The Political Narrative: Understanding Bigots, Part I

One of the chief aims of The Laughing Chimps is to address the political malpractice that has prevailed on the left of the American political spectrum for the better part of five decades. We always say that as good as liberals are at policy, they are that bad at politics. Or worse.

Reversing this sorry state of affairs will require a fundamental reexamination of the country we live in – and in particular the nature of this swamp of ignorance and bigotry that we wade through so aimlessly. Republicans have mastered their appeal to the vast swath of the American population that can best be described as — how shall we put this delicately? — somewhat unlettered. Democrats and liberals have no more idea about how to appeal to this population than they have about how to appeal to a herd of bison. (Intellectual and rational appeals would be almost equally useful in either case.)

We don’t have to like or respect the unlettered; The Laughing Chimps surely don’t. But we do have to understand them. Because understanding them is a prerequisite to building messages that will appeal to them.

We fundamentally misunderstand the human condition when we project our own values and instincts onto those who think very differently. Liberals tend to think with the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, where information and language get screened through filters called logic and reason. It’s not just that right-wingers use this part of the brain differently; it’s that they primarily use a different part of the brain altogether.

That part of the brain is called the amygdala. It is the fear center of the brain – the part that produces the fight or flight response to perceived threats to survival. If there is one characteristic that runs through all right-wing thought as surely as self-loathing drives the scourge of homophobia, it is fear. When right-wingers aren’t messing their britches, they’re wetting their beds.

As we will discuss in future posts, fear is the main ingredient to right-wing behavior and beliefs, but it’s only one ingredient. The Laughing Chimps will be dissecting the mores and values of conservatives more in the days to come, but we start with this: until liberals understand that a large part of the American population is driven by fear, and until we understand that that fear is not going to vanish among a population that thinks with the fear center of the brain, we can look forward to perpetual rule by the likes of Donald Trump. As liberals, we’ve spent too much time and energy trying to convince conservatives to think with the part of the brain that we use and not nearly enough time and energy appealing to the part of the brain that they use. Put simply, liberals must learn argument forms that appeal to people who are driven by fear.

The Laughing Chimps will discuss these arguments (what we’ll generally call ‘controlling the narrative’) in a series of posts and resources. We’ll start soon with a discussion of what right-wingers fear the most: The Other. There are different species of bigotry at play on the right and in the population the right manipulates. In our ‘controlling the narrative’ series, we will examine the values driving each kind of bigotry and discuss how to use those values to our advantage.

Stay tuned.