By Joe Perez
One of the most important insights of the Integral Framework is that it helps us to integrate psychological research regarding the basis for our worldviews with our spirituality. For instance, when we learn that many (but not all) liberals and many (but not all) conservatives are more likely to hold a common psychological type or structure-stage which per se is neither good nor bad, and for which they are not morally accountable, then we become less judgmental of them.
Thereupon we learn to dis-identify with exclusively liberal or conservative impulses as we locate within our own psyche the basis upon which liberals and conservatives usually hold out their warring worldviews as the only one worth belief. This change in political beliefs is associated with the arrival of a more expansive identification of the self and the world it inhabits. The self holds more of a both/and perspective rather than either/or.
Now it turns out researchers are constantly giving us greater understanding of how this all happens. Writing on Towleroad, Chris Mooney reviews the evidence to substantiate the fact that there appears to be no rational basis for the belief that children are harmed by same-sex marriage and unions. But Mooney’s main point is not political, but psychological. He argues that there is a psychological basis for differences in belief among liberals and conservatives regarding gay marriage, and it has to do with feelings of disgust:
There are a small number of Christian right researchers and intellectuals who have tried to make a scientific case against same-sex marriages and unions, by citing alleged harms to children. This stuff isn’t mainstream or scientifically accepted — witness the APA’s statements on the matter. But from the perspective of the Christian right, that doesn’t really matter. When people are looking for evidence to support their deeply held views, the science suggests that people engage in “motivated reasoning.” Their deep emotional convictions guide the retrieval of self-supporting information that they then use to argue with, to prop themselves up. It isn’t about truth, it’s about feeling that you’re right — righteous, even.
And where, in turn, do these emotions come from? Well, there’s the crux. A growing body of research shows that liberals and conservatives, on average, have different moral intuitions, impulses that bias us in different directions before we’re even consciously thinking about situations or issues. Indeed, this research suggests that liberals and conservatives even have different bodily responses to stimuli, of a sort that they cannot control. And one of the strongest areas of difference involves one’s sensitivity to the feeling of disgust.
A recent study, for instance, found that “individuals with marked involuntary physiological responses to disgusting images, such as of a man eating a large mouthful of writhing worms, are more likely to self-identify as conservative and, especially, to oppose gay marriage than are individuals with more muted physiological responses to the same images.” In other words, there’s now data to back up what we’ve always kind of known: The average conservative, much more than the average liberal, is having visceral feelings of disgust towards same-sex marriage. And then, when these conservatives try to consciously reason about the matter, they seize on any information to support or justify their deep-seated and uncontrolled response — which pushes them in the direction of believing and embracing information that appears to justify and ratify the emotional impulse.
The key takeaway, for my purposes today, is that when we look at our beliefs and those of our neighbors about important subjects of concern to us all, we are not looking at beliefs formed strictly out of either emotional or rational bases. Beliefs can also be almost instinctual, rooted in primordial feelings planted deep in the reptilian brain. In a sense, debates about gay marriage can turn into a show of force between a mature human perspective and a reptile perspective rationalized with human defense mechanisms.
Perhaps disgust is not something quickly changed, but it is a conditioned reaction that can be changed given the right amount of time, inclinations, and technique. But anyone concerned with making positive changes in the world needs to know this information and develop strategies smart enough to account for more of reality. And that is one way to characterize the Integral perspective on which World Spirituality is grounded: it is based in reality, and a commitment to continually embrace and include as much of it as possible… and perhaps, by extension, be disgusted by as little of it as possible.