The Watering Hole, Saturday, April 30th, 2016: The View from Outside

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We’re all tired of the U.S. media’s love/hate minute-by-minute coverage of The Donald, so I thought that ThinkProgress’s article on Trump’s international coverage might be interesting.

Occasionally humorous, i.e.:

MEXICO: “…the man who managed to make us miss the Bush clan” and “El Deforma, a satirical news site similar to The Onion…has included articles about Canada building a wall in case of a Trump victory and Pink Floyd building the wall if Mexico doesn’t pay for it.”

SOUTH AFRICA: “South Africa’s the New Age called Trump “arguably the most successful internet troll in today’s political spectrum,” noting that much of his social media commentary “reads like a laundry list of troll tactics.”

Sometimes insightful:

CANADA: “…the Globe and Mail’s conservative columnist Margaret Wente noted that a majority of Americans “would rather swallow arsenic than vote for Mr. Trump” and predicted his fall. “If Donald Trump were a stock, my advice would be to sell it now,” she wrote. “The one thing that has to happen is that Mr. Trump will have to change. And he can’t. His most deadly foe is himself. Mr. Trump has no situational awareness. He has no ability to take advice, or build bridges, or learn from others, or direct a team.”

Some surprisingly self-serving and hypocritical:

ISRAEL: ““As an Israeli Who Loves America, I Am Worried by Trump,” wrote Ari Shavit in the liberal publication Haaretz after a series of Trump victories in February. “After the astounding victories of the vulgar populist in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, it is clear to all that America is no longer the country we have known. It is no longer a nation with a prudent economic establishment, a contented middle class and a stable political system. It is no longer a nation confident in itself, its identity and its future. It is a frightened, angry America. An America that has lost its way,” he wrote. “To an Israeli who spends considerable time in debates about Israel between Boston and San Francisco, Trump is a relief. Suddenly Israeli politics seem a little less embarrassing.”

“…in March, Naomi Zeveloff published a piece in the Forward on how Trump’s offensive style was actually winning many Israeli admirers. “If America elects a person who advocates discrimination and condescension and even resentment toward minorities, maybe we won’t be so criticized by the West,” Yaron Ezrahi, a professor emeritus of political science at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explained to Zeveloff regarding Israeli right-wing thinking on Trump.”

The TP article is very long with loads of links, and overall it’s pretty disturbing. But I recommend wading through it.

This is our daily Open Thread–okay, it’s the now-usually-Late-Afternoon Saturday edition. Go ahead and talk about stuff.

The Watering Hole, Monday, April 18, 2016: Why Democracy Doesn’t Really Work For Americans

America is supposed to be a Democracy. It’s supposed to be a country with a government of the People (according to the dictionary), and by the People and for the People (according to President Lincoln.) Let’s face some cold hard Truths. It isn’t. Any of those things. The few rich and powerful in this country (and Donald J. Trump is one of those rich and powerful people) really do control things beyond what the People want to have happen. I’m not so naive as to think that isn’t a cold hard Truth. I know. It sounds conspiratorial. Bitter. Even a tiny bit ignorant. Oh, sure. They hold these annual or semi-annual events they call “elections,” but it’s not like we have the greatest of choices for which to cast our ballots. We get the choices the folks running the show want us to have. They decide who the parties will put up, and we get to pick from the choices we’re given. But are we really fit to be doing that?

Bill Moyers sat down with Rick Shenkman, the author of Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (and Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of History News Network), to talk about how and why someone as clearly unqualified to be President of these United States (as opposed to the United States of Mexico, I suppose) could be so apparently close to achieving that office as is Trump. It all comes down to this: as a species, humans have not sufficiently evolved to the point where we are able to make rational decisions based on facts no matter how unpleasant, and not on gut instincts that tell us to make quick decisions about how to respond to the danger we perceive. Humans are still easily manipulated into feeling we’re in danger, and when people are afraid, they do not take the time to make well-thought out decisions on how to proceed. Instead, they go with what experience (even experience without proper training) tells them to do. When they feel safe enough to stop and assess their situation, they may find the danger was not as great as they were led to believe. They may also come to realize that had they known then, when they were being told of the danger, what they know now, they might not have done the same things they did when they thought they were in greater danger (like knock that old lady down who was taking too long at the pharmacy counter.)

