Who would have thought my boyhood fascination and handling of toads, frogs and other amphibians would predetermine my so-called liberal beliefs later in life?
Some recent studies allegedly show just that.
It's no longer a well-kept secret that there are studies out there to explain and justify just about anything. Want to drink coffee? You can find reports that will say it's good for you. Wanna stop? Some studies say it'll kill you. Take your pick.
And over the years, we've been hearing about such ridiculous research being conducted that it often seems to discredit academic pursuits _ especially when government funding is involved.
You've probably heard about some examples. Surely such topics as Sex and the Single Mayfly, or The Existential Amoeba would not be too far-out to imagine.
News releases about one study or another have crowded my mailbox (nowadays, it's my inbox) for decades. Just last week, I received a release from Cornell University about a study by researchers there that poses a connection between one's ability to deal with slimy and gory things and one's political bent.
Apparently, there's a Disgust Sensitivity Scale, known as DSS, that, according to researchers, allows them to evaluate how disgusted someone gets in response to a variety of scenarios. Those reactions are then linked to one's place on a political ideology scale.
The study, published in the journal Cognition & Emotion, was completed by Cornell professor David Pizarro and co-authors Yoel Inbar of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and Paul Bloom of Yale University. They surveyed 181 U.S. adults from politically mixed "swing states."
In the news release, they ask: Are you someone who squirms when confronted with slime, shudders at stickiness or gets grossed out by gore? Do crawly insects make you cringe or dead bodies make you blanch?
The result, they say, is that the more squeamish you get, the more politically conservative you are.
I don't know. A scale of disgust? You are left wondering how there could be such a connection between slime and gore, between beetles and dead bodies, and politics.
Perhaps the idea of ``disgust'' is more politically charged than is readily obvious.
There is a vast difference, for example, between goo that appears in the natural world and the slime that may be a by-product of industrial pollution.
Seeing films about soldiers and civilians being killed in wars can spur vastly different reactions than watching newsreels about the victims of hurricanes and earthquakes.
There may be disgust _ if that's the only word our language has to offer, but it's certainly not the same kind. And you can't draw the same conclusions about someone's political persuasion based on such ``varieties of disgusting experience.''
Look at the blood-and-guts themes that dominate so many Hollywood movies in recent decades. People wouldn't see them and the films would not be successful if certain kinds of humans _ mainly young people _ didn't like seeing violence and gore.
But it doesn't mean they must be socialists because they don't have to flee the theater to avoid getting sick to their stomachs.
It seems a reach to posit that conservatives are more grossed out by gore and war, when they usually are the ones inflicting them in their attempts to maintain the status quo _ their own power.
And who are the ones most skittish about bugs and other creepy creatures? Sexism aside, girls and women.
We can't say for sure whether their high-jump reaction to a mouse sighting is culturally learned or part of their nature. Either way, according to the study, they're all right-wingers because of their disgust sensitivity.
The researchers seem intent on dispelling any notion we might mistakenly have about our morality being grounded in our disgust ratios.
"People have pointed out for a long time that a lot of our moral values seem driven by emotion, and in particular, disgust appears to be one of those emotions that seems to be recruited for moral judgments," said Pizarro.
On the other hand, the origin of the word ``disgust'' is rooted in one's aesthetic reaction to something _ as in offensive to one's taste.
War is disgusting if it's ugly, not because it's immoral. War can be morally wrong because it is unjust, destructive and deadly, and our reaction would not be disgust but horror, condemnation, anger and sadness.
Cockroaches may be disgusting because they're ugly, but not because they're violating our living space. You can fill in your own adjective for that latter reaction.
Studies can be fun and informative, but I don't think you need to fill your house with insects and watch a bunch of horror movies to find out how liberal you are.
Cary Brunswick is managing editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at (607) 432-1000, ext. 217, or firstname.lastname@example.org.