Timeless Dream, A Promise Broken:
Copyright: 2003-2022, Ronald Joseph Fields
This work is licensed under a Creative
4.0 International License.
THE DEMOCRACY COVENANT
American democracy has not secured the natural rights of life; it has added civil laws to Hobbes’ jungle--"a condition of war of everyone against everyone"--seeking to protect the unequal results of competition for security and social dominance against violent redress; giving avarice the legitimacy and "freedom" to achieve private economic wealth; and thereby the political power to control democratic government, and thus prevent remediation of the unfulfilled promise--as if social inequality is good and justified because it results from free, non-violent competition. Capitalist Democracy achieves outcomes that violate the declared principles of Popular Democracy--"of, by, and for the people."--by permitting private power achieved through financial wealth to eclipse the democratic power of the sovereign people. America is not a people's democracy because America is not a people's economy.
"Oligarchy is when men of property have the government in their hands." (Aristotle: Ethics, Book 3, Part 8).
The term "liberal
democracy" is immensely misleading: Historically, it refers to Classical
liberal democracy--the unregulated free-market economics of Adam Smith, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. The word
"liberal" as understood politically--and morally--implies equality and justice, and the regulation of classical liberal economics to achieve politically liberal outcomes--a democracy of justice and
equality for all. Thus liberal economics (neoliberalism, capitalism ) is antithetical to liberal politics (democracy). The former uses freedom to achieve class inequality; the latter promises democratic equality, and all that implies. A further distinction within America's Democratic Party is between laissez-faire liberals and social liberals: the former are not as concerned with equality as the latter.
Cultural/moral issues further the confusion and division: The political conservative wants unregulated economic activity--the freedom of avarice--but regulated personal behavior: abortion, birth control, sexual orientation, etc., all while hypocritically espousing individual freedom and liberty. The political Liberal wants a regulated economy for social justice and common security; and unregulated free choice on moral and cultural issues--personal freedom and liberty. Such is America's politics. And such is American Conservatism: regulate the people; deregulate the wealth. You can call that plutocracy or oligarchy or aristocracy, but not liberal democracy. Yet conservatives are happy to use the phrase "liberal democracy" because it conveys to so many voters the impression of "liberality" on social issues; whereas, in fact, the conservative personality is generally disinclined to tolerance and equality; and highly inclined to the miserly dislike of doing good for others. The failure of democracy is not a failure of institutions, but of morally disabled people.
*(Neuropsychology: the relationship of belief and behavior to brain structure and function. The brain is a biological machine analogous to any machine, its optimal performance and behavioral product depend on all parts--brain regions--working properly in relation to each other. It is proposed here that a hyper-reactive amygdala impacts the early brain with excessive fear emotions that suppress the development of moral sentiments and cognitive independence, resulting in a brain whose cognitive faculty serves emotional impulses by rationalizing justifications for emotionally driven behavior, rather than providing reasoned restraint and guidance based on truth and ethical principles.)
Evolution has selected both selfish and benevolent traits; both have aided human survival. Primal fear is initially selfish; it is the brain's instinctual reflex to the perception of imminent danger in the environment; the individual is instantly prepared to run or fight to defend himself. As individuals learned there was greater safety in groups, sociable and cooperative traits were selected. And that has, ironically, created a primary threat to survival--the more primitive, lingering emotions of the selfish brain are in political conflict with the evolved emotions of sympathy with others; the individual's selfish pursuit of social superiority as an escape from a primal fear of unfamiliar others, disregards the rights of others, and the mutual benefits and obligations of cooperative community. The individual interest versus the common interest is man's ongoing predicament; he is trapped on a selfish-selfless spectrum, and mired in the politics of antagonism between the humanitarian principles of democracy, and the authoritarian pursuit of dominance by the selfish brain. A government of the people cannot be for the people when the people are not for each other.
"The human genome containing around 20,000...genes can provide the basic blueprint for brain development, but training and experiences in the early years from infancy through childhood are crucially important in sculpting brain development and function...prosocial behavior is displayed by most infants and preschool children...societies that tend to focus on individual achievement and "success" result in children that are less prosocial and that exhibit fewer altruistic tendencies... Culture has more than one order of magnitude greater influence than genes on altruism and prosocial behavior."
Neoliberalism's free-market ideology makes the security of life a private rather than common enterprise; and its reward in wealth and power for competitive success systematically reinforces the aggressively selfish brain and disadvantages the less aggressive, prosocial brain. Left unregulated, neoliberalism produces social and political inequality, thereby undermining the principles and promises of democracy. Neoliberalism does not secure equal rights for all ("government is instituted to secure these rights"), it gives freedom for the individual's disregard of equal rights. A culture that induces selfish behavior through economic competition for wealth and power--or mere survival--is a progenitor of sociopathy; it does not select virtue, it selects the compromises of virtue that achieve advantage. The neoliberal embrace of unregulated economic activity gives leeway to the corruptibility of fear-based self-interest--the neurological absence of an ethical conscience. F. A. Hayek's famed "spontaneous order" rationalization of neoliberal economics is a scramble of greed and deception where all the deadly sins are given freedom alongside the virtues of innocence and good faith, resulting in social hierarchy and diminished human character. Neoliberalism is the practice that repeals democracy's promise.
The words of The Declaration make it clear that America was founded on political principles, not an economic design rewarding behavior that subverts those principles; subordinating the democratic principle of equality to an economic system based on an opportunity to achieve inequality; making "freedom" the enemy of "created equal." To embrace a principle and ignore or evade or impede its evident implications is to betray that principle:
"...and the wondering cheated multitude worshipped the invention." (Thomas Paine, Rights of Man).
In a democracy there are no social outcomes that are beyond the jurisdiction of the common good; individual freedom is not an immunity from obligation to the founding covenant; the principle of equality does not mean equal opportunity to become unequal.
Freedom--"the pursuit of happiness"--is a natural right to the extent its consequences are consistent with the fulfillment of the promise of democratic equality. As such, the pursuit of happiness is a natural, but not an "unalienable" right. A degree of personal freedom is one among the several rights that constitute liberty: first is the equal right to life, then the equal protection (liberty) of the natural rights of life, then the right to a freedom of individual action that conforms to the equal rights of others. Freedom can harm; liberty protects against the freedoms that harm. The claim of freedom must always be questioned: whose freedom; freedom to do what; and what is the likely outcome of that freedom on the rights of others? Neoliberalism is loaded with systemic allowances--loopholes--that facilitate the corruption of democratic principles... the laws and institutions that encourage and advance human inequality; and protect against accountability and remediation.
To publicly uphold the ideal of equality, and privately practice the pursuit of inequality, is to hide a malevolent purpose with a false pretense... a common posture among those who only pretend to democratic values. The selfish brain, devoid of guiding values and principles, is ever striving to subvert democracy; it is the fear-formed brain needing dominance for safety.
The necessary conditions of a consensual society are mutual security, mutual benefit, and equality in the essential elements of life's preservation and development. When mutuality and equity are breached consent and legitimacy are forfeited. The highest law in a democracy is not the authority of government; it is the authority of the collection of sovereign individuals acting under, and subservient to, the procedures and principles of democracy, restrained by the rights of minorities.
"That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." (Declaration of Independence, 1776).
The critical distinction between freedom and liberty is a primary premise to this argument: the synonymous use of the terms has allowed an exaggerated focus on individual freedom over the security of equal rights for all, serving an ideological intent to obscure the rightful limitations on individual freedom.
"There does not seem to exist any accepted distinction in meaning between the words 'freedom' and 'liberty,' and we shall use them interchangeably." (ibid.)
From the beginning of the classical liberal argument for economic freedom (Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, 1776), there was a conflict between freedom and liberty--if freedom to achieve economic and social inequality was to be justified, it would require the obfuscation of liberty as the protection of an equal right to the fruits of nature... thus the assumption: if freedom is good and inequality is a consequence, then inequality is good... the means justifies the end. The right to fundamental equality in the circumstances of life is removed by making liberty just another word for freedom... a thing without a name disappears.
The threat to everyone's liberty and equality is the selfish assumption of individuals to an unregulated freedom to gain wealth and power over others. Liberty, as here understood, is the right not to be subjected to the predatory desire of the selfish brain for social dominance. Justice is the prevention of undemocratic dominance, not an equal opportunity to achieve it. The hope for democratic equality has fallen to a wealth aristocracy because avarice was "free" to achieve it. The whole of human political history is a story of liberty fighting against the freedom of selfish ambitions to achieve anti-democratic ends. In the absence of liberty, freedom means little more than an unhindered struggle to survive... the freedom of gladiators.
Private property is justified as a natural right to the exclusive possession of the material conditions that sustain the individual life, not as an unlimited accumulation of those materials that denies the natural entitlement of others. That private property is a natural right serving a common interest in preserving an independent life and in preventing social conflict over resources, also means that the regulation and limitation of property is necessary to prevent the establishment of social inequalities that also inevitably foment resentments and conflict. Equality of rights and social harmony, and the appeal of moral sentiments among those who have them, both justify and limit private property. The natural law limit on the extent of private ownership is: that none have a right to more unless all have a right to enough.
"Men, being once born, have a right to their Preservation, and consequently to Meat and Drink, and such other things, as Nature affords for their Subsistence." (John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, Book 2, Ch 5).
"...no Man could ever have a just Power over the life of another by Right of property in Land or Possessions." (ibid. Book1, Ch 4).
"Self-love will make Men partial to themselves and their Friends... Government to restrain the partiality and violence of Men...Civil Government is the proper Remedy for the Inconveniences of the Sate of Nature." (ibid. Book 2, Ch 2).
Property rights fixed in law in a manner that allows the separation of citizens into classes of unequal privilege and unequal power is an approval of social inequality by civil law; and is a direct contravention of the "created equal" principle, circumventing the declared equalities of natural law and liberal democracy through the achieved inequalities of liberal economics: Classical and neoliberal economics undermines liberal democracy by giving freedom to anti-democratic ambitions, allowing achieved wealth to control government for its own interest, not the common good. And therein lies the core contradiction within liberalism: the two primary principles of "liberalism" are equality and freedom (also called "liberty," guaranteeing confusion). Thus, in practice, liberal political and social equality are sabotaged by neoliberal economic "freedom." Which leads to the political divide: the humanitarian brain assigns priority to human equality (progressives, left liberals); the selfish, resistance-to-equality brain upholds the freedom to achieve inequality (neoliberals, conservatives, libertarians, centrist liberals). For the conservative brain, the advantaged side of inequality is sanctuary from its amygdalan fears. If human equality is to be realized there can be no freedom to deny it.
Successful economic activity does not require a class divided society. There is a distinction between the economics of production and the private wealth that is extracted from it... and the former does not necessitate the latter. A conscientious desire to create and build and self-express and contribute to the common good, is as capable of producing economic growth as the "animal spirits" of unregulated greed and selfish ambitions. The values and incentives offered by neoliberal ideology, in the absence of moral conscience, are a freeway to political and financial *corruption. Freedom is judged by the passions it sets free... and the consequences they covet.
*(See the Panama and Paradise and Pandora Papers, FinCEN Files, and all the shell corporations and tax laws and havens that facilitate evasion... providing equal opportunity for corruption).
"...commercial interest tends to 'suffocate' spiritual life in principle, moral imperatives are not adhered to in politics...The notion of freedom has been diverted to unbridled passion, in other words, in the direction of the forces of evil (so that nobody's "freedom" would be limited!).
To be clear, it is not the economic freedom of the individual to secure his livelihood by his own talent and effort through business enterprise, nor is it the efficiency and allocation principles of the free market that necessarily subvert democracy, but the logically inescapable end-achievements of unequal power and privilege that result from a failure to regulate self-interested economic behavior for democratic outcomes. Deregulation and tax cuts and small government ("government is the problem") are the cries of the fear-based brain, greedily wishing to escape the implications of "created equal."
"[The] children of light recognized the existence of a moral law beyond themselves...But all were naive about the power of self-interest in society...naivete made the children of light inept at defending democracy against the 'children of darkness'" (Reinhold Niebuhr, The Children of Light and The Children of Darkness, 1944).
Individuals gather into groups and societies for a security of their lives not achievable individually. And by doing so, each must consent to the renunciation of their individual actions (freedom) that would infringe upon the equal rights and security of others. The essence of the democratic covenant is community respect for the rights of the individual, and the individual's reciprocal obligation to the good of the community:
"...by these presents, [we do] solemnly and mutually...covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil politic; for our better ordering, and preservation... and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices...as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience." (Mayflower Compact, November 11, 1620) (emphasis added).
"But every man, when he enters into society, gives up a part of his natural liberty, as the price of so valuable a purchase; and, in consideration of receiving the advantages of mutual commerce, obliges himself to conform to those laws, which the community has thought proper to establish. And this species of legal obedience and conformity is infinitely more desirable than that wild and savage liberty which is sacrificed to obtain it. For no man that considers a moment would wish to retain the absolute and uncontrolled power of doing whatever he pleases: the consequence of which is, that every other man would also have the same power, and then there would be no security to individuals in any of the enjoyments of life. Political, therefore, or civil liberty, which is that of a member of society, is no other than natural liberty so far restrained by human laws (and no farther) as is necessary and expedient for the general advantage of the public. Hence we may collect that the law, which restrains a man from doing mischief to his fellow-citizens, though it diminishes the natural, increases the civil liberty of mankind." (Blackstone; Commentaries; Book 1, Chap 1.) (emphasis added).
"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."(Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America).
The phrases of the Preamble--We the people, perfect union, establish justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare, secure the blessings of liberty--speak to the common good of all, not the freedoms of individuals.
The central imperative of a social covenant is to establish a binding union of one people under one nation, to which all give allegiance for their common security and benefit. Patriotism to one's country means loyalty and abidance to its founding covenant--for the gift of freedom and liberty gained.
I will not harm you if you will not harm me is the foundational pledge of human society; it is the basis of morality and trust and obligation, and of mutual expectations of fairness, with the primary purpose of eliminating violence and resource insecurity--individual preeminence is not an unalienable right. Although the individual is not obliged to do good to others--that is for the quality of his conscience to decide--he is strictly called not to do harm; not to engage means or achieve ends that obstruct the full and just implications of "created equal." Democratic government is not for the purpose of securing freedom for individual transgressions against common security and equality. Government is to secure rights--protect liberty--not enable or accept transgressions as a side effect of freedom. The equal right to life, and the equal liberty of the rights and entitlements of life, require a prohibition against any substantial inequality in the conditions of life.
