July 21, 2009
For Mature Audiences OnlyBy Randy Fardal
Almost four decades ago, the 26th Amendment lowered the US voting age to 18. At the time, most neurologists believed that the human brain was fully developed by about age 12, so allowing Americans to vote at 18 seemed like a safe move.
But parents of teenagers knew that was nonsense, and new research is confirming those parental observations. Since the voting age was lowered in 1971, scientific advancements such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allowed researchers to get detailed three-dimensional images of developing brains.
Although human brains typically reach their adult size by age 12, they are far from being mature. MRI analysis now shows that the planning and decision-making part of the brain -- the dorsal-lateral prefrontal cortex -- typically isn't fully developed until we are about 25 years old. Car rental companies already guessed that was the case simply by studying accident statistics: Most don't rent cars to anyone under 25.
Discoveries in brain science appear to be influencing lawmakers and judges. Some state legislatures have cited the research in banning the use of cell phones by teenage drivers. Supreme Court justices were given briefs on teenage brain development as they prepared to ban juvenile death penalties. If the Supreme Court thinks 17-year old brains aren't even capable of deciding not to commit premeditated murder, could slightly older brains be wise enough to handle far more complex decisions such as voting?
Nature and Nurture
Normal adolescent brains go through synaptic pruning as they mature. Until our early 20s, gray matter thins slightly. Meanwhile, white matter thickens -- sometimes up to age 40. White matter is comprised of myelin sheaths that encase axons and let them transmit data up to a hundred times faster. Consequently, our brains become more efficient at doing specialized things. That must be what allowed Ted Williams to count the stitches on a fastball or Milton Friedman to realize instantly that a debate opponent was attempting to invoke the Broken Window Fallacy.
But how does the brain decide that things like baseball or economics are special? The leading theory is that the pruning process is "neural Darwinism" -- use it or lose it. Our brains learn which connections are important and gradually eliminate the rest, allowing us to think and behave like responsible adults. Therefore, nurture appears to be quite influential in intellectual maturity, since nature alone doesn't control the physical configuration of our brains.
If our increasingly maternal society coddles its children, could we be stunting their intellectual growth? Perhaps our overprotected children's brains are not maturing properly if the "adult" neural links are little used and the "childish" ones continue to experience rush-hour traffic.
A Psychology Today story says coddling can lead to "endless adolescence":
If America really has become a nation of adolescent adults, and 40 is the new 20 intellectually, then restoring the minimum voting age to 21 would mitigate only a small portion of the harm they do to our political system. Besides, we'd just be dealing with the symptoms of childish thinking, rather than curing it.
Contrast today's voters with Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation". That group was forced by a prolonged economic depression and a deadly war to grow up quickly. Following World War II, the Greatest Generation took adult jobs, such as engineer, scientist, and entrepreneur. They became community leaders that solved problems, not community activists that exploited problems for selfish gains. Under their leadership, America simultaneously fought domestic Neo-Marxists and government censorship while making freedom and prosperity available to all.
America still has great engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs. But today's culture seems to have far more admiration for those whose professions involve things that children typically do in a schoolyard: playing basketball, singing, dancing, telling jokes, or pretending to be a pirate. Obama supporters might ask him about his bowling prowess or what gifts he will bestow upon them, but he gets no serious questions about the economics and physics of pending global warming legislation.
Eventually it will dawn on them
Most Leftist voters can be given scientific evidence that carbon dioxide levels lag global temperature levels by centuries and they still embrace the illogical belief that carbon dioxide fluctuations affect temperature. It must be the same brain malfunction that leads a child to conclude that a rooster's crowing makes the sun rise.
However, immature brains do a lot of learning from trial and error. That probably is why coddling retards their development. Sometimes it takes a car wreck to get adolescent adults to drive safely, and Mr. Obama is turning the economy into a financial car wreck. Polling trends show that voters are starting to realize that Mr. Obama is driving the economy like a drunken maniac. That's why he hit the accelerator in his Leftist grab for money and power: he knows the authorities are on the way. ("There's no time to read the bill; just pass it so I can sign it")
But if Mr. Obama's policies are losing support, why is he personally still popular? It is because immature people commonly identify with a charismatic pop figure. Consequently, any criticism of that pop figure seems to his fans as criticism of them. In their adolescent minds, Obama voters simply are defending themselves.
It's darkest just before the dawn
If coddling has produced a nation of gullible adolescent adults, is America headed into a societal death spiral of irrational Leftist policies and another Dark Ages? Probably not, for these reasons:
Beat them at their own game
If American Leftists and conservatives were competing in private industry, analysts would say that the conservatives have better products and the Leftists have better marketing. Fortunately, organizations that have both usually win in the long run -- even in a nation of gullible consumers and voters.
Former VP candidate Sarah Palin certainly is a good marketer and she also might have a good product. Many voters hope to learn more about her leadership skills and her knowledge of economics, science, and foreign policy to gain a better understanding of what she actually is pitching. Some believe they already have enough information to support her in a presidential run. A few worry that she is a conservative version of Mr. Obama: form without substance.
Regardless of Palin's knowledge and wisdom, Leftist leaders are keenly aware of the marketing threat she poses, as demonstrated by their apoplectic attacks on her. It effectively is an endorsement of Palin from the world's best political marketers.
Perhaps Palin will not run for office again, but if any charismatic, knowledgeable Reagan/Thatcher protégés campaign for House or Senate seats next year, most of them will win. That's why turncoats like Colin Powell will attempt to dissuade them from running. By then, the economy probably will have recovered from its car wreck, but even the mentally adolescent voters will be a bit wiser because they'll still have scars from that disastrous joyride they took with the Democrats.