[iDC] The Politics of Perception

Lucia Sommer sommerlucia at yahoo.com
Sat Sep 20 21:16:46 UTC 2008

Dear Tiziana,

My intent in pointing to the historical and
political was not for purposes of "intellectual satisfaction,"  it was
to ask the same question as you: Where does this lead, what can be
done with it in terms of practice? 

I was also not claiming
that history or politics is somehow more "real" than affect -- to the
contrary, affect is something we ignore at our peril in any sort of
tactics of resistance, whether cultural or political. 

I just don't think the sorts of studies mentioned below really enable us to more effectively engage affect in practice. 

the contrary, the record is pretty clear that genetic and psychological
determinism tends to be disabling in this regard -- not to mention the
much graver disasters it's led to. It's probably no surprise that such
studies are flourishing in this moment of
rightwing hegemony and political demoralization.

On the other hand, a concept like "Politics of Fear,"  (which came out of political practice, not social psychology research) is so productive because it names a problem
in terms of BOTH the macro-political and the micro-political/affective -- and it also suggests possible
directions for practice.

Hibbing's statement in the article is disturbing, not only because he
effectively represses any possibility of the social or political as
productive of affect (there's no mention of everyday life, or media discourse or current
*experience* having any influence on emotion here at all) -- but, more,
the very possibility of change is severely undermined, because affect
can only be the result of "childhood", "reflex," or "genetics."

All best,


--- On Sat, 9/20/08, tiziana <tterra at fastwebnet.it> wrote:
From: tiziana <tterra at fastwebnet.it>
Subject: Re: [iDC] The Politics of Perception
To: sommerlucia at yahoo.com
Cc: "IDC List" <idc at mailman.thing.net>
Date: Saturday, September 20, 2008, 5:12 AM

very interesting paul, it is not the first experiment I have heard of  
experiments on the physiology of political affiliations, there have been 
quite a few lately...

the point is though what do you do with such research? Do you look for 
the 'real' causes (as Lucia suggests) in history, power etc? Yes, I 
think that is satisfying somehow intellectually, but if you want to work 
schizoanalytically so to speak on this kind of skin-deep reactions 
(which is what somehow right wingers have been doing with their powerful 
means of mass communications) then it would be interesting to think of 
what kind of experimentations, of what devices one could invent to 
startle and unsettle the fearful minds using other strategies and modes 
of communications...


Lucia Sommer wrote:

> Thanks, Paul.
> Amusing indeed! The article should be perhaps be titled "The Politics

> of Hard-Core Biological Determinism." The real question is WHY are 
> some people so afraid?
> I'd reckon it has more to do with historical and political factors 
> than  "physiology", "reflexes" or
"genetics": the Politics of Fear, 
> the rise of neoliberalism, the historical destruction of the left and 
> of independent journalism, the absence of perceived political 
> alternatives...
> Best,
> Lucia
> --- On *Fri, 9/19/08, Paul Miller /<anansi5000 at gmail.com>/* wrote:
> From: Paul Miller <anansi5000 at gmail.com>
> Subject: [iDC] The Politics of Perception
> To: "idc-mailman.thing.net <http://idc-mailman.thing.net>"

> <idc at mailman.thing.net>
> Date: Friday, September 19, 2008, 10:15 AM
>an amusing scenario:
>Political views 'all in the mind'
>By Matt McGrath
>Science reporter, BBC World Service
>Voters' mind are made up long before they arrive at the ballot box
>Scientists studying voters in the US say our political views may be an  
>integral part of our physical makeup.
>Their research, published in the journal Science, indicates that  
>people who are sensitive to fear or threat are likely to support a  
>right wing agenda. Those who
> perceived less
> danger in a series of  
>images and sounds were more inclined to support liberal policies. The  
>authors believe their findings may help to explain why voters' minds  
>are so hard to change.
>In the study, conducted in Nebraska, 46 volunteers were first asked  
>about their political views on issues ranging from foreign aid and the 
>Iraq war to capital punishment and patriotism. Those with strong  
>opinions were invited to take part in the second part of the  
>experiment, which involved recording their physiological responses to  
>a series of images and sounds. The images included pictures of a  
>frightened man with a large spider on his face and an open wound with  
>maggots in it. The subjects were also startled with loud noises on  
>Conducting experiments
>By measuring the electrical conductance of the volunteers' skin and  
>their blink responses, the scientists were able to work out the degree  
>of fear they were experiencing - how sensitive they were to the images  
>and sounds.
>"Instead of political opponents thinking the opposite party are being 

>wilfully bull-headed, you can say 'well ok, they see the world  
>differently than I do'"
>John Hibbing.
>They found that subjects who were more easily
> startled tended to have  
>political views that would be classified as more right wing, being  
>more in favour of capital punishment and
> higher defence spending, but  
>opposed to abortion rights.
>The scientists explained that these political positions were  
>protective of the volunteers' social groups.
>"We focused primarily on things that we call 'protecting the
>unit'," said John Hibbing from the University of Nebraska.
>idea is we have this unit - maybe it's the US - and we want to protect 

>this from outsiders; so we might be opposed to immigration, we might  
>advocate patriotism, and we like leaders who are strong and clear who  
>are able to protect us from those outsiders. "We might even be opposed
>to pornography or any kind of corrosive element that we see  
>threatening the social unit. "On the other hand, you have people who  
>are more supportive of pacifism and who advocate
> gun control - and  
>there are lots of areas where people who are less sensitive
> to
> threat  
>would project those kinds of feelings into the political arena."
>Different strokes
>The researchers say there is no political relevance to their research  
>- but Dr Hibbing feels it may help explain why it is so hard to change  
>someone's mind in a political debate. Different people, he said,  
>started from a different psychological point. "You have people who are
>experiencing the world, who are experiencing threat, differently.
>"It's just that we have these very different physiological  
>orientations. We're not sure where they came from, they may be  
>genetic, they may be something from childhood; we do know, though,  
>that they run deep because it's a reflex, it's not something you
>change tomorrow, the depth of that may be something of an asset in  
>figuring out why people are so stubborn in their
> political beliefs,"  
>he said. "I even have the hope that this might
> facilitate 
>understanding a little bit. Instead of political opponents thinking  
>the opposite party are being wilfully bull-headed, you can say 'well  
>ok, they see the world differently than I do'. "People haven't
>thought about things differently, they feel things differently."
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