Note: I wrote this back when Ebola was big news, but most of the points remain relevant.
EG: Today’s Shortpacked!
Short answer: Because they hate conservatives. If conservatives hate or fear something, then ipso facto, that thing must be good, loveable, or at least harmless. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, after all, or at least someone I’m not too inclined to shoot.
I’ve been thinking about the logic behind social norms related to hygiene, lately, for all of the obvious personal reasons. (Everybody in the household coming down with vomit-diarrhea after a trip to McDonald’s will do that to you.)
It seems to me that a lot of conservative behavior can be understood in the context of disease avoidance. For example, foreigners are more likely to have diseases to which you lack immunity–regardless of their cleanliness. The Japanese are probably the cleanest people on Earth, but an American friend who lived in Japan for a year reports having had low-level colds for nearly the entire time. A Japanese visitor to the US would doubtless suffer the same sniffly fate.
Liberals tend to live in dense, urban environments where they are exposed to a lot of other people. Conservatives tend to avoid cities, preferring much lower-density areas like suburbs and farms. (Here I must point out an aspect of income, where urban-dwelling white* liberals can generally afford to live in more affluent neighborhoods where disease is less of a problem, whereas poorer conservative whites cannot afford those neighborhoods. It is easy to laugh at someone else’s fear when you yourself can buy your way out of dealing with the same problem.)
*My critique is focused on white liberals and conservatives, as I do not have the experience to speak about liberals and conservative dynamics in other groups, though obviously the conservative-hygiene obsession dynamic is also found in Judaism.
Conservatives tend also to strongly discourage “sexual promiscuity.” There is, of course, an actual correlation between # of sexual partners and likelihood of STD infection, and certain forms of sex do present an increased likelihood of disease transmission.
Consequently, liberals mock conservatives’ fear of “catching the gay.”
Conservatives have larger amygdalas than liberals–meaning that they process more of reality through the part of the brain that tells you to stay away from poop because it’s icky. As a result, I believe that they literally feel emotions like disgust in response to common stimuli (like other humans.) Liberals, by contrast, do not share this gut-level reaction; conservative behavior, therefore, makes no intuitive sense to liberals.
[Note: I have discovered since I wrote this that the amygdala research/interpretation may be incorrect, though the basic idea may still be sound. More on that later.]
In this conception, the conservative fear of novelty is really a fear of novel germs; liberalism denotes lack of fear. Taken to its extreme, conservatism becomes a life-crippling paranoia that renders the individual incapable of dealing with the outside world (hint: hermits tend not to be liberals.) The extremes of liberalism, by contrast, leads to pathological recklessness toward disease (and other things that might kill them). (Interestingly, Toxoplasma Gondii infection seems to make men act more conservatively and women more liberally–perhaps T. Gondii attacks the amygdala, or similar regions of the brain.) (Also, liberals like cats better than conservatives do .
Look, if you haven’t read the T. Gondii link all the way through, yet, GO READ IT. It is really interesting.
Anyway, back to Shortpacked!
Now, I feel compelled to clarify that I don’t actually watch the news. So my knowledge of “conservatives’ opinions on Ebola” is largely confined to personal conversations with conservative family members. Since I am generally fond of my family and not fond of Ebola, I tend to be a bit reflexively protective of my family, whether they are assessing risk accurately or not.
My knowledge of liberals’ opinions on Ebola is likewise limited to friends, family, and the internet.
Honestly, it seems rather dumb to mock people for being afraid of Ebola. After all, Ebola is actually a terrifying, horrible disease that liquidates your internal organs and kills you and everyone who comes in contact with your suddenly spewed-out organs. It is brutally killing lots and lots of people right now, and it is perfectly reasonable to look at Ebola and think, “Jeeze, I sure don’t want to catch that!”
Now, does that mean you should stock up food and water in preparation for holing up in your house for a few months while the Ebolapocalypse passes? Probably not–Ebola is unlikely to be as big a deal as, say, traffic accidents. (Of course, I also find driving at high speeds in cars kinda terrifying. Um, and I also worry about airplanes and such randomly dropping out of the sky and hitting my house with me in it. I worry, so I understand worrying.) But still, I don’t think it’s appropriate to mock people for being afraid of something that is actually really scary and is actually killing lots of people. If anything, it seems awfully damn insensitive to the people who have caught the disease–American or not.
To my liberal friends, look, you have finally been given something you’ve been wanting for ages: conservatives who are actually willing to let the government do something about public medical care. Maybe this is a chance to convince your conservative friends and family that we need to make sure that poor people can get access to medical care so that they don’t spread Ebola.
Why fight over disease, or try to score cheap political pot shots over Ebola? Why not work together to try to make the world a better, healthier place?