By some accounts, I have spent an excessive amount of time trying to understand why some people love and some people hate. Some people are liberal, and others conservative. Some people are borderline lunatic religious, and some are atheists. The issues dividing us into tribes are many and personal, social, and moral. Those are broad categories that can be broken down into a litany of problems but suffice it to say, these may be the top-level groupings of who we are. Most of us belong to a tribe of some sort.
I will talk about these differences in a notional way, a theory if you will because I'm not a psychologist or social engineering guru by training or experience. I'm just an old Irishman who thinks about this stuff a lot as I sip my Jameson or Herradura and try to untangle the many perspectives we humans hold. A notional theory means a theory or conclusion about or expressing a notion or general concept formed by abstraction and generalization. A notional idea typically precedes some actual gathering and analysis of data tested six ways to Sunday. If only in my mind, that data becomes fact to prove or disprove what had previously been a theory or concept.
That we can have almost as many differing views on a topic as there are people seems obvious. Those multiple perspectives can collect under one assumption or category and then be shredded into many sub-views that contradict each other, a unique talent that makes us humans so damn difficult to understand. We struggle to understand ourselves, let alone each other. The human mind seems to have an inexhaustible capacity for complexity and confusion.
Having prepared the stage for my following discussion, I hope to offer a pathway for any of us embroiled in a debate about issues that will let us better understand our debate opponents' views and they of us. Complete understanding may never be possible, but what might be possible is calling for a truce on some topics and agree that our anger and fighting with each other may be worse than our concerns over the original issue that divides us.
OUR CORE BEING: by that term, I'm suggesting we have a kind of inner core, each one of us, that guides our thinking, behavior, and actions. It is not a physical object in our bodies, or is it? In my mind, I tend to think, most of the definable "us" resides in the brain. We sometimes talk about 'matters of the heart,' having or not having a heart, or having a hard or warm heart. Might the heart play a role in who we are and how we think? I can't rule it out, but I don't think it plays a big part in logic and determination.
We all start with more or less the same brain at birth. There may be slight differences based on genetics, but for the most part, we are born with a blank computer that has a few elemental fears built-in that is a holdover from our reptilian days. As an infant, the simple act of finding where our nose is, what our nose is, and what it feels like has to be learned by doing.
After we are born, and to some extent it appears while still in the womb, we start taking in information; we begin to learn.
At first, we are only learning sounds and experiencing smells, taste, and touch, and only those in little bits and pieces as we encounter the world around us. Our brains are a rapidly filling database of unconnected bits of data, a color, a sound, a spoken word that has no meaning yet. Things like the taste of ice cream are pleasurable, although we still do not connect that taste to the word if we've heard it. So much to learn in a relatively short time.
But the brain is more than a repository for a Britannica's worth of information. It is also a computer that uses logic and, rather than artificial intelligence, natural intelligence to sort through a few billion ideas and bits of information to formulate how we think and act as a person. This is the first stage of locating to what tribe we might belong.
Typically, for the first five years of our lives, the logical paths that will form in our brains are brought to us in two ways. We inherit something from our parents and ancestors; it's passed on to us in our DNA, and our surrounding family teaches us. With both parents working outside the home in our modern world, this changes as we warehouse children in daycare. Now, they are getting input from the parents in smaller doses, the people running the daycare, and other children at daycare.
Let me back up a step and explain my point. There are plenty of studies (and plenty of bullshit by people with something to sell) related to developing a child's brain from birth to around age eight. Here's the CDC's take on the topic. I'm neither qualified to discuss this in-depth or on a technical level. What I can offer is my belief in what I hope is everyday language.
The simple explanation is that anything that stimulates a baby's brain is likely to affect its development: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and of course, touch. If you had a baby's brain on an fMRI or functional magnetic resonance imaging device, you would be able to see areas of the brain light up under various stimuli. If you repeatedly play a certain kind of music, the paths in the brain will change. This is no different than any other muscle in the body. If you do frequent curls with weights, you will change the size and shape of your biceps and even the sensory paths that are part of consciously deciding to train with weights. You are training your brain to think and manage information. I hope that makes some sense.
Now, back to your tribe. As a captive in your home for the first five years, the music you hear, the food you eat, the colors you see on the walls and clothes of your family, the laughter, the anger, all of that is pouring into and shaping your brain and how you think and respond to the world around you.
When you leave home to go to school, you have this learning base to build on; it's your foundation. You will take in new ideas and information from your teachers, your textbooks, and your peers, all of whom have come from a different tribe. All of this will be layered on top of what you developed in the first five years. Your brain will now let this new information sift down. It will go through the filters that are in place from your essential learning stage. You might retain the new data or reject it. You might revise it through your filters, so it conforms to your tribe. You are modifying what you learned in the first five years.
Now, here's what I call the wild card. You have the DNA of your parents and their parents, and their parents. If your tribe is inherently curious, you may be fascinated by new information and will evaluate all this new information. If you're a fundamentalist tribe (not necessarily religious, but perhaps), you might be distrustful or resistant to new information. Whether you are curious or fundamental, there are varying degrees of that way of thinking ranging from one end of the spectrum to another; no two of us think exactly alike, even within tribes. But, and we have all experienced this, it is thrilling to meet someone new, and through discussions, you find you are very compatible in your thinking. That is often the basis of a new friendship.
All those experiences and sensations that helped your brain develop in the first ten to fifteen years of life are what make up your core being as an adult, what you believe, how you feel about the world around you, whether you're happy or depressive. It's all very complicated, more complicated than I can describe here, but I find it fascinating to ponder and identify my tribe.
Discussing life, politics, and philosophy in the language of the bar.