Societies would not exist if social traits did not enhance the survival of the individual; the individual has adapted to social organization because he is better off through cooperation and sympathy with others, a truth thus affirmed by natural selection. Yet the individualist and libertarian uphold the selfish trait, minimizing mutual obligation and social interdependence, resenting regulation of the individual's freedom. But respect for the freedom and moral worth of the individual does not require a disregard for the good of others and the community as a whole; nor does it justify opposition to a government that pursues the good of all citizens. It is selfishness absent humanitarian values that disdains compassion and regard for the equality of others. Indeed, it is the very moral worth of each individual, as expressed in "created equal," that demands equality for all... that no person be consigned to social inferiority as a result of the choices of others. Freedom of individual choice is not the issue around which Individualism is criticized: it is the attitude that commonly lies behind the demand for free choice--dismissal of obligation, and indifference to the harmful consequences of the choice. What diminishes the moral quality of the individual is his disregard for others. Society does not begin as an agreement to protect the freedom of the selfish individual, but to restrain it:
Alexis de Tocqueville made these truly insightful observations about selfishness and individualism:
"Selfishness originates in blind instinct (the amygdala's fear); individualism proceeds from erroneous judgment (frontal cortex complicit with the amygdala) more than from depraved feelings; it originates as much in deficiencies of mind (undeveloped empathic faculty) as in perversity of heart... Selfishness blights the germ of all virtue: individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life (bitter partisanship); but, in the long run, it attacks and destroys all others, and is at length absorbed in downright selfishness."(Democracy in America, 1835; book 2, chapter 2) (Parentheses added).
"Despotism, which is of a very timorous nature (an overly fearful amygdala), is never more secure of continuance than when it can keep men asunder (by imposing economic and political inequality); and all its influence is commonly exerted for that purpose (compulsive advantage seeking, unremitting greed). No vice of the human heart is so acceptable to it as selfishness..."(ibid. book 2, chapter 3) (parentheses added).
"It must therefore be expected that personal interest will become more than ever the principal if not the sole spring of men's actions; but it remains to be seen how each man will understand his personal interest...no one can foretell into what disgrace and wretchedness they would plunge themselves lest they should have to sacrifice something of their own well-being to the prosperity of their fellow creatures." (ibid. chapter 8).
John Stuart Mill:
John Stuart Mill:
“Interest in the common good is at present so weak a motive in the generality, not because it can never be otherwise, but because the mind is not accustomed to dwell on it as it dwells from morning till night on things which tend only to personal advantage…The deep-rooted selfishness which forms the general character of the existing state of society, is so deeply rooted, only because the whole course of existing institutions tends to foster it." (ideological/cultural conditioning) (J. S. Mill, Autobiography, 1873) (emphasis added).
When competition is the only means of gaining livelihood everyone will be required to play the game... adaptation for survival. The game makes the players play; and when it is the only game (There-Is-No-Alternative), and it denies natural entitlement, it is coercive and arbitrary.
The selfish brain is eager for benefits, less eager for obligation; it finds self-preservation by exploiting the advantages of community while minimizing its own contribution. Individualism proclaims self-reliance and non-dependence, but it has never been the power to stand alone in the wild. Few if any creatures are more naturally fragile than Homo sapiens; nor more dependent on the contributions of their kind. Humans have survived and prospered by shared invention and recognition of a common interest in the security of their lives. The selfish brain rejects mutual obligation... it believes it ought to do what it wants for itself, discounting the enormous structure of support provided by the community. The ethical brain wants to do what it ought, obedient to principles and values that transcend personal interest. It is the divide that turns politics over policies for achieving common goals and mutual well-being into the politics of partisan advantage... in denial and opposition to common goals. The progressive's commitment to equality and social justice is not a denial of individuality, it is a demand for the equality of all individuals... even the selfish ones.
"...evil is always the assertion of some self-interest without regard to the whole...the good is...always the harmony of the whole." (Reinhold Niebuhr, The children of Light and The Children of Darkness, 1944).
It can fairly be said there are two precepts, or assertions, of Individualism: that the individual has a natural right to pursue his desires; and also a right not to be subordinated to the demands of others. These precepts express an inconsistency, and also exemplify the distinction between freedom and liberty. The right not to be subordinated to the demands of others imposes a restriction on the freedom of others to pursue desires that would subordinate another. The inconsistency is: you cannot have both equally--you cannot have a right to do whatever you want, and also a right of protection from what others want... which reveals the inherent hypocrisy of the selfish brain; and also displays the distinction: "liberty" is the right not to be unjustly subordinated that limits the "freedom" that would subordinate. The neoliberal subordination of liberty in favor of freedom is how social inequality is orchestrated, and ostensibly justified.
Injustice is the social denial of the rights that derive from natural entitlement; which are construed in relation to the stage of cultural and technological development of a given society. The social entitlements ("safety nets") of neoliberal society are but inadequate attempts at recompense for the systemic cultivation of social inequality--the denial of natural entitlement--by providing a nickel where a dollar is due; lessening starvation in the streets without restricting the opportunity for extravagance.
The unequal possession of wealth and power originates in history by arbitrary and coercive appropriation, not by any right to superior possession. No person ever conceded knowingly to, or preferred, a deprived and inferior status... an unequal right to a good life. Nor does silent submission imply tacit consent. Only the machinations of mercenary philosophers aiming to justify a preferred circumstance could ever conceive a tacit common consent to social inferiority. And although a long history of enforcement has made inequality a tradition for some and a confinement for others, it has never made it a right... and what is unjustly done is never unjustly undone. Also, it is not enough that the privileged man appears sympathetic, or even generous to the unprivileged, if he also defends his right to be privileged. The issue is privilege itself, the presumption of a right to be superior and advantaged, and to maintain the unprivileged in a place of subordination. The most insidious dissemble is the public expression of sympathy that politically opposes a remedy of the wrong.
And so, freedom of the individual is not the first purpose of civil society, but the security of the common rights of all people. Thus, natural rights do not imply limited government, they imply government sufficient to secure natural rights. Natural rights do not free individual selfishness from regulation, they protect individuals from subjection to undemocratic powers, public and private--liberty is protection from power, not a right to possess power. The purview of government is, therefore, determined by the prevalence and persistence of the injustice it must oppose. (As in the assault by economic inequality upon democratic equality).
The first concern of life is survival, so behavior toward self-preservation is a natural right. The social covenant requires that self-preservation not be achieved through behaviors that harm others. Thus the rightful purpose of a national economy is to employ the efforts of all its citizens and to distribute a fair and equitable well-being to all, and not to establish class divisions between its people.
It is argued here that classical liberal (and neoliberal) economic ideology denies government's role in securing the rights that follow from natural entitlement, making the materials and conditions of life's sustenance not a right, but an "opportunity," achievable through "success" in a competitive struggle in which only a minority will "succeed;" with government securing not the rights of all, but the results of the struggle for the few; subordinating the rights of life to the rights of property... The natural rights of life are not the rewards of victory in competition. The outcomes of economic competition must be regulated so that winning is not luxury and domination, and losing is not deprivation and subordination .
The political principles of "created equal" and "right to life" have priority over the arrangements and consequences of economic freedom--socioeconomic institutions must pursue, not obstruct, the political end. It is moral nonsense to suppose the freedom of one to gain wealth justifies the economic hardship of many. The three great obstacles to overcoming human inequality are the freedom to achieve it, the power to enforce it, and the acquiescence that endures it.
"Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many...It is only under the shelter of the civil magistrate that the owner of that valuable property...can sleep a single night in security...The acquisition of valuable and extensive property, therefore, necessarily requires the establishment of civil government...
The rich, in particular, are necessarily interested to support that order of things which can alone secure them in the possession of their own advantages...civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.” (Adam Smith; Wealth of Nations; bk. 5, ch.1).
“It is not…difficult to foresee which of the two parties must…have the advantage…and force the other into a compliance with their terms." (ibid. bk.1, ch.8).
"Wealth, as Mr. Hobbes says, is power." (ibid. bk.1, ch.5)
The Declaration's phrase "created equal" does not assert that persons are born equal in all their characteristics and capacities: some will be taller, smarter, prettier, run faster. Biological creation is not equal. Created equal is a declaration by covenant that all persons are to be vested with moral and social equality as a first principle ("We hold these truths to be self-evident"); that they are equal in personhood by virtue of natural creation, regardless of biological variation (no less would be consensual). The declaration of "created equal" as a self-evident truth entails a promise of remaining commensurate in society. There is no point in proclaiming equal creation unless it is a moral and political commitment to remain substantially equal in fact. If not, it was a frivolous declaration, or literary exuberance to fit the occasion... or would you believe the declaration of equality to be a mere dissemblance intending to enlist popular support for the independence only of the colonial elite? Politicians are known for their insincere assurances. But given the gravity of the time, and the enormity of the task, it is stretching cynicism to ascribe insincerity to the dedication of their "lives, fortunes, and sacred honor." Of course, that all men were created equal was consistent with 1776 social reality; but the Founders were too intelligent not to be aware they were committing to principles with transcendent implications.
Whatever erodes democracy is "destructive of these ends." Further, even where a degree of privileged condition is granted by public acceptance in recognition of an individual's contribution to the common good, personal merit is not transferable to associates or heirs, neither then would be the privileges and possessions it gained. Created equal implies a limitation on inequality, and certainly a prohibition against bequeathing it. When practice creates conditions that deviate from a founding principle, it is a wrong practice.
On reflection, what behaviors are meritorious? Is compulsive greed deserving of great reward? Are rapacious ambitions? And remorseless selfishness? Are the achievements of corruption and deceit worthy of being retained? All these unethical traits of character are set free and rewarded by the neoliberal maxim of unregulated freedom. And the "spontaneous order" they create is not democracy's promise.
Aggressive ambitions driven by excessive emotional reactions to primordial fears, or insatiable desires to possess the objects of pleasure, are not the expressions of a superior brain, but a disordered brain; a brain with a regrettable genetic plan, or conditioned by early environmental effects. It is a brain that does not deserve greater reward and satisfaction than a brain of more moderate ambitions. "Animal spirits" are not an excuse for escaping the requirements of justice; they are the reason for just requirements.
No human physiological or neurological characteristic "merits" unequal power and privilege, no more than the tallest man deserves more fruit from the tree because he has the longest reach. Inequality is a presumption by those who think themselves superior, historically imposed by force or by the guile of malevolent persuasions. The problem with human character is not insufficient self-esteem, it is the inflated esteem of the narcissist who thinks himself deserving of superiority.
A society that further benefits those born to natural or family advantages with social superiority, and further punishes those less advantaged with sustained inferiority, is a mean society. Those with advantages proclaim "equal opportunity" to obscure their advantage. When advantage is unequal opportunity is unequal. "Opportunity" implicitly concedes that all will not succeed; and disadvantage assures it.
"...the phrase equality of opportunity...is the impertinent courtesy of an invitation offered to unwelcome guests, in the certainty that circumstances will prevent them from accepting it." (R.H. Tawney; Equality, chap. 3).
Perhaps the greatest human delusion is the conceit of selfish ego--pride in the achievement of advantage, as if the need of advantage is a strength. A modest opinion of oneself, along with gratitude and generosity are the virtues of a mind that has gained true self-awareness of its ultimate dependence on Nature's provisions and a cooperative community. What we think we have individually achieved is largely the work of capacities given to us by genetic generosity and the experiences of care and guidance provided to us by a supportive and educating early-life environment, applied to the accumulated accomplishments of countless generations before us. Personality and intelligence emerge out of an amalgam of genetic and environmental determinants, and when fortunate they are gifts, not personal achievements. It is the nature of happenstance that coincidental and chance occurrences of time and place, invitations and open doors--or rejections and closed doors--and who one knows or happens to meet, conspire to greatly benefit some and greatly deprive others. The obtrusive personality of a sociopath, in the game of social politics, is often rewarded over quiet and unpretentious competence.
As advantages are rarely equal, neither are the good fortunes of happenstance. The destiny of each of us is subject to "the power of fortune" (David Hume).
Natural evolution is a biological process whereby the physical and behavioral characteristics of living organisms change over time through a process of genetic mutation. Mutation is a random event that alters the structure and expression of genes, creating a variety of physical and behavioral traits; it is biological happenstance.
Natural selection is the mechanism by which the mutations that enhance the organism's survival are transferred to succeeding generations through reproduction. The process whereby the organism is successfully adjusting to the environment, either through physical or behavioral changes, is called adaptation; the environment is, in effect, dictating the structure and function and content of the evolving brain. The brain is thus a product of its surroundings, both natural and social. (The implications for notions of freewill and self-determination are endless).
It is a major purpose of this hypothesis to emphasize that social evolution offers an opportunity for improvement, progress to a more life enhancing experience for all people; purposeful changes in the environment that select and reinforce more humanitarian brain sensibilities... assuming the mental facility to consciously overcome prior cultural conditioning. Indeed, beneficial change is the purpose of democratic government... "...of, by, and for the people."
When humans forsook hunter-gathering and became agricultural they assumed a measure of control over nature--they altered the environment to improve their circumstance; to enhance their survival by providing a more reliable supply of food; and less wandering allowed them to build more permanent and secure and larger settlements. In changing their relationship to the environment additional human traits were offered for selection, and some existing traits exposed to extinction.
The brain that successfully adapts--or manages to create a preferred environment--will defend that environment against change that threatens the conditions to which it is successfully adapted; it is defending its habitat, the social arrangements that provide its physical and emotional security. The defense of self requires defense of the habitat in which the self's identity and sense of security has been achieved. Hence, the conservative's reaction against the forces of change--his defense of tradition and status quo is fundamentally an emotional/psychological opposition to change; it is dependency on a protective habitat. The vaunted values and principles of conservatism ("freedom" and small government) are--except for a principled few--but rationalizations that serve selfish interests, not moral sensibilities--prompted by a need to justify the political and economic institutions that protect against primal fears. The absence of true principle is quickly exposed by the inevitable Machiavellian acts of expedience in defense of selfish interests; and the inveterate and ungenerous opposition to helping and equalizing others; the denial of justice for all; the embracement of bootstraps over safety nets.
“…one of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such..."
“…the conservatives are inclined to use the powers of government to prevent change or to limit its rate to whatever appeals to the more timid mind.”
“…the conservative does not object to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it is used for what he regards as the right purposes.”
