Of Human Nature and Political Games

In my last post I noted with some gratification that phenomena as obvious as the influence of innate predispositions on human behavior are finally being accepted, in the popular media and elsewhere, as obvious, whereas 40 or 50 years ago they would have been furiously attacked as evidence of racism, fascism, or some similar social malady. In those days, such attacks came mainly from the left, with emphasis on the Marxist left. Well, hold on to your hats, dear readers, because it appears that we’re not quite out of the woods yet. Now it appears that the political right is turning its baleful glance on evolutionary psychology, and discovering that it is a font of nefarious schemes to subvert free will and human virtue.

We begin this story with an article that appeared on NPR’s website. It discussed the ideas of Washington Post science writer Shankar Vedantam regarding the interactions of the conscious and unconscious mind as set forth in his new book entitled “The Hidden Brain.” I have no certain knowledge regarding Mr. Vedantam’s political leanings, but, considering the fact that NPR has deigned to discuss his book and he writes for the Washington Post, I suspect that he probably stands rather to the left of Rush Limbaugh. Now, given the unfortunate history of attacks on proponents of innate predispositions by assorted Defenders of the Faith on the left, one would think that Mr. Vedantam’s embrace of evolutionary psychology would be grounds for loud huzzahs all ’round. For example, according to the NPR article, he notes the importance of innate aspects of human behavior in the development of social maladies such as racism, citing research from a day-care center in Montreal that found that children as young as 3 linked white faces with positive attributes and black faces with negative attributes. All this seems harmless and commonplace enough. All Vedantam is really saying is that there is such a thing as an Amity/Enmity Complex, that it can manifest itself as racism, and that, if we are to control such socially destructive behavior, it would behoove us to understand what causes it.  Fifty years ago, he would have been loudly denounced as a heretic by the High Priests on the left for stating such obvious truisms.  Today, we hear barely a whimper from that direction, but, alas, the time for rejoicing has not yet come.  It appears that the right has now discovered, in its turn, that evolutionary psychology is really a nefarious plot against mankind.

I cite as exhibit A an article written by Jeff G. at Protein Wisdom.  Instead of rejoicing at the return of the Prodigal Son from the left, it seems he has smelled a rat.  Mr. Vedantam, it appears, is not really a benign science writer for the Wapo, but a myrmidon of the left, a mere tool in a broader plot to seize control of our minds and reprogram us into latter day versions of Homo Sovieticus.  Let’s allow Jeff G. to set the tone.  Referring to the Montreal study, he says,

Of course, were the data reversed (had, for instance, the day-care center under review been located in the basement of Reverend Wright’s church, say) — with whites linked to negative attributes and blacks viewed positively — that data almost certainly wouldn’t be extrapolated out as normative the way it is here. In fact, such data would likely be used to exhort the force of identify politics to “empower” historically disenfranchised groups, the result being that we must now believe that identity politics is simultaneously ameliorative (when it empowers certain identity groups) and “racist” (when it empowers other identity groups), even as the mechanism is precisely the same.

Here Jeff G. invents the first in a series of strawmen, attacking Mr. Vedantam for what he “almost certainly” would have done if the racial shoe had been on the other foot.  Apparently, he is unaware of the absurdity of attacking someone for a misdeed they haven’t actually committed, but which he has concluded they would have committed in some hypothetical alternate reality.  Continuing with the article,

And here you have the last two maneuvers: 1) It is silly to call children as young as 3 bigots, Vedantam will (pretend to) concede; and yet they are showing bigoted behavior — like, for instance, they draw “bigoted associations” or make “racist statements” — which transgressions Vedantam will trace to “culture and upbringing”. Are these children responsible for their own culture? Their own upbringing? Of course not, the argument will suggest. And so their bigotry, which is undeniable (given the “associations” drawn by the kids in one Montreal day-care center) must come from somewhere else, and must be lodged somewhere outside of the conscious reach of these children (where presumably it could be corrected).

