Logic versus Emotion in Society (Part 6 of 8)

by Elaine Walker, October 26, 2012 (Downloadable PDF file)

(1085 words)

Learning to understand each other

As the reader might have gathered by now, I am implying that emotional thinkers tend to lean Liberal and logical thinkers tend to lean Conservative, at least as far as economic policies go (I will never comprehend religion). I do know some people very well who are extremely logical mathematically minded people but who cannot have anything but an emotionally charged discussion about anything political. This I will never comprehend either.

But for most cases, I can't help but wonder if we are born with our brains wired to lean one way or the other politically – to be primarily logical or emotional. After all, we are born either gay, or not, or to some varying degree. We are born with personality tendencies. We are born with all sorts of pre-wiring, different from the baby in the next crib. I wonder if the personality tendencies that our parents notice before even having influence on us – whether we are natural loners or team players, leaders or followers, independent or dependent, focused or flighty, emotional or logical – cause us to gravitate left or right, or up or down, politically. 

If this were shown to be the case, then we might at least understand what we are dealing with when we disagree on politics. It just may not be possible to convince certain people of certain things right on the spot. We are our brains, and rewiring ourselves politically or religiously is usually a slow and painful process. Although our brain structures may indeed cause us to have certain political leanings, as we gather new evidence over the course of time it may in turn change our brain structures. Many people do change their political views over the course of their lifetime. As the saying goes, "If you're young and Conservative you have no heart. If you're old and Liberal you have no brain." 

It is almost a lost cause for me to preach the idea of freedom to someone who is pre-wired as a natural follower or an emotional thinker or has an aversion to the type of risk that having more freedom requires (although, in my mind, a world controlled by Liberals is much riskier). They may not be able to physically change their minds no matter how thoroughly and logically I explain it. And besides the fact that our brains may be wired one way or the other, logic rarely convinces an emotional thinker anyway.

Indeed, a widely publicized study by the University College London in 2011 demonstrated that differences in political orientation are tied to differences in specific structures of our brains. People who identify as Liberals tend to have a larger anterior cinculate cortex, which processes reward anticipation, empathy and emotion, and is linked with tolerance to uncertainty and conflicting information. Conservatism was associated with increased right amygdala size, which process violations to personal space, greater emotional intelligence, societal integration and cooperation with others and a greater ability to recognize a threat. 

The "Hope and Change" slogan of the Obama campaign seemed ridiculous and simplistic from the perspective of the Right, but grabbed the attention and support of the Left because if its emotional value. The fact that the slogan was vague and uncertain didn't matter, and the fact that the Obama administration's consequent actions sharply conflicted with his initial campaign message seems widely tolerated by the Left as well. Hardwired emotional thinking may even explain the tolerance to all of the conflicting hypocrisies and fallacies outlined in this essay.

As a Libertarian with one foot to the left and an arm to the right, I wonder how my brain structures would measure up. I grasp at freedom in both directions, which means social values to the left and economic values of the right. I would guess that I have more brain-structural traits of a Conservative since I'm a logical thinker, test high on emotional intelligence tests and wish to naturally cooperate with others as opposed to being forced to "cooperate", and I identify threats quite often, mostly from the current government! Whereas I could care less about rewards for my actions other than a basic paycheck, and have very little tolerance for conflicting information. I have been told I'm empathetic however, and that might be the social-Libertarian in me. It is all very interesting to ponder, but probably too easy to over-think, so I will enthusiastically await further studies in this area before I get too carried away analyzing myself.

But whether or not our brains cause our political leanings, or our political leanings cause our brains to change – and I suspect it goes both ways – it highlights the fact that it does take time and a lot of effort for most people to ever change their political views. It may be that most people simply cant help the way they lean politically and that instead of batting heads we must recognize that any change in our views will take patience along with lots and lots of convincing information one way or the other. 

People do often shift from more Liberal views as youngsters to more Conservative ones as they age but it is usually a very slow process. When we are young we tend to see things as black and white and to want to help everyone by giving them what they "deserve". But over time as we observe the world and gain experience we come to understand a more complex dynamic permeating society, that everything eventually must be accounted for or paid for one way or the other and that it isn't healthy or realistic to be forced to either give or receive money that was taken by force. Unfortunately about half of our fully-grown legislators never went through this maturing phase and still prefer to govern through "feelings".

The bombardment of emotional propaganda in the media coupled with our natural tendency for overly simplistic abstract thinking and planning is continually pulling us away from freedom and decentralization, towards lifestyles that are restricted and controlled. Some of us have an ideological preference for a purely free market society and unhindered personal freedom, but now that we are currently so far off the mark, it's hard to know what corrective maneuvers to take as citizens. We need to constantly and relentlessly pull for decentralization in all areas of our lives and to continually shake off each new chain that binds us, since the nature of legislators will always be to control the masses, whether it is their intention or not.

Ideally we would welcome the peaceful experimentation and evolution of different models of social organization and learn to respect each other, understanding that we may have simply been born with different brain wiring, into different families and different social situations.


Copyright © 2012 by Elaine Walker. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given and author notified.