According to Washington Post’s “Speaking of Science” article, “Your brain’s response to a gross photo can reveal your political leanings.” The article reported a recent research result based on an experiment, in which the brain activities of subjects were compared as they saw images of filth, decay, as well as neutral images, and later the same subjects were asked about their thoughts regarding some political issues, such as having prayer in public schools: Liberals and Conservatives show different patterns of brain activities. Though this article did not clarify in what ways liberals’ and conservatives’ brain activities were different according to the research it discussed, it nevertheless suggested that Conservatives were instinctively more intolerant of the images of filth and decay than Liberals.
This somewhat mealy mouthed article led me to another article in Vox, “Standing near had sanitizer makes Americans more conservative. So what will Ebola do?” This Vox article discussed a 2011 Cornell University paper “Dirty Liberals! Reminders of Physical Cleanliness Influence Moral and Political Attitudes” in the context of current Ebola hysteria in the US, which is at this very moment played out in the form of standoff between the Maine governor and the nurse who was ordered to quarantine herself in her house after being quarantined in a tent next to a New Jersey hospital after returning from Sierra Leone.
The 2011 Cornell U. paper described an informal experiment in which 52 Cornell students were asked to take a survey regarding some political issues; in order to measure the relationship between the cleanliness and political conservatism, half of these students were asked to “step over to the hand-sanitizer dispenser to complete the questionnaire” before filling out the survey forms. The researchers of this paper presented the conclusion of this experiment this way: the physical proximity to hand sanitizer shifted “participants’ responses toward the conservative end of the political spectrum.”
The Vox writer then proceeds, after briefly discussing other evolutionary psychologists’ researches related to the issue of human fear of germs and xenophobia: “It’s not just xenophobia, and it’s not just in labs. There have been a number of studies looking at whether high rates of infectious disease risk correlate with different kinds of governments and social behaviors in the real world. They do, and powerfully. As Ethan Watters writes in an overview of the evidence researchers have found ‘severe pathogen stress leads to high levels of civil and ethnic warfare, increased rates of homicide and child maltreatment, patriarchal family structures, and social restrictions regarding women’s sexual behavior.’” (I find this judgment very interesting but somewhat suspect. Does the conservative political attitude really correlate to “the increased rates of homicide and child maltreatment, patriarchal family structures, and social restrictions regarding women’s sexual behavior”? Aren’t “patriarchal family structures and social restrictions regarding women’s sexual behavior” merely characteristics of or even definitions of conservatism itself? In any case, the point is that conservative behaviors and xenophobia are born out of germ phobia.)
The Vox writer sees in our current Ebola hysteria a contemporary version of ancient human instinct, xenophobia born out of fear of diseases, and thus ends his article with a call for collaborative stance against Ebola disease: “our ancient instinct to close our borders won’t work. Our only option is to fight Ebola together.” Indeed, the only rational response to Ebola outbreak is global collaborative efforts to find the cure and the vaccine for Ebola virus.
Election Day is approaching rapidly. We should rely on our rational reasoning rather than our atavistic human instinct when participating in political affairs. We should not let some fear-mongering politicians influence our political decision by over-exaggerating the danger of Ebola.