Before it gets all academic in here, let me assure you that it will be less academic after this block quote. I wanted to write about lizards and politics, and what they have in common.
Check out this wikipedia article:
“While technically inaccurate as an explanation for brain activity, it remains one of very few approximations of the truth we have to work with: the “neocortex” represents that cluster of brain structures involved in advanced cognition, including planning, modeling and simulation; the “limbic brain” refers to those brain structures, wherever located, associated with social and nurturing behaviors, mutual reciprocity, and other behaviors and affects that arose during the age of the mammals; and the “reptilian brain” refers to those brain structures related to territoriality, ritual behavior and other “reptile” behaviors. The broad explanatory value makes this approximation very engaging and is a useful level of complexity for high school students to begin engaging with brain research.”
So we humans have a few brains hanging around in our head. There’s the rational one, the social/emotional one, and the one that searches for food and defends itself (and does rituals, I guess). David Hume pointed out the conflict between the rational one and the emotional one when he said we are slaves to the passions.
Most philosophers and psychologists and Buddhists agree that whatever it really represents, the lizard brain, the one that searches for food and defends itself, can hijack the other brains into doing what it wants, especially if it’s addicted or malfunctioning or stressed. This is the brain that gets “left behind” when philosophy pulls us out of the cave, the brain responsible for impulses we seek to control by reading self-help books and believing gurus.
Today’s world does not have a lot to defend ourselves against, here in America – at least not when we’re talking about the things evolution designed us to defend against. Starvation, warring tribes, personal attacks of the lethally intended sort, territorial disputes. Sure, territorial disputes happen in the boardroom and at work. But, I think, not enough.
Today, we have different things that our lizard brain protects us against. Some of us live in bad neighborhoods and take caution not to venture too close to scary people every morning when we leave our (usually) apartments. Some of us pack guns – not me, generally.
For instance, I used to steer clear of the pimps and prostitutes living on Central and Wyoming in Albuquerque when I left my house every day to fix computers. When I got to work, I had to deal with my extremely territorial boss, and my territorial coworkers, who I did not realize were defending their turf against me by making my life a living hell.
Some of us feel like we have to defend ourselves against attacks to our credibility, our nutrition, and our wallets – I had to clear my name at Stanford after my fellow students found out I had gone in for psychiatric care. I did it by laying low for the next couple of years and being careful who I trusted with that kind of information.
It used to be that I looked at politicians and thought, huh, those people don’t represent my wants and needs as a citizen. Our politicians are supposed to be representative of us as a population. I think they are! Maybe you don’t – what could those silver-spooned rich boys have to do with normal everyday us-es.
Looking around the country and seeing so many people “addicted” to things – or performing actions compulsorily, with little thought to why they do them. Here’s some enabling:
5 hours of internet cats a day
looking around to see these behaviors, and understanding why we perform them – the search for money, the search for entertainment, pleasure, prestige, honor, whatever – makes me think we’re not so far from our politicians.
Today’s American politicians are tasked with one goal: seek money for re-election. They are of no use to their donors if they do not stay in, and increase, power. They cannot write laws if they are not in office. There is exactly one way to stay in office: purchase advertising time, be it in the form of airtime, campaign events, etc.
If you think this is a cynical view, consider this: Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has been brought up on charges of running a racist police department many times, who has harrassed federal agents who were investigating him, who has been responsible for the deaths of inmates in intensely inhuman conditions, is still in office after 20 years. Why? He keeps getting re-elected because he has powerful support in the form of donors. Mo’ money, mo’ airtime, mo’ voters are familiar with Joe’s name.
Familiarity only breeds contempt for house-guests. With politicians, you look at the ballot, and if you’re not picking by party – and most party people do – then you’re picking by who you’re most familiar with. That is, if you didn’t read the issues guides, your house in Sun City (the retired portion of Phoenix’s Maricopa County, Joe’s county seat) has been really safe since you can remember, so familiar Joe must be doing a good job, no matter how rough he has to be with those brown people.
So politicians basically need huge amounts of cash to buy huge amounts of airtime to win.
Legislators write laws. Senators and congresspeople approve them. Companies do both.
This means these people/companies are in defensive postures about their political positions all the time. While their lizard brains might recruit the social and rational brains to work for the lizard brain, that lizard brain is addicted to that money.
So the next time you indulge whatever vice might be yours, remember – you’re not so different from your representative. You’re both controlled by a little lizard. Kind of.
If you came to this article looking for reptilian overlord conspiracies, well.
Here’s a quick explanation of the origination of the conspiracy. You are guaranteed to get interesting, fanciful youtube suggestions if you watch this while signed in.
Even Weird Al has something to say about reptiles, and Patton Oswalt. Stay until the second half.
This does not make any of it real.