The Century of the Amygdala

Self over system



TUCSON (A-P) — The 2002 BBC series, 'The Century of the Self', looks at USA and UK socio-political developments in the 20th century. Although narrowly focused, it is a rare source of big-picture thinking. Most humans in industrial society are like moths, enthusiastically beating themselves against the glowing lights of current events, attracted to the latest buzz, who merely addle themselves consuming the flickering glow of 'news'.

Those who 'can actually think more than a decade ahead' can also think more than a decade behind the what's-a-happening flicker. Indeed, the present cannot be understood outside the context of the past decade, century, and millennium which can be little understood without reference to the millennia that preceded the current one, and no socio-political history of one nation-state or tribe can be understood apart from the history of all socio-political SYSTEMs whose histories we have scant knowledge of.

Since only humans develop complex societies of interest to most humans, the history of humans, their past seven thousands years or so as recorded in words and artifacts, cannot be understood apart from their prehistory of the past three hundred thousand years. No one species can be understood apart from the species that preceded it and lived in relationship with them and their environment. The natural history of hominidae is entirely relevant. Humans can hope for little understanding of themselves apart from the history of life on Earth.

The Century of the Self is a focused history of primate prattle in two social sub-systems of the Euro-Sino Empire in the 20th century. For a better view, add the history of intelligentsia certitudes as told by those whose mere eloquence serve the sub-SYSTEMs of all nation-states, corporations, and political and religious control sub-SYSTEMs. Recent history of the two societies most English speakers live in should be of interest even though only one century is covered. The 21st century is mostly more of the same with details altered. If updated, add Britexit and assorted wars. The political narratives change, but all for/against views compete to serve elite interests or would-be elite interests. It's primate paddle all the way down, but I repeat myself.

The series emphasizes the service provided by Sigmund Freud, his followers (psychoanalysts) and family, and Edward Bernay (perhaps the most influential person in the 20th century that almost no one has heard of). Yes, there are other persons of interest, some not mentioned, and some issues are not mentioned. Issues such as population control, per capita consumption, limits to growth, the unsustainability of industrial society.... are not mentioned, but then those within industrial society largely ignored or marginalized such issues, so a history of 20th century prattle may understandably neglect to mention collective non-concerns.

The 'self' that the SYSTEM came to pander to, both business and politics-as-usual, is not the 'self' Buddha denied, but the 'self' in self-interest. During the exuberance of growth, e.g. the past three hundred years of growth of technoindustrial society, self-interest is rewarded. Empire building societies, during their expansion period, thrive on growth for its own sake, and both elites and commoners are enthusiastic consumers of resources taken from the environment or other humans who fail to defend themselves. Competition prevails over cooperation. What is regarded as 'human nature' differs among humans engaged in growth/acquisition that empowers empire building. What is natural and normal (as perceived and normalized for a time) within industrial society is foundationally aberrant among those living the sustainable life within Nature or a properly managed agro-ecosystem, e.g. Colombians (et al.) vs Kogi.

What works for empire building is competitive alpha male amygdala-driven atavisums. Social control SYSTEMs pander to the collective reptile-brain concerns. The amygdala has the ability, adaptive on the savvana, to hijack the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Arrosing the rabble of our collective amygdala is what works in complex systems where individuals number in the hundreds, thousands, millions, and for a time in the billions. Mass movements, political factions, religious sects arise spontaniously with a little help from clever apes with 'solutions' or offering 'salvation'.

Humans are the most cooperative primate. Cooperation between members of communities of 20 to 50 individuals who venture away from climbable trees, who share a life-driven purpose, is what worked among hominids. In large masses, only common demominators can be manipulated. What we have in common are amygdalas that work pretty much the same in all. Beliefs divide and vary irreconsilably. Shared believe can work for a time, but self-interest is more constant. Turning citizens into consumers worked better. All consumers can support a consumer-is-king narrative. Some may enjoy consuming Reverand Billy's 'Stop Shopping Choir' offerings, buy his book, then go shopping. Humans, by nature, don't have beliefs in common. Human's have amygdalas in common. Since competitive self-interest is what is selected for during growth, it is not surprising that the selfish intests of all self-organized the SYSTEM in the 20th century. That trust-based cooperation is what works during descent and steady-state lliving, is the inconvient truth industrial humans need to adapt to, or do the chaotic collapse thing as usual.


