In defense of a scientific left
Through the use of fMRI brain-scanning machines, neuroscientists are making some amazing, albeit still tentative, discoveries concerning the political aspects of the mind.
• Democratic and Republican biases to political information (Kaplan) as well as their differing, disgust reactions to Abu Ghraib (Hamman),
• Liberals and conservatives as to tolerance and perceived threats (Kanai),
• Aggression and bullying (Decety),
• Empathy (Iacoboni),
• Roles of reason and emotion in political thinking (Westen),
• Racial biases based on skin tone (Ronquillo)
But instead of incorporating those findings into their own work, to correct and augment it, the community of psychoanalytic professionals (this time, Gary Greenberg) repeatedly respond in the press with decidedly non-scientific, usually sarcastic (shame-based) attacks on the whole fMRI endeavor.
It seems that they intend to preserve unfettered the dark ages of Freud that not only provides them with personal and professional sustenance but which is essentially and sometimes only loosely conjured out of its roots in Western religion/philosophy. To the extent that they are successful, they will extend their reign as the recognized experts on the human condition. But their work has become “so last century” (Freeman).
Meanwhile, the hard sciences will still be sliding actual human beings on shelves into fMRI machines, stimulate them, observe the brain’s responses, to pile more hard data on top of hard data. Despite our political excitement, they will do so without much regard to their findings being hijacked by us politicos to pursue our pre-existing political agendas (this time, David Brook of the right and Gary Greenberg of the still largely psychoanalytically guided left).
In this, the right has an advantage over the left. It was never wooed or much influenced by the psychoanalytic construct and its cobweb confusions. It may turn out that it is in the nature of conservatives to avoid family therapy, even when they (Gingrich) and their loved-ones would clearly benefit from it. While many of the left (Oliver Stone) seem to bathe in it, even to the point of making supposedly political movies based on it rather than empirical reality. News flash: we abandoned Afghanistan to invade Iraq for the oil, not because of some president’s daddy complex.
Yet the left is ultimately a product of, or at least the protector of science-culture. From its beginning it has largely existed in opposition to religion (Galileo). And it will ultimately embrace neuroscience’s new findings in the face of the attempts of the psychoanalytic professionals to reach beyond their licensed expertise in family relationships to explain politics which is instead based on power processes and product.
Science will, as it always has, never quite find truth but it will sideline many falsehoods along the way. It’s just that neuroscientists, with their heads in the data, might not pay us politicos, either left or right, much mind.
May 25 2011 - 12:29pm