What the heck is going on with United States Politics?! My dad, Lew Askegaard, is back as a special guest blogger to help us make some sense of the seemingly irrational reality show of the 2020 election. Enjoy!
I don’t really know what a normal father-daughter relationship is like. Is the fact that the kid risked everything and endured four weeks in quarantine to go to the other side of the world some sort of clue? Tasmania is farther from Staunton, Virginia (my town) than any other dry land on earth. I may still get the last laugh. Depending on the outcome of the election Nov. 3, we just might show up on her doorstep some day for a LONG visit.
One of the rewards for spending all that money on the kid’s dance classes and education is that you can see some of yourself in the kid. For example, I passed along to Katie my dashing good looks. My rapier wit. I don’t have the heart to tell her what happens to that washboard stomach at age 30. She’ll find out. But one characteristic which is already full-blown in her is my Nordic talent for always finding the WORST CASE SCENARIO.
Which bring us to the possibility that Dastardly Don will get four more years.
A good way to fight Worst Case Scenarios is to dissect the scary stuff. Gives the illusion of control. And that has (finally) led both Katie and me to a mutual love of
THEORIES OF EVERYTHING (TOE)
There are authors out there who can make sense of Everything. Three of the classics in TOE-verse are Yuval Harari’s Sapiens; Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, and the 717 page tome, Behave by Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky. This last one explains Everything about human behavior from the neuron’s eye view.
Sapolsky is an amazing neuroscientist who is possessed of both erudition and a hilarious self-deprecating dry wit. Not only that, but he seems to have an encyclopedic memory (or the world’s best graduate assistants). And he did prepare for campus life for a decade or two by living with a tribe of baboons, ala Jane Goodall, the Chimp Lady.
Like all good TOEs, Behave has all the answers to those incomprehensible questions of life. Like this one, which comes up whenever liberals gather:
“How Can Smart, Educated People Support Trump?“
Some do. Answer follows, in the form of a case study.
- Trump looks into TV cameras. He says he’s brought the greatest economy in the history of the world. He saved us from the China Virus. He protected us from the evil illegal immigrants and made America Great Again. JUST THINK OF WHAT I’LL DO IN THE NEXT FOUR YEARS!
- Two people watch, one Trump supporter, one Biden person. Both process what’s happening through what has been called the most complex three pounds of spongy fat and protein in the universe: the human brain. The brain, like every other part of our bodies, has evolved over hundreds of millions of years. We actually have many brains. Sapolsky counts three (chapter 2). An ancient one we share with geckos, crows, whales, that monitors sensory inputs; one that’s been called a mammalian invention, that generates emotions; and the newcomer, the cortex, which is involved with thinking. It’s a Rube Goldberg assemblage that’s evolved over 200-300 million years. All three are constantly busy, firing messages back and forth to each other in response to every stimulus that comes along. And right now, to Mr. Trump’s ad.
3a. Trump guy basks in the warm dopamine afterglow of love and respect since mid brain identified an alpha male evoking happy images of tribal status. Cortex responds with happy images of 3As high school buddy, local BMOC, of his dear old dad excoriating the guy who mowed their lawn whose accent they couldn’t understand after Dad’s watch went missing. Hooray Alpha Males! Down with furriners with accents! Go Trump!
3b. But the Biden guy next door is getting very different sensations. Yes, there may be a little dopamine shot, but then the cortex intervenes with prior learning. Calls up memories of worthy immigrants, articles read denouncing Trump’s virus handling that scared us, things Dad told us. Memories are treated like actual experiences by the middle brain, and the response is a new flood of scared, anxious, feel-bad chemicals. Boo Trump.
It’s not a matter of IQ. It’s a matter of the way your three brains have been conditioned by experiences. The newcomer cortex is constantly rattled by the old-timer brains, and it retaliates by creating images and retrieving happy or scary memories or predictions which it passes along down the chain. .
