340 meters per second

Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement.

&mdash Alfred Adler (1870-1937)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Tiny terrors.

We're in one of those transitional parenting periods where our offspring is clearly on the cusp of a new, exhilarating chapter in her life and we get to watch our tenuous grip on childrearing falter and fail as all of our recently-acquired skills become obsolete. Just when we were beginning to feel like we could handle a baby, she went ahead and metamorphosed into a toddler.

I wonder if this is how Truman felt when the Russians detonated their first nuke.

She's been walking for about four months now, but her climbing and rappelling skills have recently improved dramatically. This, combined with an innate, unshakeable confidence that a less charitable observer might characterize as foolhardiness, has forced me to completely overhaul a living space I had only recently decided was child-proof. My naiveté shames me.

Her motor skills are such that, upon stepping outside and being set free on the front lawn of our apartment building, she immediately bolts for the sidewalk and makes a beeline for the nearby park. This secluded play area behind our building has become her sanctum sanctorum and now that she can make her way there under her own power, any obstacle to her play &mdash present company included &mdash is met with the raw, full force of her teeth-gnashing fury.

Teeth... oh cripes, don't get me started on her teeth...

* * *

Pacanukeha links to a riveting article which appeared in a recent issue of New Republic: "Death Grip" explores a remarkable theory put forward by a small group of political psychology scholars and lays out a clear blueprint for the manipulation of fear on a massive scale.

Bush carried West Virginia and won the election partly because he ran a better campaign than John Kerry. But that wasn't the only reason. There was something odd about the support for Bush in places like West Virginia. Unlike voters in New York City, voters in Martinsburg had little to fear from terrorist attacks; yet they backed Bush, while New Yorkers voted for Kerry. If gay marriage were legalized, Martinsburg would be unlikely to host massive numbers of same-sex weddings; yet voters I talked to were haunted by the specter of gay marriage.

Some pundits have tried to explain away this mystery by arguing that Bush backers voted for their values rather than their interests. But this explanation is unsatisfying, since many of those voters didn't opt for "family values" in 1992 and 1996, when the country elected a well-known philanderer as president.

In fact, many political scientists can't begin to explain what took place in West Virginia in 2004. In recent years, the field has become dominated by rational choice theorists, who have tried to develop complex mathematical equations to predict voting behavior. These equations rest on a view of voters as calculating consumers choosing a product on the basis of relative cost and utility--a view that generally leaves little room for the possibility of voters acting irrationally.

There is, however, one group of scholars--members of the relatively new field of political psychology--who are trying to explain voter preferences that can't be easily quantified. The best general introduction to this field is Drew Westen's recent book, The Political Brain, but the research that is perhaps most relevant to the 2004 election has been conducted by psychologists Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski. In the early 1980s, they developed what they clumsily called "terror management theory." Their idea was not about how to clear the subways in the event of an attack, but about how people cope with the terrifying and potentially paralyzing realization that, as human beings, we are destined to die. Their experiments showed that the mere thought of one's mortality can trigger a range of emotions--from disdain for other races, religions, and nations, to a preference for charismatic over pragmatic leaders, to a heightened attraction to traditional mores. Initially, the three scholars didn't attempt to apply their theory to elections. But, after September 11, they conducted experiments designed to do exactly that. What they found sheds new light on the role that fear of death plays in contemporary politics--and, arguably, goes a long way toward unraveling the mystery of Martinsburg.

The complete article may be found here and I urge you to give it a read; it's a compelling, thought-provoking article.


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