Sunday, December 7, 2008


The other day, I posted a fun piece with the help of The Onion, my favorite site for lightening things up a bit. As a result, alert NQ reader, AF Catfish, provided me with the following article. It is not from The Onion, or even from Mad Magazine, but it could be. No, it's from Slate, in their SCIENCE division. I swear, I am not making this up. And here is the title of this scientific expose. OK. Ready? Obama in Your Heart: How the president-elect tapped into a powerful—and only recently studied—human emotion called "elevation." How very appropriate for a Sunday morning, isn't it?? I know - I made sure I wasn't drinking any cappuccino then, either.

Yes, Emily Yoffe, the writer, treats us to this informative study about emotions, and how Obama used them to bring in the masses. Now, many of us already knew it was rhetoric over substance, but here she lays it out for us in her Own way:
For researchers of emotions, creating them in the lab can be a problem. Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California-Berkeley, studies the emotions of uplift, and he has tried everything from showing subjects vistas of the Grand Canyon to reading them poetry—with little success. But just this week one of his postdocs came in with a great idea: Hook up the subjects, play Barack Obama's victory speech, and record as their autonomic nervous systems go into a swoon.

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."

Elevation has always existed but has just moved out of the realm of philosophy and religion and been recognized as a distinct emotional state and a subject for psychological study. Psychology has long focused on what goes wrong, but in the past decade there has been an explosion of interest in "positive psychology"—what makes us feel good and why. University of Virginia moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who coined the term elevation, writes, "Powerful moments of elevation sometimes seem to push a mental 'reset button,' wiping out feelings of cynicism and replacing them with feelings of hope, love, and optimism, and a sense of moral inspiration."

* Oh, isn't she witty?? And way to keep the bias out of this "scientific" piece.

Ah - so Obama has learned how to hit the reset button so that normally thinking human beings will be transported into La-la land. Everyone has now donned their rose colored glasses, and let all the bad reality just slip away. Oh, see how much happier they are than those of us still stuck in the real world!

This is just the beginning, though. Seems this idea has been around for some time:
Haidt quotes first-century Greek philosopher Longinus on great oratory: "The effect of elevated language upon an audience is not persuasion but transport." Such feeling was once a part of our public discourse. After hearing Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address, former slave Frederick Douglass said it was a "sacred effort." But uplifting rhetoric came to sound anachronistic, except as practiced by the occasional master like Martin Luther King Jr. or Ronald Reagan. And now Obama.

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."

Wait, say what? First we have "moral beauty," character and virtue being exhibited by Obama in his speeches (or so it seems to his followers), written by the Bozo on the left:

Then we have an acknowledgment that people who voted for McCain are pretty much right that the extent of this "elevation" is pushing a button, concluding with the benefits to OBAMA of the mind control (well, what the hell else is it when it wipes the slate clean, making normally rational people start believing in a hope-y change-y rainbow unicorn??)? Wow - that is some massive movement, all within one paragraph: character not demonstrated but framed in "words, just words" which many did not buy into but good for Obama those who threw away their analytical, rational selves. Check.

There is so much about Obama in this regard, though:
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."

I'm sorry, sir, but you seem to be caught up in the Rainbow Unicorn of Hope yourself. Obama has actually demonstrated he is NOT calm, but rather testy (examples here, here and here), quick to anger, and a bully. You are buying into the MSM definitions of him, not the REALITY of him. Just like when they termed George Bush's arrogant smugness as "charm." Despite the attempts by the MSM to paint Obama as the new Buddha, he has shown in debates and unscripted interactions who he really is. Maybe you shouldn't be watching MSNBC while you do your "research." Just a suggestion.

I barely know what to say about this next part, so I will just leave it to you:
It was while looking through the letters of Thomas Jefferson that Haidt first found a description of elevation. Jefferson wrote of the physical sensation that comes from witnessing goodness in others: It is to "dilate [the] breast and elevate [the] sentiments … and privately covenant to copy the fair example." Haidt took this description as a mandate. Since it's tricky to study the vagus nerve, he and a psychology student conceived of a way to look at it indirectly. The vagus nerve works with oxytocin, the hormone of connection. Since oxytocin is released during breast-feeding, he and the student brought in 42 lactating women and had them watch either an inspiring clip from The Oprah Winfrey Show about a gang member saved from a life of violence by a teacher or an amusing bit from a Jerry Seinfeld routine.

