By Arnold Kling
Steven Johnson reports on some brain scans to detect political differences,
…early data suggested that the most salient predictor of a ”Democrat brain” was amygdala activity responding to certain images of violence…
a recent study by Paul Goren at Arizona State found that voters typically formed their party affiliations before developing specific political values…
Those M.R.I. scans suggest an explanation. Perhaps we form political affiliations by semiconsciously detecting commonalities with other people, commonalities that ultimately reflect a shared pattern of brain function. ..
Say you’re inclined to form strong emotional responses to images of violence or human suffering, and over the course of your formative years, most of the people you meet who respond to these images with comparable affect turn out to be Democrats. That’s a commonality of experience that exists beneath conscious political affiliation — it’s closer to a gut instinct than a rational choice — but if you meet enough Democrats who share that experience, sooner or later you start carrying the card yourself. Political identity starts with a shared temperament and only afterward deposits a layer of positions on the issues.
Meanwhile, Louis Menand writes,
[Political Scientist Philip] Converse concluded that “very substantial portions of the public” hold opinions that are essentially meaningless—off-the-top-of-the-head responses to questions they have never thought about, derived from no underlying set of principles.
When it comes to popular democracy, count me as one of the skeptics. I once wrote, “In my view, the genius of our nation’s founders was not that they gave people the opportunity to vote. It was that they created a Constitution with limited government.” Earlier, I had written,
It seems to me that someone who “trusts the people” must fall into one of two categories:
- Skillful demagogues, in which case what they really trust is their own ability to manipulate popular opinion.
- Ivory tower professors, in which case what they really trust is their expectation of never having to deal with “the people” face to face.
When it comes to exercising political judgment, I trust neither the people nor the elites.
For Discussion. How many of your friends have political positions that stem from a consistent set of beliefs?