As an impatient and confused America lumbers toward an uncertain eenie-meenie in November’s presidential election between two flawed candidates, ushering us along the way are flood tides of political truths, half-truths, mistruths, and laughable distortions that have raised voter emotions to an angry volatility not seen in decades.
This voter intensity stems from five very predictable things:
- Technology’s fluid and unpredictable impact on funneling information — fact and fiction — through uncontrollable distribution channels.
- Our core beliefs, shaped during our upbringing.
- Maps and lenses — our shaped beliefs that dictate how we look at the world, others, priorities, and political issues.
- People are herd animals. We follow, not lead.
- Human nature’s stubborn reluctance to change.
1. Technology’s impact on mass communication. Because traditional media is clueless how to remain custodians of (much less manage) the dissemination of fact-based information now that voters have a million portals to choose from, too much of what is shouted as the truth — or is assumed to be true — is not the truth at all. Misinformation has permeated the nation; and because of it, confusion reigns.
People today gather information from whatever source they desire, whenever they want, and not at the whim of the old school news services but from whatever source or portals they prefer.
No longer does America have a truth serum like the voice of Walter Cronkite to act as our nation’s trusted voice of accuracy. Liars lie and schemers scheme and because of that anyone with a keyboard now has an pulpit for shoveling whatever manure he or she wants into the Internet’s high-trafficked highway.
This election is backdropped with more information flooding the nation than ever before; but nobody knows what is true, what is false, and/or how to search for and find what he or she needs in order to make a smart, fact-based decision. In the case of this election, more information has created more confusion. The chaos of it all would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
2. Core beliefs. Our formative years (0 to 13) shape what we believe to be true about the world. Typically these opinions are molded by people of influence: our parents, teachers, clergy, coaches, relatives, siblings, schoolmates, and others. Core beliefs create a personal identity, a foundation we rely upon as puberty supplants frolic before soon ceding to adulthood. Racists are racists because they were raised that way. Tightwads are tightwads for the same reason. Worriers beget worriers.
While it is often teased that everyone is born a Democrat but turns Republican once he or she fills out a long version tax form, such generalization is disingenuous. Our framework is founded upon what we learned by osmosis and experience during our formative years. It only changes after that as we react to powerful emotional experiences which may be good or bad, expected or unexpected. These things are our life-assessors. Divorce, a sudden death, a big promotion — all of these things reshape us.
World travel, for example, changed me from a taker to a giver. I was a very selfish materialistic chap until I traveled two million miles with my eyes and ears open and mouth shut. Do that and the world will teach you how fortunate you are, relative to billions of other good people struggling to get by.
3. Maps and lenses. From a behavioral standpoint, what’s fascinating (to me) about the fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats is that both sides share good intentions and broad concepts, but differ on definition and interpretation.
For example, psychologists have pinpointed that conservatives are fundamentally more anxious than liberals. Because of this, you may conclude they prefer order, stability, and structure.
A recent article by Emily Laber-Warren in Scientific American Mind grabbed my attention by pointing out. “When people feel safe and secure, they become more liberal; when they feel threatened, they become more conservative.”
Also chiming in was Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind.
“Liberals tend to value two (areas of morality),” he said, “caring for people who are vulnerable, and fairness, which for liberals tends to mean sharing resources equally.
“Conservatives care about those things, too,” he added, “but for them fairness means proportionality — that people should get what they deserve based on the amount of effort they have put in. Conservatives also emphasize loyalty and authority, values helpful for maintaining a stable society.”
Outside of politics, Republicans and Democrats get along swimmingly enough to play together, work together, and sleep together. So, what is most extraordinary about the two parties has little to do with intent but everything to do with interpretation.
Conservatives and liberals define terms differently, which leads to differences on issues. It is these differences in perspective and definition that creates opposing points of view, and it is those points of view that are deep-seated in a voting constituency’s emotional conditioning.
Haidt goes on to say that if we took the time to realize the people we disagree with are not immoral people, but simply those who emphasize different moral principles, it would certainly help lower community acrimony.
He suggests the left acknowledge the right’s emphasis on laws, institutions, customs, and religion. The right should acknowledge the need to help society’s weakest while embracing multiple, different choices in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
“Both sides see different threats,” Haidt says. “Both sides are wise to different virtues.“
4. People are herd animals. Whether we’re talking herd migration or a presidential election, this much is true: Few lead and many will follow. Five sheep determine the flock’s direction — the rest fall in behind. So too with people.
America’s critical mass is mobilized by a very select few. Since the inclination of the voting masses is to follow, not lead, voters are easily swayed. They are meek to challenge or demand explanation.
For example, when a candidate professes to know all the answers but never explains how something might be accomplished, he or she is never truly accountable. All they need to do is stall: More information flooding cable and the web — from multitudes of contrived sources — smoke bomb in the room. Distractions create wiggle room.
5. Human nature’s stubborn reluctance to change. First impressions are almost immediate to form but very difficult to change. This holds true during the formation of our core beliefs, as well as later in life when we meet others or learn of new ideas.
Because of this, true open-mindedness is very, very scarce in America. and only the enlightened have the confidence to think for themselves regardless of consequence or peer pressure. This is why most Americans belong to whatever party their parents did and vote that way regardless who’s running.
Once we have formed an opinion, we filter what we see and hear, scouring for “facts” or conclusions that reinforce our view. We do not seek opposing or contrary data. We search for validation data that reinforces what we currently believe.
Since we find in life what we look for, chances are good that with all the gibberish twirling around on the tentacles of the information octopus, we will quickly find whatever conveniently fits to reinforce our current point of view.
Individually and collectively, these five things cause political emotion. Once we are know why our emotions rise, we are in a much better position to control them when discussing politics with someone who sees things differently.
As the presidential election draws closer I will share a good example of how the mind navigates issues en route to aligning with one candidate over another.
Until then, be nice to everybody — regardless of their views.
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