The non-rational roots of politics

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:


For their part, psychologists have responded that they aren’t dismissing conservativism as irrational. After all, just because people are predisposed to believe something doesn’t make them wrong. Saying someone is more likely to find an argument persuasive because of their psychology doesn’t invalidate the argument. As psychologists see it, the desire for simplicity is just a fact about the way people think — one that several decades of research has now confirmed.

Hibbing of the University of Nebraska says this need for clarity is important to understanding Trump’s support.

“People like the idea that deep down, the world is simple; that they can grasp it and that politicians can’t,” Hibbing said. “That’s certainly a message that I think Trump is radiating.”

Hibbing believes there may be a genetic reason for the differences between liberal and conservative minds, but the explanation is more of a hypothesis than a conclusion.

At Hibbing’s laboratory, he and his colleagues study how conservative and liberal subjects react to unpleasant images, such as insects and injuries. They use cameras to track the motion of their subjects’ eyes and place electrodes on their skin. Other researchers study the contractions of facial muscles and electrical activity in the brain.

These experiments show that conservative subjects react differently from liberal ones. They sweat more heavily when shown a picture of a dangerous animal. Their pupils focus on disgusting images, and they don’t look away.

It’s evidence that we don’t develop political affiliations just by rationally evaluating competing philosophies and ideologies. Our opinions also have origins beneath the level of conscious thought, in our bodies and our brains.

In that sense, the desire for simplicity could be physical. And Trump has a way of responding to complicated questions as though the answers were so obvious, he is dumbfounded that no one else has figured them out yet.