Nel's New Day

March 18, 2018

Brain Damage in Conservatives

In Texas, a newspaper published in Olton, population about 2,000, erased the name of John Gambill in an obituary for his mother-in-law, mother to Barry Giles. The couple, together for 31 years, submitted the obituary to Giles’ hometown paper with the statement that “those left to cherish her memory include her son, Barry Giles and his husband, John Gambill of Dallas.” The newspaper publisher, Philip Hamilton, claimed that he omitted Gambill’s name “because I wanted to.” Later Hamilton said that publishing anything contrary to the “Word of God” is “false.” Other area newspapers, including the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, did publish Gambill’s name in its version of Light’s obituary. [Photo: John Gambill (left), Brenda Light, and Barry Giles on vacation together.]

Alabama County Sheriff Todd Entrekin used over $750,000 of funds to feed inmates to buy a beach house for himself—and it was legal. State law lets sheriffs keep “excess” inmate-feeding funds for their personal use. Entrekin’s state ethics forms show that he made “more than $250,000” in each of the last three years. Entrekin’s annual salary is $94,000, but he and his wife own several properties worth over $1.7 million. He claims that it’s just good “business.” A federal judge put another state sheriff, Greg Bartlett, in jail for inadequate meals, including paper-thin bologna and cold grits, but he made only $212,000 over three years. Forty-nine sheriffs have not complied with a legal request to public records regarding the amount of jail food money that they pocketed.

Funds for feeding state inmates is $2 per day. In 2003, ICE gave the Entrekin’s county $8 million to expand the jail facilities so that they could house lots more federal detainees. Entrekin is sheriff in the same county where Roy Moore, then assistant district attorney, spent his time trying to connect with young teenage girls. The man who pocketed $750,000 to feed inmates strongly endorsed Moore in his recent failed candidacy for U.S. Senate but tried to backpedal by looking for “proof” of Moore’s crime. Entrekin leads regular “Run, Hide, Fight” sessions at the James Memorial Baptist Church in Gadsden.

Hamilton is an example of religious fundamentalism in the South where Christians who praise family values take advantage of others whenever possible. As the federal government denies religious freedom to anyone except evangelicals, science is investigating the reason for this radical approach toward religion. According to a study published in the journal Neuropsychologia, religious fundamentalism comes, in part, from an impairment in the prefrontal cortex that diminishes cognitive flexibility and openness important for creativity and curiosity. A functioning prefrontal cortex is important for “cognitive flexibility,” the brain’s ability to shift thought from one concept to another and have simultaneous thinking about different issues. These abilities are vital in adapting to new environment.

Religious beliefs, connected to supernatural events and entities, differ from empiricism, a theory that knowledge evolves from sensory perception and is updated with new evidence. Religion, on the other hand, stays fixed and rigid no matter what people learn with the result of predictability and adherence to a group’s rules.

The scientists define fundamentalism as a cognitive approach that “embodies adherence to a set of firm religious beliefs advocating unassailable truths about human existence.“ With a strong commitment to their close community, fundamentalists tend to reject any other beliefs in combination with climate denial and violence, supporting conviction over deliberation. Religious fundamentalism, emphasizing tradition in writings and rituals, opposes progress in thinking about religion and social issues that questions of challenges their ideology. Religious fundamentalists are aggressive toward anyone who does not follow their beliefs and toward science because it threatens their personal life order.

Researchers in the study used data from Vietnam War veterans, some of whom had brain damage believed to have a connection to functions related to religious fundamentalism. CT scans were used to compare 119 vets with brain trauma to 30 vets with no damage, and these 149 vets were given a survey to assess religious fundamentalism. Almost one-third of them did not specific a particular religion.

Brain imaging research has identified two regions associated with cognitive flexibility in the prefrontal cortex: the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). The current study analyzed people with lesions in both the prefrontal cortex regions to find correlations between the brain damage and the responses to the survey on religious fundamentalism. It found a correlation between this brain damage and the lack of cognitive flexibility. Those subjects scored high on measures of religious fundamentalism.

The findings suggest that damage in the prefrontal cortex from any reason—brain trauma, psychological disorder, drug or alcohol addiction, or genetics—makes people susceptible to religious fundamentalism. Radical indoctrination can also hurt the functioning of the prefrontal regions that blocks cognitive flexibility and openness. Researchers conclude that these factors account for about 20 percent of differences in fundamentalism scores, leaving their findings open to search for additional causes, possibly from genetics or social influence.

