04/23/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Reconciliation: The Wizards of Oz Are Alive and Well

When our esteemed Martian anthropologist visited America this month and filed her report at Central Station in Tharsis on Mars, she noted that the current buzzword in the capital of America is "reconciliation"--which she said is defined currently as the act of bringing disputing parties together. She also noted that the current disputing parties--political parties--may be biologically incompatible, which means any reconciliation effort is based on the presumptive fallacy that the conservative variety of American human can indeed be "reconciled" with the liberal variety.

The current baloney feed coming out of Washington is that all it takes to bring conservatives and liberals together is getting them all in the same room to listen and talk to each other, during which time everyone in the room is supposed to experience an epiphany that will result in shaking hands and bear hugs and quick compromises on pending legislation.

A bear hug between Mitch McConnell and Russ Feingold would certainly be an event, but the reality is that it would be a miraculous event--which means an event as unlikely as a hamburger sprouting wings and flying to the top of the Washington Monument. It will not happen, and any true reconciliation will not happen either. If we want to understand ourselves as Americans, the only important question is why not?

There are hints these days that the brains of conservatives and liberals are organized differently, subject to different magnitudes of variables or to different variables themselves. A few years ago the repeated media mantra was that present political behavior was a consequence of Darwinian evolution, with fairy-tale stories of adaptations of Pleistocene humans, and that differences between conservatives and liberals were such that one or the other, depending on one's position, was atavistic, out of the "mainstream" of human evolution. If you were a conservative you argued that liberals were essentially social misfits, and if you were a liberal you argued that people on the other side were misfits.

We are very big on the concept of "misfits" in this country. Everyone from Sarah Palin to Harvard university professors seems convinced that they know what evolution has ordained for us. There seems to be agreement that misfits exist, the major dispute whether the misfits are the altruists or the Wall Street sociopaths.

Contrary to the idea that politics and political differences between people involve behavior produced by Darwinian evolution (in the genes, David) is the idea that the conservative-liberal ideological chasm derives mostly from early development, child rearing, and early childhood experience. This is not a new idea. This idea was the prevailing attitude in America from the end of the First World War to the beginning of the Reaganite-narcissism era in the 1980s. Like other things American, the idea fell into a ditch as the attitude-pendulum shifted to the other direction.

What is important for the problem of "reconciliation" is that it's truly not completely possible if the differences between conservatives and liberals are a consequence of two lines of Darwinian evolution--and also truly not possible if the differences are a consequence of early child development. The past is past, some people enjoy sharing what they have with others, while other people hate the idea of sharing enough to march in the streets with their fists raised. If so, we're not in a concocted mess, but in a consequent mess.

Reconciliation? If we're fighting Darwinian evolution, forget it. If we're fighting early child development, maybe what we need are regression pills. If we can get Mitch McConnell and Russ Feingold back to the age of three or four and teach them how to bear hug, there might be hope. But don't hold your breath as you wait for it.

I heard someone say the other day that you don't get reform by reconciliation. Yes, it's true. There are exceptions, but for the most part history shows it. The idea of "reconciliation" coming out of the White House is either buzzword baloney or an indication of what is actually believed by the Wizards of Oz in there. If the latter, the country is apparently in the deep and dangerous doodoo of political fallacy.


By Dan Agin:

Black and White in America: Deception, Fallacy, & Prejudice in U.S. Society. Spectrum Focus, 2010.

More Than Genes: What Science Can Tell Us About Toxic Chemicals, Development, and the Risk to Our Children. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Junk Science: How Politicians, Corporations, and Other Hucksters Betray Us. St. Martin's/Thomas Dunne, 2006.