U.S. Senator Ted Cruz steadfastly argued Thursday morning against vaccine mandates and mask mandates, then compared the unvaccinated to smokers – totally destroying his own argument.
"You know what? Smokers when they light up a cigarette, they're increasing their chances they're gonna get lung cancer," Cruz told CNBC. "That may not be a wise decision to do, but in America we get people the freedom to make decisions about their own own health, even if we don't approve of the decisions they may end."
The far right Republican whose home state of Texas along with Florida now account for one-third of new coronavirus cases also said that "if somebody doesn't take the vaccine, they pose relatively little threat to me, they pose relatively little threat to someone who has chosen to take the vaccine."
Cruz's arguments are dead wrong. Literally.
Even vaccinated people can spread COVID-19, which is why CDC guidance recommends masks for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated in high-transmission areas.
Not only does smoking cigarettes cause cancer and death, second hand cigarette smoke has caused millions of deaths of non-smokers, the CDC reports, warning: "There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke." That's why smoking is banned in nearly every space open to the public.
93% of COVID infections are from the delta variant. There is now proof even outside exposure to delta by vaccinated people can cause them to contract COVID-19, yet Cruz says: "My view is we should have no COVID mandates. What does that mean? That means no mask mandates, no vaccine mandates, that means no vaccine passports. We shouldn't step into a regime where the government says, 'show us your papers' if you want to do the basic activities of life."
The government has been mandating vaccines since at least George Washington's time. There are now well over a dozen vaccines children are required to take before starting school.
And children under 12 cannot get vaccinated, a fact Cruz totally ignores.
"We should have no COVID mandates," says @SenTedCruz. "We shouldn't step into the regime where the government says show us your papers if you want to do the basic activities of life." pic.twitter.com/FOBnJymWAj
— Squawk Box (@SquawkCNBC) August 5, 2021
The other Big Lie: How a self-destructive ideological fever engulfed America's foreign policy establishment
"The thirty-year interregnum of U.S. global hegemony," writes David Bromwich in the journal Raritan, "has been exposed as a fraud, a decoy, a cheat, [and] a sell." Today, he continues, "the armies of the cheated are struggling to find the word for something that happened and happened wrong."
In fact, the armies of the cheated know exactly what happened, even if they haven't yet settled on precisely the right term to describe the disaster that has befallen this nation.
What happened was this: shortly after the end of the Cold War, virtually the entire American foreign-policy establishment succumbed to a monumentally self-destructive ideological fever.
Call it INS, shorthand for Indispensable Nation Syndrome. Like Covid-19, INS exacts a painful toll of victims. Unlike Covid, we await the vaccine that can prevent its spread. We know that preexisting medical conditions can increase a person's susceptibility to the coronavirus. The preexisting condition that increases someone's vulnerability to INS is the worship of power.
Back in 1998, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright not only identified INS, but also captured its essence. Appearing on national TV, she famously declared, "If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future."
Now, allow me to be blunt: this is simply not true. It's malarkey, hogwash, bunkum, and baloney. Bullshit, in short.
The United States does not see further into the future than Ireland, Indonesia, or any other country, regardless of how ancient or freshly minted it may be. Albright's assertion was then and is now no more worthy of being taken seriously than Donald Trump's claim that the "deep state" engineered the coronavirus pandemic. Also bullshit.
Some of us (but by no means all Americans) have long since concluded that Trump was and remains a congenital liar. To charge Albright with lying, however, somehow rates as bad form, impolite, even rude. She is, after all, a distinguished former official and the recipient of many honors.
Trump's lies have made him persona non grata in polite society. Albright has not suffered a similar fate. And to be fair, Albright herself is not solely or even mainly responsible for the havoc that INS has caused. While the former secretary of state promoted the syndrome in notably expansive language, the substance of her remark was anything but novel. She was merely reiterating what, in Washington, still passes for a self-evident truism: America must lead. No conceivable alternative exists. Leadership implies responsibilities and, by extension, confers prerogatives. Put crudely — more crudely than Albright would have expressed it to a television audience — we make the rules.
