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Posted: 8/23/2004 11:01:04 AM EDT
NYTimes Article


A few months before retiring from public office in 2002, the House majority leader Dick Armey caused a mini-scandal when he announced during a speech in Florida, ''Liberals are, in my estimation, just not bright people.'' The former economics professor went on to clarify that liberals were drawn to ''occupations of the heart,'' while conservatives favored ''occupations of the brain,'' like economics or engineering.

The odd thing about Armey's statement was that it displayed a fuzzy, unscientific understanding of the brain itself: our most compassionate (or cowardly) feelings are as much a product of the brain as ''rational choice'' economic theory is. They just emanate from a different part of the brain -- most notably, the amygdala, the almond-shaped body that lies below the neocortex, in an older brain region sometimes called the limbic system. Studies of stroke victims, as well as scans of normal brains, have persuasively shown that the amygdala plays a key role in the creation of emotions like fear or empathy.

If amygdala activity is a reliable indication of emotional response, a fascinating possibility opens up: turning Armey's muddled poetry into a testable hypothesis. Do liberals ''think'' with their limbic system more than conservatives do? As it happens, some early research suggests that Armey might have been on to something after all.

As The Times reported not long ago, a team of U.C.L.A. researchers analyzed the neural activity of Republicans and Democrats as they viewed a series of images from campaign ads. And the early data suggested that the most salient predictor of a ''Democrat brain'' was amygdala activity responding to certain images of violence: either the Bush ads that featured shots of a smoldering ground zero or the famous ''Daisy'' ad from Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 campaign that ends with a mushroom cloud. Such brain activity indicates a kind of gut response, operating below the level of conscious control.

Could the U.C.L.A. researchers be creating the political science of the future? Consider this possibility: the scientists do an exhaustive survey and it turns out that liberal brains have, on average, more active amygdalas than conservative ones. It's a plausible outcome that matches some of our stereotypes about liberal values: an aversion to human suffering, an unwillingness to rationalize capital punishment and military force, a fondness for candidates who like to feel our pain.

What would that kind of insight tell us that we didn't know already? One thing is certain: evidence of a neurological difference between liberal and conservative brains would not be another instance of genetic determinism, since patterns of brain activity are shaped by experience as much as by genes. (Those who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome also show unusual patterns of amygdala activity, but those patterns are almost inevitably the imprint of a specific event, and not the long arm of DNA.)

Nonetheless, opening up the brain's black box might provide new explanations for how people become Republicans or Democrats, not to mention libertarians or Maoists, in the first place. It's pretty to think that we all decide our political affiliations by methodically studying each party's positions on the issues. But a recent study by Paul Goren at Arizona State found that voters typically formed their party affiliations before developing specific political values. They become Democrats first and then decide that they, say, oppose capital punishment and support trade unions. But how do they make that initial decision to be a Democrat? The most likely indicator of political preference is your parents' party affiliation, but if everyone simply voted along family lines, the dominant party would simply be the one whose members had the most voting offspring. The real question is why someone would ever break from the family tradition -- without feeling strongly either way about specific issues.

Those M.R.I. scans suggest an explanation. Perhaps we form political affiliations by semiconsciously detecting commonalities with other people, commonalities that ultimately reflect a shared pattern of brain function. In the mid-1960's, the social psychologist Donn Byrne conducted a series of experiments in which the participants were given a description of several hypothetical strangers' attitudes and beliefs. They were then asked which stranger they would most enjoy having as a co-worker. The subjects consistently preferred the company of strangers with attitudes similar to their own. Opposites repel.

Say you're inclined to form strong emotional responses to images of violence or human suffering, and over the course of your formative years, most of the people you meet who respond to these images with comparable affect turn out to be Democrats. That's a commonality of experience that exists beneath conscious political affiliation -- it's closer to a gut instinct than a rational choice -- but if you meet enough Democrats who share that experience, sooner or later you start carrying the card yourself. Political identity starts with a shared temperament and only afterward deposits a layer of positions on the issues.

Seeing political identity as a reflection of common brain architecture helps explain another longstanding riddle: why do people vote against their immediate interests? Why do blue-collar Republicans and limousine liberals exist? The question becomes less puzzling if you assume that 1) people choose parties primarily because they desire the companionship of people who share their cognitive wiring, and 2) they desire that companionship so much they're willing to pay for the privilege.

These are all hypotheses now, and indeed it may turn out that some other region of the brain plays a more important role in creating political values. But if the U.C.L.A. results hold water over time, it won't justify the Armey theory that liberals are somehow less rational than conservatives. One of the most celebrated insights of the past 20 years of neuroscience is the discovery -- largely associated with the work of Antonio Damasio -- that the brain's emotional systems are critical to logical decision-making. People who suffer from damaged or impaired emotional systems can score well on logic tests but often display markedly irrational behavior in everyday life. Dustin Hoffman's autistic character in ''Rain Man'' was brilliant with numbers, but you wouldn't necessarily want him in the White House.

