The Yuck Factor — What Planned Parenthood Smears, Homophobia, and Middle School Jokes Have in Common

Blood and GutsMedical procedures and research are yucky. Good healthcare means getting over it.

If religious conservatives have their way, reproductive healthcare will be dictated by the same psychology that drives middle school jokes about genitals, dead babies and poop—our instinctive squeamish reaction to things that are disgusting and shocking, especially if they relate to sex. Good thing public health advocates and medical providers have a higher set of priorities.

Each year in America, 650 women die from pregnancy, many leaving behind motherless children. Thousands more survive and thrive only because of “yucky” medical procedures like cesarean sections, hysterectomies, transfusions, and abortions. Given the latest deceptive smear campaign against Planned Parenthood, it appears that religious conservatives would rather some of those women died.

Blood, Guts, and the ‘Yuck Factor’

Most of us have little stomach for tasks, however important, that require cutting people open, removing body parts, or dealing with squishy tissue and bodily fluids. That’s why blood and guts are the stuff of horror movies. That is also why the Religious Right wants our national conversation about family planning to stay focused on “the yuck factor” of abortion surgeries rather than on the chosen lives and flourishing families empowered by well-timed, intentional childbearing.

Disgust evolved as a way to protect us against eating and touching things that might make us sick. Swamp water, decaying flesh, putrid food, feces . . . all of these carry pathogens that our ancestors needed to avoid long before people understood germs. Nature’s way of protecting our species was to make certain sights and smells disgusting. We have a similar instinctive revulsion for human forms that are damaged, disfigured, dying or dead. Our instinctive horror makes a mutilated body riveting.

An image or idea that triggers the yuck factor is “sticky” and viral, meaning it sticks in our brains and we are likely to describe or show it to others. The more disgusting something is, the more it rattles us out of the mindless routine of everyday living and creates a strong memory imprint. That is because paying attention to disgust had—and sometimes still has—survival value. As with every other sensation or emotion that grabs our attention, people have learned to take advantage of that.

Turning Instinct into Financial, Religious or Political Gain

Storytellers long ago figured out how to cash in on the yuck factor, turning disgust into gold at the bookseller or box office. From Homer’s Medusa, to Shakespeare’s witches and their brew, to Stoker’s Dracula, to modern zombie movies, the horror artist compels our attention by playing with gruesome details. Halloween merchants sell slime and goo for haunted houses or fake severed limbs and gashed faces because the instinctive disgust reaction is malleable and doesn’t differentiate between substances and situations that are truly dangerous and those that merely look so.

Religions capitalize on disgust by blurring the difference between cleanliness and godliness—in other words by giving disgust moral and spiritual significance. In the Bible, for example, a woman is spiritually unclean while she is menstruating or after delivering a baby, and people with handicaps including crushed testicles are banned from the holiest part of the temple. In Islam, dogs are spiritually, not just physically dirty. In the Hindu tradition, holy men wear white, and spotless clothes represent spiritual purity. In Western Christianity, white wedding dresses have similar significance.

When disgust gets triggered, people may build a cognitive rationale to explain to themselves or others why the disgusting something is bad for other reasons, layering a veneer of rationalizations on top of what is really a gut feeling.

The boundary between disgust and morality is particularly blurry for self-identified conservatives. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt studies cognitive differences between liberals and conservatives. He found that liberals tend to base moral judgments on questions of harm and equity. Is it fair? Does it hurt anybody? Conservatives value fairness and non-harm too, but they also give moral weight to three other factors: loyalty, purity, and authority. What does my tribe want? Is it disgusting? What do authority figures say? In other words, conservatives are more likely to think something that triggers the yuck feeling is morally wrong, independent of other factors.

Practical and Moral Limitations of Yuck

Disgust works as a reasonably good shortcut to protect us from the dangers it evolved to avert, meaning pathogens and toxins. But even there, it has some real limitations. For example, in Ebola-stricken Africa, culturally-prescribed burial rituals trumped the instinctive aversion to touching dead bodies, which caused the virus to spread. On the other side of the equation, people with non-contagious physical deformities, like the Elephant Man, may face horrible cruelties and rejection.

When it comes to modern medical procedures and emerging technologies like GMO’s, or potable water from sewage, disgust correlates badly or not at all with real risks.

Likewise, moral disgust can arise from religious taboo violations, like eating cheese and meat from the same plate, that have little rational relation to humanity’s shared moral core or threats against wellbeing.

