Protest, Violence And That “Pesky Reptilian Brain”*


*See Kirkus Indie review

In To Find the Way of Love, I stated what we all know instinctively: Fear separates. Love unites. One of many lessons of history is that overreach provokes reaction. Sometimes it takes years or decades, but action and reaction are inevitable partners in the dance of life.


Throughout the world, people are joining in protest of the way things are, the status quo. In America, perhaps different from other nations in magnitude only, the “99 percent” are having their say all over the country. First, it was the Wall Street occupation; then, it was everywhere.

 In Los Angeles, the City Council embraced the protestors. Then, according to the papers, it had second thoughts.

In New York, on Wall Street, we saw video footage of an Iraq war veteran admonishing the police, over and over, “If you want to be tough, want to fight, go to Afghanistan. These are Americans. You are supposed to protect them.” The cops on screen all looked young and unsure of how to react to a veteran who had served his country several times.

In Oakland, the situation got uglier. Reports came over the Internet that Scott Olsen, a Marine who’d served two tours in Iraq, was struck in the head by a projectile fired by the Oakland police, leaving him in critical condition. He’d survived combat overseas; Oakland was a more serious matter.

We remember the Democratic Convention, many decades ago in Chicago, when demonstrators were attacked with tear-gas and batons; the deaths of college students at Kent State; the murder of civil rights workers in Mississippi. It’s an endless list of brutalities. This is reaction to action, just as the protestors worldwide are in reaction to the Powers That Be, whom they experience as operating at their expense.

The reptilian brain, the earliest brain structure to develop, is primitive and focused on survival. Force and fear operate on a survival assumption—this assumption protects the status quo. That is why all social movements have been so costly in terms of human sacrifice, time, and societal ruptures. Over time, given enough death and destruction, movements also can morph into what they originally defined themselves as being against.

In trying to protect themselves against any loss whatsoever, power structures have often lost everything, and then the dance begins anew.

It is never just an issue of rich and poor and everything in between. It’s an issue of excessive concentration of wealth in the few, at the expense of everyone else, and there is no value added for anyone else. That is experienced as exploitation. Excess provokes reaction when the opposite of excess is when too many others experience deprivation and fear about survival.

Restraint, moderation, and a belief in what’s often left at the doors of houses of worship—brotherhood and sisterhood—would help. These are very big and complex issues for small blogs and our sensationalized news programs.

We can have better goals and look for adults to set better examples, not fire up the people with short-term interests at the expense of a better world. We can make equality a virtue and turn away from divisiveness and decisions made solely for profit.

In the book, I speak about the concept of “like me,” because being different was dangerous for survival in the development of earliest civilization. Have we come far enough since then? Gangs, countries, tribes, the question seems to remain, “Are you like me, or my enemy?” Not like me…wrong neighborhood, wrong ethnicity, wrong religion, wrong color, wrong tribe. Then, for survival the next question was,  “Do I greet you or eat you?” There are many ways to do the latter: eat up resources and opportunities, pit people against each other, create endless possibilities for divisiveness and fear. The other possibility is to recognize that we could all be heading for an impoverished and violent world.

While we remain concerned about the future of our world, we are basically optimists who believe that, in spite of ourselves, we are moving in the right direction. If everything is local, not just in politics, we may yet evolve into a saner human community where the response on the “like-me scale” of “Do I greet you or eat you?” is I GREET YOU!

Oliver & Barbara

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