Cutting Through The Crap

Showing posts with label liberal brains. Show all posts
Showing posts with label liberal brains. Show all posts

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Country With Two Brains

[I acknowledge that this is a bit of an echo of yesterday's post. But as the evidence mounts and, as Ben Bailey likes to say, the stakes get higher, it bears more and more repetition.]

People will interpret this in various ways. Still, it's not at all surprising to me that there's a huge difference between Ds and Rs when it comes to political negotiation; specifically, on the issue of budget compromise:

According to the poll, 68 percent of self-identified Democrats, as well as 76 percent of political independents, say they want Democratic leaders in the House and Senate to make compromises to gain consensus in the current spending debate.

By comparison, 56 percent of self-identified Republicans — and 68 percent of Tea Party supporters — want GOP leaders to stick to their position, even if it means the inability to achieve consensus. Read the full poll here (.pdf)

As I've said time and again, in their makeup Democrats and Republicans differ fundamentally. It's about reality-based thinking, open-mindedness, seeing the other guy's point of view, having empathy. Characteristics, all of them, of Ds. Not of Rs -- most especially teabaggRs. And, since the most fundamental tenet of democracy is compromise, one might consider which party actually believes in what America is all about, and which doesn't. At the edges, perhaps neither party does; but in their cores, there's no question that Democrats are the ones more willing to find a way.

Now, you can argue -- and Rs will, of course -- that it's about weakness and toughness, with the latter being the more desirable trait. Democrats are always at a disadvantage in negotiations: the more critical the impact of impasse, the more damage it would inflict, the more the Republicans will dig in, knowing that Ds will feel the pain of others. It's very much an unfair fight. Strong, maybe. But destructive.

The toxicity doubles and redoubles when you consider that those same people least willing to compromise are also those most resistant to fact, and most susceptible to disinformation. I give lots of credit to Paul Ryan for having come up with a plan that forces serious discussion. But given the preceding -- and the facts, as they accumulate like lint in a belly-button, that his numbers simply don't add up and are based on impossible assumptions -- it's hard to imagine that the R side of any discussion will be forthright. Fair enough to consider Ryan's plan, with its cuts in help for the needy while further lowering taxes on the wealthy, a starting point. But does anyone think it won't also be the R end point? (Question: how much devastation from cuts in social programs, research, education, and infrastructure would it take for teabaggRs to consider increasing revenue? Followup question: when/if that time comes, will it be too late?)

[Unsurprising related fact: Fox "news" lied about the results of the above poll. In other breaking news, the sun rose in the East.]

Thursday, September 30, 2010

No News Is Good News

(I wrote this one a while back, which explains the somewhat old news.)

Pretty dramatic. The meaning, as this article concludes, is exactly what has seemed obvious for a long time:
In other words, Democrats and Independents have changed their viewing habits only slightly while Republicans have flocked to Fox and dropped both CNN and MSNBC in droves. Back in 2000, it turns out, the viewing habits of all three groups were pretty similar. Since then, as Fox has steadily amped up its conservative branding, conservatives have decided that's all they want to hear. The echo chamber must be getting pretty deafening over there.

I've said, because it's true, that a fundamental difference between (today's) liberals and conservatives is that the latter seem to need constant reinforcement of their beliefs, and reject any fact-based threat to them. While not, I suppose, a universal truth, it most certainly applies to people of teabagging mindset. In droves.

There was a time, I admit, when I watched MSNBC religiously, for maybe a year. Then I tired of it. I lost interest in hearing the same people predictably say the same things, superficially, over and over. The loudness disturbed me, as did the uniformity. I realized I wasn't learning anything new. So I turned to the intertubes where the cacophony is deep and broad, but where, between the extremes of both sides there are sites full of thoughtful discussion and insight, by smart people with inquisitive minds.

I haven't watched MSNBC for over two years (although I look at the occasional clip, on the net, of Rachel Maddow, whom I admire for her intelligence, factuality, and willingness to engage fairly her opposition). We know from studies to which I've referred that this is much more typical of the liberal mind than the conservative. Maybe it wasn't always thus (although why is it that challenging beliefs and prejudices, exposing people to a broad range of ideas is characteristic of something we call "liberal education"), but the combination of blatant partisanship, deceptive techniques of manipulating the news, and rising viewership at Fox "news" speaks loudly (by which I mean LOUDLY) of where we are today. Debunked claims, exposed untruths, blatant insanity not only don't turn people away, they attract them like, well, you know which to you know what.