"…the conservative inclines to defend a particular established hierarchy and wishes authority to protect the status of those whom he values…"
“…Conservatives fear new ideas because it has no distinctive principles of its own to oppose to them…conservatism is bound by the stock of ideas inherited…” (F.A. Hayek, Why I Am Not a Conservative, 1960).
The conservative's primal fear of difference and unfamiliarity makes him opposed to the equality of others: why allow your threats to be equal? On first thought, the logic may seem sound; though the psychology paranoid and the politics anti-democratic. On second thought, making the other an enemy intensifies the threat; verifying and deepening the paranoia and reinforcing the fear. The brain of a fearful prey animal has become a fearful predator, imagining--thus creating--its enemies, constructing fortresses, and manufacturing tools of destruction... the fearful brain is too afraid to alter the conditions that perpetuate its fears.
The politics of fear easily recruits and manipulates through demagoguery and fear mongering and scapegoating and repetitive lies and deceiving philosophies ("government is the problem"), the emotionally driven, cognitively impaired credulity of others to believe false realities, and to support social policies contrary to their material interests--the lower class paradox of supporting the privilege and advantage of "superiors." Being mired in absence of thoughtful examination leaves the bewildered mind vulnerable to the simplest appearance of certainty--the ranting demagogue blaming others and promising deliverance. The more fearful the brain the more responsive it is to promises of salvation.
Thus the uninformed brain, even when disadvantaged, will defend the cultural habitat to which it is conformed, the fear of change and the "safety" of familiarity overriding any consciousness of inferior status. The demagogue promises to save the familiar and defeat the unfamiliar. It is also why the aged tend to conservatism--feelings of vulnerability bring fear to the surface when life-long, reassuring familiarities are threatened.
In a neoliberal world of selfish deceits and competitions for advantage it can be a mistake to accept advertisements and appearances as an assurance of reality. A world in which verification needs to be the protector of trust speaks for itself. It is the dissolving world we live in; appeals to fear will always have a more attentive audience than appeals for justice.
It could be otherwise: changing the social environment would provide an opportunity to construct institutional conditions that reinforce the emotional and behavioral traits that would make a better world; conditions that lessen the effects of fear and insecurity upon a child's developing brain; conditions that enhance the development of all people for the betterment of the whole community. The choice for humanity is clear: shall humans cooperate for the security and fulfillment of all their lives, or continue to fight over preeminence for a few? Human society needs nothing more than social conditions that favor the angel and impede the reptile.
Species go extinct when their traits are no longer advantaged and they are incapable or unwilling to adapt to a changing environment. "Created equal" was and is an existential threat to the selfish brain; hence, the bottomless bad faith deceits of the conservative reaction... and the bitter divide between the forces of change and resistance. So, yes, politics is a primal struggle... and it will determine the human character that rules the interim; ultimately, it is evolution's decision--the ultimate power of Nature to determine beginnings and endings.
Only a virtuous soul can lead to a virtuous world. Otherwise politics is a conflict won by the strongest... stronger in coercive force or voting numbers. The social habitat must at least allow, if not encourage the rise of virtue. Neoliberal culture (unregulated economic competition for individual survival) gives harbor and favor to the ambitions of the unvirtuous soul--the absence of moral conscience; the absence of guilt in the emotional workings of the selfish brain.
From the beginning America was not a democratic republic--to be represented in government was the privilege of propertied white men. America remains a republic dominated by private wealth. The enduring honor of America's Founders, however, is that whatever their personal motives, they wrote words that stood in judgment even of themselves. Their words stand in judgment of every generation. A people's democracy was The Revolution's promise; its achievement still waits before us... America is not yet America.
Virtue is an inescapable feeling of obligation; the obedience of conscience to principles of Right and Good that are greater than the reptilian impulses that lurk within ourselves. True freedom--and true individualism--requires overcoming the primal ghost and standing up the virtuous self; the final triumph of the evolved cortex over the emotions of primal fear. Freedom is not unrestraint of the animal spirit, it is the power of mind to impose what is Right and Good upon itself; the power of an evolved conscience over the primal compulsions of fear.
Are we, then, but self-preserving reptiles bellowing our egoistic wants, or are we patriot angels with Enlightenment virtues... striving to do what we ought... ever knowing that the good we intend never excuses the harms we accomplish?
The fact that the historical push for justice is always opposed by hatred and violence and distrust does not invalidate the rightness of justice; nor lessen the moral duty to pursue it. The fierce opposition to justice reveals the depth of the fear that opposes it. Abidance of injustice because its advocates are so determined, because they are so psychologically dependent on superiority (greed is fear of insufficiency; hatred and violence are the weapons of fear) is to sacrifice the possibility of a better world.
Democracy's ideals are not impossibilities; it is actuality that declines to achieve the possible... so far. We are early in Homo sapiens evolution; we may expect the neocortex to eventually overrule the amygdala’s primal fears; expectation, however valid, does not mean patiently waiting for evolution to mutate us into an enlightened state of mind, it means pushing the process of selection by changing the modes of survival--like making benevolence more profitable than selfishness. Hence, politics.
Only we must believe that the current condition
of human belief and behavior does not define the fullness of our nature; our dreams of possibility are not restricted to our current circumstance. We have to live in actuality as we find it in the moment; we do not have to accept it as our future. Actuality was made by those who preceded us; it is our right to judge it, and change it. Actuality is not synonymous with inevitability.
The search for Truth requires a reach that sometimes finds mistake, but the reach is imperative, for we must know the truth or live by lies and fallacies. And to accept the lie is to sacrifice the dream.
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?
(William Wordsworth; Ode: Intimations...)
Community salvation will require the heart of a whole people to find a common voice, and speak their own prophesy for the renewal of democracy, and the resurrection of the better angel. It should begin in America, where the cry for common liberty was raised by a common man:
"We have it in our power to begin the world over again." (Thomas Paine, Common Sense, January 1776).
"Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain." (John Adams).
We have come from fear
From dark forests with danger ever near
We ventured upon the open plain,
Each step a trembling suspicious stride.
Was it courage that brought us from the foliage,
Or had the plains become a lesser fear?
Now timorous steps have found their way,
The fearful brain has taken sway.
For all the fear so long endured,
The world will now and ever pay.
A Heritage of Fear
The three great facts of life are its occurrence, its persistence, and its evolvement. The force that enters into life--from the single-celled organism to the wise hominid--seeks to thrive and become, and for this determined journey it must survive. To survive in life requires avoiding the dangers that would end it. To be avoided, these dangers must be sensed by an innate awareness. In the case of vertebral life forms, this innate awareness is the amygdala's memory--the evolutionary recording of what has threatened survival in the past. Among these recorded threats are unfamiliar and sudden changes in the environment.
The Amygdala (ah-mig'-dah-la) is an organ of the primitive, or reptilian, brain. The primitive brain is also called reptilian because it dates from the time of the great reptiles. It is this primitive part of the brain--the brain stem--that controls the survival functions and reflexes of vertebral life forms. Hundreds of millions of years old, the amygdala remains the center of the human brain's survival system. It signals other regions of the brain when it detects sensory inputs from the environment that represent threats to survival.
In addition to avoidance of danger the
amygdala is also central to pleasure seeking behavior. Evolutionary survival is not only about
avoiding existential threat, but also obtaining nourishment and satisfying
needs. Survival is about learning the behavior responses that most reliably
achieve the goal--how to escape or conquer threat, how to hunt for food and
find shelter from exposure, and how to obtain a mate. This hypothesis,
however, is concerned with the fear-based brain and will not address pleasure seeking
or hunting/stalking behavior, except to note that an overly reactive amygdala
in the pursuit of pleasure may be as destructive to self and others--addictions,
sexual predation, greed--as the excessive fear response. As well, it seems obvious that a behavior
that escapes danger is likely to be very gratifying; and that it will be
reinforced not only by its success in relieving the fear emotion, but also by the pleasure of accomplishment--as in escaping or suppressing the social threat of competitors through economic and political domination... or, as noted in Part One, even by harmful aggression. Whatever
makes the emotional brain happy (dopamine release), whether good or evil, will be remembered and repeated; repeated into conditioned
beliefs and behaviors. Nature accomplishes its survival imperative by making
dangerous things fearful and advantageous things pleasurable. The amygdala is
involved in both. And we will see, whether behavior is evil or good depends on
other brain functions being able to regulate behavioral responses to the
As the infant brain enters the birth environment it begins a learning process through an initial sense of comfort or discomfort with its surroundings. The new brain is preparing for adaptation to the conditions in which it must survive; it must learn to assess where it is and what it must do. The five senses will provide information about the environment which the amygdala will monitor for signs of danger--like a motion detector sensing movement--and secondarily, to detect opportunity for satisfaction or enjoyment or enhancement. The brain is a hazard/benefit sensing device. It is busily training itself to discover and associate successful responses to significant stimuli, and then remembering the association to establish reliable approach or avoidance behaviors; conditioned responses that avoid the potentially dangerous delay of having to analyze every call to action. But here's the curious part: the conscious "self" is not doing this, the brain machine is doing it. Consciousness seems to emerge from brain activity the way a rainbow appears through the interaction of sunlight and water droplets, as a consequence of interacting neurological events, not as a cause of the events. "I" am not telling my neurons what to do. This non-causal, lagging emergence of conscious awareness raises questions about who or what is in charge; questions about freewill and self-determination; about freedom and individualism; about achievement and personal merit.
Birth is a stressful disruption of the calm and ordered process of creation, from the comfort and security of oneness into the discomfort and insecurity of separation. Gradually, over the early months and years of life, awareness builds that well-being is not automatic--that there is no umbilical cord streaming with life's satisfactions; that our needs and satisfactions depend on something outside of, and apart from, our self; that we must cry and scream our fears and displeasure. Only immediate accommodation, physical and emotional bonding to an affectionate primary caregiver who can moderate the transformation from fetal environment to birth, from oneness to separation, can hope to calm the amygdala. That we are born to a world not always eager to satisfy our needs is the primal conclusion of the amygdala dominated incipient brain.
The birth environment thus begins its cultural branding, indoctrinating the brain to the surrounding beliefs and behaviors. We are made to fit the clan, to share its customs and myths. Nonconformity and dissent are destabilizing, a threat to unifying, self-justifying, and fear-relieving beliefs; especially non-evidenced beliefs that depend on unquestioned adherence... and which are also a threat to tribal authorities dependent on unquestioned loyalty. The incentive to conform is the safety and comfort of acceptance and belonging, and the fear of banishment. (Few individuals survive early indoctrination to develop independent minds and see the clan's “truth” as arbitrary; true freedom is more easily found by a non-indoctrinated beginning.) The brain that eventually emerges is a mixture of genetic inheritance and adaptation to environmental and cultural persuasions--an amalgam of nature, nurture and cultural influences. A truly free human person may be a somewhat rare and solitary thing.
Experience tells the developing brain which neurons to keep and which to shed--the neural connections stimulated by the environment are strengthened, while those not stimulated are weakened and gradually discarded (neural pruning). This is key to underlying the ego-complex hypothesis, and why early indoctrination imposes cultural content that can be so indelible. The birth environment is a cultural potter's wheel, shaping the infant brain--chromosomes provide the clay, experience shapes the bowl. Thus the first experiences of life are critical. The earlier and longer that a hyper-reactive amygdala's danger messages are imposed upon the incipient cortex the stronger will be the neural formation of fear-based belief and behavior patterns... and weaker will be the supervision of rational and moral restraints.
Creation occurs with a genetic intent, but experience can alter it. Experience can serve to nurture and realize neurological inheritance, or repress and limit it (This is important for infant parenting and early pre-school education. How many of us as young parents understand the developmental requirements of the infant brain... especially how our attending moods and attitudes convey, or not, the assurance of safety and loving and supportive attachment?) Forty six chromosomes are molded by the birth environment into an inner self that will one day emerge into a larger reality, whence we come to further know ourselves as others experience and relate to us, telling us who we are--an unchosen self that we must make the best of, or not.
In all the important things, then, the human brain is far more determined than we want to believe; "free-will" seems a minor, if not absent, participant. Beyond the initial genetic dictates, at birth we enter a forming process. The brain is "learning" about its environment long before "we" are aware of it. There is no "will" or "choice", no self-determination. There is no point in the brain's early development when saint or sociopath, angel or reptile, is a conscious choice. We are immersed in a sea of stimuli, subject to the amygdala's emotional dictates, compelled by unconscious neurological events. To believe that everyone has chosen consciously and knowingly, and with freedom of will the lives they are living, is a thoroughly mistaken belief.
We begin, then, as possibility and immediately succumb to vulnerability, open to the accumulating effects and assaults of cascading sensations, and the commissions and omissions of our caregivers. Emotional neglect of children, the absence of affectionate attention and time-sharing interaction that builds emotional security and a sense of self-worth, is commonplace in a competitive society of stressed and striving parents. Our fate is largely found in our beginning moments, whether our introduction to life occurs in a garden of love and security and positive stimulation or a chamber of physical and emotional harms and privations. Even a mother's prenatal stress (and here) level has negative effects on the fetal brain. We have not chosen ourselves any more than the oceans have chosen the tides.
And therein lies life's fundamental unfairness: We do not make ourselves and thus we are not to be blamed for who we are, but we must be responsible nonetheless. For who else carries the inheritance of genes and environmental effects but ourselves? Would it not be a greater unfairness that others bear responsibility for the consequences of our agency? Human agency is more an effect of biological and environmental happenstance than conscious choices. Wrongdoing can only be stopped by restricting the freedom of the agents who do it... and of those who suborn it. Society's first duty is the protection of innocence. The social question is what behaviors are to be considered a violation of innocence. Non-abuse of others is the undeniable limiting principle upon freedom.
The true meaning of freedom and individuality may only be measured by the extent we are able to overcome the thoughts and behaviors that have emerged within us. Conditioned thoughts and habitual behaviors are not expressions of moral freedom--they represent the experiences and prejudices that have informed us. There is no freedom in having been determined.
Because of less than optimal environments almost all of us are less than what we could have been; and many have been severely robbed of their genetic possibilities. And then those less hindered by their beginning circumstances think themselves superior, and more deserving of the possibilities of life. Having been given the gift of being less robbed they think it achievement.