Is there something intrinsically reductive or fatalistic in connecting political values to brain functioning? No more so than ascribing them to race or economic background, which we happily do without second thought. Isn't it more dehumanizing to attribute your beliefs to economic conditions outside your control? At least your brain is inalienably yours -- it's where the whole category ''you'' originates. No one denies that social conditions shape political values. But the link between the brain and the polis is still uncharted terrain. Prozac showed us that the slightest tinkering with brain chemistry could have transformative effects on a person's worldview. Who is to say those effects don't travel all the way to the voting booth?

Link Posted: 8/23/2004 11:33:54 AM EDT
I think this is on the money. Most liberal posturing is revealed on examination to be post-hoc rationalization of unreasoned decisions. This is why liberal "thought" in law or public policy is so ready to abandon a priori assumptions; eventually it becomes impossible to reconcile an a priori assumption like "individual freedom, limited by the freedom of others, is the highest social good" with a desired policy or program like the social safety net.
Link Posted: 8/23/2004 4:00:02 PM EDT
Yop, thats what I got formt his article also, I thought more people would find this as fascinating as I do, I guess not.
Link Posted: 8/23/2004 4:02:11 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 8/23/2004 4:03:33 PM EDT by raven]
I've long thought that there must be a hard-wired difference to explain why people think about politics so differently. Why one group can't understand why the other cant grasp the obvious truth of how government/society should be run. It has nothing to do with intelligence. There are plenty of brilliant people on both sides, as well as a share of mouth-breathing morons.
Link Posted: 8/23/2004 4:02:57 PM EDT
uhh a 10 word or les plz
Link Posted: 8/23/2004 4:03:59 PM EDT
As you see.
Link Posted: 8/23/2004 4:12:58 PM EDT

Originally Posted By raven:
As you see.

Link Posted: 8/23/2004 4:48:38 PM EDT
Link Posted: 8/23/2004 4:50:56 PM EDT
Link Posted: 8/23/2004 4:57:37 PM EDT

Originally Posted By sick:
uhh a 10 word or les plz

People were exposed to images of terrible things. Some of them showed increased brain activity in the part of the brain associated with emotion; others in the part associated with reason. People whose emotional centers lit up when shown those images tended to be politically liberal; people whose reasoning centers lit up tended to be conservative. People whose emotional centers lit up reached emotionally-driven conclusions before they had had time to conduct any sort of rational analysis of the information. The working assumption is that all those derogatory terms for liberalism - "squishy," "soft," "muddle-headed," "bleeding heart," et c. may be very insightful at a biological level.

That's very rough, and more than 10 words, but pretty accurate and straightforward.

My personal conclusion: liberals are objectively inferior.
Link Posted: 8/23/2004 5:16:29 PM EDT

Originally Posted By DoubleFeed:
Since I figured out that both sides hold fervently to their beliefs and perceive them to be true with equal intensity, I've been attempting to convince people to think out their beliefs and be able to explain them in detail.
Sometimes people do, but usually they do not.

People have a hard time distinguishing belief from fact. You can see it on this board. I have had two recent discussions with people who stated as a premise for an argument a "fact" which was clearly, demonstrably, and indisputably erroneous. The response in each case? "You haven't refuted my argument."

HOLY CRAP! There are people with enough money to buy computers and pay for net access who don't understand that the destruction of a factual premise per se invalidates the conclusion!


Idiot Poster: All black people are criminals. Therefore they should be locked up at birth.

Me: Colin Powell. CavVet. Condi Rice. ClayMore. Alan Keyes.

IP: Cute. What about the fact that they should all be locked up at birth?


I think some of it is plain old fashioned ignorance and bad education. As far as I can tell, my kids (who attended/are attending high schools which have been rated in the top 10 prep/high schools in the US - oddly enough, both public schools in the same district) only know what constitutes a valid argument because I taught them at home and in Sunday School. The rest of it is the feminist horseshit that holds that your feelings are important (to people other than your friends and family) and that your 3 year-old daughter's ability to turn on the water works when she sees a dead squirrel is "emotional intelligence" entitled to the same recognition and cultivation as her ability to conjugate Latin verbs. It is a symptom of the overall degeneration, disuse, and denigration of Anglo-Saxon culture. The world we all enjoy was built in large part by sensitive, loving, and caring men. But guess what? They were sensitive, loving, and caring on their own damned time after they were done carrying on the business of civilization. When they worked for the benefit of family and civilization, they were rational, calculating, and cold-blooded. I for one am very glad. Would you want to live under a dome whose materials and dimensions were determined by the architect's feelings? You want to take an injection invented by a scientist who felt like it would cure your ailment?

