Saturday, January 21, 2017

Review of "The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science - and Reality" by Chris Mooney

  

There are many excellent, detailed reviews of this book available on Goodreads and Amazon so - rather than add to the field - I'm just going to jot down a few thoughts. Full disclosure: I'm a liberal Democrat.

Before reading this book I could not comprehend how some people, usually conservative Republicans, could deny things like global warming and evolution - which (in my view) have been unquestionably proven by science. I also found it bewildering that - in the face of proof to the contrary - some folks insist that President Obama was born in Kenya, that he's a Muslim, and so on. I thought these folks were willfully deluding themselves, pretending not to believe (just to be contrary....ha ha ha), or perhaps they weren't too bright.

In this book, Chris Mooney makes it pretty clear that none of the above is true. Rather, the brains of conservative people are wired in a way that makes it impossible for them to accept ideas that they find 'threatening.' Thus, if conservatives are presented with information contrary to their core beliefs, they either 'don't hear it', 'deny it', or 'change the goalposts'....that is, shift their perspective to make the new information tolerable. In a nutshell, that's the basic premise of Mooney's book.

To be fair, Mooney notes that liberals have biases as well. He asserts, however, that liberals seem more able to change their minds when evidence is presented that's contrary to their ingrained notions. (I can attest to this from personal experience - with regard to the safety of nuclear power plants.)

One example of 'changing the goalposts' - not directly related to politics - is particularly striking. A doomsday cult called the Seekers, led by Dorothy Martin, believed they communicated with aliens via Dorothy's automatic writing.

The aliens said that the Earth would be destroyed on December 21, 1954, so the cult members divested themselves of their possessions and waited to be rescued by flying saucers. Of course the world didn't end and the cult members didn't go anywhere.

One might think the Seekers would HAVE to admit they'd been deluded or defrauded, Right? Nope! Dorothy Martin got another message via automatic writing declaring that the Seekers' beliefs had saved the world. Contrary to what would seem like common sense, the Seekers doubled down on their doctrine and became even more fanatic (though a good deal poorer....LOL).

Mooney includes information about about the structure and evolution of the brain - as well as sociological, psychological, and scientific studies and surveys - to bolster his arguments. On the down side, Mooney tends to repeat the same conclusions again and again, and the book could probably have been condensed into a comprehensive article.

In any case, this is an interesting book that's worth reading. I feel it's given me a better understanding of why a group of people cling to controversial (and wrong in my opinion) convictions.



Rating: 3 stars

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