Emotional Mind Control

Posted on 31st August 2005 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

Emotional Maladaptations

Emotions are evolutionary adaptations that have served countless species in their quests for survival success. They perpetually influence our actions, prompting us to engage in behaviors that bring feelings of joy and avoid behaviors that evoke fear or misery. The fight or flight reflex is an emotional reaction. Members of our species lacking it were quickly devoured out of the gene pool.

It is important to recognize “Fight or Flight” as a false dichotomy. There is a third option, inaction, which humans are capable of exercising. This is actually a very powerful option. When presented with a situation that inspires fear or anger of which we have no control over, the ability to take no action at all serves us well. Our energies are then put to better use once we cognitively assess the emotional reaction and work past it.

The three greatest emotional motivators, in my estimate, are anger, fear, and happiness. Anger serves a species when it prompts its members to defend against predators or establish territory. Fear prompts members of a species to flee predators and avoid the behaviors that attract them. Happiness encompasses all of those behaviors that bring contentment to the animal, be it feeding, sex, or caring for offspring.

As usual, our Neocortex complicates things. Many people engage in behaviors purely to evoke a fear response. They jump out of perfectly good airplanes, watch horror movies, play chicken, and scare themselves silly in numerous other ways to coax their bodies into dosing them with adrenaline.

These are maladaptations of our emotional reactions, for example experiencing fear in a situation that we cognitively recognize as non-threatening. We are frightened by what we see in a horror movie, but know that what we are seeing is not reality and we are actually safe in a theater.

Media and rhetoric exploit this maladaptation. Pundits, politicians, and advertisers are just some of those who would manipulate us into fear, rage, and joyful emotional responses for their own ends. They successfully control much of our population through this cognitive weakness.

Becoming aware of those who would exploit us is the first step to taking back our personal cognitive freedom. Emotional literacy is the second step, recognizing our own emotional responses for what they are and the reason for that response. Dissipating the emotion when no constructive action is possible or harnessing its power to motivate toward a productive end are just two strategies for coping with our maladaptation.

Emotional Maturity involves harnessing the power of our Neocortexes to overcome the demands of our feelings. It’s a self-reflection exercise, identifying the physiological symptoms and correlating them with the correct emotion. It is another dimension toward cognitive mastery over the flaws in our evolutionary biology.

Anger

“When I channel my Hate to Productive,

I don’t find it hard to Impress.”
– Pantera

Anger is a great motivator, and serves an important purpose in our lives. Outrage inspires us to rally against injustice and defend the oppressed. Anger inspires us to engage with those things we perceive as threatening us. While engagement is a good thing, anger victimizes others and ourselves when we overreact. There’s no need to carpet-bomb when a precision strike will achieve the same strategic result.

“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, Hitler’s Reich-Marshall during WWII

If a threat does not exist, then we are tilting at windmills (ala Don Quixote), expending time and energy on imagined injustices. These are also known as Straw Men in the realm of logical fallacies. Those around us who are capable of keeping perspective, while we descend into fury, will either regard us as absurd or delusional for our overreactions. Hitler created monsters out of the Jews using the same emotive appeals American Conservatives and Liberals employ to demonize one another today. These emotional-exploitation tactics are less effective in the modern world because we have a population that is more educated and self-reflective overall.

The best defense against those who would control us through rage is perspective. Often it takes additional research to achieve this, especially when we hear something that outrages us from a single source. Second and third opinions must be sought, other perspectives.

Then we must have the perspective of how this issue relates to us and our capacity to do something about it. If we are in a position impotent to make change, then we must dissipate the emotion. Taking a deep breath and counting to ten or exercising are just two methods of dissipating unhealthy rage.

If we are in a position to take action, then we must channel our anger into a constructive means. This is probably the most difficult thing to accomplish of all. Our gut reaction is to raise our voice, sling hurtful insults, or resort to violence when we are enraged, but the rational mind knows that these reactions will only hurt our cause. Vengeful speech and action cripple the possibility for peaceful mediation and can turn a dispute with the possibility of compromise into a zero-sum game.

