Book Reveals Defective Brain?

Okay, if the most generous review of one’s “secular” anti-republican/conservative book one can get is from an organization like this one, then one has some problems.  The Center for Inquiry states, partly, its mission as thus:
The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.
And here they show the extremely poor reasoning of Chris Mooney and his ridiculous attempt to show that an entire political party is neurologically bent to be anti-science.  Yes, read that sentence again, you read correctly.  Like with all fundamentalism, they just can’t help themselves.  Give them long enough and on the religious side they will either start spouting 6 literal days of creation or on the secular side nonsense like Mooney is tossing about.  They don’t call them wing-nuts for nothing.
The reviewer here, since I’m sure he and his organization shares many of the same suspicions or views in other areas as Mooney, is trying to be as generous as possible in his review.  But, one can only be so generous with a work that appears to be seriously lacking in evidence, reason, and especially common sense.  I haven’t read the book.  But, based upon this review (from a friendly corner) alone, I think I’m on safe ground in my assessment.  Some quotes from the review:
The book marshals a wide array of research in support of its thesis, and this research is accurately and perceptively summarized. However, I don’t believe there is sufficient evidence to support the book’s central claims.
The contrasting view, which I accept, and many psychologists accept (as Chris candidly points out in his book) is that motivated reasoning is symmetrical. In other words, it affects liberals and conservatives about the same. Further, or so I and some others would maintain, it’s not whether one is left-wing or right-wing that determines how biased one’s perspective is. Rather, it’s how deeply committed one is to one’s world view or ideology. Both the communist and the fascist are going to have more trouble processing information inconsistent with their ideologies than someone who leans liberal or conservative.
Ummm, folks, I agree and this is just common sense.  My Grandmother could have told us this.  We all know who the “true believers” are and we normally duck into a store when we see them coming down the sidewalk.  And, if we’ve lived long enough, we’ve known them from all spectrums of the political or religious divide.  More deeply though, this also goes to the modern/post-modern divide.  The bottom line is that we all are “motivated” in our reasoning.  What Mooney seems blind to is his own motivated reasoning and the naïve presumption that it affects more strongly (shocking!) the group he disagrees with and dislikes.  How convenient!  A book like his could only come about due to some very “motivated” reasoning!
Hmm, let me see. If a conservative by definition is someone who is intolerant, insistent on punishment, and resistant to science I wonder if conservatism will correlate with authoritarianism and resistance to science?  I don’t need to belabor this point. Defining one’s way to a conclusion is not sound science.
Why not concede that it’s not being left- or right-wing that will predispose one to closed-mindedness and authoritarianism, but rather deep commitment to any dogma or ideology?
Exactly.  And, this would include, by the way, the dogma and ideology of philosophical naturalism.  It equals close-mindedness and authoritarianism.
And here is the kicker—where he goes to the real issue:
Dogmatism blinds people to reality. Dogmatists will dismiss inconvenient facts that threaten their deeply-held beliefs. This is true for fascists and communists; it’s true for extreme liberals and extreme conservatives; and it is true for the devoutly religious—a group that unfortunately is currently holding the Republican Party in thrall. I don’t see why an additional explanation is necessary or how Chris’s theory, when it’s suitably qualified and conditioned, adds much to this analysis.
It’s the Dogmatic Brain we need to worry about, not the liberal, conservative, Democratic, or Republican Brain.
And I’m sure he would add that this is true for the extreme secularist or atheist.  He might also have added that there is also a devoutlysecular group holding much of the Democratic Party in thrall, but perhaps there is some of his own dogmatism doing some blinding here.
When Mooney is trying to prove scientifically that there is some physical difference in the brain that lends or leads someone to be a conservative or liberal, he is just spouting nonsense.  In that regard, this may be the dumbest book ever written.  However, if he were simply saying the above, then great, I couldn’t agree more.  Yes, anyone breathing and capable of ambulation could have told us the same, but there you go.  We’ve all met the person with the dogmatic bent (whether religious, secular, democrat, or republican) and we all know they are insufferable bores to be avoided at all cost.
Notice the reviewer is qualifying the noun “brain” with the adjective “dogmatic.”  Why?  Because what we are really talking about is more than just the “brain” it is our deliberative thought choices to “see” things a certain way.  This encompasses our will and decision making.  Again, this is just common sense.  Just like with this statement: “…That biologically-based proclivities have influences, more or less strong, on our mental lives.”  No, really?  Well of course they do, but so what?  That’s not even the issue.  As the reviewer notes, the issue is dogmatism, not what political party it comes with—or the fact our biology is involved (and how could it not be?).
A racist is not one by biology, but by the freedom of the mind and will to make a choice to think and see a certain way.  Otherwise, a child raised and educated by the Ku Klux Klan could never, ever be anything but a racist.  But people who have grown up, several generations in such families- have been capable of changing their minds.  Indeed entire cultures can change.  There is no doubt some blatant racism in the deeper parts of the American South today, but would anyone claim it is such as it was in 1865 or even 1910?  People can change their minds.  Hell, at one time the South was Democratic!  Such will always trump biology, even though biology is a tiny part of the over-all mix. 

