Learn how culture uses our primitive instincts to control our lives. And what you can do to minimize its influence.
The Primitive Mind
The monkey brain, the reptilian brain, and the lizard brain. These are all terms for the same thing. They describe the most primitive aspects of our minds. It’s something we have in common with many living things.
What Does The Monkey Brain Do?
Our monkey brain is home to our primal survival instincts. This aspect of our brain is like the RAM memory of a computer. It holds processes that trigger automatic thinking and expedited value judgments. One of these is our fight, flight, or freeze reaction. This enables us to act or react without thinking about it. In life-threatening situations, this definitely comes in handy.
It’s also the place where our basic nurturing instinct lives. Many living things have specific programming around procreation and the protection and nurturing. Some have the innate ability to migrate and navigate impressive distances annually.
We can never do away with the monkey or reptilian brain. It’s imperative to our existence. Our “fight, flight, or freeze” reaction mode is vital to our survival. Here we store the blueprint of things that may be potentially harmful. When something that fits the harmful blueprint, we react immediately. For example, we freeze when we come upon a bear while hiking. Instinctively, we know to run would cause the bear to charge. But if we come upon a fallen beehive, we know to run. The wrong reaction could mean serious injury.
Taking control of the primitive mind is something man is interested in for a variety of reasons. We need the ability to acclimate to unfamiliar environments more quickly. Clinicians want to help people with trauma, which can trigger the fight, flight, or freeze response.
Unfortunately, institutions like organized religion are way ahead. They have learned to use it to drive emotional responses and thus control thinking, values, and behaviors. Religion and politics are experts at taking control of the primitive mind and using it to control people.
Environmental and Cultural Influences
The monkey brain is that part of the subconscious that regulates unconscious activities. This includes heart rate, breathing, and hundreds of glands. It also regulates to a great degree our specific personality and instinct components.
Our environment has a profound effect on this programming. This effect is most profound when we are young, and our brain is still developing. So, our dominant cultural narrative also programs our monkey brain. This is because we are born into environments with specific types of harmful elements.
Our parents guide and teach us what is harmful. They help program our cultural narrative. Trusted authority figures also engage in this programming. So, it’s our cultural narrative that provides the boundaries of our beliefs and values. It tells us what is safe and what is potentially harmful. It tells us what is good and what is bad. This becomes our worldview or paradigm. It’s the lens through which we see the world. So, our paradigm is a set of programmed boundaries, values, and prejudices.
When you travel to an unfamiliar environment, your cultural programming may not align. This causes several problems. For instance, if you grow up outside a big city where loud noises aren’t common, then likely have a hard time adjusting to the routine loud noises of a big city. Your fight-or-flight button would be pushed almost continually. Thus, leaving you in a state of distress when no danger is present. You’d have a hard time sleeping. This would carry over into your day, leaving you tired and stressed.
Conversely, if you grow up in a city environment and then try to live in the wilderness, you’d have a hard time. There are no city noises in the background. And you would fail likely to recognize the dangers in the natural environment. This is simply because they are often subtle and not a part of your cultural programming.
Misuse of Our Monkey Brain
As mentioned above our cultural narrative can be essential for practical survival knowledge. For example, our parents and elders taught us to identify various things vital to our safety. In the past, our ancient ancestors taught us that when all the birds stopped chirping, there might be a harmful predator present. Similarly, we learned to recognize the rattle of a harmful snake as a warning. Some things we fear are instinctual. We know when we lose our balance that we are about to fall and react to correct.
Unfortunately, religions use our monkey brain to insert programming that is less than healthy. Organized religion treats people as assets. People are their cash flow. Religion, and in particular, Western organized religion. These are the Abrahamic religions of Semitic origin including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are a rebranding of earlier Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian and Assyrian mystery religions. They don’t want you to question the cultural narrative they provide. You are their customer. They add programming to the primitive mind that is unhealthy.
Organized religion is the single most influential social institution. It is what gives people their bias and prejudice. However, not all religions are harmful. Only those that create boundaries and restrictions dictating values and thought. As a result, these are harmful because they adversely affect our ability to reason. Some religions have more boundaries than others. For example, Taoism and many forms of Paganism have the fewest constraints over freethinking. With these systems, you are free to explore and develop your path.
How Groupthink Affects the Monkey Brain
We need to learn to bypass the monkey brain to unlock the keys to intellectual and spiritual development. So, the elements of our cultural programming are more often than not the obstacles to spiritual exploration. This is because this programming is not based on necessary survival knowledge. Instead, it is often overrun with religious beliefs and prejudices.
Religions teach us to categorize people and determine if they are “safe” based on their beliefs. This includes our beliefs about the afterlife. Besides, these “beliefs” teach us to value people by gender, ethnicity, and race. The mythology justifies discrimination and persecution. So, it is easy to see how all of this gets in the way of spiritual exploration.
Identifying the Negative Programming
Your personal growth depends on your ability to consider new information. You can tell to what extent bias and prejudice affect the primitive mind. Ask yourself these three questions:
1) Safety Based on Religious Standards
2) Lack of Diversity
If your inner circle of friends is limited to a group of people who believe exactly like you, then you won’t grow. And, you are more likely to assimilate to extremist points of view. So, ask yourself, do you have people in your circle of friends from different backgrounds and spiritual beliefs? The more diverse your inner circle the more likely you are to encounter ideas and opinions that will help you grow. The more segregated and closed your social circle the less likely you are to grow. And, the greater the tendency you will reject any information that conflicts with the “groups” paradigm.
3) Responding Instead of Thinking
Do you react without understanding why? Are you distracted and spend time on things that are of little value? Are you persuaded to buy products when you don’t need them? These are signs of groupthink manipulation. It shows you how powerful the cultural narrative is in your life. You are acting and reacting like a trout to a shiny object.
Taking Control of The Primitive Mind
Taking control of the primitive mind isn’t easy. To do this you must find the programming that is affecting it. Sometimes it is unhealthy thought scripts of our personality. However, more than likely the problem is with the programming of the cultural narrative.
The best tool to help reprogram our thoughts which affect our primitive mind is with the Enneagram Personality Profile.
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Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia
Abrahamic Religions, Wikipedia