So there’s been a bit of hoo-hah over a new study that has been reported as “conservatives are cowards”. First of all, if anyone has access to the AAAS website, I’d love a copy of the full paper. As it is, I’m going off of the abstract and some of the news articles about it. Here’s the abstract:
We present evidence that variations in political attitudes correlate with physiological traits. In a group of 46 adult participants with strong political beliefs, individuals with measurably lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control, whereas individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favor defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War. Thus, the degree to which individuals are physiologically responsive to threat appears to indicate the degree to which they advocate policies that protect the existing social structure from both external (outgroup) and internal (norm-violator) threats.
As I understand it, they measured startle reactions and other physiological reactions to ‘stressful imagery’ (like images of injured people and threatening situations).
Rightwingers scare more easily than liberals, according to a new study.
Jeebus, they went to all that trouble when they just could have asked Karl Rove? The GOP has been using fearmongering – on terrorism, evil axises, taxes, guns, God, gays etc etc – as a vote-getting tactic for how long now?
I’ll suggest an alternate interpretation and suggest that there may actually be something underneath this.
Col. Jeff Cooper – my first shooting instructor – is famous, for among other things, codifying a ‘defensive state of mind’ hierarchy which he expressed as follows (courtesy of John Schaefer):
White – Relaxed, unaware, and unprepared. If attacked in this state the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy and ineptitude of your attacker. When confronted by something nasty your reaction will probably be, “Oh my God! This can’t be happening to me.”
Yellow – Relaxed alertness. No specific threat situation. Your mindset is that “today could be the day I may have to defend myself.” There is no specific threat but you are aware that the world is an unfriendly place and that you are prepared to do something if necessary. You use your eyes and ears, and your carriage says “I am alert.” You don’t have to be armed in this state but if you are armed you must be in yellow. When confronted by something nasty your reaction will probably be, “I thought this might happen some day.” You can live in this state indefinitely.
Orange – Specific alert. Something not quite right has gotten your attention and you shift your primary focus to that thing. Something is “wrong” with a person or object. Something may happen. Your mindset is that “I may have to shoot that person.” Your pistol is usually holstered in this state. You can maintain this state for several hours with ease, or a day or so with effort.
Red – Fight trigger. This is your mental trigger. “If that person does “x” I will shoot them.” Your pistol may, but not necessarily, be in your hand.
In the shooting and defensive arts community, the class of people who don’t react to threats have a name – victims.
But there’s another interesting point here, and it goes to some of the underlying understandings of people who I tend to classify as liberal and conservative.
Liberals, like Dr. Pangloss, see the world as inherently benign and think that it is human agency that makes it otherwise. Conservatives, think that the world is inherently threatening, and see human action as the bulwark against the threats.
To a large extent, this summarizes modern liberal and conservative thinking – crime? “if we’d stop harassing those kids, they would stop being so violent.” foreign policy? “if we don’t act from a position of threatening strength, they will take advantage of us.”
It’s almost a restatement of the old problem of theodicy. Which in a way makes me less sanguine about bridging the gap. Religious wars are the hardest to prevent and the hardest to stop.