Why young men become soldiers and fanatics: no frontal lobes activity

fanatics1If you’ve read The Crazy Wisdom of TDA Lingo, you’ll know I’m a fan of the frontal lobes. As I’ve argued there and elsewhere, the frontal lobes are the brain’s “sweet spot,” where we experience empathy and selfless bliss. I learned this from a dramatic experience during a low point in my life. It seems those more qualified to talk about the brain than I agree with me, at least in part.

What every dictator knows: young men are natural fanatics, was written by Joe Herbert, emeritus professor of neuroscience at the Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair at the University of Cambridge. It’s safe to say his opinion is based on an intimate knowledge of the workings of the brain.

A “combination of rampant testosterone and an immature frontal lobe also explains why young men like taking risks and why they are liable to fanaticism,” says Herbert. It’s a bigger problem with young men than young women because the frontal lobes in men don’t kick in until later in their twenties than women. In their teens and early twenties, young men want to fit in. While not all young men become fanatics or warriors, societal factors can push them in that direction.

“What every dictator knows” is kind of a misleading title. “What every politician and PR agency knows” would have covered it better. It’s pretty obvious that politicians and PR executives use sex and fear to turn ordinary people into fanatics in one way or the other. We’ve seen a lot of that since 9/11 and they’re ramping up the volume now. We’re supposed to believe Russia is the greatest threat to the United States just because some politicians say they are, entirely without evidence.

The Frontal Lobes: Personal Anecdotes

The god of the fearful

Experience is the best teacher and my personal experiences have dramatically shown me the importance of the frontal lobes. When I was in high school and through my second year of college, I was virtually frontal lobe dead. I thought about sex and fitting in with the crowd more than anything else.

After my second year of college, I went back to work at the best summer job in my Southern California beach suburb. I delivered liquor for a popular liquor store. The pay was terrible, but the tips were great. In order to get those tips, you had to compete for the orders from the big tippers. I knew who they were and knew how to get their orders. Then one day I discovered meditation.

Meditation worked wonders on me in a very short time. Within a matter of weeks, I no longer wanted to work in that competitive environment. I quit my job and started working at a bookstore. I stopped surfing in crowded conditions because I didn’t like to compete for waves. I was lost in bliss and it changed my life.

Neil Slad AmygdalaYears went by and I got caught up in the survival game again. Towards the end of the century, those blissful years became a distant memory. Then I discovered Neil Slade’s website. Highly dubious, I tried his simple “amygdala tickling” technique. It was a low point in my life. I had a terrible job and it looked like there was no way out of it. One morning as I was driving to work feeling particularly sorry for myself, I tried the technique and became completely blissed out. It stuck for about six months.

My work partner hated me. Previous to that morning, I got around it by finding work I could do alone. After that morning, I decided not to feel offended by his obvious dislike for me. My job, too, became fascinating. I’d never worked in such terrible conditions before and made staying happy my priority. It wasn’t hard because Neil’s “trick” worked so well.

About a month later, I found a job with much better working conditions. Had I not been “clicked forward” into my frontal lobes, I probably would have reveled in the knowledge that the guy who tried to make my terrible job even worse was still stuck there. Instead, I put two and two together and realized he was being a jerk because he felt trapped in his job and saw no way out. When a vacancy came up, I drove to my old workplace and told him about it. He took the job and we got along just fine from that day on.

I still have my ups and downs, but I have my frontal lobes to call on whenever the going gets rough. To this day, they make my life feel magical and wonderful, even when things aren’t going as well as I’d like them to.

What if schools, politicians and PR firms taught us about the frontal lobes and the advantages of taking a cooperative, compassionate and empathic approach to life? We wouldn’t be as rich or powerful, but my guess is that we would be happier and healthier. But what about those evil Russians and ISIS? Well, wasn’t our fanaticism responsible for the rise of ISIS? What has Russia done to make us afraid of “Russian aggression?” The frontal lobes allow us to see the bigger picture. We will still defend ourselves if necessary, we just won’t be so quick to become soldiers and fanatics.