Columns

2012.10.17 Disgusting action ahead

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

Insomnia certainly has its benefits. I'm referring the the BBC World Service radio programming all night long on the Ann Arbor public radio station.

Insomnia seems a little strong to describe my situation. I don't see it as debilitating at all. It merely leads to some afternoon drowsiness and a desire to get to bed at a good hour.

I've mentioned before that I seldom have any trouble getting to sleep, but I might wake up at 2:22, 3:33 or 4:44 and have trouble getting back to sleep. It's not worry; just an active mind.

Sometimes I'll just lay there until I fall back to sleep. Sometimes I'll turn on the light and read. Sometimes I'll get up and visit the wondrous Web. If Colleen is still up with her late-night schedule, I'll turn on the radio and listen to the BBC.

Such interesting programs, such wide ranging reports. It really is world service, with reports from around the globe. "Jim Al-Khalili meets chemist and science showman Andrea Sella." "Pippi Kruger: saved by her own cloned skin." "Aleppo’s ancient souk, a Norwegian statesman's rock ballad and brave New York foodies."

There are detailed reports on cricket games in India, with terminology that makes no sense to me. There's a show called Hardtalk that features a somewhat snotty reporter who argues about everything the guest says. The programming often leaves me thinking about so many things I've never even considered from countries around the world.

I don't remember if I was earlier or later than usual (usual? I only do this once or twice a week) when I caught a program called The Forum. This week's episode: "That's Disgusting! How a primal emotion protecting us from poison can drive our decisions." Fascinating stuff.

I think the format of every show is to bring together representatives from various disciplines and each presents his or her own knowledge about the topic, while also responding to the others.

There's "core disgust"—something built into our mind through evolution that helps us avoid putting bad stuff in our mouth. There's a "contamination response" when we develop the understanding that touching certain things or people could make us sick. There's a "gore" response that involves a "violation of the human envelope." Think guts with this one.

The psychologist in the group talked about how research has shown a relationship between squeamish and political outlook. The disgust factor helps shape our beliefs.

People who report increased levels of disgust with things tend to have more conservative political attitudes, he said, adding that it sounds ludicrous yet the facts are there.

It's that second kind of disgust—the interpersonal fear of catching something from someone else—that's the chief indicator. Liberals, it turns out, just aren't as easy to disgust. This is all a general trend; your personal results may vary.

It sounds reasonable, said a member of the forum, because, broadly speaking, conservatism is opposed to too much change. Keep things the way they are and the way they were, free of disgust. It's a matter of fear of risk vs. open to new ideas and experiences.

Another member of the forum talked about how disgust is widespread among animals. Even a rat makes the same face as humans when showing disgust—wrinkled nose, curled lip, tongue sticking out to dispel the disgusting food.

However, there are ways to overcome the disgust. It's like when your mother tells you to smile and you'll feel better. Place a pencil between your lips and you'll make it through a disgusting experience easier. You can't make that disgusting face when your lips are holding the pencil. Your face directs your brain.

There seem to be direct implications here for the election next month, where some liberals are disappointed with their president and many conservatives placed Mitt Romney at the bottom of the list for their choice of primary candidates.

Every voting booth needs not one but two pencils—one to cast your choice, the other to hold your face in place and "smile" like your mother told you to do.

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