Last month’s blog/column suggested that the power that makes the world go round is invisible. Because real power is invisible, and because progressives grasp this intuitively, they have much more power than they might think. The best defense/offense against the far right is to UNDERSTAND it – Knowledge is one form of invisible power – and then use this understanding intelligently. Progressives are good at that kind of thing.
No matter how alarming today’s conservative zeitgeist is, and regardless of the eternal innate potential of humans to self-destruct, there are strong historical, sociological and psychological reasons for believing that progress continues apace, and political sanity and reconciliation beckon from the not-too-distant future. Perhaps a more pressing need is to avoid having our heads explode when we argue with individuals from the other side of the aisle. This month’s blog begins to unravel the invisible motivations behind conservative actions and attitudes so that we can construct solid, “reality-based” common ground between truth and truthiness that conservatives and progressives can safely cross.
A good place to start is with Chris Mooney, former science journalist, podcaster and host, current staff writer for The Washington Post, and author of The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science – and Reality. Articles by Mooney in Mother Jones claim that a growing number of serious scientific studies (my reading suggested there may be over 100) performed all over the world converge on the premise that our brains don’t make moral judgments the way we think they do. Instead, as philosopher David Hume suggested 277 years ago, LOGIC IS NOT THE MASTER OF THE EMOTIONS, BUT A SERVANT OF THEM, and as modern researchers add, THAT IS THE WAY IT HAS TO BE FOR LOGIC TO BE TRULY USEFUL.
Now calm down! Before you go off half-cocked let me explain!
Imagine you are gliding silently through the jungle/tall grass/rocks 2,000,000 years ago. Your muscles glisten in the moonlight, a fierce smile plays on your face as your piercing eyes continually scan your surroundin…sorry, got a little carried away. Anyway, you hear a sudden noise! You stop and ponder: “Hmmm…a noise. But none of my other senses picked anything up. But then, it’s pretty dark, so I can’t really see well. And I have a cold so my sense of smell might be compromised. But is it compromised sufficiently to be unreliable? I think maybe a statistical determination of the degree to which I can depend on my sense of smell is called for here…”
Or you are researching an important paper that’s due tomorrow. You have been reading journal articles and scanning academic tomes for two days, and the more you read, the more you are unsure logically what position you should take on the issue. Lines of reasoning, experimental data and survey conclusions scatter like branches of lightening in every direction. One thing leads to another and another and another ad infinitum. You want to be brilliant, but you need to be on time. You sigh as you open just one more website on the subject and sip your fourth cup of coffee.
Or you’re a boss, a coordinator, a person with the answers. Subordinate and superordinate co-workers deluge you every day with assignments, requests, demands, suggestions, complaints, information, interpersonal disputes, etc. You have to respond correctly and quickly every minute of every day to keep your job and be considered for promotion. So you sit down and begin to consider the latest dispute through the lenses of utilitarianism, deontology, virtue theory, and social contract theory respectively in a focused effort to reach a fair and reasonable judgment.
What’s wrong with these scenarios?
Exactly! You are likely to be chewed up and spit out by a large predator, your teacher, or your boss in that order. (Is there really a difference?) What’s the solution? You go with your gut! Which, by the way, you probably did a minute ago when I stated that logic was the servant, not the master of emotion. Be honest – What was your immediate reaction? If you became a little angry and confused, good job. That is what was supposed to happen. That is how Nature designed you and everyone else. It’s called “motivated reasoning.”
There is not enough room on this page, or enough free time in your life, to go into motivated reasoning right now. So stay tuned. How it informs the attempted suicide bombing of everything we all hold dear in this country, and how progressives can use a knowledge of it to continue to turn the tide with minimum loss of life will be touched upon next month. (The tide is already turning, but we can speed it up and spread goodness and light while we’re doing it.)
Here’s a hint: After I brazenly challenged the sacred principle of Rationality above, I didn’t say: “I know you think Enlightenment philosopher Rene’ Descartes was a particularly talented individual but, if you read him carefully enough, you would discover multiple inconsistencies – here I’ll list them for you – that invalidate a disturbing number of his conclusions.” I didn’t do that because chances are you would have immediately begun correcting my own logic and we would have gotten stuck in a tit-for-tat. Instead, I told you stories that made you feel something.
Oh – spoiler alert – Enlightenment rationality will come out just fine in the end.
By the way, if you begin to feel a connection with your fellow progressives through the efforts of WHYR or its parent organization, the Baton Rouge Progressive Network, help us survive by setting up a sustaining donation. Just click on “support WHYR” and follow instructions. Thanks so much.