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Mammalian Biology, Demagogues, Fake Saviors and Real Danger

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Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
– Hermann Goering, April 18, 1946

A no good SOB/close friend uses this quote from the infamous Nazi as his email signature. This kind of thought informs the outlook of many or most anti-war types.

They have a very legitimate point that needs to be kept in mind. As mammals, we are all strongly vulnerable or prone to pack type behaviors that may not work out well, especially when played out with modern weapons, thus the special significance of such recognition coming from a high ranking Nazi such as Goering. Any of us is liable to make misguided choices when our second circuit emotional territorial buttons are being manipulated by a skillful alpha male demagogue such as Hitler. Hitler and Goering et al led their country to absolute ruin, along with much of civilization.

But this lower brain mammalian circuitry has in fact served us well overall for a long period of time. It’s biologically adaptive. That it’s so deeply hardwired down in our basic brain stem circuitry is indicative of how long and well it has served our survival. In short, if you’re not willing to stand up in defense of yourself and your people, at some point you’re going to be eaten by the first wolf pack that happens along.

Thus the question that comes obviously to me in response to my friend’s favorite quote on this day as London digs out from a second major string of attacks: “Yeah, but what if we really ARE being attacked?” Tony Blair isn’t just pretending that people are out to kill them, Londoners are being attacked. You can’t just wish it away, and they surely cannot simply accept being bombed every few days. It won’t work.

So then we struggle as high end mammals to sort out all the info coming in, intending to resist inappropriate appeals to patriotism or tribalism, while being ready to recognize when the time is right to rally round the alpha male and back the tribe. Go Team America!

Thus, for example, we parse the news trying to determine whether the president is taking us into Iraq for good reasons of improving national security, and whether he’s being honest about everything. Or perhaps he’s a lying demagogue manipulating us for his own ends of seeking and maintaining his power and influence. In truth, probably some from column A and at least a little from column B. It’s only natural.

But fighting through the territorial alpha male second circuit nonsense still only represents one side of the equation in figuring out policy, foreign and otherwise. You have to deal on the other side with the fourth circuit of morality and sex.

These “circuits” I speak of refer to an 8 Circuit Model of Consciousness codified by Timothy Leary, and most written about by Robert Anton Wilson, notably in Prometheus Rising. These circuits represent a sort of combined codification of all kinds of theories of human developmental psychology, including Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs.

The fourth circuit of this describes ideas of morality, and particularly sexual ethics. “Make love, not war” is a classic statement of a fourth circuit sentiment. Morality is good. Jim Crow was ended with MLK making appeals to the better angels of our fourth circuits. Mostly pretty good morality is what has kept the US as the most militarily and economically powerful force in world history from running roughshod, certainly since World War II.

On the other hand, morality is hardwired mammalian circuitry, just like the urge for territorial dominance of the second circuit. Fourth circuit wiring can go just as haywire and do you in. Are you in fact making the best applicable choice in the necessities of a situation, or are you just jacking off your emotional circuitry for cheap feelings of moral superiority? Peace FAGs and do-gooders generally are always properly suspect on these grounds. Consider Live 8.

fourth circuit drunkard

Those fourth circuit desires for moral stature really get dangerous though when they get tangled up with second circuit power seeking behavior. True Believers are almost always more dangerous than mere cynical power seeking politicians. The classic representation of this in modern film as it applies to American political life would be O Brother Where Art Thou. Contrast the congenial pure second circuit alpha male political hack Governor Pappy O’Daniel versus his opponent, the very sincere moralistic reformer and Grand Wizard of the KKK Homer Stokes. Which would you rather have in charge?

There are seemingly infinite ways for us to go off the rails on this fourth circuit, ways where miswired or misjudged fourth circuit thinking can ruin you or just flat get you dead. Your supposed superior morality will do you exactly squat good when you’re dead.

Of course, religious belief works heavily on this fourth circuit, in part by claiming that your moral superiority will in fact do you some good after you die, getting you into heaven, Valhalla, or to the land of the 72 white grapes. Of course then, if God (through his representative homo sapien alpha males) wants you to do things to defend your homeland, then you get second and fourth circuits working together, which can get you into doing some real radical stuff.

