Archives For: Keepers

Last night, a reader wrote:

It looks like the fears mentioned in your post have already come to pass; @nero, the Twitter account of Milo Yiannopoulos, a writer for Breitbart, is currently suspended. I am no fan of the guy – he is trans-phobic, but not violently or inappropriately so. I am sure his account will be re-enabled shortly, but that this group was able to get his account shut off not for harassment, but for wrong-think, is disturbing. I’m really liberal/left leaning, but nothing gets me foaming at the mouth more than crap like this. This does a ton of harm to the Women’s Rights movement, turning off people like me who would normally support it wholeheartedly.

Gawker’s Tom Scocca accuses that reader and me of the following:

What really matters is not the stalking and abuse that has taken place, but the hypothetical danger that feminists will seize power as authoritarian censors, burning Beethoven and establishing anti-masculinity brainwashing camps.

No. Try again, Tom. As I’ve now written many times – and did in the post Scocca links to – I actively support suspending abusive, stalking tweeters or those threatening violence. I just worry that some are using this to advance a left-feminist ideology through censorship of journalists. I would imagine a Gawker writer might be sensitive to journalists’ being censored on Twitter because of saying politically incorrect things. Apparently not. Easier to throw a few tired, ancient cheap shots at yours truly than see if I’m actually onto something here. Another reader notes some non-harassing tweeters have also been suspended recently:

Gone are the accounts of Mykeru, a critic of feminism within the Atheist-Skeptic movement, as well as Janet Bloomfield, Social Media Director of A Voice for Men. Their accounts also disappeared in the past three days. Thunderf00t, another prominent critic of feminism within the Skeptic movement, had his account suspended for close to a month. None of these accounts were abusive or harassing. The only thing they had in common was that they were all critical of feminism.

Or critical of a particular strand of contemporary left-feminism. It looks as if Thunderf00t has had his Twitter account suspended because he linked to YouTube videos critical of Anita Sarkeesian. @nero’s account just went back online, but did WAM get it suspended in the first place? Here’s evidence they did:

We’ve asked WAM if they did or did not report @nero for suspension. No word back as of yet. And what threats or stalking or harassment did @nero engage in to merit the brief suspension? Drum roll:

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Well, you could see this coming. Twitter announced last Thursday that it was teaming up with a left-feminist activist group to investigate gender-based harassment on the social networking site:

A group called Women, Action, and the Media, which advocates for better representation of women, is testing a new reporting process for gender-based harassment. The group developed a tool for reporting harassment and will forward confirmed reports to Twitter. “If it checks out, we’ll escalate it to Twitter right away (24 hours max, hopefully much less than that) and work to get you a speedy resolution,” says the group, which abbreviates itself as WAM. “But please note: we’re not Twitter, and we can’t make decisions for them.”

I wondered what exactly this small non-profit believes in. You can check them out here or check their agenda from the statements in the video above. Their core objective is what they call “gender justice in media.” That means that they are interested in far more than curbing online harassment. They want gender quotas for all media businesses, equal representation for women in, say, video-games, gender parity in employment in journalism and in the stories themselves. They are outraged by the following:

Less than 1 in 100 of classical pieces performed in concert in 2009-2010 were written by a female composer (and 1 in 15 was written by Beethoven!). Women make up 2% of the standard repertoire of pieces (Repertoire Report 2009-2010).

Less Beethoven – more, er, women! The crudeness of their identity politics is of a piece with their analysis. Instead of seeing the web as opening up vast vistas for all sorts of voices to be heard, they seem to believe it is rigged against female voices, or that women are not strong or capable enough of forging their own brands, voices, websites and fighting back against ideas they abhor with wit and energy and passion and freedom. Instead, WAM’s goal is to police and punish others for their alleged sexism – along the well-worn lines of contemporary and controlling left-feminism. Here’s the mindset behind the project:

“I see this as a free speech issue,” Friedman said. She said she knew some would see the work WAM does as “censorship,” but that a completely open and unmoderated platform imposes its own form of censorship. It effectively prevents women, especially queer women and women of color, from getting to speak on the service.

