I am a neurologist and an observer of politics. I wonder if conservative brains are really wired differently. Here is what I found...
The private market cannot do everything. There are some tasks that only the government can do. And, just because I believe that assertion, doesn't make me a Fascist, Communist, Marxist, Islamist, Czarist, terrorist, foreigner, or, per the most recent rightwing insult, an anti-colonialist (and someone needs to explain to me what is anti-American about being anti-colonialist; the whole point of our Revolution was anti-colonialist, and our bipartisan foreign policy has been anticolonialist). The corollary to this point is that there are some problems that we can, through our government, ameliorate.
The opposition is based on conservative principles as enumerated by Russell Kirk:
A belief in a transcendent order, which Kirk described variously as based in tradition, divine revelation, or natural law;
An affection for the "variety and mystery" of human existence;
A conviction that society requires orders and classes that emphasize "natural" distinctions;
A belief that property and freedom are closely linked;
A faith in custom, convention, and prescription, and
A recognition that innovation must be tied to existing traditions and customs, which entails a respect for the political value of prudence.
(Russell Kirk. (2010, September 18). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:36, September 19, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/...
Conservative commentators use a mythology to distill these principles. Americans are rugged individualists who have no need for outside help. We should exemplify the pioneers' spirit of self-reliance. If we're in trouble, we should "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps" (a violation of Newtonian physics). In the international realm, America is a country apart, "American Exceptionalism," with carte blanche from our "Manifest Destiny." The chief consequence of this dogma is that we deserve whatever resources we can take and have the inalienable right to attack whomever we want.
The present administration is trying to fix some problems:
The fix for the economic downturn is to use the principles of Keynsian economics to inject money into the economy through a combination of spending and tax cuts; the tax cuts are meant for the poor and middle class, not the richest 2% of tax-payers.
The fix for the healthcare problem is to provide health insurance for all. In exchange for insurance companies accepting all applicants without prejudice against pre-existing conditions, a tax penalty goads all citizens to join the insurance risk pool.
The fix for the misuse of the financial system is to provide a more potent regulatory body and a strong office of consumer protection.
The fix for our over-dependence on fossil fuels is the cap and trade system, using the market to create incentives to use renewable fuels.
The fix for undocumented immigrants is a combination of labor law enforcement as well as providing a path to permanent residency, not a mass deportation and repeal of the 14th amendment.
The conservative response is based on the premise that none of these problems require a solution. Even if there are problems, trying to repair them makes the fixer a "planner." There is no purpose in planning when there is a preordained "transcendent order." It's always best to let the market decide, and government should not get in its way.
Those that oppose this natural order are called "Progressives." They are responsible for several evil changes including child labor laws, direct election of senators, meat inspections, women's suffrage, social security, and Medicare.
Instead, all problems will be cured through tax cuts, especially for the upper 2%, and getting rid of government red tape. No other planning is needed. Conservatives are certain of this truth because they have discerned the "transcendent order," the "natural law." Human existence has a pre-ordained variety and mystery that all the planning liberals can muster cannot overcome. It is only natural that Orders and Classes of Men exist, and tax policies to even that outcome are unnatural. Thus, the Paris Hiltons should not have have to pay taxes on their inheritances just to achieve an artificial equality. Any attempt to reduce property rights, such as eminent domain to build highway or other infrastructure, reduces our freedom. Customs should be honored and not changed.
These words are dissonant to the liberal ear. Of course we should try to change the preordained transcendent order when people are harmed, even dying, because of it. The Market is not some natural force, it is artificial, man-made. Being man-made, people should be free to manage it. There is no need to let the entire economic system collapse when we can loan money to some banks, albeit banks that screwed the system to begin with. There is no need to let 2 of our 3 domestic auto makers go bankrupt, when loans can save them. And when one of the companies was going to default, there was no problem with the US government, temporarily, becoming a major shareholder of that company (and one year later, the financial sector and the automobile manufacturers are doing fine, thanks to choosing pragmatism over dogma.)
But this pragmatism enrages the conservative, and I don't understand why. Could it be that the conservative mind is alien to the liberal way of thinking? David Amodio and colleagues tested 43 subjects (Amodio DM. Jost JT. Master SL. Yee CM. Nature Neuroscience. 10(10):1246-7, 2007 Oct.). First they rated their political beliefs on a validated scale to determine how liberal or conservative they were. Then the subjects were told to tap a computer key whenever a "W" appeared on a screen and refrain from tapping when an "M" appeared. This go-no-go paradigm tests the function of the anterior cingulate cortex, an important frontal-lobe structure involved in new learning. They were hooked up to an electroencephalograph that measured the brain electrical activity. The liberals were able to refrain from tapping with the "M's" significantly better than the conservatives. Moreover, the EEG measurement showed liberals had significantly increased anterior cingulate activity when reacting to the novel stimulus, the "M." One concludes liberals are better at reacting to new information, where conservatives tend to keep doing the same thing, despite new information.
This different way of thinking does not mean that conservatives are less intelligent. These two ways of dealing with new information are indeed part of a transcendent order. Either Evolution or Divine Design has generated a divide in human groups to increase our survivability. I imagine some humans sitting in a tree in Africa 1 million years ago. One of them might have grunted, "hey, let's get out of this tree and go exploring." Another, with a less developed anterior cingulate cortex, said, "no, our tradition is to hang out in trees," we should stay here. If it just so happened that a lion was hanging out on the ground, the conservative would be correct. If there were some berries and no predators in the vicinity, the liberal would be correct. Sometimes we need liberals, and maybe sometimes we need conservatives.
I am a Democrat. No, not a demorat, a Democrat. It's one of the 2 main political parties in the United States. The other is the Republicans. Not the Republif***s, the Republicans. Once we stop using these pejorative nicknames, we may start to get along a little better. We need each other. And we can never change the other, so we need to get along.Updated by jamesabomb at Sun Apr 17, 2011 at 06:46 AM PDT
Now it's confirmed: see Kanai et al., Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults, Current Biology (2011), doi:10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.017. They ran Structural MRI scans on 90 subjects who had divulged their liberalism vs conservatism on a 5 point scale. Liberals had larger anterior cingulate cortex, an area associated with conflict resolution, conservatives had larger amygdalas, an area associated with fear/disgust. The p value was <.010, meaning a 99.9% chance the findings weren't just due to chance. We really do have different brains