Thursday, September 20, 2007

Left or Right Brained?

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks here, with a visitor repeatedly asking questions that seem to come from the right wing talking points. I don’t have the heart to tell him what I really think of him for doing so, nor the desire to really try to engage in changing his mind when a.) There is little chance of doing so and b.) There are more important things to tend to. I’ve taken to being kinder to the folks that slurp the Fox news as if it’s vitamins and try to just cut off conversation, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

I’m reminded of a yearly pool party here at the house where it’s mostly long time friends with some conservative and some not so. We have roots that go back to simpler times. A particular couple, really close at the time but at the far right of the spectrum in both faith and politics, had come to a draw with me the year previous, with us deciding not to discuss politics as we realized that there was no common ground there, but much in the way of families and our kids that grew up together. Girl Scouts, soccer and barbeques were a part of our experience together. A shared fence burned by one of their boys is the best story, but not here. Anyway, this year the husband came at me with “Why are you a Democrat?”

I replied that I thought we weren’t going to talk about this stuff anymore but it didn’t go far, he asked again, with more emphasis on the last word, as if it were something not to touch. I let it slide, again trying to brush it off as not worth discussing with families, friends, and others around. It was a party, dang it, and I could tell from his tone he wanted to convert me. But no, again he came back asking the same question again, just as his wife arrived with a fresh margarita, and I had had enough.

“I’m a Democrat because I think the policies of the Democratic Party better align with my faith in Jesus Christ!” was what I came up with, regretfully louder than needed. The silence was complete and all the more pronounced for the extreme gasp from his wife, a dear friend of my wife’s. Yeah, I knew I was hitting her with both barrels but ... hey, I'm just a guy after all or at least that sounds like a decent excuse. (convicted again).

The Mormon couple nearby looked at each other with raised eyebrows. The husband and I talked a bit more but got nowhere. The relationship between our wives has not been the same since. Sad.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, there was an interesting study done recently by NYU and UCLA that determined conservatives are more stuck in their ways than liberals. I’m not trained in these things but it sounds about right to me. I can’t imagine anyone watching Bill O’Reilly and not seeing through the crap he spews unless they’ve arrived thinking he’s going to say good stuff and want it reinforced. The concept of “staying the course” is proven proper for those on the right while those on the left might be considering alternatives.

So O.K., if that’s what it says about the righties, what does it really say about the left? Is our preparedness and desire for alternative possibilities that same desire that leads us to doubt more, to try to figure out what makes things (Oh, like God, for instance) tick? Is that part of our behavior that which drives us against corporate same-ness, against the grain when we see it wrong, giving us the internal drive to determine an opinion based upon events we’ve seen rather than what we’ve read or heard from the common cesspool of media?

I’ll admit it might have been more fruitful to walk the corporate path, but I don’t think it was ever even a possibility for me.

What I come up with is the realization that there isn’t common ground in politics because the minute I move one step towards the right, they hold their ground and only work to draw me closer. There is no give in them, only take. I abhor that.

Not surprisingly, and I’m smiling a bit at this, now that the Dems seem to be heading for even more control in 2008, I find myself dissatisfied with their mainstream candidates. Hillary, Barack and John all have healthcare plans that will keep the insurers in the game and I think that a sellout. What is in the single-payer plans of Europe that we can’t pull off here?

But perhaps I need to stop, consider that a game plan of 5-10 years may be in order and that perhaps, just maybe if the Dems can stay in control for that long AND clean up campaign financing, perhaps the insurers can be driven from the feeding trough of the American medical consortium and that trillion dollars we are over-spending on healthcare can be put to better use.

Dreams. They are a wonderful thing.

And yes, I do watch O’Reilly about once a month. Any more than that and I get overly incensed. Perhaps we should all watch him more often.

13 Comments:

Blogger Nichole said...

I just wanted to say that I'm glad to have stumbled upon this blog. I've been a one-issue voter all of my adult life (and you've probably accurately guessed that the issue was abortion), and until recently it never occured to me that I should be voting along Democratic lines. Learning that Billy Graham has been a life-long Democrat really gave me the validation I needed in the face of an all-Republican family to make the switch to "the other side," although that isn't to say that I wouldn't have changed parties without knowing his stand.

I look forward to reading more of this blog, including the archives.

9/23/2007 8:25 PM  
Blogger Christian Democrat said...

Thanks, Nichole, for your kind words. I'm wondering, tho, as a Billy Graham fan, where we could substantiate that he was a Democrat. I wasn't aware of this but would like to have that info, please.

Peace be with you.

9/23/2007 10:14 PM  
Blogger Nichole said...

I never knew he was a Dem until I actually heard him say in a TV interview that he's been a life-long Dem, although I don't remember what news program it was (it was at least a couple years ago).

