Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Forecast for the 112th Congress: Soggy

Much has been said lately about the abundant tears being shed by John Boehner, Speaker-in-waiting of the House of Representatives. He is, as he willingly admits, an emotional guy, and this is an emotional time for him. His counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also tends to cry frequently and with abandon.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with shedding tears, and for many (of us women, anyway) a willingness to express emotion can be an endearing quality in a man.

However, there is nothing endearing about people who make decisions based on emotion, rather than reason. And that’s the trouble with Boehner, McConnell, and a few other very important decision makers in this country—including, not incidentally, John McCain.

Scientists now know that different parts of the brain are responsible for different types of decisions. The limbic system, deep in the interior of the brain, is where emotions reside. Decisions that originate there are often spontaneous, impulsive, and ill informed. (The limbic part of the brain doesn’t think, exactly—it just reacts.)

The part of the brain responsible for logic, reasoning, and planning is the frontal cortex—essentially, the part of the brain just behind the forehead. This is where the tough, complex, and important decisions should be processed. It’s hard for the limbic system (i.e., the emotions) to tell us what we don’t already believe or don’t want to know; it requires a deliberate attempt to put feelings aside and think hard to allow us to reach conclusions based on reason and reality.

That’s one reason why educated people, by and large, make better decision makers (and better politicians) than just your everyday “ordinary Joe”: acquiring an education generally requires frequent exercise of the reasoning skills—which is to say, the frontal cortex.

Michele Bachmann, in her (self-perceived) infinite wisdom is planning to conduct classes on the Constitution for freshman House members. The incoming Congress would be infinitely better served by a couple of good courses on brain science and decision-making skills.


Idna said...

Let's start from your very last point ... "The incoming Congress would be infinitely better served by a couple of good courses on brain science and decision-making skills."

Really?? This is exactly what's wrong with today's education system. Too many silly courses instead of real, appropriate knowledge that people can fall back on when they have a decision to make.

Studying the brain can be very useful for psychologists, school counselors, etc., but for the freshman class in Congress, a good dose of the Constitution would really come in handy. Congress is the Legislative branch of the government. They make LAWS. What should be the foundation on which those laws are based? Of course, it's the Constitution, not some academic study on brain function or a self-help course on decision making.

You also argue that educated people make better decision makers. OK, makes sense to me. They have a broader knowledge base from which to draw in making those decisions.

So I'd like to point out that your favorite Republican punching bag and mockery recipient, Michelle Bachmann, not only has a BA degree, a JD degree, but also an LLM degree - Masters of Tax Law.

You said "acquiring an education generally requires frequent exercise of the reasoning skills." So Michelle, who is no "ordinary Joe" when it comes to using her frontal cortex, probably has some very good ideas ... including having House members bone up on the Constitution. May be a good idea for the Senate and the White House, too.

Citizen Jane said...

Hello, Idna,

So learning how and why we make the decisions we do is "silly"? It seems to me nothing could be more fundamental to the work of Congress--members of which are, after all, charged with making decisions for the rest of us on a daily basis.

With the breakthroughs that have occurred in the past two decades in understanding human behavior and decision making, many good books have been published for the lay reader. For example, How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer, reads like a good novel but gives amazing insight into how tricky it can be to make good, rational decisions.

As for Ms. Bachmann, she does have credentials. However, please note that I didn't say education in any sense guarantees good decision making skills. It only tends to give people some good tools if they choose to use them--and if they're honest with themselves. (I believe I once mentioned in this blog the young man I knew--a Ph.D. candidate in paleontology--who maintained that the earth is only 4,000 years old.)

Six said...

A formal 'education' neither guarantees and very minorly assists much in the way of being a good decision maker. I am of the firm belief that it is a lagging indicator, rather than a leading one. Someone who is a good decision maker will, as a bi-product, know the value, invest and apply thier education. As people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have shown, being a college dropout does not mean you are stupid, a bad leader or poor decision maker. They still invested heavily in education, just not the formalized education that gives them initials after thier name.

Bachman is a loon. Who cares what her 'formal' education is... she is a loon. I don't care if you can memorize, regurgitate crap, and take tests well enough to get a BA and a Masters... that does not mean you are intelligent, it only means you have decent enough study habits to pass classes and tests. She is one of the worst kind of conservatives... the theocratic kind. From pushing government mandated teaching of Intelligent Design to claiming the 'gay community' it targeting the children as some sort of prize. She pushed for a constitutional ammendment to ban homosexuals from marrying. A freaking constitutional ammendment? The woman who wants to conduct classes on the constitution is pushing for an ammendment to it banning homosexuals from marrying? Really? She supported DADT claiming it 'works just fine' while nearly 15,000 of brave servicemen and women actually serving (as opposed to her who is using the country to serve her) our country have been dishonorably discharged. Lives destroyed.

