I’m kinda getting whiplash.

We’ve been giving shelter to college friends of my daughter — outspoken, activists convinced that capitalism’s the root of all evil.

They’re very nice about it. But I know they’re trying hard not to say out loud that I’m a morally bankrupt capitalist wallowing in white privilege, shilling for a corrupt political establishment.

So then I pack up my notebook and head over to cover a couple of candidates appearing at the Payson Tea Party meeting.

The candidate says communists have taken over the Democratic Party. They want to start a race war. They want to throw open the borders and register a bunch of Mexicans to ensure Republicans will never win another election. They want to destroy this country.

The folks in the audience watch me taking notes. They’re very nice about it. But I know they’re trying hard not to say out loud that I’m a morally bankrupt communist and an America-hating racist, shilling for a corrupt political establishment.

So I’m wondering, how on earth did I get so crosswise with so many people I like so much?

Interestingly, I came across a little bit of research proposing an answer.

Turns out, extreme liberals and extreme conservatives share something I lack.

They can’t stand uncertainty.

The researchers for Brown University published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

They set out to see whether brain scans and a battery of personality and political orientation tests could help explain political polarization — which seems to get worser and worser.

So the researchers enlisted 22 staunch liberals and 22 committed conservatives and tested them up one way and down the other. They sat them down in front of three videos and did brain scans as they watched. One was a neutrally worded news segment on a politically charged topic. The second was an inflammatory debate segment. The third was a nice nature documentary (presumably no reference to climate change ...).

After the viewing, they answered questions about the videos — and then filled out five political and three cognitive questionnaires designed to measure traits like intolerance of uncertainty.

They found the brains of both liberals and conservatives lit up as they watched the politically charged videos. Their brains seemed perfectly synced — with the liberals getting all upset in perfect harmony — as did the conservatives. That’s not too surprising. Just sit a bunch of liberals down in front of Fox News and watch the synchronized upset. You can get almost as much entertainment out of watching conservatives endure The Daily Show.

But here’s the interesting part.

The liberals and the conservatives both scored off the chart on the personality tests measuring intolerance of uncertainty. Staunch liberals and conservatives both really hated uncertainty in every area of their lives. They much preferred clear, black-and-white answers.

“This suggests that aversion to uncertainty governs how the brain processes political information to form black-and-white interpretations of inflammatory political content,” concluded the researchers. (See the summary of the study attached as a PDF to the online version of this story.)

Now, I’m not certain I believe this study.

I mean, the sample size seems small.

And the whole brain scan thing makes me twitchy.

But hey, these days I’m inclined to embrace any research suggesting liberals and conservatives share important traits based on the whole being human beings thing.

In the meantime, I shall embrace uncertainty — wallow in it, even. It’s a job requirement — given the need to accurately quote people with whom you don’t necessarily agree. Besides, one thing a journalist learns — truth’s a slippery beast. Might as well chase a black cat on a moonless night.

Anyway. I gotta go.

Bought some steaks at the capitalist market this afternoon.

And now the Marxists are hungry.

Oh. Wait. Will they eat steak?

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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(1) comment

James Wise

Are our choices 'ever fraught,

Or always only all or naught?

I think that:

To ask the question (as one ought)

Is to anwer. (Meaning caught?)

Thanks again for your excellent reporting.

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