Thursday, October 18, 2007

We Can't Talk At All - The Alternate Universes of Conservatives And Liberals

In the U.S.A, Thomas Jefferson was the 1st Democratic President.
The writer and primary architect of the U.S. Constitution
and one of the most profound thinkers of the age of reason.

"Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies." -Thomas Jefferson

"What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?" -Abraham Lincoln

Things change. Despite what we may wish, change is inevitable.
Not all change is good and not all change is bad. But change comes,
like death, taxes or spam, it is inescapable.
Abraham Lincoln was an atheist liberal. (Yes the Republicans in Lincoln’s day were the more liberal party.) As stated things indeed change. As they change new solutions must be found for new problems. Where will these solutions come from? From conservative minds or liberal ones? A study conducted by scientists at New York University and UCLA which was published in Nature Neuroscience concludes that the brain activities of conservatives and liberals are quite different. Indeed we may either be wired as a liberal or conservative thinker in our anterior cingulate cortex!

The Mechanism Of The Conservative Brain
Is Completely Different
Than That Of The Liberal Brain

The Los Angeles Times ran an article on this study. From their article: "Participants were college students whose politics ranged from 'very liberal' to 'very conservative.' They were instructed to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W. M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter. Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M." In other words, the more conservative a participant was, the less likely he was to discern between the letters and more likely to respond inappropriately. The difference was quite dramatic in nature: "Liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts and 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy."

Now I am not gloating over this and this piece is not about claiming superiority, the point is that ability to solve problems is quite different between conservatives and liberals. It seems we should not be looking to conservatives for solutions to serious problems confronting us in the world today. Especially if the problem requires an innovative solution. Most of our woes today in the world are not really new ones. Conflicts between nations, economic classes and ideologies have plagued mankind for quite some time. Looking to conventional previously failed ideas to help us solve these issues is an act of futility. Never try to teach a pig to sing. You’ll get no song and it annoys the pig.

If we look at the events in recent times with the knowledge of this study there is much to be gleaned. For instance, a few weeks ago the administration staged yet another intense advertising campaign to continue our presence in Iraq. Astro Turf’s ran ads showing a legless soldier begging to keep the occupation in Iraq going and Gen. David Petraeus appeared before Congress to make a highly anticipated report on the conditions there. To many it seemed Petraeus acted much more like a politician than a general, effectively plugging an open-ended commitment of American troops to Iraq. Petraeus argued in support of Bush's ongoing policy, with the only difference being a withdrawal of the troops sent as part of the "surge" six months ago. Otherwise, there was no recommended change at all. If you think about this in light of the Nature Neuroscience study, you see Republicans responding out of the habit of supporting whatever the military and administration claim. Unlike Democrats, who repeatedly observed that Petraeus was offering nothing new, Republicans were unable to discern that this was the same tired old dog-and-pony show.

Bush's "single-minded commitment to the Iraq war, despite evidence that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and despite vocal opposition to the plan by CIA and military personnel is a classic example of the behavior cited in the study.
Not only is the conservative mind apparently unable to practice discernment, it also objects to it in others . For instance, Republicans saw 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry as a "flip-flopper" because he reversed his earlier support of the Iraq invasion. They see any change of opinion even if it is based on newer information as a lack of resolve. Yet to the liberal mind, it is critical to review changing circumstances and adopt solutions on new criteria. To the conservative mind, consistency –the tapping on the keys – is more important than substance - discerning the correct key.

" There was a bridge here before and I crossed it. So..."

Another alarming example of conservative failure to think things through is the increasing right wing noise to bomb Iran. It's déjà vu all over ,and over, and over again. With PNAC puppeteers and Petraeus and friends claiming the Iranians are financing the Iraq insurgency (just as they claimed Saddam was behind al-Qaeda). It doesn't seem to even occur to them that our military is all but depleted, that Iran is far larger than Iraq, that cleaning up the mess made in Iraq is sucking the life blood out of our economy or that such an action would anger Iran's allies- China, Russia and Venezuela- creating still more conflicts. ($5-a-gallon gasoline anyone? But of course Cheney and his top secret “Energy Commission” might see that as quite a benefit for themselves). Advocates of the action describe it with the same drooling enthusiasm with which they adored the "shock and awe" over a Baghdad skyline, completely oblivious to the reality that it was the beginning of yet another unnecessary bloody violence fest that has killed more than 3,000 young Americans and so many Iraqi citizens that nobody even bothers to count the cadavers anymore.