Homophobia and the Yuck Factor

For decades, people seeking queer equality found themselves up against the power of the yuck reaction. Any kind of sex that we ourselves don’t find titillating tends to arouse disgust; and so as long as the thought of queer people evoked images of anal sex between two men, the yuck factor created an almost insurmountable barrier to equality. But as a critical mass of queer people came out of the closet and advocates made the fight about families and love, other moral emotions like empathy and a sense of Golden-Rule fairness moved to front and center, and culture shifted.

Some years back I got schooled on disgusting sex by my middle school daughters. I had broached a conversation about their gay uncle and evangelical relatives who would soon be visiting us. I explained the yuck factor and said, “I might think about gay sex and say it’s not my thing, but they might think that its gross and so morally wrong.” One of the girls responded, “First off, Mom, the word isn’t ‘gay’ it’s ‘queer,’ and secondly, you know what kind of sex we think is really disgusting? Parent sex. That’s why we’re so glad you and Dad haven’t had any in 13 years.”

I chose not to enlighten them.

Today when most Americans think about queer people they think about loving couples, two moms or two dads raising kids, extended families, “sweet” members of the church choir, brave young soldiers, elderly partners making medical care decisions, and more—or they think about their own beloved relatives and friends who are queer. Although some members of the Religious Right may alternate between disgust and arousal (and disgust at their own arousal), conservative sects like the Southern Baptists are struggling and failing to keep disgust front and center even for their own members.

Reproductive Empowerment and the Yuck Factor

The culture shift toward equality for queer people, stands in contrast to the stalled progress around reproductive rights and chosen childbearing.

When it comes to reproductive empowerment for women, the Religious Right has been able to make disgust the dominant emotion by keeping the focus on sexual shaming and on abortion procedures, which are medical and messy. Those of us who see well-timed childbearing as fundamental to gender equality and flourishing families have gotten suckered into fighting on their terms.

Consequently, we are not creating the culture shift needed to make intentional childbearing the new normal, with all of the individual and family and community benefits that would bring. Half of U.S. pregnancies are unsought—either mistimed or unwanted—which makes American rates of teen pregnancy and abortion the highest in the developed world. Chosen pregnancy has been stalled around fifty percent for almost fifty years.

Recently, women have been exhorting each other to come out of hiding and talk about their reproductive decisions including abortions. Like queer people, women and allies understand that a culture of secrecy reinforces shame and stigma. We understand that if mothers and grandmothers stay silent, religious conservatives will control the conversation and hence the options available to our daughters, nieces and granddaughters. Several storytelling projects have sprung up to help women or couples defy taboos and break the silence, and brave celebrities, including men, are leading the way as they did prior to Roe vs. Wade. High-integrity electeds like Lucy Flores in New Mexico and Wendy Davis in Texas have risked their political careers and told their abortion stories so that other women may one day do the same.

I honor their courage and think their candor is a step forward. And yet, the drama around abortion has so captured center stage that even brave personal stories may inadvertently reinforce the Religious Right’s framing. We talk about the circumstances of an unsought pregnancy and the medical procedure the rather than the life made possible by access to contraception and care. In doing so, we keep the focus right where the power of yuck is the greatest.

Surgery – What’s the moral story?

Through much of this year, I have been consulting with people who want to communicate more effectively about abortion care, and I sometimes use my experience with knee surgery to illustrate how we can move beyond the yuck factor:

Two years ago, I was using a brush mower to clear an overgrown trail. The mower got stuck on a root and, unthinking, I walked around in front of it and yanked without disengaging the three foot blade. As the wheels hit the root and the front of the mower tipped up, my leg slipped under it.

I will be forever grateful to the surgeons who reassembled my kneecap and sewed up the horror movie gashes.

So, what’s the story of my surgery? Well, certainly one could wax eloquent about the gruesome details of the accident or repair. But for me the real story is this: I can walk again, and even run. I can bicycle downtown. I can sit for long periods writing, and afterwards my knees don’t hurt any more than most do at my age. This winter I even got back on cross country skis with my two daughters and husband in Yellowstone and skied to a frozen waterfall.

Smart, kind doctors and allied health professionals gave me an unspeakable gift. Their day-to-day work may get their hands dirty. It may involve goo and guts and it may even produce human remains that get donated for further medical research. But that is the climax of the story only for juvenile thrill seekers. For me as the patient, my children, my husband, and even my community, the real story is the precious gift of a second chance. It is a story about grace and compassion, love and laughter, beauty, and dreams fulfilled.

The same can be said about my abortion and many others.

Far too often, the fight to protect abortion access focuses on the procedure itself or surrounding circumstances, rather than what comes after. As abortion counselor Charlotte Taft has put it, “I wish that we talked about ‘choices’ instead of ‘choice.’ Because when a woman has an abortion, she isn’t choosing the abortion itself, she is choosing an education, or military service, or her loyalty to the family she already has.” Or to the family she will have, when she’s ready.

