Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Republican Brain

How’s that for an idiotic title of a book?

The book, written by Chris Mooney, is really a summary of psychological studies looking at how Conservatives and Liberals tend to look at things. Most of the studies aren’t surprising but simply confirm things that most people realize from simple observation.

Basically Liberals tend to be open to new experiences, tend to waffle while they try and consider all sides of a question and aren’t terribly threatened by the unknown. Conservatives tend to be more comfortable with tradition, are more decisive and have a need for final closure. Conservatives also apparently have a stronger sense of loyalty to the group while Liberals are far more fractious.

Gee, ya think?

None of this is terribly new nor is it rocket science. However Mooney does get into an area that I did find disturbing.

There’s the old saying that everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to their own facts. Well there is significant evidence that Political Conservatives don’t appear to have a problem with creating their “own facts” when reality doesn’t suit them.

That’s bad. How do you reason or compromise with someone that exists in an imaginary reality?

Now, there were always wing nuts, on both the Left and Right, that would make stuff up or come up with things that had no basis in reality but I always considered them to be at the extremes. What Moody was saying was that this “making up your own facts” has actually become part of the Conservative mainstream. After thinking about it, and reviewing his data, I have to admit that he may be right and that’s really scary.

Now, let’s be a little careful here because “Conservative” covers a lot of ground and not all Conservatives are living in la-la land but there are clearly far too many to be healthy for the country. According to Mooney, those most likely to generate their own version of reality are those with an authoritarian bent. Unfortunately that includes a lot of Conservatives including just about every Evangelical Christian.

Worse yet is they’re organized. I remember reading that the Conservative Christian solution to the majority of biblical scholars coming to conclusions they didn’t like was simply to “train” more “biblical scholars” at conservative seminaries. At the moment they’re apparently cranking them out in such numbers that the idea of a “majority opinion” has just about lost all meaning in biblical scholarship.

According to Mooney the same thing is happening in economics, politics and law. If you don’t like what the experts say, then create your own experts seems to be the strategy and, unfortunately, it works when the public at large just doesn’t have the knowledge to differentiate between reality and total crap and journalism hobbles itself with a misplaced concept of “balance.”

This is where loyalty, in most cases a virtue, becomes a vice. If some of these experts realize that the conservative dogma is wrong and say so, they become immediate pariahs and outcasts. Toeing the party line is more important than the truth.

Mooney points out that while the Left also has its share of delusional types, such as the anti-vaccine crowd, these aren’t ideas championed by the educated elite on the Left because they don’t match up with the facts. As a matter of fact, criticism from the elite on the Left is stronger than criticism from the Right.

So it’s simple right? These are intelligent people. All you have to do is show them the facts and reason with them. That’s where it gets spooky. Anyone who has had exchanges on forums or in person has realized that it just doesn’t seem to work. As a matter of fact, the more you show them they’re wrong, the stronger they seem to cling to their delusions.

Mooney presents evidence that this is indeed the case. The psychology is such that the need to believe what they want to believe is stronger than logic, stronger than facts and, in the final analysis, stronger than truth.

So now what?

Mooney mumbles out some sort of compromise approach which is basically let Liberals, who are better at determining reality, determine what the facts are and let Conservatives, because they are more decisive, decide how to act on those facts. But his idea is fatally flawed because it starts with Conservatives accepting reality as determined by Liberals. This runs counter to his whole premise. I might also point out that it will be a cold day in hell before Liberals would trust Conservatives to make any decisions without adult supervision.

Mooney’s hypothesis is that this psychology is at the root of the current polarization of politics in the U.S. I suspect that his hypothesis is correct but his solution isn’t anything other than wishful thinking.

I have to be honest, I don’t see a solution here. The Republican Party is teetering on the edge of becoming totally divorced from anything like fact based analysis. It’s not there yet. People like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are still firmly moored to reality even if occasionally they need to make concessions to the lunatic fringe.

What happens if Romney looses the election?

We may not be approaching a “perfect storm” of economic disaster like that NYU professor claims, but I suspect things are going to remain rocky for quite a while yet. What happens in 2016? The Democrats don’t seem to have an emerging standard bearer and my fear is that another loss would drive the Republicans further to the Right, the Fiscal Conservative business wing of the Party might lose control and someone like a Bachmann or a Santorum might actually manage to get the nomination and win.

Romney and his ilk are smart enough to know that the policies being touted by the Republican Right Wing would lead to chaos and disaster. Someone like a Rick Santorum may not.

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