Thursday, February 12, 2009
Black And White
What do global warming and our economic crisis have in common? Probably much more than the word "meltdown." But for my purposes, it's this: Republican denialism. Confronted with compelling data and a great preponderance of expert opinion, they have a predictable and nearly unanimous response: say "no," do nothing, dig in. One can only wonder what it is about data, reality, and rejection by the conservative mind.* And, it's pretty obvious, fundamentalist religion and conservatism. It can't be coincidence that the bonds are so strong.
It's hard to be a meta-thinker: sensing from a distance one's own thought processes, it seems to me, requires a kind of effort of which many may be incapable, and others simply unwilling. Inside our heads, we are held captive by our personal neural pathways, unable to think beyond how we're wired. Nor able to see the diagram. To the extent that who we are is determined by our unique electrophysiology -- more than any of us would like to believe, I'd say -- we can see only so much of ourselves. If I'm pre-programmed to think in certain ways, it follows that I may not only be unable to change it, but even fully to witness it. I see you; I don't see me.
I read an article the other day that touches on it all, and rings true. A few key points: in troubled economic times, religiosity increases; the "religious impusle" appears in-born, and there are reasons why it may be so, evolutionarily; lots of four-year-olds have invisible friends; meta-thinking might be disadvantageous, if quick action is needed. Stuff like that.
The article isn't fully persuasive: it leaves open the question as to, for example, if kids get imaginary friends independent of religious indoctrination from parents. Still, I've found evolutionary explanations compelling. Unlike those who say you can't have a moral center without God, I say there are moral "truths" that are evident from the need to bind together to survive.
I sort of understand why it is that we deny -- or fail to recognize -- our own narrowness. We're led around by our brains, obedient and blinkered. But why is it, I wonder, that there are (at least) two such different ways of human data processing? I've referred elsewhere to studies that show repeatable and predictable differences in the makeup of "liberal" and "conservative" brains, and of how the two differ when presented with facts. Reading comments on this, or pretty much any political blog, one is convinced in a millisecond: produce data, discuss. Some will see black, some will see white, and there will be no common ground, nor any admission of the slightest possibility of misapprehension.
(Actually, that's not entirely true: liberals are much more inclined to allow for opposing views. Which goes a long way toward explaining how the "bailout bill" includes so much in the way of tax-cuts, and not enough in the way of spending. And why the Republicans are still complaining.)
It's not hard to understand how humankind benefits from an ability to assemble data and draw logical conclusions. It's less easy to comprehend the value of the opposite. Presenting alternative ideas and explanations: I get that. Spirituality: I get that, too. Have it, even. But seeing a herd of mastadons coming at full gallop and saying they're mice, or arguing that those aren't hoof-beats, they're the sound of gods chuckling: I haven't figured out how that wiring made it past the primordial ooze.
And, since this is Darwin Day, I should add the obvious: why is it that evolution denialism is the exclusive province of the right-wing brain? If you need religion, fine. Have it. But why select one that requires you to deny what is known and demonstrable? Why can't belief supplement and augment our ability to live in the world as it is? Why the need to remake it as it's not? Where's the additive value of that? It's almost enough to make a guy question evolution.
* Yes, yes, I know: there are economists who think there's no crisis, and there are scientists (although a great many of them really aren't) who deny anthropogenic climate change. And (liberal mind, here) I admit I'm neither an economist nor a climate scientist. But I can count, and I can evaluate many, if not all, arguments. There are people out there happily saying things which are indisputably false. For that matter, there are still people who think the moon landing was faked, and that Saddam Hussein planned 9/11.