Rising Above the Juvenile Fascination with Eew and Goo

In the coming months, with Hillary Clinton as the most viable female presidential candidate in American history, Democrats are queuing up a vigorous conversation about family friendly policies, policies that help children to flourish and that allow women to fully participate in our economy and our democracy. Their aspirations include paid maternity and family leave, more flexible work hours that accommodate parenting, affordable childcare, and better wages for working people at the bottom of the income spectrum (mostly women). But this policy agenda has a glaring omission: to fully participate in our economy and democracy, a woman must be able to manage her fertility.

I have said publicly that I am pro-abortion, not just pro-choice, but I also believe that when advocates think about reproductive empowerment, our minds too often jump to abortion. If we want a future in which children get created when couples feel ready, one in which empowered young women and men can invest in their dreams and stack the odds in favor of their kids, abortion care is just one small (and hopefully shrinking) part of the mix.

Abortion may be minor compared to many routine surgeries, but it is still an expensive, invasive medical procedure that can be emotionally and morally complex. Why mitigate harm if we can prevent it? For the price of one abortion, a woman can get a state-of-the-art IUD or implant that drops her annual pregnancy risk below 1 in 500 for up to 12 years. Access to top tier long acting contraceptives like these dramatically dropped the teen pregnancy and abortion rates in Colorado recently. But better birth control is also just one part of reproductive empowerment.

As I view it, people are trying to get from Point A to Point B in their lives; and abortion is like the guardrail that keeps them from going off the cliff when all else fails. Guardrails save lives. We definitely want them there when people need them. But we also want well-designed roads with lines down the middle, and cars with excellent brakes and steering, and well-trained drivers who have a clear idea of where they want to go and how to get there.

On the road of life, we all get by with a little help from our friends, and strangers, and sometimes even professionals. Most of us don’t need to be reminded how icky life can get when thing go wrong. What we do need is people who will be there regardless, who live by Planned Parenthood’s motto: Care. No matter what.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel.  Subscribe at

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt; Deas and Other Imaginings.
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46 Responses to The Yuck Factor — What Planned Parenthood Smears, Homophobia, and Middle School Jokes Have in Common

  1. archaeopteryx1 says:

    Regarding the “Yuck” factor, the less said about my double lens replacements, the better, but it did bring back a childhood pledge: “Hope to die, stick a needle in my eye –”



  2. says:

    Good post. I was just writing about the bad faith, relentless smear campaign against PP myself. They can’t compete on ideas so they use subterfuge and deceit.

    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile


  3. Ron Taska says:

    What an awful mower accident. I am sorry that happened to you.


  4. mriana says:

    The Reich will do anything to tear down a person, group, or organization they don’t want to agree with or doesn’t agree with their agenda.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. allanmerry says:

    Hi Valerie, My first response-advice? Stay permanently off any open-air riding vehicles. Then, (re the latest “Abortion-Body-Parts-Market-Horror ‘News’ junk) – Excellent Post. Your usual deeply educated take on the subject. I don’t know how you do it; it’s beyond me. ON the subject, if you could use another “example,” track down Charles Krauthammer’s latest column, run today in our “little sister” metro daily, The News Tribune. (Actually, the “conglomerate” TNT occasionally runs better opinion than “home-owned TST.”) I address Mr. K as “Chuckkie”. Been writing to him trying for about four decades trying to figure out how to bring him down a notch. (And I always remind him that the self-satisfied smirk, in the accompanying photo he uses, is a dead giveaway.) One of my bright moments of recent years was learning that The New Republic had found a way to off-load him. His disease, of course, is just his personal combination of mental deficit with the same result as the large majority of writers who call themselves “Conservatives.” (I’d grossly over-simplify that complex as: retarded “self knowledge,” and lust for esteem and Influence. Not that I’d claim my own self knowledge is highly developed. Anyhow, BRAVO as always.


  6. wostraub says:

    In the Gospel of Luke, Joseph and Mary travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census, and while there Mary gives birth to Jesus. Following his circumcision, they take Jesus to the Temple for ritual purification. Not only do I find the census story insanely improbable, but the fact that Joseph and Mary had been foretold by angels that their son was God’s son makes me wonder why they would have believed ritual purification was even remotely necessary.

    As you mention, the icky-sticky parts of women, their ungodly “habit” of menstruating and the necessarily messy process of birth itself are viewed by religious types as innately impure and disgusting. Meanwhile, men who had — by intent or accident — “soiled” themselves by spilling their seed was deemed in the Old Testament as an impure event, and even today masturbation is considered morally wrong by Christian fundamentalists. No wonder man-on-man sex or “backdoor” heterosexual sex is considered by these same groups as morally wrong.

