I am listening to a Book-on-CD called The Political Brain (2008), written by Drew Westin.
The book’s clarifying subtitle – subtitles are important in the book business because
The Political Brain
“It sounds so boring.”
The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of a Nation
“I gotta read that!”
Let’s hear it for subtitles. They take a lot of pressure off of the titles.
War and Peace
Okay, that one says it all. But some titles need help.
In The Political Brain, Drew Westin, a psychologist and a psychiatrist…
WESTIN: “I was really interested!”
… studied how our brains react to information concerning political candidates – their positions on issues and the manner in which those positions are presented. Westin discovered that when “Reason” and “Emotion” collide…
“Emotion” demolishes “Reason” into tiny little pieces.
My reaction to which is,
“REASON”: “But I made a persuasive argument!”
“EMOTION”: “We don’t like your tie!”
I personally experienced such an orientational mismatch in a class I once took at UCLA Extension entitled, “The History of Conservatism in America.”
It went something like this:
The professor informed us that recent respectable studies concluded that “The American Dream” – upward mobility for our children – was becoming less and less attainable.
To which a self-identified conservative in the back of the classroom chimed in,
“Conservatives don’t believe that.”
As if “belief” trounced “certifiable evidence” the way that “rock” smashes “scissors.”
Which, according to Drew Westin, it does.
For me, it is a frightening proposition when raw emotion carries the proceedings. Historically, as my mother used to say, that particular outcome has never been “good for the Jews.”
“REASON”: “There is no ‘Christian children’s blood’ in the matzah recipe.”
“EMOTION”: “We don’t like your nose!”
So there’s that. Hardly a peripheral consideration.
To have at least a “break even” chance in such confrontations, reasonable people must provide their rational positions with emotional underpinnings.
Or they’ll lose.
(Echoing the maxim in the old public service announcement promoting “Defensive Driving”: “You could be right. Dead right.”)
At least now, because of Drew Westin’s revelations, the “Reason Contingent” knows what it is up against and the way it is necessary to compete. But there is also this other thing, described in the analogizing title the “Inside Job.”
As if “Reason” did not have enough trouble facing gargantuan “Emotion”, there is additionally the issue of “Reason” itself being subverted for nefarious purposes, leaving reasonable people fighting “The Enemy from Without” and “The Enemy from Within”.
This misuse of reason is what I witnessed recently on C-SPAN.
Being broadcast was a panel discussion rehashing the “Bush-Versus-Gore” debacle during the 2000 presidential election. (This show was on against the Oscars, so aside from the panelists’ loved ones, I may well have been the only one watching.)
In the midst of presentations “pro and con” – “The presidential election was a rip-off.” – “Even the New York Times determined Bush had won” – one panelist, credentialed and respectable, advocating the “They both do it” orientation proclaimed:
“The ‘Red’ states make it harder for people to vote, while the ‘Blue’ states make it easier to vote.”
His analysis was simple: If “More voters” means your side loses, you lobby aggressively for “Less voters.” And if “More voters” means your side wins, you fight insistently for “More voters.” (Or, in practical terms, against “Less voters.”)
The Panelist’s Argument:
It all evens out.
Sounds reasonable, right? So why was I screaming, “False dichotomy!” at my television? To which a questioner in the discussion’s audience thankfully also took offence, complaining,
“Making it harder for people to vote damages the system more than making it easier for people to vote.”
The respected panelist had pretended – or perhaps actively believed – the opposing strategies to be essentially the same.
“Throughout our history, our soldiers have fought and died for the right for one side to prevent the other side from voting.”
Is that what they did?
SOLDIER: I'm not dying for that.
I don’t blame him.
Beware of “Emotion” monopolizing the discourse.
But beware even more of the wolf arguing in sheep’s clothing.
So to speak.