28 May 2009

The Revulsion Gene

I've commented before that I am a liberal sojourning in a land of conservatives. (My self-denial of liberalism is directed at specific ideologies, not disposition.) While there are certain conservative causes I support, as hard as I've tried, I cannot evince within myself those basic attitudes that actuate most conservatives, like respect for authority and antipathy for cultural change. I can feel a liberal's anger at unfairness and discrimination, but not a conservative's disgust at disrespect of tradition and the foreign.

Nick Kristof has a fascinating column today about the psychological basis of the liberal/conservative divide. After his Daily Me column (my take), he was contacted by psychiatrists who informed him that changing disposition and bias is not that simple:

    Studies suggest that conservatives are more often distressed [than liberals] by actions that seem disrespectful of authority. . . .
    Likewise, conservatives are more likely than liberals to sense contamination or perceive disgust. People who would be disgusted to find that they had accidentally sipped from an acquaintance’s drink are more likely to identify as conservatives.
    The upshot is that liberals and conservatives don’t just think differently, they also feel differently. This may even be a result, in part, of divergent neural responses.
In other words, the brains of liberals and conservatives may just be wired differently. Some of us may lack the revulsion gene that would enable us to be proper conservatives. Kristof links to a "disgust test" that I plan to take (when not at work), to help gauge one's moral disposition and aptitude for liberalism/conservatism. I'll post my score.

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