    I’m sure you’re aware that recent studies have shown that there is a basic difference, perhaps genetically based, between liberals and conservatives with regard to disgusting or unpleasant images and concepts. My own personal experience comes from years of working as an environmental engineer, when I tried every way I knew to assure the public that highly-treated sewage could be made safe and even drinkable. But I could never get over their perception that water molecules, once they had been “tainted” by sewage, could never be made pure again (despite the fact that as quantum-level particles, atoms cannot be “marked” in any way). I failed, and today’s water purveyors are experiencing the same problem, even in light of extreme drought conditions in many states.

    This raises the question: can any amount of legitimate education, training or reassurance bring conservatives into line with reality?

    You’ve written another great article, by the way!


  7. Once again, an extraordinary piece. I really enjoy your writing. It’s so easy to follow your line of reasoning…. and when you introduce your personal experiences, you get “dragged-in” way beyond anything that’s possible with just a purely academic argument.


  8. Lowell Bushey says:

    Hi, Valerie,

    I suspect that we agree on most issues, but it’s good to see an issue from a different perspective. I’ve always wondered why pro-choice organizations have been reluctant to address many of the issues surrounding reproductive rights. I hadn’t previously considered it, but I think that you’re absolutely right about the “yuck factor”.

    Awhile back, I did a presentation on abortion for my Humanist group in Moscow Idaho. I attempted to show that a human fetus and a chimpanzee fetus are indistinguishable until 24 weeks gestation. Unfortunately, this did invoke the “yuck factor”, although I think that I made my point. (I also showed that a human fetus and the fetuses of many other animal species are indistinguishable in the very early stages of development, invoking much less of a “yuck factor”.)

    Although I believe that my argument was convincing, I also think that it’s more important for women who have had abortions, and who believe that it was the morally correct choice, to tell their stories. (I’ve made similar arguments, but they are disingenuous coming from a man. :))

    I’ll also provide you with a few “tidbits” that are the result of my research. (The information is easily obtainable on the internet, although I think that few are aware of it.)

    1. Even though the US is a highly religious country, there were no abortion laws in the US until 1821. Abortion restrictions in the US were passed in conjunction with the Comstock laws.

    2. Our laws, dating back to the pre-Revolutionary War English Common Law, have always held that the mother’s life is more important, and should take precedence.

    3. When I did my research a couple of years ago, 17% of Evangelical Protestant women, and 28% of Roman Catholic women, as opposed to 23% of the general population of women, had had an abortion.

    Lowell Bushey


    • ockraz says:

      “I attempted to show that a human fetus and a chimpanzee fetus are indistinguishable until 24 weeks gestation… (I also showed that a human fetus and the fetuses of many other animal species are indistinguishable in the very early stages of development, invoking much less of a “yuck factor”.) Although I believe that my argument was convincing.”

      My experience with humanist groups is that they’re more interested in learning about science than philosophy. I’m curious – how did you argue that being indistinguishable in a visual examination had moral significance. I don’t see an obvious connection.


      • Lowell Bushey says:

        Interesting perspective, although I certainly disagree with you. Allow me to elaborate.

        1. Humanism IS a philosophy. It’s based on the idea that we should live our lives in such a way as to make the world a better place to live in. For most humans (obvious exception: the Marquis de Sade :)), that’s a completely logical proposition!

        2. Upon showing pictures of actual human fetuses, the reaction I got from many was “those pictures don’t look anything like the others I’ve seen,”. (in other words) I showed that the anti-abortion movement’s representation of what human fetuses actually look like at various stages of development is, at least, a gross misrepresentation, and, at most, a bald-faced lie!

        3. (Slight elaboration on 2). The anti-abortion movement’s goal is to convince us that abortion is the taking of human life, essentially equivalent to murder. Because few people have dared to demonstrate otherwise, they have “had the floor”, with no opposition. Their argument is largely based on their “pictures” of human fetuses. IMO, telling the truth about what human fetuses actually look like at various stages of development is long overdue!

        4. Philosophy IS based upon logical reasoning. If not, what on earth is it based on? (if only you could see the look on my face. :))

        5. Some religious tenets clearly invite skepticism. Without scientific proof to the contrary, all we have is skepticism. Example: The nearest galaxy to our own, the Large Magellanic Cloud, is 170,000 light years away. Since it took the light from that galaxy 170,000 years to reach us, we’re looking at as it was 170,000 years ago. Clearly, the universe can’t be 8000 years old! Likewise, carbon dating definitively refutes the claim that humans lived alongside of dinosaurs. I could cite many other examples, e.g., Methuselah, but this post is too long already. :)

        Lowell Bushey

        Liked by 1 person

      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        Are you sure, Lowell –?


