Comments: This Comedy Brought To You By SCIENCE!

Next up: jokes based on how frequently pulsars emit electromagnetic radiation.

Astrophysicist's bumper sticker: "Pulsars do it a hundred times a second."

Posted by SteveB at May 30, 2009 07:33 PM

I found that article a bit silly. I voted for Ralph Nader, and I studiously avoid touching restroom-faucets.

Liberals get just as disgusted as conservatives, I'd propose, but mostly at different things.

E.g., abortion vs. murdered Palestinian children.

Posted by Cloud at May 30, 2009 11:10 PM

I mean, surely conservatives feel no revulsion whatsoever at so many of the things that 'we' do.

Posted by Cloud at May 30, 2009 11:13 PM

Liberalism is correlated with vegetarianism which feels much disgust at eating flesh, which disgust conservatives for the most part do not feel.

Posted by Cloud at May 30, 2009 11:14 PM

I think Hitler was a vegetarian too. Or Mel Brooks, one or the other.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 31, 2009 12:21 AM


Kristof's article is kind of a mess. It doesn't seem like he understands any of it, and he misses obvious conclusions, like maybe conservatives are just more "disgusted" in general. I think it's comical that he felt the need to explain that conservatives are authoritarian.

And then Kristof concludes with this stunner: "Gay rights were probably advanced largely by the public’s growing awareness of friends and family members who were gay." Is he
serious? That's where the NYT thinks social change comes from.

But the last sentence might even be worse: "A corollary is that the most potent way to win over opponents is to accept that they have legitimate concerns, for that triggers an instinct to reciprocate. As it happens, we have a brilliant exemplar of this style of rhetoric in politics right now — Barack Obama." OMG! I hope Kristof just was in a hurry to go on vacation or something. I certainly hope Obama isn't trying to win arguments by opening with concessions. (i don't think he is)

If anyone wants to read a really great book written on the subject Kristof doesn't really understand, i recommend william sargant's Battle for the Mind: a Physiology of Conversion and Brain Washing, subtitled How Evangelists, Psychiatrists, Politicians, and Medicine Men can change your believes and behavior. That book was published around 1950, so it won't wow you with references to the hypothalmus and the frontal lobe, but you don't need to be a modern neurologist to understand what John Wesley and Pavlov had in common: a deep understanding of how to change the beliefs and behavior of human beings. That's an understanding that moderates seem to lack, which is why they so often suck at politics.

There are lots of recent books on modern political persuasion, or manipulation as the case may be. Just one is drew westen's The Political Brain, the role of emotions in deciding the fate of the nation. but i think the sargant book is more illuminating on a fundamental level, and more interesting too. polling and studies about persuasion get kind of tedious for me, descriptions of how john wesley or pavlov would scare the hell out of people and change their beliefs not so much. so i think it's much more useful to read the modern stuff about polling methods and brain scans after reading the more gripping material about how persuasion has worked for its masters over the ages. after all, it's obviously not a new business.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 31, 2009 01:08 AM

I'm guessing Kristof is going for a princess and the pea angle here, demonstrating that conservatives are more refined because of their superior breeding, blah blah blah.

I'm also guessing that when conservatives are vulgar or unrefined, Kristof would say they're just being authentic.

Posted by grimmy at May 31, 2009 01:33 AM

"Gay rights were probably advanced largely by the public’s growing awareness of friends and family members who were gay." Is he
serious? That's where the NYT thinks social change comes from.

I certainly hope they have the sense to see that. Although of course it goes beyond friends and family. Neighbors in same-sex marriages seem to be doing the job for Massachusetts.

Also, Kristof probably does misunderstand the research if he thinks rhetoric from 'our side' can win over "opponents" in the normal sense of the word.

Posted by hf at May 31, 2009 03:22 AM

My understanding was that Hitler avoided meat some (not all) of the time because it caused him indigestion.

Posted by Save the Oocytes at May 31, 2009 08:11 AM

StO: In fact, our gracious host once provided this link pertaining to the very issue of Hitler's diet and his putrid ass.

Posted by Upside Down Flag at May 31, 2009 08:37 AM

I certainly hope Obama isn't trying to win arguments by opening with concessions.

Well, he does seem to be following the Democratic model of "Concede early and often", but I wouldn't say it's part of a strategy to "win arguments." In fact, it doesn't seem to be a strategy to win much of anything.

Posted by SteveB at May 31, 2009 12:16 PM

9. They want to sully our women.

Pure projection, but ...

I mean, of course they want to sully our women --
we want to sully our women, they're some damn fine women,
and they would be fools if they didn't want to sully our women.

And of course, we [ secretly ] want to sully their women ...

Posted by joel hanes at May 31, 2009 12:55 PM

StO: In fact, our gracious host once provided this link pertaining to the very issue of Hitler's diet and his putrid ass.
Posted by Upside Down Flag at May 31, 2009 08:37 AM

The article at that link is hilarious. I had never heard about the flatulence, though come to think of it, i guess Beano hadn't been invented! The books the article linked look like quite a hoot too. For example, Gordon, Bertram, "Fascism, the Neo-Right and Gastronomy: A Case in the Theory of the Social Engineering of Taste," Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery (1987). The great chefs must have loved that presentation.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 31, 2009 01:11 PM

"In fact, it doesn't seem to be a strategy to win much of anything."

