So Brett Kavanaugh, suddenly America’s most famous beer drinker, is now on the U.S. Supreme Court. How did he win? How did he even survive? The easy answer: he’s a human being, flaws and all, yet at the same time, he has fire as well as fortitude. That’s how he survived his epic journey—and why he now lives and thrives.
It’s obvious that Kavanaugh has worked hard all his life. He wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if he hadn’t been willing, as he said, to “bust his tail.” It was tail-busting that got him into the Ivy League, into the White House, and into his first judgeship.
Yet just as obviously, Kavanaugh is more than just a worker drone; he has friends, many of them, and they formed a like-minded team that helped get him across the finish line. And if beer was a part of the camaraderie, well, that’s a pretty good argument for beer.
And, oh yes, Kavanaugh has something else: righteous passion. As noted last week, having been tormented, he tore right back. That is, he went into the Senate Judiciary Committee and confronted his opponents. Having been wounded like Saint Sebastian by arrows, he plucked them out and hurled them right back. Martyrdom makes for a great story, but a comeback victory, against the odds, makes for an even better one.
Indeed, Kavanaugh’s courage not only got him confirmed, but also rallied conservatives, pro-Trump and anti-Trump alike. In other words, Kavanaugh just lived his own epic saga, a saga full of implications for 2018 and beyond.
One observer, Greg Piccionelli, a Los Angeles-based lawyer and inventor, looks at Kavanaugh through a different lens: that of biology and evolution. As he observes, “Kavanaugh obviously has the full use of both lobes of his brain: He’s got plenty of left-brain legal and logical smarts, but he’s also got plenty of right-brain energy and will-power. So he brought the whole package with him—and he won. Won not just for himself, but for humanity.”
Perhaps we should unpack these comments a bit. Many biologists and psychologists once believed that there’s a form of specialization within the human mind itself. The left lobe of the brain focuses on order and structure, while the right lobe focuses on intuition and impulse. Obviously both lobes and their functions are vital: the left lobe makes us capable of building tools, while the right lobe makes us human. (Of course, the philosophical postulate that there’s an underlying duality in human nature goes back at least to Plato.)
So to succeed, as individuals and as a society, we need both the proper flourishing and the proper balancing of the two brains. That is, we need our left brain for structure; otherwise, we’d be living in mud and blood. And we need our right brain for empathy and creativity; otherwise we’d be soulless automatons.
Thus we can see: too little left-brainism is a formula for primitive chaos. On the other hand, too much left-brainism is a formula for authoritarianism—including, these days, the authoritarianism known as political correctness. (Speaking of PC, in this space in June, Piccionelli’s thinking informed a consideration of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s memory-holing suppression of Monty Python. In the BBC’s over-left-brained view, the legendary show had committed the thought-crime of being raucously funny.)
Piccionelli argues that the left-brain forces of PC have grown dangerously large and dangerously out of balance with the right brain. As a result, they have developed a Torquemada-like zeal, determined to create the modern-day equivalent of the Inquisition’s auto da fe. In Kavanaugh’s case, they sought to apply retrospective censoriousness to a life full of youthful exuberance that was lived three or more decades ago. In so doing, the neo-Inquisitors have shown a ludicrous degree of hypocrisy. Few could survive scrutiny according to the new standards—including those in the U.S. Senate.
But of course, that’s the point of witch trials and show trials: all defendants are guilty. Senator Lindsey Graham, that able vindicator of Kavanaugh, nailed this remorseless mood when he quipped, “Why don’t we dunk him in water and see if he floats?”
Happily, Kavanaugh survived his ordeal. Indeed, his confirmation was a victory for the right-brain forces—that is, for the right to be human, flaws and all. As Piccionelli sees it, the humanity in human beings is a permanent volcano, forever erupting with energy and creativity, always overflowing the brittle categories built by left-brainers with the molten motion of human zest. To put it another way, just when it seems that the forces of control have their boot on humanity’s face, as Orwell so memorably put it in 1984, along comes an Orwell to call it out.
Yes, the human will, beautiful and and ugly at the same time, has been an unstoppable force throughout human history. Yet it might not be unstoppable in the human future. And why not? Answers Piccionelli: “The forces of PC now have a new ally: the PC.” That is, political correctness is now bolstered by the personal computer, as well as all the other digital tools that we have created over the past few decades.
Of course, we can step back and observe that we have always had a complicated relationship with the computer, which, in its genius orderliness, is the ultimate expression of left-brain thinking. In the early decades of the computer era after World War II, the manmade brain was seen, to be sure, as an agent of productivity, but also as a potential mechanism for de-humaniziation and domination.
Yet even then, the green shoots of humanity were sprouting up. Indeed, beginning in the late 1980s, right-brain thinkers began to see the personal computer, joined to the internet, as a means to empowerment, even liberation; that is, we would create a libertarian wonderland in cyberspace. Today, there’s still plenty of that buoyant thinking, but less and less, as corporations and governments around the world—most notably in China—start to crack down.
The fear is that the left brain of humans, already given to authoritarian impulses, will now be augmented by the mega-left brain of computers—and that could finally snuff out the right brain of human spontaneity.
To be sure, like the sirens of yore, the prospect of technologically instantiated left-brain-ization might seem attractive, at least at first. Such instantiation could start with the electronic enhancement of body and mind—which, in fact, is already happening—and go from there to cyborg-ification, and from there to full assimilation into a Star Trek-ish Borg. Of course, by some reckoning, such a fate might not be bad; it would, after all, be a kind of immortality. And yet at the same time, assimilation into a Borg would mean the end of humanity.
In the meantime, human nature is pushing back, raging against the possible dying of its light. By this reckoning, the Kavanaugh hearing, and the Trump phenomenon overall, can be seen as a kind of right-brain rebellion against left-brain dominion.
Of course, critics will say that all this discussing of the right brain is simply an elaborate defense of bad behavior—allegedly by Kavanaugh, as well as by Trump, and, of course, whatever it is that the unwashed masses, the “deplorables,” have been up to. In this view, even if their behavior isn’t criminal, it’s still oafish and deplorably retrograde and right-wing. Yes, that’s exactly what the left-brainers are saying, as their brains grow ever more lefty.
To which Piccionelli answers: “We evolved our left-brain functions for good reason. Left-brain functions are, after all, largely responsible for lifting us from the passion-driven savagery of our uncivilized past. Yet an overly left-brained humanity can be just as cruel and savage as its unreasoning ancestors. In the meantime, nature abhors imbalance.” Here we might pause to observe, again, that these ideas of balance and harmony go back to the Greeks—and they certainly seem necessary for civilization to flourish.
Continues Piccionelli: “So perhaps that’s why the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh feels to so many to be a greater victory than a typical Supreme Court appointment. It is, in fact, a great victory for the right brain—which is to say, a victory, ultimately, for all humans.” A victory for humanity: from the point of view of the species, in all its baffling and boiling brilliance, that is a cheerful thought.
Still, the computers, and their hyper-left-brain helpers, have hardly given up—and they may yet get the final word.
James P. Pinkerton is an author and contributing editor at The American Conservative. He served as a White House policy aide to both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.