Research into fundamentalist and conservative thinking hasn’t been confined to the prefrontal cortex. Other studies concentrate on the amygdala, the area of emotions including fear. Psychologists discovered that they could turn a person more conservative, at least short-term, by making them afraid. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) focused his campaign on fear—crime, immigrants, economic disaster, terrorism, corruption, anything that would get people to vote for him. Once elected, he continued to make them afraid for the future if he isn’t in charge.

The progressive mind thinks of problems as solvable; conservatives encourage people to feel helpless and threatened. Those who concentrate their news consumption from conservative sources have found a great deal to fear from Republican warnings with the assurance that the GOP will magically solve all their problems if we turn our lives over to them in the same approach as religious fundamentalism.

Conservatives’ brains are already configured to feel more fear: research shows that they have a much bigger right amygdala that processes fear-based information in 71.6 percent of the cases. While progressives are more likely to use science in making decisions, conservatives tend to turn to religion in making choices. These ideas are not new, but the fact that they are based on the physical characteristics of the brain explains the difficulty of people changing.

Fear is a big part of campaigning for conservative candidates, especially fear of losing the right to control everyone with their religion. The night before his election for U.S. representative from Pennsylvania, Rick Saccone said:

“I’ve talked to so many of these on the left…. Many of them have a hatred for our country. … I’ll tell you some more — my wife and I saw it again today: They have a hatred for God. It’s amazing. You see it when I’m talking to them. It’s disturbing to me.”

And religious fundamentalists believe the Democrats want to take their religion away from them. Ironically, Christian evangelicals want to take away religion away from everyone else who disagrees with their beliefs, all part of their rigid brain that doesn’t allow for diversity. And it’s sad—Philip Hamilton thinks he has the right to declare what adults can have consensual relationships, and John McEntkin thinks he has the right to starve prisoners if it buys him an expensive beach house. All because of their brain configuration.

April 30, 2016

Bathroom Laws Endanger Transgender People – Take Action


Fear is a driving force for conservatives, according to studies using brain scans. The amygdala, an area related to fear, is larger in conservatives, causing them to be reactionary rather than thoughtful. Other studies examining skin conductance and eye tracking show that conservatives focus on negativity when they walk into a room, searching for anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Imaging that tracks oxygen in the blood can identify racial bias. Identifying these physical differences explains the deep divides among people on hot-button issues such as war, abortion, immigration, and same-gender marriage. And transgender people.

transgender girlChristian Extremist and president of a theocratic law group named Anita Staver, president of the Christian extremist Liberty Council, claims that she will be carrying a firearm with her every time she uses a public bathroom. Texas police officer Tracy Murphree, sheriff candidate in Denton County, said he would beat any transgender woman in a public restroom with his daughter until she lost consciousness. Corey Maison (left) is one of the transgender women Murphree threatens.

Conservatives can get over their fears, but unfortunately, they must overcome their initial reactions, hard to do because of the bombardment of conservative media. Fox network continually stokes fears of sexual assault and misbehavior in restrooms, including a fake story about a transgender student harassing females in her school’s restroom. Other media outlets including The Daily Caller, WMD, and the Media Research Center, promote the myth that sexual predators will use gender-neutral bathrooms to prey on women. Yet the 17 states and 225 cities with nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people have not experienced one situation that the conservative media describes.

As Chad Butler, the District Attorney of Nashville (TN) who has prosecuted hundreds of sex crimes, explained, sexual predators are overwhelmingly “heterosexual men.” Butler added that the bathroom debates distract people from real dangers. “A majority of my cases are fathers, stepfathers, uncles, Boy Scout leaders, coaches, youth ministers, preachers. People that are already close to the family that the family trusts,” Butler said. (Think Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the U.S. House.)

North Carolina’s law further legitimizes harassment, discrimination, and bullying. Since the law passed, transgender suicide hotlines have gotten twice as many calls as usual. When young people are denied access to a restroom that aligns with their gender identity, their rates of suicide go up because these laws perpetuate feelings of isolation and depression. Trans students run a high risk of verbal harassment and physical assault or violence in gender-segregated restrooms. Trying to avoid these problems, about half of them experience a health problem such as a urinary tract or kidney infection. These students also tend to drop out of school because of harassment or become homeless because their parents reject them.

People say that they don’t know any transgender people, but more than two-thirds of all transgender people in the U.S. hide their gender or gender transition to avoid discrimination. The vast majority of transgender people are harassed at work; nearly half say they were not hired because of their gender identity; and one-quarter say they were fired because of who they were.

