The Chimps have a theory: Two of the prime drivers of right-wing ideological behaviors are fear and the “will to power” (yes, we borrowed that from Nietzsche). More rational thinkers (elites, we suppose) tend to use their frontal lobes and cerebral cortices to screen information through filters called logic and reason. And those who think logically assume that all other humans think the same way.
But many people – and many voters – use a part of the brain called the amygdala (rather than the frontal lobe, or logic center) as the primary filter and interpreter of information. And the amygdala is the fear center of the brain: the part that generates the fight-or-flight response (panic) when it perceives informational inputs from stimuli as threats. Thinkers who process inputs primarily as informative and nonthreatening experience the world entirely differently than those who process inputs primarily as cautionary and threatening.
virtually inescapable conclusion that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different. This research consistently finds that conservatism is positively associated with heightened epistemic concerns for order, structure, closure, certainty, consistency, simplicity, and familiarity, as well as existential concerns such as perceptions of danger, sensitivity to threat, and death anxiety.
While many of us tend to be more receptive to intellectual appeals to reason and logic (and indeed are wary of emotional appeals), ideologues tend to be more receptive to fear- and emotion-based appeals (and indeed are wary of intellectual – or “elitist” – appeals).
Then there is the issue of power. Have you ever wondered why a right-wing tea partier is so much more likely to have a Glock strapped to his thigh than some bow-tied, left-wing academic? To be sure, each one of them – the tea partier and the academic – has the same, basic human need for some sense of meaning (power) in life. The academic, though, derives that sense of meaning and power from all those letters and punctuation marks after his name: B.A.; M.A.; M.B.A.; J.D.; Ph.D. But where is one to turn for some sense of power when he can’t turn to his education, his bank account, his paltry station in the pecking order, or even just a titch of respect from his own damn family, for God’s sake?
Here’s the thing about guns: You might be smarter than me, richer than me, bigger than me, stronger than me, wiser than me, and elite compared to me, but if I have a gun in my hand and you don’t – guess who’s in charge here, assclown. (Liberals misunderstand NRA types as having some kind of sexual fetish for cold, hard steel. That’s bunk; it’s not about the gun – it’s about the power.) If there is no ready source for this feeling of power and control, then a human will turn to other sources – like guns, violence, radical religion, gangs, or extremist causes.
Speaking of extremist causes, they’re pretty nifty in appealing to fear and power. The dual messages from any good extremist cell are these: Here’s something that should scare the mullet right off of your scalp; and here’s what you can do to kick some ass. Those aren’t just messages; they are emotional appeals, and despite progressive reticence to credit their value or even their existence, they are effective and they are potent.
Let us turn our attention to Edgar Maddison Welch, shall we? And who, you ask, is this cat Edgar Maddison Welch? Why, none other than the meanest, gun-slinginest, baddest badass cowboy in all of … er … the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, DC.
We can make fun of Welch, sure, but we would also do well to understand him. You see, Edgar Maddison Welch is just your average emotional thinker – only on steroids (or maybe opioids). Edgar, 28, is a resident of North Carolina who evidently owns an assault rifle. He’s had his little gerbil feet very busy lately turning that wheel called the right-wing media loop all about him, wearing his toes down to little nubs as he’s furiously filtered conspiracy theories through his hypervigilant amygdala.
As it turns out, Edgar has been awash in a ‘scandal’ called Pizzagate, which The Chimps had somehow missed even though the tale hatched back when Hillary Clinton was still relevant. The theory goes, as we read it, that Hillary Clinton and her people (we assume Bill is a prime mover here) are running a child prostitution ring through a front called Comet Ping Pong, a pizza joint in, of all places, the Friendship Heights area of Washington, DC. No, The Chimps are not making this up.
Ridiculous as it seems, this, ahem, narrative has some seriously credible dudes fueling the velocity of its right-wing media diffusion. None other than Trump National Security Advisor designee Michael Flynn and his son (Junior) have given this story legs by doing the one thing that can best give a story legs in the year 2016: retweeting it with approval.
Edgar was not going to take this lying down. The right-wing media having served up this scandal with extra sauce and spicy pepperoncini on top, law-enforcement officials nonetheless stood down and stayed mum. So Edgar did the only thing his conscience would permit him to do: he loaded and loaded up his assault rifle, mounted the controls of his 1988 Chevy S-10 pickup truck, motored north to the scene of the crime, and alighted at the Comet Ping Pong in Special Friendship Heights. There, he launched his own investigation into the whole tawdry matter, whereupon we don’t have any idea what exactly happened, except that an assault weapon was discharged and nobody was hurt. Edgar is now, mercifully, under arrest.
In all seriousness, how can this happen? It can happen because there are causes, movements, organizations, and outlets that are used to deliberately and effectively manipulate people by appealing to two things liberals almost never appeal to: fear and power. Edgar is just another guy – one of tens of millions in the USA – who processes information through the fear center of his brain. His perspective or worldview is marked by suspicion; he is always eager to find danger, and if somebody identifies a danger for him and relentlessly targets him with the message, WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE (or the equally effective, THEY’RE GOING TO DESTROY ALL YOUR CHILDREN), then Edgar is going to believe it; he is wired to believe it.
And there’s something else in all this mess for Edgar: power. We don’t know how desperate Edgar’s life is, but we will bet our Laughing Chimps Habitat that he never went to college, has been laid off from more jobs than most of us have even had, and lives in his parents’ basement on a steady diet of Cheetos and Call of Duty.
Somewhere along the line, somebody manipulated Edgar into doing what he did. They appealed to his fear by giving him bogey men and bad guys and a threat to his tribe in the form of child exploitation, and they gave him a way to feel powerful: for several glorious minutes, when Edgar was the only badass at Comet Ping Pong with an AR-15 and the apparent present ability to use it, what was he but the King of the World?
Here’s THE QUESTION (or THE QUESTIONS).
If Edgar believes in farcical and fake threats, why doesn’t he believe in real threats? Consider the following questions:
- Why doesn’t Edgar believe that our planet is about to erupt in a conflagration that will make the fires of Hell look like a nice autumn day on the Great Lakes?
- Why doesn’t Edgar believe that oil tycoons are taking all his money and building a world where children will drown in hurricanes that span whole oceans or burn up in wildfires that span whole continents?
- Why doesn’t Edgar believe that Wall Street robber barons, if left unchecked, will steal his savings, rape his parents’ retirement accounts, and destroy the value of all his family’s property?
- Why doesn’t Edgar believe that real death panels will soon be unleashed on American soil? You know – they’re called health-insurance companies and pharmaceutical stock holders.
- Why doesn’t Edgar believe that our freedom is under assault by tyrants and theocrats who would dictate the most basic choices a person can make – like whom to marry or whether to procreate?
- Why doesn’t Edgar believe that real power comes not from being the punk who picks on weaklings, but from being the hero who knocks that punk on his ass?
You get the point, and you know the answer: because liberals and progressives don’t appeal to fear and don’t appeal to power. We’re too good for that. Well, not everyone thinks like us, and we’d better get not-too-good-for-that in a hurry. Our agenda, which is to say our republic, hangs in the balance.
The Chimps are on it. Stay tuned.