Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Friday, March 30, 2012 1:44 PM
Perhaps fueled by increasing
gridlock in Washington,
lately there have been a lot of studies published on why people form and keep the
political beliefs that they do. While none are particularly encouraging for those who want to see government work, the findings offer some insight on why politicians reaching agreement is tougher than it sounds. A couple of weeks ago, Psychology Today reported that researchers at the University of Nebraska
have pointed to a
biological basis for ideology. In general, they reported, liberals have a
deep psychological propensity to focus more on positive forces and outcomes,
while conservative minds are more occupied by what is potentially threatening. These
tendencies, the researchers said, may go beyond environmental factors like
geography or parenting styles.
Haidt agrees that deeper forces are at play. Earlier this year, he told Bill Moyers (and Company) that human
beings are not well designed for objective or rational analysis. It turns
out we’re much better at choosing a side, and finding evidence and arguments to
support it. In other words, cognitive dissonance plays a much bigger role in
how we understand politics than we may have thought. In a recent book, The
Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are
Divided by Politics and Religion, Haidt outlines his view that
conscious reasoning has very little to do with how we form our ideas about the
This would certainly concur
with new research from Duke
University. There, psychologists
found that potential
voters consistently prefer candidates with deeper voices. As Futurity reports, participants were
asked to choose between a number of voices saying “I urge you to vote for me this
November.” The participants consistently preferred the deepest voices, and that
was true whether the choices were male or female. Participants also chose the
deeper voices when asked to identify voices with traits like strength,
competence, or trustworthiness. This was especially true of men, leading
researcher Rindy Anderson to speculate on whether women’s higher voice pitch
had something to do with the glass ceiling.
Of course, none of this
bodes well for actually getting things done, but does help clarify the past several
years of partisan bickering. We tend to blame ideology for a lot of political
problems, but it’s hard to see how we could escape it.
But here’s my favorite
explanation: a study by Scott Eidelman, a University of Arkansas
psychologist, recently found that conservatism
may be most people’s first instinct in how they view the world. According
to Miller-McCune, when distracted or
performing more than one complicated task, participants were more likely to
express conservative ideas and beliefs. These included, according to Eidelman, “an
emphasis on personal responsibility, an acceptance of hierarchy, and a
preference for the status quo.”
In another portion of the
study, Eidelman asked participants to drink heavily before completing a survey
measuring their politics. Amazingly (read: wonderfully), this experiment produced
the same results, as did pressuring participants with time constraints, and distracting
them with repetitive tape loops.
What this exactly means is
hard to say. Eidelman argues that the results will satisfy no one: the research
implies that conservative ideas are instinctual, but also somewhat knee-jerk. And
of course, it’s just as likely that a liberal will hold hasty or unexamined
beliefs, whether or not they’re inebriated or their favorite candidate has a
deep voice. What these findings may speak to, then, is a growing fascination
with ideology at a psychological or biological level—a sense that gridlock in Washington, like say
policy, must have some deeper
& Company, Futurity,
(now Pacific Standard).
Image by Tom
Arthur, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, June 23, 2011 3:17 PM
Bicyclists have a reputation as a bunch of liberals, but it’s worth remembering that not all bicyclists are blue to the core. In fact, as Utne Reader has previously pointed out, there are plenty of conservative-minded folks who get around at least part of the time on two wheels.
Bicycle Times recently published a commentary by one of these mysterious creatures, Tom Bowden, subtitled “How to Talk About Cycling to a Conservative.” (The piece originally appeared on the website Commute By Bike.) Unfortunately, Bowden undermines his own attempt to extend an olive branch by repeatedly engaging in the same sort of stereotype-driven preconceptions and ignorance he’s supposedly campaigning against.
Here are some of his suggestions that really rankled me as a bike-commuting environmentalist:
“If you must meet a conservative face to face, wear a suit! It won’t kill you. Think of it as camouflage—you may find them nodding their heads in agreement even before you open your mouth.” Comment: Really? We should don business-world power attire simply to be taken seriously? I understand that wearing a “Cars R Coffins” T-shirt might not exactly help break down barriers, but Bowden’s proposal is like suggesting that Benjamin Netanyahu don a keffiyeh before the next round of Middle East peace talks. Besides, I know plenty of liberal bikers who wear suits to their jobs and meet face to face with conservatives every day. We’re not all clad in biker-hipster wear from sunup to sundown.
“Here is what turns off conservatives: Global warming, climate change, or climate disruption. If it’s as bad as Al Gore says it is, it will take more than a few bike lanes to fix it. But more importantly, you don’t need to win that fight (or even engage in it) to make your point. Cycling has plenty of merit without dragging in tangential and controversial issues like global … whatever the heck they call it this week.” Comment: OK, dude, you just shredded much of your credibility as a reasonable person. Here, for your information, is what turns off—all right, pisses off—bicycling environmentalists: First, portray well-established climate science solely as the pet theory of a Democratic ex-vice president. Second, trivialize the very real reduced emissions that millions of bicyclists bring about every day by avoiding car trips. Finally, insinuate that the very concept of climate change is wack because it goes by a few different terms depending on the context. Nice work: We’re livid.