HOW TO LOSE HALF YOUR READERS
And there you have it. Right versus Left, reduced to the biochemical level. Libs and Conservatives are programmed differently. Sapolsky reviews the literature on it, as follows. It’s all in Chapter 12, pages 446-451.
- Conservatives like hierarchies and respect dominance more than libs.
- Lefties tend to be more educated than Righties.
- Libs are more comfortable with ambiguity and complexity. They “think harder”
- Conservatives “trust their gut” and snap judgments whereas libs are more likely to think things through.
- Conservatives place more value on loyalty, authority, and sanctity; libs value care, fairness, and liberty .
- Conservatives like structure and predictability and react more strongly to perceived threats..
- And one so dangerous Sapolsky prefaces it by saying, “The hell with it.” Research says that lower intelligence is associated with right wing authoritarianism (p. 446).
Or to sum up the preceding in Yeats’ disturbingly-titled “The Second Coming”:
“THE BEST LACK ALL PASSION, WHILE THE WORST ARE FULL OF PASSIONATE INTENSITY”
LIFE IS A NEVER-ENDING QUEST FOR FEEL-GOOD CHEMICALS
All behavior and opinions are motivated. We were motivated—to eat, to pee, to cry–long before we thought deep thoughts. Our brains are one more physiological systems we employ to get the right mix of feel good drugs out of our neurons. Some of us get it by yelling cheers at football games, unmuffled by face masks. Some of us get it by writing scathing reviews of someone else’s article. We spend our lives in quest of the elusive dopamine bath, the serotonin shot. We seek what makes us feel good, and we avoid what makes us feel bad.
THE CHAMP’S PLATFORM: I’M TRUMP
Mr. Trump is no fool. He’s a smart guy who learned dominance from his loving and hyper-aggressive millionaire Dad, Fred. He learned about immigrants by listening to Dad talk about his deadbeat renters. He learned dominance by cheering Dad on as his lawyers beat the city fathers and tax guys’ lawyers. When he got into trouble for bullying at New York Military Academy, he took notes as Dad marched into the head’s office and showed him who’s boss. He learned that you never back down, you never second guess, you just charge. In January, 2016 at Christian Dordt College in Sioux City, Iowa, candidate Trump famously said, “I could stand in the middle of Park Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s incredible.” He was right on both counts. His platform is simplicity itself: I’m Donald Trump. That’s why you should vote for me. It’s a strategy that has characterized leaders for millennia. I’m General Patton, that’s why. I’m Attila. I’m Darius.
“If you repeat a lie often enough, people will come to believe it. And you will come to believe it yourself.” -Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister
Every day is a reality show: “Donald Trump, World’s Greatest President.” Trump knows what gives the 3As their feel-good soak, and he doesn’t really care about the whining 3Bs. He’s got his demographic, and his Q scores are through the roof with them. He makes his midnight screeds must-read tweets. If his mid brain ever runs short of feel good chemicals in those dark, diet-Coke fueled nights, no one hears about it.
THE CHALLENGER’S PLATFORM: “I’M NOT TRUMP”
The challenger is Gentleman Joe, a well-meaning mediocrity who showed the world how far you could go by being a nice guy. What’s not to like? He was the nice guy who was never at the top in anything but football. Everyone liked him. His dad was a riches to rags tale who eventually earned a middle class living selling used cars. Sonny worked his way up the ladder the old fashioned way, by being inoffensive and friendly and competent enough. Was it Jimmy Carter who said that to be elected you have to be someone the voter would enjoy hoisting a beer with at a bar? Genial Joe is that guy. (Seriously now, who would want to down a cold one with Hillary?) He must have learned something from eons in the senate and 8 years as VP of the United States. Experience counts, right?
Is America ready for a well-adjusted, ordinary, predictable guy? Personally, I’ve had enough excitement in the last four years. Go Joe!
Thoughts, feelings, comments, concerns? Shoot Lew an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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