But here are some links:
A link to a Couric interview with Graham: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8326362/
Also, a Time magazine article mentions his politics: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1651625,00.html

Using Google will also find a lot of snippets, albeit not necessarily academically credible sources.

9/24/2007 7:30 AM  
Blogger Christian Democrat said...

Thanks Nichole -

I checked out the Couric interview and found that the video there is a bit more complete than the transcript, but this portion of the transcript is correct:

Couric: Do you worry about the current mix of Evangelical Christian doctrine and politics? About preachers who are suggesting to their congregations that they should vote a certain way. Does any of this concern you, Rev. Graham?

Graham: No, they've always done that. You can go back to the Middle Ages and the Protestant Reformation, things like that. They've talked politics for centuries. And I stay as far away as I can.

Couric: Why?

Graham: I think that if I would talk on a political subject, if I talk about it, it would divide the audience on that issue. That's not my issue. My issue is Christ.

Couric: I read, though, that you're a Democrat. Is that true?

Graham: Yes. I am.

Couric: Do you think people would be surprised to learn that? Because generally, in this day and age, Evangelical Christians are closely associated with the Republican Party.

Graham: Well, I don't know that. I've never found out who they're associated with. Locally, I'll vote one way and nationally, maybe another.

Let's all include Billy Graham in our prayers. He is one of the great preachers of our time.

My sense is that faith can drive politics for both left- and right-leaning folks. How could it not!

Peace.

And Nichole - I look forward to your comments elsewhere as you have them.

With Thanks.

9/24/2007 9:05 AM  
Anonymous Tim said...

“I’m a Democrat because I think the policies of the Democratic Party better align with my faith in Jesus Christ!”

CD, you are a Democrat for all the right reasons. It's the same reason I'm your opponent. I'm not being paid to disagree with you -- I once would have agreed. I simply looked into the various policies Democrats support (and I had supported) and found they did the opposite of what they advertised.

Now I see people who talk about the need to help the poor, but embrace policies which make them poorer and even kill them. A group who talks about the need to improve medical care, but embraces policies which make it worse, and make more sick and dead people.

It's all well and good to insist that we care far more than our evil opponents (who are motivated by greed, we all know). But the proof is this: If you really cared, you'd take time to find out if you were actually right about what policies help.


What I come up with is the realization that there isn’t common ground in politics because the minute I move one step towards the right, they hold their ground and only work to draw me closer. There is no give in them, only take. I abhor that.

Friend, reality only presents us with a limited set of options.

Take the "living wage." According to you Democrats, it's good for low wage earners. I used to believe that, too. But I studied the issue, and found I was wrong: a "living wage" raises unemployment, spreads poverty, and hits minorities hardest.

Sadly, there's no room there for both arguments to be right. You might be right, or I might be right, but there's no nice middle group where we can just hug and sing about it.

And the only way to resolve that is for us to examine the contrary arguments and counter-evidence.

And the one who refuses do so inadvertently admits he or she doesn't actually care if he or she implements a harmful policy. It's more important, in that case, to feel good than do good.

My mind can be changed, CD. I've already done a 180 turn on a number of policies. But you have to provide evidence. And it's utterly unreasonable to demand people change their view without providing them counter-evidence, or showing that their arguments are fallacious.

If you had evidence something was true, and weren't seeing any good contrary evidence -- should you change your mind and give in to pressure to say otherwise? Would that be honest for you to do?

What if people called you names if you didn't, and insisted you had bad motivations and were just refusing to be flexible?

That's my situation CD.

Democrats claim to have good motivations. But they simply don't realize that their opponents share those exact same concerns, we just took the extra time to look at the evidence.


BTW, the study you're quoting doesn't say what you think it does. Read closely, and you'll see the LA Times is leading you by the nose. I'd love to explain more, but it's much less important than the other arguments above. I can live with people thinking I'm dumb and inflexible for holding the "wrong" views -- that's a standard part of being a conservative.

Or Christian, for that matter.

9/26/2007 12:56 AM  
Blogger Christian Democrat said...

A better case in support of the study could not be made than that of the previous comment.

I won't go into an item by item dissemination of that verbiage, but I will say I don't think the Dems perfect, in fact far from it. I do, however, sense our chances of bettering America and this world are far higher by entrusting our government to them than leaving it in the hands of the GOP. While I greatly enjoy hearing the Democratic candidates speak of their faith, personally and humbly, and I do consider that in my selection, I am electing a governing official and those are the attributes I will measure.

We need a complete Democratic Party government at the national level for at least two presidential terms. That's about how long it will take to clean up the mess that W and his congressional lackeys have made.