About half the Oprah-watching mothers either leaked milk into nursing pads or nursed their babies following the viewing; none of the Seinfeld watchers felt enough breast dilation to wet a pad, and fewer than 15 percent of them nursed. You could say elevation is Oprah's opiate of the masses, so it's fitting that she early on gave Obama her imprimatur. And that for his victory speech was up front in Grant Park, elevation's moist embodiment, feeling so at one with humankind that she used a stranger as a handkerchief.

Thank heavens Haidt is such a dedicated scientist. Ahem. How else would we know why Oprah was so moved to use someone she didn't know as her handkerchief?

Are we PAYING for this research, by the way? You know, with our tax dollars?? Just wondering.

Back to the research:
The researchers say elevation is part of a family of self-transcending emotions. Some others are awe, that sense of the vastness of the universe and smallness of self that is often invoked by nature; another is admiration, that goose-bump-making thrill that comes from seeing exceptional skill in action. Keltner says we most powerfully experience these in groups—no wonder people spontaneously ran into the street on election night, hugging strangers. "We had to evolve these emotions to devote ourselves into social collectives," he says.

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.' "

Thank heavens someone finally said it. I mean, besides those of us in the reality-based world. It is important for a scientist to be able to step outside him/herself. And with Obama, what we have is massive turning back the clock on women's rights, race relations, transparency of our "elected" officials (a PEBO who doesn't have to submit ANY paperwork for the greatest job in the world, but demands that and much, much more from his subordinates. I'd sure like to see this Haidt guy do some research on that. Or anyone in the freakin' MSM.).

Your patience with this article is about to be rewarded:
Even at its most benign, elevation can seem ridiculous to outsiders. Think of how Obama's opponents love to mock his effect on people. During the campaign, if your chest was contracting while all about you chests were dilating, you may be a Republican. If you were unmoved by Obama, watching your fellow citizen get all tingly, even fall into a faint (too much vagus stimulation, and you're going down), was maddening. "Other people's reverence seems unctuous and sanctimonious," says Keltner.

Obama himself seemed aware of the dangers that too much elevation might pop his candidacy like a helium balloon hitting a power line. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer described Obama's canny strategy to make his rhetoric more pedestrian for the final months of the campaign.

Or, one might still have one's WITS about one, thus not being taken in by this charlatan, this snake oil salesman. But of course, anyone who was not moved to tears or into a faint by this lying, conniving, arrogant, bullying, race-baiting, misogynistic, homophobic unqualified first term senator was just because someone was a "Republican." Newsflash: those of us who actually prefer qualified, intelligent, candidates who compose their own policy positions rather than steal them from others, and come up with their own words to use, not plagiarizing others, may simply be mature. I'm just sayin'. Despite the MSM's characterizations of Hillary Clinton's speeches, I attended two of them, and I am here to tell you she is moving, compelling, funny as hell, and brilliant. But not once did I feel faint. Nor did I ever feel faint when Obama was speaking, even as I watched his 2004 speech which seemed sufficient experience for those "elevated" people who swooned over his "borrowed" words. But that's just me. And millions others. Whatever.

Oh, but you knew it wasn't going to stop there. There had to be a way for the author to turn this back to Obama worship:
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.

Disgust carries with it the notion of contamination, which helps to explain the Republicans' obsession with Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko, and Jeremiah Wright and their frustration that more voters didn't have a visceral reaction that Obama had unforgivably sullied himself by association with these men. But this time, elevation won. And expect that on Inauguration Day, even if the weather's frigid, millions will be warmed by that liquid feeling in their chests. (Emily Yoffe is the author of What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner. You can send your Human Guinea Pig suggestions or comments to

Oh, yes - it was the REPUBLICANS' problem that they, and all others not in the tank for Obama, were concerned about a CONFIRMED DOMESTIC TERRORIST, a convicted felon, and a racist in whose church Obama sat for over TWENTY years. And of course, it had nothing to do with the MSM downplaying those connections, even dismissing them )like Obama's speechwriter groping a cut-out of the incoming Secretary of State of the United States), because those inconvenient people/facts did not fit their preconceived narrative of who Obama is. It wasn't so much Republicans who wanted to highlight the nefarious associations of the PEBO, but AMERICANS who care about the sanctity of the Constitution, who care about with whom the PEBO chooses to associate himself. Unrepentant domestic terrorists, convicted felons (don't forget Kwame Kilpatrick!), and anti-American racist ministers are not the kinds of people with whom a potential president should surround himself. In my humble opinion, of course.

In conclusion, what this "research" highlights is that Obama followers really did drink the Kool Aide. Vindication for those of us who did not, and managed to keep ourselves in emotional balance. Now we can say, "Told you so!" But, they'll probably be too busy polishing their rose-colored glasses and looking for the rainbow unicorn to notice...

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