One of the most just overtly obviously stupid forms of this in the political context would be pacifism. Thou shalt not kill. That simplistic statement obviously will not work as a viable whole life strategy. Even the Bible makes some pretty wide exceptions for that. See the book of Joshua, and the story of the conquest of the Promised Land.

Let pacifism be your position and make that publicly known, and you’re just a sitting duck. Somebody will be around to rob and rape and kill you shortly. If you’re not willing to pick up a weapon and defend your life, then maybe you don’t deserve to keep it.

There’s a special perversity in the way a lot of Western peaceniks make a virtue of their dysfunctional opposition to the use of force. The more that a call for restraint or understanding or other nicey-nice sounding demand conflicts with the practical demands of reality, the greater an indication it is of moral virtue. Only the most crazed bloodthirsty second circuit run amok jerk would advocate wholesale genocide in response to, say, a couple of sniper shootings. Fourth circuit junkies won’t get much buzz from opposing that.

Perversely, dysfunctionally demanding that your countryman not respond forcefully to major attacks, that shows bravery and courage. The more imminent the threat that you refuse to respond appropriately to, the more moral you are, and the bigger high you feel.

Going around the other way to the same dysfunctional end, you can be miswired on the fourth circuit to feelings of inadequacy and shame, that you or your country are not worthy of defending. Maybe though, such feelings would be appropriate if you were a citizen of 1930’s Germany or Japan.

Classic strains of that now would be variations on how we brought 9/11 on ourselves, or some British liberals who want to argue that they are being attacked now in 2005 because of their involvement with US in Iraq. Well then, if you think you don’t deserve to live, who am I to contradict your judgment? Someone will be around to kill you shortly.

So there you have it, one tangled up mess of even knowing how to start judging what to do, or whom to support. How much of what kind of threat do we face, and how do we respond? Is this a place or time for peacemaking and understanding, or does this situation just flat require some serious wholesale killing? Is our effort in Iraq thinning out terrorists and showing people that we mean business, or is it just antagonizing the badly wired segment of Islamic people and making the problem worse?

Those highly exalted moral people opposing war, bitching endlessly about Gitmo and such–are they great moral leaders like Gandhi or Martin Luther King leading people down the path to peace? Or are they mere useful idiots to the real bad guys, like the historic fools that appeased Hitler, setting us up for far worse problems down the line?


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  • Marcia L. Neil

    It’s nice to see that someone is covering for ‘the first man’s’ titular excesses.

  • we should officially rename the politics column to “ChestThumping”.

  • Dumb that down for a Kentuckian if you could Mark, are you accusing me of cheesy second circuit territorial displays here?

  • i would never use the word ‘cheesy’.

  • Nancy

    Obvious solution to a blatantly ‘male’ problem: disenfranchise all males & let women rule; we couldn’t possibly do worse at it than men have already done for millenia.

  • Heh I don’t know wtf this has to do with my email sig.

    Have no fear, when my teleporter device gets fixed, I will be transporting you and your fellow warmongers to Iraq so you can help defend me and keep me safe.

  • Oh yeah, bring me back some baklava

  • The more imminent the threat that you refuse to respond appropriately to, the more moral you are, and the bigger high you feel.

    There is truth to this observation. But I ask: is a peacenik’s possibly misguided sense of morality any worse than a warmonger’s inflated sense of “manliness”?

  • Just maybe these so called peaceniks realize the enemy at home is more of a threat than the enemy of their enemy at home.

  • I got confused by all the thinking and stuff. I just want to know…is testosterone OK yet, or are American males still exiled from polite society?

  • ss

    ‘Mostly pretty good morality is what has kept the US as the most militarily and economically powerful force in world history from running roughshod, certainly since World War II.’

