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, 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.

The Tyranny of the BBC and its Orwellian TV Licence

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

You hear those three letters—BBC—and think nothing but good associations. Fine documentaries. Brilliant historical dramas. Edgy comedy. All-round bastion of culture.

As an Australian I was brought up on the BBC, as BBC programs stand in for about half of all content on the Australian national broadcaster (the ABC).

Alas, the BBC is a bloody tyrant. I discovered this by moving to the UK and thus within the BBC’s all-powerful dominion. It starts with the obvious fact that a national broadcaster gets the majority of its funding through tax-payer dollars. In Australia this was through general tax revenues, but in the UK it is through a special levy known as a TV licence.

I only found out such a thing exists when, yesterday, an English gentleman knocked on my door and promptly informed me that I had failed to renew my tv licence and such failure, if not remedied, could result in considerable fines and possible court action.


A strange conversation ensued in which the gentleman kept making statements about my need for a tv licence, while I made statements about not knowing what this Orwellian-sounding article of bureaucracy could possibly be, not to mention the fact I do not, have not, and will not ever be watching British television.

Though I appreciated The Bill, various Attenborough documentaries, and classic fare like Fawlty Towers when growing up, these days the general bulk of what passes for British television is decidedly not to my taste. No doubt some gems exist, but I know myself—I’d end up watching the dross, too, and my life would be inestimably worse for it. No, there shall be no British tv in my British household. If I want to watch a specific program (like Broadchurch or The Fall) I will wait till it is available for download.

This should have been the end of the matter, for, as I later found out, if you don’t watch tv, you don’t need a licence to watch tv (and, it repeats being said, the simple fact a “licence” is required to watch tv is the sort of thing I’d expect to find in a Bradbury or Huxley or Orwell novel, and which has now gone into my notebook for inclusion in my own dystopian novella; what next, a licence for pavement utilisation, or a half-licence if you promise to only walk on the cracks?).

But the chap very nearly pushed his way into my home. He insisted on examining my tv so that he could confirm it wasn’t in use, not receiving a tv signal. Anything less might result in a fine for improper usage without a licence. Of course, I wasn’t worried. I had ripped the bloody antenna out the moment I moved in, and thrown about twenty cables into a dark cupboard.

“I don’t use the tv,” I explained.

“Which is exactly why I must enter and examine it,” the BBC man countered.

“What for? I told you I don’t use the tv, so surely I don’t need a licence.”

“That’s right, so I just need to get inside and take a look around to ensure you don’t need a licence.”

“No, I don’t need a licence. I don’t watch tv. If I don’t watch tv then why would I need a licence to watch tv?”

“Well I’ll just take a quick look then.”

“At what?”

“The tv.”

“But I told you, I don’t watch tv.”

“But you have a tv?”

“Yes, but I don’t watch tv on it, just stuff from my computer.”

“I’ll need to check that then, so, if you don’t mind.”

“Check what?”

“The tv.”


It occurs to me that this is less Orwell, more Kafka—a man accused of a crime, the details of which he is never fully aware. If I was to believe this BBC man, I needed a tv licence of which I knew nothing to watch tv which I don’t watch.

BBC, I’m sorry, but you lost me at licence.

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