Why Is the Conservative Brain More Fearful? The Alternate Reality Right-Wingers Inhabit Is Terrifying
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Continue, for a moment, to stroll in the shoes of a true believer on the right. Imagine how frightening it would be to believe Frank Gaffney, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan administration and leading neoconservative voice, when he claims the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government, or Newt Gingrich, when he says that “sharia law” (there isn't such a thing in the way conservatives portray it – as a discrete canon of laws) poses a grave threat to our way of life.
Imagine believing that the Democrats' business-friendly insurance reforms included panels of bureaucrats who would decide when to let you die, as Sarah Palin infamously suggested. Or that virtually the entire field of climatology is perpetrating a “hoax,” as senator James Inhofe claims, in order to undermine capitalism and impose a one-world government. Imagine seeing energy-efficient lightbulbs as part of an international plot to, again, undermine capitalism, as Michele Bachmann believes. Imagine thinking that the public school system “indoctrinates” young children into the “gay lifestyle,” as influential members of the religious right – Pat Dobson, Bryan Fischer, Anita Bryant – have claimed for years. Imagine believing our electoral system is tarnished by massive voter fraud or that union thugs are running amok or that the Department of Homeland Security is making a list of people who advocate for “limited government.” Imagine if there really were a War on Christmas!
These dark narratives come in addition to more run-of-the-mill fearmongering about the Iranian “threat,” or nonsense about how “entitlements” are leading our economy to look like Greece's. Those of us in the “reality-based community” may look at these specters haunting the right with exasperation or amusement, but just consider for a moment how bleak the world looks to those who buy into these ideas.
Perhaps the most frightening part of all of this for the true believers is that even though these things aren't just fringe ideas circulating in forwarded emails – they're discussed by influential politicians and on leading cable news outlets – the bulk of the media and most elected officials refuse to investigate what's happening to this country.
That one ideological camp is so consumed with fear also has a lot to do with why conservatives and liberals share so little common ground. Progressives tend to greet these narratives with facts and reason, but as Chris Mooney notes, when your amygdala is activated, it takes over and utterly dominates the brain structures dedicated to reason. Then the "fight-or-flight" response takes precedence over critical thinking.
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America . Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.