I just read an interesting article in Mother Jones exploring current research into the physiological foundation for our liberal or conservative view of the world. The work of political scientist John Hibbing and others is pointing toward the notion that our political outlook is more hardwired, more closely woven into the fabric of our being, than previously realized.
Hibbing’s research finds that conservatives tend to focus more on negative stimuli in the world around them than liberals, and in response, build up ideological defenses against these perceived threats. The bottom line, according to Hibbing’s work is that liberals and conservatives see the world through different lenses or filters and that this divide is the result of more than simply environmental factors or familial preferences. It explains how two people (liberal and conservative) can watch the same debate and come away with completely different interpretations of the event. They are literally seeing different debates. People cannot fully control their political beliefs, says Hibbing, any more than they can control their sexual orientation or left/right handedness.
If you go to the comments section, you will find a lot of angry conservative responses to these findings as there has been for other research articles in this arena. This is highly emotional and controversial stuff and I feel like we’re still left with the question, “What do we do with this knowledge?” Despite the fact that at our particular point in history the conservative/liberal divide seems to be as wide s the Grand Canyon and intractable, it’s also as old as man and is perhaps a necessary friction for our growth as humans.