      • ockraz says:

        @Lowell Bushey –

        1. “Philosophy IS based upon logical reasoning. If not, what on earth is it based on?”
        Is that a response to something I said? I don’t know what you’re responding to here. In any case, I’d say that contemporary philosophy is based upon logical reasoning when it’s of good quality. It’s less true of philosophy the farther you go back in history, and there’s plenty of modern philosophy that’s not of good quality. I’m not sure how that relates to the matter of peoples interest in science versus philosophy, though.

        2. “Humanism IS a philosophy.”
        Fair enough, although it’s not a secular one. There are both religious and secular iterations of humanism. The secular predate the latter, but most often (in ordinary conversation at least) when we use the term now we’re referring to the secular version. The actual groups I’ve been involved with in the past and that I had in mind when I made my original comment are the American Humanist Association, CFI, and American Atheists (although there are many more ‘virtual’ or net-based groups). Perhaps you only think AHA qualifies as a humanist group. If so, I’d agree that it’s less a problem with AHA than the others. Incidentally, this isn’t my criticism alone. I think it really became an issue after the publication of The Moral Landscape. Massimo Pigliucci has written some very good stuff on the whole ‘philosophy v. science’ thing that you may find interesting.


      • ockraz says:

        @Lowell Bushey –
        3. “The anti-abortion movement’s goal is to convince us that abortion is the taking of human life, essentially equivalent to murder. Because few people have dared to demonstrate otherwise, they have “had the floor”, with no opposition. Their argument is largely based on their “pictures” of human fetuses. IMO, telling the truth about what human fetuses actually look like at various stages of development is long overdue!”

        I need to break that into individual pieces…
        a) ‘The anti-abortion movement’s goal is to convince us that abortion is the taking of human life, essentially equivalent to murder’ – Yes and no. It is there goal to convince people that it’s morally akin to murder. However, that abortion is the taking of human life is something that’s not in dispute. (Did you perhaps mean to say the taking of a ‘persson’s life’ rather than ‘human life?) Taking a human life isn’t always immoral . What is in dispute is whether abortion is an acceptable or unacceptable instance of the taking of human life. For example one can argue prenatal human life is morally equivalent to a human life that is in an irreversible vegetative state. You can also argue that it’s a case where taking a human life is justifiable because of the rights of the gravida, and it is morally equivalent to taking a human life in self defense. I don’t know of any ethicist who’d say it’s nonhuman.
        b) “few people have dared to demonstrate otherwise, they have “had the floor”, with no opposition” – Again, that abortion is the taking of human life is something that’s not in dispute. What is in dispute is whether it’s morally acceptable or not. That’s a question that turns on what basic moral assumptions one makes and what one thinks is the proper way to apply ethical principles that are fairly universally held. You can’t possibly ‘demonstrate’ the truth of an answer to that question with pictures.
        C. “Their argument is largely based on their “pictures” of human fetuses.” What? I’m going to be charitable and call that a completely unfounded claim. The prolife argument has nothing whatsoever to do with pictures.
        D. ” telling the truth about what human fetuses actually look like at various stages of development is long overdue!” – This brings us full circle. I still don’t see how it’s relevant unless you’re making an emotional rather than reason based appeal. If you want to say that making people think they do look like us is an emotional appeal, then you must admit that trying to show that they don’t is EQUALLY an emotional appeal. In the main article, Joseph Merrick was cited as a case where ‘not looking like us’ evokes a response that makes us less charitable and inclined to be concerned about others. My point is that appearance should be considered morally irrelevant, so I’ll ask my question again because I don’t think you ever answered it:

        how did you argue that being indistinguishable in a visual examination had moral significance.


      • mriana says:

        I only have one thing to say to the anti-abortion people concerning their belief that abortion is “the taking of human life”, especially if they refuse to listen to cell development, while they barbarically chow down on that pig and that is, if it is the taking of a life, than stop taking the lives of other animals, who are actually alive and living in this world because they too are, in various ways, genetically similar to us, including a pig. Not only that, there is a gorilla with a kidney s/he could share with them if they needed it and if other apes were not endangered species, that is, and there is a pig out there that could potentially save their lives, but they choose to be ignorant, protecting something that isn’t yet an independent life-form, instead of appreciating actual life. They are not only ignorant of cell development, but science of itself and IF they want to give rights to a parasitic fetus, then they need to give rights to non-human animals too, because non-human animals resemble life more so than that which is in imbriotic cell development.