    According to the CIA World Factbook, the infant mortality rate spiked twice in Iraq in the ’90s, and in the same years, the population of Iraq fell by hundreds of thousands. These Iraqis were not killed by Saddam (as FOX claims) nor were they starved to death by the economic sanctions imposed after the Gulf War I, as Lancet claims.
    They escaped the severe shotages of food and sanitary water caused by the sanctions by fleeing Iraq and becoming refugees, mostly in Iran.
    I’m not saying the pascifist and humanitarian instincts of the left are completely appropriate today. As usual, the left in America is reacting to a deal done in the last decade. I’m also not sayng this is why Osama as homicidal douche. He was always a homicidal douche. I am saying that if dominence craving, alpha male intsticts
    hadn’t driven our Middle East policy from ’91-’96, we may not have made this homicidal douche a folk hero to millions, probably tens of millions of Muslims on the other side of the globe.
    In reference to London getting bombed, IRA factions still bomb London every three or four years. That should give you an idea how long we’ll be paying the price for not following our moral circuitry when the threat in the Middle East was exaggerated.

  • Okay SS, you might have a valid point here: “if dominence craving, alpha male intsticts hadn’t driven our Middle East policy from ’91-’96, we may not have made this homicidal douche a folk hero to millions”

    MAY not have, but then again he might well have emerged anyway. I’m not necessarily defending US foreign policy. We’ve got our troops in WAY too many countries. There are perhaps a few places where we really need to be, but mostly it’s a waste of money and manpower that ends up making us less rather than more safe.

    That said, there are still jerks trying to kill US, and they must be terminated with extreme prejudice. I strongly suspect that we’d have Bin Laden anyway, even if our foreign policy were beautiful and perfect. His people bitch some about this or that American action, but really they mostly seem to hate us for being rich and fat and happy rather than for anything that we’ve done to them.

  • ss

    ‘…really they mostly seem to hate us for being rich and fat and happy rather than for anything that we’ve done to them.’

    There are people all over the world, South America especially these days, who hate us for being rich, fat, and happy. They aren’t all trying to kill us. That said, you’re right, Osama and the Taliban and their ilk hate us because they’re fucking crazy. I don’t personally feel any kinship with their views on culture, and I respect people living in countries with Muslim minorities who will not change who they are or the way they live to appease a fundamentalist minority in the muslim community willing to resort to violence.
    But… most people in majority muslim nations like Americans and the American way, and have for years, according to a recent and past surveys by the Pew center. Osama enjoyed 70% confidence and support in many of these same countries a year ago. Now he’s down to 35%. Spreading democracy probably helped, but the fact that now it’s al Queda and Zarchowi killing muslims may account for more of the shift.

  • Steven Barger

    My brother Albert’s “peaceniks”, (or to use his ad hominem, “Peace-fags”), are mere straw-men. It’s easy and cheap for Al to set up and blow down straw men, instead of really carefully analyzing the STRONGEST arguments of his opponents.
    Ask Al sometime if he’s ever actually read any serious or scholarly book written by an opponent of the Iraq war, for example. In fact, his comments portray someone whose primary source of actual information on what anti-war people think are the sound bites on the conservative radio/TV networks that he watches/listens to.
    There’s nothing wrong with listening to conservative radio/TV, but if you listen ONLY to people whom you already “know” you are going to agree with, what do you really learn? I have criticized Al many times before, pointing out that it is his responsibility to seek out the STRONGEST arguments AGAINST his own position(s), on ANY issue, before opining on those issues.
    Ask Al sometime how many serious “peace-nik” web-sites he’s visited, to gather information on the pro-“peace-nik” positions? If Al’s answer is “none”, we can safely dismiss his ad-hominem-laden pieces on “peace-fags” as unserious, and unworthy of our attention.
    I bet that Al cannot write a serious piece analyzing and refuting his liberal opponents, without at least three ad hominems in his resulting analysis.
    Al only half understands Wilson’s “eight-circuit” theory. He apparently thinks 4th circuit means “moralizing”, and that Wilson meant that if you are under attack, you should revert to a 2nd circuit mode, to defend yourself.
    Folks, that is just a complete hash of what Wilson actually was saying. Al’s talk of “4th circuit”/”2nd circuit”, etc., is pretentious. Read Wilson for yourselves, to see why. Wilson’s ideas are not overly original, since they are paralelled in another paradigm called “spiral dynamics”.

