This article deals with an interdisciplinary area of research that is related to political science (and political philosophy) as well as to the life sciences, including ethology, ecology, the theory of evolution, genetics, and neuroscience. This area was given the term biopolitics by a group of political scientists including Lynn Caldwell1, 2, 3, Albert Somit4, 5, Steven Peterson6, 7, Roger Masters8, 9, 10, Peter Corning11, 12, and Heiner Flohr13, 14 that established the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences (APLS) in 1980. They believed that biopolitics was to employ concepts developed in evolutionary biology for the purpose of improving “the understanding of the political behavior of humans”.15, 16 Similar views were also characteristic of some representatives of the younger generation of biopoliticians. For instance, J.H. Carmen17 claimed that “the biopolitical research agenda” is centered on “connections between our species’ genetic constitution and our species’ political behavior”. In a similar vein, Nancy Meyer-Emerick18 argues that biopolitics applies “methodology from the life sciences to study human behavior” as it manifests itself in politics, in other words, puts biological knowledge to use for the benefit of political research (symbolically denoted as B → P).
To avoid confusion, we should point out that the same term was also extensively used in a number of other meanings, “referring to several different yet compatible concepts”19. Most social scientists would probably think of Michel Foucault20, 21 and his followers22 in this connection. Foucault’s classical works emphasized the dispositifs widely used by a modern political system in an attempt to control human reproduction, mortality and health as well as the environment, i.e. the impact of politics upon the biology of the people involved (P → B) and of the whole planet (the biosphere). Policies concerning the welfare of the biosphere are also the focal point of the activities of the Biopolitics International Organization (B.I.O.), located in Athens, Greece. Its president, Agni Vlavianos-Arvanitis, argues that biopolitics should be mainly concerned with environmental protection and the preservation of life (“bios” in Vlavianos-Arvanitis’ usage) on our planet.23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28
Some scholars29, 30, 31 believe that biopolitics concentrates on “political activities… based on new knowledge in the life sciences”.32 They pay attention to genetic and biomedical technologies, their potential or actual political impact (B → P) and political regulations that have the ability to promote, restrict, or prohibit their development and implementation (P → B) .
It can be demonstrated that, despite the differences among the various interpretations of biopolitics mentioned above, they are largely compatible with one another and sometimes complementary.19 In the author’s opinion, they can be all summed up in the overarching definition: biopolitics is the totality of all kinds of interactions between the life sciences and politics, including both the political impact of biology and the biological implications of politics. This definition can be symbolized as follows: B ↔ P.
Understanding Political Behavior in Terms of Evolutionary Biology
The subfield of biopolitics that concentrates upon understanding the political behavior of humans from the perspective of evolutionary biology.7is explicitly or implicitly based upon the philosophy of biological naturalism: that human beings as political actors (“Homo politicus”) are regarded as products of biological evolution, as representatives of a biological species that forms part of the planet’s biodiversity.
In contrast to “hard naturalism” that was characteristic of Social Darwinism at the turn of the 20th century, modern biopolitics prefers “soft naturalism”. Homo sapiens, although a product of biological evolution that has undoubtedly left its marks on his traits and social organization, also possesses unique features that distinguish him from other creatures including even higher primates (“the Big Apes”). These features only occurred in the special hominid lineage that included direct human ancestors as well as the modern human species (whose ancient representatives that lived several tens of thousands years ago are known as “the Cro-Magnon Man”). In the first place, the uniquely human traits included the exceptionally big and complex brain that was considerably enhanced even in comparison to the structurally similar chimpanzee brain.
A conceptual premise of soft naturalism is the idea that the human being is a multilevel system. For instance, the German biopolitician (or “biosociologist” in his own usage) Peter Meyer33, 34 distinguished between the “biosocial” and “psycho-cultural” levels of Homo sapiens, although admitting that this two-level concept is too crude and oversimplified. In fact, Homo sapiens as a social and political actor is much more complex than a simple “layer cake”.8, 9, 10 Because of the multilevel human nature, human behavior can be interpreted in terms of:
• Proximate causes that include psychological, cultural, and social factors that directly trigger a certain kind of behavior, and
• Ultimate causes comprising natural selection-molded behavioral predispositions that enable the species Homo sapiens to display this behavior.
