Conservative Certitude Is Frightening!

BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 28:  Audience members watch the CNBC Republican Presidential Debate at University of Colorados Coors Ev
BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 28: Audience members watch the CNBC Republican Presidential Debate at University of Colorados Coors Events Center October 28, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado. Fourteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the third set of Republican presidential debates. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Conservatives are certain of everything from man-made global warming being a hoax or just being explained by natural climate fluctuations to Benghazi being an issue critical to our national security interests to the assumption that George W. Bush kept us safe. And, oh yes, Obamacare was replete with "death panels!"

There is a sound rejection of science. The world is seen in binary terms -- good vs. evil. They believe in the evils of Big Government, for example, even though so many of the conservative red states receive considerably more in funding from the federal government than they pay in taxes. In effect, the individualistic red states are subsidized by the "tax and spend" blue states.

Since conservatives see politics in terms of good versus evil, while Democrats are perceived as stifling individualism, self-sufficiency, and a pull-yourself up by the bootstraps mentality, compromise becomes anathema.

According to New York University social psychologist John Jost, in a synthesis of studies on ideology in 2003 that drew much political flack, conservatives are characterized by traits such as a "need for certainty" and an "intolerance of ambiguity."

Studying the brain through MRI scans, researchers have noted that conservative students had a larger amygdala than liberal students. According to Nigel Barber, PhD writing in Psychology Today: "The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure deep in the brain that is active during states of fear and anxiety. Liberals had more gray matter at least in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain that helps people cope with complexity."

In other words there is a heightened fear response in conservatives, a sense that the world is a place of foreboding and danger. To counter such fears, perhaps they seek the certainty of what they know and are not propelled, as are liberals, toward a search for new experience after new experience.

But why the simplicity in world view, for example, the insistence that the U.S. is always a force for good and is uniquely an exceptional nation? Such an understanding led Cheney and company to a belief that our troops would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq and no nationalistic sentiments would arise among Iraqis.

Is their binary, simplistic view of the world a refuge from a complicated, hostile world or an understanding based on some literal interpretation of the Bible, an ideology in itself which strains credulity?

Conservatives seem to take a simplistic position on issues like climate change, and then construct elaborate conspiracy theories to defend their stance, which take more time and effort to rationalize than gaining a deeper understanding of the initial issue.

For example, many conservatives lament that poor people on public benefits are lazy when the majority are working. Conservatives perceive trickle down economics or, as George H. W. Bush called it "voodoo economics," as something that grows the economic and increases government revenues when, in reality, it creates enormous deficits as evidenced at the state and federal levels.

Conservatives see no contradictions in being pro-life, but wanting to cut governmental programs for mothers and their children, while at the same time wanting no limitations on gun ownership, and being consistently pro-war.

The conservative base, usually less educated and wealthy than the liberal base, rails at cultural elites, which may be defined so expansively as to include anyone living on the coasts, yet they side with economic elites in being anti-regulation, a desire for cutting taxes on the wealthy, and labeling any talk of income disparities as "class warfare." They consistently vote against their own economic self-interest and do so proudly.

Conservatives fail to see discrimination as a prevailing force in society, and therefore, categorize contemporary civil rights leaders, such as Black Lives Matter activists, as race-baiters when they are just calling attention to injustice and police misconduct. Therefore, discussions on race and economic opportunity for all are stifled and conflict is left unresolved.

Conservatives lament political correctness, yet the leading Republican candidate for president, Dr. Ben Carson, wants the Department of Education to spy on college professors who may have some ideological bias, in effect, silencing free speech and traditional academic freedoms. Imagine how stifled and scripted college professors would be with such a Big Brother-like policy in place.

Conservatives see no conflict in advocating for less government and wanting to fund the Defense Department to such an extent that no country would consider a military engagement with us when we already fund our military equal to the next seven countries combined and modern conflicts are asymmetrical to begin with. In the trade-off between guns and butter, conservatives choose guns every time!

Also, they see no conflict of interest in railing about the "welfare state" and yet being more dependent on government than liberals.

Facts seem not to interest them and certainly not to persuade them, so policy discussions become some surreal exercise in futility and one almost seems to need a translator.

Of course, recent studies suggest that one does not become a liberal or conservative through their environment, but are born with a genetic predetermination.

"After analyzing the DNA of 13,000 Australians, 15 researchers, led by Penn State political scientist Peter K. Hatemi, found several genes that differed between liberals and conservatives. Most of them related to the functioning of neurotransmitters, particularly glutamate and serotonin, both of which are involved in the brain's response to threat and fear."

"Even though the effects of any single gene are tiny, these findings are important because they illustrate one sort of pathway from genes to politics: the genes (collectively) give some people brains that are more (or less) reactive to threats and that produce less (or more) pleasure when exposed to novelty, change, and new experiences. These are two of the main personality factors that have consistently been found to distinguish liberals and conservatives."

So the political divide may be widening and can not be bridged with logic, which leads to a profound pessimism. However, this pessimism feeds the Republican camp's narrative because they preach government as the enemy and as a place where nothing gets done.

Facts matter. The media has to quit making false equivalencies between a Democratic party that relies on facts and reason and accepts the Enlightenment and a Republican party that relies on emotion and a rejection of reality.