Trump Supporters and the Modular Mind

Avan Judd Stallard - Author

Now that it’s done—Trump is President—the question becomes, how did it happen? How did all those people see his misogyny, sexual lechery, crassness, and willingness to lie and still decide he was the one to lead America into the future? The answer is the modular brain.

Pundits like Bill Maher would have us believe that Trump supporters are simply vile and stupid people, filled with hate and xenophobia. That does not go far to explaining it, though. So often, when a Trump supporter was engaged—quietly, not in a screaming match—they proved to be sympathetic, even appealing, humans. They were striving to understand a confounding world, they listened to those who had another viewpoint, they seemed to just want good things for people. Many had very difficult lives from which they simply sought the hope of better prospects for self or the next generation.

And, many acknowledged Trump’s enormous character flaws. They recognised the sexism and his bestial approach to women, his erratic behaviour, his love of name calling and fudging facts. For liberals, all that was simply grist for their established position: it gave them perfect reasons not to vote for him (which they weren’t going to do anyway). But they also thought they should be reasons for others not to vote for him.

And yet none of it mattered because, as Professor Robert Kurzban explains in Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind, different parts of the brain take over for different tasks. So, when potential supporters assessed Trump as a personality—assessing him the way we assess every person we meet in a social setting—the social part of their brain completely understood that he was a dubious character. There are so many interviews and clips with supporters where we see this.

But when it came to making a political decision, a decision seemingly about much bigger things than personality—we’re talking things like the economy and immigration and international relations—different modules of their brain kicked in.

These are the modules that were concerned in our evolutionary history with basic survival. Getting an advantage over competitors. Securing enough food. Securing a stable community that protected you and which you protected. In evolutionary times, did it matter that the most powerful members of your tribe were crass cave-men who grabbed their crotch and the crotch of their fellow cave-women? No, there was no time to worry about such niceties when survival was paramount. And that, in the eyes of many Americans, is what was on the line: survival.

When survival and prosperity is at stake, what mattered way back then in evolutionary times, and what matters now whether people wish to believe it or not, is power and projected power. Leaders in evolutionary times had to fight and kill or, at the least, dominate. That is the module—or set of modules—of the brain that were engaged to make the political decision to vote for Trump. Not the module about niceness, personality, or abstract values. It was the modules about threats and survival, and it didn’t matter whether those threats were illusory or real.

For people in America lacking prosperity, whose communities had suffered from job and infrastructure losses while they saw foreigners continue to enter their country and chase the dream that had seemed to escape them, Trump was power and he was promise.

America ended up with President Trump because the decision-making modules in millions of brains simply didn’t care that Trump is a repulsive character. He promised them things that they wanted—bring back the coal industry, make America great again, secure borders, kill unfair trade agreements, all vague things without a plan behind them—and he seemed like the sort of powerful man who could make it come true.

Hillary Clinton? She just promised decency, or at least that is what Trump supporters heard. Decency in a time of national upheaval and during a fight for survival—who cares, thought the brains of the Trump supporters?

And that is why there was so much said about Clinton’s emails. People who held decent values in one module of their brain but wanted to vote for Trump according to a different module experienced dissonance. Their brain sought to resolve that disagreement, and did so with confabulation. ‘Oh, I mustn’t like or be voting for Hillary Clinton because of the emails.’

The brain of the evolutionary beast won out, and so now Chief Cave Man Trump is President.

Australian Characters

No Learning No Hugging, the blog of an author, observer and misanthrope

I recently finished writing an article on male readers of romance novels. I interviewed one particular Australian named Len—a real character.

I’ve lived in London for a year now, and though I continue to have contact with Australians, it’s mostly with the sort of urban or middle-class sorts likely to travel through or live in such a sprawling, cosmopolitan metropolis. Which is to say, there’s not an enormous amount of variety in the Australians here. They—we—mostly sound the same, look the same, talk the same, think the same.

