I’ve recently noticed a disturbing amount of fundamentalist right wing propaganda showing up on the ‘facebook notes’ of friends, many of whom I previously considered to be reasonable people. Recent trends include attempting to explain why Obama is a ‘socialist’, with further explanations of why socialism is ‘evil’ and is a system which leads to ‘laziness’. One recent online networking political commentator even made me aware of the fact that there isn’t ‘actually’ a job shortage because of the market crash, in fact, people just think they are ‘too good’ for all of the available jobs; and rather than receive ‘government handouts for their laziness, people should join the military, because they are always hiring’. I’ve also recently ‘learned’ that the real problem is the nature of humans, not the capitalist market system; thus, if we were all just more obedient subjects to the God of capital, the system would reward our faithfulness with economic stability, improved stock options, and eternal (economic) life. It comes as no surprise that most of these conservative capitalist apologist are equally apologetic for the conservative religious ideologies which serve to enable and justify the western market.
But more disturbing than the ignorance of these individual claims, and even more disturbing than the lack of contesting of these claims, is the way in which recent political debates seem to suggest that the cognitive structures of some are fundamental different than those of others. Although this may sound absurd to some, studies in cognitive neuroscience have made very clear that nature of neuronic function is essential plastic, and thus capable of (self) modifying its fundamental structure. Now this is nothing ‘new’, as the plasticity of the brain was first put forth by Donald Hebb in his 1949 text The Organization of Behavior; the only ‘new’ developments may be the recent philosophical and political implications being gleaned from developments in these sciences.
This allows us to ask a seemingly absurd question; are the brains of some literally (and physically) different from those of others to the extent that it affects their ability to both properly perceive and interpret political reality? Have the brains of some been shaped by capital to the extent that certain political alternatives (ie, socialism) possess an a priori absurdity that places them in the realm of demonic fantasy? Is this why the notion of collective ownership of the means of production seems equivalent to the collective consumption of newborn children in the minds of some? The further question would be why individuals raised and enculturated in similar systems can develop entirely divergent senses of political perception; and further, what sort of events have the potential to re-sculpt the brain and strengthen specific synaptic connections?
At this point it is clear that science is a potential agent of human emancipation; and any future emancipatory project must take seriously questions of both the initial shaping of neuron function as well as the potential for neural ‘re-programming’. The later idea will surely make some uncomfortable as it brings to mind pictures of a futuristic re-education camp in which revolutionary pedagogy is replaced with scientific re-building; but if capital does have the ability to shape the brain in this way, then a counter programming is crucial.