Opinion & Editorial

Blatherers, snake handlers, and the reptilian brain

There are a lot of angry people around. I understand that there have been severe stressors in the past year, from COVID-19 to wildfires to political debates – but all the anger isn’t helping anything.

The angriest people I know follow the “News,” whether on TV, the internet, radio or print. The news is where anger-peddlers live. There are literally millions of people in the world whose PAID JOB is to make us angry. Most claim to be looking out for our interests; some claim they’re informing or protecting us from others; still others blather about blather, while yet others blather about the nature of blather itself. 

Sheesh, how do we stay sane?

While mostly harmless, I believe there are many reasons for the proliferation of blather. Two stand out.

First, blather engenders fear, which creates stress, which creates hunger, which increases consumption and sales. Anger is good for sales. News organizations have known this for years, that’s why, “If it bleeds, it leads!” on local TV news. Most things in the world come down to people trying to make money off of others.

Second, blather diverts our attention from people with the most influence, wealth and power who employ the blatherers to keep us from seeing what they’re up to. They understand how to divide and conquer. If we ever realize that we have more in common with the people we think are our adversaries than we do with the big cats, those cats will get nervous. 

It reminds me of an early lesson I learned about snake-handling: to avoid getting bitten, point the snake at someone else. Snakes have reptilian brains and reptilian brains react to things on a survival level: there aren’t too many snakes writing poetry or pondering philosophy. For snakes, it’s mostly about finding food, shelter, warmth, and making babies. 

Ask any brain scientist, and they’ll tell you that deep down, humans are the same; we respond to survival needs first, and if there’s spare time remaining, we do other things. Speaking as a snake-human, my survival needs are my home, food, water, air, warmth, and enough money not to fear that my family would be left destitute should something befall us. And, I might add in a few distractions like music and baseball. Your list may differ, but you get the idea. When I have those things, I’m not angry. Maybe.

Most of our stress and anger comes from fear of not having our needs fulfilled, and that’s what the blatherers mine for gold. In a variation of a magician’s sleight of hand, the blatherers ensure that we don’t turn around and see who’s handling us. Anger drives us to buy things, blaming others for what we lack and making us angry.  

Snake handlers understand that they can do whatever they want as long as we don’t turn around and see who’s pointing us at each other. Brilliant. It keeps us, the snakes, from seeing the handlers go about their dirty business.

To all the snake handlers and their mercenary blatherers, I say, “No, thank you!” I’m not taking the bait, not buying the script, not blaming others with whom I have more in common than I have meaningful differences.

I’m not going to torment myself with their never-ending stream of information or let them ruin my sense of well-being. I’m keeping faith with others. 

So, quoting a line from the great songwriter, John Prine, who died recently from COVID-19, “Blow up your TV …”



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