  • Oh my, but Stevie Cat seems to have gone off his metaphorical meds.

    For starters, consider his talk about “ad hominems” here. He’s the one going off on that kind of angle, not me. Note that I start out saying that this peacenik argument implied by the Goering quote is quite legitimate, but consider the other sides as well. I’m not really trying to bash anyone in this essay, give or take Bob Geldof.

    Note that the term “FAG” here is specifically a reference to the Film Actors Guild from Team America, thus the link.

    He’s got this particularly annoying second circuit authority argument technique that he’s whippin’ out on me right here again. Basically, he makes these demands that I have to read this book or that before I have any right to make an argument.

    Most annoying, he likes to argue that unless I read Scott Ridder’s book and sit through some Noam Chomsky nonsense, then I have no legitimate authority to express an opinion on Iraq. I politely reject his silly conditions. I have seen no value in either of these two guys. I do not recognize either of them as significant authorities.

    He wants to think that I don’t know or consider arguments of the anti-war side. That’s just silly at this point.

    But the bigger mistake that Steven is making here is in taking this essay for a pro-war argument. Look again. I’m giving some points and considerations here both for and against.

    Really, this was not about Iraq policy at all, but about philosophical and psychological type meta-issues. However successful I was or not here, the point was supposed to be mostly in re-framing some of the questions, rather than even attempting to answer them.

    As to RAW, I certainly do not intend that this essay be considered a major exposition of the eight circuit theory. I only intended on invoking a little corner of it to make a few basic points about how mammalian psychology bears on even our best attempts at rational judgment- mine included.

    I definitely concur with Cat in urging y’all to read RAW for yourselves though, particularly Prometheus Rising. Wilson did not intend to present this as some entirely “original” vision. The eight circuits model specifically is an extrapolation of Timothy Leary’s writing, which RAW is explicitly using as a framework to tie together a whole bunch of historical theories and models.

  • Al, I really enjoyed your post, and thought you weren’t pushing either for/against Iraq war. Thank you for the 8 circuits stuff; never heard of it before. Very enlightening altogether. I like posts that broaden the mind. Steven Barger brings up “spiral dynamics.” Gonna Google that. Are you two Bargers related?

  • RJ

    All I know about “mammalian psychology” is that we, as a species, have successfully evolved with the idea that, when you are under attack from an enemy, you must stick together to survive. If you don’t, you die. And if you’re dead, then your “morally superior” genes cannot make it into the next generation.

  • Yes RJ, that’s exactly right. That is basic second circuit logic which has served us well. But that pack behavior can go haywire, which gets you, for example, Hitler.

    The trick is trying to understand ourselves and our situations enough to parse out how much we are under what kind of attack. Are we making a reasonable defensive response to a real danger, or is some alpha male pushing our buttons and grasping for power?

  • I think bush has figured out how to push your buttons, I don’t know what circuit it is, just the one that makes yer brain stop working

  • Todd, I frequently contemplate the possibility that my buttons are being pushed. They certainly are, but the question is whether they are being pushed appropriately. It’s appropriate for the alpha male to rally the folks to stand up for their country rather than sitting there and letting the wolves come eat US- if in fact there are wolves trying to eat us. There are.

    But are these wolves dangerous enough to necessitate this or that action? Are we getting at the actual wolves that are a threat by going into Iraq, for example?

    The answers to much of this are highly debatable, obviously. We absolutely have been repeatedly attacked though, and clearly these same elements continue to try to attack us and indeed the whole civilized world. That’s not just Dubya pretending.

  • The Duke

    Why would a pacifist choose to quote a war monger like Goering?

