Sam Uretsky

Ruthless Cons Beat Reasonable Liberals

In any argument between a liberal and a conservative, the conservative will win – that’s science. But it’s also possible that conservatives can be cured of their problem.

Those are potential conclusions to be drawn from the paper “Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults” that appeared in the April 7 issue of Current Biology.

The study, which gained considerable media attention, used magnetic resonance imaging to study the brains of people who had been classified as either conservative of liberal, based on psychological tests. The authors wrote: “We found that greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala.”

These findings aren’t absolute, but they seem to agree with known traits, including the general willingness of liberals to compromise, and the comparative ideological rigidity of conservatives.

For example, the willingness of 45% of both Republicans and Tea Party supporters to believe that President Obama was born in Kenya may reflect a fear reaction, a willingness to believe in a conspiracy to take over the United States government.

It explains the Glenn Beck blackboard charts and fear that Democrats want to take away guns, fear that just about any progressive program is socialism. In any debate on public policy, the Republicans and their Tea Party faction are prepared for a fight to the death, while Democrats are looking for compromise, even when compromise is tantamount to surrender.

It was obvious that tax cuts are a very poor way of stimulating the economy, that the Bush tax cuts were a large contributor to the current deficits, and that a Canadian- (or European)-style single payer health plan could reduce costs by up to 50% while improving quality of care and reducing infant mortality – but the Democrats gave in every time. Paradoxically, when Democrats have their pictures taken holding firearms, it’s their way of telling Republican voters not to be afraid.

There’s no obvious solution. One of the less likeable traits about conservatives is that they’re quite willing to steer the ship of state into an iceberg.

If they can’t keep their tax cuts and get more, they’ll shut down the government, or refuse to raise the debt ceiling and destroy the world economy. We’re in the back seat with Thelma and Louise at the wheel.

In 1961, Ronald Reagan said: “[I]f you don’t [stop Medicare] and I don’t do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” But today, nearly 80% of people over the age of 65 oppose House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to dismantle Medicare. In spite of this popular support for Medicare, House Republicans voted for Ryan’s budget which, by cutting social programs and increasing tax cuts for the rich, would increase the concentration of wealth, expand poverty, reduce economic demand, and formalize recession economics for at least a generation.

John Dewey (1859-1952), the pragmatist philosopher, psychologist and educator, wrote that human nature can be changed through education. It seems as if neurology has confirmed his opinion, that even in maturity the brain can continue to grow and develop, and the best hope for the future may be finding ways to teach macroeconomics.

Perhaps this explains Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Chris Christie in New Jersey and the rest of the Republican governors who are striking out against the teachers and their unions.

Republican amygdalas can sense a threat, and the greatest threat to Republican dominance — and the best hope for the future — is to support education.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2011

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