment by EssEm — March 3, 2013 @ 2:38 pm - March 3, 2013

  11. Liberals often believe that it is wrong to condemn other cultures

    You’re only allowed to condemn Western culture.

    Comment by Rattlesnake — March 3, 2013 @ 2:53 pm - March 3, 2013

  12. Kurt,

    The liberals will attack with fangs bared if any known Christian dare suggest that what is proven science in evolution is minuscule compared to what evolution theorists project and accept as science, even though not proven.

    In plainer words, evolution theorists have an abiding faith in their theory. However, that does not cause them to hesitate for a nano-second in disparaging the belief systems of those who hold traditional religious beliefs.

    The creative design advocates want biologists in the classroom to recognize the validity of their explanation for life creation along side the deeply held belief of evolution as an alternative explanation for life. At that juncture, one religion (evolution) bans any acknowledgement of the sky-guy religious “crapola.” Therein lies the hypocrisy.

    I really don’t have any other point in all of this, but to point out the subversion of science and the rhetorical hypocrisy of throwing the term evolution around for effect. The sham school of Darwinism gone pseudo-science leads to the broad spectrum of eugenics and to strange, narrow theories such as transpersonal perspective and holotropic states of being. All of this, mind you, is connected with the contest of survival by the arrogant manipulation of designing the path to being the fittest. You could do as well by drinking copious amounts of snake oil fresh of the Medicine Man push cart. At least you would be drunk and have a mitigating reason for your foolishness.

    Comment by heliotrope — March 3, 2013 @ 4:48 pm - March 3, 2013

  13. EssEm–thanks for the background about Haidt’s book. Since I haven’t read the book and didn’t watch the whole video before posting, I realized I wasn’t necessarily being completely fair in my representation of his points, which is why I quoted the Jim Epstein passage for the summary. I’ve got some familiarity with Haidt’s history (see for instance this discussion of him as a “changer” at Neo-neocon) and I know he has incurred some wrath from the left already for having had the integrity to point out some of the good qualities of conservatives and libertarians and some of the negative qualities of those on the left.

    Comment by Kurt — March 3, 2013 @ 5:03 pm - March 3, 2013

  14. FULL INTERVIEW: Mitt Romney’s Fox News interview with Chris Wallace:

    http://commoncts.blogspot.com/2013/03/full-video-mitt-romney-ann-romney-fox.html

    Comment by Steve — March 3, 2013 @ 6:51 pm - March 3, 2013

  15. Those who have a low sensitivity to disgust tend to be liberals or libertarians; those who are easily disgusted tend to be conservative.

    Once more, I defy the categories.

    - I am a libertarian-conservative, or right-leaning libertarian.
    - I would argue that all true lovers of human liberty would, if given enough time to think, end up as right-leaning libertarians. (Left-leaning libertarians are leftists at heart; “collectivists who can’t admit it.”)
    - I am a libertarian, precisely because *I am so easily disgusted* by all forms of authoritarian collectivism, whether from the Left (fascism, “democratic” socialism, communism, etc.) or from the Right (traditional feudalism, Church rule, or monarchism).

    Haidt’s simplistic, unworkable categories show his liberal bias: He has assigned the implicitly modern-sounding, rational-sounding “low sensitivity to disgust” to the political Left, and vice versa… with little reason.

    I think that a large portion of the conservative coalition is rather heavily libertarian-leaning, and it just makes more sense for us to identify as conservative and vote for Republicans

    Yeah. There you go.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — March 3, 2013 @ 11:09 pm - March 3, 2013

  16. What the people of this country need right now is a media outlet that actually gets out there and goes after center-right content. For example, when some issue pops up and gets into the news, one major problem the political right has is getting the message out to the people. It isn’t that people aren’t saying things, it’s that there isn’t a communications channel that is willing to get it out there to the people.

    What does Mike Pence think about what is going on in Washington? Has anyone outside of Indiana interviewed him? What does Nikki Haley think? There are hundreds of Republicans out there. What about Brian Sandoval, governor of Nevada, think about what is going on? When was the last time you saw an interview of national scope with Tim Scott?