What the reviewer points out above in the last quote, whether he is aware of it or not, is the post-modern critique.  Modernity created the space for the fundamentalism of our time, whether of the secular or religious variety.  It did so by philosophically imagining that we could understand our perceptions of the world (or a text) as a one-to-one correlation between my perceptions of the world (or a text) and the way the world (or word) “actually” or “truly” is granting an objectivity that then reinforce by “science” could lead one to believe that his perceptions were true TRUTH.  Well, this automatically makes anyone who disagrees a problem.  But our perceptions, our readings, are not objective.  We “see” things differently based upon an assortment of factors.  But the extremes the reviewer notes above comes from thinking that only my perceptions are true and everyone must “see” it the way I do; and, if they don’t, they are somehow less human or inferior in some way, perhaps even biologically.
And that is precisely the danger Mooney is flirting with.  It is one thing to say, look, we are both reasonable smart people who just see this differently.  It is quite another thing to say, look, you, unlike myself, are much more prone to believe falsehoods because your brain is physically different.  The gulf there is huge.  And it is a dangerous gulf.  It is the same sort of thinking that led to the eugenics movement.
Also, a quote from the comment section of the review, where the reviewer is responding to another criticism of Mooney brings out another important point:
@ Ophelia You do put your finger squarely on one of the troubling implications of Chris’s thesis. (Of course, just because it’s troubling does not mean it’s incorrect.) Put bluntly, Chris maintains that science shows the Enlightenment model of discussion is out of touch with reality. It’s not just that reason and facts don’t always persuade (we knew that already); it’s that they’re pointless most of the time and may even be counter-productive.
Not only is Mooney’s book bad science, horrific philosophical and logical reasoning, it is potentially dangerous just like all fundamentalism.  It’s a good thing even a group like the Center for Inquiry can see the problems inherent.  

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5 Responses to Book Reveals Defective Brain?

  1. Burk Braun says:

    “And, this would include, by the way, the dogma and ideology of philosophical naturalism. It equals close-mindedness and authoritarianism.”

    Ah- do I hear a bit of dogmatism?

    “Modernity created the space for the fundamentalism of our time, whether of the secular or religious variety. It did so by philosophically imagining that we could understand our perceptions of the world (or a text) as a one-to-one correlation between my perceptions of the world (or a text) and the way the world (or word) “actually” or “truly” is granting an objectivity that then reinforce by “science” could lead one to believe that his perceptions were true TRUTH.”

    Well, let's take climate change. The motivated reasoning here is extreme and extremely damaging to our future. And it is largely located on one side of the political spectrum. And the science behind it is true- no doubt about it. Does this lead to postmodernism somehow? Or does it just lead to a conflict between the short-sighted and the far-sighted; the classic moral conflict?

    Thanks for pointing out this review.. it was a very good response. But here you go off again plunging into eugenics. It seems to be some kind of a tic, or a dogmatism! Did Mooney advocate eugenics?


  2. Darrell says:

    “Did Mooney advocate eugenics?” Maybe you are familial with the term “logical inference.”

    It's easy to point out everyone else being dogmatic Burk (Mooney's problem). The trick is to recognize it in yourself. It is the one thing all fundamentalists cannot do.