Part 1: Happiness-Machines.


Part 2: The Engineering of Consent.


Part 3: There is Policeman Inside all our Heads - He Must Be Destroyed.


Part 4: Eight People Sipping Wine.


And don't stop with scattered 20th century fragments flying in the leptonic breeze. Video is good for images of the recent past, but for words, words, words..., start with Wikipedia boiled down as reading it all is not an option and merely referencing points of current self-interest as you feel like it will have a questionable outcome.



A related video from a 2007 conference, 'Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0, includes high value information. Enlightenment 1.0 emphasized a two foundation moral reasoning narrative that focused on fairness and not doing harm. Be fair, not too dishonest, and don't hurt anyone, then you, qua individuals, can do whatever: engage in any consensual sex, have your tonge split snake-like, do recreational drugs, burn flags, have an abortion, euthanize yourself or a pet, use a Baby Jesus Butt Plug if you feel like it...since no one [no other human] with the possible exception of yourself is harmed or cheated. Maybe 98% of scientists are social liberals (and inecolate?), and all liberals subscribe to the two-foundation moral concerns domain which is foundational to the consumer-is-king century of self narrative that enabled economic growth. Liberals favor personal 'freedom' to do what they want if it doesn't hurt anyone unjustly in the short-term (pre-collapse of SYSTEM). Conservatives love social order and personal material gain (openly). Both love growth (some more openly than others). Some love to obfuscate and believe in sustainable 'growth' which is to say more eloquently 'qualitative development' when understood properly (or not).

Most humans, all 'traditional', 'normal' people throughout history and most non-Westernized cultures today, have a five-foundation moral system:

1. Don't HARM anyone, CARE about others by respecting their RIGHTS
2. Be FAIR and JUST to other individuals.
3. Ingroup/loyalty, social cohesion and cooperation
4. Authority/respect/deference to 'higher' powers
5. Purity/sanctity, shared values

Liberal types champion the first two that relate to individual 'freedom' of expression and 'right' to do as individuals want (if fair and no intentional harm done), and the very conservative in Western society equally value all five foundations of morality. The last three relate to keeping the group together as a coherent, trusting, cooperative entity. Organized religion and political control systems as institutions focus on all five areas of moral concern. Liberals mistrust 'institutions' and celebrate subversion of them, sacrilegiously if possible, as cheerleaders of Self. Conservatives in Western societies also value individual freedom to consume and celebrate their right to extract wealth and profit as reward for their clever ape machinations and entrepreneurial talents. The liberal/conservitive spectrum in Western/Westernized societies (e.g. China, India) defines Euro-Sino Business-as-usual empire building.

When the revolution comes, when a Naturocracy is established, both sides and the middle of the Euro-Sino political spectrum will become of historical interest. Is Nature a 'higher power'? Some shared values may be toxic, but all? Do complex societies that actually work long-term evolve trust and cohersive cooperation? The Left/Right Culture War in the West has been to see who can grow the economy the fastest, and the conservatives have prevailed. Upper-middle class liberal elites can but sip their lattès and talk about racism. During descent, all political-spectrum growther 'solutions' will be maladaptive.

Doubt even [especially] thyself.


Some notes:

How trustworthy is moral reasoning?
Enlightenment 1.0: Very, our only hope, weakness must be overcome.
Enlightenment 2.0: Not very, mind is intuitive, reasoning comes afterwards.

What is the domain of morality?
Enlightenment 1.0: Narrow: about harm and fairness.
Enlightenment 2.0: Variable: usually also about "moral-communal capital"

Is religion an evolutionary adaptation?
Enlightenment 1.0: Long debate, focus on individual level, most say no, by product.
Enlightenment 2.0: Yes, in part, for creating moral communities.

Kohlberg's rationalism: early childhood--no morality, egocentrism, children come to reason about morality.
Now, more intuitionist, passion/sentiment/intuition, two-cognition, pattern vs reason, from affective to judgment to reasoning.

