Friday, December 19, 2008

The "Elevate" Herd

Reading over at QandO I came across this article on the emotion of "Elevation" and how it appears to have been a major motivator for the Obama voters. Like many good progressives, they went into the vote based on feelings rather than facts. I'll pull some of the quotes from the Salon article and you can read Billy Hollis' piece at QandO which will for the most part be the same since he discusses them with clarity.

What is elevation?
In his forthcoming book, Born To Be Good (which is not a biography of Obama), Keltner writes that he believes when we experience transcendence, it stimulates our vagus nerve, causing "a feeling of spreading, liquid warmth in the chest and a lump in the throat." For the 66 million Americans who voted for Obama, that experience was shared on Election Day, producing a collective case of an emotion that has only recently gotten research attention. It's called "elevation."
We come to elevation, Haidt writes, through observing others—their strength of character, virtue, or "moral beauty." Elevation evokes in us "a desire to become a better person, or to lead a better life." The 58 million McCain voters might say that the virtue and moral beauty displayed by Obama at his rallies was an airy promise of future virtue and moral beauty. And that the soaring feeling his voters had of having made the world a better place consisted of the act of placing their index fingers on a touch screen next to the words Barack Obama. They might be on to something. Haidt's research shows that elevation is good at provoking a desire to make a difference but not so good at motivating real action. But he says the elevation effect is powerful nonetheless. "It does appear to change people cognitively; it opens hearts and minds to new possibilities. This will be crucial for Obama."

Keltner believes certain people are "vagal superstars"—in the lab he has measured people who have high vagus nerve activity. "They respond to stress with calmness and resilience, they build networks, break up conflicts, they're more cooperative, they handle bereavement better." He says being around these people makes other people feel good. "I would guarantee Barack Obama is off the charts. Just bring him to my lab."

When you start thinking about mass movements, all those upturned, glowing faces of true believers—be they the followers of Jim Jones or Adolf Hitler—you don't always get a warm feeling about mankind. Instead, knowing where some of these "social collectives" end up, the sensation is a cold chill. Haidt acknowledges that in "calling the group to greatness," elevation can be used for murderous ends. He says: "Anything that takes us out of ourselves and makes us feel we are listening to something larger is part of morality. It's about pressing the buttons that turn off 'I' and turn on 'we.' "
I suppose I'm extremely distrustful of such vague emotions that lead the herd, mob, or whatever collective you wish, to follow. I didn't see any proof or even justification for people defining Obama as morally beautiful, possessing and strength of character, or being virtuous in any way. But then, I didn't bother listening to his speaches. I read them and then looked at the extremely limited information provided by the MSM and found he was just another politician. (Say politicain as if you just stepped in something disgusting.)

As the last paragraph quoted points out this can lead to tragedy. That's primarily why I think it needs to be distrusted. I don't believe I've ever felt elevation, but that could be due to my reaction to herds when they begin such mob mentality reactivity.

I like this bit, mainly because the author has it inverted.
While there is very little lab work on the elevating emotions, there is quite a bit on its counterpart, disgust. University of Pennsylvania psychologist Paul Rozin has been a leading theorist in the uses of disgust. He says it started as a survival strategy: Early humans needed to figure out when food was spoiled by contact with bacteria or parasites. From there disgust expanded to the social realm—people became repelled by the idea of contact with the defiled or by behaviors that seemed to belong to lower people. "Disgust is probably the most powerful emotion that separates your group from other groups," says Keltner.

Haidt says disgust is the bottom floor of a vertical continuum of emotion; hit the up button, and you arrive at elevation. This could be why so many Obama supporters complained of being sickened and nauseated by the Republican campaign. Seeing a McCain ad or Palin video clip actually felt like being plunged from their Obama-lofted heights.

Interesting, but completely backward. Disgust is the strongest emotion for self preservation. It keeps you alive and thinking on your feet. Elevation can lead you to the edge of the cliff that you euphorically step off of. If that is the height of emotion it is the absolute bottom for survival.

Also interestingly, the Obamanites were disgusted by McCain Palin. I don't think I was ever digusted by Obama, just really distrustful. Makes you wonder how strong Repug voters felt.

Well, we'll see which emotion is justified in the end.

1 comment:

BobG said...

"Reading over at QandO I came across this article on the emotion of "Elevation" and how it appears to have been a major motivator for the Obama voters."

You sure that isn't just another way to say that they were all "high"?