Hard-wired to self-destruct?

Posted 5.8.19

SHAWVILLE, QC | This month, following the first peak of the flooding, a group took to the streets to protest the provincial government's secularization proposals. Naturally, they were met by another group, much smaller, supporting Bill 21.

There was no confrontation, nothing to grab headlines -- except for questions: why not protest inaction on climate change, as part of the world-wide protests underway mainly by school kids, asking for real legislative climate-engagement? Or why aren't both sides out helping the flood response? Something affecting people right now!, in other words.

This dynamic of contrary opinions points to a basic principle outlined in Political Brain, by US psychologist Drew Westen (2007).

First, we agree all sides have the right to express themselves, with civility. Yes, Bill 21 does have positives and negatives; yes, climate change is pressing upon us, and, yes, the flood cleanup is a monumental task. Mainstream media and modern e-blather rarely uncover the meat of these important subjects, so a public expression by regular citizens is welcome. Freedom of expression has become another of today's threatened species.

Can't we agree, too, that today's big issues seem too important to be left to dithering authorities -- problems which aren't evolving or improving, as we should expect from real 'authorities'?

In fact, might these big issues -- climate, migration, education, human rights -- be more easily resolved if they were not political at all? Why should protecting our towns from flooding, our farms from drought, and our cities from tornadoes be political issues? Shouldn't we improve all that can be scientifically improved? Does it matter if climate-change happens naturally when we are dumping pollutants into our atmosphere? We blow millions on celebrity sports, for example -- merely to be entertained. Can't we spend -- blow, if it's blow -- on climate change mitigation or environmental degradation? Why is a right-winger opposed to climate-change mitigation, and a leftist required to support it? Why is one a Liberal or Conservative position, but another a Green position? Why are these political at all?

Aren't we all here together?

Let's argue politics about union certification of gig-employees, or cutting CBC's budget, or supporting Venezuela, or backing-up Trump? Are't there enough 'political' issues?

Or we are seeing and exhibiting the Political Brain?

Author Westen says humans are hard-wired to see the world in a 'them vs us' lens, an emotional-tribal lens. And through these lenses, every social and economic question demands a political response. We can't help ourselves, Westen argues.

Is it true we cannot circumvent this wiring? Can't we decide our position by looking at each issue's threats, not at our politics? Westen insists we cannot, but we can answer this question by asking ourselves, is a 'political-brain' filter at work in our own opinions, with today's issues? Don't answer: look at the issue itself. Why put it in left/right terms?

Can't we go further than Mr. Westen and ask why are we willing to let our political brains tell us what's best for all of us, rather than use common sense, our sense of personal responsibility, and scientific knowledge? Does climate change have to be Right or Left? Does storing tonnes of radioactive waste just above-stream at Chalk River have only a Left or a Right response? Where is our common sense ... and our sense of community, helping out others and especially helping out the generations after us?

There is no Right and Left about the future. It's coming, and it will be like today's flooding: everywhere and affecting everyone, through contaminated water or insurance rates, fuel prices or property damage. Maybe we should look out across today's flooding and ask, Where's Left? Where's Right?

We can pick holes in any narrative. There will always be contrary examples, missing evidence, alternate options.

Many broad issues are like the flood -- with no exclusively Liberal, NDP or Conservative response. Everyone flooded needs everyone's help. Isn't this true of our Earth's climate future? Aren't any improvements of benefit?

Or are we simply hard-wired to fight?


Copyright © 2019 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/5.8.19