Timeless Dream, A Promise Broken:
Copyright: 2015-2023, Ronald Joseph Fields qua Citizen
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The Amygdala Hypothesis
American democracy has not secured the unalienable 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, preventing 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 economy of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. The word "liberal" as understood politically--and morally--implies equality and justice, and the regulation of classical liberal economic "freedom" to achieve politically liberal outcomes--a democracy of justice and equality for all. Thus the freedom of liberal economics (neoliberalism, capitalism) is antithetical to the freedom of liberal politics (democracy). The former uses freedom to achieve class inequality; the latter promises democratic equality.
*(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 primal emotions by rationalizing justifications and expedient strategies for selfish behavior--persistent patterns of deceit and hypocrisy--rather than providing reasoned restraint and guidance based on truth and ethical principles.)
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 tools of "success." 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 cardinal vices are given freedom alongside the virtues of innocence and good faith, resulting in a social hierarchy replete at the top with diminished human character. Neoliberalism is the practice that repeals democracy's promise.
"...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 (inciteful and disinforming speech, subversive wealth and power). 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--legal pathways and practices and corporate structures--that facilitate and obscure 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 circumvent 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 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!). (Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Harvard, 8 June 1978) (parenthesis in original).
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 goods 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 both 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 violent conflict 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 has better survived through cooperation and sympathy with others, a truth thus affirmed by natural selection; but unacknowledged by the selfish brain. 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 and sentiments 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 unregulated freedom--dismissal of obligation, and indifference to unjust and harmful consequences. 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:
"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).
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 minimal 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).
"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 harmfully 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.
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 justify 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, 1931, 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 within a given environment 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 to "promote the general welfare."
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.
“…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--defensive fear has become offensive fear--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.
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.
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 remorse in the emotional workings of the selfish brain.
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 is to sacrifice the possibility of a better world.
Democracy's ideals are not impossibilities; it is reality that declines to achieve the possible... so far. We are early in Homo sapiens evolution; we may reasonably expect the neocortex to eventually overrule the amygdala’s primal fears; though expectation 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.
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 and mind 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--common in his beginnings, foremost in his destiny.
"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 dangers 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 evolution. 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 memories of fear--the evolutionary recording of what has threatened survival in the past. Among these recorded threats are known predators, and sudden or unfamiliar 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 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.
As the infant brain enters the birth environment it begins a learning process through an initial sense of comfort or discomfort with its surroundings... whether to smile or cry. The new brain must assess where it is and what it must do to survive. 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 informing itself by discovering and performing successful responses to significant stimuli, and then remembering the results 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; it is programming itself by adapting to the surrounding conditions. Consciousness is awareness after the fact, it is not the cause. 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.
As this newly arrived infant brain is being formed by genetic instruction--neurons marching to their prescribed destinations--it will also be influenced by its experience of the new environment, adapting its neural formations and connections in response to external signals... experience is dictating the brain's architecture and installing cultural and tribal beliefs, which are credible and determining because the prefrontal cortex is in the process of forming and lacks the functional independence, the logical and critical capability, and even the conscious awareness to mediate them. The infant brain cannot reject or alter its environment. And so, before the brain/mind ever gains some selective control of its experiences it is formed by them--whoever it is that we are becoming is not by our choice.
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.
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.
Because of less than perfect childhood environments almost all of us are less than what we might 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 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 world, is it too much to
suppose that we can improve ourselves? And be less fearful of the changes
But there remains is a question deep within the brain, a fork in the
neural road: would reason assist the fear 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 fear-based desires, rationalizing
aggressive beliefs and behaviors in defense against perceived threats, forming the conservative brain. Politics is the battleground between reason as enabler and reason as moral self-restraint--abetting or restraining the
freedom of socioeconomic selfishness. The choice of classical liberalism was
the freedom of selfishness.
The struggle between the fear emotions and moral reason for control of the prefrontal cortex generally mirrors Freud's id and superego... with ego being the resolution--the personality that emerges into the world.
"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 that manifest as a relentless greed, enlisting the frontal cortex's strategic intelligence to achieve social advantage. Social evolution is being driven by the incitement and reward of selfishness through "success" at economic competition, selecting selfish traits and discouraging unselfishness.
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 unalienable rights is to limit
the freedom of power, public and
private. Remember, liberty is the human rights that protect 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 mutations 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 prejudicially conditioned, 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
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
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; the id from the superego. 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--rule by a wealthy class. Democratic principles and the rights of man were overshadowed by individual freedom and opportunity. Liberty’s rights of all was sacrificed to a freedom destined to serve the desires of a few.
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.
(Brain studies (fMRI) have shown 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 and 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 and violence, 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. 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!"
Evolution involves 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 continue 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 predator?
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 86-100 billion neurons, 100 trillion synapses. But the principal 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 happened 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? 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?
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 of psychological oppressions.. 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 might 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.
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... and dreams of possibility.
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 our fears rather than knowledge that expands our 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 environment can 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.
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.
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, 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!
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.
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
This effort is dedicated to all those who have hearts mightier than their egos, and who have personally experienced that giving is the greatest gift 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 mostly 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. (Thomas Paine donated the royalties from Common Sense to George Washington's Continental Army). When it was inquired who he was, he wrote this:
"Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the Doctrine itself, not the Man. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That he is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and Principle."(Philadelphia, February 14, 1776).
The focus on messengers aids in the avoidance of messages. No idea was ever true, or false, because of who said it.