SAN DIEGO — In Scott Robinson’s view, there’s one subject that can’t be discussed properly without drawing plenty of laughs.
“Politics,” he said, “is funny, funny, funny.”
But the humor, he added, doesn’t derive simply from the often buffoonish behavior of the candidates, and the frequently clumsy and embarrassing things they do and say. That’s too easy, Robinson said.
The bigger issue, Robinson added, is the behavior of another group: the voters themselves, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives. The truth, he said, is they all do something every election year that is just plain stupid, and that’s cast their votes.
“Stupid means lacking intelligence or common sense,” Robinson said. “We all deal with stupid all the time. The lessons we’re going to learn here is we are all stupid.”
Robinson, a native of Kentucky, is a social scientist, business strategist, and journalist specializing in social media, data science and evolutionary psychology. He often gives presentations to business groups and municipal government agencies, and on Thursday, he was a guest speaker at the American Mensa Annual Gathering 2016, held at the Town & Country Inn in San Diego.
His topic was “Red Brains, Blue Brains: Why We Vote So Stupidly,” which explored a central question in this presidential election year: how many Americans, regardless of party affiliation, will vote based on thought — and how many will vote based on emotion?
The truth, he added, is that most of us will make our choices for very stupid reasons, and science, not ideology, can help explain that — what he called “the neuroscience of our socio-political choices.”
“Stupid voting occurs across the board,” Robinson said. “We have all kinds of stupid voting going on now — including Brexit,” he said of the recent vote by the people in the United Kingdom to exit the European Union after 43 years of membership.
It wasn’t the choice that 52 percent of British voters made, Robinson said, but the reasons why they made it.
“You have to agree the reasons they did it were stupid,” he said.
The problem, Robinson said, is that within this nation’s two party system, voters are supposed to evaluate the candidates based on which ones best serve their interests. Few voters, though, actually vote this way, he added.
“Our system is designed for people to vote their self-interests,” Robinson said, adding that in actuality, “People vote their identity, and their values,” even if they clash with their self-interests.
And more often then not, people vote against their fears, rather than for what they think will best serve them long term.
“Identity and values systems are built around risk,” he said. “The world is too complicated, so we have cognitive systems that allow us to simplify things. So it’s risk takers versus those who are risk adverse.”
Neuroscience helps explain a lot of this behavior, Robinson said. The anterior cingulate cortex factors into “how we distribute our social attention.”
Then there is our Dopa-mine Receptivity.
“Dopa-mine is basically our ‘yes’ switch,” he said. “It is our happy switch. It is the trigger that tells us we are on track.”
It is also the switch that leaves us fearing the worst, he added.
“Dopa-mine is like Holy Communion with a touch of weed,” he said. “It’s that sense of righteousness mixed with just a tinge of paranoia.”
Once the fear of a particular candidate gets activated, he said, voters flock to the opposition — regardless of whether that candidate truly serves their best interests.
As an example, he noted the support of many Evangelical Christians for the likely Republican nominee this year, Donald Trump. That may be based more on fear of the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, he said.
“We know fundamentalists are lining up behind Donald Trump,” he said. “Can we make a strong argument for them supporting Trump? No. But we can make a big neurological argument for it. We can see why they are doing what their doing.”
The solution to all this, he said, is for people to stop voting based on their fears.
“Once that fear is activated,” he said, “people will vote stupidly.”
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..