How exactly? Does Twitter prevent women of color from using the service? Or is it simply that WAM believes that women cannot possibly handle the rough-and-tumble of uninhibited online speech? And WAM’s intent with Twitter is not merely to highlight physical threats, abuse or stalking. They are quite upfront about casting a much wider net against those insufficiently committed to “gender justice in media”:

“We’ll be escalating [harassment reports] even if they don’t fit Twitter’s exact abuse guidelines,” Friedman said. WAM intends to “cast a wider net” and see what Twitter’s moderators address.

I can find no reason to oppose a stronger effort by Twitter to prevent individual users from stalking or harassing others – but if merely saying nasty things about someone can be seen as harassment, then where on earth does this well-intentioned censorship end? Is it designed to censor only misogyny and not racism? What about blasphemy? Are the only suspects in this brave new Twitterverse the “straight, white males” disparaged as a group in the video above? And yet, among those liberals who might worry about policing free speech in this way – let alone handing over the censorship tools to a radical activist group bent on social transformation - it’s hard to find anyone anywhere who has any qualms. Jesse Singal wonders if it’s enough to keep the trolls at bay:

There are two ways to look at this.

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Every now and again, you have to remind yourself of the wonder of the First Amendment. Given the deep human urge to silence those with whom we disagree, it’s proven indispensable to protecting wild, open and robust debate against the micro-managers of the Social Justice Warriors on the left and the Jihadist-extremism monitors on the right. And if you doubt its value, just take a look over the pond, where the Tory party is proposing the most draconian crackdown on free speech since the press won its independence centuries ago.

As usual, you have the Orwellian terminology, and in this case it’s something called an “Extremism Disruption Order.” A more accurate term would be a “Government Censorship Order” – for that is exactly what this betrayal of British values truly is:

The home secretary’s manifesto plan to silence extremists by banning their access to the web and television is cast far wider than the Islamist “preachers of hate” of tabloid headlines. As David Cameron pointed out, the Conservatives now want to look at the “full spectrum of extremism” and not just the “hard end” of that spectrum that counter-terrorism policy has focused on up to now. The difference is spelled out in the detail of the policy, where it says that it is intended to catch not just those who “spread or incite hatred” on grounds of gender, race or religion but also those who undertake “harmful activities” for the “purpose of overthrowing democracy”.

Or to put it more plainly: the government has an obligation to censor dangerous ideas because they might hurt someone’s feelings:

George Osborne, the Chancellor, has made clear in a letter to constituents that the aim of the orders would be to “eliminate extremism in all its forms” and that they would be used to curtail the activities of those who “spread hate but do not break laws”.

He explained that that the new orders, which will be in the Conservative election manifesto, would extend to any activities that “justify hatred” against people on the grounds of religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability.

He also disclosed that anyone seeking to challenge such an order would have to go the High Court, appealing on a point of law rather than fact.

So this is how blasphemy laws get a comeback in a post-Christian country: all religions are now immune from any public criticism that could be regarded as “extremist”. And not just religions: also gay people, women and the disabled. And why end there? You can see the multiple, proliferating lines for government interference. If a gay man attacks Islam for being homophobic, he could be prosecuted. But ditto if a Muslim cleric denounces homosexuality. It’s win-win for government power to monitor and control public speech in all directions!

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So the number one issue in the midterms was the economy. And a Democratic president has managed to halve the unemployment rate in the wake of a historically grim near-depression, and his own party decided never to mention this – or him – in the campaign. I wish I were surprised. He also managed to slash the deficit at the same time. But shhh … just tell women the GOP is out to get them.

Voters do not always have access to all the relevant data – but they sure can detect political fear. And fear, after all, is what the Democrats have wallowed in for decades since Reagan. Many of them privately believe that their ideas or proposals, however sensible, can never win majority support. So they hide them, or argue for them only before certain constituencies, or play the usual defensive crouch on foreign policy, and bob and weave until the voters are offered a choice between a decisive extremist from the GOP and a quivering pile of jello from the Democrats. The one figure who broke this cycle was Obama in 2008. He managed to do so again in 2012. And yet the default DNA of the Dems is to go back into a defensive crouch, the masters of which are, of course, the Clintons.

