Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Our Culture's Powerful Obstacle to Culture

Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Pinky?

Mice enjoy attacking mice.

That’s what scientists from Vanderbilt University said their 2008 research suggests. They were able to determine that mouse brains, like human brains, secrete dopamine, an internal chemical reward which is released during sex, eating and the use of drugs like cocaine. 

A male and female mouse were placed in a cage. Once tiny rodent romance was established, the female was then removed and a male was introduced. As you’d imagine, fighting ensued. When the intruder was taken back out of the cage, the first male would “engage in behavior that he learned would bring his target back.” Like a drunk banging on the other guy’s camaro, trying to get him to come back out of the bar for another go. It turns out aggression is its own reward, even when it doesn’t produce different outcomes.

It's Not a Bored Room
The season premier of The Apprentice aired Sunday night. Two hours of it. Donald’s tender heart drew me in at about the fifty-five minute mark.
After about five minutes, the halfway point of the show, the teams finished their challenge, which meant it was off to the boardroom to discuss results.

"Friends, let us speak peaceably.
People want to see you collaborate, not fight."
If you’ve ever seen the show, then you know that what happens from here is the gradual untethering of a team into individual survivors, each disassociating his or herself from anything that went less than perfectly. It’s an all out war that culminates in a firing and a sheepish trip by a former contestant to a limo waiting in the alley.
I realized half an hour into the boardroom segment that I had been glued to an argument. That's really what the whole last half of the show is. Men and women in varying measures of aggression, fighting over facts, intentions and performance. Multiple people were in tears. Multiple buses were given bodies to drive over. The show is in its 14th season of presenting essentially this formula, incidentally. That is to say, the show successfully, season after season, holds viewer’s attention by showing us a room full of people fighting.
Why would it be entertaining to watch strangers argue? Is aggression so rewarding that we don’t even have to be physically involved?

Cage-Fighter Christ
Jesus spoke from a boat when the crowd thickened. The water, as you may have personally experienced if you’ve fished just off a lakeshore, carries sound rather nicely. 

But why didn’t Jesus just skip the boat ride and raise his voice for the growing assembly?

Who knows. But I suspect it was in large part because he didn’t want his audience to get the wrong idea about the message, or the messenger, like people often do when leaders get loud and foreheads get veiny. In fact, it may be that many were drawn to Jesus initially, and then later lost interest, because he was just too lamb-like. They were looking for someone with his hair on fire and a bullhorn to his lips. This Jesus kid was talking about losing on purpose and leaving swords at home. I’m reminded of a prominent pastor’s bemoaning words about many in our society's misunderstanding of Jesus:

“Jesus is a prize-fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. He is saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter His enemies and usher in his kingdom. Blood will flow. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship a guy I can beat up."
In other words, the Son of God must be properly understood as more rodent-like, dummies. Jesus is dragging his sword across the cage bars, beating his chest and begging for another round with a sinner. 
After all, we can only worship the chief aggressor. 

What’s it like to have a giant hand place you in a position to get high on the dopamine of your own anger and aggression? To be trapped in a cycle of believing down to your most basic physiology that the best option in a given situation is to keep the fight going even if it didn't make things really any better - what would that be like?

That’d be a hell reserved for lab mice, right?
Or would it be what makes television work?
Or would it be the chemistry of politics?
Maybe what we'd call the "Spirit stirring" for defending sound church doctrine?
Perhaps is would just be what keeps us angry until we get what we're owed from anyone and everyone?

Peace: Out?
I’ve lost a bit of my optimism that people generally, actually, want a life of peace. It seems that old idea of “shalom,” which literally means completeness and intactness - a way of no longer needing aggression, is exactly that; An old idea.

It seems we’ve settled in to enjoying our wars.
Settled for being addicts. 
Rodents even. 

We pray for and sing about peace yet want to dress up Shalom Himself in our armor and make Him fight like us, even accuse Him of liking it.
How do we have peace when aggression is what sells papers, defends imaginary borders, convincingly conveys truth, so clearly demarcates the sides, makes customer service relent, entertains for fourteen seasons in a row and actually rewards the monkey in our head with dope?

As I drove in to the office this morning amid so many anxious drivers making their way through the maze to their cheese, I wondered if they knew dopamine is also released when we play an instrument, catch a fish, learn to ski, swim, exercise, teach a kid to ride a bike, paint, laugh, ride roller coasters and make a great meal, among a billion other things that comprise a good day. I wondered if they knew that Christ got famous for a different sort of power than what we currently find entertaining. I wondered if peace is possible in a society that subsists on its absence.

"Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The Foundation of such a method is love." - MLK