Wednesday, March 10, 2010

So, I Took A Night Off...

...and went to Nerdstock last night.
There's been a theme running around my mind, and apparently other people's minds, about the psychologic future of America and Americans (read the comments in the thread in particular).
Mourning has come to America. The instillation of fear by the right wing (and by some on the left) is complete. We seem paralyzed.
Barack Obama's election was supposed to be about hope and change, but the GOP marched in opposition, and threw all their considerable financial weight behind the astroturfed TeaBaggers, and succeeded in punching holes in that optimism, at least for now and at least to enough of an extent that it has become a narrative in the Mainstream Media.
How does this tie into Nerdstock? The lecturers at this event, Drs. Joseph LeDoux and Daniela Schiller, lectured about fear: how it works in and on our brains, the psychochemical processes, and more important, how experiments have dictated a new way to overcome fear.
The lectures, while generally at the lay level, got a little technical even for my massive manly brain-the-size-of-a-planet, but I can boil out a few bromides (err, no pun intended):
1) Fear is instantaneous learning. Evolution dictates that the engagement of the amygdala (the brain's center of fear) bypasses rational thought and creates an immediate and immediately learned response to fear. You can't afford to get it wrong a second time.
2) Fear is very hard to unlearn. It takes only one event, say a terror attack, to learn fear. It takes any number of similar contextual stimuli without the fear-inducing event for the body to relax (the classic Pavlovian experiment where a rat is shocked when it hears a tone, and then hears the tone without shock: it still responds to the shock and it takes many repetitions to minimize the reaction).
3) Fear is usually controlled with medications: serotonin or Valium, as examples.
4) The research that the doctors performed suggests that another, more effective and less pharmaceutical therapy might be to replace the stimulus/response with another similar stimulus/response mechanism, but this time, one that will have less impact on the individual's daily life.
A click went off in my head as I listened. If the right-wing is instilling fear, and that fear is intrasigent in the American psyche then the only way, short of dumping a boatload of LSD (which short-circuits the amygdala) into the water supply is to replace that fear with another, equally fearsome boogieman.
Right now, the object of fear is Barack Obama, who represents the left and all that is wrong with the left wing in America: socialist, unAmerican, minority. All the things that play right into the fear response of middle Americans.
What we need to do is to pair Obama in the minds of these low-normals with another object of fear, and let that object gradually draw the fear away from Obama to itself.
What we need, in other words, is something the right wing could truly be afraid of, thus framing Obama as a more moderate and therefore more acceptable choice. We need a sacrificial lamb to run a left-wing opposition to Obama's policies and to be taken seriously.
But who?