If religious conservatives have their way, reproductive healthcare will be dictated by the same psychology that drives middle school jokes about genitals, dead babies and poop—our instinctive squeamish reaction to things that are disgusting and shocking, especially if they relate to sex. Good thing public health advocates and medical providers have a higher set of priorities.
Each year in America, 650 women die from pregnancy, many leaving behind motherless children. Thousands more survive and thrive only because of “yucky” medical procedures like cesarean sections, hysterectomies, transfusions, and abortions. Given the latest deceptive smear campaign against Planned Parenthood, it appears that religious conservatives would rather some of those women died.
Blood, Guts, and the ‘Yuck Factor’
Most of us have little stomach for tasks, however important, that require cutting people open, removing body parts, or dealing with squishy tissue and bodily fluids. That’s why blood and guts are the stuff of horror movies. That is also why the Religious Right wants our national conversation about family planning to stay focused on “the yuck factor” of abortion surgeries rather than on the chosen lives and flourishing families empowered by well-timed, intentional childbearing.
Disgust evolved as a way to protect us against eating and touching things that might make us sick. Swamp water, decaying flesh, putrid food, feces . . . all of these carry pathogens that our ancestors needed to avoid long before people understood germs. Nature’s way of protecting our species was to make certain sights and smells disgusting. We have a similar instinctive revulsion for human forms that are damaged, disfigured, dying or dead. Our instinctive horror makes a mutilated body riveting.
An image or idea that triggers the yuck factor is “sticky” and viral, meaning it sticks in our brains and we are likely to describe or show it to others. The more disgusting something is, the more it rattles us out of the mindless routine of everyday living and creates a strong memory imprint. That is because paying attention to disgust had—and sometimes still has—survival value. As with every other sensation or emotion that grabs our attention, people have learned to take advantage of that.
Turning Instinct into Financial, Religious or Political Gain
Storytellers long ago figured out how to cash in on the yuck factor, turning disgust into gold at the bookseller or box office. From Homer’s Medusa, to Shakespeare’s witches and their brew, to Stoker’s Dracula, to modern zombie movies, the horror artist compels our attention by playing with gruesome details. Halloween merchants sell slime and goo for haunted houses or fake severed limbs and gashed faces because the instinctive disgust reaction is malleable and doesn’t differentiate between substances and situations that are truly dangerous and those that merely look so.
Religions capitalize on disgust by blurring the difference between cleanliness and godliness—in other words by giving disgust moral and spiritual significance. In the Bible, for example, a woman is spiritually unclean while she is menstruating or after delivering a baby, and people with handicaps including crushed testicles are banned from the holiest part of the temple. In Islam, dogs are spiritually, not just physically dirty. In the Hindu tradition, holy men wear white, and spotless clothes represent spiritual purity. In Western Christianity, white wedding dresses have similar significance.
When disgust gets triggered, people may build a cognitive rationale to explain to themselves or others why the disgusting something is bad for other reasons, layering a veneer of rationalizations on top of what is really a gut feeling.
The boundary between disgust and morality is particularly blurry for self-identified conservatives. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt studies cognitive differences between liberals and conservatives. He found that liberals tend to base moral judgments on questions of harm and equity. Is it fair? Does it hurt anybody? Conservatives value fairness and non-harm too, but they also give moral weight to three other factors: loyalty, purity, and authority. What does my tribe want? Is it disgusting? What do authority figures say? In other words, conservatives are more likely to think something that triggers the yuck feeling is morally wrong, independent of other factors.
Practical and Moral Limitations of Yuck
Disgust works as a reasonably good shortcut to protect us from the dangers it evolved to avert, meaning pathogens and toxins. But even there, it has some real limitations. For example, in Ebola-stricken Africa, culturally-prescribed burial rituals trumped the instinctive aversion to touching dead bodies, which caused the virus to spread. On the other side of the equation, people with non-contagious physical deformities, like the Elephant Man, may face horrible cruelties and rejection.