  3. Burk Braun says:

    Oh- I see. A hyperbolic citation makes eugenics make sense to you as a blanket “explanation” for everything wrong with the “other” side. Well done!

    Let me lay this out as crisply as I can. There are temperamental differences among people, some of which inflect their political / moral/ social choices. Whether Chris Mooney has properly defined his terms, there is no question that people differ in this regard, partly due to genetics.

    The science of this issue asks whether we can define such differences in a statistically defensible way, whether we can find genetic variations underlying the general findings of heritability, and what in evolutionary and related theories could account for the persistance of all these variants.

    To me it is fascinating to see biology make some sense (as a matter of hypothesis for the time being) of the amazing diversity of the human condition by showing, for instance, that social systems are more robust when made up of diverse members. When some members have proclivities in one direction and others elsewhere, social groups as a whole tend to be more stable and more successful, using many talents to get where they are going.

    Thus there may be a perfectly viable evolutionary explanation for the existence of temperaments tending to mysticism, a bit untethered from reality, but given to imaginative and inspirational leadership. There might be some sense to group-ishness, where people may be more or less inclined to submerge their worldviews and even reasoning ability into a larger group for a larger good. And there might be a place for cantankerous, fissiparous antisocial critics as well.

    So one can take all this in a Kumbaya sense, without getting into criticism, let alone eugenics. But obviously one can make the further points that an evolutionary rationale that worked great in prehistoric times is less adaptive today, and that certain mental habits and predilections deserve special scrutiny and critique in a substantially changed world where we have nuclear bombs and are killing the entire biosphere bit by bit. Where reproductive success is perhaps not the highest of all goals. Being politically and culturally mad about things, and assigning blame (with some serious problems, as Mr. Lindsay duly points out) does not amount to eugenics.

    We could (conceptually) blame genes for rape, negligent parenting, and ugliness and any number of other bad things. That doesn't mean that we jump to a eugenic holocaust to solve each of these issues. Or any other ones. Indeed, learning the essential and possibly genetic nature of homosexuality has had the opposite effect, liberating an oppressed class to just be itself- out and proud.

    When we recommend eugenics, you will hear about it. What have you and your compatriots been smoking?


  4. Darrell says:

    Smoking nothing but the nonsense Mooney and others keep rolling.

    I love how you think nothing of taking the “logical inferences” of what we might do with gene manipulation, given what you think we presently know (when defending people like Mooney), but then get your panties in a wad when we say that given this mistaken understanding (but believing it scientific fact) that it could actually again justify the same sort of abuse that did in fact happen. We are talking history. Not science fiction. I know that bothers you.


  5. Burk Braun says:


    Very interesting.. the religious community lives in fear of the science-bots runing amok and ruining all our lives. Conversely, the science community lives in fear of the fundamentalist yahoos runing amok and ruining all our lives.

    And while the science folks are reality-based in knowing what is going on in hard reality- in history, the climate, biology, etc., the religious folks are reality-based in being more in tune with what people want and are comforted by, are willing to believe, want as narrative, etc.

    It is another case of contrasting temperaments adding up to a social whole generally kept in productive dynamic tension, one might say. Both sides seem to project alot, and get a little worked up.

    But we are both evidently liberals. We don't even want criminals killed, let alone eccentric or odd people of other sorts, enabled, disabled, etc. We dislike power used to fetter people. It is just such a different world than the fascist and communist ideologies … what I would call theologies from a psychological perspective, though you would call atheologies, and scientistic ones to boot.

    So it seems, over the last few decades, hard to make a slippery slope argument that science-types are leading us to ruin, or anywhere near it. The scientific end of things is at its worst perhaps in corporatism and greedy environmental destruction, though the politics of this type of thing tend anti-science, to be truthful. On the other hand, the religous end of things has been very evident, both here at home in the fundamentalism and Republican extremism, and abroad of course in Islam. Both are quite real and serious cultural dangers.

    So, weighing the evidence for slipperly slope arguments about who is driving global culture over a cliff, I think you would be hard-pressed to say that the science end of the spectrum is the significant present danger. They are a danger to your views and to theologies of all sorts, but that is a different issue from crying “eugenics” and the like with any reference to today's world.


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