      • I think you’re being disingenuous ockraz. This whole conversation is happening in the context of a dishonest campaign aimed at manipulating emotions. If you don’t think that abortion opponents are waging a war of images, google “abortion” and then click on image search. Now try to find an image put up by an actual surgical abortion provider or public health educator site. Now try to find images online of other common surgeries, say eye surgery or knee surgery or gastric sleeve, and look at the difference.


    • Well, done, Lowell. Thank you for tackling this conversation!

      Liked by 1 person

    • mriana says:

      Actually, chimps look similar to humans until after they are born, not until 24 weeks gestation. The two ape species are almost indistinguishable on ultrasound prior to birth. About the only disguising factors are the mother and the 1% genetic difference. Chimps, especially the bonobo, are 98-99% genetically similar to humans.


      • Lowell Bushey says:

        No doubt you’re right about ultrasound. I also won’t dispute the fact that it might might take a trained eye to notice the subtle differences between humans and chimps at 24 weeks.

        For some reason, the pro-choice folks have been reluctant to address these issues, whether the reason is the “yuck factor”, or the fear of appearing too cold and scientific. Unfortunately, that has allowed the anti-abortion folks to present misrepresentations and outright lies about what a human fetus looks like. This is especially egregious for first trimester abortions. Around 88% of abortions are done during the first trimester.

        Lowell Bushey

        Liked by 1 person

      • mriana says:

        Can’t reply directly to your reply Lowell, so I have to do this way. Personally, I think all pro-choice people should use to science to support their stance. I often do, even when I find it almost impossible to get through to those who are so hard line on their anti-abortion (Not for life) stance, because they are too much into their opinion that it’s a person, who can live (without it’s host, though they deny it’s a parasite) outside the womb. You can’t get through their thick minds for all the brainwashing.


  9. ockraz says:

    You’re offering a narrative about what your ideological opponents are doing, and why, and even what motivates them to have the beliefs they have. You’ve not done a particularly good job. That’s not really the condemnation it seems. PCers generally don’t do a good job of telling the story of PLers, and PLers are generally just as bad at telling the stories of PCers. (Imagine if the opposing sides in the contemporary Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or from the The Troubles of the 1970 offered you their account of the motives, methods, ND values of their opponents.) Finding someone who’d taken on such a project and done a good job of it would be the noteworthy exception. Normally, I’d not even have commented. I found this because I was looking for examples of Haidt’s views being applied to current political stories. If I understood what you were trying to say, then you’re using Haidt as justification for part of your narrative that’s just wrong. I’d’ve not bothered saying anything about that either, except that your description says you’re a psychologist, and because of that I’m hopeful that my concern that you’re mischaracterizing people’s beliefs will matter – even if those people are your opponents.


    • Many people, perhaps most of us most of the time, are swayed more by emotion than rationality. In fact, it is likely that reason moves us by producing an emotional valence around a set of ideas. The article doesn’t attempt to tackle the beliefs of people who oppose abortion–it addresses the strategy they are using to sway public opinion, which is an appeal primarily to disgust and other primal, pre-human emotions. Another example, not addressed in this article, is how abortion opponents appeal to the instinctive reaction to like and protect something with big eyes or something that looks like a human child –think LOL cats and dolls.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • ockraz says:

        “The article doesn’t attempt to tackle the beliefs of people who oppose abortion–it addresses the strategy they are using to sway public opinion.” – Perhaps that’s your intent, but it’s not all how the article reads. You unambiguously imply (although I suppose you don’t make the claim explicit) that pro-lifers are themselves motivated, perhaps not entirely – but to a significant degree, by a disgust response. Are you saying now that you don’t think that’s the case?

        As far as strategies are concerned, what you’re pointing out about this particular gambit, is hardly something unique to the prolife movement. The animal rights movement has always used gory images in ways that are identical to the way that some factions of the prolife movement use bloody images. As far as I’m aware, however, there aren’t any actual images involved with this particular story (just video from people talking in a restaurant.). Much of the recent controversy concerning the death penalty has focused on particular methods of execution in a way that’s designed to make us imagine things that illicit a disgust response (which is what is actually happening here). With regard to the “appeal to the instinctive reaction to like and protect something with big eyes or something that looks like a human child,” that’s something that environmentalist causes do constantly. If you broaden the criticism to making emotional appeals rather than appeals to reason, then that’s something that every successful politician, regardless of party, does as a matter of routine – because it works.

