Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Psychology and Ideology. How Could Anyone (Except the Rich) Vote for George Bush? By Peter Prontzos (2/6)

Pure reason does not exist because, as Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Eric Kandel has written, “a great deal of what we experience – what we perceive, think, dream, fantasize – cannot be directly accessed by conscious thought,” (Kandel, 1999).  Lakoff writes that 98% of our thoughts and emotions are unconscious (2008).  Daniel Goleman guesses that the figure is actually “over 99%” (2008).  Either way, there is not a lot of room for pure, dispassionate logic.

Moreover, our “cognitive unconscious…is reflexive – automatic, uncontrolled” (Lakoff, 2008).  A classic example is fear, which has long been used to manipulate people.  From Athens to Rome to Bush, the powerful have used fear to reinforce their power and to make people do what they would normally not do.  When told that their very lives are at stake, people are more likely to follow orders without much thought.  As Daniel Siegel described:

Deep in the brain lies the amygdala, an almond-sized region that generates fear…Before you are even consciously aware that you are afraid, your lizard brain responds by clicking into survival mode. No time to assess the situation, no time to look at the facts, just: fight, flight or freeze.
And when we are afraid, we are biologically programmed to pay less attention to left-brain signals - indeed, our logical mind actually shuts itself down. Fear paralyzes our reasoning and literally makes it impossible to think straight (Huffington, 2004).

This automatic reaction is reinforced by our instinct to look to parental authority figures to comfort us and keep us safe.  Siegel was discussing how the Bush regime inflated the fear of terrorism to win the 2004 election (with the deliberate help of Osama bin Laden).

Another significant factor is the practice of seeing the world in terms of “us” versus “them”.  While group bonding and cooperation was necessary for the survival of our hominid ancestors (as it is for us today), it also reduces those outside of one’s group to the “Other”, shutting down our natural empathy, thereby dehumanizing them as outsiders and making it easier to treat them badly, even to kill them.

Paul Slovic developed the concept of the “affect heuristic”: people tend to make judgments and decisions “in which the answer to an easy question (How do I feel about it?) serves as an answer to a much harder question (What do I think about it?)” (Kahneman, 139).
When it comes to politics, for example,

voters seem to be heavily influenced by a candidate’s appearance, and in particular the kinds of personality traits that a politician’s face projects (Olivola and Todorov, 2009).

“Elections”, in the view of Drew Westen, “are decided in the marketplace of emotions, a marketplace filled with values, images, analogies, moral sentiments, and moving oratory, in which logic plays only a supporting role” (2007).  These are only a few of the potential pathways for unconscious and/or irrational ideas to distort one’s thinking, and one’s worldview, political and otherwise.

II – The Politics of Childhood

We rarely perceive just how much of our personal world, even our sense of “self”, is determined by our culture and our experiences.  One reason for this blindness is that so many of the influences that shape us occur when we are too young to understand what is happening.  In addition, most of the events that impact us are below the level of consciousness.  Einstein observed that person’s identity depends

so much upon society – in his physical, intellectual and emotional existence – that it is impossible to think of him, outside the framework of society.  It is “society” which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of his thought (Einstein, 1998, emphasis added).

“Neuroplasticity” refers to the finding that the structure and functions of our brain are physically shaped by our interactions with other people and our environment throughout one’s life.

The results of such shaping can be profound for a child; that maternal stress during pregnancy may have consequences for the child such as slower development, learning and attention difficulties, anxiety, depression, and possibly autism “has long been observed by behavioral and biological researchers” (ScienceDaily, Oct. 29, 2008).

Babies and children are obviously at greater risk during earlier stages of development, and their vulnerability to toxic environments illustrates the principle of “outside/inside”.  We tend to absorb what is around us and then to internalize it, both physically and emotionally.  Our brains and bodies are dynamic, open systems in relation to whatever is near.  As Louis Cozolino explains in The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: the brain is an “organ of adaptation”:

built and sculpted, neuron by neuron, through the interaction of our genetic programming and environmental influences…
The brain continuously changes to reflect aspects of its environment (Cozolino, 2002).

