The Right Fears, The Left Loves

The Left are lovers, the right are scared; that’s the short story from new study came out recently from the Political Science Dept. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A test group of established conservative and liberal subject were hooked up to machines that measured physiological responses and found that conservatives fixated on images they found fearful and liberals were relatively unfazed.  The conclusion is that the correlation between folks that are “aversive oriented” – spent most of their time responding negatively/ in a fear response – and a conservative ideology, and those with a liberal ideology correlated to having more positive responses to pleasing stimuli. They concluded this because in addition to showing the subjects pleasurable and distasteful images, they included many well know politician of both leanings. Liberals tended to have more positive responses and looked at new stimuli with a sense of pleasure and heightened awareness; Conservatives seemed to be more suspicious, untrusting, and harbor intense dislike for the stimuli that was perceived to be threatening. A quote from the report:

“Hair-trigger autonomic nervous systems generate rapid and elevated physiological responses to aversive stimuli and chronic susceptibility to violations of security, purity, and order may rivet attention on the problematic aspects of the environment. Conversely, heightened physiological response to appetitive stimuli and a chronic craving of new experiential pleasures may lead an individual to devote more attention to appealing aspects of the environment.”

It does make sense. If you think about where the “red-staters” are concentrated, they are in areas where life is physically and emotionally hard. I’m not saying that life is a cake walk for everyone in California or Michigan, but the people in the middle of our country have a harder time scratchin’ a decent life out of the dirt. The populations are so spread out that even when government services exist, it doesn’t always make sense to use them. Issues such as mass transportation, carbon footprints, gay rights, ethnic minorities, and even public sanitation may not directly effect them. The generations that have endured in these areas have worked out some successful systems, maybe it encompasses an admirable work ethic, maybe it involves a strict patriarchal society construct, maybe a religion is central to the logistics of life – whatever it is, it works and as the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s probably a sentiment many conservatives can relate to in that all of these issues that become “liberal issues” upset this idea that the entrenched “traditional” way of dealing with things just isn’t working.

What happens when a “black sheep” get born unto the red-state community? They likely leave for a blue state where their non-traditional preferences are embraced and welcomed into the folds of diversity. Once this black sheep experiences the kind of acceptance that we all crave (and that he could not find in his hometown) the programming in his brain flips like a switch:where there was once disgust and derision there is now delight and “Viva la difference!” – you have a liberal. If you add religion to this, you get another level of betrayal and/or inspiration. Many conservative christians have a mantra of “hate the sin, not the sinner”, but when put in practice, it is certainly hard to tell that the “sinner” is not in the line of fire. As well intentioned as they may be with “interventions”, “excorcisms”, even prayer vigils, the target of disapproval may not be feeling the Godly love that is supposedly directed at them.

This phenomenon is not new, in the political climate during the W. years, we all saw lots of red-state/blue-state maps and the analyses of why the colors broke down the way that they did. So what? How does this helps us as Americans wanting to feel united, wanting to breathe new life into the American dream? These colors look like chasms between the two camps of political thought. It is quite different, the two perspectives, one based out of fear, one based out of pleasure; the facts themselves from scientific studies seem divisive.

What we have to do is engage. It is tough and an endeavor that has no grandiose finish, no deadline. Engaging with other Americans that see differently than you means you have to forget the vitriol for a moment, you have to put aside your previous impression of a hateful mob (aren’t we all more hateful in mobs?). If you start with nothing but the knowledge that a conservative is coming from fear aversion and a progressive is coming from pleasure seeking, your work is cut out for you. Someone fearful needs to have their fears acknowledged, be comforted and made to feel attended to, be assured with how an issue is being taken care, they need to hold onto a trustworthy authority, they need to know that that authority will allay future similar problems. Someone pleasure seeking might be highly distractable, they might have so much going on that they’re not organized, they might have so many affinities that they can’t actually attend to all of them well, they might forget about the practicalities of basic survival, they follow the “authority” of their hearts, they want to see the “real” value of everything – if an idea is not pleasureable, it’s not good. They want things to be pleasureable for as many people as possible.

Don’t talk to your fellow citizens as if they’re children (unless, of course they are), but imagining a child who is fearful or easily delighted are good ways to get your brain thinking in a way that can relate to them. Of course none of us are 100% fearful or 100% pleasure seeking, most of us are bi-conceptual depending on the issue at hand and our particular perspective, and none of us would like to hear the simplified (deprecating) version of ourselves. Have some sensitivity and realize that the images and stories that you’ve heard on t.v. are dramatized, sensationalized, and scripted. Humans are humans. We all have problems, joys, families, loves – we can all connect at some level there; it’s a good place to start trying.

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3 thoughts on “The Right Fears, The Left Loves

  1. Alisa Hixson says:

    Further explanation of why the right can be so trigger happy-literally… great read!

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