Thursday, February 4, 2010

Money talks

In the New York Times (“What is the First Amendment for?”), Stanley Fish praises the recent Supreme Court decision (reached alongside predictable partisan lines) to strike down a statute prohibiting corporations and trade unions from spending money to influence the outcome of elections. Though he agrees the decision could have harmful effects, he pronounces his “absolute love” for it as “a teacher of the First Amendment.” Though he mentions that equating spending money with political speech may be a bit of a stretch, this isn’t a consideration that can influence his own judgment. The distinction Fish makes between consequentialists (people who look at the consequences of applying a principle) and deontologists (those who insist the principle should be applied even of the hell might break loose) strikes me as a bit of a concoction here. I would put it differently. The main difference lies between those who believe sharks and guppies should be allowed to swim in the same tank and if some fish can open their mouths more widely and swallow others, that’s life; and those who see such arrangements as somewhat unfair. Or maybe between interpreters of the law who stick to its letter without much sense of its spirit; and others who have that larger sense. Recent research in neuroscience indicates that the ability to intuit unfairness or broader social meaning both stem from one thing – having appropriate emotional reactivity, or, to use a dated reference point, a heart. There is also a parallel explanation informed by neuroscientific research: Iain McGilchrist claims (The Master and His Emissary) that left-hemisphere predominance in neural processing results in lateralistic interpretations and focus on facts and statements detached from any broader context of meaning and experience. But, of course, individuals suffering from left-hemisphere predominance would dismiss this as an overgeneralization.