As far as I can tell, most of my ancestors could not have entered an Anglo-Saxon civilization in 1600 on a bet. America made it possible for them to become assimilated into the greatest culture the world has ever known, and for me to see and enjoy the highest attainments of man. I am heartily sick of seeing that culture feminized, degraded, and declared to be of merely equal dignity with every half-assed tribe of entrail-reading, moon-worshipping, goat-fucking savages who ever trod the planet.

I guess that was a rant, huh?
Link Posted: 8/23/2004 5:19:13 PM EDT
The typical Liberal-voter doesn't know what he/she is, while the typical Democrat-politician preys upon these peoples' ignorance.

For a political conversation to be accurate, one must recognize the driving forces of the voters and the politicians, and that they are vastly different. It is impossible to tell--without knowing a candidate personally--what any politician really believes. A politician must determine/form/play a belief system based on the liklihood of voter appeal. Our system of any Tom, Dick and Harry voting causes us to weed out the honest candidates and cultivate the most clever of liars. Political parties, on the other hand, cultivate a mood--for lack of a better word--among their likely electorate so that appealing to them is greatly simplified and more successful.

Long live the Democratic Party and their niche of attempting to appeal to peoples of divergent and opposing views and may they continue their quest to join them. It is a beautiful thing to watch them struggle with Kerryesque candidates who have to do their best to appeal to these divergent and often ignorant voters...while Fox News and Talk Radioto a much greater degree, listens carefully to their flip-flopping. What the DNC has unwittingly done is solidify the GOP's electorate. It is beautiful thing once one understands what's going on. I want the DNC to live-on. Otherwise, the GOP will evolve toward sucking up to what would be alienated, former DNC voters.
Link Posted: 8/23/2004 6:16:00 PM EDT

Originally Posted By sick:
uhh a 10 word or les plz

Originally Posted By raven:
As you see.

Good thread; I am very unsurprised by the evidence. Every time I have a mentally painful argument with a liberal over something, it comes down to them "feeling" a certain way, not reasoning out a solution. You simply can't refute feelings...
Link Posted: 8/23/2004 6:19:11 PM EDT

Originally Posted By fizassist:

Originally Posted By sick:
uhh a 10 word or les plz

Originally Posted By raven:
As you see.

Good thread; I am very unsurprised by the evidence. Every time I have a mentally painful argument with a liberal over something, it comes down to them "feeling" a certain way, not reasoning out a solution. You simply can't refute feelings...

But I'm sure you know plenty of brilliant people who have leftie politics. Einstein was a socialist and a pacifist, for example. Undeniably brilliant man, but even his intellect doesn't deter me from judging his politics as wrong and misguided. I dont give a fuck what his IQ is.
Link Posted: 8/23/2004 6:21:29 PM EDT
Tagged for later review.
Link Posted: 8/23/2004 6:28:18 PM EDT
Good read. Thanks heilo!

Link Posted: 8/23/2004 6:34:06 PM EDT

Originally Posted By hielo:
Yop, thats what I got formt his article also, I thought more people would find this as fascinating as I do, I guess not.

Hey I read it, already. It's food for thought. Since I have been in treatment for PTSD for seventeen years, and can look forward to it for the rest of my life, I find it far more than fascinating. To me, it's a constant PITA. There is no more counseling, group sessions or emotional work to do, just physical brain damage control, ie, medications used to simulate a normal mental state. Without the medications, I "jungle sleep". That's where I close my eyes and time passes, but I never lose wareness of my surroundings. If I hear a noise I do not recognize, I leap to my feet, ready to fight. During the day I live with a soldier's paranoia. I've learned that my fear, anger, anxieties and such have little to do with what is happening around me. Not having any dreams, except when combined with sleep paralysis and night terrors, gets really old after 30 years. Strangely, unlike many veterans, I've rarely felt the need to carry a firearm.

There, you have your validation, go take a few laps in your tub to cool off, then go take a nap and enjoy your dreams, you high-living lucky bastard.
Link Posted: 8/23/2004 6:37:33 PM EDT

Originally Posted By FLAL1A:


Idiot Poster: All black people are criminals. Therefore they should be locked up at birth.

Me: Colin Powell. CavVet. Condi Rice. ClayMore. Alan Keyes.

IP: Cute. What about the fact that they should all be locked up at birth?


I think it's just that IP was here to talk, not to listen. That's the reason I've really given up on staged campus debates with opposing activist groups. Too many times I've had to listen to the same drivel directed at me - VERBATIM, all while I was trying to have a conversation with them.
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