The cold hard truth is that though we humans have evolved over the hundreds of thousands of years, we still have brains hard wired to look for dangers in our environment that are no longer there. In many places, we have built civilized societies, free of the dangerous roaming predators that once hunted our ancestors. You may look around and see buildings made of wood, steel and concrete, but your brain is still going to look for the hidden tiger waiting to pounce from…well, from somewhere. The amygdala in our brains looks for things that have caused us harm before and sends warning signals to our prefrontal cortexes. It’s the prefrontal cortex that does the actual analysis on what you’re encountering and decides what, if any, action you should take. Is that a snake? No, it’s a garden hose, so I don’t have to do anything to protect myself. Later, when you walk past it again, your amygdala is still going to send that danger signal to your prefrontal cortex, but this time your prefrontal cortex will tell you you’ve already determined it’s nothing dangerous and will ignore the danger warnings. The key to not panicking every time we think we’re confronted by danger is in how much thought we put into analyzing what w’re being told is dangerous. The less time your brain spends thinking about something, the more likely it will produce a conservative outcome. And Conservative politicians (mostly Republican, but some Democrats, too) have learned this, and so they constantly try to tell you that you’re in great danger, and that you should do what they tell you if you want to survive. (Yes, some even say your survival is at stake.) And what they want you to do is, of course, one of the worst things you could do if you really want to look out for what’s in your own best interests. And they tell you this because they know if you’re too scared, you won’t think and realize you’re being lied to. And you’ll do something thoughtless, like voting for a Conservative Republican.

Thanks to the destruction of our public education system by conservative ideologues, Americans lack the critical thinking skills needed to address the growing dangers we actually face – like the fact that our planet’s temperature has been steadily rising (do not believe anyone who tells you differently) and the ripple effects of that temperature rise will be dramatic changes to our overall climate. Landlocked ice will start to melt in larger amounts, causing the sea levels to rise. (The ice already in the water will not do anything to make the water level go up when it melts, just the added water from the snow and ice that melts off land surfaces into the oceans.) Nearly two out of every five Americans lives in counties directly on a shoreline. But rising sea levels won’t affect just Americans, a study found, “As of 1998, over half the population of the planet — about 3.2 billion people — lives and works in a coastal strip just 200 kilometers wide (120 miles), while a full two-thirds, 4 billion, are found within 400 kilometers of a coast.” It’s an extremely serious problem, but judging from what Americans seem to find important, it’s not one we’re prepared to address anytime soon. On account of how ill-educated and fearful we are. And because we don’t seem to want to be put people in charge who are capable of doing what needs to be done to fix it. Not when there are so many votes to be had by making people afraid of it.

Daily open thread. Don’t be afraid of it.

The Watering Hole, Monday, April 11, 2016: I’d Vote For This One

This ad has no demonizing, no demon sheep, no end-of-days predictions if the other candidate wins, and it’s not set to “Il Fortuna.” What’s not to like? One thing’s for sure, I’d vote for the “Generic” candidate over Trump or Cruz any day!

 

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This is our daily Open Thread–go ahead, open up a discussion.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, April 9, 2016: David Barton – What a Fool Believes

I know you’re at least a relatively intelligent person. I know some of you are at least as intelligent, though nowhere near as vain, as I. I know you’re not incredibly stupid, because you wouldn’t even be trying to read this blog if you were. You’d be perplexed by the preponderance of polysyllabic put downs pointed at perennially petrified prevaricators of poison posing as presidential possibles as you probe your proboscis with a pinky. You poopy-head. So I know you’re not so foolish as to believe what self-titled “historian” and delusional snake oil salesman David Barton had to say about the relationship between how one reads, interprets, and understands The Bible (specific edition and reasons why it’s better than the other versions unknown) and the Constitution of the United States (the one that makes no mention of The Bible or God, and which even says you can’t require a religious test for any public office in the United States, including Chaplain.) Barton’s been known to say ridiculous things many, many, many, many times before, but this recent one was a real head scratcher. Even scratching someone else’s head didn’t help.

“If your religious faith is such that it doesn’t connect you to God, you’re not going to be good for the country. How they look at the Bible will tell you how they’re going to look at the Constitution. I’m not saying the Bible and the Constitution are the same thing, but I’m saying you have the same view toward authority, you have the same view toward there are absolutes, there are standards that should be followed and must be followed.

He continued…

“The fervency with which someone follows their religious faith, a biblical faith, is nearly always a direct indicator of how well they will follow the Constitution. If they don’t respect the Bible, they won’t respect other firm, fixed documents like the Constitution, so we, as citizens, ought to engage in that type of personal religious test for our president.”

