Friday, January 14, 2011

The belly vs. the brain

The political debate is no longer simply a matter of right vs. left. The larger battle is between those who think policy should be based on gut feelings and those who believe that reason should play a larger role.

To those of us on the left, it seems that the right these days is dominated by people from the belly camp. It wasn't always so. There was a time when intellect and education were points of pride for conservatives like William F. Buckley, Milton Friedman and others.

Now, it's a liability if you appear intelligent or god forbid, well-read. Potential presidential candidates  announce with glee their reading list of one, which is typically a book by another non-reading, non-intellectual right winger.

It doesn't leave much room for thoughtful policy. But it does explain why there seems to be such a wide divide between the two parties these days.

On immigration:

The belly sees 'others' are a threat. Therefore immigrants from other countries who bypass the cumbersome legal immigration process are immediately tagged with the 'criminal' badge. It's not surprising that this also leads to angry protests, bitter confrontations and reckless law making.

The brain applies reason and sees that the larger issue is the immigration process itself. We have a large need for people to do the work that most of our citizens won't do. And yet, a green card is almost impossible to come by. So while it may not be an ideal situation, illegal immigration is seen as a necessary response to a greatly flawed system. This leads to calls for a more open immigration system, including a way to absorb those who are already here illegally.

On defense:

The belly wants revenge. When we are attacked or our interests are attacked, we attack back, tenfold. You fuck with me you get fucked worse. It appeals to our base instincts, but it is not always the best policy.

The brain views things a bit more carefully. While this may not satisfy the blood lust we often feel when threatened, it can potentially save us from getting into situations that end up serving no one's interest and leaves thousands of innocent people dead.

On healthcare:

The belly viciously seeks to protect the status quo with the fervor of a mama bear protecting her cubs. I got mine, go get yours. Health care is not viewed as a right, but rather a privilege for those who work hard enough to earn it. Now to some, that may seem like a perfectly fair approach. But while it may satisfy our competitive nature, it greatly oversimplifies the reasons why people don't have coverage and results in policy that is both expensive and ineffective.

The brain sees healthcare as a right. This is a conclusion generally arrived at by recognizing that we are all sharing this planet for a limited time and it only makes sense that the more of us who can enjoy that experience, the better it will be for everyone. A sense of fairness, which typically comes from the brain vs the gut, is also at play here. If I have good health care, surely my neighbor deserves it as well. This brain-led approach leads to a more universal approach to policy.

On guns and crime:

The belly likes to see the world as an old Clint Eastwood movie, where justice is handed down swiftly and without time for questions.  Unimpeded by a trip through the brain, justice gets messy. And innocent people usually die. The belly sees guns as porn. One is fun but the more you bring to the party, the merrier. And the more you get, the more you need to satisfy your lust.

The brain sees the world as newer Eastwood flick. It may be violent and dangerous at times, but it is also beautiful and awe inspiring and worthy of reflection. Owning a gun may or may not be a good choice. But the choice is made after careful thought and consideration. Justice may come at a slower pace than the belly is begging for, but it is also usually delivered with a more measured hand.

Not surprisingly, it's a hell of a lot easier to sell 'belly' policy vs. 'brain' policy. It's like putting a broccoli stand next to a McDonald's. Sure, you know the broccoli is better for you, but who the hell doesn't want a Big Mac?

Which is why it's also not surprising the the right is currently in a strong belly-led policy phase. The recession has left people scared and looking for fast relief. When times get tough, the gut takes over. It was pretty shrewd thinking on the Republicans part to appeal to this side of our nature, which helped lead them to a rout in the last election.

But just like the guy who chooses the Big Mac over the broccoli, it will ultimately leave our country in worse shape. Sooner or later, you gottta eat your vegetables.

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