This blog is motivated by an article in the November 5, 2016 New Scientist’s Analysis Section titled, “Make America whole again: how the US can heal its political rift.” This article reviews proven approaches to get groups that differ, sometimes radically, in their beliefs or political positions, to work together productively and achieve useful objectives. At one time these approaches would have worked in the United State. But these approaches require that the different parties want to be able to work together. They also require people to have open minds and be willing to think.
Unfortunately, in the United States there is only one party to clap. The second party, Trump’s Party, and it is called Trump’s party because this person is no Republican, although he did win the Republican Primary. Trump not only has no desire to work with the Democratic Party, he has little interest in working within his own Party. He spoke using fear, bigotry, and misogyny and used the first person, “I”, not “we.” It is the talk of a potential dictator. It is extremely depressing to see so many people attracted to him. Apparently, these people are long on fear and bigotry, and short on thinking. Correction, they do not think. Consequently, there is no basis for reasoned deliberation.
The New Scientist article notes that there is evidence that genetics may play a role in determining which party we side with. Unfortunately, as John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln notes, this makes it difficult to change their opinions. Hibbing argues that conservatives are more “threat-sensitive”. Threatening images or sounds elicit a stronger physiological response from them than from liberals.
Another researcher, neuroscientist Read Montgue has also found a link between a person’s politics and the character of their emotional responses. He put research participants into a brain scanner and measured their response to a series of images chosen to evoke a disgust response from images of feces to dead bodies to insect-covered food. After they emerged from the scanner, they are asked if they would like to take part in another experiment. If they say, “yes’ they take a ten minutes to answer a political ideology survey. They are asked questions about their feelings on gun control, abortion, premarital sex, and so on. Montague found that that the more disgusted a participant is by the images, the more politically conservative they are likely to be. The less disgusted, the more liberal. The correlation is so strong that a person’s neural response to a single disgusting image predicts their score on the political ideology test with 95% accuracy. This score is remarkably high.
HM would like to see this experiment replicated with the following change. Anonymity would be assured, numbers would be assigned, but the survey would be administered before the brain scanning. Actually, this experiment would need to be replicated across a representative sample of US voters. But if this result could be replicated and found to be extremely robust could anything be done? Brain scanning at polls with medication administered where indicated? This question is raised to illustrate how intractable this problem really is.
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