        You’ve also acknowledged that the prolife movement uses other more ‘rational’ strategies: “Abortion opponents may be driven by Iron Age sexual scripts, but they are advancing their cause primarily by appealing to universal, secular and –ironically, progressive– ethical principles.” [2012.06.01] (Although there you are explicitly claiming that you know what motivates your opponents.) So, if you’re just saying that in addition to reasoned arguments, abortion opponents also use appeals to instinct and emotion, then that’s not even a criticism. It’s just pointing out that in that regard they’re not better than any other political group.


    • Lowell Bushey says:

      When the facts don’t support one’s argument, the only thing left to do is appeal to people’s visceral, and often irrational, emotions. I’m being polite when I say that the anti-abortion movement’s message has consisted of distortions, exaggerations, and outright lies!

      Lowell Bushey


  10. Lowell Bushey says:

    Hey archaeopteryx1,

    I have a picture of me with Santa Claus. If you’d like I can make sure that you get exactly what you want next Christmas, for a small fee, of course. :)

    Lowell Bushey


  11. Lowell Bushey says:

    Hi, ockraz,

    I suspect that we’re “talking past each other”, but I’ll try and address your issues.

    1. You keep using the phrase “science vs. philosophy”. Science is, by definition, that which can be ascertained by observation, experimentation, formulating logical hypotheses, and testing them. Philosophy is, by definition, that which cannot. However, that doesn’t mean that the two are diametrically opposed. For example, I believe that there is life elsewhere in the universe. Clearly, this cannot be definitively ascertained, but, in a universe full of millions of galaxies, each with millions of stars, the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of it. (Give me those odds in Vegas, and I’ll come back a very rich man. :)) Clearly, observation and logical reasoning, two components of the scientific method, are entirely relevant to this (philosophical) opinion!

    Also, I’m bewildered by your statement that older philosophy isn’t based on logical reasoning. When I was a teenager (about 50 years ago :)), I had an almost total disdain for anything “old”, regarding it as irrelevant to modern society. An examination of e.g. the philosophy of Socrates, totally refuted that premise!

    IMO, “bad philosophy” is almost always based on a priori premises, which can be, and often are, false. For example, the argument for the existence of God relies on the premise of a perfect world, that could only have been created by an omniscient being. IMO, simple observation indicates that this premise is out of touch with reality, i.e., the world is far from perfect, and, thus, the argument falls apart.

    2. You claim that Humanism is not a secular philosophy. in addition to claiming that people should behave in a manner that is good for all humanity, Humanists also claim that belief in a supernatural being isn’t necessary to accomplish that goal. In other words, Humanism is most definitely a secular philosophy!

    The AHA, the CFI, and American Atheists are different groups, with different objectives. The objectives of American Atheists may be largely congruent with those of the AHA; nonetheless, American Atheists is not a Humanist group, per se. One of the functions of the CFI is to debunk superstitions. The superstitions that the CFI seeks to debunk often have nothing to do with religion. The AHA (along with other groups such a Americans United) is active in maintaining the separation of church and state. Admittedly, the functions of the above groups may overlap, but trying to compare these groups is, in effect, trying to compare apples and oranges!

    3. In your second post, you say, “that abortion is the taking of human life is something that’s not in dispute.” I’m not sure what you’re getting at here.

    I’ve always maintained that “human life, broadly defined, would include sperm and egg cells. (They’re human, and they’re alive.) Usually this argument doesn’t go anywhere, although my argument that cancer cells are human life does have salience. I’m not sure whether you’re agreeing with one or both of these premises, or whether you’re trying to “sneak in” the unfounded (and, IMO, totally ludicrous!) premise that “life begins at conception”.

    As to the “pictures”, you apparently haven’t seen the photographs of abortion protesters picketing a clinic with “pictures” of human fetuses. I assume that these are of a human fetus at a much later stage, although I’m not sure. Now why would they be doing that? (This isn’t an art exhibit. :)) Clearly, their intent is to mislead people into believing that a first trimester abortion is analogous to destroying a fetus like the “pictures” on their signs!

    Surprisingly, although we don’t totally agree about “human life”, we apparently agree that the argument is when and where abortion is acceptable. This has always been the position of the pro-choice people, i.e., that a woman has the right to make that moral judgment for herself, without the interference of the government or right wing religious fanatics. Unfortunately, the appeal to emotion sometimes trumps rational judgment. Therefore, it was high time that someone set the record straight!

    I’d also note that, before my presentation, some people in the Moscow, ID humanist group viewed abortion as a necessary evil, rather than a correct moral choice. I’m glad to say that I changed a few minds!

    Lowell Bushey


    • archaeopteryx1 says:

      Totally off-topic, Lowell, but I just had to acknowledge your home – Moscow, Idaho – original home of the Appaloosa Horse Club. I used to own 15 head!


