I've been reading a bit lately about how we think, and the ways we get to a decision or an emotion. All the biases and shortcuts our brain takes, all the ways that it can be influenced, the bizarre psychology surrounding the way belief is marketed to the masses. It's no secret, it's not magic, and there's a huge body of work out there that describes methods and means to influence a body of people to do things that they wouldn't necessarily depend on doing. Voting against their best interest, claiming belief or magic as fact, lying to themselves and everyone else about the condition of their lives and the motives that guide them, most of it entirely unintentional.
One of the more interesting things that I read was an account of a guy known to neuroscience as Elliot. Elliot had a tumor in his orbitofrontal cortex. Before the tumor, he was a successful accountant with a normal life (house, car, kids, wife, etc). After the tumor, he could not make decisions easily. He lost the ability to make snap decisions, which rely heavily on emotional and moral content. Present Elliot with a menu for dinner, and he'd agonize over every selection, weighing measurable merits against measurable results. Give him a selection of shirts to wear, and he'd be transfixed while his now purely rational brain worked over the consequences of each item. His emotional brain was cut off from his thought process. You can imagine, this destroyed his life. As a purely rational computer, he was incapable of working in a world dominated by emotional humans.
So we make decisions, even ones we believe to be rational, based at least partly on emotion. Now, you can guess how easy it is to manipulate emotion, and with the right sort of priming, a person can be made to believe that their response to a situation is their own, and rational.
Thanks to things like the Third Person Effect we tend to believe that our decisions and opinions are based on experience or facts and those who disagree are less experienced or stupid (or have been misled or lied to). Like anyone I like to think that what I know and believe is true, or as true as I can make it out to be, and people who have opposing beliefs are misled at best.
These guys I work with, they regurgitate script that I've read on the message boards. They cite stats and figures directly from their party's web sites. With guns, specifically, they go from calm and unemotional to what I read as passionate, crazy emotional in one small step. Primed to react with blinders on, they spout the words marketed to them with religious fervor, waving banners and proposing that anyone who doesn't believe is an enemy, is a patsy.
These are the guys who have scenarios, plans for what will happen when they are attacked at home by a gun toting thug (or an army of them). These scenarios, these stories, they are often repeated and always surgically precise with regards to tactic and location: "When they bust down the front door, well, I have my .380 over by the easy chair, and they'll get that first. Then I move to the back of the room where I have the .45s. From there, that sonofabitch keeps coming so I have two .357s in the nightstand. Finally when they push through to the closet, they'll meet a twelve gauge stacked with slugs, double-aught, and flechette rounds, and I have two M4s with about seven thousand rounds."
No shit. Almost every one of these guys has a scenario, a story that they've filled with life or death. "If one of them is trying to rape my daughter, she'll meet him with her Glock 17, she keeps it in the nightstand."
I've written about this before, because it is remarkable to me that anyone lives with that much fear in a country as developed as the United States. To a certain extent, the prophetic fear of gun violence is self-served: there are more gun deaths in the US than in any other developed country, and that statistic alone feeds the argument that we need to defend ourselves from ourselves using the tools that we kill ourselves with.
Why the fear, though? Do we have such a complete lack of belief in our country that we feel the need to be strapped to the teeth? How free and brave can we be when we're constantly cowed by fear of violence?
Our culture seems to breed fear, and we relish in violent justice. I've read comments from reasonably normal people on message boards and facebook that shocked me with their content, and I'm pretty jaded when it comes to things like that. One of my born again cousins who posts with regularity about how much God has filled her life with etc. recently posted some joking thing about killing Casey Anthony (certain circles have a long memetic memory with regards to celebrity murderers) with her bare hands, choking her "until her eyes popped out." Despite the commandment against such things.
What drives that? Where does all this fear come from? Why are we the most well armed populace in the known world? And what do we intend to defend? Is it rational for a man to own, say, four semi-automatic handguns and two rifles (one of which is a precision rifle capable of hitting a target at over 500 yards)? That's me, by the way. I also own an 1845 single action revolver and a WW2 rifle. Why?
I really don't have any idea. I like target shooting, but I barely do it anymore; time and expense prevent me from hitting the range. I don't hunt. I like the weapons themselves...the mechanism and the precision are interesting. But what's the underlying motivation?
Where does this fear come from?
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