David Hume, 1739, "We speak not strictly and philosophically when we talk of the combat of passion and of reason, Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them."

E.O. Wilson, 1975, "Ethical [moral] philosophers intuit the deontological canons of morality by consulting the emotive centers of their own hypothalamic-limbic system. This is also true of the developmentalists [e.g. Kohlberg], even when they are being their most severely objective. Only by interpreting the activity of the emotive centers as a biological adaptation can the meaning of the canons be deciphered."

Evidence for intuitionism

a. Motivated reasoning: conclusions strongly affected by relatedness and coherence motives (Kuhn, Kunda, Ross, Baumeister...)
b. Post-Hockery: We can't stop our 'inner lawyer' from constructing a case using a-priori causal and moral theories (Gazzaniga, Nisbet & Wilson, Wheatley & Haidt)
c. Intuitive primacy: intuitions and emotions predict action and judgment well, usually better than does reasoning (Cleckley, Damasso, Haidt, Greene, Hauser)

Moral Dumbfounding

1. Moral reasoning: Heinz dilemma
2. Harmless taboo, Consensual adult sibling incest
3. Harmless taboo: Cannibalism of unclaimed corpse
4. Disgust dumbfounding: Sterile cockroach in juice.
5. Superstitious dumbfounding: Selling your soul.

Key question: Do P's [hu-mans] behave like scientists searching for truth, or like lawyers searching for justifications?

Elliott, student of Kohlberg, what is the domain of morality? "prescriptive judgments of justice, rights, and welfare pertaining to how people ought to relate to each other." Harm/Care and Fairness/Justice

Alternative definition: Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, practices, institutions, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible.

There are 2 general approaches....

We cosmopolitan liberals live in Atom-World, created by post-enlightenment forces of modernity.

You can do what you want.
1. just don't HARM anyone, and
2. be FAIR to other individuals.

But people traditionally lived in Lattice-World [Lattice Land].

Groups/institutions exist and are primary
Morality is broader than we think, includes foundations of

3. Ingroup/loyalty
4. Authority/respect/deference
5. Purity/sanctity

In a 2-foundation moral world, anything goes! e.g. sex, tongue splitting, drug use, burn flag, abortion, euthanasia, Baby Jesus Butt Plug....

Morality 2.0 sees moral domain as broader and variable

Descriptively most people differ from us 2-foundation scientists
Politically most people don't want to live in our world of freedom, individualism, atomism, utilitarianism
Normatively they could be wrong, primitive, deluded by fear and 'system justification' mechanisms, but...
Morality blinds partisans as it binds them together
We scientists and liberals are in conflict with 'them'
We must expect our reasoning to be motivated by relatedness and coherence motives

Is religion an evolutionary adaptation?
If so, its adaptiveness is most likely seen at group level.
Major transitions happen when competition at one level is suppressed; 'superorganism' emerges and out-competes less coherent cooperative groups.
Religion is well suited (though not uniquely qualified) to play this role

Anomie: a condition or malaise, in individuals, characterized by an absence or diminution of standards or values.

Social capital: social networks and the associated norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness.

Social capital needs a surround, moral-communal capital: Social capital, plus institutions, traditions, and norms that guarantee that contributions and hard work will be rewarded, and that free-riders, exploiters, and criminals will be punished.

Factors that increase MCC:

Group is fundamental source of values
Emphasize similarity, shared traditions
Authoritarian or Authoritative parenting
Moral imperative to punish
Emphasis on duties, not rights
Ethos of support for authority and local institutions

If you think the individual is the fundamental source of value, you celebrate diversity and tolerance, and you thereby increase anomy and decrease MCC, diversity makes people pull in, not trust each other,

Morality 2.0 transcends hostility to religion
Understand the value of moral-communal capital: it has many positive effects on well-being (plus some negatives)

Understand that religion is in large part about the creation of MCC.

Be open to the possibility that religion is an adaptation for creating MCC, a social hive, and that the co-evolution of religious practices and religious minds pulled humans through a major transition and made civilization [complex society] possible [for a time].



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