You can see it again with the ACA. You couldn’t have a stronger argument: we have given everyone more security in their health, and removed some of the cruelest aspects of the previous system. We have gotten huge numbers of people insured for the first time. And we have managed to halt the rise in healthcare costs in ways that could truly make a dent on future debt. These are huge achievements, but the Democrats couldn’t bring themselves to utter them, let alone craft a narrative of success to contrast with the fear-mongering and nihilism of the Fox News right.

And here’s my point: the defensive crouch doesn’t even work. Waldman marshals some evidence:

Democratic candidates gave Democrats lots of reasons to stay home, particularly those most loyal to Obama. Now let me take a counter-example. The one Democratic Senate candidate in a close race who won on Tuesday was New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen. How did she avoid the fate that befell so many others?

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On the whole, I found the president’s presser yesterday reassuring. First off, it upset Ron Fournier and the usual Washington establishment types, which is a good sign. Second, his very affect – calm, upbeat, confident – is classic Obama. Third, his basic stance of asking the GOP to put up or shut up now they have majorities in both Senate and House is exactly the right move. It forces some kind of constructive proposal out of them and puts the onus on them to say – at long last – what they might be for instead of whom they are against. Or, more likely, it reveals the emptiness of their opposition and lack of a constructive policy agenda.

But it seems to me that this effective strategy is immediately undermined by his continuing to threaten unilateral executive action on immigration. The threat makes sense as a way to bring the GOP to the table, but not if he fully intends to follow through before the end of the year regardless. Instead of forcing the GOP to come up with a compromise bill – which if it can, great, and if it cannot, will split the GOP in two – he’d merely recast the debate around whether he is a “lawless dictator”, etc etc. rather than whether it is humane or rational to keep millions of people in illegal limbo indefinitely. It would strengthen those dead-ender factions in the House that are looking for an excuse to impeach. It would unify the GOP on an issue where it is, in fact, deeply divided. And it would not guarantee a real or durable solution to the clusterfuck.

Yes, he’s out on a limb with his supporters on this – and they punished him for it with low turnout on Tuesday. But he punted before the election and he could punt again. And the truth is: no real progress on this can be made without legislation, and the looming demographic challenges for the GOP in 2016 without any action on the issue makes some movement on this a sane move in the next six months, especially from the point of view of the donor class and business lobby.

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A Victory For What?

Nov 5 2014 @ 1:01pm

That’s my question after this relentlessly negative and vacuous campaign. And the striking thing about it is that it’s hard to detect an issue or platform around which the GOP constructed a victory. I watched Kevin McCarthy on Fox last night attempt to describe what his party now wants to do with its majority in both House and Senate – and it was so pathetic even the Fox News crowd could barely hide their dismay. He said he wanted to kickstart the economy. No serious ideas as to how, except the same tired 1980s boilerplate. Tax reform? I’m all for it – but we shouldn’t kid ourselves it was an issue of even faint relevance in this campaign. Immigration? Again, it’s much much easier to say what they don’t want to do, rather than what they do.

Foreign policy? It will be fascinating to see if the Republican party really wants to fight another Iraq War – and what would happen to its unity if it tried. On Iran, they simply want to scupper the only conceivable way forward absent another war. Obamacare? McConnell seems to be arguing against an attempt at repeal – merely a series of nitpicks to try and unravel it. If I could see any constructive policy agenda, I could have a serious opinion about it. But I don’t. I see pure negativity and bile against the president. And it seems to me that that is not a strategy to win over a majority for the presidency in 2016.

National Review today actually urges the GOP majority to do nothing for the next two years but prep for 2016. I kid you not. They worry about the “governing trap.” Here you see the cynicism that has pulsed through the right for the last six years, in which everything is about politics and nothing is about governance:

A prove-you-can-govern strategy will inevitably divide the party on the same tea-party-vs.-establishment lines that Republicans have just succeeded in overcoming. The media will in particular take any refusal to pass a foolish immigration bill that immediately legalizes millions of illegal immigrants as a failure to “govern.”

Fourth: Even if Republicans passed this foolish test, it would do little for them. If voters come to believe that a Republican Congress and a Democratic president are doing a fine job of governing together, why wouldn’t they vote to continue the arrangement in 2016?

And that would be just terrible, wouldn’t it?

