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Controlling your inner reptile

anti-americanControlling your inner reptile or why a universal gun ban is necessary for our survival

About thirty years ago I was one of two production cameramen on an industrial film for a leading manufacturer of some of the earliest versions of today’s mobile devices. It was a stressful shoot. The script had undergone many changes up to and including the actual shoot days.

The director, the producer and her lawyers had spent several all-night sessions ironing out difficulties in the script. Everyone felt the stress but no one so much as the director who felt sleep deprived, extremely hassled and artistically frustrated. Midway through the second shooting day, I was freshening up in the bathroom. The director was there splashing water on his face trying to stay alert.

He looked absolutely wasted. He glanced over at me, smiled coldly and said “If that fucking bitch (the producer) makes one more change in my script I’m going to blow her away.” As if to punctuate his statement he lifted the lid on his attaché case and showed me a revolver. I freaked. I was not about to blow the whistle, terminate the shoot and possibly get either me or the director fired. Neither was I willing to allow someone to die as a result of the act of a temporarily insane person. The compromise plan I decided on was to quietly inform the other crewmembers to be aware that the director was packing and if he made any sudden moves for his attaché to be ready to tackle him. To this day, I’m not sure I did the right thing in allowing the shoot to continue. Luckily for us nothing came of the threat and somehow we finished without bloodshed.

Most people in that day and in that situation would have taken the director’s statement as merely blowing off steam and an idle threat with no real intent to act on it. (I found out later that he was in the habit of always carrying a gun since his days as a currier for the news services.) I knew better. I came to my career in filmmaking after receiving my Bachelors degree in Psychology. I fully understood the workings of the reptilian brain and how, in circumstances of stress, anger, fear, drug or alcohol intoxication and sleep and food deprivation, it can literally override all the higher functions, automatically.

After the Newtown massacre there is renewed interest in finding some way of keeping guns out of the hands of people with untreated mental disorders. Of course this is a point that must be addressed with the utmost urgency. More important is the recognition of the disgraceful state of the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in this country.

For the purpose of this essay I would like to address the issue of how to keep guns out of the hands of peaceful, normal, nominally rational people. Surveying all the comments and reviewing the arguments of the gun control advocates, one rarely finds a discussion of how gun possession poses a self-induced threat to rational, law-abiding people. The focus of gun violence always seems directed at criminals, the mentally deranged or the macho conceal-and-carry George Zimmerman types.

We have seen ample documented evidence of reptilian-like behavior on the part of soldiers and police acting under the anger, fear and stress of combat, demonstrator management and suspect apprehension. I am still amazed these two groups apparently receive no training in the recognition of the damage the power and authority of their reptilian brains can inflict. Neither do soldiers nor cops ever undergo any non-routine debriefing after either specific, non lethal, violent incidents or upon the conclusion of their terms of service. It is not unusual for traumatic flashbacks to trigger reptilian responses long after the initial stimulus has passed. This can be deadly for spouses, close family members and even innocent strangers.

The illusion of what I all the unified self is one of the most dangerous delusions so-called reasonable people suffer from. The idea that I, my thoughts and my perception of reality at all times and under all situations are under my rational control is as dangerous as it is delusional. Professor Philip Zimbardo demonstrated in his infamous Sanford Prison study and again in his defense of guards accused of atrocities in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, that there is a “Lucifer Effect” in which otherwise kind, decent people behave in ways that can only be described as demonic when placed in certain situations and under measurable stresses.

What hope is there then when people can be arbitrarily subjected to emotional states or placed in situations that can overthrow every rational, humane or civil response?

First, we need to recognize the unified mind theory as a delusion. We have to accept that each and every one of us is, without exception, capable of not only being a saint but also a Hitler. This is a hard pill for most of our egos to swallow.

Second we need to be far more present with and observant of our own internal states as well as aware of the conditions in the environment around us. In aviation there is a period following the onset of oxygen deprivation called “the time of useful consciousness” in which the pilot is trained to recognize the symptoms and can act to save himself and the plane before losing consciousness. Why can’t we have a “time of useful consciousness” in which we are able to act to ameliorate the stress, remove ourselves from the situation or take other useful steps to delay or inhibit the emergence of the terrible reptilian brain?

In a similar way, through proper training, people can be taught to avoid the unwanted unleashing of the reptilian brain and the often disastrous consequences. To emphasize again, I am amazed police departments and the military apparently do not train their personnel to understand and avoid the immergence of the reptilian brain, especially since they possess the potential for the irresponsible use of deadly force.

Someday we may have a truly civil population where every member possesses the degree of self understanding and self-control to make their possession of weapons of lethal fire power a safe possibility. Of course why would such a population then even want guns? Not everyone wants to hunt for sport or needs to kill animals for sustenance—yet.

Other civilized countries, in this as in other matters, seem to be way ahead of us. Most other advanced countries agree: people and guns do not mix.

I am not sanguine enough to expect these words to have any effect on government or on the great unwashed. The impelling drift in this issue, as in so many others in our mad nation, is toward our inexorable plunge to violence and death. In a way it represents the logical conclusion and the final unfolding of one of the wickedest empires in human history. In spite of this plunge, people of conscience cannot be excused from continuing to fight the good fight against guns, war, global warming, etc, as if it mattered. It seems to me though that preaching of values to the general population while there is such rampant immorality and disregard for human life at the highest offices in the land is a lot like trying to secure a severed head with a Band-Aid.

The sight of croc-tears streaming down the face of our Nobel President as he mourns the death of the Newtown innocents produced a profound nausea in my gut. Is he as really as unaware as he claims to be of his own drone-struck Pakistani innocents? I’m glad I was not the cameraman on that shoot! Talk about reptilian brain action: Upon hearing Obama’s empty sentiments, I would not have been able to restrain myself from leaping from behind my camera and pummeling the President into bloody unconsciousness on the plush White House carpet.

Hey, hey! Omamay! How many kids did you kill today?

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