[Need I say, for the six hundred and fiftieth time, that I don't reject conservatism per se. In many things, I share it ("it" being elusive, nowadays.) It's the Foxobeckian and RWS™ version of it, consumed by hate, bigotry, and aversion to comity, the emptiness of discredited ideas, the cynical falsehoods and conspiratorial manipulations that I reject and see as eating us alive. Other than that, no problem have I.]

There's nothing to do about it. Minds can be made up, but not remade, and there's nothing (that we know of) illegal about a billionaire with a destructive mission buying a network and several newspapers and paying employees to push political falsehoods. It's depressing that it's so successful, that as a people we've become so willingly susceptible to it. At this point the best to be hoped for is that when, once again, the conservative fantasies become law of the land and, as has happened every time, the economy is wrecked while the rich get richer, there'll still be time to save it one more time.

Somehow, though, I doubt it. This time around it went too far toward irreparable; and yet the Rupert Murdochs of the world, who gained the most from the debacle and who had the most to lose from the repair work, were once again able to convince their teabagging sheep that up was down, day was night, wrong was right.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Insight. Or Not.

I was born and raised Jewish. Mostly in terms of nucleotide pairs, I'm proud of that. Certain assumptions, an unspoken commonality, apply when I meet people and find they are Jewish. In my case, it has little to do with religious belief (I admit to a certain amount of guilt about that, given the generational struggles to keep passing the torch), but about an unbroken genetic line for as far as the eye can see, and a sense of shared connection to important people and things. (And, as long as I'm being frank, I'll say this: I've met dumb Jews; but not many.)

Nevertheless, it was early in my upbringing that I began to question certain beliefs. "Chosen people" made me uncomfortable. From a young age, I couldn't buy it. More generally, the whole idea of sitting in a temple (a really beautiful one, I might add, with gorgeous stained glass and an impressive organ magnified by wonderful acoustics), reading prayers written by others, mouthing words that didn't make sense to me, began to feel really discordant. More generally still, as can be discerned from my writings here, the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving creator stopped making any sense at all, at all levels. And still doesn't.

None of the above is my point.

My point is this: I have no problem criticizing Judaism along with all other religions. Getting even nearer to the point, as much as I was impressed, in my twenties -- thrilled, even -- by the Israeli success against three much bigger Arab countries and various helpers in the Six Day War, I find their actions now, vis a vis Palestinians, abhorrent -- no matter the history behind them. And yet. And yet, when I read some of the opinions out there, not all that different from my own, hackles can be raised. I question motives, and fairness.

And that's really my point: it's one thing to criticize and question people and things that relate to oneself; it's quite another when someone else does. So I wonder: is this a universal dynamic? Does it in any way explain the nature of our politics; the intransigence, the hate, the evident lack of insight and self-awareness?

I think so. On the other hand -- and here's where I have to question myself -- it's my belief (belief? moi?) that, pretty much by definition, liberals are more likely to be self-aware and to question their own assumptions than conservatives. At least as the terms currently apply. At least if one considers the teabaggers and the RWS™ in any way representative of that school of thought. Method of thought. Level of discourse.

When I read various blogs, for example, I see plenty of self-criticism and loud disagreement among liberals; some of it quite dramatic. By contrast, teabaggers and RWS™ appear absolutely refractory to factual input, and seem to have not an iota of ability to recognize points of view different from their own as legitimate, as anything but evil. The same, as is obvious, applies to the small but determined cadre of commenters here.

It's as if there are entirely separate forms of human nature; it almost has to be genetic. It makes me question my initial point.

Which is exactly my point.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday School

In a recent New Yorker magazine issue (Feb 9) was a quote from John Updike which perfectly frames the problem with science for those who prefer belief over reason:

"The non-scientist's relation to modern science is basically craven: we look to its discoveries and technology to save us from disease, to give us a faster ride and a softer life, and at the same time we shrink from what it has to tell us of our perilous and insignificant place in the cosmos. Not that threats to our safety and significance were absent from the pre-scientific world, or that arguments against a God-bestowed human grandeur were lacking before Darwin. But our century's revelations of unthinkable largeness and unimaginable smallness, of abysmal stretches of geological time when we were nothing, of supernumerary galaxies and indeterminate subatomic behavior, of a kind of mad mathematical violence at the heart of matter have scorched us deeper than we know."

