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.

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