It's the last statement in the previous comment that has some teeth but doesn't make any of the previous correct. Christians that speak out to others outside the church may well be seen as foolish. We were warned about that and much worse. Fortunately we have what we call "the peace of the Lord."

Conservatives can also join together and celebrate their similarities, but what does that have to do with the GOP? Anyone that has supported the Bush administration has no right to call themselves conservative by the traditional American political use of the word, say pre-1976.

I was raised by an Annapolis grad, a Korean War vet, and a Goldwater Republican. I fought my dear dad too often on too many issues to let anyone that can support the current regime, or support anyone that supported that regime, besmirch the use of the word "conservative." Bill Clinton was a better conservative than George W. Bush.

9/26/2007 9:07 PM  
Anonymous Tim said...

A better case in support of the study could not be made than that of the previous comment.

CD, read the study you just cited more closely. Look at it for what it shows, not just for what they tell you to think about it.

A set of students were given an visual stimulus to which they had to react in less than 500 milliseconds. Those who self-classified as "liberal" were found to experience more emotional conflict, and reacted faster and more precisely.

To make sure we interpret this right, the LA Times brings in a Berkeley academic who tells you that this all about the brain's ability to handle ambiguity, and says it's the same kind of thinking responsible for changes in one's religion, social policies, etc.

And even though what he's saying is obviously wrong (your powers of reason don't even kick in sub-half-second reflex tests!) you echo his narrative perfectly.

But, think, friend: Since it requires a < 500 ms reaction, it tests how quickly someone reacts without intellectual thought or reflection, in cases where there seems to be no ambiguous information at all.

What does it thus imply?

Well, it does seem to show that those who self-label as liberals have a greater experience of emotional conflict when performing a relatively simple task. Read it again and see, if you doubt me.

And -- this is just a guess -- but I would guess that people in that state do better in "shoot/don't shoot" scenarios (precisely what is being tested) than people who are more relaxed, and not as into it.

Read your own self-description on your front page: Quick to anger (undoubtedly, when presented with conflicting information). In my experience, that's not uncommon. And look at how you asked me to evaluate some case of alleged wrongdoing: using my emotional responses.

Emotions are good, but they need to be checked and harnessed by your brain, CD. "Take every thought captive..." (2 Cor 10:5) That's not a process which occurs in a timeframe measured in milliseconds. And I'm reasonably sure applying that specific discipline would screw with one's short-term, unthinking reflexes.

In fact, that's the whole point.

9/28/2007 4:24 AM  
Anonymous Tim said...

An afterthought: I'm always amused to hear studies which prove liberals are so much more open to conflicting information, etc. I so dearly wish that were true.

CD, I used to hold rather different views, politically -- a lot of the same views, I'm reasonably sure, that you hold now.

Back then, before I'd decided to consider a lot of the contrary evidence, I'm sure you (and studies like this one) would have said I was being more flexible, open-minded, etc.

Yet, since I bothered to look at the data, and ended up changing my whole political outlook, now the grand irony is that I'm endlessly told that I'm "inflexible" and am not the kind of person who's capable of that kind of change!

God as my witness, that's entirely untrue. And you've had several people come here, people who have observed me for years (some who disagree with me politically) and tell you the same. Yet you continue to imply I'm lying about that, and slander me similarly.


Meanwhile, you are presented with a study which seems to tell you that people who are conservatives are fundamentally less capable of changing their minds.

Yet you also know full well that people undergo religious conversions (such as becoming a Christian), and that Christians often tend to be more conservative (and converts even more so) than the surrounding culture.

So those people would then be "inflexible" and stiff-necked, the kind of people who resist change, self-criticism, and repentance?

Apparently!

Think: Do you think CS Lewis would have registered as more "conservative" when he was a young angry atheist or when he was an older Christian? And yet when was he being more "open minded", CD? When he was thinking and writing about both views, or when he only knew one?

Again, who was more open minded: An atheist like CS Lewis, who converted, and ended up defending conservative moral values -- or a more politically "progressive" atheist like Bertrand Russell, renowned as peace activist and educational experimenter (and proponent of "open marriage") -- who'd never have dreamed of changing his religious views?

As the con man said: "Who you gonna believe, me, or your own lyin' eyes?"

If the con man appears in the LA Times, and strokes your ego...


Look at our own interactions, CD. Consider the Craig affair: When you presented me with contrary data, what did I do? I changed my mind -- and even publicly admitted you'd been right all along.

Yet I also later wondered, and did some checking -- and discovered that we'd been misled. And changed my mind again, rueful I'd been deceived.

Meanwhile, I can't even get you to realize and admit, for example, the simplest things, such as that you also support legislation to modify people's behavior!

