Brain Power Politics

March 10

We are again at the edge of war. A war between one part of the brain and another part. The rational part and the , um, other part.

It’s a little discouraging listening to the discussion about how ‘tough’ to be in international relations, but not for the reason you may think. Although I would very very very much like to dismiss out-of-hand the issue of international chest-pounding and teeth-bearing and occasional face-punching (four body-part metaphors in one sentence!), let’s face it (five!), it’s part of the game. No, not the game. It’s part of who we are as a species. Demonstrations of potency and determination and even a certain amount of recklessness are wired into both our behaviors and our responses to others’ behaviors.

This is profoundly disheartening for two reasons. First is because it’s so. Would that we were a bit more Bonobo and a little less Chimpanzee. But genes are genes.

The other reason it’s so discouraging is our impoverished conversation about how the rational and irrational parts of the brain interact, and some kind of nuanced analysis of how to most productively manage their co-existence. There is an altogether too familiar tendency to let the instinct for toughness trump. It’s not that history has never shown this to be correct. It’s just that history also shows how often it goes very wrong, and leads to a lot of very bad outcomes. I guess one way to score the contest would be body piles. Counting up the dead would at least give the rational part of the brain something to do.

Tom Toles is the editorial cartoonist for The Post and writes the Tom Toles blog.
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Tom Toles · March 9