      • Lowell Bushey says:

        Actually, I live in Pullman, Washington, 8 miles away. The Humanist group was started by Tyler Palmer, who lives in Moscow. There are two other Humanist groups, one for students at Washington State University, and one for students at the University of Idaho. I’m three times a old as the college students, so I don’t go to either of those. :)


      • archaeopteryx1 says:

        What has age to do with anything?


  12. Katatonic says:

    Re: the Ick Factor.

    I had LASIK done years ago and am so glad I was warned beforehand what to expect; burning tissue STINKS. But for 20/20 vision? Totally worth the ick.

    Ditto abortion; it’s medical procedure that involves removal of tissue, also a big ick factor. But it allowed me to bear a child on MY timetable, not due to the failure of birth control. Again, totally worth the ick.

    If we weren’t so romanticized (and religiously traumatized) around sex & pregnancy & childbirth, I think we’d be having smarter conversations and less of the emotionally-laden rhetoric.


  13. Lowell Bushey says:

    Hi, mriana,

    Sorry that I didn’t reply right away. I wanted to consult the PowerPoint slides of my presentation (a couple of years ago) so that I didn’t put my foot in my mouth. :)

    I absolutely agree with you that the attitude of the anti-abortion movement is utterly nonsensical. What’s particularly egregious is that they make the problem worse. I discovered that, even with two anomalies, there’s a statistically significant NEGATIVE relationship between the strictness of abortion laws and the abortion rate (p < .05). With only a couple of exceptions, the countries with the strictest abortion laws have the highest abortion rates, and vice versa.

    The reason for this is, IMO, quite clear. The biggest determinant of abortion is the lack of an effective birth control method.

    In Sweden, for example, a teenager is provided with with all the information she needs about sexuality and birth control, and told that the decision as to whether and when to engage in sexual activity is hers and hers alone. The result of this is that (at least when I did my research) Sweden's abortion rate is 75% lower than that of the US.

    As Valerie pointed out recently, efforts to institute similar programs in the US send the right wing fanatics into a frenzy. They simultaneously stand against abortion, and against initiatives that will lower the abortion rate. Obviously, such a position is ludicrous!

    The right wing's effort to instill iron age moral values into teenagers has another negative effect: Among industrialized nations, the US has the highest rates of teenage sexual activity, and the highest rates of all venereal diseases except Chlamydia. Clearly, providing teenagers with relevant information is far superior to confusing them with nonsensical rhetoric!

    Another issue seems particularly egregious to me. (I'm sure that I'm not the first to point this
    out. :)) It's a well established fact that a woman who becomes a mother by age 18 has an extremely high chance of living in poverty, and of welfare dependency. Despite this, the right stands staunchly opposed to medicaid expansion, and has made concerted efforts to cut food stamps and other social welfare programs. Apparently, the attitude of the right is, "we want you to carry the pregnancy to term, but once you become a mother, we don't care if your child has enough to eat, or has proper medical care." I find that attitude appalling and disgusting, as well as hypocritical, for people who claim to be "pro-life"!

    Lowell Bushey


    • mriana says:

      Exactly, Lowell, and I do agree with you, especially on the alleged use of the words “pro-life”. IMHO, such individuals, especially those who are staunchly “anti-abortion” are in reality, anti-life. Additionally, refusing to allow a young woman options to birth control is also a problem and even causes more problems then letting them be educated human beings. We need to have real sex education, including education about all forms of birth control, in our public schools, in an effort to prevent unwanted pregnancy that could lead to a woman choosing between carrying a pregnancy to term or an abortion. We also need to keep abortion legal for various reason, including and especially for the life and health of the mother, as well as giving her the option to terminate a pregnancy that could lead to her carrying for a child that has health issues. Abortion shouldn’t be used as birth control, but there are times when terminating a pregnancy is the best option for the woman making that choice.


  14. allanmerry says:

    All; true; and so many ways to substantiate it. So, what more should we all be doing to make the correctives Happen??


    • Well, I think we need to be making more emotional appeals of our own, messaging that exposes their mean-ness, misogyny, and religious motivation. Pushback messaging might include the following memes:

      Shame on you for shaming women! Women will be saved through childbearing. 1 Timothy 2:15 Not a virgin? Stone her! Deuteronomy 22: 20-21 Pedophilia, Spanking, Medical neglect, Home schooling – Deal with the log in your own eye!


  15. Lowell Bushey says:

    Hi, archaeopteryx1,

    You do have a point. The younger folks (like me) are far less religious, and far more liberal, than the people my age. Still, there’s a generation gap. I’m not as handy with the gadgets that they use, and, I’m prone, without even thinking about it, to refer to the days when Nixon was President. :)


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