More specifically, Albright was alluding to a particular prerogative that a succession of post-Cold War presidents, including Donald Trump and now Joe Biden, have exercised. Our political leaders routinely authorize the elimination, with extreme prejudice, of persons unwilling to acknowledge our indispensability.
Should Irish or Indonesian leaders assert such a prerogative, American officials would roundly condemn them. Indeed, when Russia's president and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia each had the temerity to bump off an opponent, U.S. officials (in the former case) and the American media (in the latter case) professed profound shock. How could such things be permitted to occur in a civilized world? When an American president does such things, however, it's simply part of the job description.
Three Strikes and You're Out!
Now, allow me to acknowledge the allure of exercising privileges. I once flew on a private jet — very cool, indeed.
Today, however, David Bromwich's armies of the cheated have good reason to feel cheated. Their disappointment is not without justification. The bullshit has lost its mojo. Since the promulgation of the Albright Doctrine, U.S. forces have bombed, invaded, and occupied various countries across the Greater Middle East and Africa with elan. They've killed lots of people, unsettling millions more. And our divided, dysfunctional country is the poorer for it, as the cheated themselves have belatedly discovered.
Blame Donald Trump for that division and dysfunction? Not me. I hold the militant purveyors of INS principally responsible. However contemptible, Trump was little more than an accessory after the fact.
To understand how we got here, recall the narrative that ostensibly validates our indispensability. It consists of sequential binaries, pitting freedom and democracy against all manner of evils. In World War I, we fought militarism; in World War II, we destroyed fascism; during the Cold War, we resisted and "contained" communism. And after 9/11, of course, came the Global War on Terrorism, now approaching its 20th anniversary.
Good versus evil, us against them, over and over again. That recurring theme of American statecraft has endowed INS with its historical context.
Today, in Washington, a foreign-policy establishment afflicted with rigor mortis reflexively reverts to the logic of 1917, 1941, 1947, and 2001, even though those past binaries are about as instructive today as the religious conflicts touched off by the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s.
Confronting evil is no longer the name of the game. Understanding the game's actual nature, however, would require jettisoning a past that purportedly illuminates but actually imprisons Americans in an ongoing disaster.
Today, race dominates the national conversation. And few Americans would deny that we have a race problem. But the United States also has a war problem. And just about no one is keen to talk about that problem.
More specifically, we actually have three problems with war.
Our first is that we have too many of them. Our second is that our wars drag on way too long and cost way too much. Our third is that they lack purpose: when our wars do eventually more or less end, America's declared political objectives all too often remain unmet. U.S. forces don't necessarily suffer defeat. They merely fail. For proof, look no further than the conduct and outcomes of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Two trips to the plate. Two whiffs. How could that have happened? In Washington, the question not only goes unanswered but totally unasked, which, of course, leaves open the possibility of yet another similar failure in the future.
As a long-ago soldier of no particular distinction, I'm mystified at the apparent absence of curiosity regarding the inability of the world's most generously supported military to accomplish its assigned missions. If the January 6th assault on the Capitol deserves a thorough investigation — as surely it does — then how can this nation pass over a succession of failed wars as if they were mere annoyances? Shouldn't our collective commitment to "supporting the troops" include a modicum of curiosity about why they have been so badly misused, even if the resulting inquiry should prove embarrassing to senior civilian and military officials?
Liberal media outlets characterize Trump's claim to have won the 2020 election as the Big Lie, as indeed it is. But it's hardly the only one. Indispensable Nation Syndrome, along with the militarism that it's spawned in this century, should certainly qualify as — at the very least — the Other Big Lie. Curbing Washington's susceptibility to INS requires acknowledging that the proximate challenges facing this country are in no way amenable to even the most creative military solutions. Giving yet more taxpayer dollars to the Pentagon helps sustain the military-industrial complex, but otherwise solves nothing.