She used her political influence to try and bar the showing of the movie 'Aladin' citing it's promotion of 'witchcraft' and endorses paganism (lol). She claims she gets messages straight from God, Abraham, Moses... total religious nut.

She claims to be believe in 'small government', however in reality she believes in marginalizing the part of the government that exists to protect our civil liberties. She believes a very big government when it comes to things like waging an unconstitutional and illegal war half-a-world away. She believes in a very active, intrusive government when it comes to what people do in the privacy of thier own bedrooms. She believes the government should exist to promote her theocratic views.

On the note of gay rights, over the weekend I recieved a very touching email from a good friend and military veteran who is gay and a member of 'American Veterans for Equal Rights', thier organization released a statement that included this point, "Never again will any member of the US military die on the battlefield because the medic or corpsmen who could have saved their lives was kicked out of the military for loving the wrong person." I suppose Bachmann is one of those bigotted gay-bashers that would rather die on the battle field than to have 'teh gay' help her... it's contageous dontcha know! While the repeal of DADT is a step in the right direction, my friend went on to point out that, "this will not extend benefits to domestic partners of active duty gay military men and women and that will include in some cases, on base housing, medical and many other benifits"... something I am sure Bachmann and her theocratic-conservatives are celebrating as thier victory for 'little government'.

Hooray for Congress, the Senate and President Obama for doing something right! Why the hell did it take you this long?

Citizen Jane said...

Thank you, Six. Amen to everything you said.

Idna said...

Whoa, Six, you sure seem to be an expert on Rep. Bachmann! Did you actually learn all this about her from her own words and/or wrtings, or from other Bachmann hating bloggers who may have a penchant for "creative writing?" Whatever it is, you sure have put a LOT of energy into trying to demonize her.

Why are liberals so afraid of strong, Republican, Conservative women? It's quite amusing.

I do agree with you, however, about your skepticism concerning assumptions made about people with a lot of higher degrees after their name ... or the lack thereof.

Six said...

I don't know Mrs. Bachmann, only of what she has done and/or said - that has in turn been written about.

Please educate me though if anything that I said is wrong, I am happy to eat crow... with a little salt & pepper I can choke most anything down.

Bachmann in particular sticks out because a.) she is very vocal and a self-proclaimed leader of the Tea Party - something I took quite an interest in early on, and b.) she has a long track record of saying and doing dumb things that people catch notice of. It has nothing to do with her being 'strong' or 'woman' - are you implying that as some sort of defense for elected officials saying horrible things and advocating for terrible policies on civil liberties?

Idna said...

What I know of Michelle Bachmann is from listening to her own words during interviews or speeches, not from others who want to paint her a certain way. What I have heard from her, I like. She seems like a reasonable and intelligent woman.

Instead of debating the laundry list of objections you bring up about her (things which may or may not be accurate ... and depending on your politics, may or may not be objectionable) let's just focus on the thing that Citizen Jane complained about. CJ didn't like the fact that House freshmen were offered the opportunity to bone up on the Constitution.

This complaint seems absolutely absurd to me. It's like telling a sports referee that he doesn't need to understand the rules of the game he will be officiating.

The Constitution is the "rulebook" for the United States of America. Those who are entrusted with the job of making new laws better understand the foundational rulebook.

With a guy like Obama, who promised to "fundamentally change" this country, we (and Congress) need to be pretty damn aware of what those fundamental changes are that he is talking about. A good understanding of what this country was built on and what fundamentals need to be protected and not messed with is essential to the country's continued existence.

So yeah, Bachmann has a terrific idea there about offering Constitution classes.

Citizen Jane said...

Well, Idna, I see that you still don't wish to try and refute any one of the numerous specific complaints raised here about Ms. Bachmann's many problematic positions on things. Instead, you want to defend her plan to hold "constitution" classes.

Her obvious intent in offering those classes is the same as the intent of a fundamentalist preacher to hold "Bible classes": to indoctrinate, not to enlighten.

Michele "Locked and Loaded" Bachmann is a right-wing fanatic who preaches violence and vigilanteeism. The only good thing I can say about her holding public office is that at least she's out there in public, where sane people can keep an eye on her.