Our brains are affected, not only by toxic chemicals or inadequate diets, but also by our social experiences throughout our lives.  Daniel Goleman puts it this way in Social Intelligence:

Our key relationships can gradually mold certain neural circuitry.  In effect, being chronically hurt or angered, or being emotionally nourished, by someone we spend time with daily over the course of years can refashion the brain (Goleman, 2006).

Both “nature” and “nurture” determine what we become.  They interact in a complex and dialectical manner so that neither can be ignored.  While some parenting styles can contribute in a positive way to a child’s healthy emotional development, harsh practices may cause enough emotional trauma to seriously damage a child, sometimes to the point of making its brain and central nervous system dysfunctional.


  1. So in essense even in later life we can spend time with one person such as a spouse and they can change our brain too?

  2. 1 to 2 % of my thoughts

    The fact that 98 to 99% of our thoughts and emotions are unconscious according to Lakeoff’s and Kandel’s estimations and guesses, makes me feel good about how I over 50 years have been unconsciously convinced that I eventually would find a way out of my prison of pain. It, certainly, was not achieved in one giant step or through a quick revolution, but by countless number or small steps and continuos (often painful) adjustments.

    It has been a lifelong rehabilitation process, in which the fact that I, basically, was “being emotionally” nourished by Art Janov’s Primal Principals, gave me the knowledge, technique and confidence to refashion my life and brain. It has certainly been a complex and dialectical journey which has been determined by both nature and nurture.

    There have been opinions that I have been a “prisoner” of Art Janov, who is so fortunate to have a genius’s access to our emotions and unconscious. To demystify my epilepsy and my neuroses, Art’s genius has been as indispensable as oxygen and the serotonin founding sunlight for my survival.
    So contrary to what people might think, Art guided me out of my prison of pain and made, although delayed, my healthy emotional development into freedom possible!

    Jan Johnsson

    1. Jan: Thank you, but there are no unconscious thoughts; or very few and very primitive. Real thoughts are top level cortical affairs not deep in the brain so where did they get that? art

    2. I think "unconscious thoughts" are really just thoughts that we have consciously, but do not take note of so are forgotten pretty much as soon as they pass through our mind, but have an affect on our mind after they have passed. For example I don't think ideas just 'pop' into our heads from an unconscious base; we just forget the free-thinking train of thought that led to them. Everything is ultimately an A-to-B process of triggering via associations.

      I have always thought that all processes ultimately run through our conscious experience. (Blocked memory is not a 'process' as such, I don't believe. It's a rigid block of information left in storage, though somehow driving tension and compulsion).

  3. Why should they not vote for Bush,is that not democracy that you can choose?
    Is there not a changing from left to right and back all the time.

    In my opinion the left completely failed in response to these new threats,they had no answers.But that has been the situation here.
    I am cured from left.(not that I am right)


  4. I think there is a more decisive factor than fear of terrorism and this is the economy. When Bush won the election for the second time the economy was relatively good. In fact without the 2008 crisis Obama may not have won.
    As for the theory of plasticity in its foundation is refuted by primal therapy. According to Arthur Janov's first and second line of the brain is impossible to change without reliving the pain.

  5. How much of that unconcious 98% is actually trauma. If Art suggests that most people are wandering around unconcious and that the vast amount of the unconcious is due to trauma then what would a recovered Primal person at the end of therapy have as a percentage balance of concious and unconcious.

    There are some alarm bells ringing here as it seems to me that this is simply Freud's Drive theory in another form. If one see's Freud's later theories (post 1896) as his denial of early trauma then what's the difference.

    If one takes Art's three layer of Brain theory and looks at his theory of trauma then each and everyone of those layers are effected by early imprints of pain including the amygdela and the fight, flight or freeze response.

    It strikes me that in a way it's yet another abusers get out of jail free card as are freud's Drive theories. Also it means that rather than face one's own pain one can "Oh I am sorry I murdered your daughter it was the 98% of my unconctrolable subconcious!"

  6. Very off topic but kind of related. Bush senior and Bush junior. Father and Son. A dysfunctional relationship. I learned that my Father died today. He died a few days ago. His lungs collapsed and rotted away over the last few years. Probably due to not being able to breath because of my controlling Mother. He wrote me a letter that was suppossed to reach me before he died asking that I did not attend his funeral. He did'nt call me my real name but the one which was imposed on me. Even in his last letter to me he could not even bare to respect me. I got a photocopy from my sister rather than the real one. My sister is like my Father. Patronising, disdainful and incredibly sentimental. I am not welcome to the funeral. One goes to funerals to express respect for the dead so why should I go?