Perhaps Homo sapiens is the apex of
creation, though our view into the cosmos is too brief and short in time and
distance to ever know. Whatever, to be a life-form so favored by the elements
with self-consciousness and the appearance of intelligence, and placed on such a beautiful and habitable sphere, is it too much to
suppose that we can improve ourselves? And be less fearful of the changes
Implied in all this is another possibility. An amygdala less biochemically
reactive to environmental signs of threat or pleasure,
and/or more emotionally secured by first experiences, would send fewer and more
moderate alarms, thus allowing neural activity to develop toward a more balanced
state of mind. This balanced mind would likely learn to perceive the world with
more trust and confidence and consideration for others, less fear and
suspicion, less selfishness, and less defensive aggression--it would reflect
and return the goodness it has received. And it would be less dependent on
controlled surroundings, thus more open to arguments for change; and less
threatened, thus less resistant to the equality of others. It would, in fact,
be a more empathetic and cooperative brain... and more amenable to the internal
voice of conscience. And if culture would step back and offer a less imposing
indoctrination to provincial beliefs and prejudices, a true individuality might
find the neurological freedom to emerge into a unique and self-discovered human
being--a childhood of little indoctrination gives the blessing of much
to discover and little to overcome.
But there is a downside to having little to overcome when it means growing up naive and uninformed, and having to learn from blind efforts that, however honest and trusting, often lead to painful and costly experiences. Being educated means learning about the universal experiences and possibilities and uncertainties of life; being indoctrinated is being told what to believe and how to behave. The former contributes to practical and cautious wisdom on a path to personal discovery, the latter precludes the discovery by imposing the destination.
So humans have two brains: the brain whose early development is
dominated by excessive amygdala reactions to primal threats; and the brain that
develops without the excessive impositions of fear, to achieve cognitive
independence and moral regulation of emotional impulses. The cognitive brain
seeks to understand objective reality. The emotional brain, under the urgency
of emotional alarm, cannot wait for understanding or discovery or considered
responses, so it adopts invented realities--beliefs that mollify its emotions--and defensive reactions and strategies to counteract perceived threats. The cognitive brain
explores for knowledge and seeks to remedy wrongs. The emotional brain
reacts against change as a threat to the comforts of familiarity; and against
the remedy of wrongs as a threat to advantage; and against Truth as a threat to
belief--for belief is essential where knowledge is absent: the unknown may harbor dangers greater than what is known. For the fearful brain embracing available beliefs is easier than exploring the unknown, or accepting unanswerable mysteries. But there lies the dilemma: an optimum evolution--humanly speaking--requires intelligent adaptation; and intelligent adaptation requires Truth about the environment.
Both brains are evolutionary selections; each have contributed to survival success--the amygdala brain to primitive survival, escaping or avoiding danger; the neocortex to evolutionary advance--from prey animal to ultimate predator, from wandering the savanna to building civilizations. Whether the ultimate predator is a sociopath seeking social domination or a humanitarian seeking social equality depends on brain content--education, memories, beliefs, learned prejudices--as well as the function and connectivity between brain regions; over which the amygdala has such early formative influence.
But there remains is a question deep within the brain, a fork in the neural road: would reason assist emotion's more selfish inclinations, or guide emotion toward less selfish behaviors? The ego-complex hypothesis being described here is about the neural strength of the amygdala's emotions commanding prefrontal cortex complicity in pursuit of emotion's desires, rationalizing aggressive beliefs and behaviors in defense against perceived threats. Politics is the battleground between reason as enabler and reason as self restraint--abetting or restraining the freedom of socioeconomic selfishness. The choice of classical liberalism was the freedom of selfishness.
"Our findings are in line with the idea that a primary impulse in humans may be to help and cooperate, whereas the execution of calculative-instrumental--that is, selfish--behaviors are learned from interactions with the social environment..."(nih.gov).
So if social cooperation is man's nature, or at least his inclination, is he being driven out of it by an ideology conceived by a fearful brain to give itself a path to social advantage? Are the "laws" of classical liberal economics not laws, but rationalizations that attempt to justify and ascribe inevitability to the selfish brain--the neoliberal claim that there is no alternative?
As described in Part One, the classical liberal ideology of laissez-faire competition is an organization of society that accommodates, rewards and reinforces the aggressively selfish brain, systemically disadvantaging the cooperative brain. Competitive economic ideology supposes to represent human nature, and to duly reward talent. More accurately, it selects and incites, and gives freedom to aggressive ambitions; fear-driven emotions enlisting the frontal cortex's strategic intelligence. Social evolution is being driven by the incitement and reward of selfishness through "success" at economic competition, selecting selfish traits and discouraging unselfishness.
It is believed that early humans survived through group cooperation, which inspired the development of language and intelligence. Selfish behavior is disruptive to cooperative sentiments--and social cohesion generally--creating a climate of one against all. Competition is a result of the selfish brain's insistence on an opportunity--"freedom"--to achieve an advantage in possessions and power. The purpose of specifying inalienable rights is to limit the freedom of power, public and private. Liberty protects against the freedoms that abuse. Due to its importance, and the widespread synonymous use of the terms, this point about the distinction between freedom and liberty, already emphasized above, cannot be repeated too often. Emphasis on critical points in an argument warrants the annoyance of repeating them.
The human brain is predominately emotional. Emotion is understood as a pre-conscious neural reaction of the brain to sensory information received and assessed by the amygdala as significant to survival or opportunity. The intensity of the emotion is determined by the level of the amygdala's genetic reactivity and the proximity and imminence of the stimulus. The amygdala creates an emotion for the purpose of driving a response (behavior) to the stimulus, with primary regard to fears and pleasures--avoiding or confronting stimuli that appear threatening; pursuing and possessing stimuli that promise pleasure and satisfaction--food, rest, shelter, safety, sexual fulfillment. Over time evolution selected the traits that led to a neo-cortex for supervising the emotions and improving the chances of survival through intelligent decision-making; moderating the hyper-reactive emotion and regulating against irrational and self-defeating, and morally unacceptable, responses (internal restraint). If reason over emotion did not enhance survival why did it evolve so rapidly? Behavior, then, is a question of how much rationality the prefrontal cortex is able to attain, and whether that rationality is directed by selfish emotions or moral sensibility; whether it is prejudicial or educated to think critically and ethically. That is, whether the prefrontal cortex aids the sociopath or the humanitarian.
It may be that the sapiens species within the Homo genus was the physically weakest and required an evolved intelligence to compete and survive, yet it remained burdened with a fear-centered brain. The evolution of intelligence overcame the competitors and predators but did not obviate the amygdala's fear instinct. Friendliness and cooperation would have aided survival within the primary group. But the prey animal fear instinct also biased the brain toward wariness, competition and conflict against other primary groups, hence tribalism and the fearful brain's intense reaction to difference—xenophobia, the perpetually ominous others! Thus, survival required the selection of both the positive emotions--affection, empathy, generosity--within the group, and the negative emotions--wary, competitive and aggressive--outside the group. Hence, the amygdala's signposts for survival: in group familiarity means safety (tribal, racial, national identity), while outside group difference and unfamiliarity means possible threat. And so, the emotional tension between goodness and meanness, empathy and antipathy; the divided soul bequeathed by evolution, and revealed in brain difference... and politics. Yet eventually, the selfish brain will express its wariness of the other even within its own community, as its amygdalan fear sinks into a highly defensive and competitive individualism, seeking advantage and superiority over its neighbors, with a minimal sense of obligation and attachment.
This is a good time to repeat the point that The Declaration's right to pursue happiness does not logically or morally endorse a "freedom" for the selfish brain to impose socioeconomic inferiority on its neighbors, however happy it would make it. The inalienable rights (liberty) of others are not dependent on acceptance by any one's happiness or freedom. The Declaration asserts that government's purpose is to secure the inalienable rights of all individuals, not to promote and protect the freedom of any one individual to encroach upon those rights—inalienable rights have precedence over freedom. Laissez-faire capitalism is the invention of an ambition for private wealth and power that emphasizes individual freedom over the mutual right of others to be substantively equal in society, and thus it is inconsistent with democratic principles, i.e., the unregulated economic freedom that favors the aggrandizement of a few, systematically comes to violate the natural and equal rights of all.
"Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it." (John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776)
The persistent thesis herein is that the conservative brain is biased by an overly active fear response--reflected in brain structure and function--toward the negative emotions when confronted with difference and change, the signposts of threat. The less fear-minded brain is biased toward the positive emotions, generalizing the harmony of the primal group to humanity as a whole--humanitarianism. The difference being that change and unfamiliarity do not provoke a fear response in the less fear-formed brain--in fact, the opposite, a curiosity for novelty and new experience, and acceptance of positive change--a willingness to remedy wrongs when they appear. Being less fearful of the external world, the liberal mind is less driven to control it, only wishing to make it more just and equal, thus more secure for everyone. The conservative mind is obsessed with control, wishing to make society more advantageous to itself. Hence, opposition to measures that advance equality, and efforts to devise anti-democratic restrictions upon voting.
The fear of change leaves the brain committed to an emotional and cognitive dependence on past beliefs and social arrangements--a psychological dependence on familiarity is sublimated into a love for tradition. Defending the past blocks the openness and creativity necessary for current remedies, and impedes a curiosity for future possibilities.
Resistance to change is the basis of the political intransigence between conservatives and progressives: the divide over social policy is not about what change, but change versus no change; there is little room for compromise between yes, let's do it, and no, let's not.
“…one of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such, while the liberal position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead.” (F.A. Hayek, “Why I Am Not a Conservative”)
When science warns of climate change the conservative is being twice assaulted; he is being told that his environment is changing and therefore his emotionally reassuring beliefs and conditioned behaviors must change. The open mind seeks evidence and solutions, the fearful mind denies the problem... the ostrich strategy. Adaptability is not the forte of the conservative brain; at least not voluntary adaptability. When it comes to survival we will all adapt if necessary: fear of death will overcome fear of change. It must fairly be said we all wish to maintain a safe and pleasurable habitat. The point here is that the humanitarian wishes to make it safe and pleasurable for all; the Conservative, not so much.
The conservative brain exists because there was primitive survival expedience to maintenance of a familiar status quo, and to aggression and violence in its defense. But thoughtless defense against change blocks reason’s opportunity to reach for improvement and possibility, prolonging wrongs and inadequacies because they are familiar... and traditional. Thus there is a dilemma: the brain has evolved greater capacity to be adaptive to change, whereas the conservative brain is emotionally and politically resistant to change--emotion resisting reason--which clearly reveals the bifurcated brain, a primitive emotional brain in contention with an evolved cognitive brain. Which brain dominates distinguishes the xenophobe from the humanitarian. A distant future Homo sapiens, if open-minded and empathic sentiments can overcome conservative resistance, may find their amygdalae unselected, or at least somewhat atrophied from disuse. We can hope.
It must be stated that the conservatism of principles and values is not the subject of this hypothesis. The subject is sociopathic selfishness that seeks political and economic domination over the community, and thus opposes human equality. That same selfishness, however, finds a home among less personally selfish conservatives whose "principled" hostility toward government regulation and adherence to prescriptive traditions despite the wrongs they transmit, also aids and abets an unjust status quo.
(The liberal and conservative political labels represent what is a neurological distinction, expressed in politics as pro-social, pro-government, pro-reform liberals; and pro-self, anti-government, anti-reform conservatives; each group involving a range from moderate to extreme).
It was The Enlightenment's freedom of human reason that led to the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, and thus to economic development; discoveries in science, advancements in transportation, communication and technology. The human urge to learn and prosper does not require giving to the selfish brain the rewards of wealth and social advantage. In fact, social inequality imposes educational limitations and financial obstacles on the disadvantaged that preclude their contribution to social and economic development.
It is on the point of social advantage that the political liberalism that began with The Enlightenment has failed. It liberated the human brain from Dark Age superstition and subservience to the claims of kings, but it was too accepting of the selfish ambitions of economic liberalism. Laissez-faire did not arrive at democracy, it arrived at plutocracy. Democratic principles and the rights of man were overshadowed by individual freedom and opportunity. Liberty’s rights were sacrificed to freedom’s desires.
corruption of universal ideals is a much more persistent fact in human conduct
than any moralistic creed is inclined to admit." (Reinhold Niebuhr, The
Children of Light and The Children of Darkness; 1944, Ch 1).
If the prefrontal cortex is neurologically independent and empathetically informed, and somewhat cognizant of evidence based reality, the amygdala is subdued and behavior becomes controlled, guided by a consideration of what ought to be done rather than a reflexive, selfish response to what is desired. Conscious emotions are a subjective experience, thus they require subjective gratification, fears mollified, desires satisfied, and beliefs that give internal assurance regardless of external, objective truth. For the negative emotions, feeling better is evidence of "truth." And thus the amorality of expedience--what is true or good is what works for me; and the prevalence of hypocrisy—the opposite of what worked for me yesterday may work for me today. Reason and logic can serve any purpose the prefrontal cortex is inclined, or neurologically compelled to embrace. And if reason is absent, irrationality becomes master. A brain with much fear and little knowledge is soon filled with superstitions and reassuring beliefs... and enemies.
The emotional brain does not stop to consult the prefrontal cortex, the prefrontal has to be there watching and thinking, with the cognitive power to intervene; and informed with principles and values that overrule the selfish proclivity.
(A recent brain study found that challenges to political and religious belief activate the same brain region [amygdala] as fear. This is consistent with the Amygdala Hypothesis: the prefrontal cortex is rationalizing salvation strategies, positing metaphysical beliefs, or pursuing political advantages that alleviate fear. A challenge to our comforting beliefs and social advantages is tantamount to a threat to survival, hence the conservative brain's inclination for denying facts and resisting appeals for social justice. Truth and justice are very threatening to protective beliefs and prejudices and social advantages.)