Think about it. The defining reality of our moment is the ever-worsening climate chaos that so many of us are now experiencing personally. That threat, after all, has potentially existential implications. Yet in Washington's hierarchy of national security concerns, climate takes a back seat to gearing up for a new round of "great power competition." In effect, a foreign-policy establishment devoid of imagination has tagged Xi Jinping's China to fill the role once assigned to Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany, Adolf Hitler's Germany, Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
That China and the United States must make common cause in addressing the climate crisis seems to count for little. Nor does the fact that the People's Republic ranks as America's biggest trading partner and holds more than a trillion dollars in U.S. debt. Sustaining the good-vs-evil binary as a basis for policy requires a major enemy. It hardly matters that the most basic assumptions about the continuity between past and present are not only illusory but distinctly counterproductive.
So, here's the deal: history didn't end when the Cold War did. At most, it paused briefly to catch its breath. Now, it's resumed and is darting off in directions we've barely begun to identify. The past that we've been conditioned to cherish, that's supposed to make sense of everything, makes sense of more or less nothing at all. As a result, it won't work as either map or compass. Indispensable Nation? Spare me.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not expecting Madeleine Albright to offer an apology, but it would be helpful if she at least issued a retraction. She might think of it as her parting gift to the nation.
Andrew Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. His new book, After the Apocalypse: America's Role in a World Transformed, has just been published.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel, Songlands (the final one in his Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.
A neuroscientist explains how Trump’s most fanatical followers could lead America to societal collapse
Do not be alarmed, but consider this article a prediction and a warning. Actually, it's okay to be a little alarmed, because recent events—like the storming of the Capitol—are certainly cause for concern. Let's call it what it is; Donald Trump has created a cult and radicalized its members. QAnon also shares a large part of the responsibility, whoever they are. We may not be able to see it because Trump has been banned from Twitter and Q conversation cleaned from social media, but behind the scenes, this cult is being transformed into an army of soldiers.
How do we know that it is as serious as I say; that this is not just more fear mongering? Well, for one, people have died. Heather Heyer, a counterprotester protesting the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, was run over by a white supremacist, and 19 others were injured. Last year a man drew a hunting bow on protestors in Salt Lake City before being taken out by the crowd, a chilling moment that was captured on video. On the day of the Capitol riot, a pipe bomb was found a few blocks from the Capitol building. In addition to these troubling events, many others who will go unnamed have been the victims of hate crimes that can be traced to the alt-Right, pro-Trump movement.
But the causalities have not only been on one side. Capitol rioter Ashli Babbitt was fatally wounded by a cop as the mob tried to breach a door, another frightening moment caught on video. The point I'm making has nothing to do with whether or not the shooting was justified—though saying that level of force was necessary strikes me as uncomfortably close to Right-wing apologists who defend cops that shoot unarmed black men. The point is that the violence is escalating, and there's every reason to believe that escalation will continue. To use Newton's third law as a metaphor—for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, what does this mean for the future of America?
Since aggression provokes fear, and fear promotes aggression, a dangerous feedback loop has been established, dividing the nation to such a degree that something like civil war seems imminent. It may be a "cold civil war," but there will still be violence, destruction, and death. There will also be more gridlock in Washington, which makes any kind of progress impossible. It is hard to calculate the suffering that could have been avoided with a functional Congress, but we can be sure it is substantial. And if the division gets too severe, which is where we are headed, there will be a point of no return. Social chaos and economic collapse will follow, the United States will lose its status as a superpower, and life as we know it, will cease. If the pandemic showed us anything, it is that despite how advanced we are technologically, we are not protected from disaster, and our way of life can change overnight.
The good news is that this gloomy future is only inevitable should we choose not to intervene. But we do have to make a conscious effort to avoid catastrophe if we want any chance of being successful. I'm not talking about compromising, or forgiving, or forgetting—because we should do none of those things. I'm proposing something altogether new, something radical to stop Right-wing radicalism. But to understand the solution, and why it is necessary, we first have to get a clearer understanding of the problem, and of the predictive power of science.
The Predictive Power of Terror Management Theory
To those skeptics who consider a civil war of sorts an unlikely scenario, just ask yourself how likely any of the events mentioned above would have seemed in the pre-Trump era. Imagine taking a time machine back to 2014, and telling people that the reality show star Donald Trump would be our next president. That alone would sound ridiculous. Now imagine telling people that thousands of his supporters would storm the Capitol—many armed—in hopes of overturning the 2020 election. It would sound like some zany plot for an over-the-top comedy. Now imagine that after such event, and after trying to get his vice president killed, Trump would still own the Republican party and all of conservative media. On the surface, this outcome seems so improbable that it makes one doubt our ability to predict the future at all.
