Brain Science of Politics

So this article just got published (as far as I saw), which seems to indicate that there are actual physical differences in the brains of self described liberals and conservatives.  It does seem to agree with my previous posting on bipolar behavior of politcians.

Using data from MRI scans, researchers at the University College London found that self-described liberals have a larger anterior cingulate cortex–a gray matter of the brain associated with understanding complexity. Meanwhile, self-described conservatives are more likely to have a larger amygdala, an almond-shaped area that is associated with fear and anxiety.

Ok, I’ll admit, this seems to fit, and passes the initial “faux science smell test” of fitting the world view of many people.  Liberals get complexity, conservatives are fear mongers.  Ok, so I call shenanigans, precisely because it fits so easily into our preconceived views on these people.  Not included in the study, centrists, socialists, etc. or determination of the other options in the political spectrum and the associated brain structure sizing.  What if I’m a financial conservative but social liberal?  Etc.

The good news is that the researchers know this and have commented on it, but I’m guessing many people will ignore the remaining questions.

While the London study does find distinct differences between Democrats and Republicans, its authors caution that more research needs to be done on the subject. One unknown is whether people are simply born with their political beliefs or if our brains adjust to life experiences–which is a possibility, Kanai writes.

We all knew that these views were different, but posing them as polar opposites coded into the brain seems a bit of a stretch.

Defense spending, out of control…

Not long ago, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave a speech on the defense budget and defense spending.  In it he states:

the US battle fleet is larger than the next 13 navies combined, 11 of which belong to allies and partners

The Pentagon must hold down its spending and make choices that will anger “powerful people” in an era of economic strain, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a weekend speech in Kansas.

I had pointed this out in a video I made a few years back, granted this was focused on the War on Terror and the Bush Administration’s Policies, but let’s be honest, so far Obama hasn’t exactly brought the budget into control for defense or overall.  Granted economically he was more challenged by failed policies of previous, but he hasn’t (publicly) shown to have reduced the defense budget or spending.

Now I am ex-military and insist we arm and equip our service people with the tools needed to carry out their mission, but when we are so overwhelmingly big vs our next competitors, it really shows we’ve gotten out of hand in our priorities and spending.  Given that we’re touting how our taxes are the lowest in years, I’m curious how we think we can stay viable when we are running ever larger deficits and spending more with each year relative to our economy?  I guess the theory is if we can beat the rest of the world up, we can’t be forced to pay our debts.

The Government (was GOP) has really lost it…

Now anyone who follows this blog (yes both of you.. 🙂 ) knows I have some thoughts about how the fight against terrorism should or shouldn’t be done.  I’m also not exactly a hard line conservative when it comes to the False Dichotomy of Security vs Privacy.  But let’s take a moment to sanity check. 

John McCain wants to not grant US Citizens their rights?  Wow, that is so profoundly and deeply disturbing that I am not sure how to respond without getting angry. 

“Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) doesn’t want Faisal Shahzad, the suspect in the failed car bombing in Times Square, to be Mirandized. Neither does Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.).”

The Hill: McCain: ‘Serious mistake’ if car bombing suspect was Mirandized
It would have been a serious mistake to have read the suspect in the attempted Times Square car bombing his Miranda rights, Sen. John McCain said Tuesday. McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a longtime leading Republican on national security issues, said he expected the suspect in the case could face charges that might warrant a death sentence if convicted.”

Apparently Joe Lieberman also thought enough about this to propose legislation to strip citizens of the citizenship.  Mark Rubio, the leading GOP candidate for a Florida Senate seat, also thinks the same.  Do these people really think this is a good idea?  Do they really think that reading rights to a suspect hampers investigation?  I suppose if you never plan to take them to trial and follow the rule of law, then Miranda takes time, but seriously is that it? 

The Constitution (hey GOP, maybe you should read that some day) provides this protection (not specifically Miranda, I know) and frankly it isn’t contingent on citizenship anyway.  Foreign nationals who commit crimes are read their rights too, as part of basic legal protections in our country.  It’s part of the American legal system and American rights.

So why does the GOP hate America and our rights?  Is it only Republicans who are supposed to have rights, everyone else has a pass for the day which can be revoked at any time?  How does one get to the unalienable part of the the rights deemed self evident in our Declaration of Independance?  Maybe the Bill of Rights and the 5th Amendment have no bearing because the suspect is a “bad guy”?  Why then are repeat-offending killers, other terrorists, and people who have succeeded in bombing or killing Americans like Timothy McVeigh not treated the same?

UPDATE:  Ok frankly this is beginning to cause me a lot of concern.  Politicians who are now being bullied into thinking that taking away citizen’s rights in favor of false security is alarming, but the change in stance over this issue on the part of the existing administration is not only scary, but alarming.  A US Citizen, arrested in the US, is being considered a military issue?  That is just stupid and dangerous.  Yes US Citizens that commit heinous crimes, or even try to commit them, should be dealt with swiftly.  But they are still provided their rights and protections.  If they aren’t, we become that which we are fighting.

Fear is unhealthy… well duh!

This is a link to Bruce Schneier’s Blog with comments included because I thought some of them were very insightful as well.  His posting has links to the original article and study.

First, is it news that stress in general is unhealthy?  Back in the “Health food” kicks of the 80s (ok, yeah that starts to put dates to my age, but that’ll be a different post) I used to joke the the stress of worrying about your diet might just kill you faster than the food iteself.  It seems I was unwittingly correct. 🙂

Second, fear (a stress factor) can come from many sources, so pinning the blame on terrorism is a bit of reach.  Ok, it is probably true, but the same can be said for fear of any variety of fear for which you don’t manage the associated stress.  The key is in the management of the stress.

Fight or flight instincts go way back into our history, and it can be argued that some stresses cause performance increases as the body’s response is to pump the system full of adrenaline and prepare for that fight or flight.  However those elevated levels of performance are intended (so it seems) to be short term.  Living under a constant threat wears us out, so our brain and body learn ways to diffuse the stresses and return our body to its normal state.

So while I’m sure someone got a master’s degree, or a publication credit, I wonder if we really needed a study to tell us the being scared and stressed is not a good thing.