It is no surprise that Donald Trump, a man of outrageously divisive policies, has assumed the Presidency. History teaches us of the appeal of definitive policy. Remember Hitler and Hussein? Certainty, regardless of moral sanctity, is a vote winner in uncertain times. Making people feel safe, lies or otherwise, is a shortcut to election.
Sometimes to make people feel safe, you must invent a monster, be it ‘nuclear threat’, ‘Jews’ or ‘brown people in hijabs’. Monsters like these are of human invention.
The history of what I call ‘limbic mining’ is long. We can trace the abuse of human psychology back throughout written time. From our evolutionary ancestors, those who first developed consciousness, we have survived as animals through primordial dichotomous thinking. Our brains developed emotional responses to physical pain, hunger, and smells that were associated with danger, sustenance, safety or sex. We learned ‘Good or Bad’ very quickly, and developed behaviours to pursue end goals based upon them. These pathways are strong and hard to refuse.
‘Limbic mining’ is the process of utilising archaic and dichotomous thinking to your advantage. This means forcing a knee-jerk decision based on a perceived threat. If you wish to win a vote through segregating race, tell your voter ‘Mexicans are rapists’ and the old brain will do the rest. This technique is used time and time again, from the ‘WMD’s’ before the invasion of Iraq, to the ‘immigrants taking our jobs’ championed in the Brexit campaign. Hillary Clinton did the same, as did the ‘Remain Campaign’, using fear to influence voting.
The use of this technique is a choice, cold, hard, and calculated. And it works. Remind me why we invaded Iraq?
I make no apology for those using this technique, its human nature to abuse humans. But as ‘evolved’ and ‘intelligent’ beings we are remarkably dumb at times. I have stated previously that I do not believe ‘Brexit’ voters to be dumb, and I feel the same of most ‘Trump’ voters. But the processes used to influence voting in these cases have tapped into non-rational and logic free thinking pathways. Right wing thinking classically employs limbic mining to its ends, building on group division and external threat. It is not alone in this process, as all groups use it. The only way to beat this thinking is to question it.
Aside from the huge question of how to convince people to think critically, my main concern is the immediate result of this thinking in the context of Trump and Brexit. Limbic thinking is simple, and Trump and Farage have convinced a large contingent of voters to think using fear. They have at the same time created a threat. They have called on tribal xenophobia, an evolutionary survival technique born of ancient prey/predator/resource dynamics. Brexit and ‘Make America Great Again’ are synonymous in their exploitation of our limitations.
We have seen an exponential rise in racism since the announcement of the Brexit vote and early signs of the same since Trump was elected. Muslims, homosexuals, ‘liberals’ and all others not fitting a small, and well designed, criteria have been attacked. What we are seeing is fear playing out its narrative, we have identified the threat and now must act to ‘protect ourselves.’ In this case, the threat is others who do not share out skin colour, religious beliefs or sexual orientation.
The responsibility falls to us to fight against fear and its repercussions. This fight will be on multiple levels, but the core element fusing it will be personal responsibility. If we do not take personal action to stop racism, xenophobia, homophobia and anti-religious sentiment, then we permit it. We must engage with rational discussion, but also be prepared to stand up for those who now face oppression. We must recognise and act on our own limitations. It is our duty as humans to think beyond our primitive devisors.
This action may be simple. Engage with positive messaging about minorities. Reassure those who are publically ashamed. Call law enforcement if you see discrimination. Develop a zero tolerance policy for intolerance.
Trump and Brexit are just the latest manifestations of the abuse of the human psyche. We learn slowly, but by taking personal responsibility, we change. Let us work together to unite people under rational thinking, where creed or colour mean little. Let us ask questions of each other, and watch the monsters fall away.