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Rather than simply a sequel to his earlier volume The Republican War on Science (2004), here in The Republican Brain Mooney (2012) presents more than a simple re-listing of new and updated factual errors, misinformation and false beliefs, as frequently expressed by US Republican party supporters. Not that the human (or any other) brain features very prominently in the book either, what instead is to be found is an empirically-defensible thesis which seeks to use differential psychology to explain the thinking (or lack thereof) underlying the many seemingly bizarre beliefs and behaviours repeatedly exhibited by some of the most hard-line US Republican office holders in recent decades (and those of their mentors/supporters). Sometimes the same explanations afford an explanatory account of equally confounding behaviours as are frequently demonstrated by US Democratic Party office holders, but the details (though related), are significantly different, both in their aetiology and maintenance.
For the non-American audience-reader, there may be some possible confusion(s) to resolve resulting from the oft interchangeable use of terms of the different in-group affiliations, and descriptive allegiances to stereotype labeling, as employed by the various researchers cited. For example, the dichotomous political pairings of 'Republican vs Democrat' may not necessarily map the experimental samples of a given research psychologist's 'Authoritarians vs Egalitarians', as examples of each the former pair include examples of both the latter; and likewise, with the categorical usage of 'Conservative vs Liberal'. Mooney's own efforts to be clear as to exactly to whom he is referring in each case is well executed in his writing, though may require some note-taking on the part of those less familiar with these terms. In contrast, Mooney's examples of both the acceptable and unacceptable behaviours recorded of each (their thinking styles, identification and use of facts, etc.), is easily accessed for understanding, even without a working knowledge of American history, economic theory, reproductive or climate science, religious education, or US social policy.
But without spoiling the reader's own disentangling fun when exploring Mooney's text for themselves (especially if they are 'liberals'?), it is sufficient to say that the most 'enlightening' (and perhaps at first surprising) findings concern Republican Party supporters who tend towards both authoritarian and conservative outlooks on life (and especially so, the religious conservatives). The most convincing data presented in this text involve correlate studies of the personality traits) possessed of politically right-leaning samples (as determined by Big-5 testing, in contrast to those of other party affiliated individuals. To be specific, the personality traits of self-identified 'Republicans' vs 'Democrats' reveal significantly diametrically opposed scoring levels on each of the first two Big-5 dimensions of Openness and Conscientiousness. Together with many similar findings from psychological, social, educational, and historical research studies (each carefully sourced and documented), Mooney's thesis is built around then using this data for explanatory purposes. It is important to understand, however, that correlation does not imply causation – though his arguments are for the most part clear, consistent, and very helpful with regards their conclusions. Many will wish to use the same data to support the view that Republicans hold (and defend) such-and-such view(s) because their personality then influences or drives their behaviour to be expressed in certain ways (think in-group bias, motivated reasoning, selective exposure, cognitive dissonance, reality denial), whereas others may prefer to conclude that one's particular personality traits might conspire to influence one's 'choosing' to become attached to a particular party affiliation in the first place.
To disentangle this last issue, the reader will need await new data (Mooney does include some very preliminary genetic data, and the fMRI studies presented are consistent re limbic vs frontal ACC differences in the different party affiliate's information processing preferences), the emerging multidisciplinary fields of 'Neuropolitics' and 'Political Neuroscience' will (I believe) look back to this book as a solid source of inspiration in years to come. The goal to remember, is to determine not who's right and who's wrong, but to better understand why we do what we do?, why we choose to believe what we believe?, and why some of us encourage others to do what we invite them to do?, or to believe what we would like them to believe? The current task of attempting to understand the psychology of individual political activists (whether presidents or ministers, 'mainstream' electoral representatives, or outlaw revolutionaries), is of critical import as future options and opportunities may well be in their hands (or, more specifically, in their heads).
Presented over 9 discs, a total of 211 tracks cover the book in unabridged form (a total 11 hrs listening time, in a gentle, tho' non too-assuming voice), but critically missing are any references for the discerning reader wishing to check sources, name spellings or titles. The current reviewer would certainly appreciate inclusion of this necessary section (if the book's own thesis re the most enlightened-readers' personalities is to be believed !!). Maybe the provision of an additional disc with a readable word file could serve this purpose for critical fact checkers, and/or those looking for further reading concerning the issues addressed in Mooney's text.
© 2013 Tony Dickinson
Tony Dickinson, KBET+ (USA/China), Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI, China).