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May 11, 2011

Blame it on the Brain

We humans are a unique mammalian species. Gifted through what is now (grudgingly) conceded to be “Darwinian” evolution with unique brains; we have cooperated in scientific endeavors to accumulate and exploit new information at an astonishing rate.

Sadly, because of dense connections that have been retained between its separately evolving emotional and cognitive centers, our marvelous brains exhibit a flaw that now threatens the entire species. Beyond inspiring love, art, poetry, and music, our emotional centers also impel our most destructive impulses; lust, fear, and rage. Thus every early human civilization we’ve yet been able to study contains evidence, either implicit or explicit, of assault, murder and/or the systematic victimization of others for profit.

In general, such impulses, when endorsed by governments or religions, have to be justified as in the best interests of the group itself or humanity in general; most often on the basis of shared values or beliefs. World War Two, which included the mass murder of civilians by both winners and losers under color of the need to survive, may be the most extreme recent example. However, equally murderous local wars have been fought almost continuously somewhere in the world ever since 1945. For an increasingly imperial US, the fading communist threat after the Cold War was not accompanied by a “peace dividend” as hoped; rather it led somewhat unexpectedly to an old fashioned religious war justified by a typically cynical misrepresentation of basic facts. The results have been a protracted misadventure in South Asia, the avoidable deaths of tens (or hundreds) of thousands and a global financial crisis. Beyond those calamities are two pending threats: the probable disruption of long established climatic patterns and, ironically, a critical shortage of the fossil fuels thought to be responsible most responsible.

Needless to say, the many special interests with a stake in how these issues will be addressed are also in profound disagreement over the details; a situation that threatens cooperative human behavior at a time the stakes may never have been higher.

One of the reasons for my heightened interest in such issues is that the passage of Proposition 215 in California in 1996 provided me with a completely unexpected opportunity to study a population of humans in which the same destructive impulses mentioned earlier had clearly been unintentionally fostered during childhood but had been suppressed effectively through use of a safe herbal medicine- which through a series of almost diabolical misadventures- has been (and still is) also being prohibited with religious fervor on the basis of an illogical drug policy that’s so willfully ignorant of basic facts and bereft compassion as to be criminally culpable.

In fact, the parallels between our most recent overseas wars and the invidious war on drugs are truly uncanny...

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at May 11, 2011 07:41 PM