Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Study Shows I'm a Liberal Because of My Brain

Here's some interesting news. A recent study has found that there are some very basic structural and information processing differences between the brains of liberals and conservatives:

In recent years, researchers have been trying to determine whether our political opinions—pro-life or pro-choice? Republican or Democrat?—are guided by fundamental differences between the minds of conservatives and liberals. A number of studies suggest that conservatives think in more structured and stable ways, while liberals reason more flexibly, changing their beliefs as they take new experiences into account.
. . .
The authors conclude that the liberals’ brains were more sensitive to how accurate their ongoing responses were, and were more likely to adapt to changing demands. Conservatives’ brains, on the other hand, might be better equipped for tasks that require a more fixed response style. It remains unclear whether this difference in brain activity is the cause or a consequence of liberal vs. conservative thinking. That is, scientists don’t know whether these brain differences are innate or develop through years of thinking in a certain way. So far, researchers have found no relationship between political orientation and a variety of heritable traits, suggesting that liberalism and conservatism may not be genetically determined.
I was raised in a politically liberal and religiously secular family, and we came by it naturally: On my father's side there were Agrarian Socialists from the sharecropper dirt farms of Oklahoma, and on my mother's side there were Wobblies from the logging camps of the Great Northwest. Neither of my parents would ever be caught dead voting Republican, but aside from voting in every election, they weren't politically active and downplayed by reticence as much as they could the radical past of their families -- but who could blame them, really, since we are talking about the early 1950s, the heyday of the House Unamerican Activities Committee, McCarthyism and witch hunts.

The topic of the unlikely existence of a mythically ethereal being sometimes known as "god" never came up.

So when it came time for me to rebel, I started positing myself as a self-described Republican, pretty much just to piss them off.

In my own defense, however, this was the age of the "Liberal Republican" -- people such as Tom McCall, Mark Hatfield, Charles Percy and Nelson Rockefeller, none of whom would be welcome in today's Rethug party -- so I didn't have to swerve so far to the right as to support the 1964 pre-enlightened version of Barry Goldwater.

About that time I also found myself a member of a religious cult. It's a long and disgusting story, and a part of my life I'd just as soon forget about. None of my closest friends -- except for those lifelong buddies who know about it and accept me anyway -- even know about it, and I'd like to keep it that way. I won't name the cult (you would recognize it immediately) and I managed to work my way out of it in about a year, but I still look back on it with embarrassment.

The only time I am willing to talk about it is when I happen to run into another former member of the cult, and even then I'm a little circumspect about discussing it. But they, like me, experienced the attempted humiliation, the discomfort, the shunning, the alienation of being "churched" (which actually ought to be called "un-churched" or "dis-churched"; it happens when you leave the cult and you are consequently anathema to your former "friends" still in the cult because you are now in thrall to Satan and have embraced your new status as a Son of Perdition).

So where I am going with all of this? Even though I was a professed Republican and a member of a religious cult, all the while it just didn't feel right. It just wasn't who I was -- and not who I am now.

I'm reminded of the Seinfeld episode in which George Constanza gets back together with his ex-girlfriend who became, briefly, a lesbian. When Jerry asked him about it, George said, "it didn't take."

And that was it for me. It just didn't take. And that's because my brain was hard-wired to be a liberal.

This study shows that this is true.


Anonymous said...

I liken this research to plastic vs. concrete. Liberal brains are flexible and can be recast when ideas become obsolete or need retooling. Conservative brains are hard, crumble over time, and cost a fortune to repair the damage they cause when they fail.


Farnsworth68 said...

I love it! Great analysis, WS.
-- The F Man