Propaganda, Brain Structure and Being a Conservative


I produced a paper in college about the impact of childcare on academic and behavioral performance in young children. It was an exercise in, among other things, interpreting psychological research results and evaluating study methods of research teams. We were supposed to take a side of an issue and support it using these long-winded, difficult to read research projects. What has always made this particular project stand out to me was that I began with the side that childcare had an overall negative effect on children’s academics and behavior, but had to switch after I began. I already had all my research projects picked out, but it was a simple matter of rereading them all, picking out the data points that supported my new side, and then summarily disregarding whatever didn’t. It has stood out in my memory as a droll reminder not to jump on bandwagons. Although I used the same words from the same people to say the exact opposite of what I had made them say just the day before, I wasn’t even being all that manipulative. The fact is there was simply too much information collected in one of these things to objectively include it all in a single real-world statement like a paper. Translate that to textbooks or news items.

A good line like “studies indicate” lends immediate credibility to the person saying it, even when he’s a news anchor pulling one brief point out of an enormous body of information, or worse yet quoting the findings of a shoddily conducted study. Click here to see what I am talking about. That’s a link to one of several posts floating around the internet right now about a study that seems to indicate that certain brain structures correlate to conservatism. And “primitive emotions” like fear and distrust. And also stupidity, depending on whose blog you read.

I hope I don’t sound pretentious or boring, but let me talk briefly about the study itself (also, let me say I haven’t read it, I’m commenting on people’s responses to it). Ninety college students’ brains were scanned, and those with conservative leanings seemed to have a larger amygdala. The amygdala is partly responsible for sensations of fear and panic. It’s not the only part of your brain that is, and that’s not its only job. But it does that. And this was found in a sample of ninety people. Essentially, looking at the brains of ninety people from this one college yielded the result that a larger amygdala tended to correspond with conservatism. There ya go.

You can watch a more balanced discussion of it here, although I don’t necessarily agree with everything in this video either, but at least they are being realistic about the rather offhand nature of the study:

As a relatively conservative person, I’ve never had my amygdala checked out, but I’m not worried about it. I didn’t choose my views based on fear. I can tell you this though: there are real faults in conservatism, just like with any other belief system. No one needs to trump up foolishness like this claiming that a person has to have some biological disadvantage to be a conservative, but when they do, it hurts everyone who listens to them. The sad thing about this is that many people are making blanket jokes about how conservatives are racists and idiots. This is called STEREOTYPING, people, and it’s ironic that conservatives are being stereotyped into a lump group of morons and bigots. Am I the only who sees the craziness here? Don’t go quoting Glenn Beck at me, now either- I am not responsible for the insensitive tripe he pushes, and having a similar set of values does not mean I think like him or anyone else who purports to speak publicly for conservatives.

I keep thinking about that absurd flap about Obama not saluting during the national anthem. How can people look at one picture and assume the guy is stupid enough to go around refusing to salute a flag? The man produces more legislation when he sneezes than every other president in US history combined, and we’re clucking our tongues at this dumb snapshot, as if it were proof positive that he hates our country. It’s just plain silly, and it’s harmful in the long run (just look at the internet commentary circulating right now about conservatives having swollen fear centers if you don’t believe me).Yes, I realize I’m citing an example of stupidity from the conservative corner here- don’t get lost in the irony though. I’m trying to make a point.

There’s something that bothers me immensely, no matter where it comes from: Obama has real flaws. Don’t waste your energy making up fake ones to criticize. Conservatives have real flaws. Go ahead and point them out- it can only help if we correct our mistakes, but don’t go around calling us all racists or morons. It solidifies your own ignorance, breeds mutual contempt and gives people one more reason to fight.
People mistreating each other just makes me sad, and this is a sad thing.

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3 Comments »

  1. Rachel Said:

    Hey Beth, I know this isnt the point of your post so please excuse me for chasing rabbits…but was wondering cus it has me interested, did I miss something about The Obama flag photo? Is there something Im not seeing? Don’t you think it’s at least in bad taste that the Leader of our country didn’t salute the flag… Dont you think there is something to be said about decorum, outward gestures of respect, and just plain common sense? Maybe I’m more critical than most because of being in the military and being taught that there is a lot of meaning in certain ceremonial gestures and also the fact that Obama is the commander in chief and with that comes certain obligations to the effect (even if at the time the photo was taken he was only a senator.. ). Again I know this is not The point of your post…which by the way is good and has generated much reflection on my part. Either way let me know what you think..educate me further..

    • kirinjirafa Said:

      Hey Rach! Thanks for reading my long post… I don’t typically get into politics on this blog, and ‎last night I put this up in reactionary irritation to someone else’s link claiming that a “study” ‎showed conservatives were likely to be stupid racists (in those words). I know they were just ‎poking fun and there’s no need to be defensive, but the use of a generalization bothered me. ‎

      If people have a problem with the right wing, they need to speak it out clearly, appropriately, ‎without name-calling and sarcasm. It’s just common decency. The stereotyping vilifies an entire ‎group while failing to attack the real issues a person may have with conservatism.‎

      This, incidentally, is my concern about that picture getting forwarded around. I don’t think it’s ‎off-topic at all for you to bring it up. Group protocol during the pledge or national anthem, to me, ‎seems like a ridiculous venue for a senator (he wasn’t the pres yet when that picture was taken) ‎to make a public statement about any secret anti-American feelings he’d been supposedly ‎harboring, especially since I’m sure he was planning to ascend the throne one day. He would ‎have so many handlers crawling all over him, telling him how to stand and who to smile at that ‎it’s crazy to think he was making a random gesture of disrespect. And, yes, I agree 100% that ‎the decorum should be respected, yes, he should be a symbol of Americana on every level. We ‎should be able to look up to the President as the most patriotic person in our country. That ‎picture however, taken when it was and circulated as it was, reeks of propaganda. It makes ‎right wing people who truly respect the flag appear quick to jump to conclusions and even ‎gullible. Meanwhile, he’s spending money in ways that make me cringe and agreeing to laws ‎that I feel will be harmful to us in the future, and these are the issues that should be challenged. Getting sidelined on a rabbit trail issue only wastes energy and makes our cause seem frivolous.‎

  2. Rachel Said:

    Again I’m sorry for not staying on the issue. I would love to talk about this with you. Maybe you’ll be online tonight, I have some more questions…


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