your brain on politics, power, turtle crossings

Why we’re doomed, reason number 26 This is Your Brain on Politics

But how do we become partisan in the first place? That’s a complicated question, but much of it appears to relate to simple convenience. Samuel Popkin, a political science professor at University of California-San Diego, argues that it makes sense for average citizens, who are worrying about their own lives and the week-to-week struggles of surviving, to follow the leadership on issues they don’t understand or don’t care enough to learn about.

It is difficult to explain cognitive shortcuts thus this example,

Harvard psychologist and APS Fellow and Charter Member Ellen Langer observed similar rule-based behavior in a typical office setting. She had researchers ask if they could cut in line to use a copy machine. When they simply said, “Excuse me, may I use the copy machine?”, only 60 percent of the subjects complied. When the researchers gave a reason — “Excuse me, may I use the copy machine because I’m in a rush?” — 94 percent said yes. Langer tested this one more time with the phrase, “Excuse me, may I use the copy machine because I need to make some copies,” and again 93 percent of respondents agreed — despite the fact that “I need to make some copies” is not really a very good reason for cutting in line.

Even if what follows after the word because is gibberish – I need to because I need to – people are more likely to let you have your way even at their expense. There are a few well known studies on the psychology of politics on-line. This one was published in September 2008 and does cite some earlier studies. They never offer much hope. The way individuals view culture, react to physical threats and think of politics is so close to being hard wired that regardless of your your hopes, your aspirations for others and even your tireless advocacy, the effect you have on the future with your political philosophy is going to be minimal. That is not to say zero, but to realize that the conservation of mass just doesn’t apply to making large scale changes in our culture in our lifetimes. You will get imminently less out then you put in. People do respond to political advertising, but for the most part it is partisan reinforcement, or better partisan reassurance that your side is good and the other is less then good. This explains in part why good political consultants are said to be worth their weight in gold. They energize the base and sway that small percentage of the populace that is non-aligned. If pol consultants are worth their weight in gold, those independents are worth their weight in platinum. The past eight years, six of which Republicans controlled Congress plus the executive branch has brought us the housing crisis, the Wall St bailout, a war in Afghanistan that it looked like we’d won, but is now a disaster, another war that we were manipulated into, a job growth rate that is the worse in decades, and our natural heritage looks like Teddy Roosevelt’s worse nightmare. Did George and Dick cause all of this. Well, ostensibly yes, since people rely on good leaders to make good decisions on their behalf, but those leaders didn’t take their authority by storming the gates with loaded muskets at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. People put them there and other then some testily worded editorials, haven’t done much to stop disastrous decision after disastrous decision. The major reasons seem to be intertwined, the desire for stability even at great economic costs and erosion of their Constitutional rights, combined with fear. Those same researchers found that fear, as in 9-11, buzzwords like jihad, makes even many liberals lean toward Conservative leadership – exploitation works just enough of the time to eek out a victory. Which is the political equivalent of really believing that new improved deodorant really is new and improved.


Turtles rescued as highway project looms

When the 18.8-mile InterCounty Connector, commonly known as the ICC, is finished, it will include a permanent fence, along with culverts to allow turtles to cross the road safely to make use of all their old haunts on both sides of the road. Larger passages will accommodate wildlife of all sizes.

Concern about roadkill has led to the proliferation of such “critter crossings,” as the Federal Highway Administration calls them, over and under roads around the country.

I’ve always wondered why so many miles of our major expressways were built at ground level in the first place. In most of the south flash flooding of roads is the rule not the exception.

river journey