    I can’t recall seeing such content from places like Breitbart or Free Beacon or Daily Caller or a smaller blog, even. Call up their office, tell them you would like a 5 minute interview once a month to discuss current issues of a national scope. Even in California there are some conservative politicians who might have something to say whose voices don’t get heard. You could have a different politician every day of the week.

    Another issue that needs to be hammered home is that the Democrats are *not* the friend of minorities and the poor. Democrats want to keep them culturally segregated, prevent them from assimilating into the American melting pot and use expensive programs we can’t afford as a nation to throw cash at them in exchange for votes while the Democrats destroy their families, destroy their work ethic, get their daughters dependent on the government and incarcerate their sons. Democrats raise the minimum wage and sell it as helping them when in reality it prevents people who aren’t currently working and have no experience from landing a job.

    The Democratic Party as it exists today is corrupt to the core. When Barack Obama fired the DC staff of the DNC and moved it to Chicago, staffing it with members of his 08 campaign staff, he effectively ended the Democratic Party as America has known it up to that point. They have Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, a pathological liar, as their party spokesperson, for crying out loud.

    We need to find a way to stop preaching to the choir, get a wider audience, and get the message out there that rich and poor alike are being robbed blind by the Democrats.

    Comment by crosspatch — March 4, 2013 @ 1:47 am - March 4, 2013

  17. Another example is rather than hearing Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin play cut after cut after cut of what Obama said, I would rather hear cut after cut of what various Republicans have said. Obama already gets enough airtime, he doesn’t need more of it from the right.

    Comment by crosspatch — March 4, 2013 @ 2:04 am - March 4, 2013

  18. In my experience, many liberals live their lives in a conservative fashion but do not draw larger conclusions from their personal choices. Much of liberalism is utilitarian in nature, based upon the premise that material well-being is or should be our social goal, i.e. that once a man’s basic needs are met, he can then focus his attention upon bettering himself, but that this is a societal obligation. From this comes many other liberal traits, such as the mitigation of consequences from having made poor choices.

    Comment by Ignatius — March 4, 2013 @ 2:30 pm - March 4, 2013

  19. In my experience may who call themselves liberal do it as a socio-cultural decision, not a political decision. There is a certain group of people with whom they would like to associate or to be identified with or to “be like”. So they adopt the positions, rhetoric, shibboleths of that group. After a period of months and years they have conditioned themselves to read the ‘proper’ sites, have the ‘proper’ viewpoint and other aspects of having the ‘proper’ positions on things so they can be accepted in conversations with those people. It is massive groupthink. There can be no debate. Their truths are absolute and disagreement manifests as “hate” which is itself is projection. When they hear an opposing viewpoint that opposes their own, it is as if they themselves feel hate so they project that on the person voicing that viewpoint and accuse that person of being a “hater” or engaging in “hate speech” or being “mean spirited”. No dissent is tolerated. If you do not conform to the prescribed view, you are alienated.

    Liberal debate is basically like a third grade playground discussion.

    Comment by crosspatch — March 5, 2013 @ 3:44 am - March 5, 2013

  20. Liberal philosophy is simple: If they don’t like it, they outlaw it (guns, 20 oz sodas, public expressions of Christianity), if they like it, they make it mandatory (sex ed, “Let’s Move,” public expressions of Islam).

    They can’t accept that freedom means tolerance for people who make choices you don’t agree with. That’s what makes them fascists.

    Comment by V the K — March 5, 2013 @ 6:31 am - March 5, 2013

  21. Heliotrope–I’m very late to respond to your comment of a few days ago, but you’re right about the connection between the Darwinists and the Eugenicists. In many respects, the philosophy behind much of modern liberalism found theoretical justification in “telic” or “reform” Darwinism, which sought the perfection of humanity. Needless to say, eugenics was but one step along that path.

    Comment by Kurt — March 7, 2013 @ 2:49 pm - March 7, 2013

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