Forget Survival of the Fittest: It Is Kindness That Counts
A psychologist probes how altruism, Darwinism and neurobiology mean that we can succeed by not being cutthroat.
(…) DISALVO: Your team at U.C. Berkley has done a lot of interesting research on the vagus nerve and its association with altruistic feelings. Tell us a bit about this research and its implications for better understanding the nature of altruism.
KELTNER: The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic autonomic nervous system. It is a bundle of nerves that originates in the top of the spinal cord, it activates different organs throughout the body (heart, lungs, liver, digestive organs). When active, it is likely to produce that feeling of warm expansion in the chest, for example when we are moved by someone’s goodness or when we appreciate a beautiful piece of music. University of Illinois, Chicago, psychiatrist Steve Porges long ago argued that the vagus nerve is a care-taking organ in the body (of course, it serves many other functions as well). Several reasons justify this claim. The vagus nerve is thought to stimulate certain muscles in the vocal chamber, enabling communication. It reduces heart rate. Very new science suggests that it may be closely connected to oxytocin receptor networks. And it is unique to mammals.
Our research and that of other scientists suggests that the vagus nerve may be a physiological system that supports caretaking and altruism. We have found that activation of the vagus nerve is associated with feelings of compassion and the ethical intuition that humans from different social groups (even adversarial ones) share a common humanity. People who have high vagus nerve activation in a resting state, we have found, are prone to feeling emotions that promote altruism-compassion, gratitude, love, happiness. Arizona State University psychologist Nancy Eisenberg has found that children with elevated vagal tone (high baseline vagus nerve activity) are more cooperative and likely to give. This area of study is the beginning of a fascinating new argument about altruism-that a branch of our nervous system evolved to support such behavior.
Performing [circumcision] without anesthetic has allowed researchers to study the parameters of extreme pain in experiments that would not have been allowed on laboratory animals. Using routine, unanesthetized circumcision as a model of stress, Porter et al. were able to examine the relation between cry acoustics and vagal tone in 49 (32 experimental; 17 control) 1 to 2-day-old, full-term normal, healthy newborns during the preoperative, surgical, and postoperative periods. Vagal tone was significantly reduced during the severe stress of circumcision. These reductions were paralleled by significant increases in the pitch of the infants’ cries.
The majority of newborn males in the United States are circumcised, although the percentage varies by location, religious affiliation, and socioeconomic classification. The prevalence of circumcision in the United States increased from about 30% in the 1930s to nearly 80% by the early 1970s. During this time frame, whites were more likely to be circumcised than blacks or Hispanics.1 While the circumcision rate appeared to decline in the 1970s and early 1980s, rates of more than 80% were described in studies limited to Atlanta and US Army Hospitals.2-4 Estimates based on the National Center for Health Statistics indicate that 61% and 65% of male infants were circumcised in the United States during 1987 and 1995, respectively.5,6 Ritual circumcision is common in the Jewish and Islamic faiths, but uncommon altogether in Asia, South and Central America, and most of Europe.
Based on recent survey data, 54% of pediatricians, family practitioners, and obstetricians perform at least 1 circumcision per month. Of physicians performing circumcision, 45% use anesthesia, most commonly dorsal penile block with lidocaine (71% of pediatricians, 56% of family practitioners, and 25% of obstetricians). Those physicians who reported not using anesthesia cited concern about adverse effects and a belief that circumcision does not warrant anesthesia.7
Report 10 of the Council on Scientific Affairs (I-99) Full text
American Medical Association
So the AAP is promoting the indelible imprinting of sociopathy on babies, the undermining of the baby’s trust in his mother, the weakening of the parental bond that holds families together, and the dissolution of the empathic and altruistic ties that are the foundation of community self organization and mass action. And for what? Check out my MGM paper above and you’ll get a taste of the century-long progression of one bogus rationalization after another, up to and including HIV prevention. It’s flat out fraud.
Oh, and then there’s the vaccine issue.
What exactly is the agenda here?