I don’t want to be. But I am. I’m especially prejudice against prejudice people.
And I ended up this way with the best of intentions.
For a long time I just couldn’t understand why people didn’t get along; those people who didn’t seem much different from each other, like: Arab Sunnis and Shias; African Tutsi and Hutu; Irish Catholics and Protestants; Serbs, Croatians and Bosnians, and in this country years ago and even today, Southerners and Northerners. Why do these people hate each other? I just couldn’t understand that angst, until…I started following politics and caring about the issues.
THEN I understood how someone can feel threatened.
THEN I became angry.
THEN I started seriously disliking that Other Political Party.
You see, I’m a LIVE-AND-LET-LIVE kind of guy. And it would be grand if we all respected each other even thought I know that’s never going to happen. But when it comes to what’s going down in American politics, I’m feeling like my personal rights are being threatened. And from what I hear the “other side” saying, they feel the same way.
So who is right? Who are the good guys? How can two people or two groups look at the same material facts and arrive at totally different conclusions? Smarter people than me are trying to explain this polarity, and I’m going to add to it here.
First, let’s start with some dictionary definitions.
1 open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values
• favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms
• favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform
2 concerned mainly with broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience, rather than with technical or professional training.
3 broadly construed or understood; not strictly literal or exact
4 given, used, or occurring in generous amounts
From Latin liberalis; from liber ‘free (man)
How can a word that means FREE and flexible be threatening?
holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.
• sober and conventional : a conservative suit.
• purposely low for the sake of caution : the house was not cheap—$330,000 is a conservative estimate.
From late Middle English; aiming to preserve.
How can preserving what makes us feel SAFE be a bad thing?
- Every conservative person wants the freedom to be who they are.
- Every liberal person wants to preserve the alternative of choice.
SO WHAT’S ALL THE FUSS ABOUT?
Aren’t we meeting in the middle?
NO, we’re not.
Never have. And there are reasons why this is so.
Scientific studies are revealing that people tend to go hard left or right because those inclinations are hard wired within our brains.
As I read more science about the way we think, I’m learning that moving toward liberal thinking or conservative thinking is differentiated within separate areas of our neural computers. Empathy is not automatically built into every brain. ADHD and DYSLEXIA research shows us that people look at the world in different ways, processing electro-chemical signals in different ways.
Joshua Greene at Harvard is researching moral judgments and decision making, combining philosophy with brain research. He calls it: The Physiological Process of Thinking, and he asks: How do we arrive at moral judgments?
Professor Greene proposes a “dual-process” theory of moral judgment.
On the one hand we have deontological moral judgments. These judgments are associated with hard definitions based on good and evil and doing the “right thing.” People who think this way get quite emotional when dealing with these issues.
We also have consequential moral judgments. This approach resembles this country’s law making process: doing the “greater good” for the “largest group” or the most constructive outcome. Coming to these conclusions based on consequences is more a cerebral thing.
- Deontological assessments tend to be emotionally driven.
- Consequential assessments are built through rational reasoning.
Generally people favor one approach or the other. (Wouldn’t a blend would be better?)
Doctor Greene’s research also looks at ETHICS. He explains that Moral Realists believe there are genuine moral facts, fundamental moral truths that can never be refuted. (These ideas are also emotionally driven.)
Moral Subjectivists contend there are no such unwavering moral facts. Right and wrong or good and evil are determined on a case-by-case basis. (These ideas are cognitively managed.)
Seems we have two opposite ways of approaching confrontations; as emotional deontological, Moral Realists (people on the right, with exceptions); or as analytical, consequential Moral Subjectivists (those on the left, with more exceptions).
Who are you?
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
Further studies by neuroscientist Rota Kanai at University College London revealed that conservative thinking test subjects (REPUBLICANS?) had a larger amygdala while liberal thinking test subjects (DEMOCRATS?) had a larger anterior cingulate cortex.
Humm… Seems the way our brains process information influences our political and religious preferences. Who knew?
I can already hear our presidential debate. “My part of the brain is smarter than your part of the brain!”
But I think psychological orientation of any kind is more than thoughts traveling along neural pathways. We all know that babies come into the world with their personalities preloaded. I don’t think children learn to be competitive, introverted, artistic, gay, math wizards, progressive thinkers, conservatives or fundamentally religious. We start out that way with raw talents and undeveloped attitudes. And sure, we’re influenced one way or the other. But ultimately we all end up doing what we want to do.
Leaning left or right politically and religiously, is NOT simply a matter of choice. We are born with certain tendencies and those persuasions influence the way our brains work.
So it’s now harder for me to blame my neighbor for being a member of that Other Party, or a member of that religion that hates my religion, because that would be like blaming someone for being left-handed or color blind.
Still…when it comes to live-and-let-live, some of us are more flexible about that than others. Some of us change more than others. And some of us feel like we’re part of a larger GROUP more than others.
If the Universe were a stable and static system, then holding things in place would make sense. But since everything evolves all the time, I’m going with the flow. Conserving what is without an allowance for transformation isn’t functionally productive or natural.
So there you have it: We’re preset to evaluate our world from the US-or-THEM point-of-view. But every now and then, breakthroughs happen and we crack through our walls to see the world in a different way, or cut loose the restraints that keep us down. It generally takes a shake-up that no one wants, but when it happens, huge changes boost our growth.
On December 17th, 2010, a Tunisian street vender named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself a blaze to protest the harassment he was getting from a municipal officer and her aids. We all know this story. A young man pushed against the status quo, against a government and society that tried to keep everything in place. Mr. Bouazizi’s death sparked the Arab Spring.
Many more people have died and are dying for freedom in the Middle East. But they are achieving it, bullet by bullet.
Is war and violence the only way to bring about freedom? Can a political process work free of slander, extortion, deception and out right lying? Haven’t seen it yet but I’m still waiting.
So yes, embracing Change with compromise and tolerance is a lot to ask of the World. But maybe we can start with ourselves and stop getting mad at that Other Group. Let’s see how similar we are to them and start working from there.
Congress is locked but WE don’t have to be. Let’s live-and-let-live.