Sunday, March 25, 2018


The contrast couldn’t have been greater. Flashing on one screen were the rigid faces slogans and fear-mongering screed of NRA spokesmen, culminating with the iconic image of the now long dead Charlton Heston holding a rifle above his head and chanting “From my cold dead hands!” 

On the other and on the live stage below were the young, amazingly eloquent and life-affirming faces and voices, one after another, of high school students and others from across the country who gathered in Washington, D.C. yesterday to ignite nothing less than a true Childrens’ Crusade to take back their country from those same few but powerful “cold dead hands” whose choke-hold on American politics for decades has prevented any reasonable gun-control legislation.

 March for Our Lives, Washington, DC 3/24/18
Credit: Rosa Pineda/Creative Commons

Combining a healthy blend of passion and reason, their repeated call, “Enough is Enough” as well as the spoken and unspoken theme underlying all their messages--“Choose Life-- reflected, at times, both the religious fervor and sophisticated political sensibility which characterized and energized the Civil Rights, Free Speech and anti-war movements which transformed America more than a half-century ago.

Dominating both the rhetoric and the blizzard of signs being waved in the bright Washington sunshine was a truly refreshing and deeply American faith in the power of individual citizens to effect change. While calling for a ‘revolution’ in politics and society, and while calling-out, sometimes by name, politicians who reflexively do the bidding of the NRA and the powerful gun lobby, these young citizens assumed and asserted their right to protest, demand and, most importantly, achieve the change and protection from gun violence they and a great majority of others want and need from their government.

Nowhere in sight was the cynicism, resignation and apathetic acceptance dominating the current political scene. Nor the angry, demeaning tweets and name-calling. Instead, the flavor was one of optimism and hope. Of belief that the system, though corrupted by deceit, wealth and privilege, could be reformed by the sheer will of the people expressed through the ballot box. With the Capitol dome as backdrop, and tens of thousands of marchers cheering and chanting in front of them, along with sister demonstrations occurring across the nation and world, at that moment it truly seemed possible.

Why the massacre at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High has produced this level of response when all the others, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas and elsewhere have quickly faded from public consciousness, with only “thoughts and prayers” from elected officials as a result, is still unclear. As are the ultimate political and policy outcomes that will emerge from this latest tragedy. What is clear, however, is that a corner seems to have been turned in what has appeared up to now to be an intractable debate. Suddenly, room and pressure may have emerged for the passage of effective legislation on background checks and the availability of assault weapons.

The voices were neither fearful nor divisive, not nationalistic or exclusionary, but
fresh, authentic and full of promise—a hopeful and idealistic America we’d almost forgotten and which we’ve longed for and needed to hear again.

Les Adler

Thursday, March 08, 2018


You've arrived at your current political stance through a thoughtful integration of your family values, personal experience, education, moral development, and social and economic observations, right?

Not very likely, implies new research about the relationship between how people react to body odors and their politics. If you are disgusted by smells such as sweat or urine, you may very well be drawn to authoritarian political leaders like Donald Trump.

 Trump shows his disgust

Remember Trump's reaction to Hillary Clinton's bathroom break during the last Democratic debate?

“I know where she went, it’s disgusting, I don’t want to talk about it. No, it’s too disgusting. Don’t say it, it’s disgusting . . ."

I have no way of knowing if Trump's frequent verbal and facial expressions of disgust--at women, immigrants, minorities, blood, sweat, breastfeeding, people eating, babies, reporters, weakness and who knows what else, are genuine or feigned. But either way, he knows his audience.

Evidence for a link between finding body odors repugnant and authoritarian politics and despotic leadership comes from a series of studies carried out by researchers in Sweden and Greece. They used a carefully designed set of questions to measure the degree to which online participants reported being disgusted by scenarios involving exposure to other people's bad breath, sweat, urine, feces, etc.--their Body Odor Disgust Sensitivity (BODS). 

The researchers also measured participants' authoritarian attitudes on a 15-question Right-Wing Authoritariansm scale (RWA). As the following item from the scale indicates, it taps into desire for a strong leader, support for traditional values, and a punitive attitude towards "others" perceived as a threat:

"Our country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us."

Two separate studies showed a statistically significant link between body odor disgust sensitivity and authoritarianism--desire for a strong leader and traditional values plus a punitive stance towards threatening "others." A third study found a similar link between BODS scores and support for Trump, who was then just a candidate.

Interestingly for those who are still struggling to understand exactly whom Trump appealed to and why, the correlation between BODS and authoritarianism was strong enough to fully explain the link between BODS and support for Trump.

The implication is that, real or feigned, Trump's frequent and emphatic expressions of disgust at a wide variety of targets mirrored, authorized and amplified similar feelings among many Americans--and perhaps got them all the way to the voting booth.

The researchers hypothesize that this link may represent an exaggerated expression of a kind of social immune system--a reflex to avoid potential contamination. They write:

"From a behavioural immune system perspective, prejudice can be seen as a social
discriminatory behaviour partly motivated by the fact that pathogens represent an invisible
threat, and individuals with high levels of disgust sensitivity might be more likely to avoid
foreign people, and to promote policies that avoid the contact with them, because they are
perceived as potentially spreading unfamiliar pathogens, different hygienic or food habits."

They say that forewarned is forearmed. So the next time you see a politician making a disgusted face or voicing his or her disgust towards some other person or group, it might be time to step back, hold your nose, and realize that someone is trying hard to bypass your brain and send a message that goes straight from your nose to your finger pushing a "DONATE" button on your screen or a "VOTE" button in the voting booth.

Politics may stink, but we don't have to let the smells push our buttons, or determine which buttons we push.