Can our brain really be at war with itself? Surprisingly enough, there’s quite a bit of evidence to support this concept. While both sides of the brain are involved in every decision we make, there is still a significant difference in how the two hemispheres of the brain work, giving rise to wholly distinct takes on the world.
The left side of the brain focuses on detail and control. It manages verbal ability, language, and written skills. It is also more predictable. The right hemisphere of the brain encompasses intuition, imagination, new experiences, and looking at the big picture. It is inclined to exaggerate and sometimes ignore the facts.
Psychiatrist Ian McGilchrist believes that over the past 2500 years there’s been a battle going on in our brain with ever greater reliance on the left side of the brain. He believes that the left hemisphere is so concerned with control and denial that it is “like a sleepwalker, whistling a happy tune as it ambles towards the abyss.”
(Ian McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary, Yale University Press, 2009.)
Could a right-brain rebellion save us before we freefall into the void? Was Donald Trump’s election triggered by a right-brain insurgency? According to Bret Stevens, our country’s economy is now “overregulated,” and this tight control was ignored “by coastal elites because we are mostly in the business of producing and manipulating words –– as politicians, lawyers, bureaucrats, academics, consultants, pundits, etc. These regulations and tight controls are the bane of anyone who produces or delivers things, such as jet engines, burgers, pool supplies, you name it.” Stephens goes on to say that “when those of us in the word-making world use the term “overregulation,” we are mostly putting a name to a concept we rarely experience consciously.” (Bret Stephens, The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 20, 2016.)
Is this left brain – right brain idea just pop psychology or is there something to it? Maybe the election polls will help us. Clinton received votes from women, college graduates, and of course the media. Not all women are left-brained, of course, but they are verbal and make up the majority of college students. They lead boys in language skills by a full two years at age thirteen.
Another bit of support comes from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The basic and most important needs of right brainers and career education grads are security and livelihood. This is all the more true for the 70% of Americans who have not graduated from college. On the other hand, college graduates, wordsmiths and academics are concerned with much more esoteric needs higher up the hierarchy, such as self-actualization. Maybe this is why, when they fly from New York to Los Angeles, they don’t look down and notice all those folks in the Midwest who produce and deliver things –– rather than talking or writing about things –– people who are concerned about jobs and crime in the streets
If there was going to be a left-brain, right-brain civil war, who would be appointed to the post of Commander-In-Chief? A right brainer who lacked verbal pretensions and told it like it was? Someone who looked directly at the big picture and didn’t try to dance around things? Someone like World War II General Anthony McAuliffe who responded to a German general’s request to surrender, at the Battle of the Bulge, with one rather rude word: “nuts.”
Someone who shows expression and personality? An entertainer? I believe Jeb Bush might have won the presidency if he had taken off his professorial glasses and asserted himself with personality and vigor. It may be unfortunate, and even dangerous, but since the days of the Nixon-Kennedy debates politicians do well on T.V. if the camera likes them –– and only if the camera likes them.
Needless to say, getting the camera to like you requires experience in front of a camera. This experience is something that newly minted General Trump shares with Ronald Reagan, another right brainer and entertainer, who was also a person of ridicule to those who spent their time writing, attending seminars, and mixing with other elites in order to share abstract and even poetic thoughts about public policy and self-actualization.
So General Trump was awarded his 5 stars by the ground-pounders in the trenches rather than the media and the Ivy League professors. And why did they select him? Because he promised to respond to their needs, the needs at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy. He promised to support the police and attack terrorists in order to provide security. He promised to loosen up regulations and make life easier and more profitable for those who were in the business of delivering things.
And they believed him. Should they have? Right brainers easily grasp the big picture and rely on intuition, without the modifying and balancing effects of details and controls. This can lead to a wondrous but rocky ride –– or a crash landing. If you wanted a right brainer, you got him. Now buckle up and hold on to your hats!