A pause is necessary before taking action. We must collect ourselves, let our rationality speak to us, form a logical plan of action, and then execute it. By maintaining the sense of injustice or threat perception, we find the strength to carry through with our actions, and by maintaining our rational cognition, we can walk away from those actions with the ease and peace of mind that comes with doing the right thing.

Fear

“We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”
– John F. Kennedy

Fear is the flipside of the “Fight or Flight” false dichotomy. Fear serves an important purpose in our lives. It prompts us to care for our appearance, study for exams, and perform well at our jobs. Without a healthy amount of fear in our lives, we would lack the motivation for many of our behaviors that do not directly impact our survival.

When our sympathetic nervous system responds to a situation we perceive as threatening, it elevates our heart rates and releases adrenaline into our systems. These are incredibly powerful physiological responses that override our normal perceptions and drown out our rational capacities. Fear then becomes a shortcut to controlling us, circumventing logical means of persuasion.

There is a persistent climate of fear inhibiting the actions of many citizens today concerning terrorism. I have several friends who are still so consumed with anxiety over the WTC Attacks that they shy away from public gatherings on Independence Day and New Years, fearing a repeat of those traumatic events.

While sympathizing with these avoidance behaviors, we must simultaneously recognize them as a decisive victory for the Terrorists who orchestrated the attacks. Americans cowering in their homes, eyes transfixed on their news channels, subconsciously seeking any new development to validate their fears, are the terrorists’ desired end. A modicum of perspective in the fearful might cause them to recognize that their perpetual anxiety holds much more potential to end their lives.

Confrontation is the key to overcoming those who would control us through fear. We must engage those situations that scare us. For the social phobic, this means making eye contact with those who intimidate us. For the arachnophobic, handling tarantulas. In the case of pundits using argument through fear, recognition of the logical fallacy and a healthy anger response are appropriate.

Keep in mind that fear is temporal; it will not last forever. It will dissipate, like easing into a hot bath, our bodies adjust to the temperature just as our emotions adapt to the fearful situation. The Parasympathetic nervous system will eventually kick in and shut down the anxiety, but we can also take proactive measures, such as grounding and breathing exercises, to combat our body’s attempts to override our minds.

The alternative is to allow ourselves to be herded like so many ideological sheep.

Happiness

“You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy.”
– Eric Hoffer

Eating, sleeping, and sex are just a few of the basic needs we fulfill on the road to happiness. The instinctual sense of contentment a mother finds in caring for a child is a survival mechanism for our species. Without happiness as a motivator for social interactions and cooperation, the human race would lack the communitarian instincts so crucial to our success as a species.

With all of our basic needs satisfied, human beings are left to flounder for purpose. We’ve got full bellies, cures for parasites, sicknesses, televisions, air conditioning, etc, etc, all of which make us happier than our ancestors. We’ve become acclimated to our existing happiness and now want more.

People take different means toward finding more happiness. Some find happiness in amassing material possessions, others in acquiring status, some find happiness in life experiences, hobbies, self-improvement, eating, or medication. None of these behaviors are necessarily good or bad, kept within cognitive moderation.

Happiness becomes a detrimental maladaptation when it leads to addiction. Just as advertisers use sexually suggestive material to exploit our sexual maladaptations and grab our attention, advertisers, pundits, and politicians also abuse our motivations toward happiness to persuade us. Life will be better, they promise, if we just use their brand of toothpaste, vote for their candidate, or eradicate the opposing ideology, then we will have removed all barriers to our personal happiness.

Resisting such appeals to happiness involves recognizing the difference between short-lived jolts of happiness and the deeper, more fulfilling and sustainable lifetime of personal satisfaction. Happiness comes from within as an attitude we have the power to cognitively cultivate. When we rely on externalities for our happiness, we surrender control of our minds to those things.

Happiness resides within our own power, no matter how much the pundits scream “they” are trying to strip it from us. We have no one but ourselves to blame if we allow outside forces to detract from our sense of well-being. Taking a cognitive approach to our sense of happiness is the only way to evade such mind controls.

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