It is presumable that the evolutionary function of reason is to prevent emotion from being self-destructive; and secondarily, to perceive the usefulness of social cooperation. Reason is an advanced survival mechanism struggling to overcome the evolutionary dominance of the amygdala. It is especially with the negative emotions of fear and hate and greed that reason must do its work in controlling appetites and behaviors. Reason is thus evolutionary progressive when serving to support survival by recommending amiable and cooperative behaviors that remove competitive conflicts. The negative emotions of fear and hate are evolutionary regressive, instigating threatening behaviors that reinforce hate and fear, thus working against the security in the social environment necessary for healthy neural development. Behavior is the result of an interface between emotion and reason (Ego being the aftermath of struggle between id and superego). Empathy cannot emerge, and human evolution will not reach to a promising future until the fears of the reptilian brain are obviated by a culture that values human security over competitive opportunities for selfish ambitions; a community where persons “created equal” are not allowed to be made unequal. Humanity is trapped in a vortex, where fear engenders behaviors that engender more fear--a black hole in the brain where enlightenment disappears. Has evolution reached a paradox? Has it stumbled upon a brain whose internal dynamic is turning progress into regress? A brain whose strategy for survival exacerbates the threats to survival? Has Nature created a creature whose destiny is to destroy itself? Has too much intelligence been given to a brain haunted by primal fears, such that ultimate weapons can be invented and deployed preemptively against any appearance, or illusion, of threat? Talk about being "too smart for one's good!"
instances where an evolved capacity is lost when it falls into disuse because
of a changed environment--what was previously selected becomes unselected--like
penguins losing the ability of flight. Human fear and the selfish/competitive
response continues to dominate the social environment, tending to discourage
and limit the reinforcement of empathic and cooperative traits. Might this lead
to an eventual loss of the positive emotions that facilitated inter group
survival, making Man increasingly an individualistic sociopath, a super
There is contention with views of the amygdala's centrality to the fear response, specifically with the "feeling" of fear. But conscious fear is not the point. The beginning point of the fear response is the amygdala’s unconscious detection of external threat… when the pebble hits the pond, spreading waves throughout the brain triggering myriad neurological events that culminate in various physiological, psychological and behavioral responses. The feeling of fear occurs when the prefrontal cortex confirms there is reason to be afraid. The amygdala is the lantern in the steeple warning of danger: "One, if by land, and Two, if by sea." Or, for the conservative brain: One, if it's liberal, and Two, if progressive!
It seems much of the exception to the focus on the amygdala's central role in the fear response is simply saying, "It is more complicated than that." For sure, the brain is a complicated biological machine—estimates of 86 billion neurons, 100 trillion synapses. But the cardinal question for society is: what is a hyper amygdala's effect on social behavior? And is the effect of excessive amygdala fear on the developing brain what differentiates the anti-government, freedom-of-selfishness conservative brain, from the pro-social justice-for-all humanitarian brain? And is the World's dominate economic ideology systemically reinforcing human conflict by rewarding individual selfishness and dissolving social cohesion and common interest?
The description about the prefrontal cortex mediating the amygdala's
response seems to presuppose "free will." Science is undecided if
there is such a thing. It is possible that what we experience as conscious
choice is simply an observer's awareness of what has already happening in the
brain. Has the brain reached a neurological conclusion micro-seconds before
conscious awareness thinks it has decided? The brain machine
decides and we take credit for better; or responsibility for worse? That
"I" am aware of my brain's decision does not mean that I made the
decision, no more than my nighttime dream was written and directed by
"me." Awareness does not imply cause or control, only witness. In the
case of fear, survival required a faster response than considered thought could
provide. The brain reacts to a stimulus with an emotional reflex, which
initiates a systemic response, a chain of electrical and chemical transmissions
not initiated by “me.” The brain does not wait for "me" to decide.
Does it not also, then, decide on all "appropriate" behaviors based
on stored memories and beliefs, and previously conditioned responses? Am
"I" only a belatedly informed witness giving sometimes flawed
testimony to myself about what I think I am doing? Does my brain tell my legs
to run, and then I merely come to realize why I am running? Am I deciding
to be selfish? Or am I being compelled by my amygdala's hyperactivity and
previously conditioned responses, and inadequate moral supervision?
And what of humanity collectively, or at least a controlling majority? If we had a collective free-will would we not choose against violence and destruction? Against warfare? Does the fact that we don't, mean that we can't?
There is another point that regards free-will. It has to do with the bootstrap theory. The conservative is inclined to blame inequality on the "losers"-- they don't try hard enough; they have an "equal opportunity" but they're too lazy or stupid to use it; they fail because of lack of character, absence of work ethic. The problem is these judgments are too simplistic, and the judges too ignorant or too dismissive of the genetic and environmental factors that benefit or impair mental ability; and also, that competitive games necessarily have many more losers than winners. So maybe the stupid part is being unaware of the complex causation that underlies the development of human capacity-- and expecting competition to have no losers. The ultimate stupid part, or rather malevolent part, is the imposition of debilitating living conditions on others and then blaming them for being debilitated.
The opposite error would be to say there is no personal responsibility. And of course there is. But the truth is there is no equal beginning or equal opportunity. How we start out and how we are aided by genetic talents and human mentors, or hindered by obstructions and discouragements is not our doing. If we all had a "free-will" most of us would choose to be other than we are. After considering the brain's susceptibility to environmental affects there really is more in our stars than ourselves. So is blaming the loser just being simplistic, or is it another way of saying, "I do not care?
Consider the conservative mentality: adherence to prescriptive traditions because familiarity is comforting; resistance to equality because advantage is, well, an advantage; hostility to science because knowledge threatens reassuring beliefs--and may require change. Change, threats to advantage, difference--a strange face living next door--all provoke the emotions of fear and selfish strategies of defense... the reptilian brain maintaining its evolutionary dominance over the empathic brain attempting to emerge.
Selfish ego becomes the fearful amygdala's protagonist, its defender against a world of perceived threats. In Freud's perfectly apt words, ego is the "face turned toward reality," i.e. the amygdala's reality. And so, the selfish ego, the ego-complex, is a neural network of collaboration between a biochemically fearful amygdala, a hippocampus storing indoctrinated and learned memories, and a subservient frontal cortex strategizing for socioeconomic superiority within a community perceived not with the feelings of kinship, but with an apprehension for threatening competitors; pursuing not common interest, but private interest; loyal not to democratic equality, but personal superiority--upper-class advantages not amenable to democratic principles or procedures. All unrestrained due to the absence of right brain moral sensibility.
Birth has been a "choice" between three fundamental human beings: the fear induced ego-complex, which is life negating; the less fear-based, more sanguine and confident and trusting personality, which is life affirming; and the brain of debilitating anxiety struggling to find confidence and identity and a place to be free. The ego-complex brain will spend a lifetime building forts, the empathic brain a lifetime despairing of a fortified world, and the anxious brain simply trying to find tranquility.
Here are three general personality categories proposed by the amygdala hypothesis, resulting from the genetic and environmental factors surrounding birth... and that have so determined the passage from who we could have been to who we became:
Emotion moderated by reason.
2. Amygdala fear-based
(non-aggressive, “flight” response):
Prefrontal cortex morally developed but dominated by fear emotions--Amygdala hijack.
General anxiety disorder.
Defends self through avoidance/withdrawal.
Subject to self-medicating addictions.
Prone to reassuring beliefs.
Unfamiliarity provokes anxiety.
3. Amygdala fear-based
(aggressive “fight” response).
Absent top-down moral regulation.
Prefrontal cortex complicit with amygdala emotions.
Adhered to self-assuring and justifying belief systems.
Unfamiliarity provokes wariness.
(This is generally descriptive of the sociopathic and psychopathic personality spectrum, of which the selfish pursuit of advantage within the community, without empathic concern for the rest of the community, is the first stage).
Genetics and emotional response to experience form the early brain through the reinforcement and pruning of neurons and synapses; they build the fences that define and limit who we can be. That is, the neurons that remain, and the circuits they form, will determine the mind we have. If we are ever to be truly free and somewhat self-reclaimed, the prefrontal cortex must jump that fence, to criticize our past formations and choose the experiences (cognitive and behavior modification practices) that will serve to expand our present selves into an exploration for what we might have been—and still can be. Full self-realization means forever looking in the mirror and seeing the self not yet reflected.
"...every psychoanalyst has seen patients who have been able to reverse the trends which seemed to determine their lives, once they become aware of them and make a concentrated effort to regain their freedom." (Erich Fromm; The Heart of Man).
We can do this by seeing our conscious self as distinct from our brain machine... that our brain has thought and behavior patterns incurred through years of conditioning that we did not choose, but that we--the conscious self--can choose to alter through new thoughts and behaviors, repeated until the brain reconditions--neuroplasticity--to our more chosen self. We can do this through self-determination, supported by knowing it can be done.
The making of a human life involves many alternative characteristics--eye color, hand preference, gender--but the most profound distinction is the presence or absence of the capacity for empathy, whether one emerges at the threshold of life as a humanitarian or a sociopath. The distinction between caring and not caring for others of one's species is a measure of brain difference that would be easy to consider a distinction in kind--an evolutionary split of Homo sapiens into Homo empathicus and Homo egoisticus.
Indeed, Homo egoisticus is lagging in his biological adaptation, lingering in the neurology of amygdala fear, kept in his primal past by conformance to a competitive economic ideology... and his resistance to an economics of common security, where incentive does not reward selfish individualism, but rather a humanitarian self-interest in the well-being of the whole community. In contrast, the Homo empathicus brain is progressive, eager to adapt in anticipation of the technological possibility for a security-based economics that relieves the human brain from fear and competitive conflict, whence evolution can proceed beyond survival to an exploration of possibility, facing the unfamiliar and the uncertain with curiosity and intelligence.
From the beginning the natural world has told us who we cannot be, by telling us who we must be--what traits we must hold onto, and which we must forsake in order to survive. We are creatures made by environment. But gradually man has learned to make his own micro environment, his social habitat. We have told ourselves we must be selfish and competitive to survive. And so we insist on a social habitat that demands selfish competition. We constrain ourselves from possibility because of our spiritual and emotional timidity; we embrace beliefs that console rather than knowledge that creates understanding.
Maybe a creature so subject to environmental determination can turn around and make an environment to remake himself, to condition himself into a better angel. Maybe there will be time to do that if we don't tinker too much with the macro environment: We can't destroy Nature, but we can change her to the point where she will destroy us. Despite all our hubris and godly self-image, environment made us, and it will end us. It seems likely that eternal survival is not in the cards for any form of life. Somewhere in the deck a fatal microbe or monster asteroid is inevitable. But it would be nice if our demise is the tragic end of a grand creature, and not the mere erasure of an ignoble egoist who soiled the cradle of life.
Imagine a primeval encounter between two hunters, each of a different clan, discovering they stalk the same prey. They fall upon it simultaneously and achieve its death. One, with a less fearful amygdala proceeds to share, but when his back is turned the other, a fully functioning ego-complex, suspicious and fearful of the other's intent, and greedy for his own abundance, preempts the threat by clubbing the other to death, taking the prize for himself.
From the point of view of his clan the selfish hunter's act was productive. He was hard working; he was a successful provider--predatory selfishness paid off. Of course the clan of the deceased, when they find him, recognizing that the dent in his head did not come from the jaws of a beast, would go tracking the other club wielder, which would not be difficult because he is dragging home a carcass, whereupon they would apply retribution.
This little parable reveals the self-defeating short-sightedness of selfish ego--immediate gain often entails longer term penalties that far outweigh the initial reward. And it clearly reveals fear-based selfishness as the source of evil. It also portrays the prophetic warning that injustice does not go unpunished. And it displays the initial disadvantage of trust and goodness: evil strikes first. Whenever fairness and generosity have turned their backs selfish greed has sought triumph and dominion. Indeed, it is the trust of the unselfish that enhances the opportunities of the selfish; and the absence of regulation that invites the proclivity for corruption.
(Think conservative dirty tricks and liberal naivete', which is explained by the presence or absence of right brain moral sensibility. That is, only a frontal cortex without a moral conscience is eager to become proficient at deviousness. The selfish brain plots for advantage because it is driven by fear-reaction strategies; the non-selfish brain is restrained by its sense of fairness because it is less driven by fear. One thing is certain, selfishness is not naive! It knows the tricks of winning and relishes using them. The ego-complex knows that deceit is an ally--that undiscovered lies are expedient, that misrepresentation often makes the sale. Also, we tend to understand others by what we know of ourselves. Thus, if we do not harbor duplicitous thoughts we are often naive before those who do. The reverse is also true: the selfish brain is filled with cynicism about the good intentions of others--recall the conservative ridicule of "do-gooders". Selfishness is completely dismayed at altruism, and in that absence of mind lies the birthplace of evil. A democratic people must be mindful of the incentives they allow, for the behavior they reward is the behavior they will get).
"So intimate is the connection between form and practice, that to adopt the one is to invite the other." (Thomas Paine; letter to George Washington, July 30, 1796) (Italics in original).
There is a mental condition known as “Amusia.” It is an inability to process musical sounds into a joyful experience... to feel an inner synchronicity with rhythm and melody. It is a functional "deafness" of the brain, equivalent to the blindness of an undeveloped visual cortex. Amusia serves as an analogy for the ego-complex's lack of empathic sensibility, the inability to experience sympathy for others.
Similarly, we all have known people without a sense of humor, or who lack an ability for inspirational responses to art, or the wonders of nature. Of course, we would not want an amusiac conducting an orchestra. Do we want the functionally unempathic brain conducting our democratic community?! Do we want those absent an empathic faculty representing others in government when they do not care about others? In fact, recent research has associated high empathy and musical appreciation with human social interaction.
Empathy is the last thing the conservative mind wants in government. Such a mind does not want government making equal those over whom it wishes to be superior. Hence, the conservative opposition to a government that would "secure these rights" through social programs. The opposition to taxation is not only the complaint of greed, it is also a political strategy for financially incapacitating government from its democratic purpose of promoting the general welfare.
The lack of empathic feeling is an inability to hear the music, the orchestra, of the common good; ears that do not hear the music, hearts that cannot join the dance.
"Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand...For this people's heart has become calloused." (Matthew 13:13-16).
It was once believed that women, and men without property were not competent to vote. Maybe fear constructed brains are not competent to vote. Maybe voter qualification should depend on brain scans. Maybe if you do not care about others because you neurologically cannot care about others you should not be legislating and executing socioeconomic policy. It is said the beginning of wisdom lies in knowing thyself. That seems more true than ever--along with knowing who the other is!
THOUGHTS ON CLASSICAL LIBERALISM
The justification of private property in classical liberal thought is best
expressed in John Locke's Two Treatises on Government (published anonymously in 1689).
Locke argued that whatever a man removed from the common provisions of nature through personal labor, in gathering those things necessary for his preservation, became his private property--as long as there was "...enough, and as good left in common for others." (John Locke, Book 2; chap. 5). The amount of property was limited by the notion of spoilage: if what was taken from the common spoiled before being used then too much was appropriated. Locke later circumvented his notion of limitation by reference to money, a commodity that could be accumulated without spoilage.
It was inferred from Locke's text that the advent of money as a mode of exchange accepted by everyone, and which allowed for storage of extensive property without spoilage, implied consent and justification to accumulation and inequality. This is merely assertion, not reasoning from principle--the common acceptance of money as a convenient device for exchanging goods and services does not justify unlimited accumulation--can does not imply ought; and it certainly does not imply a universal consent to it. Convenience is not a principle. In fact, Locke's own assertion denies the inference:
"...no Man could ever have a just power over another by Right of property in land or Possessions." (Two Treatises, Book 1, chap. 4).