Likewise, moral disgust can arise from religious taboo violations, like eating cheese and meat from the same plate, that have little rational relation to humanity’s shared moral core or threats against wellbeing.
Homophobia and the Yuck Factor
For decades, people seeking queer equality found themselves up against the power of the yuck reaction. Any kind of sex that we ourselves don’t find titillating tends to arouse disgust; and so as long as the thought of queer people evoked images of anal sex between two men, the yuck factor created an almost insurmountable barrier to equality. But as a critical mass of queer people came out of the closet and advocates made the fight about families and love, other moral emotions like empathy and a sense of Golden-Rule fairness moved to front and center, and culture shifted.
Some years back I got schooled on disgusting sex by my middle school daughters. I had broached a conversation about their gay uncle and evangelical relatives who would soon be visiting us. I explained the yuck factor and said, “I might think about gay sex and say it’s not my thing, but they might think that its gross and so morally wrong.” One of the girls responded, “First off, Mom, the word isn’t ‘gay’ it’s ‘queer,’ and secondly, you know what kind of sex we think is really disgusting? Parent sex. That’s why we’re so glad you and Dad haven’t had any in 13 years.”
I chose not to enlighten them.
Today when most Americans think about queer people they think about loving couples, two moms or two dads raising kids, extended families, “sweet” members of the church choir, brave young soldiers, elderly partners making medical care decisions, and more—or they think about their own beloved relatives and friends who are queer. Although some members of the Religious Right may alternate between disgust and arousal (and disgust at their own arousal), conservative sects like the Southern Baptists are struggling and failing to keep disgust front and center even for their own members.
Reproductive Empowerment and the Yuck Factor
The culture shift toward equality for queer people, stands in contrast to the stalled progress around reproductive rights and chosen childbearing.
When it comes to reproductive empowerment for women, the Religious Right has been able to make disgust the dominant emotion by keeping the focus on sexual shaming and on abortion procedures, which are medical and messy. Those of us who see well-timed childbearing as fundamental to gender equality and flourishing families have gotten suckered into fighting on their terms.
Consequently, we are not creating the culture shift needed to make intentional childbearing the new normal, with all of the individual and family and community benefits that would bring. Half of U.S. pregnancies are unsought—either mistimed or unwanted—which makes American rates of teen pregnancy and abortion the highest in the developed world. Chosen pregnancy has been stalled around fifty percent for almost fifty years.
Recently, women have been exhorting each other to come out of hiding and talk about their reproductive decisions including abortions. Like queer people, women and allies understand that a culture of secrecy reinforces shame and stigma. We understand that if mothers and grandmothers stay silent, religious conservatives will control the conversation and hence the options available to our daughters, nieces and granddaughters. Several storytelling projects have sprung up to help women or couplesdefy taboos and break the silence, and brave celebrities, including men, are leading the way as they did prior to Roe vs. Wade. High-integrity electeds like Lucy Flores in New Mexico and Wendy Davis in Texas have risked their political careers and told their abortion stories so that other women may one day do the same.
I honor their courage and think their candor is a step forward. And yet, the drama around abortion has so captured center stage that even brave personal stories may inadvertently reinforce the Religious Right’s framing. We talk about the circumstances of an unsought pregnancy and the medical procedure the rather than the life made possible by access to contraception and care. In doing so, we keep the focus right where the power of yuck is the greatest.
Surgery – What’s the moral story?
Through much of this year, I have been consulting with people who want to communicate more effectively about abortion care, and I sometimes use my experience with knee surgery to illustrate how we can move beyond the yuck factor:
Two years ago, I was using a brush mower to clear an overgrown trail. The mower got stuck on a root and, unthinking, I walked around in front of it and yanked without disengaging the three foot blade. As the wheels hit the root and the front of the mower tipped up, my leg slipped under it.
I will be forever grateful to the surgeons who reassembled my kneecap and sewed up the horror movie gashes.
