Over the last several years, both of America’s major political parties have become radicalized.
The ascent of politicians such as Howard Dean and Ted Cruz has come at the cost of moderate voices like Blanche Lincoln and Mike Castle. Our government is now in a lurch with little hope on the horizon.
One might say the frustration which drives extreme rightists must be alleviated so the GOP can carry on. The same could be said for radical leftists in the Democratic Party. This is not the case; a certain segment of the population has always been hate-prone, but thankfully ignored.
As of late, it has become more difficult to pretend that radicals don’t exist, however.
During 2007, Nature and Neuroscience, a scientific journal, featured a most intriguing study. Scientists discovered that people on the right interpreted things differently from those on the left, and vice-versa. This can be chalked up to what goes on in the anterior cingulate cortex, where the human brain sorts through disagreeable data.
“David Amodio, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University, and lead author of the study, says these results suggest that liberals and conservatives have some basic brain differences - and those differences are influenced by our genetic makeup,” Elizabeth Cohen wrote on CNN.
Modern science has established that both genes and environmental factors play a role in our decision-making. So, in times of great right-leaning success, lefties naturally become aggravated and translate this into hardline public policy measures which support their ideology.
During an era of left-leaning governance, righties do the exact same.
“The radical liberal aggressively pursues a collectivist utopia to sooth his paranoid fears of individual liberty,” veteran forensic psychiatrist Dr. Lyle Rossiter, author of The Liberal Mind, which strives to analyze the psychology of leftist politics, told me. “The conditions of liberty arouse primitive fears in the radical liberal mind, to which he responds by seeking control over others and over basic social institutions.
“Control through power seeking is reassuring to him, but his exercise of it destroys both freedom and authentic security for the larger society....His ultimate goal is control because that is the only thing that makes him feel safe.”
Dr. George Lakoff is a cognitive linguist who has taught at UC Berkeley for over four decades. Throughout his storied career, he authored a library’s worth regarding the science behind political belief.
“Over the past 30 to 40 years, radical conservatives have established a remarkable communications system and, together with smart framing experts, they have created a powerful language of conservatism that has been repeated almost daily throughout both the US and other countries,” he explained to me. “This has the effect of activating, and therefore strengthening, conservative ideas in the brains of the public.”
Dr. Lakoff also mentioned that, as compared to progressives, “(c)onservatives have been more practiced at using fear and rage. Fear tends to activate strict father morality - you want strength and protection. Rage is easier to activate in those who lack empathy for others.”
A jumble of special interest groups, new demographic trends, a growingly secular society, and more have combined to embolden the left. That, in turn, has served as an impetus for right-wing rancor.
All of this provides America with a spectacular display of nature and nurture joining forces in pursuit of power. Politics simply provide an arena for the competition to take place.
Therefore, while partisan radicalism is undeniably horrid, it is symptomatic of a much larger problem. That problem, for its endless nuances, is quite simple: Our country divided down to the cognitive level.
While we never will be able to command Mother Nature, each of us can get along. Whether or not all too many want this, however, is another matter entirely.
Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org