Didn’t someone just mention how the Constitution prohibits any kind of religious test to hold public office in the US? Oh, yeah! It was me, just a few sentences ago. My how time flies. And my how wrong he is. So very, very wrong.

If your religious faith is such that it doesn’t connect you to God,
There are thousands of variations of what are legitimately called religious belief systems practiced, for good or for evil, throughout the world. Many of them involve no gods of any kind, but instead promote a spiritual connection to the planet and all life on it, especially your fellow human beings. Atheism is not one of the religious belief systems, because Atheism is not a religion. It’s simply the belief that there are no such things as gods. Any other beliefs about the Universe, its origins, and whether or not you should work with your fellow human beings to make life better for all of us or be a selfish conservative jerk are entirely separate.

you’re not going to be good for the country.
I’m going to stop you again right there, Davey. There is this false conceit among Evangelicals that it is impossible to have a moral center without a belief in, and fear of, one or more gods. Nothing could be further from The Truth. People can be and are good without God. No matter which God you believe will punish you or reward you after you die, that God still wants you to follow one rule above all others that even the people who don’t believe in that God follow: Treat other people the way you would like them to treat you. It’s so simple, and there’s no argument against it. Human beings are social creatures (not me; I am a creature, just not a very social one), and in order to both survive and prosper, we depend on other people. No matter how much of a rugged individualist you might think you are, you cannot prosper alone. You might be able to survive, but you won’t be able to do more than that. And you probably won’t smell too good, either. We need the help of others, so it makes sense to treat others the way we’d like them to treat us. You don’t need to fear an eternity of pain and suffering after you die on this plane of existence to understand that. So why bother fearing it?

How they look at the Bible will tell you how they’re going to look at the Constitution.
How I look at a work of pure fiction, put together for the sole purpose of controlling people’s lives through fear and intimidation, will tell people how I look at the founding document that guides how my country will govern me and treat me as a citizen? Even when the founding document makes no mention of the work of pure fiction, or whether or not I have to believe it? Not sure how they’re the same.

I’m not saying the Bible and the Constitution are the same thing,
Good, because it would prove you’re an idiot if you did.

but I’m saying you have the same view toward authority,
No, you don’t. The Bible commands the People to obey the ones in authority; the Constitution commands the ones in authority to obey the People. The Bible is not for people who want to be free, it’s for people who want to be authoritarian followers.

you have the same view toward there are absolutes, there are standards that should be followed and must be followed.
I don’t want to digress into an area in which I’m not well educated, that of moral absolutes, but I will say that throughout human history there have been people who have found excuses to commit the most heinous of atrocities against other human beings, and often those excuses had their roots in religious beliefs.

“The fervency with which someone follows their religious faith, a biblical faith, is nearly always a direct indicator of how well they will follow the Constitution.
That would mean the reverse is true, too. That how well they follow the Constitution is an indicator of the fervency with which they follow their biblical faith. There is absolutely no connection between the two. Virtually every president in our nation’s history, from all parties, has to a certain extent violated the Constitution. Some did it to test principles, and some did it because didn’t know any better. But all of them (to date) claimed to be Christians. I can only name one president who I know practiced what his faith taught him to do, who actually did what his religion said he should do for people less fortunate than himself, and to this day he continues to be vilified by the very people who claim if you’re not Christian, you’re not worth public office in the United States. And that man is President James Carter. The Religious Right wanted to deify Ronald Reagan so much that they had to make the political opponent he defeated, Jimmy Carter, out to be the most evil human to walk the planet. If Ronald Reagan was going to be a saint, then Jimmy Carter had to be the devil. Does anybody truly believe that Jimmy Carter would deliberately violate a law passed to ban him from giving money to certain people by trading arms for hostages? Religious Conservatives is so nutty.