So, what’s the story of my surgery? Well, certainly one could wax eloquent about the gruesome details of the accident or repair. But for me the real story is this: I can walk again, and even run. I can bicycle downtown. I can sit for long periods writing, and afterwards my knees don’t hurt any more than most do at my age. This winter I even got back on cross country skis with my two daughters and husband in Yellowstone and skied to a frozen waterfall.
Smart, kind doctors and allied health professionals gave me an unspeakable gift. Their day-to-day work may get their hands dirty. It may involve goo and guts and it may even produce human remains that get donated for further medical research. But that is the climax of the story only for juvenile thrill seekers. For me as the patient, my children, my husband, and even my community, the real story is the precious gift of a second chance. It is a story about grace and compassion, love and laughter, beauty, and dreams fulfilled.
The same can be said about my abortion and many others.
Far too often, the fight to protect abortion access focuses on the procedure itself or surrounding circumstances, rather than what comes after. As abortion counselor Charlotte Taft has put it, “I wish that we talked about ‘choices’ instead of ‘choice.’ Because when a woman has an abortion, she isn’t choosing the abortion itself, she is choosing an education, or military service, or her loyalty to the family she already has.” Or to the family she will have, when she’s ready.
Rising Above the Juvenile Fascination with Eew and Goo
In the coming months, with Hillary Clinton as the most viable female presidential candidate in American history, Democrats are queuing up a vigorous conversation about family friendly policies, policies that help children to flourish and that allow women to fully participate in our economy and our democracy. Their aspirations include paid maternity and family leave, more flexible work hours that accommodate parenting, affordable childcare, and better wages for working people at the bottom of the income spectrum (mostly women). But this policy agenda has a glaring omission: to fully participate in our economy and democracy, a woman must be able to manage her fertility.
I have said publicly that I am pro-abortion, not just pro-choice, but I also believe that when advocates think about reproductive empowerment, our minds too often jump to abortion. If we want a future in which children get created when couples feel ready, one in which empowered young women and men can invest in their dreams and stack the odds in favor of their kids, abortion care is just one small (and hopefully shrinking) part of the mix.
Abortion may be minor compared to many routine surgeries, but it is still an expensive, invasive medical procedure that can be emotionally and morally complex. Why mitigate harm if we can prevent it? For the price of one abortion, a woman can get a state-of-the-art IUD or implant that drops her annual pregnancy risk below 1 in 500 for up to 12 years. Access to top tier long acting contraceptives like these dramatically dropped the teen pregnancy and abortion rates in Colorado recently. But better birth control is also just one part of reproductive empowerment.
As I view it, people are trying to get from Point A to Point B in their lives; and abortion is like the guardrail that keeps them from going off the cliff when all else fails. Guardrails save lives. We definitely want them there when people need them. But we also want well-designed roads with lines down the middle, and cars with excellent brakes and steering, and well-trained drivers who have a clear idea of where they want to go and how to get there.
On the road of life, we all get by with a little help from our friends, and strangers, and sometimes even professionals. Most of us don’t need to be reminded how icky life can get when thing go wrong. What we do need is people who will be there regardless, who live by Planned Parenthood’s motto: Care. No matter what.
Originally posted at ValerieTarico.com
The Koch brothers are major donators to the GOP. As Bernie Sanders reports here:
Here are just a few excerpts of the Libertarian Party platform that David Koch ran on in 1980:
- “We urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws, and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Election Commission.”
- “We favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.”
- “We oppose any compulsory insurance or tax-supported plan to provide health services, including those which finance abortion services.”
- “We also favor the deregulation of the medical insurance industry.”
- “We favor the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system. Pending that repeal, participation in Social Security should be made voluntary.”
- “We propose the abolition of the governmental Postal Service. The present system, in addition to being inefficient, encourages governmental surveillance of private correspondence. Pending abolition, we call for an end to the monopoly system and for allowing free competition in all aspects of postal service.”
- “We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes.”
