From the Editor

Neuropolitics in the age of extremism: Brain regions involved in hatred

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We psychiatrists encounter a wide variety of intense negative emotions in our patients on a daily basis, whether in the clinic or on an inpatient unit. These include rage, irritability, hostility, paranoia, loathing, and unadulterated hatred.

We evaluate, diagnose, and treat the underlying psychiatric brain disorders that generate such maladaptive emotions, and have our patients regain their baseline functioning by resolving the psychopathology that ignited their amygdala and their limbic circuitry.

But while we can manage the microcosm of one patient’s mental state, we are unable to intervene in the macrocosm of an entire society ravaged by extreme hyper-partisanship and naked bidirectional hatred. It is literally impossible for even the most skillful psychiatrists to repair a nation caught up in poisonous emotional turmoil, irreconcilable political differences, and a veritable war of belief systems that mimic religious fanaticism, which history tells us led to so many tragic wars over the centuries and millennia.

Ideally, politics is supposed to be an elegant cerebral process, a debate of ideas across disparate ideologies, the product of which is expected to be the advancement of the welfare of the nation and its citizens. But what we are currently witnessing is a distressing degeneration of politics into personal hatred and ad hominem attacks, with partisans frothing at the mouth as they describe the utter stupidity and dangerousness of their despised political opponents-cum-bitter enemies. They even declare each other “mentally ill,” which is an absurd explanation of why other people do not agree with their belief system. Neither side can find an iota of redeeming value in the political views of the “other side” and hurl insults and epithets verbally and in writing via dueling books that become instant best sellers among the partisan aficionados on both sides.

This disastrous political “climate change” may have ominous repercussions for the brains of the political combatants themselves, and even for those on the sidelines who are subjected to the relentless stress of witnessing a social train wreck in the making. As a neuropsychiatrist, I wonder if the collective national amygdala of the country is on fire, and the national prefrontal cortex is being corroded by the pervasive and ugly negativity that engulfs us all, with social media that incites its users night and day, adding gasoline to the fire. Chronic stress and its associated hypercortisolemia are known to be neurotoxic to the hippocampus and eventuate in clinical depression and its grave consequences.

Continued to: I think I sensed this odious scenario coming...

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