Despite how unlikely this general scenario might have seemed, I'm going to argue that it was in fact predictable with a high degree of statistical certainty, if one had the proper theoretical framework through which to understand those events as they were unfolding. That framework is called Terror Management Theory(TMT), and this paradigm from social psychology will be our sense-making lens in a time where nothing seems to make much sense.
Armed with the logic of Terror Management Theory, and an understanding of the relevant neuroscience, I was able to predict the rise of Trump, the white Nationalist movement that put him in office, the Q problem that led to the Capitol attack, and the refusal to accept the results of the election by Trump and his supporters—many months in advance. These predictions will be explained later in the article. No, I am not a psychic, but I did have a crystal ball called "science."
Karl Popper, the father of the philosophy of science, said the riskier the prediction made by a scientific theory, the more convincing it is when that prediction comes true. And you can be sure that when I was making such predictions, in articles for websites like Raw Story, Daily Beast, and Psychology Today, they seemed to describe highly unlikely outcomes. That is, if one were getting their analyses from mainstream news media and professional statisticians unfamiliar with the effects of "mortality salience"—in other words, making people think about death, or making them feel that there is a looming existential threat. I bring up these predictions not to say "I told you so" or for bragging rights; rather, it is a plea for the reader to take the predictions of the theory seriously.
To understand how Terror Management Theory can be used to predict the collective behavior of a society when existential threat looms—whether that threat is ISIS, Right-wing terror, or the pandemic—a brief introduction is in order. If you are already familiar with the theory and its relevance to Trump supporter psychology from past articles published at Raw Story, know that this piece presents new insights and ties up many seemingly unrelated features of cognition in a way that illuminates precisely why everything happened the way it did. The Trump loyalist is a mystery we are about to unravel, and in doing so, we come to see that the average MAGA maniac had little choice over their behavior.
Cultural Worldviews are Death-Anxiety Buffers
Terror Management Theory, which was based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning book from the 1970s called The Denial of Death, has been supported by hundreds of psychology and neuroscience studies. According to the theory, most of human behavior is driven by our subconscious fear of death. Unlike most if not all other animals, we have an awareness that one day we will inevitably die, for reasons that are beyond our control. This realization leads to an existential fear that is always bubbling beneath the surface. Without any way to cope with that cold hard fact of life—or fact of death, I should say—it can be difficult to get up in the morning, and to go on living, knowing it is all in futility.
How do we deal with our fear of death and unrelenting existential angst? Through cultural worldviews.
According to TMT, as a way of dealing with persistent death anxiety, humans created cultural worldviews—like religions, national identities, and political ideologies—to ease our fears and distract us from the fact that we will soon be gone, and probably forgotten. These worldviews make us feel safe and permanent by providing paths to immortality.
Through the concept of an afterlife, religions make literal immortality possible, while political ideologies and national identities give us symbolic immortality. In other words, they make us feel like we're part of a group and a movement that will outlive the individual. Worldviews also give life a meaning and a purpose. Whether we identify as Christian or Muslim or Buddhist, Democrat or Republican or Libertarian, we all belong to a tribe. Some tribes are just more ideologically extreme than others, and less accepting of outsiders. This applies even to atheists and anarchists, who are often just as ideological as the ideologies they are trying to escape.
So, worldviews are a double-edged sword: on one hand they give us direction and comfort, on the other they divide us into in-groups and out-groups, turning fellow humans into spiritual or political enemies. The unfortunate result is tribalism. Racism can be thought of as a specific type of tribalism, as tribalism proper would include other types of prejudice, like bias against people of other nationalities, religions, and political parties.
Tribalism, or loyalty to one's social group and aggression toward outsiders, is bad enough when times are good, but when there is an atmosphere of existential fear lingering over society for whatever reason—terror attacks, political incompetence, or a pandemic—tribal behavior gets turned up to eleven. In response to mortality salience, we double-down on our beliefs and try to force them on dissimilar others, and if they resist, we try to punish them. Whether the purpose of this punishment is to enforce fairness or to get revenge is largely in the eye of the beholder.
