We love our girls here at the Lillefielt Infirmary and Dog Ranch. We don't think of them as pets, but as members of our family that leave hair on every exposed surface of our home. But our lives would be much emptier without them.
This is why our ears perk up when we see stories about dog behavior, like the one we spotted in the USA Today this morning. It raises a very interesting question and then answers it. "Do dogs experience shame?"
The story says they don't. We disagree. We believe dogs live by a different moral code than humans and the things that a human would feel shame for don't have the same negative impact on dogs. Getting caught making love to a stranger in the front of your home, for instance. Dogs don't think twice about that sort of thing, but your Aunt Grace may need hospitalization if she witnesses such an event.
As we read the story, we began to notice a striking similarity in the "shame feeling ability" shared by dogs and Tea Party conservative lawmakers. So, as an experiment (being very, very bored), we decided to take a portion of the USA Today story and change it ever so slightly, changing the word "dogs" to "Tea Party Conservative lawmakers" and making other minor situational adjustments.
So, we at the Howard County Examiner raise the question, "Behaviorists: Do Tea Party Conservatives Feel Shame?"
(Names have been changed to protect the careers of professionals. The websites mentioned in this version of the story do not exist. Yet.)
The next time you start shaking your finger and shouting "Shame on you!" because your tea party conservative lawmaker screwed up your favorite government program or got caught giving an extra-naughty set of “extra military instruction” to a pack of Cub Scouts, just remember that no matter how guilty your tea party conservative lawmaker looks, it doesn't know what your rant is about.
Behaviorists insist tea party conservative lawmakers lack shame. The guilty look — head cowered, ears back, eyes droopy — is a reaction to the tantrum you are throwing now over the bad thing they did got caught doing.
"Just get over it and remind yourself not to put temptation in the way next time," said Dr. Schmul Waxmaker, a professor at Texas A&M University's College Political Science and executive director of the American College of Tea Party Behaviorists.
But scientific findings haven't put a dent in the popularity of online tea part conservative-shaming sites like cruzshaming.com and shametedcruz.com or videos like those posted on youtube.com/crazyoldmichellebachman. In the photos and videos, tea party conservative lawmakers wear humorous written "confessions" and often are surrounded by the results of their misdeeds. There is no question that in some photos they look guilty of lying, racism, shilling for the wealthy, kissing Koch Bros. hiney or destroying something they shouldn't have, like the Food Stamp Program.
Cruzshaming.com was the first and is among the most popular sites. Since Aaron Worthington started it in August 2013, it has received more than 58 million page views and more than 65,000 submissions. A submission has to come with a photo showing the a tea party conservative lawmaker’s guilty look.
"I don't think tea party conservatives actually feel shame," Worthington said. "I think they know how to placate us with this sad puppy-dog look that makes us think they're ashamed of what they've done. My guess is that they are thinking is: 'Oh man, my constituent is super mad about something, but I don't know what, but he seems to calm down when I give him the sad face, so let's try that again.'"
One of the first scientific studies on the "guilty tea party conservative look" was conducted in 2011 by J.W.W. Poge, an associate professor of psychology at Marnyard College in New York City. In the study, he used 14 tea party conservative lawmakers, videotaping them in a series of trials and studying how they reacted when a constituent left the room after telling them not to touch a bag full of unmarked bills. When the constituents returned, sometimes they knew what the tea party conservative lawmakers had done and sometimes they didn't and sometimes the tea party conservative lawmakers had stuffed their pockets with the loose cash and sometimes they only took a little.
"I found that the 'look' appeared most often when constituents scolded their tea party conservative lawmakers, regardless of whether the tea party conservative lawmaker had disobeyed or did something for which they might or should feel guilty. It wasn't 'guilt' but a reaction to the constituent that prompted the look," Poge said.
"I am not saying that tea party conservative lawmakers might not feel guilt, just that the 'guilty look' is not an indication of it," he added. He also believes there is a difference between guilt and shame.
Tea party conservative lawmakers can slowly and with great effort learn from their bad behavior, but rewards or punishment are most effective right after the wrongdoing, said Waxmaker, the political science professor. "The farther it gets from that, the less connection is made with the behavior," he said.
At some point, your tea party conservative lawmaker will probably cower, waiting for you to complete your meltdown, ditch the negative voice and lose the nasty body language, Waxmaker said.
But you do wonder what other emotions tea party conservative lawmakers lack besides guilt.
“Progressives have a natural desire to know what a tea party conservative lawmaker is thinking, and yet we are limited to reading body language and measuring physiological reactions," Waxmaker said. The bottom line is:
"We will never truly know because we cannot expect them to answer truthfully when asked.”
Well, that was fun. Uh oh. Here comes the editor. Better put on the sad face. He's probably gonna yell.