The Republican Reptile Brain, Now with Science!
It turns out your crazy, right-wing uncle has a genetic reason why he shrieks like Chicken Little. Two new studies find specific differences in the brains of liberals and conservatives. The most notable conclusion is that conservative brains are wired toward simple, emotional decision-making. This may explain why so many conservatives can only see two answers for any question, good or bad.
Good and bad are not facts and they are not the solution to all problems. They are value judgments, emotional in nature, different for everyone, and limited in usefulness. But, this sort of simplistic lizard-logic is what allows conservatives employed in government to complain about the very taxes that paid their salary. It is why both Christian fundamentalists and Muslim fundamentalists can lay claim to God’s backing. And it is why river folks — who will soon line up to collect federal flood relief — will still believe that the federal government is useless.
Liberals have a more nuanced understanding. And this important distinction has far-reaching consequences. Think of our current relationship with Pakistan. On the one hand, we know that at least some Pakistani officials were complicit in hiding Osama bin Laden. On the other hand, we need Pakistan to provide truck routes into Afghanistan. Our troops can’t fight – or even eat — without this critical supply line. The conservative brain responds emotionally to the “bad” Pakistanis, and calls for cutting aid. You’ve seen it on the evening news. If we do that, our soldiers go without food, water and bullets. The war in Afghanistan gets vastly more expensive. Good or bad simply doesn’t provide an answer for all questions.
Allow me, for a moment, to conflate “conservative” with “Republican.” It’s not a big stretch. You’ve probably heard of the poll that 46% of Mississippi Republicans want to ban interracial marriage. Another 14% said maybe. This poll seems to confirm our lizard-brain hypothesis.
An Italian study offers even more evidence. People who held conservative views consistently found a mythical smaller group to be inferior to a similarly imaginary larger one. This was true even when the smaller group was described more positively. The researchers called this “illusory correlation.” They suggested that false memories about minorities tend to accumulate, leading to false reasoning about minority groups. This study may help to explain the silly idea that superiority can be determined by skin color. White supremacists are simply dummies with self-serving memories.Continued on the next page