Certainly culture plays a role in determining whether we perceive specific racial characteristics in a positive or negative light, but where, exactly, does Mr. Vedantam imply that these associations are “lodged somewhere outside of our conscious reach?”  The logical process by which Jeff G. arrives at the conclusion that this “must be” is beyond me.

Once we are here — once we begin to give power to deeply-seeded attitudes learned through acculturation and rote indoctrination (and buried deep in our “sub-conscious”) while simultaneously divorcing the conscious mind from the unconscious mind in such a way that the unconscious mind is no longer a part of the intentional “we” — it is an easy next step to argue 2) that “we” are not responsible for any kind of unconscious racism or bigotry; thus, we can say racist things, or make racist associations, without those associations or statements being intentionally racist. More, we can’t be expected to recognize in ourselves such unconscious bigotry precisely because it lies in our unconscious mind, which is the “autopilot” to our “we,” and as such stands apart from our conscious control over it. Which means we’ll have to rely on others to spot our bigotry for us. God bless ‘em.

Now the strawmen are really starting to come out of the woodwork.  Whoever said that our racial attitudes are “buried deep in our sub-conscious,” beyond our conscious control?  Whoever came up with the idea that our conscious and unconscious minds are “divorced” from each other?  Whoever suggested that it is impossible for us to become conscious of our own “unconscious racism” because our “unconscious minds” aren’t part of our “We?”  Mr. Vedantam certainly makes no such claims in the NPR article, nor does he imply anything of the sort.  In fact, these are all fantasies invented by Jeff G. himself.  Of course, they are necessary fantasies if we are to give any credence to the central theme of his article, which is that Mr. Vedantam is part of a larger conspiracy to convince us that “we must rely on others to spot our bigotry for us.”  Why the insidious leftist elites Mr. Vedantam supposedly serves would want us to believe this becomes clear later in the article.  As Jeff G. puts it,

The upshot of all this is that we are left with an obvious way to fight “racism”: change society and culture in such a way that our “unconscious” mind — over which we have limited ownership (or rather, something akin to a rental agreement) — learns the “correct” lessons. We need to be taught which kinds of associations are acceptable and which are not. Our speech and thought needs to be cleansed; our autopilot re-educated.

Well,  not exactly.  Nowhere does Mr. Vedantam claim that it is even possible to “re-educate our autopilot,” and this must be dismissed as another of Jeff G.’s fantasy strawmen.  Far from implying that we have no control over our autopilot, he specifically states exactly the opposite.  Quoting from the NPR article:

“Our hidden brains will always recognize people’s races, and they will do so from a very, very young age,” Vedantam says. “The far better approach is to put race on the table, to ask [children] to unpack the associations that they are learning, to help us shape those associations in more effective ways.”

There is no suggestion here that the associations be “reprogrammed,” but simply that children be made aware of their existence, and the fact that they can manifest themselves as social evils such as racism.  Returning to the NPR article,

Going back to the autopilot analogy, Vedantam says it’s not a problem that the brain has an autopilot mode — as long as you are aware of when it is on. His book, “The Hidden Brain,” is about how to “take back the controls.

In other words, far from suggesting that we need to be “re-educated,” because we can’t control our “autopilot” by our own volition, Vedantam is again saying exactly the opposite; that our conscious minds are really in overall control, and that we are quite capable of dealing with asocial manifestations of unconscious behavior such as racism on our own, without the need for any “re-education” by cliques of leftist illuminati.  No matter, Jeff G. has already left reality far behind, and can’t be bothered to read what Vedantam is actually saying.  he continues,

On offer here is the following prescription: you can only know your autopilot by learning what culture and society have imprinted upon you. Once there, you can only “take back control” by changing what culture and society imprint. Because otherwise, nothing else Vedantam writes makes sense: if you could consciously control your unconscious, that would be a form of consciousness that robs the unconscious of its (presumed) power; so the answer is that you must control your unconscious mind by consciously decided what is appropriate for it to learn in the first place.

Which is to say, you can only take back control by giving over control to those who will properly teach you.

