January 2012

The Country Has Been Consistently Divided Since The 1970's

A new study shows that political polarization has been roughly the same for the last 40 years.

A new study shows that political partisanship may be closer to a volcano than an earthquake. Partisanship, or the divide inherent between the liberal left and conservative right, has not changed significantly over the last 40 years. Instead it seems that there are occasionally eruptions of very public opposition (often around election years, unsurprisingly) that hints at the level of political vitriol bubbling beneath the surface. It’s not an increasing friction between political ideologies that causes a public earthquake of polarization only to calm once the tensions have eased. Nope. We’re pretty much constantly at odds.

The Society for Personality and Social Psychology in San Diego states that political polarization is actually fairly consistent as far back as the early 1970’s, at least as far as the general public is concerned (the results do not include pundits, politicians, or media outlets). More importantly, the study finds that those that identify most strongly as Republican or Democrat also have a significantly higher tendency to overstate or exaggerate political polarization. Stated another way by study researcher John Chambers of the University of Florida, “Strongly identified Republicans or Democrats perceive and exaggerate polarization more than weakly identified Republicans or Democrats or political independents.” That might seem like a “duh” statement, but there’s more to it.

The Human Psychology of Conflict and Politics

A new publication highlights recent findings in the field of psychology and conflict, with interesting implications for our political landscape.

Previously, I’ve written about the inherent connection in our minds between disgust and morality; that one area of the brain seems to be linked to the other and the two psychological reactions are often one in the same. However, this connection alone won’t go far in explaining the workings of human physiology and sociology as they pertain to conflict. Conflict, which is unarguably a central theme in human history, is simultaneously our greatest motivator and our greatest inhibitor. Understanding how humans engage in, and respond to conflict, may create a better understanding of how we can harness conflict to motivate, and prevent conflict from inhibiting.

Wired expounds on this idea from an upcoming issue of Philosphical Transactions of the Royal Society B, which will feature a number of findings on the biology of conflict. Of those, several are important to the political and social present.

Obama's "Leaner Military" Is Really Just Controlled Defense Spending

Planned cuts to defense spending means simply rolling spending back to pre-war levels.

Conservatives and defense hawks around the country are blasting Obama’s military strategy for a “leaner” military in the coming years. The media circuits have been buzzing with support and criticism (mostly criticism) of Obama and his defense adviser’s plan to cut nearly $500 billion from the defense budget over ten years, with the majority of the cuts coming in the first five. However, there’s an aspect to this decision that is not making its way into the list of talking points for these armed forces crusaders, and that is the incredible growth in defense spending over the last ten years.