I write a good case for government waste in healthcare, and you attempt to ban me, arguing I have bad motives! (Your essential tact above, also.)

Open to contrary evidence? Oh please: Look at the nose in front of your face, CD.

9/28/2007 5:27 AM  
Blogger Ryan said...

Hey CD.

You may want to take a closer look at the study you cited. A study is only as good as it's design and the people who are tested.

It's hard to take a study about something incredibly specific (reaction time in college students) and generalize to all people in all situations. Data may be trustworthy, but researchers can sometimes go off the deep end in their interpretation of the data.

9/28/2007 2:57 PM  
Blogger Christian Democrat said...

Hi Ryan -

I'll go a step further and say ALL studies are prone to error in data acquisition and even more so in data interpretation. That is why I rarely go with "facts and figures."

That said, I was really using the study as the start of conversation, the initial idea to be toyed with. I thought it interesting that there was a difference at all and was more introspective as to what it might mean to me as a liberal than about those that consider themselves conservative.

I'm more tickled by learning that Billy Graham has been a life-long Democrat than anything else this post has elicited.

9/28/2007 3:16 PM  
Anonymous Tim said...

I'm more tickled by learning that Billy Graham has been a life-long Democrat than anything else this post has elicited.

There are some great Democrats at a local level, CD. (Unlike some, I'm not sold to any particular party -- I just happen to hold conservative fiscal and social values.)

But Graham said: "Locally, I'll vote one way and nationally, maybe another", implying he's probably a typical blue dog who supports fairly conservative local Democrats, and Republican presidential candidates (and perhaps Congresspeople as well, from his comments about "national" candidates).

Anyway, unless something changes or you request further responses, I'm basically done here. I wish you well, and hope you'll open your mind a tiny bit some day.

9/30/2007 4:13 PM  
Blogger Nichole said...

I'm more tickled by learning that Billy Graham has been a life-long Democrat than anything else this post has elicited.

CD,
Actually, I'm honestly surprised that you didn't know that before! My parents are life-long republicans, Baptists, and convinced that Christians should only vote red. In fact, we had a union plumber in our church that my Dad ribbed a lot for being a Democrat. When I go home and topics turn to politics, I confess that I delight in pulling out the Billy Graham card - which is immediately argued with "That's because he's Southern - it's a cultural thing." As if being a Southern white man causes him to not have independent thoughts with regards to his political affiliations.

Anyways, I've been enjoying your blog and the lively debate between you and "Tim". I can't say I'm fully committed to claiming the Democrat label exclusively, but I am far more open to considering a Democrat candidate than I ever was in the past. It is just a matter of deciding which one I like the best.

10/01/2007 11:56 AM  
Blogger Christian Democrat said...

Hi Nichole -

Was just logging in to respond to Tim and up came your post. Thanks.

As much as I didn't want to respond to Tim's postings anymore, I felt a need to put a closure to my responses in view of what I've found on his blog which you can find on the link in his comment above.

OK, I may have been wrong to think Tim a lobbyist but he is, apparently, one who has much time on his hands to write GOP supporting articles just as I write (many fewer) articles in support of the left. I accused him of using GOP talking points and I'll stand by that - much of what he writes I've heard before, and in the same trained phrasing, or framing if you wish, of the GOP literati. So, I don't know what his job is, but he sure is active in attempting to persuade people along GOP lines.

I'm bored with that exchange. I don't believe him to be open to new concepts and will admit my reluctance to change mine as well. This points to my current bias AGAINST bipartisanship. Meeting in the middle isn't possible when the middle is less than one feels is just.

I could come up with many examples but the basic truth is that it comes down to the distribution of wealth in this country, and in the world. There are those that want to distribute it more, and those that want to share less. That covers hunger, housing, healthcare, and just about all else. Yes, even the war in Iraq is, IMHO, about getting money into fewer pockets.

The first two, hunger and housing, are primarily issues of poverty. They affect the real "least among us" more than most that will read this blog. The third, healthcare, could possibly bankrupt many in the middle class, sending them into the problem-class of hunger and housing.

It's not about finding middle ground with these "conservatives" that spend our nation into massive indebtedness, nor the ones who think that moral values can be legislated. They are wrong. Worse, while I would like to say they are in denial, I really think them aware of their selfishness and moving forward happily. True, others may have bought the well scripted lines and think them proper. What shall we not say about them?

Finally, I'll say I, too, am not a pure Democrat. Heck, I'm still registered as an independent! I voted for Reagan at least once, and for Nader, too. I will be voting the Blue side regularly at least through 2012. I really want to see what the Dems can do given eight years of control. Until they either have a super-majority, or majority control of both houses and the presidency, it's all bipartisanship, which is to say nothing gets done.

10/01/2007 12:28 PM  

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