Here one can only shake one’s head.  Nowhere does Vedantam suggest that “you can only ‘take back control’ by changing what culture and society imprint.”  Far from claiming that you cannot consciously control your unconscious, he actually explicitly states exactly the opposite.  Nowhere does he suggest that its even possible to “correctly” program the unconscious mind by “giving over control to those who will properly teach you.”

Well, I can only offer Mr. Vedantam my sincere sympathy, and express the hope that, in future, those who attack his book will take the trouble to read it first. 

 The political animals on both the right and the left will always have their ideological axes to grind.  Meanwhile, we continue to learn.  That which is true will remain true whether it happens to be politically desirable and expedient or not.  Let us seek the truth.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

10 thoughts on “Of Human Nature and Political Games”

  1. Fine work. But unpacking that guy’s logic is bound to unleash his sycophants. Good luck with them…most of them have only a tribal outlook

  2. 1) “All Vedantam is really saying is that there is such a thing as an Amity/Enmity Complex, that it can manifest itself as racism, and that, if we are to control such socially destructive behavior, it would behoove us to understand what causes it.”

    And what is it that causes such behavior? What is it that we are to have understood? Are we to understand that nurture imprints itself on our “autopilot”? If so, what particular instances? All of them? Certain salient moments? What part of the social text do we absorb, and what part do we filter out? Does it not differ for each individual? And if that’s the case, what are we to learn from studies of 3-year olds that we can then embrace, consciously, in order to “understand the causes” of “our” amnity / emnity?

    2) “Mr. Vedantam, it appears, is not really a benign science writer for the Wapo, but a myrmidon of the left, a mere tool in a broader plot to seize control of our minds and reprogram us into latter day versions of Homo Sovieticus.”

    It matters not a whit to me what Mr Vedantam believes himself to be arguing. What matters is what his argument does, what it suggests, how it operates, and what necessary follows from it once it is played out structurally.

    3) “Whoever said that our racial attitudes are “buried deep in our sub-conscious,” beyond our conscious control? Whoever came up with the idea that our conscious and unconscious minds are “divorced” from each other? Whoever suggested that it is impossible for us to become conscious of our own “unconscious racism” because our “unconscious minds” aren’t part of our “We?” Mr. Vedantam certainly makes no such claims in the NPR article, nor does he imply anything of the sort. In fact, these are all fantasies invented by Jeff G. himself.”

    First, I don’t suggest all of our racial attitudes are buried in the unconscious mind. I’m just interested, for purposes of this piece, in those that operate in “autopilot,” and so those are the attitudes I focus on. It was Vedantam who suggested autopilot is steering what “we” should be steering in certain instances. If autopilot is steering what “we” are not, how can “autopilot” be a part of “we”? I realize later on that he will try to rejoin the two. But his argument relies on this moment where the two are divorced. And of course, becoming cognizant of our unconscious racism after the fact is not the same as being consciously aware of what our autopilot is doing. Otherwise, our “autopilot” wouldn’t be “hidden.” Vedantam can tie this to something like, say, phatic speech (which I note in the comments to my original post), but he seems to be suggesting that there is something more at work here than mere laziness or grooming speech.

    That Vedantam “makes no such claims” doesn’t mean that his argument doesn’t, in effect, lead to such necessary assertions. Here, for the “autopilot” to function as “hidden,” it must remain unseen by the conscious mind. It follows, then, that the conscious mind can’t be conscious of the unconscious mind, else there’d be no reason to talk about an “unconscious mind” in the first place. There’s the “divorce,” which I noted was merely metaphorical.

    4) “Nowhere does Mr. Vedantam claim that it is even possible to “re-educate our autopilot,” and this must be dismissed as another of Jeff G.’s fantasy strawmen. Far from implying that we have no control over our autopilot, he specifically states exactly the opposite.”

    Just because Vedantam doesn’t make the claim explicitly (or even consciously!) doesn’t mean his argument doesn’t make the claim in effect. If the “autopilot” can’t be re-educated, what difference does it make if we study it? It just is. But that’s not what Vedantam is arguing. Instead, he argues that we must be aware when our “autopilot” is on.

