American society is fractured along ideological fault lines. To name a few of special interest, there is Republican versus Democrat, progressive versus conservative and secular versus religious. Yet, however divided these pairs might be, I believe nearly all persons affiliated with such segments favor the following:
* Accurate self-knowledge.
* A capacity to distinguish what is true from what is false.
* The importance of employing reason and evidence.
* The value of science and the scientific method.
* The desirability of an open mind.
To agree as a matter of principle about the merits of these qualities is one thing; interpreting and applying such perspectives in specific cases is something else. In my view, those who embrace these perspectives are most likely to fit in the progressive/ Democratic/secular (henceforth PDS) camps; however, I don't doubt for a moment that most in the other camp would claim such qualities. Yes, religious conservative Republicans (henceforth RCR) would surely endorse self-knowledge and love of truth, attest to the importance of science and claim to have open minds. And yet, they support beliefs that to the PDS camp are viewed as superstitions, supernatural, paranormal and pseudoscientific. Many in the RCR camp also embrace revelation, divination, energy medicine, prayer, faith healing, the paranormal, creationism and/or intelligent design - fantasies all. Few RCR types have a high regard for Carl Sagan's "Baloney Detector Kit" or respond well to skeptics like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Victor Stenger, Steven Novella and others. The latter, in fact, challenge beliefs and practices revered by RCRs. Despite all this, RCRs claim to value the traits sketched at the start of this commentary just as much as the PDSs.
How can this contradiction be explained? As Yul Bruner noted in "The King and I," "is a puzzlement."
Or is it?
Maybe there is another way to explain why humans make decisions and line up as they do on a range of issues, social, political and otherwise. Maybe it's not so much about reason, science and evidence as it is about genetics in general, neurons and the way they're assembled and function in particular.
A new book by John S. Kennedy called, "The New Anthropomorphism," describes the convoluted ways humans categorize things. His work deals with consciousness, intentionality and self-awareness - in animals. However, lessons are applied to human animals, too. It's all about neurons and how they fire. Another book by Jacques Vauclair entitled, "Animal Cognition" offers "a theory of mind" to explain why chimps line up (assemble along their own fault lines) as they do. Maybe the lessons from these studies might explain RCR types. And, of course, we PDS characters, too.
Consider the very human trait of morality. Do animals have a sense of morality? If so, how might it be described? How widely are different kinds of morality spread across varied species? Some investigators think morality is basically a collection of psychological instincts, not so much learned and conscious devotion to moral standards. It is not "language-based laws, philosophical arguments and abstract values that set mankind apart," Stephen Budiansky suggests in a Wall Street Journal article entitled, "Still Red in Tooth and Claw," March 12, 2011. Rather, it is our instincts. Here is a key section of the article expresses the core of Budiansky's point of view:
"A sense of fairness and reciprocity, for example, does not depend on formal rules or any 'complicated intellectual' processes, he writes, just a gut check: Our sense of justice is really nothing but a 'quick emotional' assessment. Empathy does not require a mind capable of imagining the feelings and thoughts of another mind, but arises from 'mirror neurons' that are automatically triggered when an animal witnesses the actions of others, generating the same sensations experienced when it performs those same actions itself."
That's it - maybe we're all working off instincts and can't help or reform ourselves. This is the best explanation I've read yet to account for the existence of conservative Republican true believers and the ghastly beliefs and policies they embrace and support!
Of course, we PDS types are running on instincts too but, naturally enough, we think our instincts are more humane, fair-minded, compassionate, and conducive to democracy and, naturally, conducive to REAL wellness lifestyles of quality marked by reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty.
So, in the event there might be something to this genetic idea, let's try to be a little more understanding of and less astounded by the actions of our Republican fellow and sister citizens. They can't help themselves. It's not so much what they and we profess that matters but rather how they (and we) are wired.
Life is not fair.
Donald B. Ardell is the Well Infidel. He favors evidence over faith, reason over revelation and meaning and purpose over spirituality. His enthusiasm for reason, exuberance and liberty are reflected in his books (14), newsletter (568 editions of a weekly report) and lectures across North America and a dozen other countries. Write Don at firstname.lastname@example.org