Brain research opens up for a deeper understanding
The new understanding of advanced brain research makes it possible to understand how racistic behavior can appear..So far, racism has been attributed to a number of factors including fear of the unfamiliar, weak self-esteem, lack of compassion, lack of empathy.For example, Elaine Sihera, emotional health author:
Racist people tend to feel insignificant, isolated, wronged and unloved and they remedy that feeling of exclusion by blaming someone else for it…
I agree with all this, but below I will suggest that these characteristics have a common denominator.
A functional brain disorder
Racistic traits and behavioral tendencies can be explained as an expression of a brain response that is elicited by fear.
- Threat automatically elicits the Stress Response in the brain, which switches on the Survival-Oriented-Behavior (SOB) pattern that is governed by midbrain centers. Some common features of SOB are
- Aggressiveness, ruthlessness, tendency for brutality
- Impulsiveness, difficult to control anger
- Lack of compassion, empathy
- Strong egoism (a key survival feature)
- Dishonesty, unreliability, low ethical standards (due to inconsiderate egoism and lack of empathy)
- People that are emotionally insecure are especially prone to feel threatened in ordinary life conditions. Weak self-confidence is stronly associated with emotional insecurity.
- Emotional insecurity comes from traumatic or disharmonious experiences mainly in childhood (parental conflicts, divorce, lack of love etc).
- The most pronounced form of this disturbance is, the Authoritarian Personality. Its key traits are caused by their great insecurity and anxiety, which brings about conscious or subconscious strategies to reduce or suppress anxiety by increasing the feeling of security. The most important strategy is predictability-increasing behavior which includes:
- Intolerance and aggression against unfamiliar behavior. Such behaviors feel unpredictable, and therefore they evoke uncomfortable feelings of insecurity and anxiety in insecure persons. This tends to cause aggressive coping behavior such as:
- Rejecting, scapegoating or harrassing unfamiliar persons - people from other ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds, and others whose behavior deviates from familiar patterns and norms.
- Strong allegiance to conventional norms. The insecure persons tend to be strongly adherent to conventional norms, because these provide a framework that increases predictability. Actually, they tend to obey the prevailing norms very ambitiously, because this increases the chances of being widely accepted in society (or at least the part of it they want to identify themselves with), which increases their feeling of security. From the conventionalism follows:
- Resistance to unfamiliar or unconventional ideas. The need for predictability causes a resistance to anything that can change familiar conditions in society.
- Proneness for prejudices. The rigid adherence to preformed opinions is a kind of defense mechanism that helps to fend off (anxietyprovoking) unfamiliar ideas or views that challenge the world view that the person has established.
- Avoidance of ambiguity. Ambiguous and complex information enhances the sense of insecurity greatly. Therefore these person want to simplify their perception of the world so as to have few nuances, either black or white, either good or bad, etc
- Preference for authoritarian beliefs and ideologies. To increase the sense of security and predictability, the person prefers ideologies and creeds that provide simple and authoritative answers to world problems. Therefore they are prone to religious dogmatism and fundamentalism, as well as political (left or right) extremism including racistic ideologies.
For more, see The Authoritarian Personality
Peer pressure and propaganda are not primary causes
Some believe people can become racists through peer pressure, parental upbringing and propaganda. I do agree that people with Survival-Oriented-Behavior or Authoritarian Personality are likely to fall prey to racistic propaganda and peer pressure.
But I don’t believe that this can bring about the behaviors above without the presence of mid-brain-dominated Survival-Oriented-Behavior or Authoritarian Personality disorder. This is because when the brain is not midbrain-dominated, it is forebrain-dominated, which brings about the Balanced-Emphatic-Behavior pattern (see next heading).
Such people are fundamentally emphatic and loving, resistant to dehumanizing influences. Their behavior is not the result of “good upbringing” or “strong adherence to positive values”, but the consequence of brain function pattern that is fundamentally different from the SOB pattern:
There are many documented examples of people who have resisted intense systematic propaganda and peer pressure, for example in Nazi Germany. Among these, the German businessman, Oskar Schindler, who took great presonal risks in saving over 1500 jews from the gas chambers, is most famous because of the film “Schindler’s list“.
Balanced-Emphatic-Behavior, the opposite of SOB
This is a behavior pattern that appears when the forebrain dominates the behavior which occurs when the stress-level is low because of a high threshold to stress. Some of its key traits are:
- Friendliness – does not use aggression as a means of solving issues.
- Strong empathy. “Good heart” – cares for the suffering and difficulties of unfortunate.
- Mental stability, calmness, “coolness” even under pressure,
- Tolerance. Positively accepts people of other races and cultures, however unfamiliar and “unpredictable” they are, and finds it interesting and stimulating to interact with them.
- Altruistic (un-egoistic).
- High moral standards, trustworthy, avoids lies for achieving his goals.
- Strong integrity, holds on to his convictions even under pressure.
- Inner security – can handle the unexpected. BEB persons are fundamentally secure and take unpredictable and unexpected situations as stimulating challenges without any impairment of mental performance because there will be no interference from the survival centres.
For more, see “Balanced-Empthatic-Behavior“
The cure of racism
What needs to be done is to eliminate that dehumanizing SOB pattern that is dominated by the lower level brain centers that we have in comon with reptiles and similar low-level animals (some brain scientists call it the “reptile brain”). We need to restore the dominance of the forebrain, the seat of the finest human traits, the Balanced-Empthatic-Behavior.
Psychologists know from experience that this is really difficult to achieve with conventional psychoterapy that takes many years to bring about a development in the direction of Balanced-Empthatic-Behavior.
The medical director of Oregon state prison indicates a solution, finding that a special technique brings about empathy in criminals who are known to commonly have pronounced SOB if not Authoritarian Personality disorder. He said in a Youtube video:
“you can’t teach compassion to a person but there is something about TM that brings out compassion”
This observation is by far not unique. It is confirmed by research that confirms Transcendental Meditation (TM) is can promote the development of Balanced-Empthatic-Behavior.
For example a world-renowned american psychiatrist, professor Norman Rosenthal, former chief scientist at the National Institute of Health in the US has documented the effects of TM in his book “Transcendence“. He says about the scientifically well documented stress-reducing effects of TM:
“if TM were a pill, it would be a billion-dollar blockbuster.”
Norman Rosenthal, M.D. Professor of Psychiatry, retired chief scientist at NIH
Source: Huffington Post interview
The understanding how stress alters behavior provides a unifying basis for understanding racism, as its behavioral elements are characteristic of the pattern of brain functioning ellicited by stress, the “Survival-Oriented-Behavior “. The key causal factor is emotional insecurity that upholds chronic stress and consequent SOB that brings about the hostility, intolerance and lack of empathy characteristic of racistic behavior.
Therefore, racism cannot really be eliminated without transforming people from the SOB-pattern to the behavioral pattern of “Balanced-Emphatic-Behavior” which is prevalent when a person consciously or subconsciously does not feel threatened.
Fortunately there exists a simple, generally available technique, Transcendental Meditation (TM), that enables the development of Balanced-Emphatic-Behavior.
Addition: In the comment by Tom Barlow you find a striking anecdotal illustration of this.
More about Transcendental Meditation (TM) :