    But how in the world can we be “aware” — that is to say, “conscious” — of when we are being “steered” by our “hidden,” unconscious mind? Were we aware, presumably we wouldn’t be steered by said mind, because said mind wouldn’t be “hidden.” And were we capable of such awareness, we presumably wouldn’t even have an “unconscious mind.” Unless, of course, Vedantam is making the more interesting argument that the unconscious mind is itself a learned social fiction adopted to explain what appears to be unthinking behavior. At which point I’d ask him how this works in 3-year-olds.

    Of course, that isn’t the argument Vedantam is pursuing, however. And so when he writes, “it may well be that the hidden brain is much more in charge of what we do than our conscious mind’s intentions,” it behooves us to explore that line of thinking. Which brings us back to what the “hidden brain” is, exactly, and how it knows what it knows.

    Vedantam suggest the culture and upbringing instruct the hidden brain. I’ve already noted that it is foolish to extrapolate out to every individual as necessarily instructive what are mere generalizations distilled from some statistical analysis of the prevailing cultural dialogic. Therefore, since we can’t know what it is in culture or upbringing that instructs the “hidden brain” and often renders it “more in charge of what we do than our conscious mind’s intentions” (or even if the social text has anything at all to do with an individual’s thinking; after all, if we always and only were taught by the prevailing social text, we wouldn’t theoretically ever be able to create a new and different social text) we are left with one of two choices: 1) admit that studying the social text is hardly dispositive when it comes to determining the imprinting of any individual’s autopilot; or 2) act as if it is dispositive, then prescribe a more careful examination of the social text, presumably — and here’s the unspoken leap — to correct those things within the social text that imprint negative associations on the unconscious mind.

    Vedantam may not say that’s what he wishes us to do. In fact, his study may be purely descriptive and presume to carry with it no political weight whatever. And yet the implications of what he is arguing DO carry such political weight. And if we are to believe Vedantam’s fiction about how consciousness in its entirety functions, it follows that the social engineers will use that fiction to get the results they desire.

    And, as nearly everyone would agree that racism is bad, why would we not, as a society, take Vedantam’s description and draw from it a blue print to stamp out the kind of racist associations (and I’m using that as only one example in the amity /emnity dichotomy) that find their way into our “hidden” brains?

    Now, call me insane — or a political shill — but the only way I can see to do that in advance of it getting there is to massage and finesse the culture, and to structure upbringings in such a way that the emnity is shortcircuited before it becomes a part of the “autopilot” — which, while we may be aware of what our autopilot does, we cannot conceivably control, else it wouldn’t be an “autopilot” — or hidden — to begin with.

  3. Hi, I’m one of the ‘sycophants.’

    From your post

    All Vedantam is really saying is that there is such a thing as an Amity/Enmity Complex, that it can manifest itself as racism…

    From the NPR article

    “Our hidden brains will always recognize people’s races, and they will do so from a very, very young age,” Vedantam says.

    Perhaps you are correct, perhaps that is what Vedantam was attempting to say. How you know this I cannot tell from what you have provided.

    Vedantam’s own use of the words always and race leads me to an opposite conclusion. Always being a much more concrete word than can, it leads me to conclude that Vedantam sees the concept of race as a form of a priori knowledge. One that, he grants, can be overcome by conscious effort, efforts that would seem to require the guide of an outside agency to provide a posteriori knowledge of the benefits of a race blind attitude.

  4. Also, let me bring up a couple of things my readers noticed.

    First, you write: “Nowhere does Vedantam suggest that ‘you can only “take back control” by changing what culture and society imprint.’ Far from claiming that you cannot consciously control your unconscious, he actually explicitly states exactly the opposite. Nowhere does he suggest that its even possible to “correctly” program the unconscious mind by “giving over control to those who will properly teach you.”

