Is there a cure for conservatism?

  • Article by: JOHN KASS , Chicago Tribune
  • Updated: April 9, 2014 - 11:45 AM

Academics have uncovered what ails those they disagree with. Funny, it turns out to be just what they thought.

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Malcolm McDowell stars in the 1971 movie "A Clockwork Orange," directed by Stanley Kubrick. File photo, courtesy of Warner Bros. ORG XMIT: MIN2012111511085569

Thanks to learned scientists, I’ve discovered that I suffer from a mental problem afflicting millions of Americans.

It’s not really a disease. It’s more like a peculiarity, one that irritates polite society yet may be corrected with surgery to the frontal lobe. What is this deviancy?

Conservatism.

For many years now, conservatives have secretly feared the day when science would identify us as aberrant, or to use the vernacular, abby-normal.

Sadly, that time has come, in the pages of the liberal-leaning but well-written Mother Jones magazine, and a story about yet another attempt by scientists to chronicle the pathology of conservatism.

According to research from professor John Hibbing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, conservatives and liberals react differently to certain stimuli. Hibbing and his team have determined that conservatives dwell on negatives and have a stronger “disgust sensitivity” than do liberals.

This problem, researchers believe, could be genetic.

“So, if you have a negativity bias, and you focus more on the aversive and disgusting, then the world seems more threatening to you,” says the Mother Jones piece. “And thus, policies like supporting a stronger military, or being tougher on immigration, might feel very natural.”

What fascinated me most weren’t the conclusions as much as the machine Hibbing strapped to the heads of his human subjects to measure their responses to stimuli.

Some might mistake it for a medieval device used to torture heretics. But it is remarkably similar to the contraption Stanley Kubrick’s “scientists” strapped to the head of a sadistic British thug in the now-forgotten masterpiece of scientific rationalism and acute political correction, “A Clockwork Orange.”

In that story, the thug underwent aversion therapy. He was gentled by science. Can conservatives and their rambunctious libertarian siblings be far behind?

The article offered a link to four photographs Hibbing used in his research. One was of pretty young girls in ballerina costumes. Liberals mostly stared at that one. But conservatives couldn’t take their abby-normal eyes off the really disgusting stuff.

Disgusting black flies crawling on a juicy cob of just-eaten corn; an open wound oozing in disgusting fashion on a human hand; and a disgusting pile of moist dog poop on summer grass.

“It all adds up, according to Hibbing, to what he calls a ‘negativity bias’ on the right. Conservatives, Hibbing’s research suggests, go through the world more attentive to negative, threatening and disgusting stimuli — and then they adopt tough, defensive and aversive ideologies to match that perceived reality,” Mother Jones reported.

And so, centuries of philosophical argument are wiped out by sociobiologists.

One group had to be dead wrong. And sadly, now I know which one, the group often informed by the Bible and the Constitution, texts that are considered increasingly irrelevant, if not downright unreasonable and bothersome, these days.

Conservatives, perhaps foolishly, are the glass-is-half-empty people, always worrying about the Russians and China and what will happen to the Republic when the money runs out. As if.

And conservatives are anxious about the craziest things. For example, conservatives worry about Americans who use loud and chirpy voices to insist that they “have nothing to hide” and really don’t mind the National Security Agency snooping on every aspect of their lives.

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