For the past two years and nine months, various pundits and political observers have attempted to understand why many Americans are undeterred in imposing their beliefs on the rest of the population and support policies that are decidedly against their own self interests. It does not seem to matter if it is the racial hatred of an African-American President, anti-woman sentiment, or hatred of all things not conservative, there is a certain mindset that believes contrary opinion is inherently evil. Sociologists claim that ego or ethno-centrism is responsible for such single-minded thinking, and to a great extent they are correct, but there is a conceptual explanation from the field of philosophy that explains why a class of Americans refuses to accept that others’ beliefs, intents, desires, and knowledge exist and are valid regardless if an individual agrees or not.
The Theory of mind explains the human quality that fundamentalist Christians and conservatives seem to lack putting them in the same category as mindless, single-celled life forms. Scientists think that most animals lack the “ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, and knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one’s own.” Many creatures seem to possess this ability and behaviorists have attributed theory of mind to crows in their observations of the birds in their relationships to humans they come into contact with on a daily basis. However, looking at many fundamentalist Christians and hard-line conservatives, it is nearly impossible to believe they recognize that other Americans do not share their extremist viewpoints because in all likelihood, they do not.
There are myriad examples of Christian fundamentalists and conservatives who demonstrate the absence of theory of mind, but for lack of space and time, a couple of areas stand out. In particular, the notion that President Obama is an interloper and not “one of us” because of his race explains the extreme hatred held by Christian fundamentalists and ignorant conservatives. They do not recognize that a black man is capable of coherent thought and leadership skills to govern because his policies are not inclined toward whites-only, Christian fundamentalist beliefs. Because they are incapable of recognizing the President’s beliefs and intents are different from their own, their first inclination is abject hatred and opposition even though he is working to advance their interests. Their idea of a president is a white man who believes in subjecting women to inferior roles, war, no taxes, and freedom to impose bible-based ideology on the entire country, and they lack the ability to recognize that other Americans do not adhere to their beliefs.
To fundamentalist conservatives, the idea that social programs, equal rights, and religious freedoms are so foreign that they are willing to support Republican policies even though those policies impede their own prosperity and well-being. These conservatives do not recognize that Democrats and Liberals have different values that are inclined toward the common good of the entire country, and they oppose policies that are in their best interest out of sheer ignorance. However, their ignorance is not borne of lack of information; it is borne of the inability to understand that anyone who is not a conservative believes that all Americans deserve basic human rights such as health care, a living wage, a home, and security in old age. Those basic rights just do not resonate with ignorant conservatives because they are incapable of recognizing anything different from their own narrow-minded ideology.
The Republican leaders do not lack theory of mind, but they use their supporters’ ignorance to engender opposition to Democratic policies and throw out words like Socialists, Communists, and Marxists to further their cause and they are quite successful because their base is already suspicious of anything different than their own beliefs. Many pundits have wondered aloud; “why are poor, barely subsisting people willing to vote for policies that are self-defeating and reward the extremely wealthy?” The answer is simply that ignorant conservatives are incapable of recognizing there is another belief system that dictates it is human to care for those that are less-advantaged. Republican leaders such as Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and Eric Cantor take advantage of their ignorant sycophants’ coarse intellect to instill hatred for Democrats, and especially President Obama, and they are successful or Republicans would not have fared so well in the 2010 midterm elections.
America cannot make any progress as long as there are citizens who are incapable of recognizing there are different approaches and ideologies to grow the economy and create jobs other than giving more entitlements to the wealthy and their corporations. Republicans continue to be successful in garnering support for their policies that punish the poor and reward the wealthy because their supporters are ill-equipped to recognize there are more humane ways to conduct the government’s business than giving all the breaks to the rich. Perhaps educating the ignorant will help, but first they must acknowledge that other ideas even exist.
Dogs do not recognize that human beings believe sitting down to defecate in a toilet is preferable to squatting in a field because they lack theory of mind, and it is apparent that conservative Christians do not recognize that a Black man as President is working to help all Americans prosper and thrive. However, dogs are capable of learning; unfortunately, conservative Christians are not because in their minds, the notion that Democrats, Liberals, and secular Humanists even possess a different set of beliefs other than their own is non-existent. In the next few days, this column will examine Christian fundamentalists and their inability to recognize beliefs, knowledge, intent, and desires that are not founded in superstition, mythology, and Bronze Age fantasy to understand why theocracy is ascending and why stopping it immediately is so crucial to save America.