Part 2 — Evolution of the two-party political system
In the first installment (July 26) we discussed how the two-hemisphere brain is designed and structured to perform a variety of functions. This week we take a look at the two-party political system, how it evolved, and how it might it some way replicate the functioning of the human brain.
Let’s leave the brain in a formaldehyde jar for a minute and talk about the two- party political system. While political parties can be traced all the way back to the Greek city states, the modern two-party system as we know it was born in England in the 17th century. The two parties were called the Whigs and the Tories—or House of Commons and House of Lords. At that time the Tory group was influenced with sentiments favorable to the Crown, the Anglican Church, and the landed interests; while the Whigs were biased towards the House of Commons, religious independence, and commercial interests. The Whigs grew into the Liberals, or Labor Party, and the Tories into the Conservative Party.
The evolution of America’s two-main political parties into the current day Republican (conservative) and Democratic (liberal) has many parallels with that of Great Britain. The British labor party traditionally championed the role of the working class, emphasizing the importance of labor unions and role of social programs in society. America’s Democratic party grew to embrace these ideals. The British Conservative Party supported big business enterprise, such as banks and individual responsibility, and the American Republican party has followed along similar lines.
Regional trends in party affiliation change through time, but generally, north of the Mason Dixon Line Republicanism tends to be more widespread among Protestants, the well-educated and the well-to-do. Some southern states tend to be Democratic. immigrants tend to vote for Democratic rather than Republican candidates. Generally, the press has a democratic bias. Organized labor is more strongly Democratic than unorganized labor. Business interests, especially finance and manufacturing, are strongly Republican, but entertainment interests are more inclined to be Democratic. Real estate groups, commonly divided among the parties locally, tend to support the Republican Party nationally. Further generalizations about party preference can be made according to race, gender, age and economic status.
But getting back to the human brain—if the professor were to ask you which cranial hemisphere most closely reflects the philosophy and ideals of the two main political parties, how would you answer?
It would be a tough call, because like the brain, both Democrat and Republican parties share some of the same characteristics. There are probably as many steely-eyed, calculatingly cold and logical Democrats as there are emotional, sensitive and creative Republicans. But if I had to choose—and this is my opinion only—I would assign the Republican party the role of left hemisphere—the analytical side, and the Democratic party the right hemisphere—the creative and emotional side. Yet, exceptions can be found at every turn.
For instance, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, orchestrated the greatest experiment in social engineering in our century—the New Deal. Yet, he was a very logical and analytical thinker—left brain dominant. Former President Jimmy Carter, a liberal democrat, is an engineer by trade—clearly requiring left brain skills. Former President Ronald Reagan, one of the best communicators to ever step into the White House, often showed right-brain attributes in his emotion-packed speeches.
It’s obvious generalizations about people and their politics is difficult—yet the underlying trend in modern American politics is for liberal Democrats to lean toward the right brain and conservative Republicans to center on the left-brain—with countless variations in between.
But unlike the human brain—the most fascinating and miraculous organism in the universe, which makes complex decisions in nano seconds linking both hemispheres—our two political parties have neither the ability nor the inclination to communicate with each other. Unike the brain, which is always at odds with itself but works out the dissonance quickly and moves on, our politicians move linearly in one direction—dropping down into grooves like space ships in the movie Star Wars—where they can’t see over the surrounding walls. It’s an effect called “siloing.”
If our elected officials could acknowledge their dual nature—a duality we all possess regardless of which hemisphere is dominant—-they could perhaps stop working against each other and begin cooperating. They could begin improving communications and do what they were elected to do: work for the electorate to the benefit of everyone in the country, not just one political agenda, not just one side of the brain.
I am obviously neither psychologist nor neurologist, but there is little doubt in my mind that our bi-polar political system, as well as our two-house Congress, is in some way an unconcious manifestation of the bi-modal human brain. We adopted this political system before we knew how the brain operates at the chemical and molecular levels. But today we have no excuse. Scientists are learning more and more about modular processes in the brain and its cross or lateral communication. If we can somehow transfer this knowledge to our politicians—at least those who have enough left brain to receive it, there might be hope for us all.
Of course, politics creates its own reality and doing the politically correct thing to ensure re-election will always preempt doing the right thing to help our country—even when we know how the brain spins the truth.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.