Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Immoral purity

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-11-21

"Cleanliness is next to godlessness" (2008-11-20) in The Economist, with the subheading "Soaping away your outer dirt may lead to inner evil" is a good read.  Mind you, I don’t think it supports the idea that OCD sufferers are evil, or women are more evil than men.

From the article in The Economist, there are two key observations:

  • Instilling disgust, therefore making people feel "unclean", made subjects more picky about what actions they considered ethical.
  • Priming with words associated with cleanliness made subjects label the same actions as more unethical than labelled by the disgusted group.

Mind you, as noted in "Interpreting disgust and contempt" (2008-11-06) , which notes gender differences in sensitivity to disgust (males take more notice of contempt, women of disgust), I’d like to see a gender breakdown of the strength of the ethical changeafter the article about gender specific sensity to disgust and contempt, with male brains more reactive to disgust than females.

The results fit with my personal observations that the higher you climb the greasy pole, using executive washrooms or having others clean the home, visiting pristine places, unexposed to squalor, the more likely you are to be unethical.  Whether this is cause, effect, or both, is hard to say.

But don’t think coprophages are moral beacons because of their habits: they aren’t disgusted.  However, I’ve just primed you a little bit, so your decisions over the next few minutes might be more ethical.

It makes you wonder whether politicians responsible for providing services to folk that are homeless or in squalid digs actually go and see the filthy conditions forced upon some people.  If they did, perhaps we wouldn’t have such an unconsciable level of homelessness.

So, what about smearing sh*t all over the bathrooms of parliamentarians, so they are disgusted before going into chambers to vote?  Perhaps the same in polling booths, board rooms?  Any other ideas?


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