    Actually, Vedantam said this:

    “Our hidden brains will always recognize people’s races, and they will do so from a very, very young age,” Vedantam says. “The far better approach is to put race on the table, to ask [children] to unpack the associations that they are learning, to help us shape those associations in more effective ways.”

    Question: Is it the children themselves who are putting race on the table, unpacking the associations they are “unconsciously” attaching to it, and then shaping those associations in more effective ways? Or will someone else be in charge of directing that approach?

    If so, who? And to what end?

    Then there’s this:

    You write, “All Vedantam is really saying is that there is such a thing as an Amity/Enmity Complex, that it can manifest itself as racism…”

    But what Vedantam writes is this: “Our hidden brains will always recognize people’s races, and they will do so from a very, very young age,” Vedantam says.”

    As one of my commenters notes, “Vedantam’s own use of the words ‘always’ and ‘race’ leads me to an opposite conclusion. ‘Always’ being a much more concrete word than ‘can,’ it leads me to conclude that Vedantam sees the concept of race as a form of a priori knowledge. One that he grants can be overcome by conscious effort, efforts requiring the guide of an outside agency.”

    This observation tracks closely with one I made in my original piece, which I’ll repeat here again: “Of course, what Vedantam doesn’t say is that “race” is, itself, a learned category — one that differs from mere pigmentation — and so it would, presumably, be just as easy to “unpack” racialist arguments early on, which is precisely what the idea of “colorblindness” endeavors to do. More, Vedantam seems to believe that merely recognizing differences in pigmentation has some sort of causal relationship to bigotry — that the negative and positive associations attributed to different colors by those in some Montreal day-care center are the result of color alone as it is filtered through cultural markers and societal cues.

    “But just because culture and society leads one to make politically incorrect associations doesn’t mean they’ve made incorrect or unreasonable associations — ones that as they become more socially aware and more logically savvy they will be able to disentangle as either causal or not, as having merit or not.”

    In short, Vedantam is responsible for the politicization of a neutral description. You may wish to walk it back for him, but he said what he said, and I argued with what he wrote, not with what you wrote as part of what you believe is some rehabilitation of evolutionary psychology.

  5. Sycophant here. So how are you on insanity defenses? Maybe the first qualification for a principle is to have no ability to manipulate.

    Or to be manipulated for some effect.

  6. Wow! How mad will they be when they actually read the book!

    You know, if there’s one thing I don’t like about science, it’s when it’s findings conflict with my worldview of leftist, statist commies stealing intention and meaning from words.

    Oh, hold it, that’s not me! That’s not even Glen Beck or Sean Hannity; it’s Jeff Godlstein. Damn science for messing with cherished “ideas”!

    As an aside….
    one wonders why the beast only stirs when it comes to race. Why is this vast intellect so fascinated with race? Isn’t there some other area of discourse where the evil lefties are “stealing” language? Maybe so, maybe not, reading Jeff G is a guarantee to never hear about anything but race. Somehow the Godlstein is able to stir itself to scream about race on a weekly basis. Methinks the lady doth protest way freaking too much.

    [We now return you to forest for the tress analysis of the above post]

  7. @Jeff G.

    “And what is it that causes such behavior? What is it that we are to have understood? Are we to understand that nurture imprints itself on our “autopilot”? If so, what particular instances? All of them? Certain salient moments? What part of the social text do we absorb, and what part do we filter out? Does it not differ for each individual? And if that’s the case, what are we to learn from studies of 3-year olds that we can then embrace, consciously, in order to “understand the causes” of “our” amnity / emnity?”

    Reply: Vedantam did not introduce the Amity/Enmity Complex. I did because it’s the way in which I understand the relationship between racism and human nature. I’ve discussed it in earlier posts, which you can find in the pane to the right. I understand racism as a specific manifestation of the Complex in which members of a different race are perceived as the “out-group,” rather than, for example, people who have different religious or political points of view, or who differ from us ethnically rather than racially. The tendency to perceive others as belonging to our “in-group” or an “out-group” I consider innate. The nature of the groups is, however, learned. Just as young children have an innate ability to acquire language skills, but no innate knowledge of a particular language, they have an innate tendency to group others into an in-group and out-groups without knowing in advance the precise nature of the differences between those groups. Those differences are learned. The studies with 3-year olds demonstrate how quickly and easily we learn those distinctions.

