Thursday, February 12, 2009

Limbic or Cortical?

As someone who never succumbed to the audacity of hope, I have a hard time deciding how to respond to the anti-Obama alarmism of the post-stimulus week. Since Obama caved on FISA back in July, I was not that surprised to see his administration similarly cave on the secrecy issues raised by the British High Court a week ago, and I am glad to see The New York Times waste no words to tell him this was not acceptable. Similarly, I thought Tim Geithner's bailout plan was almost as lame as Paulson's. Sources inside the White House say he didn't want to over-upset the banking executives, yet as Congress learned Feb. 11, there's simply no nice way to tell someone they need to have their asshole reamed. Punishment implies cruelty.

And yet, it's hard to start taking apart the stimulus package without running into the tin-foil types who seriously believe that Obama is ushering in a socialist dynasty of scary proportions. I consistently set up a rule for those with whom I would engage on debating points: use your cortex, not your limbic system. Apparently, for many people this is hard. Hard for arch-conservatives, of course, but hard for some Obamaniacs as well. Most people do not respond to facts assembled in a linear and logical way, but to emotional appeals to myth. Often, this myth is supporting and covering up a set of deeply racist fears. But even among those who have no subconscious racial blocks in dealing with the new president, there is this narrative from the Hannity-O'Reilly-Limbaugh camp that assumes all financial planning is socialism. At least Mitch McConnell was intelligent enough to say that Obama's stimulus plan could take us further toward a European Union-style economy. Flash news for frantic anti-Obama-ites: There are no socialist nations in Western Europe. McConnell may be right or wrong, but at least he doesn't uphold myths.

There are dangerous potholes ahead as we talk about financial recovery, the U.S. place in a new multipolar world, and even simple things like the 200th anniversary of Darwin. We can't remove the influence of our limbic system, but we can choose to relegate our emotions to a second order, beneath the cortex. The more the emotions or the hormones speak first regarding complex topics like economics, the more we sound like primates - and ones not very highly evolved.


Ruth said...


I sat in rapt wonder yesterday reading a piece about Michelle Obama being in Vogue magazine, then the comments that went on and on, those who gushed over her beauty and kindness and those who found her disgusting and the coverage of her clothes disgusting. So your timing is perfect, the comments mostly limbic thinking, but I didn't have a name for it.

Loring Wirbel said...

Limbic sounds nicer than "manic" or "crazed"!

Ruth said...

Yeah, and besides, if you say it, most people won't know what it means! so they won't feel insulted.

RunninL8 said...

Trying to keep my sympathetic nervous system in check over here. The conservative spin as well as the (As much as I dig him, personally)Obama-can-do-no-wrongers have me in a tizzy. Where to find the strait-up Stimulous facts and unbiased opinions(oxymoron?) I promise I'll put on my Cortex Cap.

Loring Wirbel said...

It is so bad in Colorado today, with Obama here to sign the stimulus bill, I'm expecting little civil wars to break out in front of the bill-signing podium at the Denver Natural History Museum (with the conservatives able to rely on the "evangelical docents" who stand outside the museum every day, telling people that cavemen owned dinosaurs as pets, since we all know the world is only 6000 years old). Yaaaahhhh!