Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Accounting For Male Sexual Harassment: A Return To Simpleton Theory

Image result for Gayle King Shocked face image
"I'm still in shock. That is not the man I know." So said Gayle King after Charlie Rose was suspended from CBS for harassment.

As the eruption of sexual harassment allegations and accusations continues, they have now claimed long time PBS interviewer and CBS news anchor Charlie Rose. Rose, after a Washington Post expose, has been accused not only of groping of various female underlings (especially in connection with his PBS show)  but also prancing around in the nude while they were working at one or more of his homes.

The reports  obviously flabbergasted CBS Early Show  co-hosts Nora O'Donnell and Gayle King, with Gayle even exclaiming on yesterday's show: "I am still reeling and barely slept last night. This is just not the man I know.:

Hmmmm....."not the man she knows"  but that elicits the question of whether she really knew Rose at all. She may have thought or believed she did, but her reaction discloses she really didn't. If this is so then it must be possible for people - not just men - to present differing faces or personas at different times, in different conditions. How these different personas get triggered should therefore be a matter of interest to us all.

Twenty-six years ago Neuroscientist Robert Ornstein, in his book The Evolution of Consciousness, Prentice-Hall, 1991, used  a novel "simpleton" model to account for radically divergent personality attributes and behavior. His central premise was that human behavior is a confluence of the new brain (neocortex) as well as a more recent ape-jackal brain (mesocortex) and an ancient reptile brain (paleo cortex).   The latter has also been called "the lizard brain". 

Ornstein associated specific modes of behavior with particular neuronal sub-assemblies to assign relatively distinct units of dominant behavior. He called these sub-units "simpletons".  The operational functioning of a human brain then was essentially the result of the interaction of these sub-assemblies or simpletons, e.g.

{H} = [A] + [P] + [L] + [R] + .[D].......

where [A] = Altruistic, [P] = Playful ,[L] = lustful, [R] = reflective, [D] = Dominating  and so on.

A dozen or more such "simpletons" may "inhabit" each human brain - and come to the fore if the correct stimulus appears. Thus, a "hostile-aggressive" simpleton may appear if one is cut off in a lane of traffic, or is chewed out by one's boss. A "lust" simpleton may appear for any number of stimuli-images which I won't bother to detail, but which anyone can imagine. A "caring-loving" simpleton may appear in response to words of endearment, or an affectionate hug from one's spouse, or child. A "comic" simpleton may appear spontaneously - and proceed to play a practical joke, or take a humorous perspective on everything for the time it is "in control".

Ornstein points out that many humans "require time to get their simpletons in place" for particular situations. A father of two young children may need a half hour or more after he arrives home from work to "chill out" to allow his hostile-aggressive simpleton to depart, to make way for the "loving-caring" simpleton that can address his children's needs without yelling at them, criticizing them or swatting them. Far better, as Ornstein indicates, to allow decompression time for a simpleton change, than to invite disaster. Ornstein argues that if a person makes any kind of effort - he or she can identify most of the simpletons at work in their personality, and learn to recognize them - and bring a desired one on when the situation calls for it. (As in the case of the father above).

What does all this tell us about the human brain? First of all, that it's extremely complex. In fact, the brain is not "one" but three: composed of a neocortex (center of abstract thought), a mesocortex, and a paleocortex (wherein emotions, instincts, lust and territoriality reside). The interplay between one or more of these parts - as well as between what Ornstein calls the "thought circuit" and "emotion circuit" can bring a particular simpleton into play. Often changing simpletons - say from "hostile-aggressive" to "caring"-   is not easy, because the thought and emotion circuits are nearly detached from one another (the former localized in the neocortex, the latter in the limbic system-hypothalamus). This lack of "communication" is the cause of endless problems or misunderstandings in human social interactions.

Because of the intervention of simpletons,  Ornstein has observed that morality and justice meted out often run into complications. This may be because:

i) The typical human is not one steady, stable persona (identity) but up to a dozen or more co-habiting the brain, with more or less equal power shared.

ii) For a given misdeed or crime, which simpleton (brain sub-system) do you hold accountable? If you hold the whole person accountable you are perhaps assuming more than is warranted by our current brain architecture and its dynamic interplay.

After all, why should one's WHOLE self be held accountable because the Lust simpleton briefly got out of control? Or because one's murderous-rage simpleton did?

The answer is that for society to function, as Ornstein notes, it needs to hold the whole person responsible, even if only one of his collective simpletons was the perpetrator. Sophisticated brain discrimination, say to parse the origin of specific immoral actions, is simply not at the level needed to identify individual simpletons, guilty of the specific misdeed.. (Though obviously, say in a case of rape, a lust simpleton can be brought under control by chemical castration).

Other conclusions also arise:

i) Humans possess no constant or persistent self, but a gaggle of competing "selves" (simpletons) any one of which can seize control at any given time. Thus, the concept of a fixed personality is a fiction or artificial construction.

ii) For a truly genuine concept of "free will" one therefore needs to look not just at a person's acts, but the interplay at the time for his different selves. In other words, how does the presence of multiple selves (neural subsystems)  within a person alter the concept of free will at its core? 

None of this, obviously, is meant to excuse the behavior of a Charlie Rose, a Roy Moore, a Harvey Weinstein or anyone else accused of serious sexual transgressions.  What it is meant to show is that it is preposterous to assert after the fact: "That wasn't the person I knew".  Of course not, because the "person" you thought you were interacting with was merely one of many simpletons governing that individual's neuro-dynamic.  The "person" is not an integral unit but comprised of disparate selves called simpletons. In the case of all the  serial male sexual harassers a specific simpleton combination ([L] + [D]) dictated their actions with respect to those they abused. Superficial observers were often shocked on seeing the first reports of their abuse because the only simpletons they'd ever seen previously were "normal" ones, not the [L] and [D} combo.

Ornstein's simpleton theory is something to keep in mind as this tsunami of abuse and harassment allegations continues and especially if assorted people exclaim: "That was not the guy I knew!"

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