The Natural Law limit on property is not spoilage, but exclusion of others from their necessity, their entitlement to the material support of their lives and development; which Locke explicitly recognized by the qualifier "...enough, and as good left in common for others." Money is simply a claim on goods: whoever possesses all the money has the power to possess all the goods. Locke sought a philosophic argument for the justification of private property to undermine the divine right of kings and land holding aristocrats. It was a laudable and democratic purpose. But arguments from natural law imply equality, not inequality. The class societies of Locke's time were not ready for equality. (Is that why Two Treatises was published anonymously? And why Locke exiled to Holland?) By allowing money to justify inequality of property, Locke abandoned his labor justification of property. For if the justifying conditions of spoilage and enough left for others no longer applied then neither did the justification of ownership by labor. Serfs had labored for centuries. Those who most labored had always been furthest from ownership. So on its surface ownership through labor was a fallacy. And further, private possession through labor presupposes access to common land upon which to labor. As the commons was increasingly enclosed into private property--as in 18th century England-- access to common land upon which to labor was increasingly limited. Removing the means to an end precludes the end.
Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations would not provide that justification; his argument simply begins with property already having been appropriated; the original "right" of ownership presumably determined by the power to possess and defend, with no obligation upon the appropriator and no provision to the dispossessed. It was the perfect scheme for the freedom of selfishness from fairness to others. Where in nature the excesses of selfishness are exposed to retribution, in classical liberal society the excessive achievements of selfishness would be protected by law--government is not instituted to secure equal rights; government is for protecting and facilitating the traditions of inequality. However, Smith also seemed to demur by acknowledging that:
government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in
reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those
who have some property against those who have none at all.” (Adam Smith; Wealth
of Nations; bk. 5, ch.1)
"...the Jefferson party formed upon the supposed superior devotion to the personal rights of men, holding the rights of property to be secondary only and greatly inferior." (Abraham Lincoln; letter, April 6, 1859).
Smith had stated the first premise of Classical Liberalism in one sentence:
"Every man, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice, is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest his own way..." (Wealth of Nations, bk.4, ch.9).
This remains the basic principle of all forms of liberalism. And the conditional phrase about violation of the laws of justice continues to be the unavoidable caveat; that is, freedom is subject to the requirements of justice. The political argument is about what the laws of justice require; that is, where the balance between every man's freedom to achieve his interest and every one's protection (liberty) from the consequences of those interests should lie. The questions are: how much regulation of individual freedom, and what social outcomes are acceptable in a democratic community founded on the principle of equality. The duty of democratic government is to protect and secure the natural rights of individuals against the interest of others to subordinate them.
The term "liberal" has undergone a transformation in its roughly 240 year journey. Generally, liberal refers to the political freedom of the individual from arbitrary authority. Political liberalism had turned absolute monarchy into constitutional monarchy through the introduction of a parliament. Classical liberalism and neoliberalism are about the economic freedom of the individual from government control--free from regulation and redistribution of any unequal outcome. The result of economic freedom was a new path to political and social inequality based on wealth inequality. So liberalism broke into factions which continue today: the free-market, small government liberals, are the anti-regulation, anti-tax, Libertarians and conservative Republicans. Those who believe in regulation of economic activity and adjustment of outcomes for a more fair and equal society are liberal Democrats. The emergence of neoliberalism in the era of Thatcher and Reagan was a reaction against New Deal government intervention in the economy for greater social justice and security. The political success of neoliberalism under Reagan, in winning over the working class, was based on cultural issues--race and abortion--not economic policy. The Democrats were intimidated, and unnecessarily conceded on economic policy; baited by the Republicans into fighting cultural issues, they turned into economic neoliberals. The Democrats forsook the working class--and democracy--for rule by money.
But all of this being said, American democracy remains in the hands of the common people. If the majority is consigned to economic and social inequality it is done by their own neglect. Contributing to the neglect is the fact that people come to identify with political labels and popularized personalities instead of thoroughly understanding their interests and the broader issues that impact them; a consequence of overly provincial indoctrination and illiberal education.
The most prominent proposal for the economic freedom of selfishness was Adam Smith's 18th century inquiry into the Wealth of Nations. Smith argued that the greatest economic wealth would result if individuals were free to pursue their natural self-interest without interference from the state. The argument gave impetus to the demand for the freedom of common people from centuries of social and economic domination by kings and priests and hereditary aristocracies. As with Locke's argument for private property, The Wealth of Nations was a great advance in the process of liberalization. But in the new freedom an old impulse, the selfish brain--Christianity's original sin--would find a new path to social domination.
This was an extraordinary concession to existing conditions (an unavoidable reality of the times if one wished to survive), and some would think a reprehensible avoidance of judgment. Adam Smith was not inquiring about a system of economic organization based on a fair and just distribution of resources among naturally equal human beings. He begins with an acceptance of land already privately "appropriated," and a society divided into "ranks." His "natural" distribution of wealth assumed existing inequality. As for the justice of land appropriation and the proper distribution of wealth among social ranks, or even the rightness of ranks, Smith evades: "I shall not take upon me to determine." (ibid. book 1, Ch 8.) (My emphasis).
Classical Liberalism thus begins with an acceptance of the existing social divisions and the unequal possession of property. Mankind's historical campaign for freedom and liberty was against existing inequalities, not a search for an alternative method of imposing and maintaining them. And so, the capitalist ideology is not very concerned for the rights of life... and the implications for equality and material security. We can see that the ideology of selfishness uses insecurity as incentive, and is more desirous of the opportunity for selfish ambitions to achieve inequality than providing for the general welfare.
The Wealth of Nations was published in 1776, an interesting historical coincidence with the American Declaration of Independence... the founding of the nation destined to realize the potential of Adam Smith's argument for unbridled economic self-interest more than any other. Smith's book was the seminal work of a new order of society which was beginning to emerge from the long centuries of serfdom and land-owning lords.
Individual artisans were separating themselves from the landed estates and collecting in the growing towns and cities to sell the products of their labor. They were early practitioners of the "entrepreneurial spirit" in the expanding age of commerce. The Wealth of Nations rationalized this struggle for economic independence--the desire of common individuals to raise themselves out of the poverty and servitude of serfdom, and the rigid divisions of class society. The artisans and traders who did well began to accumulate an excess of revenue beyond the needs of their own subsistence.
(It would later be argued by Laissez-faire—"let things alone"—economists that it is the economic independence of private wealth and property that guarantees political freedom; hence the supposed necessary link between capitalism and democracy. Of course, it would not guarantee the political freedom of those who lost in the competition for wealth and property, and all those who were not propertied white men. It is argued here that the link is specious, that capitalism is opposed to democratic equality; that unregulated capitalism inevitable results in inequalities that violate democratic principle... made evident by America’s Supreme Court decision in “Citizens United,” reasserting the intention to keep unequal money unequal political power).
argument was that the greatest aggregate material wealth would
be produced if individuals were left free to pursue their own economic
interest. And, he further argued that although private interest would
undoubtedly be motivated by selfish intentions, the unseen logic of the
process—the “invisible hand” and the principle of “unintended
consequences”—would result in a beneficial outcome to the community as a whole;
that selfishness, despite its intentions, would be guided to a socially
desirable outcome. The implicit--and noticeably not explicit--assurance was
that the increase of wealth would be equitably distributed. And, in addition,
as each person knew best their own desires, freedom from regulation was
necessary to maximize happiness. Of course, there is no basis for assuming that
unintended consequences will be good more often than bad, especially when it is
selfishness that is encouraged and rewarded. And as for the freedom of desires
to maximize happiness, that is what necessitates laws that regulate social
behavior. There is no right to a pursuit of happiness that does harm to the
life and rights of others.
Similar to the invisible hand, F.A. Hayek (The Constitution of Liberty) argued that when individuals are free from government regulation they will produce a natural, or "spontaneous order" that is more economically efficient and productive than would be a system designed by government; that "central planners" cannot know all that is necessary to know. The objection picks on a non-issue: a democratic government's regulation is not about planning and designing what and how much to produce, but rectifying democratically unacceptable outcomes... which are easy to see.
Spontaneous order is an argument for efficiency and productivity that is value neutral. There is no judgment of outcomes, and only a materialistic vision of a good society. Efficiency can be productive of evil as well as good. Without rules, spontaneity might even produce chaos and ruinous conflict rather than a good and beneficial order. And it certainly will produce an "order" that represents the preferences of the most influential--the desires of the prevailing powers. The spontaneous order of seed and chaff is bad bread; remove the chaff and you get better bread.
The classical liberal and neoliberal passion for the freedom of selfishness was, however, a value judgment--it valued private economic freedom over the purpose of democratic government to secure the equal rights of life for all... it promoted an individual right to achieve superiority over democracy's promise of equality. It is selfishness making an anti-democracy argument for its freedom. A spontaneous order that results from unregulated selfish ambitions is very likely to be much less fair and equal than an order that would result from rules and regulations that prevent undemocratic consequences. An efficient production of social inequality is not a democratic outcome. And that is what we are arguing: the selfish brain is not democratic, it is an authoritarian attitude with aristocratic pretensions. Selfishness abhors governments that regulate. Regulating the sociopath and empowering the humanitarian would make a much better spontaneous order. In fact, Hayek had no idea where spontaneous order would arrive, he is making an argument for freedom that excludes considerations of morality and justice:
"...the liberal (Hayek means Classical Liberal, not democratic liberal) position is based on...a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead." (F.A. Hayek, Why I Am Not A Conservative) (Parenthesis and emphasis added).
The economic question is not capitalism or socialism--whether a minority of private citizens, or a minority of party members control economic resources and extract upper-class privileges. The important question is what economic forms of production and distribution fulfill the promise of democracy: that "all men are created equal." Free markets go a long way to fulfilling democracy's promise, until the unequal transference of economic wealth to private ownership begins to corrupt democracy--becomes private interest and power eclipsing the public good. As with any expression of freedom, laws and regulations are required to make it beneficial and not harmful to democratic principles. Laissez-faire capitalism gives permission to all intentions and approval to all outcomes... and is more compatible with authoritarian political forms than with a popular sovereignty that might awaken to its rights.
Classical liberalism relied on an aggressive human behavior, what Smith called the “selfish propensity” of individuals to acquire greater and greater amounts of wealth. And it required a large number of hungry laborers—serfs forced from land based subsistence by changes in land laws:
“…the natural effort of every individual to better his own condition, when suffered to exert itself with freedom and security.” (Wealth of Nations; bk.4, ch.5).
A democratic government, "instituted to secure these rights," would form institutions that protect the human brain from the stresses and derangement of fear and perpetual anxiety, and protect human rights (liberty) from the predatory freedoms of greed. The selfish mind wants democratic political authority ceded to market interests, economic power controlling political power in order to forestall the slow advance of democratic equality. Greed wants advantage, not equality. It is the sociopath who ascends because there is no morally inspired hesitancy to his ambitions. Classical liberalism sought to confine the lower orders of humanity to the unending anxieties of an economic system founded on the usefulness of human insecurity to the ambitions of sociopaths. Systemically denying social security in order to exert and control insecure people is not a system of freedom. It is systemic coercion. Classical liberalism's love of "opportunity" means an opportunity to gain the assets that give control of society.
Classical liberal "freedom" is that of a prisoner allowed to run for his life, who is never caught and never escapes, but must never stop running. That is not freedom, it is a cruel promise manipulating the dream of freedom.
“It is not…difficult to foresee which of the two parties must…have the advantage…and force the other into a compliance with their terms.” (Wealth of Nations, bk.1, ch.8).
In one sentence Adam Smith acknowledges the true "invisible hand" of Classical Liberalism--the coercion behind the free and voluntary veneer. What begins in theory as voluntary associations and exchanges matures in practice to involuntary submission to socioeconomic hierarchy. The democratic promise of freedom and equality submits to the exigencies and consequences of economic competition... the "free market" creates a financial aristocracy.
“The most specious thing to be said, is, that he that is Proprietor of the whole world, may deny all the rest of Mankind Food, and so at his pleasure starve them, if they will not acknowledge his Sovereignty, and obey his will… And therefore no Man could ever have a just Power over the Life of another by Right of property in Land or Possessions… a Man can no more justly make use of another’s necessity… than he that has more strength can seize upon a weaker, master him to his Obedience, and with a Dagger at his throat offer him Death or Slavery.” (John Locke, Two Treatises of Government; Book one, chap 41)(Emphasis added).
The quote from Locke is the classic statement for the precedence of human rights over property rights. Which also means the good of a democratic community over the freedom of avarice to achieve unjust advantages. Adam Smith's invisible hand assurances had obscured the risk of social injustice, and other yet to be perceived evils in the systematic encouragement of selfishness. And his faith in “unintended consequences” simply assumed that conscious self-seeking would result in some derivative good to others—that some good “trickles down” from a selfish dynamic. That it also results in trickle down wrongs to others he only cautioned:
“The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order (the business interest) ought always to be listened to with great precaution… It comes from an order of men whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly, have upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.” (Wealth of Nations, bk.1, ch.11) (parenthesis and emphasis added).
Why not, then, put up guardrails against this order of men? Why play a game of chance between justice and injustice... between good and evil? Why not systematically prefer justice instead of conceding opportunity to injustice? Adam Smith knew he was freeing the reptile, and that he was relying on the reptile's intentions being thwarted by an unintended fate. It was a philosophic gamble that selfish ambitions would not achieve their intended consequences. As it turned out the gamble was a loss--the invisible hand was a sleight of hand, an illusory assurance that failed to prevent the inevitable outcome--the reality of wealth inequality. But as a deception it worked. The reptile got his freedom; the common man believed the illusion:
("...the wondering cheated multitude worshiped the invention.").
Was Adam Smith a philosopher whose mystical logic failed, or a propagandist who succeeded? Whichever, by invoking the invisible hand as an assurance of good to the community, Smith was acknowledging the risk of selfish interest to the common good. For if the freedom of selfishness was a good thing why must its promised beneficence be unintended? Why not reward those who intend beneficence... and skip the moral gamble and mystical postulates?