Understanding racism as emergent from tribalism can make sense of many confusing things. For example, during the Capitol riot, footage from Fox News showed more than a few black protestors in the audience. CNN cameras showed practically none, and we will probably never know whether Fox was selectively focusing on the minorities in the crowd, or if CNN was selecting them out of shot, though we can reasonably assume the truth is probably somewhere in between. While the minorities appeared to be safe in the crowd of QAnons and Trump soldiers, Nancy Pelosi would have undoubtedly gotten mauled by the mob. This of course does not mean that many of the Alt-Right rioters were not racist—it simply means they interpreted the minorities in the crowd to be tribe defectors, and as long as they show allegiance to the Nationalist movement or conspiracy theory mindset that signals they belong to the right tribe, the white tribe, they are accepted.
While the Alt-Right is mostly composed of Christians and Republicans, their Christian-American worldview has evolved into the more-extreme philosophical framework outlined by the tribe leaders—Donald Trump, Q, and conservative talk show hosts looking to boost ratings. At the same time, these influencers are monitoring social media and gauging sentiment on the ground, so the views of the tribe members and leaders evolve together, and this coevolution is guided largely by the atmosphere of existential fear, which is enhanced by the fear mongering coming from the top. And then, Trump's reassuring words, and Q's perceived righteousness, provide scared and confused human beings with a philosophy that gives them comfort and purpose. It is difficult if not impossible to reach these people with reason alone, as reason is not going to make them feel safe or comforted or inspired. And if the reasoning is perceived as being based on principles from an opposing tribe's worldview, they will flat out reject that logic on principle alone. That is not to say these people are completely unreachable—it's just going to take a lot more than reasoning with them.
Predictions Come True
What were the sources of existential threat that created the conditions that would put an opportunist like Trump in the most powerful position in the world? In 2016, I wrote an article for the website Aeon titled How the Fear of Death Makes People More Right-Wing, which argued that the Brexit and Trump movements were catalyzed by existential fear created by the string of ISIS attacks that had recently rocked the world. Prior to that essay, in January—almost a year before the election—I wrote an article for Raw Story called Donald Trump Has a Mental Disorder That Makes Him a Dangerous World Leader, which over the course of his presidency would receive upwards of 30 million views, making it the website's most popular article ever published. In July of 2016, when all the pundits and statisticians were predicting a blowout by Hillary Clinton, I published another article titled A Neuroscientist Explains Why Trump is Winning, and one month later another piece titled The More People Think About Death, the More They Think About Voting for Trump, which directly linked Terror Management Theory to Trump's rabid support. A 2016 Daily Beast article along the same lines, called Why Do Some People Respond to Trump? It's Biology 101, issued a warning for voters in its concluding paragraph:
"The rise of Trump has defied almost all logic. But he isn't appealing to logic. He is appealing to our most basic survival instincts. Those include fear and the natural tendency to thrive and conquer. This presidential election will be an important test for our nation. We will see if we are evolved enough for our logic to overcome our instincts."
Apparently we were not. Over the next few years, I would write more than a dozen articles on Trump-related psychology for Raw Story and Psychology Today that would receive millions of views, and land me offers of representation by fancy literary agencies, and media requests for appearances on popular web shows like the Young Turks' Damage Report and the David Pakman Show. In these interviews I described how Trump would respond as he began to lose power, based on insights from Terror Management Theory and the neuroscience of narcissism. Again, I deserve no special credit for these predictions; had I not been introduced to Terror Management Theory by a colleague, I would have been just as clueless as the pundits and statisticians. However, Ernest Becker, the cultural anthropologist who wrote The Denial of Death, and Sheldon Solomon, the psychologist who turned Becker's idea into an actual testable theory, are prophets in my book. Prophets of death, I guess you'd call them.
