Making Sense of the New American Right

Keeping track of the Jacksonians, Reformicons, Paleos, and Post-liberals.

I like to start my classes on conservative intellectual history by distinguishing between three groups. There is the Republican party, with its millions of adherents and spectrum of opinion from very conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, and yes, liberal. There is the conservative movement, the constellation of single-issue nonprofits that sprung up in the 1970s

  • gun rights,
  • pro-life,
  • taxpayer,
  • right to work

— and continue to influence elected officials. Finally, there is the conservative intellectual movement: writers, scholars, and wonks whose journalistic and political work deals mainly with ideas and, if we’re lucky, their translation into public policy.

Brené Brown on Empathy

  1. perspective taking
  2. staying out of judgement
  3. recognizing emotion in others

Rarely can a response make something better.  What makes something better is connection.


What is the best way to ease someone’s pain and suffering? In this beautifully animated RSA Short, Dr Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.

To Understand Facebook, Study Capgras Syndrome

Recognition and familiarity elicited different emotions in Madame M. Her problem was she couldn’t reconcile the two emotions. The delusion of doubles wasn’t a sensory delusion, “but rather the conclusion of emotional judgment.”

.. Our modern understanding of the disorder tells us much about how the brain has separate modules for analyzing the cognitive aspects of recognition, and for feeling the emotional aspects of familiarity.

.. As we’ll see, these functional fault lines in the social brain, when coupled with advances in the online world, have given rise to the contemporary Facebook generation. They have made Capgras syndrome a window on our culture and minds today, where nothing is quite recognizable but everything seems familiar.

.. Some viewed Capgras as a delusion all its own (with its own special psychodynamic causes). Others viewed it as simply one of an array of psychodynamically rooted “delusional misidentification syndromes.” Those included Fregoli delusions, where the sufferer believes that various people are actually the same person in disguise; Cotard’s syndrome, the belief that your blood or organs have been absconded with, or that you don’t exist at all; or reduplicative paramnesia, the sense that a familiar place has been copied and substituted.

.. It was spurred by the shock waves sent by the discovery in the 1950s that using a drug to block a certain type of neurotransmitter receptor was a lot more helpful to a schizophrenic than years of psychotherapy. This fostered the recognition that all behavior is rooted in biology, that aberrancies of behavior and neuropsychiatric disorders are as “real” biologically as, say, diabetes.

.. Discrete damage to the brain can produce someone who can identify the features of a loved one, yet who insists that the living, breathing person in front of them is an imposter. Which turns out to tell us a lot about one of the great false dichotomies about the brain.

.. Selective damage to the vmPFC produces someone who also makes terrible decisions, but of a different type. This person has tremendous difficulty deciding anything; he or she lacks any “gut” intuition in such matters. Moreover, the decisions tend toward cold, heartless pragmatism. When meeting someone, he might say, “Hello, I see that you are quite overweight,” and when chastised about it later, will respond with a puzzled, “But it’s true.”

.. Identification is at the intersection of factual recognition and a sense of familiarity. In this framework, Capgras delusions arise when there is selective damage to the extended face processing network, impairing the sense of familiarity. Factual recognition is intact; you know that this person looks just like your loved one. But they just don’t feel familiar.

.. But this only gets you halfway to the delusion. Suppose there’s one of those quirky moments where your Significant Other says or does something out of character, feels unfamiliar. Wow, that’s not like him, we think. We don’t then conclude, however, that he must have been replaced by an identical imposter. Instead, we find a more plausible explanation—it’s, say, because he didn’t get much sleep.

.. prosopagnosia the mirror of Capgras delusions is the fact that with the former, amid destruction of cognitive recognition, the affective sense of familiarity is still there. Show someone with prosopagnosia a series of faces—Nope, I don’t recognize this person, not that one either—with a picture of a loved in the sequence, and you will see the same disavowal—Nah, don’t recognize this one—but the autonomic nervous system responds to familiarity. Heart rate changes, galvanic skin conductance shifts. Recognition is shot, you insist you’ve never seen this face before in your life, but the affective circuitry of the brain knows exactly who it is—this is the one who makes me feel safe, whose smile and form and scent have greeted me each morning since we joined our lives.

.. we become increasingly vulnerable to imposters. Our social media lives are rife with simulations, and simulations of simulations of reality. We are contacted online by people who claim they know us, who wish to save us from cybersecurity breaches, who invite us to open their links. And who are probably not quite who they say they are.

.. This withering of primate familiarity in the face of technology prompts us to mistake an acquaintance for a friend, just because the two of you have a Snapchat streak for the last umpteen days, or because you both like all the same Facebook pages. It allows us to become intimate with people whose familiarity then proves false. After all, we can now fall in love with people online whose hair we have never smelled.

.. It’s not that loved ones and friends are mistaken for simulations, but that simulations are mistaken for them.

Richard Rohr: Faith as Participation

That’s why all true cognition is really recognition (“re-cognition” or knowing something again). Only so far as you have surrendered to Christ and allowed the Christ in you to come to fullness can you love Christ. It’s Christ in you that recognizes and loves Christ.

.. “Faith” is not an affirmation of a creed, an intellectual acceptance of God, or believing certain doctrines to be true or orthodox (although those things might well be good). Yet that seems to be what many Christians have whittled faith down to. Such faith does not usually change your heart or your lifestyle. I’m convinced that much modern atheism is a result of such a heady and really ineffective definition of faith. We defined faith intellectually, so people came up with intellectual arguments against it and then said, “I don’t believe in God.”

Both Jesus’ and Paul’s notion of faith is much better translated as foundational confidence or trust that God cares about what is happening right now.

.. I am afraid you can believe doctrines (e.g., virgin birth, biblical inerrancy, Real Presence in bread and wine, etc.) to be true and not enjoy such a radical confidence in love or God at all. I have met many such merely intellectual believers.