- “We support the eventual repeal of all taxation.”
- “As an interim measure, all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately.”
- “We support repeal of all law which impede the ability of any person to find employment, such as minimum wage laws.”
- “We advocate the complete separation of education and State. Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.”
- “We condemn compulsory education laws … and we call for the immediate repeal of such laws.”
- “We support the repeal of all taxes on the income or property of private schools, whether profit or non-profit.”
- “We support the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.”
- “We support abolition of the Department of Energy.”
- “We call for the dissolution of all government agencies concerned with transportation, including the Department of Transportation.”
- “We demand the return of America’s railroad system to private ownership. We call for the privatization of the public roads and national highway system.”
- “We specifically oppose laws requiring an individual to buy or use so-called “self-protection” equipment such as safety belts, air bags, or crash helmets.”
- “We advocate the abolition of the Federal Aviation Administration.”
- “We advocate the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration.”
- “We support an end to all subsidies for child-bearing built into our present laws, including all welfare plans and the provision of tax-supported services for children.”
- “We oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and ‘aid to the poor’ programs. All these government programs are privacy-invading, paternalistic, demeaning, and inefficient. The proper source of help for such persons is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.”
- “We call for the privatization of the inland waterways, and of the distribution system that brings water to industry, agriculture and households.”
- “We call for the repeal of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.”
- “We call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”
- “We support the repeal of all state usury laws.”
As Americans, we have a fundamental right to vote and to support candidates, parties, and positions of our choosing.
But voting and political advocacy aren’t just a right. They’re also a weighty responsibility. Sometimes we support candidates or positions that result in great harm.
For example, during the presidency of George W. Bush, our nation systematically tortured prisoners. This has been known for years, but only recently did the US Senate release a report enumerating the heinous acts performed under the direction of the highest officials in the US government.
Not only did our nation torture, it also initiated a fraudulent war against a nation, Iraq, that was unrelated to the attacks of 9/11. Moreover, that war was planned long before those attacks. The war resulted in the loss of over 4000 US lives and of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. Some reputable estimates are that over a million people died. The war wasted trillions of dollars and incited anti-American hatred and jihadism.
People who voted for Bush & Cheney bear responsibility for those outcomes. (Not all conservative voted for Bush & Cheney, but most conservatives did, I’m sure.) People who supported Bush & Cheney in 2004 are especially culpable, because by then the facts had become available about the fraudulence and recklessness of the war.
Do you conservatives apologize for your support of Bush & Cheney? Do you acknowledge the injustice of their acts?
In 2008 I voted for Barack Obama, thinking he’d be a transformative president who would turn a page on the corruption, class warfare, and war-mongering of his predecessors. Things didn’t turn out that way. Obama protected the torturers, the war criminals, and the crooks of the financial industry. He prosecuted whistle blowers. He surrounded himself with Wall Street cronies. He escalated the war in Afghanistan, instigated drone attacks in several nations, and meddled in the Ukraine and other countries. He compromised early and often. He failed to lead. The health care plan he chose as a centerpiece of his domestic policy was devised by the Heritage Foundation. His passivism and centrism helped the Democrats to get a shellacking in 2010 and again in 2014.
Still, most of the responsibility for the shellacking is borne by Congressional Republicans who opposed every policy initiative Obama proposed, often with unanimity. Republican intransigence, and the opposition of conservative Democrats, resulted in the Affordable Care Act being as bad as it is. Basically, Republicans forced a bad health care plan on the American people and then blamed the Democrats for problems with the plan.
But Obama can’t just blame the Republicans. He was a poor leader who chose many bad policies. And as Obama recently said of himself, “My policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies … back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican.”
This was clear to me by 2010. So I did not vote for Obama in 2012. And now I regret having supported Obama in 2008.
But the choices in 2008 were not good. Hillary Clinton and John McCain were (and continue to be) more hawkish and more friendly to Wall Street than Obama. At most I could have made a protest vote, for a candidate with no chance of winning. Besides, om 2008 I was deceived by Obama’s speeches and campaign propaganda.