“Here is what turns off conservatives: Anti-car arguments in general. Face it: cars exist and most Americans love them. You’ll get nowhere with a conservative if your explicit agenda (or suspected hidden agenda) is an attack on American ‘car culture.’” Comment: Few bikers are so pure that they don’t have a car in their household, so most of them are a part of car culture too—but unlike Bowden they’re willing to confront this conflict head-on and work toward a culture that is not so auto dependent. Car culture is responsible in large part for our messed-up transportation system and has been directly implicated as a major cause of climate change—but, oh yeah, that’s just Al Gore’s pet theory.
“Conservatives don’t like other people to tell them what they should do.” Comment: Do I really need to point out the irony here?
As you can see, Bowden made more than a few missteps in his attempt to create a dialogue, at least with this biker—but in the spirit of ending on a positive note and giving his best arguments their due, here a few of his more unassailable suggestions, absent any smartass commentary:
Cycling is efficient. True conservatives love efficiency! It has been said that a cyclist is more efficient than a bird in flight.
Remind [conservatives] that cycling is cheaper than building more roads. The more cyclists, the more room for cars on existing roads. The more cyclists, the less concrete we need to pour.
Make it clear that you are not suggesting that everyone can or will ditch their cars and ride bikes, but just that people who choose to ride should be able to do so safely, as taxpaying citizens worthy of full protection of their individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of that special kind of happiness one gets from riding a bike.
Sources: Bicycle Times
(article not available online), Commute By Bike
Image by swanksalot, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010 4:29 PM
It’s fascinating to see Atlas Shrugged author Ayn Rand posthumously elevated to the level of saint by conservatives who are allegedly driven by Christian values. For Rand was an aggressive atheist who condemned altruism of all kinds, writes Tim King in Sojourners, and “Grace, by its very definition, cannot find any place within Rand’s philosophy.”
As King explains in his short commentary, “Jesus Shrugged”:
Rand was clear that her philosophy, known as objectivism, was incompatible with that of Jesus. For her, any system that that required one individual to live for others and follow anything beside his or her own self-interest was immoral. For Jesus, any system or behavior that does not take into account living for others and acting on their behalf is immoral. Christians should take Ayn Rand’s words as a warning. To follow her and her vision, one must give up Christ and his cross.
You heard it, libertarians, go-Galters, and Tea Party rabble rousers: If you cheer Rand’s self-worshipping objectivist ideals, you cheer with the devil.
(article not available online)
, licensed under
Friday, March 12, 2010 3:07 PM
A thankful nod to American RadioWorks and Third Coast International Audio Festival for digging up Trey Kay’s audio documentary “The Great Textbook War” in the midst of shiver-inducing news from Texas, where right-wing activists who dominate the Texas Board of Education are attempting to rewrite U.S. textbook curricula.
The audio documentary revisits the 1974 national media frenzy over one West Virginia school board’s deliberations on which textbooks to employ, pivoting on conservative Christian belief systems. Violent protests ensued and vehement coverage spread through national media outlets for months.
The listening experience here is rich, thanks to a deep well of archived press recordings and original interviews. Kay’s biography also informs the story: He was a seventh grade student in Kanawha County when the war broke out. It didn’t matter then, or now, that Kanawha’s population is slight, around 191,000 in 2008, even though it houses the state’s capitol: America loves the allegory of its small-town self demonstrating the sentiments and antics of the country as a whole. But when the sediment of media flurry settles, the ’74 textbook war and the current battle in Texas are both debates about degrees of mediating information and opinions in the school's domain. One Kanawa parent testifying on tape in 1974 hits a resonant note in each era’s textbook war: “If I have been successful as a parent, nothing my children can read in school will hurt them.”
“Revisionaries,” Washington Monthly
“How Christian were the Founders?” New York Times Magazine
“Textbook Diplomacy, Part One & Two,” BBC World Service Documentaries
Wednesday, January 07, 2009 12:55 PM
Andrew Breitbart, a longtime editor at the conservative Drudge Report, has had enough with movies that vilify the government and celebrities who are admired for talking smack about their country. So he’s out to make Hollywood “pro-American” again.
Breitbart launched the conservative pop culture and politics blog Big Hollywood this week, positioning it as an outlet “for those who think something has gone drastically wrong and that Hollywood should return to its patriotic roots.”
The site encourages conservative entertainment industry insiders to come out of the closet loud and proud, and the conservative movement as a whole to “figure out pop culture.” As Breitbart sees it, right-wingers need to realize that in the battle for ideological prowess, "(pop) culture is the big prize and that politics is secondary.”
The stories posted on Big Hollywood so far include a piece by California Assemblyman Chuck DeVore praising Tom Cruise's new Nazi flick Valkyrie for its “soul and dignity”, and a post speculating that 24’s unapologetic nature may be moderated “to adapt to a new political reality”.
As the blog embarks on its master plan to remake Hollywood politics, one thing's for sure: They'll have plenty of lefties standing in their way. In a no-holds-barred takedown of Big Hollywood for the American Prospect's TAPPED blog, Adam Serwer wrote, "It consists of failed showbiz types whose insanity hasn't been tempered by the incessant mockery of the blogosphere, which means that each post is pure wingnuttia."
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