If they don’t respect the Bible, they won’t respect other firm, fixed documents like the Constitution,
There is absolutely no truth to this statement, and it’s a mighty huge insult to anyone who does not consider him or herself a Christian, to suggest that you must respect the Bible in order to be able to respect the Constitution. BTW, Barton is also promoting the staunchly held but wrong conservative belief that the Constitution is fixed, with only one correct interpretation. To believe something like that, you would have to think the Framers had no intention of the government having a say in how things like electronic communication devices could be regulated or used. Or in how huge multi-national oil companies (which they would have objected to being allowed to exist in the first place) could exploit our habitat without concern for anyone telling them how they can run their business in the US. Such things did not exist 230 years ago, so by conservative logic, nothing in the Constitution should apply to those things.

so we, as citizens, ought to engage in that type of personal religious test for our president.”
Except for that no religious test thing again. If only the Constitution didn’t keep getting in the way of forcing everyone to follow the Bible, they could turn this place into Hell on Earth. And then they’d put Ted Cruz in charge of it. And Life as we know it on this planet would come to an end.

And then a few million years from now, asteroids carrying various minerals will crash into what’s left of the Earth. The minerals they bring will combine with amino acids to form new lifeforms, just as they did here billions of years ago. And Evolution will kick in as more and more life forms develop so that the ones most suitable to the environment as it will exist then will prosper the most, and pass on their DNA to their offspring, some of whom will be slightly different from their parents. And before you know it, Jesus will be saying, yet again, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” That is, if you’re a Christian who claims to believe in Evolution.

Daily open thread. From whom do you buy your snake oil?

The Watering Hole, Wednesday, April 6th, 2016: HUMP DAY

Mini-rant:  One of these Hump Days, when somebody cheerily tells me, “At least it’s Hump Day!”, I’m going to snap. EVERY day is Hump Day, just another work day to get through much like any other work day when you’ve been grinding away without hope for too many years. It’s like Office Space’s “Sounds like somebody’s got a case of the ‘Mondays!'” every single goddam day. But enough about me…

Here’s one of those “Your Tax Dollars At Work” stories: From Joe Davidson at The Washington Post, last week’s “boondoggle of the week” goes to the DEA and DOD, who, back in 2008, together bought a plane to be modified for drug-fighting in Afghanistan. They paid $8.6 million. As of last week, they’ve now spent at least 10 times that much, without the plane having ever gotten off the ground.

And a couple of pieces about Monday’s Supreme Court’s ruling in the Evenwel vs Abbott ‘one-man/one-vote’ case. [And no, not Terry Pratchett’s version: “the one man was the Patrician, and he had the vote.”]

First, Ian Millhiser’s initial thread at ThinkProgress on Monday discussing the SCOTUS opinion, authored by Justice “Notorious RBG” Ginsburg. While the 8-0 ruling upheld the traditional “one-person/one-vote” apportioning of districts, some of the language seems to leave disquieting loopholes for the States.

Next, from billmoyers.com, an interesting article by Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. A couple of excerpts:

“The suit was brought by two white voters from rural districts in Texas to challenge the state’s use of total population when drawing its state legislative districts. The use of total population in state redistricting has been a nearly universal practice not only in Texas but in all 50 states and countless local jurisdictions across the country for well over 50 years. The challengers here sought to change that practice and replace it with a count of eligible voters, meaning only persons eligible to cast ballots would be counted for purposes of redistricting.”

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“Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito — who each wrote a separate concurrence but also roundly embraced the ultimate conclusion of the Court that the Constitution permits total population count. Justice Alito, while disagreeing with some of the majority’s historical interpretation, even went so far as to acknowledge the perils of using alternative counting methods: “These [total population] statistics are more reliable and less subject to manipulation and dispute that statistics concerning eligible voters.”

And what was Justice Thomas’s “separate concurrence” about? Well, according to Ian Millheiser’s second piece on the subject at ThinkProgress, Thomas sounds more as if he disagrees with “one-person/one-vote.” A few excerpts:

“Thomas, however, rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments in Evenwel because he believed that states should have much broader power to draw legislative lines as they choose, even if doing so would produce grossly undemocratic results. He begins by claiming that “this Court has never provided a sound basis for the one-person, one-vote principle…”

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“The justice criticizes the one person/one vote doctrine because he believes that it is “driven by the belief that there is a single, correct answer to the question of how much voting strength an individual citizen should have.” Such an assertion, Thomas claims, “overlook[s] that, to control factions that would legislate against the common good, individual voting strength must sometimes yield to counter majoritarian checks.”

As a sign of what sort of factions Thomas finds needing of control, and which “counter majoritarian checks” he deems necessary, Thomas offers a theory of the Constitution that closely resembles a theory a libertarian group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers tried to teach to school children. “Of particular concern for the Framers was the majority of people violating the property rights of the minority,” Thomas writes. Elsewhere in his opinion, he suggests that states may want to set redistricting rules that give an advantage to one side in disputes that “pit urban areas versus rural, manufacturing versus agriculture, or those with property versus those without.”

