Sunday, September 21, 2008
Are we what we like?
A very interesting coincidence of ideas has appeared in the press recently. On a CNN blog, research into what makes a conservative different from a liberal was discussed. According to a study by political scientists at Rice University, conservative volunteers for a visual experiment showed markedly different reactions to stimuli than their democratic counterparts. Conservatives were more disturbed by unsettling images such as wounds and spiders, whereas the others were less averse to ugly sights.This struck me as odd, as conservatives in the U.S. and elsewhere tend to be more bellicose , and favour the bearing of arms , and the imposition of more draconian punishments than lefties do. Then I recalled an article in The New Yorker some months ago, where the critic, Peter Schjeldahl, said much the same thing. Conservative people, he implied, like an ordered and un-threatening world, where the viewer is in control of his circumstances, and he needs to take control if danger lurks. Liberal people are more open to "the other", and the" odd". Stimuli which provoke discomfort and fear in some people appeal to the curiosity of others. Obviously, the world needs both kinds of person, [ not that I, as a liberal, believe this for a minute!], and the Rice study suggests that our biases may be genetic. Knowing that this could be so may perhaps calm our exasperation with all those who say that their kids could outpaint Picasso , or that Wyeth is trite. We don't know what we like----we ARE what we like! But, oh, how we love those arguments!