A more recent article, posted in September of 2020 at Psychology Today, titled How Trump and Media Allies Target the Mentally Vulnerable, had another clear warning. The teaser text read, "We can expect that conspiracy theories will be weaponized this election (again)." In it I explain how Trump and Q targeted people with schizophrenia and related disorders, by exploiting their heightened sensitivity to patterns (which are often not actually there). In another article published around the same time, I warned that the division was getting so bad that we could expect the election results to be rejected by half of the country. Despite these dire predictions being widely broadcast, the future that the science was foreshadowing seemed to be unavoidable. Why? Because unless we can learn to mentally override our fears and biases, they will completely control us, and they will make us tribal. But we are not totally hopeless—if we understand the neuroscience underlying these phenomena, we can fight back.
The Prefrontal Cortex is the Source of "Free Will"
The kind of person who is likely to be a Trump extremist is also likely to have impaired or suboptimal brain function in an important region known as the prefrontal cortex. A healthily-functioning prefrontal cortex is what allows one to override their primitive instincts, to think rationally, and to respond to stressful events in a controlled manner, rather than being controlled by fear and reflexive behavior. It does this by arming the conscious agent with a higher form of self-regulation and control, known as cognitive control, executive control, or effortful control.
To be clear, impaired cognitive control is not just a problem we see with Right-wing radicals. It is connected to ideological extremism more generally, so poor prefrontal activation is a concern for Left and Right-wingers alike. In fact, this cognitive profile is also associated with stimulant and alcohol addiction, as well as mental illness, like schizophrenia. And in super stressful times, like during a pandemic, we all become mentally ill in some way (anxiety, depression, etc.), and therefore less in control of our biases and behavior, which limits our ability to act freely. Why? Because the cognitive mechanisms that normally allow us to do so dissolve, leaving us with only preprogrammed behavior.
While some people will claim that they have no racial biases, or any biases for that matter, a famous experiment called the implicit bias task reveals that almost all of us do, and there's plenty of data to prove it. This bias affects how we process information and perceive the social world around us. However, this bias is subconscious and not easily detected with the naked eye. This has the unfortunate result of making it easy to ignore. Whether or not our implicit racial bias leads to overtly racist attitudes and behavior depends on an interplay between different brain areas—specifically the amygdala, which lights up when we experience something we perceive to be threatening, and the prefrontal cortex, whose job it is to regulate and suppress that fear response and the associated behavior. But if the prefrontal cortex isn't working right, it can't do its job.
Brain imaging studies have shown that people who display a stronger implicit bias have a stronger electrical response to black or other-race faces in the amygdala. An exaggerated amygdala response is part of what creates the sudden sensation of feeling scared. In people with healthy functioning brains, the fast amygdala response activates the prefrontal cortex, which is slower and plays a regulatory role. When the fear system is triggered, prefrontral areas work to assess the situation rationally, calming the mind and curbing fear-evoked behavior. Thanks to specific neural regions like the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the anterior cingulate cortex, the brain exercises cognitive control, suppressing the tendency toward tribalism.
The problem is, not everyone has a properly functioning prefrontal cortex, and these people are the ones whose biases control them. They cannot reason those fearful surges away because they lack the mechanisms that make that kind of high-level reasoning possible. Since alcohol and amphetamine addiction can exacerbate this problem, Fox News viewers with such vices will be more vulnerable to the effects of fear mongering, and if they are given a "call to action" by a tribe leader like Trump or Q, more likely to act aggressively in an effort to push their worldview on others. Most supporters will stay home, but with many millions of followers tuned in, it is not surprising that a few thousand showed up to storm the Capitol.
So now that we understand the root cause of it all, perhaps we should view Trump and Q followers differently. They are not normal supporters, but more akin to cult members who have been radicalized by fear, their fates determined due to a lack of free will—which refers to our ability to override our primitive programming and tribal instincts. They are, in a sense, victims. They have been duped and brainwashed by rigid ideologies almost from the time of birth, and those ideologies have been weaponized by divisive politicians like Donald Trump. Does it make more sense to want to punish or fight these people, or to recognize them as agents who've lost their autonomy and ability to reason effectively?