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 02: Actress Nicole Maines (R) and Wayne Maines attend the 27th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on April 2, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for GLAAD)

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 02: Actress Nicole Maines (R) and Wayne Maines attend the 27th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on April 2, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for GLAAD)

An excellent book about the trauma of being transgender and conservative parents growing to understand this complex issue is Amy Ellis Nutt’s Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family. A conservative couple discover that one of the identical twin boys they adopt is trangender, and they grow to accept Nicole’s transition, to the point of supporting her through a lawsuit against Maine for equal rights at her school.

Nicole’s father, Wayne Maines, wrote the following in response to a vicious attack ad about transgender people from the Ted Cruz campaign after Donald said that transgender Caitlyn Jenner could use any of his buildings’ restrooms that she wants. Cruz spreads the myth that predatory men pretending to be women will be allowed to assault “your daughter” and “your wife” in women’s restrooms.

“Like many people, I have stayed out politics for the most part, being focused on raising my family, working hard, saving for retirement, and helping our country grow. But it is impossible to sit back and watch people not only make mistakes based on their unfounded fears, but use other groups as fodder for political gain at the expense of real peoples’ lives, in this case transgender people. My daughter is one of those people, and Mr. Cruz, you have put her in harm’s way with this ad, just like those in Houston last year and in North Carolina and other states this year. It has to stop.

“I will be honest. It was not long ago I had a hard time saying the word transgender, but watching my child suffer, watching grown men and women lose their perspective because they feared my child, forced me to dig deep into my core and address my fears, educate myself, and get to know more about the transgender community.

“Mr. Cruz, I would be happy to sit down with you and have a ‘non-politically correct’ conversation. Man to man, father to father and if you have the courage to do so, I may help you conquer this fear. I have witnessed young people and adults demonstrate more courage than you and I can fathom, courage that inflicted scars that can be avoided if we have the courage to change. As someone who wants to  lead of our nation, I imagine that is your goal, but for moment forget about politics and think closer to home. This is no game and you are playing with people’s lives.

“I hope that you never have to lay awake at night wondering if your child will be alive in the morning.  Not just one night, many nights.  I am worried about this election and the path you are taking. If anyone should be worried about his or her child in the bathroom it should me. I am worried about my daughter’s safety and her self esteem. I am worried that all of my family’s hard work raising strong and proud young Americans will be destroyed this fall.

“On a larger level, I am worried about a nation that could lose its way as it struggles to make progress for all. I am worried about leaders using fear and misinformation for political gain.  It is ok to ask questions, not understand something you have no experience with, or even be afraid, but keep an open mind. Let’s conquer this fear and get back to fixing our economy, strengthening our military, and helping our children obtain the tools they need to live full and happy lives.

“I left the Air Force in 1981 proud of my service because I believed in our President. President Reagan said, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.’ I still believe what he said. But it is tempered by life experience. I have learned more about freedom watching people attack a community of Americans that just want live their lives in peace, work, and be with their loved ones.  They are not attempting to break down the American family; they are not trying to pretend to be someone they are not; they are not “confused.” They know who they are and what they stand for. I hope everyone running for President has the courage to dig deep and realize that our family values must continue to adapt to an ever-changing world.”

Maines said, “It is natural to fear things we do not understand. But how we react to those fears is critical.” You can take part in the movement to stop laws that put everyone at risk–both transgender people and everyone else perceived to be of the “wrong” gender that a bathroom.


Tell North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory to overturn the law.

McCrory’s office phone number: (919) 814-2000

McCrory’s 24-hour “comment line’: (919) 814-2050

Write Gov. Pat McCrory and tell him that his new law is not “common sense.”

Tennessee’s new law allows counselors to deny services based on their “strongly held beliefs.” It is the only state in the country to invalidate the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics.  Tell Gov. Bill Haslam that he was wrong to sign this bill.

Across the nation, over 100 anti-LGBT bills are pending in 22 states. There is a way to stop this discrimination: adding federal nondiscrimination protections to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through the Equality Act. Democratic House members are calling on House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) to schedule a hearing on the bill that was introduced last July. When Paul Ryan (R-WI) took over as Speaker of the House, he called on committees to “retake the lead in drafting all major legislation. If you know the issue, you should write the bill. Open up the process. Let people participate.” The Equality Act has over 210 co-sponsors in the House and Senate, including two Republicans. Three years ago, the Senate passed a bill that would have barred discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace, but the House never took it up. Tell your representative that you want this bill to go to the floor.


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