I know you are but what am I?

Trump-angry
Donald Trump is often called a “bully.” There is a sound reason for that:  He is.

Not of physical strength, but often the most formidable ones are the ones who rely on neither muscle or even wit, but dismantle logic.  It’s a ploy where you win every time because there is no requirement in the fight beyond the rhetorical dismissal of your opponent.

“I’m rubber and you’re glue; what you say bounces off me and sticks to you!”

The Trump phenomenon is consistent with modern populism and so it comes as no surprise that his technique would attract followers. I’ve been observing this in my own experience for several years.

When I argue with what I perceive as obstinate viewpoints it can feel as if a large, gray mass of volcanic rock is growing in my sensory cortex .  It is the exasperation I remember as auntitled child on the playground when someone stuck their tongue out and whined, “I know you are but what am I?”

It can be like trying to get directions in a foreign country where no one shares a common language, and, in fact, one of us is mute and the other is blind.

But, I’ve noticed something about conservative debaters (including Trump).  Even when the argument degenerates into condescension, insults, or goes completely off point, they are always willing to keep the debate going.  They’ll gladly jump in at the next opportunity, too.  In fact, I’ve never heard one of them say: “Go away!  I can’t deal with you anymore!”

Not so true with liberals.  I’ve even been banished myself by other liberals in those times when we don’t see eye to eye on an issue.

Why is this?  Or is this even true?  I asked some liberal friends and, coincidentally, they couldn’t agree.  One was immediately defensive:  “Conservatives are much worse!”

Another acquiesced:  “Yeah, that kind of seems true.”

Another clarified:  “It’s pointless to argue with most conservatives because they’re not interested in the truth, but when you argue with a liberal, well, we don’t like that.  We kind of expect you to agree.”

I offered a conciliatory observation to placate the liberals who were now angry that I would suggest that we were less tolerant during disagreements: “In my experience,  it is the conservative in an argument that is quicker to a personal attack.”

(I posted on this a while back after a rather contentious debate:  http://www.garyhasissues.com/?p=3275)

I went a little deeper and found a study from 2008 in the journal “Nature Neuroscience.” It concerned research that found that these differences in thinking may be traceable to brain differences.

A New York University neuroscientist conducted an Man-with-electrodes-on-hi-007experiment on participants who ranked themselves on a scale ranging from Very Liberal to Very Conservative.

With sensors attached to their skulls, they played a computer game requiring them to press a button as fast as they could when a certain shape flashed on their screen.  When a different shape randomly appeared, however, they were not supposed to hit the button.

Most made mistakes and hit their button when they weren’t supposed to, but, with each mistake, the researchers recorded a pulse coming from a region of the brain that signals the presence of conflicting information as if their brains were saying: “Oops—I meant to do one thing, but I did another.”

Results showed that the more liberal a participant claimed to be, the greater the “Oops” brain signal and the fewer the number of mistakes made.  The researchers concludedbrain that the “liberal’s brains were more sensitive to how accurate their ongoing responses were, and were more likely to adapt to changing demands.

Conservative brains, on the other hand, might be better equipped for tasks that require a more fixed response style.”

How would this apply to the Liberal Dismissal Syndrome that I’ve personally encountered?

Here’s my take:  Liberals don’t like to be wrong.  They may adapt more quickly to changing circumstances, leading to fewer mistakes, but that also leads to intolerance for what they perceive as mistakes, and leaves them with a lesser capacity for a pit fight.

To conservatives, being correct isn’t as relevant as it is to outlast the conflict; confrontation is simply a byproduct.

I could be wrong (although I don’t like to be), but I believe that from some reflection on how we argue, we might draw some personal conclusions that could bring both sides closer together.

11993823-largeIt won’t dismantle the Trump bandwagon, and hugs may remain rare, but perhaps an understanding of our different ways of thinking could lead us toward a more civil discourse within our electorate.

Or at least begin to understand our own shortcomings so that bullies don’t bring out the worst in us.

“Oops! I wasn’t supposed to hit that button!”

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