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All We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself.

    The title of this essay may provide an epithet that is aesthetically pleasant but I suspect it to be inaccurate. Would we now be alive to invent such philosophical rhetoric had our distant ancestors not possessed a degree of fear sufficient to ensure their continued survival? For instance, bereft of a significant fear of poisonous reptiles, how many more early members of humankind would have bitten by snakes or eaten by giant lizards such as the progenitors of the Komodo Dragon of Indonesia? I mention reptiles with justifiable cause: I possess a passion for this genus of the animal kingdom, especially lizards. I am aware that I am among a tiny minority of homo-sapiens who share this adoration for our cold blooded brethren.

    It is believed, with a probability factor that exhibits a formidably safe margin of error, that all the great reptiles of the dinosaur family had become extinct long before the earliest progenitors of humanity appeared on our planet; there is sufficient evidence to support this, after all. The most recent dinosaur fossil is dated at 60 million years ago; the family of man (although not the genus Homo) is some 20 million years old.

    However, a colleague of mine once intrigued me with a proposition: if there were maybe a few very late dinosaur members that, by some strange accident of geography perhaps, had managed to evade the mass extinction of this species at the final stage of the Cretaceous period, could not a fear of these beasts have been instilled into the DNA code of our earliest ancestors? Further, could we not suggest that our fears are perhaps intimately linked to our dreams? I said this was absurd. However, let us first consider the nature and possible function of dreams.

    One theory holds that dreams are the means by which our brains gradually wake us up to check whether or not any predator is about to eat us. My chief objection to this idea is that dreams occupy a relatively small portion of our sleep time while a further complication arises from the fact that it tends to be the mammalian predators rather than the mammalian prey who experience dream-filled sleep, at least at the present time.

    Another theory posits dreams to be a buffer zone by which recent incidents are filed from the unconscious processing of events of the day while few people dream about what happened the previous week. While this model is more compelling, it falls short of a complete explanation since it cannot account for the disguises so characteristic of symbolic language in dreams; it also fails to supply a reason for the strong emotional impact of many dreams, as is revealed, for instance, in that many people have been more frightened by events that have occurred in dreams than by those that have happened in reality. A cogent fact must also be added to any model to explain the purpose (if such a purpose exists) of dreams: individuals who are born blind only ever experience auditory, not visual, dreams.

    The human brain has evolved - in a manner which is quite bizarre - into what is clearly a triune system of stages that reflect ancestral improvements over long vistas of time. However, rather than replace one brain-type with a superior model, the old model is retained and a further addition is developed over and around the original. This process has been repeated a second time to give us the three basic components of the human brain: the R-Complex, the Limbic System and the Neocortex. In this way, the deep and ancient segments of our brains continue to function; these segments were necessary and useful 40,000 years ago but, in most respects, are probably quite superfluous today. This salient observation provides us with a biological clue to account for significant aspects of the behaviour considered antisocial and detrimental to human development in the present day, with the inclusion of what are called ‘irrational fears’.

 The R-Complex. While the control of various functions occurs in many different parts of the brain, (memory is located in at least three areas, for instance), the initial duties performed by each brain component remains. The first of these components to be accreted onto the mid-brain and cerebral cortex was the R-Complex. This evolved several hundred million years ago in reptiles and rather later in the earliest mammals. Its role is signified by aggressive behaviour, guardianship of territorial rights, obedience to ritual and the establishment of social hierarchies.

   Military, political and bureaucratic behaviour is largely governed, and definitely instigated, by the R-Complex, despite the use of speech in such matters as political conferences, this being a property of the neocortical component. This part of our brains evidently served a useful function during the days when predators roamed the steppes and tribes battled for the best hunting grounds across the tundra. The R-Complex is of extremely limited use today, of course.

 The Limbic System. This evolved about 150 million years ago. Whereas the R-Complex suggests the stoic acquiescence to the tenets dictated by instincts and genes, the Limbic System is the component most obviously associated with strong and vivid emotional responses. It is from this component we derive the mammalian trait to nurture and care for our siblings, plus the propensity for compassion and for altruism. It is also the brain part that is most readily affected by and responsive to hallucinogenic drugs.  

   In fact it is within this component that most of the brains’ own psychotropic chemicals are located. The pituitary gland (which influences other glands and dominates the endocrine system) is a crucial aspect of the Limbic System. The endocrine system governs the alteration of moods and it is this that provides a clue to the properties of the Limbic aspect of the brain: within it is located a small, almond shaped inclusion called the amygdala. This is chiefly concerned with aggression and fear in that it is largely involved with the regulation of those attributes. Malfunctions in the Limbic System produce emotional responses inappropriate to or utterly in disaccordance with received stimuli - such people generally exhibit familiar symptoms of the most common forms of mental illness.  