    Snopes provides the explaination:

    The quote cited above does not appear in transcripts of the Nuremberg trials because although Goering spoke these words during the course of the proceedings, he did not offer them at his trial. His comments were made privately to Gustave Gilbert, a German-speaking intelligence officer and psychologist who was granted free access by the Allies to all the prisoners held in the Nuremberg jail. Gilbert kept a journal of his observations of the proceedings and his conversations with the prisoners, which he later published in the book Nuremberg Diary. The quote offered above was part of a conversation Gilbert held with a dejected Hermann Goering in his cell on the evening of 18 April 1946, as the trials were halted for a three-day Easter recess

  • Demi

    That would explain why males get erect during periods of increased violence. Any why there was a mini-birthrate boom 9 months after the blitz… everyone was getting one last goody in before they died… or were they propagating the species.

  • This is quite possibly the worst piece of writing I’ve ever read on this site, and perhaps anywhere.

    The only thing worse than Senator Al Barger trying to justify his muddled, groundless politics (national-security war on terror South Park libertarian) is the comical attempt to ground it in what he thinks is biological science. You cite ridiculous, drug-addled counterculture types like Leary and Wilson who were basically exiled from academe yet completely misinterpret their ridiculously incoherent pop “theory” at the same time.

    Even such third-rate “minds” like Leary and Wilson would not support the war on Iraq, for example, no matter how many times you try to play “internet tough guy” using Star Trek language about “terminating terrorists with extreme prejudice” from your basement in Indiana.

    Is your reading comprehension so poor that you don’t understand that the danger of moralistic thinking you point out is the very justification for violence and war in the first place? So it’s MORE dangerous to be a moral pacifist than to be a crusader, a moral aggressor? Self-defense, in both bio-evolutionary terms and geopolitical ones, is a very limited, rare exercise of human existence in moderntimes. If you cared to read any actual biology, you would find that it is a better evolutionary adaptation for advanced mammals to develop the ability to control their emotions and fears resulting from “fight or flight” situations. Those advanced animals that are unable to control their fears and thus interpret every situation as “fight or flight” are naturally selected out of the gene pool because they are simply incapable of social existence and in fact make themselves more susceptible to isolation, violence or predation as a result of misplaced aggression.

    And are you so eager to couch your ridiculous arguments in the weaselly language of moderation (despite every indication otherwise in your prose) that you’ll really say the following is “just natural?”:

    “a lying demagogue manipulating us for his own ends of seeking and maintaining his power and influence”

    No absurd, illiterate take upon sociobiology could EVER produce that statement as something natural and given that we should accept. No sociobiologist or moralist, no matter how extreme, would condone such nonsene either.

    The only thing valuable in this inane discussion is finding out that your own brother lacks any respect for your learning, politics, and intellect.

    Al, in all seriousness, WHY do you write? I don’t mean this to be a bully. Take it as an existential question of sorts: what are you trying to accomplish by writing what you do? Is this your way of communicating with other human beings on the planet? Or must everything be the occasion for the projection of childish fantasies and insecurities or thinly veiled grievances against people in the world out THERE?

    That is all.

  • The “Team FAG” throw-in is typical childishness.

    South Park is satire. Your use of “pinko” and “FAG” is not satirical — you have nothing to say about prejudice. You just relish being childish and immature to get attention.

    That is all.

  • OK, kiddies. Here’s a further topic of discussion here. The world of Team America broke down according to people being either dicks, pussies or assholes. How do these characterisations figure into the 8 circuit model, and which writers in this thread would fit more into which category?

    Discuss amongst yourselves.

  • I’m a dick.

    You’re definitely a pussy, but the kind of pussy that’s so full of shit that it becomes an asshole and shits all over the place, but mostly all over yourself.

    Random anonymous editor person: Don’t you even dare censor this. He asked the question, it’s only fair that I answer. What’s writtin above is verbatim quoted from Team America. It’s um satire or something.

    That is all.

  • Written … I didn’t turn into BABsie from West Virginia all of a sudden, I just can’t type today.

    That is all.

  • Rob Adcox

    The only way to win the war is to fight viciously and without mercy. Liberals don’t get it and never will. Now that the American voting public has proved itself stupid enough to have voted for the antiwar left, Al Qaida and their Islamo-nazi bretheren will feel emboldened. To win this war, we must push the liberals out of the way and bathe in the blood of our enemies. Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry be damned.