Friday, March 25, 2005

Couch the Conservative: Part 4 (and last)

The ALPs have some pretty interesting techniques to test their theories. Rather than take the rabid conservative hating liberal view that conservative beliefs in and of themselves are prima facie evidence of psychological instability (i.e. if B then A), these guys have tried to find objective ways to trip us into revealing our psychosis without really talking politics. This is exactly what our cocktail party ALP attempts in his own amateurish ways, but the academic ALPs are much more serious about it. The academic ALPs even go so far as to quantify our sickness.

The ALPs have developed a few metrics with names that, to put it mildly, don’t exactly ease you into the prospect of seeking therapy from these guys. The knowledge that you have scored high on something called the Fascism Scale, or the Dogmatism Scale, or the Right Wing Authoritarian Scale can surely push one who is already a little shaky over the edge. According to this research program, we are likely to come into them for counseling already suffering from low self-esteem, and the first thing they propose is seeing where we compare to Hitler on the Fascism scale!

Your score on one of these scales is computed by summing up your numerical answers to a series of statements. A statement is made by the researcher, and you indicate the degree to which you agree or disagree by choosing a number between 1 (complete disagreement) and 5 (complete agreement). A sample statement usually speaks to a preference for the status quo over change, or to the justification of inequalities. For example, you might be asked your level of agreement with the statement: “Authorities such as parents and our national leaders generally turn out to be right about things, and the radicals and protestors are almost always wrong.”

The degree of expressed agreement with the above statement, for example, may be driven by one’s actual experiences with the track records of the two comparative groups. Even the terms “radical” and “protestors” conjures up images of people who try to levitate Pentagons and synthesize their own LSD supply rather than other more moderate advocates of change that could make agreement with the statement less complete. To conclude from agreement with the above statement that the subject is submissive to received traditional authority, and that this submissiveness inclines the same person to conservative political views, appears no more sophisticated than the amateur attempts of our cocktail party ALP. Why not just offer the subject a souvenir Reagan for President button, and determine his score on the Fascism Scale by gauging how excited he is by the gift. Maybe they could even rename it the Reagan Scale so as to not be so damn insensitive!

The technique puts in mind an old joke that has a man being given a Rorshach test by a psychologist. He is shown different ink blots and asked to tell what he sees. With each successive ink blot, the man describes some sexual or pornograhic scene. When he is done, the psychologist tells him he is the most perverted patient he has ever had, and the man angrily protests: “You sit here and show me all of these dirty pictures and you’re calling me the pervert!”

But the couching science is still in its relative infancy, and so it is asking too much that all of its methods be rigorous and consistent. And for the sake of my own psychological health, I cannot afford to ignore the couching science. There are plenty of terminally ill people who are willing to take experimental drugs even when there is considerable doubt that such remedies will work effectively, and this situation is hardly any different. I have to put myself on the couch and explore those areas of my psyche that lie beneath consciousness. It’s time I met and confronted that little voice in my head that says, “Michael Moore is a bore, Al Franken is an idiot, Babs has no nose for political insight (though clearly she has a nose), and France is a country of insignificant windbags.”

I am not sure what will come from the couching science in the larger society. I only hope that by sharing my experience and my psychological pain, I might induce others harboring similar doubts to explore their own id or superego or whatever it is we are supposed to plumb the depths of in order to make ourselves right, or should I say left. I can say with confidence that more honesty about this topic is required – too many of us may go through life completely undiagnosed.

But maybe someday, through my efforts and those of others, when a conservative walks into the next technologically updated polling booth, and pulls the lever for the Republican candidate, he might have appearing before him a warning from the Surgeon General: “Those who choose Republican candidates tend to suffer from low self-esteem, fear and aggression, intolerance of ambiguity, and submissiveness to authority; these psychological needs can be curtailed with effective therapy.” And maybe then he will get the help he needs. (Of course, my support for such a warning will be qualified by the caveat that, at least in Florida, the voter who reads that message unexpectedly due to punching the wrong chad does not have any right to change his vote. But short of that, I’d be behind the warning 100 percent.)


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