The fundamental needs of the human mind to avoid certain kinds of discordance are so great as to lead it away from itself. It's built in. Humans, in their self-awareness (and, paradoxically, in their lack of it) are able to ask questions the answers to which most simply can't handle. Nor recognize or admit it.

Once again we see the relationship between some kinds of blind belief and a large number of conservatives: they are of a piece. Inquiry is not part of the equation, except as it reinforces the need to believe certain things for one's own comfort, explicitly at the expense of reality. Their leaders are chosen specifically for that trait. 

Liberalism is another thing altogether. One can only wonder why they coexist, and which form of human thinking is the more evolved. Given the direction one moves based on one or the other, the answer seems obvious.


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.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Just The Facts

When I look out my window, I see Puget Sound. Looking up, I see a gray and spongy sky. To my left is an enormous maple tree, its leaves portending the arrival of fall; to my right, a grand (if a little wind-beaten) cedar. I believe with certainty mitigated only by metaphysics, that were you to drop by, you'd see the same things.

It is with exactly the same certainty that I recognize Sarah Palin as surpassingly unqualified to be a national leader. It is no less clear to me that John McCain's latest look-at-me-I'm-a-hero stunt was pure politics; theater of the absurd; designed to deflect and distract. So it's nearly beyond comprehension that some see those facts differently. (I'd allow a little more slack on the McCain maneuver, because the situation is so complex and fraught. Still, it seems there was near agreement that agreement was near; then he buzzed in and things fell apart. And the preceding link is from a very conservative guy.)

So I come back to science (funny thing: I started this blog to save myself from polluting my medical one, but it seems there really is overlap!): studies showing differences between the actual makeup of liberals and conservatives. Our brains are different. And we react differently to facts.

Fascinating this may be, but it bodes ill.

In the founding days of this country, it was all upside. Prodigious and profoundly intellectual arguments took place in shaping The Constitution, and workable compromises were found. But somehow, as great and nearly inexplicably brilliant as those people were, I see it as less difficult than what's being faced today. The founders were farmers, basically, starting with nothing. It was all ahead of them, and there'd be time for correction, fine-tuning, making it up as they went along; based on thoughtful consideration of what had preceded them, they had clay in their hands. Lives were at stake, all right, but not the very survival of the planet. Were they to fail, they'd not have humanity on their hands.

Not so, today.

First of all, our politicians are nearly universally idiots. They are, in fact, chosen precisely for that quality, most especially those in the House of Representatives. Districts have been so gerrymandered that only the most partisan of either party will be elected. To the extent that there are people of wisdom in the capitol, they are mostly in the Senate, where such partisan hackery is less built-in. But, of course, there are conservatives and liberals; which means there are evidently fundamentally different ways of looking at data. Nor is it limited to Washington.

People who seem able, implicitly at least, to accept the physics behind nuclear power, reject the same math when it comes to the age of the Earth. Some think it literally true that a guy lived inside a fish for several days. Others are willing -- happy -- to kill themselves just for the pleasure of knowing they've killed others with whose beliefs they disagree. Nasty people take to the airwaves, spewing hatred and bigotry, claiming as fact things easily -- and already -- disproved. Listeners tune in and vibrate with pleasure, endorphins flowing from their grateful brains. Discourse, of the sort seen in Philadelphia centuries ago, is replaced by stunts, self-interest, and deceit. While the future of this country and the world breathtakingly teeter -- the economy, deficits, pollution, war, nuclear holocaust, climate change -- our leaders stake out diametric positions, sure of their own rightness, unwilling to compromise. And we cheer them on. The filthier, the more off-topic, the more dismissive and hate-filled, the better. The fewer the facts, the happier it makes (some of) us.*

I don't deny that, were anyone listening, I'd be fanning the fire much of the time. And the reason is simple: I look at what's going on and see fact as surely as I see out my window. John McCain is a self-aggrandizing and dangerously impulsive drama queen who needs (my explanatory theory may be upcoming) to be the center of attention and who is incapable of deep thought. His choice of Sarah Palin and his sudden crisis-mode (and quickly reversed) "campaign suspension" that never happened and vacuous meddling in D.C. are merely the most recent data points from which the conclusion is to be drawn. I can understand disagreements on the role of government, on entitlements, the war(s); I have misgivings about taxes and spending on both sides. But on McCain, and Palin, I simply can't fathom disagreement. It's just the facts, for all to see.

*Amazing. As if to underline the central thesis of this post, McCain already has ads up announcing he won the debate, before the debate has occurred! Laugh, cry? Tell me: I'll do it.