   The ‘smell of fear’ can be attributed to the fact that the most ancient part of the Limbic System is the olfactory cortex, relayed to our sense of smell; our memories and recollection of smell is governed by the hippocampus, a structure that is also located in the Limbic System. While the human sense of smell is paltry compared to most other mammals (and minuscule compared to insects) this may not always have been the case. Perhaps the olfactory cortex provides another clue to the lifestyles of our distant ancestors. It may not necessarily be fear that we smell in our adversaries but a different adrenalin based hormone secreted by ourselves as we advance for the kill. At such a time, the R-Complex takes over. As a further reminder of our reptilian past, the adage ‘to kill in cold blood’ is of interest when we consider the recent increase in the evidence in favour of the theory that most dinosaurs were warm blooded!

 The Neocortex. This region accounts for almost 85% of the content of the brain and is the most recent development. It evolved approximately 50 million years ago although when human beings emerged, its evolution exhibited a significant acceleration 2 million years ago. It is divided into four major lobes: frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital. Although there are many connections between the Neocortex and the subcortical brain, these subdivisions may not necessarily act as independent functional units.

    However, there have been revealed definite propensities toward certain attributes and properties specific to each of these four lobes and can they can be categorised in this manner: the frontal lobe is concerned with deliberation and the regulation of action; the parietal lobe deals with spatial perception and the exchange of information between brain and body; the temporal lobe attends to many complex perceptual tasks while the occipital lobe is chiefly dominated by vision, that most acute of senses in all primates.

    The frontal lobe has also given us qualities that are peculiar to humanity: the connection between vision and erect bipedal stature and the property of cognitive anticipation. With the latter, of course, are related the locales of anxiety and concern. ‘The price we pay for anticipation of the future is anxiety about the past.’ (Carl Sagan). Regulation of the future in this manner has been responsible for our systems of ethics, science and legal codes. A society with the benefits of such foresight renders to it the acquisition of increased leisure time for the evolution of social and technological innovation. With regard to the former aspect of the frontal lobe, since the adoption of an erect bipedal posture liberated our hands for manipulation and tool construction, which in turn led to the accretion of cultural and physiological traits, we can say in a sense that civilisation is the result of our frontal lobes.

    The combination of ritual, emotion and reason, in the R-Complex, Limbic System and Neocortex respectively, display themselves in human society in an almost fearful array, fearful because so often we celebrate those intellectuals who evidently perceive ‘what ought to be done’ to address a problem yet just as often those same capable persons are usually those who occupy the least powerful position to be able to effect any solution to it.  

   I suggest our governments are largely run by reptiles. The most nearly unique human characteristic is the ability to ponder abstract associations and to reason. We may share these noble attributes with whales and dolphins but even if this is so, it is difficult to ascertain precisely how we may gauge, measure and calibrate the degree of these animals’ mental acuity in this respect since we deal here with cerebral functions that display virtually no exterior manifestations. The work of Dr John Lilly with the language and behaviour of dolphins is the first pioneer work to be done in this difficult but fascinating field.  

   We know from research into, and subsequently an intense study of, people who suffer brain damage that often when one part of the brain is ruptured or impaired that the tasks for which it was chiefly responsible are frequently transferred to other areas of the brain, often with astonishing success. Since we can possess ethics, science, verbal and written language, abstract association and the ability to reason, we must peer with incredulity at the sheer, preposterous barbarism and crudity with which the majority of human animals fail to effectively use or even abuse their brains, organs that have evolved over a period of literally millions of years.

    Fear governs nearly all antisocial behaviour; only the sexual drives can compare and even these are frequently derived from fears concerned with sexuality itself. Rather than give a biochemical analysis of the fear induced behaviour patterns (interesting though that would be), it is useful to cite examples of behaviour that is evidently antisocial and degenerate to reveal how these are related to fear and little else.

 Tribalism. The neo-nazi British National Party thrives on its appeal to all that is reptilian and ritualistic in society: a belief in the superiority of certain racial groups, the defence of arbitrary geographical boundaries justified on the grounds of nationalism, absolute obedience to authority and so forth.  

   In fact most disciplinarian institutions rely on the ability of their charges to cease to utilise their neocortices and instead obey the ancient, tribal codes of the R-Complex. If you wish to see the R-Complex in action, observe race riots and speeches based upon racial supremacy. Even the term ‘racial supremacy’ has a fear element implicit within it, for a race that is healthy, well adjusted and confident does not seek to ‘prove’ it is superior, does not need to believe in superiority and is not required to dominate other races. (The word ‘superiority’ is itself bereft of validity since it is a purely subjective term which will vary in accordance to the definition of what characteristics define ‘superiority’ in each different nation or culture.)

