A follow up from Relinquishing poetry

3 points to expand upon from last post:  on Santa Muerte, addiction, and righteous indignation.

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Mostly the disenfranchised, especially those with ties to the indigenous world, believe in Santa Muerte.  They petition her for forgiveness for having to break the law through petty crimes in order to survive.  She is also seen as a protector of the downtrodden and rejected, such as the LGBT community.  Scholars believe she is a ‘syncretic’ image formed from two traditions, the ancient Mesoamerica honoring of death and the Catholic belief of saintly intervention and forgiveness.  Evidently the Catholic church views Santa Muerte as a perversion of religion.  The true perversion here, though, would seem to be the adoption of a saint of forgiveness and protection from those in power by those drug cartels who have attained power through corruption and violence.  Sometimes religious authorities lack fine discrimination.

Now a side trip to the neuroscience of addiction.  In the mid 1950s James Milner and Peter Olds found that rats would press a lever almost  interminably to gain electrical stimulation in the lateral hypothalamus and septum.

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This area has subsequently been found to be part of a circuit involved in addictive behaviors.  The original idea for many years, still maybe to some, is that these areas are pleasure centers, i.e., that the stimulation was so pleasurable that the animal would keep pressing the lever (or taking the drug) to gain satisfaction.  Jaak Panksepp in his wonderful book Affective Neuroscience (to which I have often referred) cites further experimental work and another interpretation.  Briefly, animals (rats mostly) that engage in pressing the lever for self stimulation do not show the usual signs of pleasure following gratification such as grooming and other post consummatory behaviors.  Instead these animals continue in appetitive or seeking behaviors, so that rather than seeing this circuit as one of pleasure, it is more one of seeking pleasure.  Thus addiction is always seeking reward but never really gaining it.  Seeking behavior is a remarkable and ubiquitous presence in our mentality and more could be said here.

And now on to righteous indignation.  I have long noticed in my personal life and my old profession as a psychologist that when people experience righteous indignation, they often sustain their anger through imagined moral outrage and use this to justify a range of poor and mostly destructive behaviors.  This is different from the moral outrage, say, of the civil rights movement that is different in many ways as it avoids  the irrational and unmodulated anger, the focus on retribution and revenge on individuals, and actions more destructive than remedial.

 

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Righteous indignation is more of a closed loop reverberating with a singular emotion, self-sustaining through stereotyped cognitive inputs, and can lead to actions that are ineffective, destructive, and lack the human touch of empathy, forethought, and perspective. We can simplistically look at the limbic system as that closed loop, operating off of one cogntive, mnemonic set shut off from inputs that would help gain perspective, a rather ugly feedback loop like when the microphone is too close to the speaker and that awful wail ensues until either the mic or the speaker is turned off.  So political demagogues and gangsters run amuck in similar gutters.

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