November 16, 2010

WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND IT IS US — (Pogo comic strip by Walt Kelly, 1913-73)   

The last election revealed a country divided against itself with no vision of how to pull together. One group wants to level the economic playing field to create greater opportunity for all and sees government as the tool. The second wants to preserve personal freedoms and the rugged individualism that has always served the nation well. Both goals are admirable and reconcilable, so why must each faction demonize the other?

Unquestionably, the recent economic crisis has awakened our fears and a natural response is to seek safety in like minds. The danger lies is in becoming too righteous, however. Evil loves nothing more than a good cause.

I often wonder why anger is the common face of fear.  Part of the answer lies in A General Theory of Love,” a book by three doctors, Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon. Their subject is the historical development of the human brain. The reptilian mind is the oldest of three parts. It sits atop our spinal cord and controls bodily functions and the elemental seeds of emotions. Later, the limbic brain developed and overlaid the reptilian one. It collects sensory information and sends messages to the conscious as well as unconscious parts of our brain. The last layer to develop was the neocortical where the ability form abstractions take place.

Because each layer developed independently, cross communication is inefficient.  Reason often seems powerless against our older, emotional responses. We know what we must to do to lose weight, for example, but lack the will to refuse a hot fudge sundae.    

Until the three parts of our brain form stronger connections, our primitive responses will act first when we feel threatened. That serves us well in a fight or flight situation, but the average American seldom experiences that need in an urban world.   

Perhaps we can dampen our urge to vilify those we oppose by pausing to remember that as humans we have more than fear in common. We have honor, courage and compassion as well.