Furthest Right

Until you master your reflexes, you’re a political disaster

Why voting should be reserved for those who’ve gotten control of themselves:

By some stretch of the imagination, then, it’s not too unreasonable to imagine asking a candidate whether he or she would smother a baby to death. It may seem abominable to pose such a question, but let’s explain. Imagine we’re at war, and a group of people are hiding from the bad guys in a basement. The bad guys are upstairs, prowling the home for dissidents, when the baby in the basement begins to cry. Should the baby be smothered to death? If the baby is quieted, everyone else in the group lives. If the baby keeps crying, the bad guys find you, and everyone else in the group dies as well, including the baby.

You may be able to understand rationally how it’s better to sacrifice the baby for the good of the group, but could you actually be the one to put your hand over its mouth? Do you want a president who is able to? We actually might not have that much choice in the matter, if some researchers are to be believed.

In 2001, a research team led by philosopher and neuroscientist Joshua Greene released a paper detailing the work of using functional MRI to scan the brains of people wrestling with a moral dilemma.

The subjects in the study were presented with a scenario that involved killing a person with his or her own hands in order to save a large group of people, such as the circumstances with the crying baby we discussed on the first page. …Several areas of the subjects’ brains lit up, including two parts of the frontal lobe….This suggests that people weighed the benefit of saving the group against their emotions about killing an innocent baby.

Then the subjects were presented with a dilemma in which they didn’t have to get their hands dirty. The same person would die, but someone else would do it or a switch could be flipped to accomplish the task. In this scenario, only the reasoning part of the brain was active in scans. When people didn’t have to wrestle with their emotions about how they’d feel if they did something, they just completed a utilitarian analysis of what was best for the group.


Our problem as always is that we refer to ourselves in making such decisions. How do I feel? How do I look if I do this? And, what is my gut reaction?

Disgust over an unfair or immoral social situation is hard-wired into the human body as strongly as the reaction to a foul taste, according to research published today in the journal Science.

By studying the electrical activity of a muscle in the upper lip in both physically and morally offensive situations, scientists determined that disgust is equally strong in both cases.

“People use the term disgust in terms of morally offensive situations,” said Adam Anderson, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Toronto and a co-author on the study. “Our study looked at whether this reaction was genuine disgust or just a metaphor.”


Our animal reactions override our thinking, in many cases. For this reason, we’re better with “someone should” than “I will act to,” especially since the latter involves risk to ourselves.

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