Polarization, Take the Survey, Take the Hot and Cold Water Test

Here’s a way to visualize the political polarization of current society. Remember the bell curve? The regular bell curve refers to a normal distribution of a value across a range. Let’s look at the distribution of human height: 

Looking at the blue line, the average human height is about 66 inches, with a range of the number taller and shorter than the average moving down and away from the average in both directions, making the shape of a bell. Note the red curve is a perfect bell curve and is the normal distribution.  So the actual distribution of human height is quite close to the normal bell curve.

Now let’s take a look at the polarization of the population that is politically engaged, as presented in Political Polarization, 1994-2017, Pew Research Center, October 20, 2017:

Look at the diagrams of the politically engaged in 1994, 2004, 2014 and 2017, notice a development over time? Democrats keep moving farther left, republicans keep moving farther right, and by 2017 there’s an upside-down bell curve! That’s the exact opposite of the normal bell curve! Does that mean we’re not normal? Not necessarily, but it does show just how divided and polarized we have become.

We here at Synthisophy are Centrist.  How do we know? Our staff each took the Ideological Consistence Scale Survey from the PEW Research Center to see where we are on the political spectrum.

Individual questions are recoded as follows: “-1” for a liberal response, “+1” for a conservative response, “0” for other (don’t know / didn't answer, etc...) responses. As a result, scores on the full scale range from -10 (liberal /left responses to all 10 questions) to +10 (conservative/right responses to all 10 questions). For analytical purposes, respondents were grouped into one of five categories, which are used throughout the report, as follows:

- Consistently conservative (+7 to +10), aka Far Right
- Mostly conservative (+3 to +6), aka Moderate Right
- Mixed (-2 to +2), aka Centrist
- Mostly liberal (-3 to -6), aka Moderate Left
- Consistently liberal (-7 to -10), aka Far Left

How did we all do here at synthisophy? We all came out with a value between -2 and 2, and averaged a -1 as a group. Where do you fall on the political spectrum? Take the Survey and find out!

Now that you have an idea where you stand on the political spectrum, let’s do the Hot and Cold water experiment to get an understanding of how your brain works.  Note that your brain is an extraordinarily complex organ, with billions of nerve cells (neurons) all interconnected and firing away to generate your consciousness and sense of self.  Note also that at conception you were just one cell, one single human cell in the womb.  And from there that one cell divides, continually, with the guidance of your DNA, to become you, all 37 trillion cells of you!

Get three plastic containers in which you can place your whole open hand and 3 thermometers. Pour cold water from your faucet into container 1, fill up with ice cubes, get temperature down to 32 degrees F. Pour cold tap water from your faucet into container 2. Get the temperature to 70 degrees F (add ice, or add hot water).Pour hot tap water into container 3, make sure it’s 108 degrees, add ice to cool or microwave/stove heat water to get temp to 108 degrees. Do NOT go above 108 degrees and do NOT leave hand in the hot water for more than 10 seconds.

Place your whole left hand palm down underwater in container 1, try and leave there for 10 seconds, then place your left hand palm down underwater in container 2. How’s it feel? Now place your whole right hand palm down underwater in container 3, try and leave it there for 10 seconds, but no more, and then place your right hand palm down underwater in container 2. How’d it feel? Now take your left hand and put it in container 2, then take that hand out and put your right hand in container 2. Does the water feel colder than it just was with your left hand? Wait a minute, it’s the same water, this can’t be happening, try it again. Left hand in, remove, then right hand in. Yup, the right hand feels the water is colder, but how can that be, it’s the same water at the same temperature! The answer lies in your brain, and how your neurons interpret input.  If your brain is accustomed to cold ice water, then the difference in warm compared to cold neurologically registers as a lot warmer (a larger difference).  If your brain is accustomed to hot water, then the difference in warm compared to hot registers as a lot cooler (a larger difference). And when you compare that feeling of temperature in your left and right hand, you can see the brain has over-compensated the differences in temperature. It’s all relative, that’s how your brain and neurons operate.

So with the results of the Hot and cold Test in mind, let’s consider someone with centrist views speaking to someone who is far Right, let's say a 9 or 10 on the scale, let’s call them alt-Right. Perhaps you’ve encountered such in on-line posts, replies and chats.


Centrist: I wonder if there’s anything we can do about climate change.

Alt-Right:  Climate change is a problem? That’s a hoax, climate change has been going on throughout history, temperatures go up, temperatures go down.  Sea levels go up. Sea levels go down, what’s the big deal?

Centrist: Well, ya, temperatures have gone up and down, and sea levels have risen and fallen, but it usually takes tens of thousands if not millions of years for that to happen.

alt-Right: Ya right, sound the alarms, the sky is falling, you far-left wingnuts are out of it. Get a clue.


Let’s consider that same person with centrist views speaking to someone who is far Left, let’s say a -9 or -10 on the scale, let’s call them ultra-Left:

Centrist: I wonder if there’s anything we can do about climate change.

ultra-Left: What do you mean wonder, did you read the climate change report by the IPCC? Carbon in the atmosphere is over 400 ppm, it’s global warming, we have 10 years to change our ways or we’re all going to get fried!

Centrist: Can we realistically change things that quickly?

Ulta-Left: Did you ever hear of the Green New Deal? We need 100% of the power generated through clean, renewable energy, and zero-emissions! You far-right wingnuts are out of it. Get a clue.

Do you see how the alt-Right sees the Centrist as a left wing nut, and the ultra-Left sees the Centrist as a right wing nut?  That happens for the same reason the same warm water can feel colder or hotter, your brain neurologically generates those perceptions relative to each other, and your brain becomes biased. Let’s call this biasing hot or biasing cold, better yet, how about biasing left or biasing right! The alt-Right biased the Centrist left, they perceived the Centrist as far Left. The ultra-Left biased the Centrist right, they perceived the Centrist as far Right. Perhaps these biases are reflected in the up-side down bell curve discussed earlier. So think about the Hot and Cold Water experiment next time you get into a heated political argument with someone. Maybe you’ll catch yourself biasing left or right, or maybe you’ll see the person with whom you’re arguing biasing left or right.

 

With these issues in mind, let’s start on a walk through history to get a better understanding of ourselves.

Introduction