Smith was claiming that the unregulated economic actions of individuals will result in an outcome that is wise and good, efficient and productive. But what logic guarantees that a multitude of "free" individual actions will be wise and good, or even arrive at a best outcome, or that a better outcome would not result from a restriction on bad actions. The visible logic of unregulated free markets is inevitable inequality (and pervasive corruption), as initial advantages are leveraged into greater advantages; and less advantage accelerates downwards into less and less opportunity and poorer life prospects. As for efficient and productive, for what product? As inequality increases wealth attracts resources to less necessary luxury productions and away from more basic social goods like education and healthcare and public works... and food to eat. Pandering to "elite" self-indulgence has little social value. Efficiently produced mega yachts matter less than properly paid teachers and affordable healthcare.
(An important distinction needs to be made regarding "selfish propensity." All life forms share a natural self-interest in survival. But natural self-interest only justifies one's equality, the desire not to be disadvantaged, not to be deprived of life, and one's share of the materials and conditions of survival. It does not justify the desire to extract from others, or to hoard the provisions of nature, nor the presumption of personal superiority. Rational self-interest does not require unlimited reward. "Selfish propensity" as applied to unregulated capitalism is the psychological disposition to escape one's insecurity by appropriating more than one's share; in effect, taking from others. In the context of this essay it is a fear dominated brain uninformed by the moral concepts of common interest and cooperative achievement, and emotionally uninspired by compassion for others. The absence of empathy (sociopathy) has been throughout the whole course of human history the root and core of crime and social conflict. It is those who fear so much for themselves and care so little for others who have sought to become the possessors of power and privilege and extreme abundance--whatever the butchery required. Classical liberalism gave what had historically been overt conquest and oppression by force an economic path... justified as freedom of the individual. Natural self-interest entails the right of self-defense and an expectation of social equality. Classical Liberalism exaggerated that self-interest into a compulsive selfishness, driven by insecurity, fracturing community and making the rights of life a reward of competitive success.)
If human nature is seen as having evolved by a long and painful crawl out of the depths of primordial fear, then to accept man's condition at any historical stopping place as his nature, and design societal arrangements which exert and reinforce that nature, is to confine him to that historical moment, precluding the possibilities of his further evolution. Whatever one chooses to call that, it is not respecting freedom.
The exertion of man's insecurity in order to compel his efforts has been productive of material prosperity for much of mankind--when masters prosper slaves have a chance to eat better. But the persistence of insecurity has moored human character to its primitive past. What manner of human character would emerge were fear no longer the primary motivator of behavior may one day be known. But for us, still immersed in selfish pursuits, unregulated capitalism is a restraint, not a step in the direction of a promising human evolution.
Adaptability is supposed essential to survival, the inhabitant must change if the habitat requires it. It would seem an ideology that concedes to the emotions of fear rather than relieving the conditions of fear, is not the best strategy for advancement. And acknowledging capitalism's productivity does not mean there was, or is no alternative. It is not individual selfishness that is productive, but intelligence and imagination and aspiration, and a simple work ethic. The Enlightenment's release of human reason from religious superstition and persecution released the human mind to thoughts of science and technology... and freedom. Homo Empathicus has no less desire for material progress than Homo Egoisticus. It is a matter of what human character is encouraged by rewarding incentives, and what intentions control the capital that supports enterprise.
Much argument in support of traditional arrangements relies on the notion of "tacit consent," i.e., acceptance with silent complaint. In reality, unjust circumstances begin with imposition, followed by no-recourse resignation, to then fossilize into traditions transmitted through indoctrination. That a circumstance has not been opposed by a predecessor does not establish its rightness. Justice is a current voice, whether or not spoken or heard in the past. And even where a prior consent existed, it is not prescriptive in the present. The natural rights of the individual life are paramount, and how a democratic people evolve into a new understanding of their rights supersedes prior understandings. What our predecessors decided or accepted for themselves has less weight than what we desire and decide for ourselves. That a tradition is long-standing does not imply rightness in the present, nor even rightness in its beginning, only that the people it favored had the power to impose it.
The silence of the disadvantaged never connotes acceptance, only a submission that is the fate of the powerless.
Adam Smith could argue that government was not for:
In reading Adam Smith it seems that every theoretical proposal is qualified by a following practical caution. Thus selfishness both serves and disserves the public good; government should both restrain and not restrain the selfish propensity. There is no evaluation to reconcile the contradictions—only a faith (emphasizing the recommendation while distracting from the caution) that selfish propensity will be beneficial to the whole of society. Smith's argument is, in effect, that selfishness is a bad thing but its avarice will produce economic wealth, and despite its hoarding intention it will result in beneficial good to the community, however unintended ("trickle down"). The risk to the community, however, is that the intention to private power over the community would be achieved; such is the oligarchic world we live in. Of course, the free-market ideologues run full speed with Smith’s freedom of selfishness and ignore his reservations--because his reservations reveal their not so secret intentions. It is up to an enlightened democratic sensibility to impose the regulations of selfish Individualism that would honor Adam Smith’s reservations. Edmond Burke:
for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral
chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is
above their rapacity... Society cannot exist unless a controlling
power upon the will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less
of it there is within, the more there must be without...men of
intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters." (My emphasis).
It must be stated that one cannot know Adam Smith, and the “Wealth of Nations,” without also knowing his “Theory of Moral Sentiments", which Smith considered his major work. The latter contains many observations difficult to reconcile with an advocacy for a culture of competitive selfishness. A greater exposition of this point would be too much for this already lengthy argument. I will offer a few quotations, and leave it at that:
“…that to feel much for others and little for ourselves, that to restrain our selfish, and to indulge our benevolent affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature.” (Adam Smith; Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1:1:5).
"...how disagreeable does he appear to be, whose hard and obdurate heart feels for himself only, but is altogether insensible to the happiness or misery of others!" (ibid; 1:1:5).
“…that composure and tranquility of mind which is so necessary to happiness, and which is best promoted by the… passions of gratitude and love.” (Ibid; 1:2:3).
“Society may subsist, though not in the most comfortable state, without beneficence; but the prevalence of injustice must utterly destroy it." (Ibid; 2:2:3).
“To the intention or affection of the heart… all approbation or disapprobation… must ultimately belong.” (Ibid; 2:3: intro).
And so, the Wealth of Nations, published at the time of the great declaration of democratic equality, did not anticipate or recommend that equality. Social competition for individual and class advantage in a context of scarcity of the basic materials of well-being will someday, if mankind survives the amygdala's fear, become an anachronism. Yet, for Smith's time, competition for wealth was consistent with the historical reality of class inequality and the acceptance of unrepentant selfishness as the nature of man. Economics will continue to determine politics until the social injustice perpetuated by unregulated selfishness is no longer tolerated. It will then become time for the politics of justice to determine the economics of democratic equality; time for everyone to realize that great inequality of economic wealth is a violation of the American Declaration for equal and inalienable rights. As fear is our maker, a modicum of selfishness is understandable, and indeed inevitable, yet manageable so long as its reward is not great.
It is tempting to wonder if the true Adam Smith was revealed in The theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), while the Smith of selfish propensity (1776), some 17 years later, was the result of personal evolution, or enlistment as an intellectual mercenary in the pay of Classical Liberalism--a harbinger of the modern think tanker? Maybe the younger Smith was the idealist, less advanced in the world--youth untainted by expedience--and the older Smith more associated with, and accommodated to, status quo interests? (It would be fascinating to hear if he would think today that his invisible hand has served his moral sentiments). It would have been so easy to have advocated a certain freedom and reasonable incentive to the innovative and productive energies of a fair-minded self-interest, while at the same time proposing just restraints upon the ambitions of avarice, rather than risk the likelihood of its much intended consequences. Adam Smith preached moral sentiments, but he rewarded selfish propensity; he promised materialistic benefits, but sacrificed human character. He knew that men were not angels, but he concealed the moral reality with a mystical belief that avarice would aim at selfish ends and hit the common good. Within himself, Adam Smith represents the drama of human hypocrisy: the pursuit of personal Wealth and its attendant power, accompanied by flirtations with Moral Sentiments; praising the angel above while feeding the reptile within. The amygdala brain has discarded the sentiments--though not the pretension--and so easily avoids the violations of conscience, and the embarrassments of hypocrisy.
Adam Smith preceded Charles Darwin. Perhaps if they could have had a conversation, Smith would have understood he was engaging in social selection, and bestowing a continuation of the reptilian brain upon the future.
Smith's uncritical assumption of some original unequal appropriation about which
he found no purpose "in tracing further," and no
desire for himself to "determine the rightness of," resulted
in the justification and reinforcement of human selfishness, and acceptance (approval?) of
the unjust origins of property-based inequality. If Adam Smith could have found a rightful historical beginning to the unequal appropriation of Nature surely he would have announced it; his patrons would have been so pleased.
The philosophers and academics of previous times were in need of patrons. Academic freedom and tenured professorships are modern quasi-protections for the freedom of thought that did not exist in those earlier times. All works in the history of ideas must be read with an eye on the historical context: what the author dare not say, on the one side; and what he must say, on the other. Philosophy had to please its patronage. And often when it did not the philosopher suffered the consequence; self-preservation recommended not antagonizing those to whom one was vulnerable--still does. The political and religious persecution—and crucifixion—of truth seekers and justice seekers is the modus operandi of the ego-complex. Even today there is political reticence among scientists and academics--peer standing and academic reputation and research grants are effective inhibitors of intellectual risk-taking. Calling things what they are and standing for what one believes to be true and right, over what is personally safe or politically expedient or job securing, is the essence of intellectual independence and personal honor, but not always easy to display--an example of how economic dependency compromises the freedom of character and conscience.
Can a democratic people have a purpose and a determination to make new assumptions, and find new institutions that reward a better view of human nature? If one begins by removing Smith's assumption of land already privately appropriated, and his acceptance of social ranks, and instead begins with The Declaration's assertion of created equal and inalienable rights, a whole new economic regime would emerge. Natural self-interest would be honored, self-sufficiency and innovation would be rewarded, reasonable inequalities would accrue to merit, while sociopathic selfishness would no longer be encouraged or respected. The great fear of privileged elites is that the commoners will rediscover their natural rights and reclaim their liberty.
"Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it." (Abraham Lincoln, Oct. 16, 1854).
The essential notions that underlie our forms of inequality are: that selfish ego is natural and therefore its freedom justified; that private property is a freedom not subject to limitation by natural, or civil, law; that economic productivity requires human selfishness. All three propositions are false in fact, and are but ideological premises, precepts postulated to justify The Ideology of Selfishness. The real end of history will arrive when laissez-faire capitalism is fully regulated by democratic rather than individualist purposes; a democratic capitalism rather than a capitalist democracy. Then will be the beginning of a new history when the human brain will escape the formations of fear, no longer constrained and conditioned to social conflict, whereupon a true individualism will find a true freedom in the security given by a common and equal liberty and justice for all.
The special talent of selfishness is to make enemies where there might otherwise be friends. The future of humanity will need more friends.
Twenty four centuries ago Plato had argued that private property encouraged greed and social conflict: a case of a social institution selecting human character and behavior. Classical liberalism welcomed the greed, and honored it with "freedom"...And sent the serfs to wage the conflict!
The democratic principles that uphold the rights of Life and Liberty are our inheritance, defended and passed to us by prior sacrifices. Nothing outside of ourselves compels obedience and loyalty to the past, only when our sense of honor demands it from within; whereupon we embrace obligation and duty not because it profits us personally, but because it is payment for our debt. Every generation chooses its place in history by what it stands for... and what it stands against.
anyone reading this text may--or may not--have wondered to themselves where they
fall on the scale between ego and heart: Am I an egocentric conservative,
conformed to fear-driven beliefs and prejudices and selfish ambitions,
defending familiar and personally advantageous conditions, and resisting
change that would relieve the hardships of others? Or am I heart, upholding
principles of Right and Good, and struggling to live a compassionate and
conscientious life, my inner self compromised by the selfish and materialistic
values that success in the surrounding culture so often demands? Or am I mired
somewhere in between, short of both egoistic achievements and heart
Most of us, I suspect, find ourselves somewhere in the middle, struggling for security and hoping for abundance, yet knowing our hearts are longing for a liberty that would give us the freedom to express our better selves; a liberty from material insecurity and the compassion-killing competition for "success". I believe it is extremely important for our human future that the great democratic majority choose heart—that they stand up for the liberty of their inner selves from the insecurity based striving demanded by the Ideology of Selfishness; a liberty promised by the historical advance of democratic principle, and offered by the innovative and productive technologies of modern science. This will require that the public mind end its deference to the upper-class presumptions of selfish ego ,and recognize that the optimum condition for a peaceful human evolution is mutual security, not "freedom" for fear-driven ambitions.
During the last awakening of democratic populism, spurred by the desperation of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt offered these words in his State of the Union of 1935:
"We find our population suffering from old inequalities, little changed by past sporadic remedies. In spite of our efforts and in spite of our talk we have not weeded out the over privileged and we have not effectively lifted up the under privileged. Both of these manifestations of injustice have retarded happiness. No wise man has any intention of destroying what is known as the 'profit motive,' because by the profit motive we mean the right by work to earn a decent livelihood for ourselves and our families...
We have, however, a clear mandate from the people, that Americans must forswear that conception of the acquisition of wealth which, through excessive profits, creates undue private power over...public affairs. In building toward this end we do not destroy ambition...We continue to recognize the greater ability of some to earn more than others. But we do assert that the ambition of the individual to obtain for him and his a proper security, a reasonable leisure, and a decent living throughout life is an ambition to be preferred to the appetite for great wealth and great power...I place the security of the men, women, and children of the Nation first."
In the wake of the multi-decade conservative attack upon social liberal sensibilities it is time for the security of men, women, and children to finally be placed first. I have no doubt that a poll of the American people would show overwhelming support for President Roosevelt's statement: that the security of ordinary people is more important to the nation than the ambition of the selfish ego for private wealth and power. The problem is, private wealth and power control the political and economic instruments for making law and policy. Until aggressive selfishness is checked by an aggressive and unselfish democratic majority with a view of their common liberties the promise of democracy will remain words on a little regarded parchment. But can a revolution of awareness ever happen when "the wondering cheated multitude" select their rulers by the prominence of their celebrity rather than the truth of their ideas? Can the cheated multitude save democracy?
"If we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence, I predict that the dividing line will not be Mason's and Dixon's, but between patriotism and intelligence on one side, & superstition, ambition, & ignorance on the other." (President U.S. Grant, 1876).