So, I apologize to the American people and the world for voting for Obama in 2008, though I plead naiveté and ignorance. Had I supported Obama in 2012 I would have been more culpable — as were those who supported Bush & Cheney in 2004.
Perhaps many of the conservatives who voted for Bush & Cheney in 2004 knew that he wasn’t so good but figured that he was the lesser of two evils. Indeed, one day in 2006 a Republican coworker came into the office and said, “Yeah, Bush and Cheney have done a terrible job. ” He shook his head and thought for a moment. “But I still wouldn’t vote for a Democrat, because they’d be even worse.” I really don’t understand that attitude, given how horrible Bush & Cheney were.
We live in a sick society, and our political system is nearly dysfunctional. People have become so disillusioned with the system that they don’t bother to vote. Turnout in 2014 was the lowest in 70 years. The candidates our political system delivers for national office are almost uniformly horrible.
Our health care system is insanely expensive and is less effective than that of many industrialized nations.
Our campaign financing system invites corruption, thanks in part to the five Supreme Court justices who voted in the Citizens United ruling that money is a form of speech.
Scientists tell us that global climate change threatens the health of the planet. But many Republicans in Congress think climate change is a liberal myth.
Concentration of wealth and the national debt continue to rise (though the rate of the rise of the debt has slowed down during the Obama administration). Many corporations avoid taxes by stashing money overseas. The tax rate for unearned income is lower than for earned income. But Republicans in the next Congress plan more tax cuts for rich people. Is that fiscally and morally responsible?
Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the nation, and the state Supreme Court has held the legislature in contempt for not adequately funding education. But voters continue to elect Republicans who work to maintain tax breaks and to oppose progressive taxation that would benefit the middle class and the poor.
I’m reading David Stockman’s book The Great Deformation — the Corruption of Capitalism in America. Stockman was Reagan’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget. He criticizes the GOP for its militarism and its whoring for the rich. He says there was no need to bail out Wall Street. The speculators who would have lost out deserved to lose and the contagion wouldn’t have spread beyond the canyons of Wall Street.
Progressives would agree with much of what Stockman has to say.
“[T]he Republican Party was hijacked by modern imperialists during the Reagan era. As a consequence, the conservative party cannot perform its natural function as watchdog of the public purse because it is constantly seeking legislative action to provision a vast war machine of invasion and occupation.” (p 688)
“The Republican Party has totally abdicated its job in our democracy, which is to act as the guardian of fiscal discipline and responsibility. They’re on an anti-tax jihad — one that benefits the prosperous classes.” “How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich”. Rolling Stone.
But Stockman is a true conservative. He doesn’t believe the government should be involved in bailing out business or stimulating the economy. He opposes Keynesian macro-economic policies and thinks that government does more harm than good when it meddles. He also opposes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the minimum wage.
“At the heart of the Great Deformation is a rogue central bank that has abandoned every vestige of sound money. In so doing, it has enabled politicians to enjoy ‘deficits without tears’ by monetizing massive amounts of public debt.”
Stockman calls the bailout, the stimulus, and the Fed’s printing of money “a de facto coup d’etat by Wall Street” whose purpose was to re-inflate the financial bubble.
“The Detroit-based auto industry was debt-enfeebled house of cards that had been a Wall Street playpen of deal making and LBOs for years, including my own. ” He thinks the there needs to be a rollback of the “preposterous $100,000 per year cost of UAW jobs.”
Stockman spent twenty years after leaving the White House in the leveraged buyout business. He was indicted for fraud when a business he invested in went bankrupt. After a two year battle, prosecutors decided to drop charges. Stockman says the business failure was due to stupidity (his) and market decline, not fraud.
