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Right Brain – Left Brain

I just read a very interesting article by psychologist Michael Bader that delves into the psychology behind right-wing extremist delusions.

We all believe that we have choices in our lives and that the choices we make drive whether we succeed or fail. However, when things begin to get beyond our control, the world economy collapses and many people can no longer support their families or they have to lower expectations, their world view requires that conservatives blame themselves for their problems. Blaming yourself however, is ultimately destructive. Blaming someone else for our problems allows us to locate that pain and helplessness outside of ourselves. “For the hard-core right, egged on by their media and political patrons, the government provides an endless source of new enemies“. Even though “…it’s patently against their best rational interests to fight against health reform, to vilify government when it helps and protects them every day, and do so in ways that insure that the folks who are screwing them continue to be able to do so“.

They see others as being pampered and cared for while they themselves must struggle to just survive. They sacrifice, pay taxes and live by the rules and get nothing while “those people” are mollycoddled by the government. Blaming others allows us to channel our anger and helplessness elsewhere. We see ourselves as protecting those who cannot protect themselves such as children or the elderly. We transfer our helplessness to those we feel we are protecting.

This all ties in with the views of cognitive linguist George Lakoff who sees two distinct world views. He believes that conservatives tend to think in terms of direct causation. “The overwhelming moral value of individual, not social, responsibility requires that causation be local and direct. For each individual to be entirely responsible for the consequences of his or her actions, those actions must be the direct causes of those consequences.” If we allow ourselves to think that there are causes that are outside of our own direct control, “then the most fundamental of conservative moral—and economic—values is fallacious.

The progressive worldview is modeled on a nurturant parent family. Briefly, it assumes that the world is basically good and can be made better and that one must work toward that. Children are born good; parents can make them better. Nurturing involves empathy, and the responsibility to take care of oneself and others for whom we are responsible. On a larger scale, specific policies follow, such as governmental protection in form of a social safety net and government regulation, universal education (to ensure competence, fairness), civil liberties and equal treatment (fairness and freedom), accountability (derived from trust), public service (from responsibility), open government (from open communication), and the promotion of an economy that benefits all and functions to promote these values, which are traditional progressive values in American politics.

The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline – physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline. The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown, the self-reliant, disciplined children are on their own. Those children who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline or be cut free with no support to face the discipline of the outside world.”

So, how do we accommodate these two divergent world views? How do we deal with crackpots who must invent ever more insane and irrational paranoid fantasies? Bader sees that we have two choices. In the case of the most strident, we must give up on attempts to reason with them. We should not waste our valuable time on lengthy rebuttals to the  “birther” conspiracies or “death panel” theories concocted by the “hard-line paranoid anti-government types“. Since everything you do will be seen through a paranoid filter, there is little chance of your reaching them. We must “outvote them, outfight them and defeat them“.

The second option, “appropriate with other less-rigid and brittle members of this psychic class is take a longer view. In these cases, while defeating them politically, we have to also disprove or disconfirm their experience in practice, to provide over time experiences in which they can feel some control but also get helped.” “It’s almost as if you have to take care of them in spite of themselves, in ways that allow them the maximum amount of freedom and the maximum autonomy to say ‘No.‘”


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