531. Ideologies are homeostatic systems that destroy homeostasis
With this item, I interrupt the series of 14 dilemmas that I will continue later
The brain scientist Antonio Damasio (2003) showed that emotions do not destroy decision making, but enable them, as part of a larger ‘homeostatic’ system that creates a balance of forces that enable and further life. Part of that system is in the body, for a maintenence of a viable range of bodily temperature, oxigen, and minerals, with hunger and thirst, nausea, immune systems, pain reflexes, and the like, but part of it is emotional, as in fear and flight, anger, defence, disgust, sex drive, love and hate. The system as a whole entails tuning between body and brain, with hormones, neurotransmitters, electrical pulses, blood stream, the firing and connecting of neurons, and so on. The system has developed in evolution, over millions of years, across species. Of course emotions can become excessive and then upset the functionality of body and mind, in addiction and mental diseases, which then yield external equilibrators such as doctors and psychiatrists.
The term ‘homeostasis’ is a bit of a misnomer, because the elements of it are subject to change, notably in evolution. Damasio used the example that the human being used to be lactose-resistant, but when dairy products became part of staple food, that disappeared, though it still lingers with some people. Because of this dynamic, Damasio later adopted the term ‘homeodynamics’, but ‘homeostasis’ had become customary.
Is the homeostatic system only a feature of the individual, or is there a cultural, public form of homeostasis? I propose that ideology plays that role. It serves to maintain a balance of values, convictions and perspectives of a nation, in chauvinism, that becomes prominent and exclusive in nationalism. It is not unrelated to personal homeostasis. It appears that racism or suspicion of outsiders appeals to brain regions associated with disgust.
The tragedy is that this collective homeostasis of ideology often goes against overall equilibration in stable relations and peace, in political conflict and war. Efforts are made to create stability at a higher level, across ideologies, in supranational institutions such as the EU and the United Nations.
The attraction of Taoism is that it is averse to an excess of regulations and ideology (‘wu-wei’), maintaining variety of personalities, perspectives and actions, apart from the injunction against harming others. Admittedly, modern societies are more complex than the relatively simple agricultural society at the time of the emergence of Taoism, hundreds of years before Christ, and rest upon a multitude of institutions that require maintenance and protection. However, one can still resist ideologies of cultural values and perspectives that are exclusive.
Ideologies can become more homeodynamic by widening the boundaries of the in-group one trusts and has affinity to, as is being tried in the EU, not entirely succesfully, with Hungary and Poland maintaining their national homeostasis.
Damasio, A. 2003, Looking for Spinoza, Orlando Flo: Harcourt.