Breaking The Code

I’ve been — once again — recommending to friends and colleagues the amazing book by Clotaire Rapaille, “The Culture Code.” The subtitle kind of gives away the content, An Ingenious Way To Understand Why People Around The World Buy and Live As They Do. Say that in one breath… Yet it really is only half, well more than half the story. I will not synopsize it here because I’ll do it an injustice, I may push you away from reading it if you think you get the headlines, and lastly, it’s not the whole story. I will not pose as the ‘code breaker.’

Rapaille is – or rather was – a practicing psychiatrist whose work with autistic children led him to discover modes of behavior rooted in culture, rather than say, intelligence, that informs our decision making. Frankly with all the poor decisions I’ve seen lately both domestic and global, by people who should know, or don’t want to know better, us simple folk better learn the basics of how the brain works to make decisions. So leaving aside his main thrust of culture, let’s look at his real premise.

Simply stated R. makes the case that a brain has clearly delineated functional parts. No, not just biologically, like the cerebellum, amagdyla, brain stem, etc., but two (only) parts that matter when decision making is left up to us. Here it is; the cortex functions include thinking and intelligence. The part of the brain that deals with emotions and/or instinct… (pause for drama) is the reptilian brain. Love that moniker.

Here’s a really basic way to see how these parts function. Harry is shopping for a new car. At the Chevrolet dealer he cuts past the sedans and trucks, SUV’s and coupes like an NFL running back to a bright yellow Corvette shimmering at the other end of the showroom. Like a moth to flame, Harry, who might not have children though he has a wife, is magnetically drawn to the ‘Vette. His reptilian brain says; wowie wow – wow – wow, lust, vroom, me, fast, virility, too cool, friend envy, chick magnet, me Harry, you blecchh, etc. After he stops drooling and after his imagination recedes to Defcon 1, the cortex chimes in. “Harry,” it says “I know that other brain wants this car.” “Let me help,” to wit, “it’s bright yellow so it can be seen in traffic – this could be called safe. Also the visibility is terrific and with that handling it will be a breeze to drive safely. And it’s an All-American product – the quintessitential statement of sporting idealism, made right here to beat the world. Price is OK, and the wife will love the way she looks in it.”

You see it is in the reptilian brain the real answers, the real decisions are made. The cortex gets bypassed by the power of emotion. Emotion is everything; the keys to learning, the keys to imprinting. Yet the cortex serves the purpose of putting a rational face on the decision – a more human, less, kind of, reptilian face.

R. says emotions create a series of mental connections or highways that condition us to see the world in predictable ways. And since the majority of our learning takes place before we are seven, most of the highways have been constructed. Emotionally powerful experiences are seared into our brains.

I could extrapolate this as context (which he says is all) but you’ll want to read the book – and it is a fun read. However my point — which I am finally coming to — is to look at what has happened during this election cycle and how the candidates have been chosen and how they present themselves. What are their ads like and when they go negative what does that say. And the personalities of not merely the 4 protagonists but their surrogates and party machines that supply the scripts whose singular attempt is to drive you to their candidate or, mostly it seems, away from the other side.

Now go back and examine the reptilian brain, emotions and decision making. Certainly you can notice the play to emotions rather than fact. And the tangible form that the reptilian brain takes as a physical manifestation is the big lie. Because it need not be defended by fact, nor encumbered by nuance, a lie is very powerful and manageable. It will merge on to those mental highways much more effectively than ‘information.’ Of course the great dictators knew this, entertainers know this and sports mythology lives off it. The latter two are benign of course, but the former – what the master misogynists know – is that a lie told often enough becomes the truth. And you begin to feel in your gut that it’s true. At that point – game over.

So, what’s the end story? Our country is entering into an election devoid of cortex, once again used to prop up the decisions of the reptilian brain. Until either party starts to recognize this, we will get the leader we deserve – a gut checker who leaves his cortex at the (White House) door and trots out information only to substantiate his/her inner desires. I don’t know about you, but the difference between buying a Corvette and being the ostensible leader of the free world, should be made with distinctly different criteria. Of course, that requires thinking, and the truth, and access to facts without taint and with first person observation. Can we manage to do that or has the media and political parties subverted us all for ratings and winnings?

As Clotaire Rapaille says, “The Reptile Always Wins.”

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