    It is going to be an interesting experience to go through the mourning process. Was I sad or upset when I got the letter. No I was furious and raging. The Bastard had got away with his abuse of me and perhaps others. I probably won't sleep tonight. Perhaps other stuff will come to the surface now. I have a sense of peace too. At long last he is gone. No longer will that sad little bully of a weak man be sitting a 100 miles away. His letter was almost a cry of victory from him I think. I won you little runt.

    What dreadful and bullying family I come from and in many ways I feel free from the bitching and backbiting and screaming and bullying that they think is normal.

    1. Hi Planespotter,

      I understand a little about your experience. My mother has dementia and my Dad has moved out of their home and after decades of neglect by them of both me, my brother and our children I can honestly say I am 'struggling' with my loyalty to their problems.
      My Dad talks at me incessantly about his obsession with mum and the authorities neglect of her. I have even helped him and he has grudgingly thanked me for good advice. . . but when I look back what has he or mum done for me?

      I cry for my mum as a child and I have wept about my Dad as a child but as an adult? I sort of couldn't care less. I will cry at their funerals and I will do what I can to comfort them as they become more infirm. . . but I will not put them before my own children whom they have completely neglected. . .

      Paul G.

    2. Hi Paul

      You show great loyalty in the face of great neglect from them. It's more than i could manage. I am not going to sacrifice my life for them. There are deep bruises in my subconcious which easily get inflamed if I have any contact with them now. It takes days to calm down. I embraced Alice Millers view that one should get in touch with one's rage. I feel real rage at the moment in that my arrogant sister and stupid Mother are sitting there planning things out and probably bitching about me. Put them together and it's like facing Shakespeares witches. I really hate them.

    3. Hi planespotter,

      The only sacrifices I make are for my kids.

      I have to say that if I were in the way of money and success that would allow me and my kids the benefits of, say Primal Therapy or a house I could sell to pay for my children to get PT then I would probably take the same attitude as you. Maybe not. The rest of my family are also highly repressed and useless as friends and confidants; for eg: When I told my older brother I had a serious breakdown as a consequence of all I've been through he said "Well Paul, no matter if you were a mass murderer I'll always be your brother". . . (!) He doesn't even send me a card at Christmas or Birthdays. How f*****g insensitive and condescending is that throw away remark?

      Nevertheless the snake in me is a tad devious. You see these crass morons I am related to may serve a purpose yet. I am moving out of town and my application for re-housing in a different county is supported by my brother in the new application region where he lives and also is my place of work. Such a move requires these alliances.

      Maybe, if I can summons the occasional compassion for my parents and brother who still try to be nice to me (though my mother has nearly forgotten who everybody is), just maybe I will get something from them. I am not waiting though, oh no, not waiting. . .

      Also having children makes a big difference, I feel it is better to keep the door open so to speak. . .

      It is an uneasy alliance, one I would not wish on others but I have concluded I have to live with their past effect on me as well as with the knowledge of their existence and if that means I have to live with their denial then it's better to know my enemy and consciously observe their dubious behaviour.

      (How f*****g cognitive is that)! ?

      Paul G.

  7. This is off course a blog where deeper explanations are tried to be found but I really cannot see why there should be one truth that is politically correct and that is the left.The left, once the domain of progressive thought, has become the most conservative in the spectrum.Partly because the issues of the left have become common ground,equality of men and woman and others.So what is the left good for nowadays.
    I think it is a quite bitter explanation why people voted for Bush,that he should have created an image of fear.(people are not stupid)


  8. Art: Here I go again ... it really bothers me that we humans have this desire to EXPLAIN all this stuff instead of just feel subjectively what's going on. Even the most neurotic of us are still able to feel in-so-far as we know when we need to go to the bathroom; we know when a pin pricks us, we know when we itch, and on and on and on. Yet there are all these student/scientist looking for something to study in order to get their PhD's so they'll hopefully get a good research job and then hopefully be able to live comfortably.

