Saturday, March 28, 2020

Partisanship - Don't Become What You Despise

Democracy is fundementally rooted in compromise - it is the ability to protect what we perceive to be our own interest while acknowledging the validity of other interests.  It is seeking a win-win solution to legislative problems - where the solution probably doesn't give every viewpoint everything they want, but it strikes a balance that protects all interests as much as possible.

Our two party politics makes that sort of solution really hard.  Most voters are busy with their lives with little time for the intricacies of finding a public policy that serves all Americans.  Ambitious politicans find it much easier to cultivate votes by criticism.  If voters don't feel compelled to pay close attention a politican with no real understanding of the complexities of public policy who is aggressive with criticism will usually beat a politican who tries to speak truthfully about the complexities.

But even beyond the issues arising from incentives to aspiring politicians that run counter to good decision making, there are more basic issues that, if we do not all keep in mind, undermine by-partisan action.

We all have no problem accepting that people are vastly different physically.  There are tall people, not so tall people, stout people, skinny people, black people, white people, a wide variety of eye colors, hair colors.  We see it and experience it every day.

We have much more difficulty not falling into the trap of thinking that everybody's brain should work just like ours.

Our Brains Are As Different As Our Bodies:

We all have in our brains various levels of messenger chemicals - nuerotransmitters.  Each individuals mix of brain chemicals shapes their view of the world.

Science has not yet figured out how to study variations in the the chemical nature of the brain in living people.  Brain scans only detect gross electrical activity.  They cannot distinguish between different chemical messenger systems using the same nueral pathways.  However, science has known for over 100 years the amount of many nuerotransmitters in the brain fluctuate over the course of a day, the monthly moon cycle, a calender year.  We all know Melotonin. We buy Melotinin at the drug store to help us sleep.  Melotonin is high at midnight and low mid-day, low in Summer, high in Winter.  Some nuerotransmitter levels fluctuate in opposition to melotinin, others appear to run in cycles not directly related to melotonin.

At this point we can only speculate about the impact on belief differences in nuerotransmitter levels may lead to given sciences inability to directly study the impact of those fluctuations in a living brain.  But it seems almost self evident that, given how quickly a developing embryo's brain develops, the relative level of each particular nuerotransmitter at conception will have a strong influence on the balance between different nuerotransmitters systems in adulthood.

One of the brains messenger chemicals (Oxytocin) is linked to a community outlook, to balancing, or even choosing community over individual interests.  Animals that live in communties usually have way more Oxytocin than animals of the same species that live a solo existance. 

Another of the brains messenger chemicals, Vasopressin, the levels of which some evidence suggests seems to fluctuate in a cycle in opposition to Oxytocin - tends to make people more likely to be loners, to be focused on their own well-being. 

Sounds suspiciously like folks with more Oxytocin than Vasopressin are more inclined to be comfortable in the Democratic party, and folks that see the world from the Republican viewpoint are folks with more Vasopressin than Oxytocin.  Oddly this correlates with gender data.  Women generally have more Oxytocin and less Vasopressin and are more likely to be Democrats, men tend to have more Vasopressin than Oxytocin and are more likely to be Republicans.

We can only speculate at this point because science is woefully ignorant about the impact on our thinking of nuerotransmitter variation in living humans.  But the point to take away is we do not all think the same, and our differences are not because anyone knows some absolute truth, they stem from biological differences in our brains.

Avoiding Partisanship

Partisanship is rampant when one or both political parties make decisions based primarily on ideological notions rooted in the particular individuals emotional belief system, in turn rooted at least in part on their particular mix of nuerotransmitters, and dismiss facts that do not fit with their world view.

It seems to me that at the moment we are reaping the harvest of 40 years of Republican ideologically based problem solving that puts the individual above the community in all things.  We are now going through our second financial collapse in little over a decade.  In the 40 years of Republican ideological dominance growth in the National debt has outpaced economic growth.  

The rest of us need to keep our perspective.  We need to recognize that other people see the world differently through no fault of their own, they just have a different mix of brain chemicals.   We must laser focus on facts, not ideological notions and emotional outrage.  Having the pendulum swing far to the left is not in the long term interest of our country.  We need to bring it back to a balance that respects individual rights while recognizing the benefits and needs of community.

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