In case there are any doubts where Thomas’ sympathies lay, he closes his opinion with a flourish. “The Constitution,” Thomas claims, “did not make this Court ‘a centralized politburo appointed for life to dictate to the provinces the ‘correct’ theories of democratic representation, [or] the ‘best’ electoral systems for securing truly ‘representative’ government.””

Disgustingly, Justice Thomas seems to have suddenly found his voice, and he’s channeling Antonin Scalia.

This is our daily Open Thread – have at it.

The Watering Hole, Monday, April 4, 2016: How Both Sides Get Political Debate Wrong

Political discourse in this country has sunk to a depth I feared we would one day reach, and it shows no signs of rising again anytime soon. We no longer talk about issues starting from a common point of view. Liberals and Conservatives don’t agree on what role our government should have, so any discussion about what it should do is really pointless if we don’t know from where the other guy is starting. According to George Lakoff, where Liberals would see the nation through the Nurturing Parent model, Conservatives would tend to see it as the Strict Father. When you screw up, should the government find an appropriate punishment for your wrongdoing and sit you down and explain why what you did was wrong, with discussions on how to be a better person afterwards, with the goal of making you want to choose to be a better person, or should it just spank you in the ass, lock you in your room without supper, and let you out after so much time has passed saying, “Next time’ll be worse”? Who should be deciding what our government does? People who believe in doing what’s best for all of us, or people who think only certain people should get preferential treatment? We all agree in equality for all, we just don’t necessarily agree on how important that is, or to exactly what “equality for all” refers. We agree in Justice and Fairness, but we don’t agree on how important those morals should be. If we say everybody should participate in discussing Society’s problems, shouldn’t we make sure everybody agrees on exactly what the problems are that we are discussing? Are you talking about the two faces staring at each other? Or are you talking about the candlestick in between them? Both of you see a problem. but what is the problem you both see? There are many differences in the way the brains of Liberals and Conservatives process information. To find a common solution, we must first have common ground. I’m not really sure how that’s possible, but I do know our discussions aren’t getting us anywhere because it’s clear we don’t see the world and the problems within in the same way.

 

angry trumpbernies birdieAccording to one study, people right-of-center politically spend more time looking at unpleasant images, and people left-of-center politically spend more time looking at pleasant images.

“We report evidence that individual-level variation in people’s physiological and attentional responses to aversive and appetitive stimuli are correlated with broad political orientations. Specifically, we find that greater orientation to aversive stimuli tends to be associated with right-of-centre and greater orientation to appetitive (pleasing) stimuli with left-of-centre political inclinations.”

Conservatives would rather see an angry, war mongering President Trump (see left), where Liberals would prefer a peace-loving, animal friendly President Sanders (see right). It makes me wonder if Conservatives want to see all those images of what our Military Industrial Complex is doing in the Middle East, and that’s why they elect Republicans who talk about more and more bombing ISIS into oblivion, as if ISIS lives in the Middle East alone and that such bombing would not harm any civilian populations. I know we Liberals don’t enjoy seeing such images, but maybe the Conservatives do. Another study has concluded that people who react strongly to disgusting images, such as a picture of someone eating worms, are more likely to self-identify as conservative. Or maybe images of war do not bother them enough to want the wars stopped because to Conservatives, images of children being blown up is not as disgusting as it is to us Liberals. There are other key differences that Science has taught us, and understanding them can help us work toward a better solution to the problems of our Society. And, yes, I will freely admit that I omitted the word “together” in there. As you’ll soon see, I’m not entirely sure Conservatives can help us determine what’s in the best interests of all of us.

For one thing, in very general terms, both sides don’t put the same effort into solving the problem. Now, before this continues, let me say that when I speak of these groups in very general terms, unless otherwise specified I’m talking about your average Liberal and average Conservative Citizens. We’re the ones who are supposed to (somehow, it’s never spelled out how) hash out our differences and come to a consensus on how to solve our problems. The question that should be asked of anyone participating is, “How much time are you willing to spend trying to solve the problem?” Reliance on quick, efficient, and “low effort” thought processes yields conservative ideologies, while effortful and deliberate reasoning yields liberal ideologies. (Scott Eidelman, PhD, Christian S. Crandall, PhD, Jeffrey A. Goodman, PhD, and John C. Blanchar, “Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism,” Society for Personality and Social Psychology, 2012)

“…[P]olitical conservatism is promoted when people rely on low-effort thinking. When effortful, deliberate responding is disrupted or disengaged, thought processes become quick and efficient; these conditions promote conservative ideology… low-effort thought might promote political conservatism because its concepts are easier to process, and processing fluency increases attitude endorsement….Four studies support our assertion that low-effort thinking promotes political conservatism… Our findings suggest that conservative ways of thinking are basic, normal, and perhaps natural.”

