Saturday, December 6, 2014

Why knowing about conservative brains should guide Democrats and shape their policies

If the interpretation of the research is correct - that conservatives are wired differently - there is an important implication: we cannot keep trying to convert them.  But if that is true, then how did FDR manage to achieve so much?

This is a very good read at alternet.org (h/t Dave Divine) and not a terribly long one.  Here are motivating snippets.   

... by far the biggest and most often-studied difference between the conservative and liberal brain is their response to stimuli invoking fear and disgust. Conservatives tend to react much more viscerally to negative stimuli than do liberals, and they are likelier to interpret new information [8] as having a negative or dangerous effect on their lives.
... if our politics is also hardwired in our genes [12], then our familiar red-blue/urban-exurban geographic divisions may not just be a cultural gulf, but a separation between two different types of people whose minds function in fundamentally different ways. For whatever reason, a high number of Americans seem to be intrinsically responsive to messages that rely on judgmentalism, fear and disgust as primary motivators. Not much is likely to change that, because those responses aren't simply a cultural overlay but hard-coded into the brain.

Here is an alternative approach for a Democratic re-awakening.

The path forward for liberals isn't to try to deactivate conservative fear-based responses by using more powerful frames based on hope and change. That seems nearly impossible. Would it be possible instead to reorient the target of their anger and fear toward the very wealthy elites on Wall Street who are actually damaging their economic well-being by hollowing out [13] the American economy in favor of the asset class?
An economic populist approach has the advantage of being right on policy and on politics. The aspirational liberalism championed by President Obama is destined to disappoint in an era of rampant political obstruction designed to deflate hope and blockade real change. The rhetoric of the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party, by contrast, is unafraid to make sharp contrasts and define villains. The instinct of the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party is to pretend that there are no villains in the economy, only temporary obstacles to inclusive growth; the instinct of the more economic populist elements is to clearly define the perpetrators of the decline of the middle class. Their very "divisiveness" is what allows voters motivated more by anger and fight-or-flight instincts to identify with political warriors who will solve problems by taking down the real bad guys.

That is how FDR did it.

FDR provides a working historical precedent for this approach. While his administration did admonish directly against fear itself, it also pulled no punches [15] in channeling the anger of dispossessed Americans toward the plutocrats who opposed him in ways that are strikingly sharp in tone to a modern ear, but find echoes in the language of combative moral authority we typically only see from conservatives today. Consider FDR's 1936 Madison Square Garden speech, and how little in common it has with the neoliberal rhetoric of modern Democrats: 
[Quote from FDR speech.] We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. they had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred. I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master."
That was a speech designed not for the more rational parts of the brain, but straight for the amygdala, the so-called "lizard brain." FDR used rhetoric like this in combination with aspirational speeches to build a large and broad coalition that appealed to Americans across the aisle.

The lesson for Democrats is simple:

... it will be easier to convince conservative-leaning brains that Wall Street plutocrats are more to be feared than minorities or empowered women, than to convince them that there are no enemies to be feared at all.


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