Scared Baby
Scared Baby

   A sociologic phenomena happens with great frequency and so far I have not been able to convince anybody that it is significant. Here it is: political elections, at least recently, almost always divide the population right down the middle, fifty-fifty. I bet dollars to donuts that within a hundred years genetic research will identify the single DNA switch that disposes a person to conservatism or liberalism, which of course is a liberal thing to say. I know what you are thinking: how then do you account for lopsided victories like LBJ getting 60% of the vote? Point taken.
    I answer that terrorism and rough economic times have finally shaken out the true emotional allies. The difference, preliminary research suggests, is the size and activity of the amygdala, a part of the brain that manages fear. Make a loud unexpected noise and conservatives blind quicker and more often than liberals. Show both a fear inducing image, like a big spider on someone's face, and skin inductance jumps in conservative more than liberals, the same body response to measuring stress during a lie detector test. On an ancient brain stem level, conservatives respond more strongly to threats than do liberals. MRIs show that the conservative amygdala is bigger and more active than those of liberals. So, in a time when the major issues are fear-based - terrorism, financial collapse, gender difference blurring, immigration of different colored people - presidential elections are huge laboratory tests of whose mystery genetic switch is on and whose is off.

Maasai Warrior
Maasai Warrior

   Some people’s lives are really different from mine. I mean really, really different. Here’s an example: Tepilit Ole Saitoti is a Maasai warrior. He lives in the Rift Valley in Kenya. Each morning he and his buddies wrestle a cow to the ground, shoot a hollow arrow into its neck, and drain a couple pints of blood. That’s breakfast. He lives in a compound made of bundles of brush stacked in rows to make walls. He has never worn shoes. He has never bathed. He does not carry a cell phone. Don’t get me wrong. He is happy. His life is meaningful. And, to look at him, he is a magnificent specimen of the human animal. This is just the really different part so far. Here’s one way his life is really, really different from mine. One night his family heard a lion prowling outside about ten feet away. Fortunately there was a stack of brush between them and the lion. His father told Tepilit to chase the lion away. That’s the only part of this story I understand: telling somebody else to chase away the lion. Being a good boy, Tepilit, barefoot, alone, wearing little more than a loin cloth, walked out of the compound and, in the Kenyan night lit by nothing but the moon and stars, went looking for the marauding lion. Fortunately he had a weapon: a stick. Here’s where the story gets surreal: he succeeded. Then he returned to his bed to catch a little shut-eye before morning and grew up to write an autobiography, which is where I read this story. His life is really, really different from mine.

    After reading that account, I look around me and my normal starts looking a little odd. My granola, I know, looks to somebody, Tepilit, probably to millions of somebodies, like what it is: excessively sweet, crunchy, brown stuff. (Tepilit wonders why anybody would prefer that to mug of warm blood.) Every morning I put my tender white feet into black bags. I call them socks. In my refrigerator I have apples from Chile, coffee from Ghana, and fish caught off the coast of Kamchatka. Other stuff begins to appear to me as magical as it does to Tepilit: the steady stream of warm air coming out of my heater vent, talking with my brother in Savannah, Georgia, as if he were in the room with me, and a window through which I can sometimes see Maasai homes. I call it a television. Maybe if I quit reading weird autobiographies, my normal might settle down again.