In some ways, this election also strikes me as a vote by the elderly almost entirely against the Obama coalition and what it represents for America, rather than for anything. You can see it in this screenshot from NBC News:

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Live-Blogging The Mid-Terms 2014

Nov 4 2014 @ 9:02pm


11.45 pm. I direct you now to Comedy Central, where the Internet has obviously been working, but don’t tell anyone. See you on the tube.

11.43 pm. It’s a wave. Nate:

The GOP could finish with as many as 55 seats. Alaska has yet to close its polls. Louisiana will go to a runoff on Dec. 6, and Republicans will be favored there — unless Democrat Mary Landrieu’s campaign benefits from the fact that control of the Senate is no longer at stake. Virginia Democrat Mark Warner still looks more likely than not to hold his seat, but the fact that his race was so close speaks to how awful a night it has been for Democrats. Jeanne Shaheen’s win in New Hampshire looks like a minor miracle now.

11.39 pm. Perfectly timed: Oregon votes for legal weed by 55 – 45 (with over 50 percent of the vote in.)

11.29 pm. It’s over:

Thom Tillis has won the race for Senate in North Carolina, clinching Republican control of the body.

Kay Hagan ran a strong campaign. She used the powerful Democratic voter-turnout machine. She successfully linked Thom Tillis to a conservative, unpopular state legislature. And in the end, Kay Hagan lost.

And the denouement: Ernst wins in Iowa.

11.24 pm. Scott wins in Florida; medical marijuana lost. Bad night for stoner Dems. Ben Jacobs’ take:

Scott, a former hospital CEO whose company was fined over $1.7 billion by the federal government over a massive Medicare fraud scheme, had eked out a victory in 2010 in a Republican wave, relying heavily on his own personal wealth. His good will with Floridians evaporated quickly with his support for strict voter ID regulation and his opposition to Medicaid expansion. Scott made matters worse when he pushed back against environmental protections to the Everglades supported by Jeb Bush; his record in office was labeled an environmental disasterby the Tampa Bay Tribune’s editorial board.

Crist, for his part, was viewed even by many supporters as an amoral professional politician, uninterested in any ideology or political party save his own personal advancement. Butterflies emerging from cocoons underwent metamorphoses far less dramatic than the political one Crist underwent in the past four years. Crist, who was once a pro-life and anti-gay marriage Republican, now claims to be a socially liberal Democrat who supported a woman’s right to choose and same-sex unions.

Stuck trying to choose between the lesser of two evils, Florida voters narrowly backed the socially distant Republican who bore a resemblance to Skeletor than warm, sociable orange-colored Democrat of convenience.

11.22 pm. This is the weirdest election night I can remember. I’m trying to concentrate and live-blog while the Colbert studio audience is going wild.

11.21 pm. Even truer:

10.53 pm. So true:

10.49 pm. Georgia looks like Perdue has it; North Carolina and Virginia remain extremely tight – but the GOP seems to have a good chance in both. We’re headed to a 52 – 54 Republican majority.

10.47 pm. Well, the Independent hope in Kansas just faltered in the final stretch. That’s actually a surprise.

10.43 pm. Chuck Todd, running the math, says the Dems won’t have a shot at winning the House until 2022. So that’s a permanent veto an anything any Democratic president might ever want to do. How is our system so fixed and our country so polarized that this has come to pass?

10.40 pm. So far, the results seem pretty blah to me. It looks like a deeply normal swing away from the president’s party. There are a few outlier results – Virginia, for example. But so far: no huge shift, no clear message, except widespread discontent.

10.38 pm. This graphic really does expose what’s going on in this country:

One political party is simply peddling mass delusion – and the media echoes it.

10.35 pm. Ezra’s take on Udall’s loss:

The Colorado race had two unique features. One was that Udall focused like a laser on the “war on women” theme. He argued, almost endlessly, that Gardner wanted to ban over-the-counter sales of birth control — a charge that Gardner denied, and countered by releasing a proposal for birth control to be sold over-the-counter (which is, for the record, an excellent idea). If Udall loses what was clearly a winnable race, it suggests that perhaps the war-on-women theme wasn’t such a good move.

The other interesting wrinkle in the Colorado race was that the state had recently moved to a vote-by-mail system. The Democrats who passed the plan thought it would help them hold the younger, more diverse voters who show up for presidential elections but tend to melt away during midterms. But it looks like it really boosted voting among senior citizens, who tend to vote Republican.