Speaking up for conservative brains, study author David Amodio said “it would be a mistake to conclude that liberal brains are better than conservatives” and “that the tendency of conservatives to block distracting information could be a good thing, depending on the situation.”

Yes depending on the situation. And there is a difference between distracting information and ignoring important information. In today’s world that difference might include the note that crossed Condi Rice’s desk 5 times that suggested terrorists planed to hijack planes and fly them into buildings. Or perhaps ignoring the rest of the world’s wishes when asked to wait for the results of U.N. inspectors before destroying a sovereign nation. ( It was going to be impertinent information anyway right?) How many other events in the current administration’s behavior can be attributed to this cerebral inability?
In fact I am having some trouble imagining a situation in which ignoring information can produce a useful analysis of any kind.

To liberals, the ranting of Republicans appears as above.

I am passionate about liberal politics not because of the policy making per se. But because there are certain core value judgments that one must commit to or ignore in order to be a Republican or a Progressive. It is these underlying values that make me reject conservative politics and embrace liberals. Do you value equality? Do you believe in education? Are you an altruist or are you motivated by greed? Like Dr. King, do you have a dream? Or are nightmares more your cup of tea? Do you see the future as a bright possibility or are you living in the past? Would you jail Galileo for sharing his observation that the Earth was not the center of the universe? Would you ignore this “impertinent” information? I have a conservative friend who objected to “wasting” tax money on special education programs. Something about survival of the fittest (which is funny because he didn’t think much of Darwin when it came to science, only economics) and tough luck if you have special needs… not his problem. Well in a twist of irony he no longer feels that way. His daughter is a special needs child and the medical expenses denied from his insurance company have nearly knocked his formerly wealthy family down to the middle class. He still thinks he is conservative but he sure believes in special education getting funded well. I am not making light of his circumstance and wish him and his family the best but it is interesting that when one personally stands to improve ones lot, well that’s a good program to spend money on. That my friend couldn’t imagine someone else needing this program before it was he in those shoes is revealing much about the motivations and underlying values of his politics. I believe my brain thinks in a liberal manner. I also believe that we must coexist with conservatives and respect their humanity. However they will never understand us and we will never understand them. We are wired to think differently. Their brains perceive reality in pre-existing forms that I doubt can be changed. ( It’s those pesky underlying values again.) And likewise we liberals will never be able to grasp their reality without rejecting our own core values and observations. It will always be a stalemate in terms of acceptance. We can be friendly and respect each other as human beings certainly but we can never respect each other’s political opinions because our brains can not process problem solving in the same way. Our universe has at least 12 dimensions that a 2 dimensional cartoon can not properly display. It is like explaining string theory to Fred Flintstone and conversely like Pat Robertson claiming to Richard Dawkins that the earth is only a few thousand years old . There can be no quarter given or taken.

To conservative thinkers, solutions must be linked to established institutions and conventional processes or it might as well be string theory. Suggestions from Democrats appear to them similar to the Elephant picture above but with a donkey.

In conclusion , because something was done one way in the past does not mean it can not be done differently or better now. Without the liberal brain the wheel would not exist. We’d still be living in caves looking for fires started by lightning. Conservatives argued with the founding fathers against overthrowing King George’s rule at the time of the American Revolution ( loyalists were about half the population). Virtually all knowledge and improvements are the result of liberal thinking. (Looking for new ways instead of clinging to the past). The conservative thinking religious zealots who wield box cutters and ignited shoes do seek to destroy and harm. But friends, cold war military hardware won’t stop them. Until the U.S. returns to it’s liberal thinking ways to solve today’s problems we are on a path of self destruction that is far more efficient than anything a shoe bomber can muster .
The study seems to verify another assumption
many on the left have long suspected about conservatives: They are easily duped.

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