Saturday, September 29, 2012

Clinging to Political Beliefs Can be an Addiction

A comment in reply to Bill Maher's blogpost, " Rasmussen Closes the Hole", about a pollster who has shifted from unbiased, to GOP-biased. polling:
Addiction, indeed, Bill.  What science is proving, lately, is just how deeply rooted many of our 'beliefs' are in our reptilian brains. We are fearful, inexplicably, deeply, of 'tribes' who don't look like ours, and do not believe what we're been brought up (indoctrinated) to believe.  What is being recognized today is that almost all overweight people are addicted to food.  What is gradually being understood is that deeply conservative, change-averse people are addicted to hearing their 'beliefs' repeated to them over and over again, and ideally by people who look like members of their ‘tribe’.  Like eating a Ho Ho to get a momentary 'lift', hearing Mitt Romney reinforce that 'real Americans' (i.e. 'like you GOP loyalists') believe in less tax and less 'government' gives these folks a momentary lift in an otherwise scary day/week spent worrying over where the mortgage payment will come from now that the Bain Capitals of the world have shuttered the local plant.  
If the majority of people are not high on the IQ scale (NOT a measure of smarts, but of analytical ability), that means the majority are most comfortable being ‘fed’ the things that support what they have been fed since childhood, not analyzing and re-evaluating new circumstances/situations.  Their desire to have 'familiar' beliefs regurgitated and re-fed to them is deeply satisfying and reassuring.  'Hope for Change' is most definitely unsettling. Interestingly, it's possible that the 'centrists', the 'swing voters', those who vote based upon their analysis of the latest situation in the US and the world vs. being 'blue or red loyalists' may be the smartest Americans, the most analytical.  
The biggest risk to democracy anywhere, in my opinion, is our inherent human tendency to feel 'special' within and about our 'tribe'.  That leads to an inherent tendency to feel 'nationalistic' (even though the origins of nationhood were merely based on nothing more that shared language).  Leveraging and manipulating this tendency is what every low-empathy powermonger (or group thereof) does to benefit his deepest desires to gain more power and influence, whether his name is Romney or Ryan or Bush. 
Obama's biggest mistake this term, was to abandon the real change he'd helped to inspire amongst a broad swath of formerly apathetic Americans.  He is higher on the empathy scale (as are most Democrats), and he's certainly higher on the analytical spectrum, but his ego led him to really, truly believe he could 'change Washington from the inside' and be the messianic leader who could get bills passed by crossing the aisle and negotiating [In focusing so much on policy, Obama said that he had failed to inspire the nation: “...(I need to get back into) a conversation with them about where do we go together as a country, I need to do a better job of that in my second term," the president said.  Rose pressed him, asking whether he means explaining, and Obama replied: "Explaining — but also inspiring." "Because hope is still there," First Lady Michelle Obama added.”]  
He could have made such a difference by leveraging all those 'agents of change' out there, the young and old idealists willing to knock on doors and organize church basement and living room ‘town hall’ discussions about his healthcare bill, but he walked away from all of them AND the social networks that had built up around him to tackle things the same old way in Washington.  Only now is he back to embracing the new 'democracy machine' he’d created online and get the activists to help vote him back in.  Let's see if his frustrated recent admission (which the jaded masses already knew): "you can't change Washington from the inside"; signifies a return to using his social network across America to NOT JUST get him re-elected, but to effect REAL change in term two.  (Read more: “Obama’s Biggest Boo-Boo: Not Adopting Change”.)
In essence, what happens to us, especially when our beliefs are being undermined/challenged by a changing world,  is that we feel fearful and stressed.  Tuning into news sources that predictably and reassuringly feed us back our deeply ingrained and most comforting beliefs gives us a momentary boost, as church on Sunday does.  It makes us feel good, like everything is going to be OK, because a whole bunch of other people are agreeing with the stories we tell ourselves. 

In the end, we don't even care if the news is manufactured, or if the church leader is getting stinking rich from our little contributions to the collection plate, we're just grateful for that momentary 'hit' of reassuring repetition of a familiar story.  Just keep telling us that what we were told as kids, and have built our lives around, is 100% correct and true and immutable and we'll support you.  Thank you Stephen Harper, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, because, if even for just a moment here and there, you guys make us feel good about ourselves and our convictions.  Amen.

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