10.30 pm. Because we need some light relief:

For shame!

10.28 pm. Udall’s loss means we have one fewer Senator able to challenge the CIA on the torture program.

10.27 pm. Heh:

10.24 pm. Scott Walker’s victory is another real result, it seems to me. Not that he is, to my mind, even the slightest bit presidential. And the same goes for Kasich.

10.20 pm. Karl Rove is disappearing into his own neck. And yes, I’m watching Fox. Couldn’t take any more drums and Wolf Blitzer.

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Where Did Obama Go Wrong?

Nov 4 2014 @ 8:45pm

President Obama Attends Rally For The Re-Election Of Connecticut Gov. Malloy

[Re-posted from earlier today]

That’s the headline for a Washington Post piece today trying to come up with an answer for the president’s drag on the Democratic fortunes tonight. And, to my mind, it really doesn’t come up with a decent answer. It offers a mere chronology of events and never quite shows what Obama could have done that he didn’t, or what the alternatives truly were. Maybe you’ll find it otherwise. But I found it oddly empty of meaning.

For me, the most persuasive answer to the question was the botched roll-out of No one else can be blamed for this, and it hit the president’s ratings like a ten-ton truck, as well it might. October 2013 is when his disapproval rating first clearly topped the approval rating with some daylight and stayed there. And the fall of 2013 was also when he pivoted away from striking Syria – which brought a chorus of disapproval from the Washington bigwigs and, of course, the GOP.

These two events dented his image of competence. Both seemed amateurish to most people. And when an image is altered like that with clearly understandable and very public fuck-ups, it’s hard to regain momentum. Both also followed another nightmarish confrontation with the GOP over the debt limit and a very public failure to pass any gun control legislation even after Sandy Hook.

But what this superficial version of events misses is what happened next. The truth is: the Obama team subsequently achieved a near-miraculous rescue of Obamacare, achieved real success in enrollment, and have seen core healthcare costs slow down in such a way that could yet shift our long-term fiscal liabilities for the better. Obamacare is almost certainly here to stay – surviving one pitched battle after the next. As for Syria, Obama turned that crisis into opportunity, by seizing a compromise brokered by Russia which managed to locate, transport and destroy all but a few traces of Assad’s chemical stockpile. This remains a huge, and hugely under-appreciated achievement – and if you think I’m exaggerating, imagine what the stakes would now be in that region (and the world) if ISIS had a chance to get its hands on that stuff.

The same can be said of the economy. No other developed country has achieved the growth that the US has after the stimulus – including austerity-bound Germany. No other administration has presided over a steeper fall in the deficit. The brutal facts of the twenty-first century global economy has meant this has not been felt very much among the beleaguered middle class. But who is offering on either side a real solution to that by-product of globalization, trade and technology? Again, on the actual substance, Obama has a strong record – dented by the avalanche of hostility from the right and disgruntlement from everyone but the very rich.

Crisis-management? Well, what would the GOP have done with respect to Russia? As it is, that country is more isolated internationally than ever and is being punished economically by sanctions and a tumbling oil price. Ebola? Tell me when we have an outbreak in this country. IS? Again, I dispute the idea that this could have been avoided if the US had entered the Syrian civil war earlier – by funneling arms to rebels who have recently folded or joined al Qaeda. And Obama’s pragmatic response has been a form of containment at IS’ borders – again the least worst option available.

Behind all this has been a fanatically obstructionist and increasingly extreme GOP.

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Who’s The Real Chickenshit?

Nov 4 2014 @ 12:30pm

President Obama Meets With Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu At The White House

The White House, answers Stephen Walt, for lobbing childish insults at Netanyahu via anonymous officials rather than acknowledging the real problems with our relationship with Israel. Indeed, in his view, chickenshit-gate itself demonstrates just how messed up that relationship is:

Netanyahu’s decision not to attack Iran wasn’t a show of cowardice (or being a “chickenshit”); it was a sensible strategic choice. The war talk from Israel was intended to distract attention from the settlements issue, keep Iran in the crosshairs as Public Enemy No. 1, and convince the United States to impose stiffer sanctions in the hopes of securing a better deal from Tehran over its nuclear program. But an actual attack was never a serious possibility. Bibi’s bluster might have fooled journalists like Goldberg — who has raised bogus alarms about an imminent Israeli attack on more than one occasion — but sensible observers should not have been taken in by all this folderol.

