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The Science Behind "TerraTerraTerra 24x7"

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This is pretty cool. Scary, mind you. But it gives some academic cover to things We Pretty Much Knew All Along. From today's Chicago Tribune, with some rearrangement of paragraphs for condensation purposes:

How people deal with existential concerns could help explain a broad spectrum of behavior, they believe, from political and religious leanings to altruism and the pursuit of riches to patriotism and terrorism.

Already, experiments have shown that when people are reminded of their own deaths, they become more patriotic, more conservative, more family-oriented, more security-minded.

The developing field, called experimental existential psychology, or XXP, explores how people find meaning and purpose in their lives.

Okay, enough with the la-ti-dah psychobabble. What does this have to do with the price of ice cubes in Alaska?

In the United States, the threat of terrorism has made citizens feel more anxious for security. A study Greenberg and his colleagues conducted before the 2004 presidential election found that college students were slightly in favor of Democrat John Kerry. But when the students were reminded of their mortality, a fear that terrorism provokes, the majority favored his Republican opponent, George Bush.

Bet these are three scientists who are having no trouble at all getting their grant requests approved. And without even having to cite abstinence, creationism, or Jeebus! Although god-bothering does manage to creep in to their study, they are clear to cite it as an effect rather than a cause:

The traumatic Sept. 11 attacks were the turning point for the field. The American Psychological Association asked Greenberg, Solomon and Pyszczynski to write up their research in a book that might help explain why some people engage in terrorism and how others respond.

Among the points made in their 2003 book, "In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror," was that modern people are much more exposed to "alternative meaning systems" than in the past.

"We have different versions of God, different versions of evil," Greenberg said. "It's one of the things that contributes to some of the large-scale conflicts that exist in the world. With exposure to other people and other belief systems, there's a threat to our own sense of meaning."

Some of the things Americans do, for example, violate the belief system common among residents of the Middle East, and vice-versa. People in the Middle East tend to be less materialistic and more spiritual, Greenberg said. They think about death more consciously, and they consider people who die for their belief system to be martyrs.

"And because we don't understand their world view, we're angering them in a very deep way and we don't understand it sometimes," he said. "Our hope is that by understanding psychologically where people are coming from ... we can use education, communication and other diplomatic tools to try and change the way we're viewed."

Sigh. The guy was doing so well up to the very end there. Hey, Dr. Greenberg: how about we change the way we do things, and look at things, and behave? I think "they" are viewing us quite accurately: arrogant, selfish, self-satisfied, dismissive of the Other, convinced of our entitlement to anything we damn well want. We start curing some of that, then the change in "the way we're viewed" will come along without any effort at all.

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