Pretenders To The Throne

May 19, 2010

Rush Limbaugh is an author, in the most sluttish sense of that word (that is, its loosest and most non-discriminatory application). So are Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity. They’ve all published (and, to some extent, written) books. “Books” is another loosely and generously applied word, but it’s true all their books share some commonality: they’re double-spaced, published in large font, and don’t include any words requiring a dictionary. These guys know their audience, and it’s not the Harvard political science department. Rush himself has less than a year’s worth of Southeast Missouri State University under his belt.

William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote real books. The single-spaced kind, with no pictures. He graduated from Yale University and published his first, God & Man at Yale, shortly thereafter. It was revolutionary for its time, and he followed up with over 50 more; some political discourse, others spy novels, travel journals, or biographies. He also served briefly in the Central Intelligence Agency, as a field officer in Mexico, and hosted the talk show Firing Line. He wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column, On The Right, ran for mayor of New York, and founded a magazine, National Review. NR is still a bastion of conservative thought… not just of party line conservatism, but of conservative thought. Through it, he mentored young thinkers like Dinesh D’Souza and Richard Brookhiser.

Rush & co. are noisy, arrogant pretenders to Buckley’s throne. Buckley earned the title Lion of The Right; today’s pundits are hyenas cackling over the lion’s leavings. None enjoy his intellect or joi de vivre; Buckley was playmaker, coach, and commissioner of a game in which the rest are Monday morning quarterbacks. They abstain from play, whereas Buckley launched a movement and defined conservative thought. Limbaugh and the others define only conservative rhetoric, and trust their audience not to spot the difference.

William F. Buckley, Jr.

Conservative Thought

July 6, 2009

Yellow journal The New York Times‘s Nicholas Kristof hits on interesting ground in his verbosely-titled May 27 op-ed “Would You Slap Your Father? If So, You’re a Liberal,” namely: liberals and conservatives use very distinguishable thought processes, not just in political or social thought but in more over-arching arenas, too.

Kristof notes: “Studies suggest that conservatives are more often distressed by actions that seem disrespectful of authority. Liberals don’t worry as long as [some authority] has given permission.

Likewise, conservatives are more likely than liberals to sense contamination or perceive disgust. People who would be disgusted to find that they had accidentally sipped from an acquaintance’s drink are more likely to identify as conservatives. The upshot is that liberals and conservatives don’t just think differently, they also feel differently. This may even be a result, in part, of divergent neural responses.”

Each personality type’s predisposition to be affected by situations in a particular way, Kristof writes, makes each type (liberal or conservative) predisposed to think in different ways, and to react in dissimilar ways with regard to information. Some experts theorize the different approaches have to do with the activity which occurs between the pathways connecting the left and right hemispheres of the brain; that is, electrons in conservative brains fire differently than liberal ones do. Kristof writes:

“One of the main divides between left and right is the dependence on different moral values. For liberals, morality derives mostly from fairness and prevention of harm. For conservatives, morality also involves upholding authority and loyalty — and revulsion at disgust.

Some evolutionary psychologists believe that disgust emerged as a protective mechanism against health risks, like feces, spoiled food or corpses. Later, many societies came to apply the same emotion to social “threats.” Humans appear to be the only species that registers disgust, which is why a dog will wag its tail in puzzlement when its horrified owner yanks it back from eating excrement.”

So disgust has evolved as a kind of “sixth sense” about things which are inherently bad; things which, although you can’t put a finger on why, seem very obviously wrong. It may be fitting, then, that the conservative brain is more in tune with the indescrible propriety of things, and cares more for rightness and order, than the liberal brain.

The conservative brain is disgusted and pulls the puzzled dog away from excrement; the liberal brain looks on with its own puzzled expression and lets the dog eat its fill.