Thursday, May 28, 2009

Does Your Neurology Determine Your Politics?

So you think you're an enlightened Limbaugh-listening conservative who actually has respect for authority? Or perhaps you think you're a tree-hugging Huffington Post-reading liberal who actually believes in fairness for all? Well it turns out rather than arriving at your beliefs through deliberative thinking and considering carefully the arguments of each side, you actually may have come wired this way. Maybe your neurology determines your politics.

Reductionistic thinking or appropriate use of science??? Read Nicholas Kristof's column in today's NY Times. His argument seems simplistic, but I imagine there is some truth in his point that we tend to base our political and moral views more on how we feel than how we think.

I suspect there is some relevance here for conservative and liberal churches as well.

One point Kristof makes that struck a little close to home for me is how often people use the internet to convirm their own biases and preconceived notions. He writes:
This came up after I wrote a column earlier this year called “The Daily Me.” I argued that most of us employ the Internet not to seek the best information, but rather to select information that confirms our prejudices. To overcome that tendency, I argued, we should set aside time for a daily mental workout with an ideological sparring partner.

Whether one buys all of Kristof's argument or not, it seems to me that there is enough in his column to make a thoughtful person--either conservative or liberal--pause and at least consider that some of what he or she holds dear comes from a sub-rational level. We should, therefore, hopefull gain a little bit of humility when we approach others with whom we disagree. From a Christian perspective, love of neighbor would seem to involve understanding that both I and the one whom I am all too ready to disregard or write-off may be acting more from our own personality or neurology or social-conditioning or whatever than we are from a rational well-thought out point of view.
Grace and Peace,



lneely said...

That's funny. Even before I saw Jonathan Haidt's name mentioned, I recognized his Moral Foundations theory from the first few paragraphs.

Haidt's publications are worth a read. I have yet to really form an opinion about them since I haven't had a chance to fully understand what he's saying yet or how he supports his idea. (I'm not entirely sure if I'm even qualified to do so, honestly.) Either way, it's interesting.

Eric said...

Your last point "both I and the one whom I am all too ready to disregard ... " reminds me of a C. S. Lewis quote "We are screened from reality by two facades, the room I see myself in and the 'I' that perceives it." Lewis was onto a central teaching of Buddhism, that our false ideas of who we are and our attachments to those ideas are a major source of human suffering.
Who we think we are is a lot less interesting than what we discover when we apply the teaching "Let go and let God" to our very idea of a separate permanent self.