Liberal or Conservative: It’s All in Your Head

Liberal talking to Conservative

We are Not the Enemy

“Bleeding-heart liberal,” “Socialist” “Right wing extremist,” “Nazi,” are routine accusations hurled across television studios by graduates of the Jerry Springer School of Journalism. As lousy as these shows are, they must meet a need in the American psyche or they wouldn’t get the ratings. Apparently Americans are scared, angry, and looking for someone to give voice to their emotions.

Political Name-Calling

The very real challenges America faces are not addressed by name-calling worthy of an elementary school playground. Who benefits? The pundits, the TV stations, and the oligarchs who need to keep the people divided, so citizens don’t see what’s really going on.  Are we really so different that we should be enemies? Researchers now say that liberalism and conservatism are influenced by brain stru

One of my favorite philosophers, Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), said, “He who establishes his argument by noise and command shows that his reason is weak.” Examples of weak reason abound on TV every night and we keep lapping it up. Montaigne also said, “Even on the highest throne on the earth, we are still sitting on our ass,” which should be hung on the fridge of every government official.

Political Brain Research

According to research from the University College in London, conservatives and liberals have different brains. Liberals have larger anterior cingulates and smaller amygdalas than conservatives. So what? The anterior cingualte functions to process judgments, influences optimism, and helps with recognition of conflict. By a rather complex feedback mechanism, the anterior cingualte checks conflicts against any potential threats and asks the opinion of the amygdala, which is a part of the brain associated with fear or danger.

Liberal and Conservative Brains

The implications are that conservatives simply tend to see any given situation as more threatening than liberals do, to be more cautious. The liberal tends to be more optimistic about a given situation, and the possibility for positive change, while the conservative is motivated to circle the wagons to defend against the perceived threat. Which one is right? Obviously either one could be right on one occasion but wrong on another. Chances of arriving at sound conclusions would seem to be increased the more the two communicated and cooperated.

 Strength in Unity

Brains, and minds, cannot be changed by slogans, arguments, or anger. In fact, according to research on biased assimilation, arguments only harden positions, and reason does not enter into the equation. The jargon for this is confirmation bias, a phenomenon we observe in those we disagree with, (and fail to observe in our selves) “His mind is made up, don’t confuse him with the facts.” If citizens are divided, they have no strength to actually accomplish anything. Even a small group which is united will end up running things, while the masses waste time chanting, “Nana Booboo-isms” at each other. Just because liberals and conservatives see things differently does not mean either is evil. Different does not equal evil.

 We’re All Different

People stand on a range on many continua:  cowardly to courageous to reckless; lazy to industrious to workaholic. The category into which we pigeonhole other people depends where we’re stand on the continuum. Is she “left” or just left of you? Why are you the benchmark for measuring all other people? The great mass of mankind lives somewhere toward the center, the extreme fringes are relatively unpopulated.

We Share Values

According to Moral Foundations Theory, both conservatives and liberals value liberty. They both value fairness, not harming others, respect for traditions, and respect for authority. Liberals tend to value fairness and not harming others above respect for traditions and authority. Conservatives tend to hold respect for traditions and authority above fairness and not harming others.

These differences can be worked out, these conflicts can be resolved. Instead of feeding our baser insticts with hatred and name-calling, we need to accept that the other guy’s values are valid; that in fact, we share those values. It’s safer to drive your car with both hands on the wheel, how much more to drive a nation? We need both a right hand and a left hand working in sync to reach the goal.

Brian Montopoli, “Are Political Views Hard-Wired into our Brains?” CBS News. December 29, 2010

Mark R. Lepper, Charles G. Lord, Lee Ross, “Biased Assimilation and Attitude Polarization,” American Psychological Association, 1979.


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