    “It matters not a whit to me what Mr Vedantam believes himself to be arguing. What matters is what his argument does, what it suggests, how it operates, and what necessary follows from it once it is played out structurally.”

    Reply: The only thing that matters to me is whether his arguments are true or not. If they are true, then what they do, or what they suggest, or how they operate, or what necessarily follows from them will not make them untrue.

    “First, I don’t suggest all of our racial attitudes are buried in the unconscious mind. I’m just interested, for purposes of this piece, in those that operate in “autopilot,” and so those are the attitudes I focus on. It was Vedantam who suggested autopilot is steering what “we” should be steering in certain instances. If autopilot is steering what “we” are not, how can “autopilot” be a part of “we”? I realize later on that he will try to rejoin the two. But his argument relies on this moment where the two are divorced. And of course, becoming cognizant of our unconscious racism after the fact is not the same as being consciously aware of what our autopilot is doing. Otherwise, our “autopilot” wouldn’t be “hidden.” Vedantam can tie this to something like, say, phatic speech (which I note in the comments to my original post), but he seems to be suggesting that there is something more at work here than mere laziness or grooming speech.

    “That Vedantam “makes no such claims” doesn’t mean that his argument doesn’t, in effect, lead to such necessary assertions. Here, for the “autopilot” to function as “hidden,” it must remain unseen by the conscious mind. It follows, then, that the conscious mind can’t be conscious of the unconscious mind, else there’d be no reason to talk about an “unconscious mind” in the first place. There’s the “divorce,” which I noted was merely metaphorical.”

    Reply: The fact that an airplane can be on autopilot does not imply that the autopilot is divorced from the airplane, and is not a part of it. The pilot can switch it on or off as he pleases, and as seems appropriate in a given situation. The fact that the “autopilot” may be “hidden” has no sinister implications, because it must not necessarily remain hidden. To take a less threatening example, consider crossing a street in the UK. If you’ve lived in the US for 50 years and then try it for the first time, you will notice that you were on autopilot. You tend to look in the wrong direction for the approaching danger. Assuming you don’t get run over, you quickly become aware of the problem and shut the autopilot down. It is no longer hidden. In the case of racism, Vedantam is not suggesting that we attempt to brainwash children. Rather, he is suggesting that, just as we can learn that our “street crossing autopilot” exists and, under certain circumstances might cause us to do dangerous things, so we can learn the nature of racism, the reasons for its existence, why it is destructive, and why it is, therefore, a good thing to keep it under conscious control.

    “Just because Vedantam doesn’t make the claim explicitly (or even consciously!) doesn’t mean his argument doesn’t make the claim in effect. If the “autopilot” can’t be re-educated, what difference does it make if we study it? It just is. But that’s not what Vedantam is arguing. Instead, he argues that we must be aware when our “autopilot” is on.
    It is useful to study it because it is not always necessary to leave it on. We can learn when it is appropriate to turn it off, as in walking across a street when the cars are coming from the left instead of the right.
    Vedantam may not say that’s what he wishes us to do. In fact, his study may be purely descriptive and presume to carry with it no political weight whatever. And yet the implications of what he is arguing DO carry such political weight. And if we are to believe Vedantam’s fiction about how consciousness in its entirety functions, it follows that the social engineers will use that fiction to get the results they desire… And, as nearly everyone would agree that racism is bad, why would we not, as a society, take Vedantam’s description and draw from it a blue print to stamp out the kind of racist associations (and I’m using that as only one example in the amity /enmity dichotomy) that find their way into our “hidden” brains?”