When confronted with a problem, the Conservative reaction is to look for a quick solution, preferably one that has worked in the past. Liberals tend to be more open to trying things that haven’t been tried before. When faced with a conflict, Liberals are more likely than Conservatives to alter their habitual response when cues indicate it is necessary. (David M. Amodio, PhD, John T. Jost, PhD, Sarah L. Master, PhD, and Cindy M. Yee, PhD, “Neurocognitive Correlates of Liberalism and Conservatism,” Nature Neuroscience, Sep. 9, 2007)

“[We] found that greater liberalism was associated with stronger conflict-related anterior cingulate activity, suggesting greater neurocognitive sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern…Our results are consistent with the view that political orientation, in part, reflects individual differences in the functioning of a general mechanism related to cognitive control and self-regulation. Stronger conservatism (versus liberalism) was associated with less neurocognitive sensitivity to response conflicts. At the behavioral level, conservatives were also more likely to make errors of commission. Although a liberal orientation was associated with better performance on the response-inhibition task examined here, conservatives would presumably perform better on tasks in which a more fixed response style is optimal.”

Liberals are more open-minded and creative whereas conservatives are more orderly and better organized. (Dana R. Carney, PhD, John T. Jost, PhD, Samuel D. Gosling, PhD, and Jeff Potter, “The Secret Lives of Liberals and Conservatives: Personality Profiles, Interaction Styles, and the Things They Leave Behind,” International Society of Political Psychology, Oct. 23, 2008)

“We obtained consistent and converging evidence that personality differences between liberals and conservatives are robust, replicable, and behaviorally significant, especially with respect to social (vs. economic) dimensions of ideology. In general, liberals are more open-minded, creative, curious, and novelty seeking, whereas conservatives are more orderly, conventional, and better organized… A special advantage of our final two studies is that they show personality differences between liberals and conservatives not only on self-report trait measures but also on unobtrusive, nonverbal measures of interaction style and behavioral residue.”

Even if we agree on what the problems are, we have the issue of how best to resolve those problems? Conservatives learn better from negative stimuli than from positive stimuli and are more risk avoidant than liberals. (Natalie J. Shook, PhD, and Russell H. Fazio, PhD, “Political Ideology, Exploration of Novel Stimuli, and Attitude Formation,” Experimental Social Psychology, Apr. 3, 2009)

“In this study, the relations among political ideology, exploratory behavior, and the formation of attitudes toward novel stimuli were explored. Participants played a computer game that required learning whether these stimuli produced positive or negative outcomes. Learning was dependent on participants’ decisions to sample novel stimuli… Political ideology correlated with exploration during the game, with conservatives sampling fewer targets than liberals. Moreover, more conservative individuals exhibited a stronger learning asymmetry, such that they learned negative stimuli better than positive… Relative to liberals, politically conservative individuals pursued a more avoidant strategy to the game…The reluctance to explore that characterizes more politically conservative individuals may protect them from experiencing negative situations, for they are likely to restrict approach to known positives.”

So we have people trying to find new, innovative ways to resolve the problems we continue to have, which is why it’s still necessary to have these discussions, and people who would rather avoid making the problem worse by doing something different (even though what’s being done now continues to not work.) We Liberals want to move toward a better situation for everyone, even if only incrementally, while Conservatives don’t want to upset the status quo. Conservatism is focused on preventing negative outcomes, while liberalism is focused on advancing positive outcomes. (Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, PhD, “To Provide or Protect: Motivational Bases of Political Liberalism and Conservatism,” Psychological Inquiry: An International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory, Aug. 2009)

“Political liberalism and conservatism differ in provide versus protect orientations, specifically providing for group members’ welfare (political Left) and protecting the group from harm (political Right). These reflect the fundamental psychological distinction between approach and avoidance motivation. Conservatism is avoidance based; it is focused on preventing negative outcomes (e.g., societal losses) and seeks to regulate society via inhibition (restraints) in the interests of social order. Liberalism is approach based; it is focused on advancing positive outcomes (e.g., societal gains) and seeks to regulate society via activation (interventions) in the interests of social justice.”

