While the World Holds its Breath? (Left, Right or Center?)

By Jude Asphar

The day after the inauguration, 2017, flying back across the Atlantic — Edinburgh to Newark, Europe to the USA, British and Irish newspapers were full of it —“From This Moment On, It’s Going To Be America First” , “Trump Offers A Fearful Vision”, “Trump’s New World Order Begins” A clenched fisted “America First”, “Trump is Hired YOU’RE FIRED”, and The (Glasgow) Herald —“The World Holds its Breath”.

Back home in the Hudson Valley, so many of us whipsawed daily by the increasingly divisive assault on democracy, seems like a prudent time to remember what John Muir said: —“that when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe”. One hundred years on, British psychiatrist and scholar Iain McGilchrist offers his expansive research into The Divided Brain (soon to be premiered in a ‘mind-altering’ documentary!) his thesis reflecting why Muir’s prescient perspective gets lost in our global shuffle. Today, thanks to neuroscience, we now have the benefit of ground-breaking research that takes on the unhitched thinking that dominates the workings of the Western World.

As the Washington/Wall Street cabal takes over this country we’d be wise to heed McGilchrist’s warnings, distilled as they are from his extraordinarily wide fields of research in philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, history, literature, myth, art and music. His critical point: without recognition of longer-term, big-picture thinking we’re leaving ourselves, our children, and all life-on-earth increasingly vulnerable to irreversible environmental, economic, social and political instability. His evolutionary answers synthesized from two decades of research, prod us to take a hard look at the collective underpinnings of how we got to the current destabilizing state of American affairs.

With more neural connections in our heads than the 100 billion galaxies in the universe —from whence we came— it’s not hard to compute our brains are a tad more complex than the old ‘emotion on the right, reason on the left’. In his momentous and much acclaimed volume from 2009 The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World – McGilchrist defines the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between our brain’s separate lateral halves — left and right hemispheres. The left — more fixed, analytic, mechanistic, systematizing, and detached. The right — less linear, more flexible, holistic, synthesizing, and contextual.

Paradoxically, the polarizing political Left and Right, the reverse of our brains! The authoritarian, regulatory, silo’d metrics of the left-hemisphere tag the Republican Right. The less quantifiable, more inclusive, reciprocal and broader-based right hemisphere —more akin to the Democratic Left.

By leaving the left-brain — which, by the way, “is the side that does not know what it does not know”! — to its customary hierarchical devices, we are cautioned it will compound the personal and planetary price being paid for the fractious inequality of our political and financial systems. That said, while McGilchrist credits the left-brain’s staggering scientific brilliance and stratospheric technological merits, he emphasizes that naturally and necessarily our hemispheres coexist and function together.

Perhaps in the interest of stepping into fewer mine-fields and maintaining his position on the left and right brain (one that’s controversial enough for some with left-brained leanings?) McGilchrist steers clear of parallels with gender opposites. He leaves it to us — women, and thankfully also many men — who resonate with his unequivocal left-hemispheric affirmation of the right-hemisphere to speak out more clearly and firmly than ever for the vital ‘feminine’ qualities of empathy and interconnection.

When what unquestionably governs our world is a masculinized concept of priorities, for me, McGilchrist’s neurologically (and physiologically) grounded stance is a solidly ’objective’ and credible argument adding muscle to the activism so many of us are engaged in. The ongoing visible persistence and protests — primarily and necessarily led by women — a timely and wholly appropriate reaction to the deeply engrained and ancient levels of misogyny all too painfully prevalent in this country today.

The question is, while the world holds its breath — whether we be woman or man — can we integrate enough of this understanding about ourselves and each other to alter course and be at peace with the richness of our differences? Can we see far enough and act morally enough to meet this challenge, together, and cultivate a more balanced and humane understanding — Left with Right? Can we do it before it’s too late…We’re in the same boat, after all — and it is hitched to everything else in the Universe