Sunday Links and Commentary, 15Sep13

Inside the conservative brain: What explains their wiring?

Chris Mooney wrote a whole book on this subject (, and it’s fascinating to wonder — setting aside precise partisan divides — to what extent different attitudes about the world are due to underlying assumptions that reside, ultimately, in brain chemistry.

The quick takeaway from this article is:

But first, a very brief tour of more recent political leaders and movements reveals a notable trend: conservatives tend to view human nature as competitive, while liberals are more prone to perceiving human nature as cooperative.


In addition to believing in a competitive human nature and a dangerous world, right-wingers are also more likely to perceive that the world and its morality are increasingly degenerating. The term “conservatives” itself implies a desire to keep what is good and prevent it from deteriorating into something worse. The political left, in contrast, is more prone to thinking that human nature can evolve into something better. The term “progressives” implies this belief that the advancement of morality is possible and desirable.

The sensation of deteriorating social morality is not merely an artifact of the modern Western world; people in ancient Greece, Israel, China, Rome, and nineteenth-century Europe have expressed similar concerns, according to the research of social psychologist Richard Eibach. Likewise, many Americans commonly point to a perceived rise in teenage pregnancy as proof of moral decay. A 2003 poll revealed that 68 percent of adults thought teen pregnancy was on the rise—even though teen births had fallen by 31 percent over the last decade.

This meshes with my impression that right-wing commentators (think, Rush Limbaugh) are in general *angry* and *furious* and *afraid* of all the terrible things happening in the world; while left-wing commentators (think, Rachel Maddow) are in contrast merely bemused with the rantings of the other side.

Nice SF Signal interview with veteran SF writer James Gunn, whose new novel Transcendental seems right up my alley, and theme.

Salon wonders if we can dismiss the rantings of Pat Robertson and his like, of if we should be more worried that their views reflect a substantial portion of the US population…

…right-wing, apocalypse-obsessed Christians are not marginal characters who have little power in the world. They constitute a huge percentage of Americans, and just as disturbingly, they have influence over another huge number of Americans. They actually don’t want attention drawn to their wacky beliefs a good deal of the time. On the contrary, the preferred fundamentalist right-wing communication strategy is to use their own spaces—spaces that are often far from the prying eyes of the larger world—to talk about their lurid fantasies, and they prefer to show a more sensible, moderate face to the larger world.

Slate’s posts about longevity:

I particularly appreciate the posts on ‘unconscious bias’, ‘government regulations’, and ‘goodness’.

In a way my career in the aerospace/software engineering industry has been about building processes that channel behavior in ways that avoid issues of ‘unconscious bias’ — e.g. peer reviews, that are designed to avoid groupthink.

An article in The Atlantic speculates that fiction has served humankind in an evolutionary way. This dovetails very nicely with David McRaney’s ideas about our ‘narrative bias’, and my own central theme for the book I might write about science fiction as a heuristic for understanding life, the universe, and everything.

Among the many things that set humans apart from other animals is our capacity for counterfactual thinking. At its most basic level, this means we can hypothesize what might happen if we run out of milk; in its most elaborate form—we get War and Peace. Stories, then, are complex counterfactual explorations of possible outcomes: What would happen if I killed my landlady? What would happen if I had an affair with Count Vronsky? How do I avoid a water buffalo?

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