March 6, 2010
The Neuropsychology of Political IntegrityBy Deborah C. Tyler
The neurons of the human prefrontal cortex are the only objects in the known universe that are functionally altered by exposure to abstract concepts such as God, truth, freedom, and justice. If God created man in His image, He uses the cells and synapses gathered on the wrinkly surface of the brain behind the forehead to enable us to be grateful to Him and good to each other according to learned values.
Neuropsychology is the science that explains the processes by which the brain converts sensory input from the environment into observable behavior. Integrity in human behavior can be understood as a specialized conditioning of the anterior portions of the neocortex, also called the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortexes of people with integrity swiftly identify the most important values in incoming sensory data and then direct behaviors that achieve goals to actualize those values. Neuropsychologists call those processes executive functions or supervisory attentional systems.
The supervisory attentional system is a collection of response biases that enable humans to make decisions, plan for the future, and learn from mistakes. It further enables humans to respond to novel situations, resist temptation, and override automatic, habitual responses in order for learned values and principles to direct behavior. Political belief systems are specialized, language-mediated attentional and response biases. Political response biases of high integrity provide a clear, effective connection between selected values and political behaviors. Response biases of low integrity provide weak and unstable connections between preferred values and political behaviors.
On August 16, 2008, Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren asked then-presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama a question about human rights. Their answers represent high and low integrity political response biases.
Mr. Obama: Well, you know I, I, I think that whether you're looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, uh answering that question with specificity, uh, you know is, is is uh above my pay grade. Uh but but but but let me let me just speak more generally about the issue of abortion because this is something I, uh, obviously the country wrestles with. One thing that I'm absolutely convinced of is that there is a moral and ethical aspect to this issue and so I think anybody who tries to deny the moral difficulties and gravity of the abortion issue I think is not paying attention. So so so so that would be point number one. ...
Mr. McCain's response bias was swift and clear. It was conditioned by stable, sacred, and revered written cognitive inputs, such as the Bible, and reinforced throughout his life by following beliefs and modeling of behaviors conditioned to that literature and those traditions. Mr. McCain may have wrestled with this question at some point in his life, but he was able to resolve that into clear political conviction.
Mr. Obama's response bias has also been conditioned by religious, moral, and intellectual cognitive inputs and reinforced by role models and mentors. However, those inputs did not condition his prefrontal cortex to establish a strong, integrated response bias to the preeminent human rights question of this time -- i.e., the right of pregnant people not to be pregnant vs. the right of unborn people not to be dead. Mr. Obama lapses into an intracranial debating society, eventually saying he supports Roe v. Wade but unable to clearly say why.
The supervisory attentional systems of conservatives tend to be conditioned by highly stable cognitive inputs founded in permanent traditions of theistic faith, which are more completely valued by the conservative cohort. The supervisory attentional systems of liberals, regardless of their religious self-identification, tend to be conditioned by evolving atheist/humanist cognitive inputs, which may be valued by only one segment of the liberal cohort.
Let's compare the authoritative conservative belief, or response bias, "Support and defend the Constitution" with the indispensable liberal thesis, "Bush Sucks." The Constitution is a highly stable cognitive input. It can be expanded through amendment, but the original document can never be changed. It was dated "Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven," and it expresses clear values of freedom and individual responsibility. "Bush Sucks" is also a political assertion. But as a cognitive input, it is limited by a certain opacity and obdurateness in offering values and principles necessary for integrity in political response biasing.
These cognitive input dichotomies of permanent vs. evolving, theistic vs. atheist/humanist, and holistic vs. fragmentary enable conservative political belief systems to be more fully integrated into the totality of the lives of conservative-identified persons than is the case for liberals. Because the knowledge base of conservative beliefs is based around faith in God and God-based freedoms and responsibilities, conservatives tend to use better-interconnected cognitive inputs when they face moral, spiritual, and lifestyle questions, as well as in forming political opinions. Conservatives are therefore likely to apply their political beliefs -- such as the right to life, private enterprise, armed self-protection, and other constitutionally based freedoms, equally to themselves and to other people.
On the other hand, the literature of liberalism is more fragmented. Liberal heroes and leaders tend to be bias-conditioners in just one category. A liberal does not look to Mao Tse-Tung for guidance in business ethics, or to Margaret Sanger for child-rearing, or to the bedraggled Mr. Alinsky for marriage counseling. Because liberal response biases are more fragmented, liberals are more likely to advance economic and moral doctrines (such as government-run medical care, the rejection of upscale transportation, and beliefs about the disposability of the youngest and oldest people) that they energetically avoid following in their own lives.
The question arises that if God-based, stable literature and traditions provide the most potent cognitive inputs for political conviction and goal-directed behavior, then why aren't religious republics, such as Islamic republics, the most advanced societies? That one's a snap for neuropsychology!
In the United States, the Bible, the Constitution, and the spiritual and political traditions deriving from such sources are the bases of values enabling political conviction as an independent end in itself. In religious republics, the ultimate purpose of prefrontal supervisory conditioning is to enable individuals to conform their behavior to religious law as interpreted by religious authority. In such societies, political conviction is not a free, individual response bias, and end in itself. Rather, it is a side effect of religious response biasing. Politics and religion are one, and according to law, that one is religion. The United States is the most successful nation in history because it was founded in governance in God, without conflating politics and religion.
Political group cohesion can be strengthened by shared delusion. In the distant American past, religious traditions helped sponsor fallacies like that African-descended people aren't fully human. Today, it is atheist/humanist bias-conditioners that inflame scientific doozies like that the unborn aren't human or that global warming is going to burn us all alive. That is why superior prefrontal cortexes can never rest.
In the United States today, the potency of God-based, time-honored cognitive inputs to condition political beliefs to principles and values -- independent of religion -- is why conservative media is booming and liberal media is melting, melting. It also explains why American conservatism is the greatest political philosophy in the world, neuropsychologically speaking.
Deborah Tyler can be reached at email@example.com.