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On Politics and Altruism

The Huffington Post has picked up on the clarion call sounded by Judith Herman and others regarding their psychological profile of Donald Trump. Cynics respond that all politicians are power-seeking, and therefore possess significant personality defects. While that may be so, brains do evolve as we mature.

The brain is plastic, and evolves structures as we age that are responsible for socialization. The most evolved structure, which doesn’t appear until most are in their twenties, is responsible for the expression of altruism. Sociopathy (which I see manifested clearly in Trump’s behavior) is the tendency to treat other people as objects. It is indicative of a lack of even the most basic structures of socialization that are entrained with nursing, which delivers the most basic of rewards for collaboration. Forget psychoanalysis: scans of brain activity reveal whether people have even the basic machinery necessary for responsible leadership of others. My guess is that Trump is seriously deficient in that regard.

Louis Cozolino, who teaches at Pepperdine University, also has a practice in psychotherapy that guides adults through experiences that help them to evolve the neurological mechanisms of socialization (see The Neuroscience of Human Relationships). In other words, there are methods for treatment of these disorders, and we should try to educate the electorate to prefer politicians that engage in such counseling. Altruism is the ability to act for the good of others, and is something that everyone should prefer in political leaders.

Of course, the fullest flowering of altruism appears in our great spiritual leaders – those whose service is pursued without any external evidence of seeking for power. It is granted to them by the world they serve. One of my favorite quotes is from Tagore, the educator and poet who was Gandhi’s cultural collaborator:

Power said to the World, “You are mine.”
The World kept it prisoner on her throne.

Love said to the World “I am yours.”
The World gave it the freedom of her house.

In my post Man and Woman, I flirted with the assertion that the capacity to express altruism (characterized as “unconditional love” in that context) is what made Adam and Eve fully human. Conversely, from a psychological perspective, sociopaths are little more than lizards.

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