non-political scientists studying political diseases?

While I've discussed a couple of studies recently (and I'm open to the possibility that too much obsession with politics is not good for one's mental health), I nonetheless see a twofold problem in applying the medical model to politics. One is the tendency of politics to creep into things that are not normally thought of as political, and the other is the inevitable political bias on the part of the scientists who research these things and then apply medical models.

Joe Gandelman and Dean Esmay both discussed a fascinating study (infra) of nexus between emotion in politics. Not surprisingly, political partisans and activists become blind to reason (or at least highly emotional) whenever they perceive that "their" issues are threatened. For a true activist, this means almost any time it is discussed. I was reminded of the famous "IF YOU'RE NOT PART OF THE SOLUTION, YOU'RE PART OF THE PROBLEM" either/or thinking which so typified the 1960s.

What I'd like to know about this study is whether the subjects in the political group (people displaying strong emotions about politics) were compared to a control group of "non-political" people, because I think the social scientists might have been in for a surprise. What I've noticed is that most people have strong personal feelings about things that interest them the most. Political people were singled out for study, and the implication is that they're emotionally aberrational.

Are they? In almost every field or interest (whether work-related, hobby-related, or even entertainment-related), people tend to form opinions based on their experience or knowledge. If someone comes along with a different opinion, why, the reaction is often highly emotional -- the way teenagers will become indignant when their music is criticized. In the Philadelphia area, there are sports fans who do not take kindly to criticism of their opinions or teams. I remember that not long after I moved back to Philadelphia from California, there was huge local hysteria over a showdown between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers. While riding through Philly in a friend's car and thinking it was funny to hear people cheering in the streets for the Lakers, I thought it would be equally funny to evoke (in an imitative if insincere manner) a little pro-California cheering. I opened the window and yelled "GO LAKERS!"

According to my friend who was driving, this was not a good idea at all! He yelled at me to shut up, and said he was worried for our safety, and about his car getting damaged.

You know what? I think he was right to shut me up. In retrospect, I was being an ass, and I shouldn't have shouted out support for the Lakers. (I don't think I need to conduct extensive research to document the fact that soccer games are taken even more seriously in Europe.)

And that's just sports. There are also career interests. People who become experts at almost anything can become highly emotional and indignant when someone else (expert or not) sounds off on "their" issue. Is Mac (or Linux) better than Windows?

I'm almost afraid to ask whether people have seen any good movies lately...

(And I honestly don't know what to do when the topic of "blogs" comes up with people who "know" me in my supposedly "real" "private" "offline" life.)

So, this begs the question of what is politics. Increasingly, it is everything. The most personal issues of life have been politicized.

And the most non-personal.

I can remember a time when the most mundane, even boring things -- things like the weather -- could be discussed for what they were. Nowadays, mentioning bad weather can trigger a political diatribe.

How would we find a "non-political" control group? Beats me, because emotions run through almost any, um, interest. Hell, even the word "interest" sounds political. That's because human interests are the stock in trade of those who seek political power. (Their election and very survival depends upon politicizing every last interest they can identify to motivate voters.)

Finally, there's the question of whether there is such an animal as a "disinterested scientist." Has such a being managed to evolve?

(Or did I just ask a politically charged Darwinian question?)

posted by Eric on 03.23.06 at 09:44 AM


A great movie where soccer hooligan Laker fan conservatives use linux to write blogs about how Bush ruined the weather?

Let me call an agent.

Sigivald   ·  March 23, 2006 4:28 PM

All the right elements!

How can it fail?

Eric Scheie   ·  March 23, 2006 5:07 PM

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