    The domination of other races is the last desperate act of a people or a government riddled with doubt and fear - it is an act inappropriate to a species which possess brains that comprise a neocortex that accounts for 85% of the brain mass. The irrational fear held by, say, a white person against Chinese or Japanese people is merely a modern representation of the age old fear of the outsider, the one from another tribe, a fear induced by the genetic code that prevailed when two tribes fought over a hunting ground or a clear water stream before they had evolved higher up the evolutionary scale to learn to co-operate together and share.

    Co-operation and the desire and ability to share are attributes of higher, advanced and more developed creatures. A man who believes in racial supremacy is a man who should have died out 40,000 years ago.  

Religion. A religion (be that Christianity, Satanism, Islam, Hinduism, a political doctrine or a mode of social codification) is no more than a specific set of highly moral rules and laws that restrict and stifle the activity and thought of a people subject to its jurisdiction. The tyranny and ritual slaughter ordained by the established religions is adequately documented. What is not so obvious and is therefore more dangerous to free-thinking individuals is the insidious indoctrination of people who claim to be bereft of adherence to any traditional religion or political doctrine.  

   This self-hypnosis occurs through peer group pressure and social conditioning often apart from the wide-scale desires of governments. A perfect example of this can be witnessed in the numerous responses to deliberately volatile and provocative texts which I submitted to various independent publications during the early 1990s. In these I presented propositions, suggested ideas and concepts that I suspected would be alien to or even offensive to much of the readership of those publications, magazines devoted largely to youth subculture audiences of a notoriously left-wing disposition.  

   The responses were usually far from intelligent - these people did not generally bother to utilise their neocortices to reason, to consider the implications of my essays, rather, they acted on impulse and offered responses as conditioned as any famed Pavlovian dog. Such people are frightened of the possibilities offered by ideas contrary to their own for they have already become accustomed to ideas and concepts that mollify and support ideals and belief systems with which they are familiar.

    Such ideals and belief systems are usually not their own but those already constructed by a political party or group to which they subscribe, invariably not because they actually support the ideas and belief systems but because the organisation or group who propagate them promote an image with which such weak willed people wish to identify. They cannot (and will not) accept an idea or concept that threatens this image since this would threaten the image that is in reality a safety barrier against the fearful insecurity that arises when one takes responsibility for ones’ own thoughts and actions.  

   Another fine example of such conditioned responses can be witnessed when socialist newspaper sellers are confronted with intelligent people who deliberately argue from what appears to be a traditionally right wing belief system. I’ve tried this myself with a colleague and predicted what form the response will take; not once have I been wrong! Some of the most intensely religious people in the world are communists. Religion is merely the ancient tribalism of the mind and there can be no place for it in a healthy, modern society.

    At this point I should mention that irrational fears of spiders, mice or other harmless animals evidently hark back in our genetic codification to a time when spiders contained lethal venom, when rodents were larger and more vicious than is now the case, when in fact a fear of spiders and rodents was both healthy and eminently understandable so that we should not then ridicule one who jumps out of his or her skin at the sight of the most paltry arachnid.

   Besides, in southern Australia, for example, there is a spider whose bite can cause paralysis and agonising death in an adult human being in just 15 minutes. Just enough of the nervous system remains unparalysed to ensure that the victims’ final 15 minutes of life are lived in an utter hell of pain. Saint Patrick may have banished all the snakes from Ireland but he could not eradicate peoples’ fear of them.

    Now let us apply what we have learned about the triune brain system to, for instance, political systems in operation. It will readily be appreciated after brief genuflection that only those people who have advanced farthest along the evolutionary chain of development require no government - in fact, therefore, genuine liberty is reserved for those human beings who have learnt to relinquish those harmful and obsolete properties of the R-Complex, master their emotive responses in the Limbic and realise the potential inherent within the neocortex.

    Such a society is the very pinnacle of human society, the ultimate light at the end of the most torturous of Platonic tunnels. By contrast, the communist (or fascist) state is the obvious manifestation of the externalised R-Complex in all its outmoded, banal, fearful extremism; it is the politics of regression, of insecurity and of fear, that ultimate fear that allows people to relinquish their humanity in favour of a lamentable subservience to all that is unthinking and unthinkable. If fox-hunting is the unspeakable chasing the uneatable then communism (or fascism) is the unreasoning ruling the unthinking.

    Capitalism is merely the fear of poverty; liberalism can then be regarded as a transitory stage for those people who claim to desire freedom but fear the total responsibility one is required to take for ones’ own life that is concurrent with total liberty.

    Your neocortex and your frontal lobes await your pleasure: use them!

Andy Martin ã 2003. 



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