Life is hard. The World is a dangerous place but, unlike Conservatives, I believe it can be made better. It will never be completely safe. Ironically, this is more because of people who are Conservative (with all the aggression that often comes with that) than it is from Liberals (who would rather everybody just get along.) But if things are going to get better, we have to approach things from a new way of thinking. And this is where trying to include everyone in solving society’s problems runs into a problem. We all want Security above all else. Security brings stability, and stability brings comfort. We just want to know what the rules are from day to day. We know that Change is inevitable, and we want to minimize the effects of that change as much as possible. But in order to do that, we have to have a better understanding of what it is we face. Liberals have more tolerance to uncertainty (bigger anterior cingulate cortex), and conservatives have more sensitivity to fear (bigger right amygdala)Ryota Kanai, PhD, Tom Feilden, Colin Firth, and Geraint Rees, PhD,

“In a large sample of young adults, we related self-reported political attitudes to gray matter volume using structural MRI [magnetic resonance imaging]. We found that greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala…[O]ur findings are consistent with the proposal that political orientation is associated with psychological processes for managing fear and uncertainty. The amygdala has many functions, including fear processing. Individuals with a larger amygdala are more sensitive to fear, which, taken together with our findings, might suggest the testable hypothesis that individuals with larger amagdala are more inclined to integrate conservative views into their belief systems… our finding of an association between anterior cingulate cortex [ACC] may be linked with tolerance to uncertainty. One of the functions of the anterior cingulate cortex is to monitor uncertainty and conflicts. Thus it is conceivable that individuals with a larger ACC have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts, allowing them to accept more liberal views.”

We often speak of the amygdala being the “fear center” of the brain, as the place where all our fears begin. This is somewhat misleading, and can lead to further confusion. First, it’s important to know that scientists and researchers do not yet have a complete understanding of how the amygdala works, but they’ve been getting better answers with recent research. To put it simply, the amygdala analyzes everything your senses pick up and looks for signs of something that caused you harm the last time you encountered it. It then sends a signal to your prefrontal cortex where the actual analysis takes place. So, if out of the corner of your eye, your brain thinks it sees something like looks like the snake that’s been biting and killing your caveman friends lately, your amygdala will send a signal to the prefrontal cortex (PFC) that says, “SNAKE!” It’s up to your PFC to put what it thinks your brain sees in context. Maybe it’s a real snake, or maybe it’s just a dead poisonous snake that Thag thought would be hilarious to put on your rock seat. That Thag is such an asshole. Wait ’til he finds the dead poisonous spider in his bed later. Well, he’ll think it’s dead. But in today’s America (and in other places, too), a Conservative who hears the word “Muslim” immediately associates that with “bad things” and sends the signal to the PFC, where a Liberal would say “Muslim what?” before sending any alarms. A Muslim author? A Muslim comedian? A Muslim surgeon? I’m not hearing anything to get alarmed by yet. There are many authors, comedians, and surgeons who are quite good at what they do. Some of them also happen to be Muslim. That doesn’t automatically make them a danger. Liberals and Conservatives would essentially disagree on what the dangers we face are. How are we ever going to agree on how to confront them, and how best to expend the resources we have? I don’t know. And I’m beginning to wonder if it is even possible.

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Sunday Roast: 1968

In 1968, my family was living outside of the U.S., in a little place no one has heard of since, namely Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  I was nine years old and only beginning to become aware of the world outside family, neighborhood, and school.

I was the kind of kid who was outside from morning ’til the street lights came on, so television — especially the news — was way down my list of interesting things to do.  Dad turned on the six o’clock news every night, and I began to realize that the world (the U.S., my world) was burning — literally.

By the time we left Gitmo, I was going on eleven years old, and I knew two things for sure:

  1.  War is bloody and horrible and fucked up, and we need to find a better way to deal with our disagreements.
  2.  People need to be able to stand up for themselves and their rights — civil or otherwise — and speak their minds, without being beaten, fire hosed, or killed.

I was a naive child who thought we’d have these things figured out by the time I had children.  Ha!  Said children are 28 and 33 years old, and just look at what we’ve done to this country…hell, the world.

I am ashamed.

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