In the end, this minor incident mostly confirms the unhealthy effects of the “special relationship” itself. The sad truth is that top U.S. officials still can’t say openly what they really think about Israel’s behavior, or what they really think about the relationship itself. The mildest criticism invites automatic abuse from the lobby, and of course, anyone aspiring to a top foreign-policy position still has to mouth embarrassing platitudes and repudiate any previous criticisms in order to get appointed and confirmed. Just ask Samantha Power and Chuck Hagel how this process works. Ironically, it is U.S. leaders who mostly lack courage on these issues, not Netanyahu.

Walt is right so far as he goes – but what administration would want to directly confront the Greater Israel lobby, when it could manage to make some progress by other means?

And look at the long game with Israel – which, beyond the daily headlines, really has been fruitful. Not so long ago, we were warned (by Jeffrey Goldberg among others) that Israel was determined to attack Iran’s nuclear program unless the US intervened and did so itself. This was an existential issue, we were told. The task of the United States was, as ever, to fall in line behind the policy of the state of Israel. The Obama team handled this bluff – and what kind of government bluffs about what it calls an existential threat? – with varying levels of equanimity and exasperation. But they also constructed truly potent sanctions against Iran to prod Tehran to come to a deal.

The sanctions worked. Netanyahu railed against the policy, holding up his famous cartoon bomb at the UN, which measured the Iranian progress. But as the Iranians agreed to talk, and temporarily suspended parts of its program, the threat receded.

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The Emotions Behind This Election

Nov 3 2014 @ 12:55pm

There are a few last-minute unknowables in what still looks like a GOP victory on Tuesday. But perhaps the biggest unknowable is still what this election is about. I made my own stab at an answer last week, and I recommend Ross Douthat’s musings on the same subject. But one thing that is hard to measure is the shift in political atmosphere this summer and fall. The news that has penetrated most deeply has all been Cole-Ebola-ISIS-2-690 (1) 2about threats from the outside, threats that make anyone want to pull up the drawbridge against an invasive world. This is an emotional environment tailor-made for conservative success.

The Fox Media Industrial Complex has worked these stories with its usual assiduity, and combined, they pack a big punch. You have the flood of illegal immigrants – aka, desperate children seeking refuge from mass violence – at the border. You have Putin posturing around his near-abroad, reminding us of past dangers. You have the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq – an almost text-book case of images and memes likely to trigger atavism and paranoia. And then, like some last sign of the apocalypse, you have the Ebola virus – seeping onto our shores, and turning even the most mild-mannered folks into quarantine enthusiasts. That all of these threats seem temporarily checked or calmed or over-rated hasn’t penetrated the national frontal cortex. What’s still there is fear. Or rather, a series of issues that prompt disgust and revulsion at the other – which is an extremely potent weapon in an election season.

And I’m not just blah blah blahing about this, while we all quietly scan the electoral polling data for the actual news. In a newly published study, neuroscientists found that they could predict people’s political leanings with surprising accuracy based on how their brains reacted to repulsive images:

In the experiment, subjects sat in a brain scanner while being shown a mix of images. Some of them were downright nasty, Ebola Virusshowing filth, rot, and decay. Others were neutral or pleasant — like landscape shots, or pictures of babies. The researchers noted the neural response to each. Afterward, the study subjects took a political survey that asked them about their thoughts on issues, such as having prayer in public schools and same-sex marriage legalization.

The researchers, led by Virginia Tech professor Read Montague, found that patterns of brain activity after viewing the gross images could be grouped together based on political leanings. In other words, conservatives reacted one way to the images (at least on a neurological level) and liberals reacted another way. When asked to rate the disgusting pictures, one group wasn’t more grossed out than the other. But the subconscious reactions varied enough for the researchers to tell conservatives and liberals apart.

Rick Nauert discusses the study with Montague in more detail:

Responses to disgusting images could predict, with 95 percent to 98 percent accuracy, how a person would answer questions on the political survey.

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