Magazine | February 23, 2015, Issue

Lifespan Liberalism

There’s no shortage of studies that attempt to show how liberals and conservatives are different species who happen to share hominid form. Liberals are conveniently revealed by Cold Science to better handle deep subtle ambiguities, while conservatives are more rigid and likely to reach a conclusion quicker, such as “That study’s bunk.”

Not to say decisiveness is always wise. Is that Bigfoot out in my neighbor’s yard, or my neighbor himself? Better shoot it just to be safe. That is bad. Then there’s the ambiguity-savoring take: That is indeed Bigfoot in the backyard, mauling my neighbor. Should I run out and hit him with a wooden spoon? Would that not perpetuate the cycle of violence? What if he’s endangered? Isn’t taking sides a form of speciesism? Perhaps my neighbor brought it on himself by building a settlement in Bigfoot’s territory. But — oh well, the screaming has stopped. Never mind.

Now another study. One of the headlines summarized it thus: “Want to live longer? Vote liberal.” At first you think of Chicagoans casting ballots from beyond the grave, but it’s not the act of voting that prolongs your existence. It’s the sweet life-enhancing beliefs that do the trick. Now, previous studies found that communities whose citizens voted red stayed in the pink longer, while blue donks were less happy and died earlier. But those studies measured party affiliation, not political ideology. The new study factored in things like education and income. USA Today reported the surprising results: “Self-proclaimed conservatives and moderates were 6% more likely to die during follow-up than self-proclaimed liberals with otherwise similar traits.”

That’s a 6 percent–higher chance of joining the choir eternal — or going to the compost heap in the sky, according to ideological preference.

Eh. Most conservatives would take those odds, because they wouldn’t want to live longer believing a lot of nonsense or feel guilty all day because they hadn’t composted the apple peelings.

But if you did want to attenuate your existence by adopting liberal beliefs, it would be nice if the study provided a list. If you believe that higher tax rates stimulate productivity, you get four extra months. Add on the belief that voting higher taxes for other people should not be merely altruistic and you should be able to write off the gas money spent getting to the polls as a charitable contribution — now you get almost a year. Top it off with the sincere conviction that men regard guns as, like, really loud penises and you’re guaranteed to stand at the graveside of your former friend wondering why people are edging away from you. Oh — right. You gave up soap, because of the toxic chemicals. Hey! I got an extra three weeks out of that one.

You’d think liberals would expire a tad faster because worrying is bad for your health. Both groups worry, but about different things. The Right tends to worry about militant ideologies devoted to the extirpation of the West, or the diminutions of liberty imposed by the regulatory state. The Left uses a broad spectrum of ongoing worries as a sign of its engagement with planetary concerns. Its worries set it aside from the lowing herd content to graze and chew the cud of consumerism. It worries about a legislator in Idaho who might relax laws governing the proximity of abortion protesters to a Planned Parenthood office. It worries that a turtle in the South China Sea is being strangled by a six-pack ring. It worries that someone might genetically modify a radish.

There are people on the righty-right right edge of the right who get spun up over secret FEMA plans to move you to labor camps where U.N. helicopters machine-gun anyone who covers the barcode tattooed on his shaved head, but they hate the GOP. Fantasists of the Left are perfectly at home in the Democratic party, believing that Canadian oil by pipeline will make sea levels rise so high, the spume will lap at the Statue of Liberty’s nostrils. The modern progressive thrums with anxiety — if not about what is being done, then about what is not being done. Which pretty much covers it.

And so we have a new anxiety: Peak Food. The Left loves the “peak” model, with its chastening reminder of the hubris of technological civilization. “Peak” is the smirking teen who never tried out for track and enjoys watching a runner stumble over a hurdle.

Peak Food doesn’t mean we’ll be eating thistles and bark next year — unless of course those become popular health foods best taken with artisanal toast in a San Fran café. It means that the rate of growth has begun to slow. Corn production, for example, started to slow in 1986. Yet somehow ethanol gushes from every damned pump in the land, and the movie theaters do not dole out your ration of popcorn with a tweezer and make sure you get the five you paid for.

Growing up in the Seventies, we presumed that doom and scarcity were our lot: millions packed into sweltering cities and eating kelp bars hard as dominos; empty oil wells; glaciers bearing down from Canada. We didn’t know it at the time, but we had reached Peak Charlton Heston Dystopia Movie. Optimism returned in the Eighties, except among those who got angry at the idea of a sunny-side-up egg because that cheerful term ignored the miseries of industrial chicken farming. If you’re not outraged, their bumper sticker says, you’re not paying attention . . .

Left unspoken: . . . to me. I tell you, that kind of anger shaves years off your life.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

In This Issue


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