But Len—he’s a different beast. Born, raised and made a life in rural NSW. When he greeted me over the phone from the other side of the world it was like I was listening to a crude Australian film where the director insists his actors ratchet up the ocker accent for the sake of playing to an international stereotype. A guttural, almost crow-like timbre that comes from the bottom of the throat washed every of Len’s words; the cadence was broken and sentences trailed off into…; and there were silences—long thinking silences that might roll into the rest of a thought or might just as well remain a silence. None of this is to suggest Len was anything less than articulate, well considered, and engaging—only that his idiom and his persona were so very different to what most people know.

I suppose I have been thinking about this—about the fact that there are so many interesting sorts across Australia, away from the lights and the cities—because my Mum reminded me in a letter how lucky she has been (and I have been being the child at her side) in the vast array of characters that have passed through her life. The cities have their own benefits, but true diversity of personality, traits and experiences is something that the country produces, par excellence.

The passage from my mum’s letter is worth sharing:

“Sweating like a pig.” These hot days had me thinking. I’ve worked and raised pigs—never seen them sweat; (but must) so asked Big Steve. “Never seen ‘em sweat,” he said. “But I saw an old boar rooting for a solid hour once and he never raised a sweat.” I decided not to ask Steve why he watched for an hour.

The Global Gum Tree Invasion

No Learning No Hugging - the blog of an author, observer and misanthrope

You can’t grow up in the Australian bush without being aware of the blight of invasive pests, either because you’re hunting them out with pick, rifle, or poison, or because a tract of land has been rendered useless. Foxes, cane toads, rabbits, camels; prickly pear, lantana, buffel grass, bridal creeper. From desert to coast, hundreds of species have irrevocably changed Australia, almost as much as humans.

Of course, the plants and animals didn’t nefariously seek out a country to conquer. Our European forebears brought the pests to Australia. These men and women (but mostly men) harboured an archaic notion of replacing the uncultivated and uncivilised with the sort of respectable, noble plants and animals one knew back home­—which is to say, throughout Europe, and specifically England. Beast and bush merely did what they were programmed to do: survive and reproduce.

It’s strange to think that once people realised how destructive introduced species could be they didn’t even consider stopping the practice; they doubled down instead, introducing new pests to destroy other pests. Made sense at the time, no doubt.

These days, things have changed. Australians have come to love their landscapes and native plants and animals, and hate the invasive species that threaten them (unless they’re brumbies; neither horses nor horse-lovers are rational).

For me—a lad from the country—it was a powerful and curious experience to finally leave Australia and discover that various Australian species, long the underdog, have reversed the flow in places. On a three month trip through South America, I was looking out a bus window, convinced I was seeing gum trees pocking the arid hillsides of barren Chilean farmland.

There are dozens of different species of gum tree, but they all possess similar characteristics: the laconic and irregular branches; either smooth and pale or chunky and nobbled bark that bleeds colour; evergreen leaves that sprout lime green then dull into leathery pastels; and the scent.

A gum tree is a eucalypt, and there is no mistaking the scent of eucalyptus oil. I had no doubt: our humble trees were reforesting the barren hills of deforested Chile. I presume it’s because the eucalypt is a famously hardy genus of tree. Plant it and it grows. Survives with little water. Builds bulk fast, and the wood of the trunk is good for building.

As I moved north I noticed more gum trees in Bolivia and Ecuador. I travelled to other countries, and again I saw gum trees reforesting slopes or lining the road, purposely planted. The Philippines. France. Belgium. Morocco. Spain.

And here, the motherland—England—the country responsible for so many Australian pests. I see them not randomly poking out of English hillsides, but planted in people’s yards as ornaments.

There is a certain route I travel every other day, and every time I do, without fail, I notice the two homes planted with gum trees. It’s involuntary. I cannot help but see them, gaze at them, smell the air for scent of them, any more than a rabbit can see a spotlight and resist the urge to turn and stare.

It’s the English winter when the gum trees are most obvious, for that’s the time when every other tree has shed its foliage. But not my gum trees. They stand resolute, covered in the hardy green leaves of a tree that doesn’t give a damn.

Every time I see them—and I know this is as irrational as horse-love—I feel a pang of pride.

Pin It on Pinterest