New York Times, August 22, 2004: Writer Stephen Johnson reports on an almond-shaped part of the brain called the amygdala (pronounced “uh MIG’ dulluh”), which is part of the primitive limbic system, which relates to emotions.
“Studies of stroke victims and scans of normal brains,” he reports, “have 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, it raises the interesting question: Do liberals ‘think’ with their limbic system (emotions) more than conservatives do?
And the answer appears to be: Yes, they do.
Not long ago, U.C.L.A. researchers analyzed neural activity of Republicans and Democrats viewing images from campaign ads. It turns out that ‘violent’ images — such as pictures of the 9/11 attack on New York’s World Trade Center towers — produce different effects in Republicans and Democrats.
In fact, you could predict which are the Democrats just by observing the brain scans, because the Democrats had much stronger activity in the amygdala region. Note that this is a reading on a ‘gut response’, operating below the person’s conscious control.
So we learn that liberal brains have generally more active amygdalas than conservative ones. So what?
It’s a plausible explanation that matches some of our stereotypes about liberal values:
* an aversion to human suffering
* an unwillingness to accept capital punishment
* an unwillingness to accept military force
* a fondness for candidates who like to feel our pain.
Which suggests how we may become Republicans or Democrats in the first place.
“Say you’re inclined to form strong emotional responses to images of violence or human suffering,” said the Times article, “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.”
Some of the pundits elsewhere were generalizing from these experiments to suggest that liberals would be more emotional and less rational, using “emotional thinking” more heavily, and that they would be generally more fearful. And that conservatives would tend to be more analytical and more courageous.
Last night, watching Vice-President Dick Cheney debating John Edwards, it seems to me that’s exactly what I saw. Cheney seemed to be more analytical and cited a “braver” course of finding and stomping terrorists around the world till it’s done. Attorney John Edwards seemed more like a car salesman, hitting on the emotional buttons, and glossing over inconsistencies of the past anti-war voting records of himself and Mr. Kerry.
I’m not a political expert, but with a fair amount of past experience in language de-construction and training in counseling and reading body language, I personally would trust Dick Cheney over John Edwards. I caught John Edwards in too many sophistic devices (trickery in using the language) to believe him very much.
I’ve also noticed two things in life.
One is that if you experience a friend or employee or anyone who’s attempting to ‘blackmail’ you, it never pays off to pay them off.
For example, your pal is using emotional blackmail like “If you don’t loan me this money, I’ll feel awful and it will be all your fault!” Or for example, your employee says “I need to have a raise immediately or I’ll quit.” In that case, no matter how awkward it is to let them quit, you’d better just let them quit. Because if you give a raise for this reason (instead of giving a raise because their work has earned one), they’ll just wait till another awkward time to spring the same ruse again. (I had this experience with a bookkeeper named Kathy. The first time I paid up. The second time I paid up. The third time I bid my fond adieus.)
As regards terrorists, if we follow Spain or the Philippines in a pattern of appeasement, we’ll just get more of the same. I’m no political analyst, but it seems like the USA did that very thing under Clinton, with no consequences for the bombing of the USS Cole, no consequences for the Oklahoma government building bombing, no consequences toward Saddam Hussein’s defiance of the United Nations. And we got more of the same. Just like Kathy, they’ll be back.
Till we kill them.
That takes courage. That takes guts.
I don’t like war. But even less do I like our kindergartens in Oklahoma being bombed by fertilizer-filled trucks, discos blown apart during bar mitzvas, dirty bombs in our cities, and seeing people leap from flaming skyscrapers to fall, and fall, and fall.
Some “humans” are not quite human. Some are still barbarians. Some will knife you in a ghetto for your sneakers. Some will bomb your children’s kindergarten and call it religion. They aren’t like me and you.
Being nice won’t work.
Pulling out of the war, on a certain date, won’t work.
This is a new face of war, and there are no Marquis of Queensbury Rules in a knifefight. The bad guys aren’t just the soldiers inside a certain country. You can’t just go there and they’ll come out and fight. Yet, to avoid barbarians murdering those we love, we must fight. And we have to go about fighting differently.
The second thing I’ve learned in life is that, if you must fight, what wins is the use of excessive force.
For example if you just block the incoming blows, sooner or later, you’ll miss and you’ll lose. This reminds me of President Bush debating Senator Kerry last week. Kerry continually attacked, and Bush continued defending against the attacks, and that’s not an effective way to win such a debate.
Similarly, once we have the fact that these subhumans called terrorists do intend to kill us and our children, it will not be enough to just block them. They won’t go away. In fact, our refusal to viciously fight will be interpreted by them as weakness, and will encourage them to escalate. In their eyes, we the enemy are running away and so it’s time to mow us down ha ha ha! Look at the funny bleeding infidels! Ha ha ha.
Empathy, a “more sensitive” war, holding “summits”, issuing “directives”, or “withdrawing in six months” — none of these are courageous. None of these will work.
Cowardice won’t work.
We may not like it, but we’re in it. Relentless effort on our part, unreasonable effort on our part, deadly effort on our part, toward terrorists and their allies like Mr. Hussein … that’s the only thing which will work.
Liberals, with gut-instinct aversion to war, too bad.
Fight or die.