    I want to emphasize that what Primal Theory taught us is TO KNOW (cognitively) that half our brain got clogged up and we have no access to it unless we can START (yeah! just start) to express those feelings that got shoved into the 'back of our minds'. I would suggest (correct me if I am wrong Art), but those feelings are essentially SADNESS, ANGER and FEAR. All the other feelings sit on top of those (sorry to use this piece of jargon) 'repressed' feelings. It's such a simple notion ... but even that one we've convoluted.

    Andrew Atkin wrote "I think, 'unconscious thoughts' are just ......." I would suggest if you are THINKING about 'that, that is blocked off' we are already on the wrong track. How about feeling and then expressing that feeling. It's a TWO STATES OFF BEING (thinking and feeling)... we can go on and on and on thinking that somehow through THINKING we are going to find answers. Is that NOT OUR CRAZINESS ?????? Is that not the very essence of neurosis??? Is that not what you Art, so brilliantly discovered ... and then defined???


    1. Hi Jack

      Yes Sadness, Anger and Fear all chime with me. Is RAGE perhaps a lower and more primal feeling than anger though. Perhaps anger is almost linked to consciousness in that it expresses anger at having one's needs ignored.

      I have this brilliant picture of a small monkey in Costa Rica who has just failed to open a waste bin full of food. The look of sheer frustration on his face including a raised eyebrow only goes to illustrate that animals have complex feelings prior to thinking.

    2. Sapristi Jack! Thank you for this message! It's exactly what I needed to read today. How good it is to know that I may feel. All my life I waited (and also feared) somebody tell me: "you know Laurent, you can cry if you're sad". I agree with you. It should be simple. Sometimes it is very tempting to hide our misery behind a veil of complicated explanations.


  9. "Terror" is a pretty nebulous concept. It can be sold to the masses pretty well.

    From the song Vietnow by Rage Against the Machine:

    "Merge on the networks, slangin' nerve gas
    Up jump the boogie then bang, let 'em hang
    While the paranoid try to stuff the void
    Let's capture this AM mayhem
    Undressed, and blessed by the Lord
    The power pendulum swings by the umbilical cord
    Shock around the clock, from noon 'til noon
    Men grabbin' their mics, and stuff 'em into the womb
    Terror's the product ya push
    Well I'm a truth addict, oh shit I gotta headrush"

    I like the term "truth addict". In a way I consider Art a truth addict. I also consider myself a truth addict but then again, I think lots of things about myself that may or may not be true.

    I'm really not sure what my point in all this is, but maybe it doesn't really matter.


Review of "Beyond Belief"

This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
One of the most compelling aspects of Beyond Belief is the author’s liberal use of case studies, most of which are related in the first person by individuals whose lives were dramatically affected by their involvement in cults. These stories offer an exceptional perspective on the manner in which belief systems can take hold and shape one’s experiences. Joan’s tale, for instance, both engaging and disturbing, describes what it was like to join the Hare Krishnas. Even though she left the sect, observing that participants “are stunted in spiritual awareness,” Joan considers returning someday because “there’s a certain protection there.”
Janov’s great insight into cultish leaders is particularly interesting; he believes such people have had childhoods in which they were “rejected and unloved,” because “only unloved people want to become the wise man or woman (although it is usually male) imparting words of wisdom to others.” This is just one reason why Beyond Belief is such a thought-provoking, important book.”
Barry Silverstein, Freelance Writer

Quotes for "Life Before Birth"

“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine

Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
Grounded in these two principles, Dr. Janov continues to explore the lifelong impact of prenatal, birth, and early experiences on our brains and minds. Simultaneously “old school” and revolutionary, he synthesizes traditional psychodynamic theories with cutting-edge science while consistently highlighting the limitations of a strict, “top-down” talking cure. Whether or not you agree with his philosophical assumptions, therapeutic practices, or theoretical conclusions, I promise you an interesting and thought-provoking journey.
Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University

In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System

A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University

"I am enthralled.
Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
PhD thesis topics for decades to come. Devoid of any "New Age" pseudoscience,
this work never strays from scientific orthodoxy and yet is perfectly accessible and
downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH

His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.