Sunday, September 21, 2008

Supporting what I've thought for some time

Interesting article in the Washington Post the other day. The bit that stands out for me:

People who startle easily in response to threatening images or loud sounds seem to have a biological predisposition to adopt conservative political positions on many hot-button issues, according to unusual new research published yesterday.

The finding suggests that people who are particularly sensitive to signals of visual or auditory threats also tend to adopt a more defensive stance on political issues, such as immigration, gun control, defense spending and patriotism. People who are less sensitive to potential threats, by contrast, seem predisposed to hold more liberal positions on those issues.

The study, published in the journal Science, recruited 46 white partisan Republicans and Democrats in Nebraska. The volunteers were quizzed on their views on a variety of topics -- including the war in Iraq, same-sex marriage, pacifism and the importance of school prayer. All the questions were designed to test how strongly people needed to guard against various internal and external threats. None focused on economic issues.

Read the whole thing to get further details on the argument. In a nutshell the researchers are saying there may be biological traits to being a conservative or a liberal. While I have some reservations with that assertion (from my knowledge of political preference, a person's parents are the best predictors of their voting behavior - which strikes me as much as a nurture as a nature argument). Plus, there might be some questions about the methodology used (e.g. sample size).

Nonetheless, it does appear to me that support for policies such as wire-tapping and torture - while often being dressed-up and reported as hard-nosed and tough - actually usually smack of cowardice. As I put it in a comments section about torture a long time ago (when I was obviously very worked up about it):

What really gets my back up [about the torture issue] though, is how the whole issue is framed to begin with. Somehow making the moral argument is characterised as a kind of weak, flabby, naive, and all-round “liberal” point of view. It’s not the hard-nosed stance of Bush and co. and wingnuts consider it indicative of how some people (i.e. the right) are more willing to make “tough” decisions than others. This is total BS.

How does you condoning the torture of another person so that you can marginally increase your own chances of survival make you tough? It strikes me as the essence of cowardice. Being tough means standing up for the principles you believe in, even if it increases the risks of your own demise. I live in DC and know that if anywhere has a chance of getting hit it’s here. Big deal. I’ll take my chances. I certainly am not so craven and terrified that I am willing to compromise pretty much all of my principles (habeus corpus, torture etc.) just so the big nasty Osama bin-monster-under-the-bed won’t get me.

Being tough means standing up for your principles and accepting that living in a free society carries risks. And the test of this toughness comes at times of danger.

Whatever supporters of torture may think they are, tough they ain’t.

Cowardly and pathetic might be better adjectives.

It's nice to see a little evidence backing up my rant.

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