Dear global Self-reggers: Ukraine

Mar 11, 2022 | Dear Global Self-Reggers

March 3, 2022

Dear Global Self-Reggers,

I can’t possibly write a letter in which I ignore what Ukraine is undergoing. By the same token, important as it is to voice our support and horror, I need to stay focused on what Self-Reg can possibly say that hasn’t already been said by much more eloquent voices. 

Aggression on this scale is terrifying. Primitive forces have been unleashed that quell any thoughts of shared humanity. The parts of the midbrain in which these systems have been unleashed regulate many different emotions: not just anger, but fear, naked predation, lust.

As I mentioned in my first letter, the problem is that we draw these categorical distinctions in language. But once we dig deep into the midbrain, matters are far more complex. Systems in the midbrain are not nearly so differentiated as the categorical distinctions that we draw in language. The pathways to higher, or “tertiary” emotions like hatred or vengeance are twined together with primitive emotions in an incredibly complex weave.

This is one reason why actions intended to strike fear into the heart of the aggressors, such as severe economic sanctions can, perversely, exacerbate their attacks. By no means is that to suggest that we are unwise to pursue such actions; we have no other choice. But they must be coupled with actions that strive to restore a shared sense of humanity.

It goes without saying that our first concern must be with those who have suffered this unspeakable crime. Hyperaroused midbrains must be soothed, and that can only happen through human contact. A shared sense that, as Volodymyr Zelensky so movingly stated, it is humanity that has been brutally assaulted. 

So the point of this letter is to reach out to all those who have been mercilessly attacked, and all those who are doing the attacking. The latter need to see the atrocious harm that is being done, not to nameless statistics, but to grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, children and teens, infants and babies yet unborn. To stand together if our species is to survive, let alone recover from this dreadful trauma.

– Stuart Shanker

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