The enemies are the influencers intentionally deceiving these vulnerable people, stoking their fears and fueling their biases. You may say some were racist, crazy, or ignorant before Trump, but we now see how that got that way. Politicians create fear and hatred for votes, Alex Jones does it for clicks, Fox does it for ratings, and QAnon does it for…chaos, I suppose. These are the people we must not let win. The actual followers are pawns in their game.
So, what can we do to release these people from the grips of their psychological captors?
The Path to Deradicalization
The solution is multi-faceted, and change won't happen overnight. One major goal would be to alter the worldview and belief structure of the extremist, and another would be to strengthen their prefrontal cortex, so that the agent is in control, rather than being controlled by the primitive brain.
Fortunately, one fascinating feature of the brain is its plasticity—or ability to rewire itself in response to new information and experience throughout life. Through exposure to new stimuli, new synaptic connections can be formed, creating neural pathways that can promote a restructuring of old and rigid belief systems. To facilitate cognitive restructuring, meditation and attentional exercises can train the prefrontal cortex to attenuate a hyperactive amygdala and control those bad instincts. A campaign to make these kinds of practices commonplace should be a goal of scientists and educators. It is not easy, but it is certainly possible to reverse biased and even racist tendencies through cognitive interventions. Counterbias training has proven effective in making police officers more aware of their implicit biases, though enhanced awareness does not always immediately translate into changes in behavior.
That could require more extreme therapeutic measures, such as pharmacological treatments to reset the brain. Psilocybin, the ingredient in magic mushrooms, or LSD, supplemented with talk therapy could be an effective way to alter rigid worldviews and dissolve biases. In a 2016 article, I suggested LSD therapy for Donald Trump, and although the title may make one chuckle, I seriously believe it would be the most effective way to get Trump to understand the effects of the division he's sowed. Psychedelics work by relaxing belief structures, so that the agent can "achieve a healthy revision of pathological beliefs," to quote psychedelics researcher Robin Carhart-Harris. Unfortunately, this remedy would require that the extremist be open-minded enough to give such an experimental treatment a try. Given that the average Q follower is all about "waking up" and seeing reality as it is, it is not unreasonable to think that a psychedelics campaign could catch on in those communities. Studies have shown that the use of psychedelics is associated with a decrease in authoritarian political views and an increase in views associated with liberalism, like open-mindedness and empathy (though one could argue some "liberals" today have neither of these). These drugs work by dissolving the ego, making one feel more connected to nature and to others.
But the real problem is that our most popular worldviews—the major religions, political ideologies, and national identities—divide us into tribes, and emphasize our differences rather than our similarities and shared human interests. If Terror Management Theory is correct, then the obvious solution is a new cultural and political worldview that unites us all under a common existential goal: the continued survival, progress, and eventually, the outward expansion of humanity. This worldview is called the Cosmic Perspective, and I have outlined it in a Psychology Today blog post titled, Could a 'Cosmic Religion' Unite a Divided Nation? You can learn about how the Cosmic Perspective naturally emerges from Terror Management Theory in this YouTube video on my channel (Road to Omega), Trump Divided America—Here's How We Heal.
Part of being liberal means being compassionate, but this is just as much about practicality as it is empathy. There's really no other choice than trying to make things better. I'll be playing my part by creating more content aimed at coming together—call it propaganda for a psychedelic revolution. Coming together does not mean meeting in the middle—as extreme centrism can be just as counterproductive as any other kind of extremism. We need radical solutions that push us forward, and we cannot go forward if we're at war.
If you'd like to be part of the solution, subscribe to my Substack newsletter, Road to Omega, which is a project aimed at fighting misinformation, healing division, and redistributing wealth and power in America. The project will be tokenized with NFTs (non-fungible tokens), and token holders will benefit from the project's success, so there is value in participating.
Simply stated, Road to Omega is an effort to save the world with science and epistemology. The plan entails:
- healing the division in America and abroad by fighting tribalism
- fighting misinformation with a logical reasoning system
- decentralizing wealth and power with blockchain technology
- creating a new political party based on self-correction
- unifying the sciences with a new kind of "Theory of Everything"
- dissolving the boundary between science and spirituality
- developing a "religion for robots" that provides a code of ethics for AIs
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