The sea anchor that holds our course to the interests of the money elite is the ignorance and timidity that cannot see through the storms of fear, and the habits of compliance to the way things are. There is no inevitability to injustice. Only justice must be desired and demanded. But we are a materialistic culture, a people conditioned to a preference for immediate pleasures, uninformed of the past, and insufficiently thoughtful of the future. The nation's material success is also our illness—a satiated mind is no longer an inquiring mind, no longer fit for the discipline of learning, nor open to the wonderment that leads to discovery--of the outer world and one's inner self. Such a mind only seeks continuing amusements and ever more titillating entertainments. It does not thrill to the motto: "duty, honor, country." It thrills only to the prospect of gain, more amusements and greater excitements--stimulation of the brain's pleasure center... a determined desire for the emotions of pleasure to eclipse the emotions of fear.
How, then, do a whole people, burdened with systemic insecurity, seeking relief through "fun" and distraction, turn to considerations of Truth and human possibility to find the systemic remedies for their fears? History gives no answer, only the example of murdered prophets and unheeded prophesies.
To criticize the selfish ideology that rules America is not to criticize America.
America began as a declaration that common people could rule themselves through
a common allegiance to democratic rights and liberties, free of aristocratic
elites, and free of authoritarian dictates. America is the sea
to which all the dreams of freedom and liberty flow; including all the forsaken
dreams that fell on history's field of past oppressions—the dreams of freedom
not for selfish ego to gain domination, but for the liberty of heart from
unjust domination. Yet the culture of America succumbed to a selfish ideology
that defies human equality. We had come from the old world with fears that were
too deep; we saw opportunities that were too great; and felt compunctions that
were too faint. And so we enslaved Africans, exiled the Native Americans we did
not murder from the lands we coveted, and conspired foreign wars to gain
additional lands. We then killed each other in horrendous numbers over whether
those black people would remain slaves; and when they were freed from legal slavery
we watched as they were bonded again into a segregated and brutal
inferiority--for another one hundred years! And across the land in California
Native Americans were enslaved... and some exterminated for bounty. Our destiny was manifest: we would rob and murder our way
to becoming a great Nation, in the names of Freedom and Opportunity.
We had also landed on what would become the American shore as a people seeking religious and social freedom: liberty from religious persecution and social classification. But the formerly oppressed are easily intoxicated by new freedoms—being released from bondage without the inner restraints of practiced virtue they more readily mimic their former masters than renounce mastery. And so we imagined and believed the myths of "manifest destiny" and "exceptionalism", mythologizing a simple lust for appropriation, a presumption of entitlement to the possessions of others; celebrating our freedom by destroying the freedom and lives of others; hiding the truth only from ourselves--that our self-described "exceptionalism" was the self-deception of a sinful soul; the sins of greed and vanity (The seven deadly sins so well describe the selfish brain!).
We must then forswear and overcome the selfish individualism that has forestalled the great promise of common liberty, knowing that our fight is not against America; that we must stand for the principles that gave birth to America, lest we also fail her. For America was never only a people, or a land. America is an idea that history has pursued through countless struggles, and the lives of so many known and unknown patriots for the inalienable Rights of Man. The present generations of Americans have yet to carry that idea forward, because we are stuck in fear-driven competitions for individual security. And so a whole people can fail their country. Yet there are those—"libertarian" conservatives—who say there is no "country," that there are only living individuals with private desires; no transcendent purposes that oblige a concession of selfish concerns; no preceding sacrifices that command us to honor and give obedience to something other than ourselves. It is the ideology of selfishness we suffer, by which we have taken the greatest of human endowments—the capacity for self-improvement—and made it lesser... made it an obsession for self-indulgence.
Yet fairness demands that living Americans not
be condemned by the failures of past Americans. Only we must know that we do
not descend from gods; and that there never was a manifest destiny, no
exceptionalism, then, or now. Truth and Justice give exemption to no time and
no people, we are what we do, no matter what we say or claim about ourselves.
There will be no escaping historical judgment for what we ourselves stand for
in the present. The moral errors of our predecessors do not condemn us, but
ours will. "Ye shall know them by their fruits."
I have attempted to describe the primary elements of the ego-complex hypothesis--the idea that a genetically hyperactive amygdala drives brain development toward an aggressive and defensive selfishness that seeks economic and political dominion as a defense against its fears. It is the brain that has failed the democratic promise. And I have argued the economic and political consequences of the brain’s formation to fear; the most significant being that the ego-complex formation suppresses right-brain empathic sensibility, while enlisting left-brain cognitive and regulatory potential into complicity with its selfish designs. When fear predominates over the incipient brain the potential for empathic and moral sensibility recedes, perhaps never to be reclaimed. What then emerges is the ego-complex personality, or the myriad forms of escape and avoidance, stress and anxiety—these latter conditions the result of a mind that managed not to succumb to the evil of socioeconomic selfishness, yet could not emerge to stand fully and independently against it
so, the dynamic of exerted insecurity, the fearful soul suffered to exert
itself, unrestrained by moral conscience, underlies all aggressive and
insistent pursuits of domination and superior possession, culturally acceptable
and unacceptable, legal and illegal. The sociopath performs his compulsions
according to his talents-- and opportunities.
The tragic and summary conclusion is that this brain deficiency—the failure of the prefrontal cortex to supervise the amygdala is an evolutionarily regressive formation that is reinforced by the social arrangements of neoliberalism--the material reward of selfishness. We are not only stuck in our evolutionary development, we are pulling ourselves backwards, withdrawing from the possibility of further evolution--the ultimate sin against the gift of creation. The whole history of the human struggle for freedom has been a drama pitting the right brain’s dream of liberty from ego-complex regimes of control and domination. Humanity has allowed its left brain capacity for reason to be captured away from integration with right brain sensibility into a sociopathic obsession with superiority as the means to survival, leaving the undeveloped right brain born yet unborn, hatched yet not released fully into life—without wings we only wander a world without sky.
The purpose of this treatise has been to define the source of human conflict, to describe its neurological, behavioral and systemic pathways--amygdala dominated neural development, aggressively selfish behavior, and economic forms that reinforce selfishness and perpetuate inequality--and to point toward a more hope-filled future. Getting there involves pragmatic modification of incentives, experimentation with alternative economic forms, and a revolution in education, teaching not what to think but how to think; predicated on the principle that present understanding is always contingent on future discovery.
The ideas that make up the needed vision need not be derived from old or new doctrines. We need no external theories, no foreign beliefs. We have had for over two hundred years in our own founding documents the most glorious and revolutionary thoughts ever written. Though forestalled, America’s founding principles of equal creation and inalienable rights are our guides.
As we learned from Thomas Paine, “forms
grow out of principles.” Our founding principles of created equal
and inalienable rights have not dictated our economic forms, we do not do as
our origin proclaimed. We are, rather, a society formed by the
reward of selfishness.
So we must know our principles and embrace their implications: that the right to life requires the support of life; that the health of the natural environment is necessary to our survival, and its care a duty before creation; that a nation’s natural resources belong to all of its citizens; that corporate production should serve common wealth not private wealth—the charter of corporations as well as government should be for common purposes, not individual; that technology be viewed as a means for increasing the goods of general well-being and not as a means for reducing costs so as to increase private profits; public financing of all political campaigns; ending party identifications for political candidates so that all candidates, not just members of private political monopolies, can present their ideas to the electorate; increased transparency and oversight of governmental and corporate operations; national reaffirmation that the first purpose of government is the physical and economic security of all individuals; a major shifting of economic incentives and an application of wealth toward social infrastructure through changes in tax law--from the fortresses of unjust privilege to socially indispensable programs such as national debt reduction, universal higher education, scientific research; and a program of early childhood education that accords with what neuroscience knows about the developmental requirements of the infant brain; the rehabilitation of the population's mental and physical health through less stress and anxiety; and perhaps most urgently, a world-wide treaty for the phased elimination of military establishments--so we can build machines of peace instead of war (The very existence of an army is a testament to human failure). But the key to it all is security: protecting the human brain from the myriad debilitations of fear. This can be done through the emergence of Fundamental Democracy, where the economy is made for people, not people for the economy (To value human beings by market demand is to pay professional athletes $20 million a year while leaving millions of children imprisoned in poverty, unvalued by the larger community, uneducated, uninspired, and robbed of rightful prospects, trapped in environments that immediately dwarf their neurological possibilities; a beginning to life that constrains so many to unrealized lives. Such is a horrendous failure to uphold the natural rights of life).
It is not assumed here that such a transformation would be easy, only that it is essential. And I can imagine no greater adventure than the transformation of the destructive patterns of human history, formed out of fear and alterable by the environmental remediation of fear. Yet, as we have seen throughout this text, change is among the amygdala’s great fears. Nature gave us fear only that we might survive. But from the opening paragraph we see that survival is only the first step of evolution, that life exists to thrive and become, not to be devoured by fear. Thus to evolve for the better we must live in an environment that supports what is better. So the question is: can we agree to evolve beyond the reptilian brain? Will we embrace universal security as an implicit requirement of the inalienable right to life, or will we insist on the freedom of individual opportunity to continue the game of domination, one over the other?
Arguments for truth are not in themselves political. They are not opposed to any person or community, they are opposed to falsehoods. Those who are defensive against the probings of Truth have found safety and benefit in falsehood. Truth is found through the archaeology of curiosity, guided by intuition; by a wondering mind not bound or limited by preconception. We find truth in humility and in gratitude that we are privileged with the ability to wonder, the curiosity to explore, the vision to inspire effort... and the sensibility and courage to dissent from the prescriptions of others. Yet we may never grasp the ultimate truth directly, with our eye clearly upon it. We may only find intermediate truths by eliminating one at a time the errors and falsehoods by which we have lived our lives; we may only find truth through the failure and exhaustion of our certainties. But that is all that progress requires, that we always step beyond our failed certainties, that the journey to become never ends. Yet in giving our best we must know that the consequences that fate imposes give no consideration to our efforts or the intentions of goodwill. Success is never a promise; the effort made is our legacy. We have come from the past into the present. And the present is not long--only a moment rushing in from the future, falling instantly into the past. But it is only in this ever-moving, immeasurable moment that we have the freedom to choose. Our choice is between faith in the heart’s compassion or the fears of the amygdala. Our choice will be our future; and it will be our children's future, until they rise and choose for themselves.
There is great talent in America, great scientific knowledge and technological capability. What is needed is an ideology of justice and a true freedom resting on a secured liberty of life, to replace the ideology of selfishness—a vision that offers a path to fulfillment as well as security. We have a duty to the past to advance what was given us. And we have a duty to the future to correct the course of the present. If we can change ourselves, if we can repent of our submission to the amygdala’s fear and free ourselves from selfishness, we can pass unlimited promises to the future. But to express our freedom we must know that history and tradition are advisory, not prescriptive. The past must never be allowed to compel the present. The social forms made in the past were made for the past and do not bind us, except as we renew our allegiance. It is the self-evident truths and principles of our founding as a nation that must be our guide. And the human heart that first inspired those principles must be free to alter the forms and institutions that no longer serve them--or never served them!
"Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it." (Abraham Lincoln, Oct. 16, 1854).
Life is an exercise, like the repetitious lifting of a weight to build muscle. Thus all thought and action are good or evil, useful or harmful, according to the life they build. It is not the sensation in the moment--the fun or pleasure or profit--that is the ultimate value of the thought or act, but the state of life and mind for which it is a practice toward becoming. To always seek the easy amusement or satisfaction or profit of the egocentric moment is often to forgo the efforts that build possibilities. When we practice selfishness we stoke and prolong the reptilian nightmare within ourselves. If we would try friendship and compassion and mutual security we would free the human brain from fear; and then we could build a place where dreams do come true. It would be a great people who did that for their children.
(A personal anecdote: Back in my college days I worked a night job. There was a fellow there a few years older that I became workplace friends with who was very conservative in his views. He had just started college. I remarked one evening that in pursuing an education his views were likely to change. I wasn't being especially serious, just joking. But his response was serious, and I'll never forget it. He said, "If I start to change what I believe I'll quit school." It may be that my wonderment about the human brain began at that moment. What could make someone so dependent on fixed beliefs, and so afraid of new knowledge that might challenge those beliefs? Is there a state of mind for which truth is an enemy? Yes, a brain filled with fear relieving conceptions, for which truth is danger pounding on the door.)
Finally, by appeal to personal privilege I grant myself one last repetition:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?
(William Wordsworth, Ode on Intimations...)
Community salvation will require the heart of the whole people to find a common voice, and speak their own prophesy for the renewal of democracy, and the resurrection of the better angel. It should begin in America, where the cry for common liberty was raised by a common man:
"We have it in our power to begin the world over again." (Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776).
"Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain." (John Adams).
Grudging praise is perhaps the greatest praise... for it means Reason's acknowledgement has overcome Emotion's reluctance.
A hypothesis is not a proclamation. It is a proposition composed of stated principles, apparent facts and logical inferences, subject to confirmation and refutation. Among creatures so capable of fallacy only Truth can have the final word... however delayed its arrival. For Man is not the measure of Truth; it is He who is measured.
The pervading purpose of this hypothesis has been to understand the reactionary conservative brain: what it is and why it is... why its resistance to human equality, why its moral indifference to unfairness, its inattention to the mental disruption of disadvantaged children, why its greed for social privilege, why its preference for mystical beliefs over scientific facts.? And why its hate for a government whose purpose is to secure the inalienable rights of life? The argument here is the conservative brain is more extreme in its intents because it is compelled by the emotions of threat to its survival. Liberality, seeking change in the name of progress and justice looks to the conservative amygdala like an attack of the body snatchers; hence the demonizing of "liberals" and "do-gooders" and "bleeding hearts."
The criticism of conservative psychology is not a criticism of what is considered conservative philosophy--the upholding of values and principles--except as those values and principles presume to justify and preserve the accomplishments of unjust ambitions.
The human brain remains a largely unknown universe. The implications of the Democracy Covenant are not. And the cause could not be higher: humanity needs a future that does not mirror its past. Which means, overcoming the reptilian brain.
This effort is dedicated to all those who have hearts mightier than their egos, and who have personally experienced that giving is the greatest gain we can give to ourselves; and offered with patience to all those who are discomforted by implications.
This author is forever humbled before the
giants of human thought by whom he is partially informed. High among them is
Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense and other writings that
empowered American Independence, and the cause for the rights of common
humanity. Paine was an Englishman newcomer to America, arriving in 1774. Common
Sense was first published in January 1776, six months before The
Declaration. The pamphlet was purchased by 20% of the colonial population in
1776. In contemporary America's population that is equivalent to 66 million
copies. Undoubtedly, when it was inquired who he was, he wrote this:
The focus on messengers aids in the avoidance of messages. No idea was ever true, or false, because of who said it.