Fear, the Lizard Brain, and the 2018 Midterm Elections

It's vital that our human brain control our voting choices

Posted Nov 05, 2018

 Pexels photo, used with permission
Source: Pexels photo, used with permission

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
--Marie Curie

Two days away from the midterm elections in America, the words of the co-discoverer of radioactivity ring strongly in the human part of this writer's brain.

For the primary element that seems to be driving people's political choices in the 2018 elections seems to be fear. Fear, on the left, of rabid, violent, racist conservatives whose only thought is to make guns available to everyone and eliminate a woman's right to choose: fear of terror-minded immigrant rapists, of atheistic socialists determined to slide America down the path of state control and communism, on the right.

George Soros and the liberal-Jewish cabal, versus Steve Bannon and the neo-fascist conspiracy. I know people, good, intelligent people on both sides of the political spectrum, who passionately believe in these chimera, and never stop to take the time to examine the facts beneath.

Because none of these extreme views are accurate. All are based on fear. And being fear-based, they are powerful, because they crawl out of the lizard part of our brain--the part that tends to gain the upper hand in stressful situations, when time to think is limited.

Our brain, like Caesar's Gaul, is divided into three parts: the human part, the pre-frontal cortex in which conscious reasoning happens; the horse area, known sometimes as the limbic system, which includes the hippocampus and is where some of our more complex emotions evolve; and the reptile area, basically the brain stem and cerebellum.

This last area (with some input from the horse brain) generates the powerful urges, such as instant gratification, lust, aggression, survival, the fight-or-flight reflex. Here is where reflexive fear finds a home.

Reflexive fear is the emotion triggered by terms like "socialistic," "neo-fascist," "immigrant invasion," "racist." While the concepts behind these "dog-whistle" terms might be worth exploring as part of an impartial investigation of diverse elements of US society, as epithets, tag-lines, or rallying-cries in a stump speech they are not only inaccurate, but highly dangerous.

What we call human behavior is a balance between the three centers of our brain: the normal drives to compete, survive and reproduce tempered by a conscious, educated awareness that happiness can best be achieved through understanding how we and our world work, and fitting our lizard drives into a social structure that promotes such understanding.

Understanding means original thought, which also implies a three-part process: Time-out, for shutting off preconceived notions and fears; ideation, or the process of researching our environment and coming up with new insights into how it works and how best to live in it; and testing, in order to finally put those insights to work.

What makes lizard reflexes so attractive is that they happen instantaneously and without effort. What makes real thought so hard is that it takes energy and time to go through this process. We don't have much time left before Nov. 6th for such a balanced, all-inclusive,  process to happen; but there is still a chance, on the individual level, for undecided voters to shut off the noise, and spend a couple of hours looking independently into the issues; taking time to understand more, and think more, and vote down the candidates who bait the reptile in all of us.