Well, Obama seems pretty darn popular based on approval ratings, and though i'd certainly like more from him, he has leaned on Netanyahu, provoked Cheney and daughter into going on a pro-torture speaking tour, encouraged the Iranian moderates to talk smack to Ahmadenijad, and provoked Petraeus into coming out against Cheney and Rush, i'm sure to bolster the General's "look mom, i'm a moderate" credentials for the big showdown coming our way in three years.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 31, 2009 02:06 PM

Interesting how the number of scientifically-identified personality types (two) exactly matches the number of American political parties. Obviously, there cannot be a third personality type, because this would imply the existence of a third party, which is clearly an impossibility.

Next: American behavioral scientists struggle to understand the inhabitants of a strange land called "Urop."

Posted by SteveB at May 31, 2009 10:47 PM

SteveB: "because this would imply the existence of a third party, which is clearly an impossibility."

the social scientists (poli sci and sociology) apparently some decades ago concluded that if you have a plurality voting system, like we do in the US, you end up with a two-party system. This has even assumed the status of a "law" and been named after a guy who first called it that, Duverger, to become Duverger's Law.

Duverger's Law (we should all have a law) says in a winner-take-all plurality system third parties won't win except ever so rarely, when they replace one of the other two, and unless that happens they won't last. So it maybe actually is impossible for more than two parties to last, for reasons that are listed on Wikipedia and so must be right.

if we want more parties, we have to change the voting system and go to proportional representation. while we're at it, let's ditch the electoral college too.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 31, 2009 11:25 PM

Proportional representation really is better. Eliminates the gerrymandering issue, frees me from the tyranny of my neighbors ... and the Greens would have a couple of seats in congress, which number of seats would grow because third-party voting were no longer "throwing your vote away".

Posted by Cloud at June 1, 2009 03:40 PM

I agree with the criticisms of our "two"-party system and with the remedies suggested, but my intention was to note the way living under this system constrains our imaginations, so that we assume that every issue naturally has "two sides", that it's natural to divide people into "red" and "blue", even to the point where a behavioral scientist (or at least an American behavioral scientist) would assume this is a feature of the human brain, rather than of our badly-designed political system.

Anybody who's serious about pursuing Kristof's avowed goal of "break[ing] down the 'us vs. them' battle lines that seem embedded in us" should first recognize that the "embedded within us" part is nonsense (more like we're set against one another as a means of allowing those in power to maintain control) and then have a look at the broad range of issues where large majorities of Americans agree, but neither party wants to do what the public wants.

If 64% of Americans "believe the government should provide national health insurance coverage for all Americans, even if it would raise taxes," then is the salient division really between "liberals" and "conservatives", or is it between Americans generally and their "representatives"?

Posted by SteveB at June 1, 2009 05:00 PM

sure, divisions are manufactured. divide and conquer isn't ONLY an imperial strategy. many things are just plain rigged too.

i don't think kristoff knows much about what the best scientists think about the brain right now, and i don't either.

but of course even if the experts say it, it ain't necessarily so. especially if somebody is paying them.

Posted by Not Exactly at June 1, 2009 05:51 PM
Anybody who's serious about pursuing Kristof's avowed goal of "break[ing] down the 'us vs. them' battle lines that seem embedded in us" should first recognize that the "embedded within us" part is nonsense (more like we're set against one another as a means of allowing those in power to maintain control) and then have a look at the broad range of issues where large majorities of Americans agree, but neither party wants to do what the public wants.

Wasn't it like 85%+ that wanted us to kick ass in Iraq at one point? What did the public want then?

Have you considered that there's a dynamic in group formation and interactions that allows us to behave in this us vs. them manner? Yes, and an observant smarty-pants would tend to exploit that to their advantage such that one might conclude that gross, Machiavellian machinations are in motion. But perhaps all people need is a gentle nudging for this to occur. Why do I think it's gentle? Because the Karl Roves out thar ain't that smart, nor that productive -- we're fundamentally lazy creatures that crave herding as long as there's a comfy sofa and HDTV.

Now, I think that they (the Karl Roves and the Frank Luntzes) should be punished for taking advantage of our nature, but that's more out of my desire for personal violence to be inflicted more than a desire for justice (as subjective as justice is).

Posted by angryman@24:10 at June 1, 2009 08:08 PM

we're fundamentally lazy creatures that crave herding as long as there's a comfy sofa and HDTV.

Mind if I ask you a question? Here in Wisconsin, the incarceration rate for African-Americans is about a dozen times that of whites. Is this because black people are simply more predisposed to commit crimes? At the same time, the unemployment rate among African-American men in Milwaukee is now over 50%. Is this because black men are lazy and don't want to work?

I ask these questions because those of us on the left (and I'm being presumptuous here and assuming you're "on the left") when we look at big social problems like crime and unemployment, usually don't go seeking explanations in terms of individual (or even general) character flaws. That job we usually leave to the conservatives.

But when it comes to the one big social problem that we, as individuals, or even collectively, have the least amount of influence over - war - some people reflexively reach for individualistic explanations: Americans are lazy. Americans are stupid. The "Americans sheeple" just do whatever their leaders say, etc.

Why?

As for this:
Wasn't it like 85%+ that wanted us to kick ass in Iraq at one point? What did the public want then?

Well, no, it wasn't 85% (more like 65%) but here's why it doesn't matter: American foreign policy and American public opinion have absolutely nothing to do with one another. Sure, sometimes the public gets it wrong, and when they do, their wrongness will be seized on by those in power: "Look the American people support us!" And, when the public gets it right, their opinions will be totally ignored. In other words, please stop blaming the rooster for the sunrise.

Posted by SteveB at June 2, 2009 09:54 AM