Democrats are right brain, Republicans Left.
Democrats tend to be socially conscious and feel that government and overall society exists, in part, to help the least of our brothers and sisters. They put right brain characteristics such as art, health care, welfare and creativity ahead of business profits and the constant race for wealth.
While this does not hold true from individual to individual it does in terms of party platforms, basic beliefs and doctrines. And for a western democracy this is considered normal and even healthy, despite the polarized paralysis we have today. Since for better or worse, emotion is a right brain function, Democrats have usually been more successful in selling emotional need. The current "tea bag" movement and a major well financed move to blog, e-mail and capture the Internet by the Republican Party may just reverse that, at least in the short term.
Why is the brain divided? If it is about making connections, why has evolution so carefully preserved the segregation of its hemispheres? Almost every function once thought to be the province of one or other hemisphere—language, imagery, reason, emotion—is served by both hemispheres, not one.
There is nonetheless a highly significant difference in how the two hemispheres work, giving rise to two wholly distinct takes on the world. Normally we synthesize them without being aware that we are doing so. But one of the two hemispheres can come to dominate—and just as this may happen for individuals, it may also happen for a whole culture.
The neuropsychological evidence shows that the right hemisphere pays wide-open attention to the world, seeing the whole, whereas the left hemisphere is adept at focusing on a detail. New experience, whatever its kind, is better apprehended by the right hemisphere, whereas the predictable is better dealt with by the left. And because the right hemisphere sees things in context, as inseparably interconnected, it recognizes the vast extent of what remains implicit. By contrast, because of its narrow focus, the left hemisphere isolates what it sees, and is relatively blind to things that can be conveyed only indirectly.
In humans, the left hemisphere controls the grasping right hand and the bits of language that enable us to pin down meaning unambiguously. It helps us manipulate and use the world, in pursuit of our aims. The left hemisphere's world is sharply delineated and certain, along the lines of the general's strategy map on the command room wall, where the complexity of the world is stripped away. Yet we still need to see the essentially human world as it is before we simplify and disconnect it. A general needs to be in touch with the world in which his soldiers actually fight. The knowledge that is mediated by the left hemisphere is knowledge within a closed system. It has the advantage of perfection, but such perfection is bought ultimately at the price of emptiness.
The right hemisphere's take on the world is far more complex and nuanced. Instead of distinct mechanisms, the right hemisphere sees interconnected, living, embodied entities. In communication the right hemisphere recognizes all that is nonverbal, metaphorical, ironic or humorous, where the left is literalistic. The right is at ease with ambiguity and the idea that opposites may be compatible.
There is a reason we have two hemispheres: We need both versions of the world.
Without the right hemisphere, we are socially and emotionally insensitive, and have an impaired understanding of beauty, art and religion. Effectively autistic, we have no sense of the broader context of experience. Meanwhile, without the left hemisphere, we struggle to bring detail into focus. If a culture were ever to rely excessively on one take alone, there would sooner or later need to be a correction.
Yet in the West there has been such an imbalance. And as a consequence, over the past 2,500 years, there has been a kind of battle going on in our brains, the result of which has been, despite swings of the pendulum, an ever greater reliance on the left hemisphere.
(continuned at Wall Street Journal.com, use school library link as subscription may be required for access)