America is trying to come to grips with this election. There seems to be a more bitter, harsh divide between the partisans of the candidates than ever before. Each side is convinced that the world is going to end if their man loses. Of course, it's really something that's been going on for a long time.
On Salon.com, a guy named Andrew O'Hehir addressed the problem. He thinks that it goes back to some fundamental visions of the role of the country and the loss of power by white people in a world where everyone is increasingly not-white. Everything the guy says, is true but it misses the point. (Check it out here: http://j.mp/S9uI3i
) He correctly emphasizes the intractability of these issues and the dangerous divide that results but I think he misses a deeper reason for our schism.
I think this divide is based on the fact that we actually have two kinds of human beings trying to coexist. By this I mean physical difference that enforces two different ways of processing reality. It is a neurological difference that I am increasingly convinced is as concrete and significant as schizophrenia.
On the one side are people who have the power of conviction. Whatever lump of meat inside their brains that causes the sensation of faith is highly developed. Along with that faith is a reverence for ideals, of right and wrong, of economics, of social policy, and so on. These ideals are introduced into their lives at an early age and act as seed crystals to organize their observations into a worldview.
On the other side are people in whom this lump of meat is diminutive. These are people who question everything and, based on their observations, make up stories to explain why things are as they are. From this imagination, ideals emerge. Conversations about them become observations to other people and those observations become the basis of other stories. Similarities in the stories are upheld as ideals but they are always provisional. New information is able to upset the worldview of these people at any time.
The former, faithful, people resist changes to their worldview because 'ideal' is ideal. Once an ideal is included in the canon, subsequent information exists only to confirm the value of the ideal. Satisfaction and beauty are associated with things and ideas that fit closer to the ideals. This sensation is not subject to analysis and is adequate to establish the correct interpretation of new observations. It is what Stephen Colbert refers to as his "gut."
Those other folks, let's stop being coy and call them liberals, are very successful in science and art, enterprises that depend on the ability to open-mindedly synthesize new realities in response to new observations. The other folks, hereafter known as conservatives, excel where consistency of purpose and the ability to prioritize are valuable.
Business people tend to be conservative because they are able to ignore the complications they face because they are able to apply their highly developed skill at faith to themselves. This allows them to fearlessly assert authority, take risks and ignore secondary consequences of their actions.
Both kinds of people are useful in various contexts. The challenge is that, as with the changing successfulness of women relative to men, reality is starting to make some preferences known. Just as society no longer really needs very many large, muscular, violent men (as it did in days of yore), it has less need for people who can go off into the wilderness armed with little more than their faith in their own rightness and the ability to ignore the fact that there are bears, or children at home that need care.
I don't know how we reconcile these two but I do think it's a mistake to conceive the difference based on beliefs or insecurity. Sure, the white guys are feeling a little put upon as they realize that the brown guys are more numerous and that sheer whiteness doesn't really buy much once you are competing on an equal footing but, that's momentary. A hundred years from now, everyone will be coffee colored and gay and no one will care.
What will not change is that, now that we can select our mates from the entire population (rather than just those within walking distance of our log cabin), people are choosing mates based on the similarity of their brain meat. Of course, they *think* it's because they share faith, or an interest in history, or curiosity or whatever, but increasingly, people choose mates who have an equal ability to have faith or to approach the world as a tabula rasa. That is, conservatives marry conservatives and engender purebred conservatives. Liberals do it, too.
This is potentially a Neanderthal vs Homo Sapiens sort of conflict. I don't have any idea how we solve it but I do know it's not really about abortion, the environment or racism. It's about what kinds of people we are and it's very frightening.