In the last chapter, Stockman proposes the following radical policy changes which, he admits, have almost no chance of being enacted in the current political climate. Some of the changes (such as overturning Citizens United, the establishment of federally funded elections, and a wealth tax on the rich) would be eagerly welcomed by progressives. Other changes (such as the elimination of Social Security, Medicare, and income taxes) would be strongly opposed by progressives.
- An end to the Feds expansionist monetary policy and a return to a gold-backed dollar.
- An end to deposit insurance and an end to Fed’s lending federally insured money to speculating banks.
- Adopt “Super Glass-Stegall II”, erecting a wall between investment banking government funds (“insured deposits or access to the Fed discount window”).
- An Omnibus Amendment that limits Congress members to a single term of six years in office and eliminates the Electoral College (“bringing the nation into the modern world of one person, one vote”).
- Require Congress to balance the budget, except in case of a declared war.
- End Keyesian macroeconomic expansionism and allow the free market to set wages and levels of production.
- Abolish social insurance bailouts, and economic subsidies.
- “Eliminate the Departments of Energy, Education, Commerce, Labor, Agriculture, HUD, Homeland Security, the SBA, DOT, and the Ex-Im Bank.” Also eliminate Fannie Mae, Freddie Mae, the FHA, the homeowner’s tax deduction, and subsidies for Amtrak.
- “Erect a study cash-based means-tested safety net and abolish the minimum wage.”
- Abolish all forms of health insurance, including Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare, and replace them with “cash-based transfer payments.” Also eliminate tax subsidies for employer-funded health insurance. All these forms of insurance, says Stockman, mostly serve to prop up the corrupt medical-industrial complex. “The cancerous growth of the medical care complex would be halted and reversed.” He believes the free market will devise innovations to provide efficient care. “The one necessary concession to socialism would be a system of federally licensed catastrophic insurance funds would automatically cover the means-tested safety-net population.”
- “Replace the warfare state with genuine national defense.”
- Establish a 30% wealth tax on the rich in order to reclaim the trillions they extorted from the US Treasury and the middle class. “Needless to say, $14 trillion of national debt reduction could never be achieved under any known ordinary fiscal device; it would require a one-time wealth tax, essentially a recapture of part of the windfall wealth gain that has accrued to the top of the economic ladder during the age of bubble finance.”
- Repeal the Sixteenth Amendment (income taxes) and finance “the beast” via consumption taxes.
By the way, Stockman isn’t the only former Reagan economic adviser to argue against GOP tax policy. Former Labor Secretary Barry Bluestone thinks the GOP tickle-down economic policy is a failure. He says “The wealthiest people spend maybe 30% of their income. Poor people spend 100%, working people spend 98%, so as we move money away from working families towards very wealthy families, we take more and more consumption out of the economy, means slower and slower growth, means higher and higher an extended unemployment.”
Wasted trillions of dollars on corrupt, disastrous wars.
Slashed taxes for rich people.
Deregulated Wall Street and banking, causing the 2008 market crash.
Continue to oppose regulation of Wall Street.
Allow corporations to move profits and jobs overseas.
Oppose funding of the IRS to investigate tax evasion.
Gerrymander election districts and enact voter-id and other restrictions to suppress minority voting.
Deny science about global warming.
Cut funding for education and blame teachers for outcomes that are a result of poverty.
Oppose public transit, clean energy, and conservation.
They also want to hand the Social Security Trust Fund over to Wall Street even though it was financed from workers’ paychecks.
The outrages go on and on ….
Shameless lying squid Newt Gingrich will be huckstering for CMR.
Conservative ideology is based on protecting rich people from having to pay for the benefits they reap from government: peace at home, stable markets, infrastructure, an educated work force, research, potable water, clean air, public health, etc. Conservatives wasted trillions on corrupt, disastrous wars and are happy to pay subsidies to corporate farmers and Big Oil, but they’re eager to cut food stamps for poor people, crush unions, blame teachers, dismantle public transit, deny science, and restrict the vote. The Norquist No-Tax-Pledge prohibits income taxes but allows regressive sales taxes.