    Reply: Perhaps because we have just witnessed the abject and complete failure of an attempt to do just that. I refer to the failure of Communism. It was a central tenet of Marxist philosophy that human beings could be reprogrammed to create the “New Soviet Man,” an imaginary being perfectly suited to live in the Communist utopia. The Communists failed because human nature is not perfectly malleable and purely an expression of our education and culture. Certain aspects of it, including the Amity/Enmity Complex, are hard-wired in our brains. Human beings will always tend to group others into an in-group and out-groups, and no educational intervention, no matter how early it takes place, will alter the fact.

    Assuming this Complex really exists, and will remain part of our nature no matter how hard we try to stamp it out, does it really make sense to throw up our hands and just stay on autopilot? Consider the damage we have done to ourselves by giving free reign to racism, religious bigotry, anti-Semitism, jingoism, blind hatred of the “bourgeoisie,” and all the other familiar manifestations of the Complex. Consider all the senseless, irrational wars that have been a constant trademark of our history. If all these things are manifestations of a part of our nature that is hard-wired in our brains, would it not behoove us to be aware of the fact, and learn to channel the behavioral manifestations of that part of our nature into less destructive paths, instead of just mindlessly continuing along the same path, even as our capacity to inflict slaughter and mayhem on each other keeps expanding by leaps and bounds, until we finally succeed in destroying ourselves? It seems to me that is really all Vedantam is suggesting – that we learn to know ourselves.

  8. As an aside….
    one wonders why the beast only stirs when it comes to race. Why is this vast intellect so fascinated with race? Isn’t there some other area of discourse where the evil lefties are “stealing” language? Maybe so, maybe not, reading Jeff G is a guarantee to never hear about anything but race.

    That was priceless, tim. You should have your own sitcom.

  9. “Assuming this Complex really exists, and will remain part of our nature no matter how hard we try to stamp it out, does it really make sense to throw up our hands and just stay on autopilot? Consider the damage we have done to ourselves by giving free reign to racism, religious bigotry, anti-Semitism, jingoism, blind hatred of the “bourgeoisie,” and all the other familiar manifestations of the Complex.”

    It is safe to say we have strayed far from an examination of Vedantam’s own assertions and have instead substituted something he did not specifically say.

    Assuming the complex exists it is still a far cry to argue that the social construct that is race, never mind the concepts, intentions, and overt acts that constitute racism are strictly a manifestation of such a complex. After all race may indeed be used as a means of establishing foundational amity, an amity that can then be expanded to include others not of the primary race (substitute whatever form of ‘other’ you wish and the principle still holds.)

    Further it must be recognized that, as they are not mere reflex, in order to be detectable such behaviors must involve some expression of the will. If not at the time of expression then at the very least at the time of the assimilation. Said act of assimilation requiring awareness of and selection for the information to be assimilated. That we may not recall the moment when the knowledge was gained does not render it any less consciously gained. To argue for other forms of knowledge is to argue for modes of learning that have not been observed.

    Beyond this and for all we know Vedantam’s own detection of the perception of race by his subject may be nothing more than an artifact of the methods he employed to detect racism.

    Which also does not address any of the detriment that may flow from eliminating any and all forms of the complex – e.g. anti-fascism.

    Which again leads to the unavoidable question of just who do we think this ‘autopilot’ is?

  10. There’s really no need to overanalyze the “autopilot.” It isn’t a separate “who.” It’s part of us. When you walk down the street, do you rationally analyze exactly how you need to move your leg and place your foot to take each step? Obviously not. Your “autopilot” is what makes it possible for you to walk without consciously analyzing each movement. When you stand up straight, are you consciously going over all the complex adjustments it takes to keep from falling over? Obviously not. Again, your autopilot is what makes it possible for you to stand without falling over. Read Jonah Lehrer’s excellent book, “How We Decide,” and you will find many other similar illustrations. All it really takes to understand the “autopilot” is a little common sense. No insidious new political ideology is being concocted here. The novelty in all this is that we are becoming increasingly capable of peering at our own brains as they function, so we can see how and where all this is taking place, sometimes at the molecular level. No new esoteric psychological theories are being invented in the style of Sigmund Freud. It’s really just a question of following the ongoing experiments, and putting 2 and 2 together.

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