Conservatives are more likely to be musclebound simpletons who think with their biceps, according to new research.
Yes, yes, all right, that’s not quite what it says. But we do report today that physically strong men are more likely to support aggressive foreign policies, usually those espoused by the Right in US politics. Clearly I am the caring-yet-titanically-well-muscled exception to the rule (“Hey, baby. Want two tickets for the Gun Control Show?”).
I have no reason to doubt that the findings are accurate. Science Daily has the research as saying that “physically strong men have a greater sense of entitlement, a shorter fuse on anger, and are more likely to turn aggressive when angry,” and are “more likely to believe in the utility of political aggression as a means of resolving conflicts of interest.” They also point out that while Hollywood is made up of wishy-washy Lefty-liberal bien pensants, the ones who wear singlets and wield pretend pistols and/or plastic swords for a living (Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Norris, Willis) are more likely to be gung-ho Right-wingers who want to invade everywhere, then blow it up, then invade it again.
This isn’t the first piece of research that discusses the physical and mental differences between liberals and conservatives. It’s relatively well documented that (self-described) conservatism is also linked to more activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for the fear response, and that conservatives react more strongly to signs of danger, while (self-described) liberals are more likely to seek new experiences, because their brain is dosed up to reward them for novel sensations.
What this shows us, of course, is that humans are not the perfect all-purpose reasoning machines that we like to think of ourselves as, but evolved mammals with highly developed systems for getting the best out of our environment – or, more specifically, the environment we evolved in. And if we were more likely to do well, evolutionarily speaking, from violence, then we would be more likely to think it’s a good idea. The authors of the study say that our mental systems were “designed by natural selection at a time when personal physical aggression was far more common and individual differences in fighting ability were far more relevant for the resolution of conflicts.” So people who would do well out of physical aggression tend to favour it; those who didn’t tended, understandably, to favour conflict resolution, dialogue, running away etc.
As Jonathan Haidt, the author of The Righteous Mind whom I met last night (and in whose presence I had an embarrassing attack of the fanboys), might say, this is just another reminder that conservatives need liberals and vice versa. Neither side has a special window on truth, and if our foreign policy opinions really are heavily based on whether or not we have good muscle tone, then they are not the product of pure rationality. In which case, a balancing act of liberal yin and conservative yang is probably our best bet, as broad-shouldered Right-wingers seek to charge around blowing up imagined enemies, and pigeon-chested Lefties timidly suggest that we go and inspect their nuclear facilities instead.