For instance, most rapists are unaware of the fact that their behavior ultimately pursues the goal of maximizing their reproductive success and, therefore, securing the transmission of their genes to posterior generations.
Importantly, human social and political behavior, despite its uniqueness and complexity, is in part comparable to the behavior of higher animals, particularly primates. Such comparable behavior forms include aggression, mating, and cooperation with conspecifics.40, 41 Like young animals, human infants use a large number of inborn behavior programs.38 Even adults demonstrate a variety of evolution-conserved behavioral trends related to teaching and nurturing offspring, establishing hierarchies, forming families, and helping others.12, 42 Biological evolution has also predisposed us to behavior aimed at acquiring and controlling resources (including behavioral strategies based upon cheating, bluffing, and manipulating others), defending territories, as well as to nepotistic and sexually possessive behavior.43
Neurophysiology; a Link between Biopolitics and Evolutionary Psychology
The behavior of living beings, including humans, is under the control of the nervous system, which progressively developed over the course of biological evolution. Therefore, it seems logical to turn to neurophysiology in an attempt to reveal the impact of evolution on human behavior.
Apart from ethology, human behavior is also in the focus of attention of psychologists. Although psychologists traditionally seek to create an integral, coherent image of the behavior of an individual, while ethologists break it down into elements (that are often comparable with those observed in other primates), psychology and ethology have recently established important conceptual links. Ethologists and psychologists try to cooperate in an attempt to explore human behavior (i.e. people suffering from mental disorders).
These attempts have been recently supported by the representatives of a novel area of research termed evolutionary psychology.46, 47, 48 This area of research is closely related to earlier studies in the field of sociobiology that aimed to approach social behavior in terms of neo-Darwinism. These were enriched with the concept of kin, as well as of reciprocal altruism, cost-benefit analysis, and evolutionarily stable strategies. Discussing these concepts is outside the scope of this article. However, it should be emphasized that evolutionary psychology gives special attention to the link between the operation of the nervous system and the evolution of behavior. The main idea is that behavior forms characteristic of modern humans are ultimately based on patterns that evolved several hundred thousand years ago, in what is known as the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (EEA). These behavior patterns responded to the challenges of the Pleistocene epoch and were controlled by specific brain structures (modules). Like the blades of a multi-purpose Swiss knife, these brain modules performed specialized functions that were vital for Pleistocene people, such as finding a mate, cooperating with others and forming coalitions, hunting (including stalking prey), gathering, discriminating between kin and non-kin or in-groups and out-groups, locating resources, responding to dangerous environmental factors, protecting children, and identifying cheaters and “free riders”.48, 49
It is emphasized that “although the behavior our evolved programs generate would, on average, be adaptive (reproductively promotive) in ancestral environments, there is no guarantee that it will be so now”.47 This idea seems to account for the currently widespread civilization-induced stress that endangers our physical and mental health and results from the discrepancy between our evolved behavioral predispositions and the conditions created by modern society.
Beyond any doubt, evolutionary psychology, although still a controversial field of science, has significantly contributed to the potentially fruitful cooperation between ethology (including political ethology, which actually forms part of biopolitics) and psychology that, in its turn, incorporates the subfield denoted as political psychology.
Following is a concise discussion of several important examples demonstrating how biopolitics interacts with psychology, with neurophysiology playing the role of an intermediary.
The Multi-level Brain Structure: Its Manifestation in Human Behavior
The human brain consists of structures that emerged at different stages of evolution, i.e. it is a heterochronic system. Both the ancient and relatively recent structures (functional modules44, 45) influence human behavior and political activities. The parts of the brain responsible for our consciousness are only the tip of the iceberg, and the power of our mind over the functioning of the brain is not limitless, even under normal conditions. In fact, a popular dictum with neurophysiologists is that our consciousness is like a journalist who learns post factum about what has been really going on the brain and invents a glib story to justify an action whose real causes are beyond the scope of our conscious mind. Relatively ancient brain structures, including those belonging to the limbic system, still perform a number of important functions (see below). Mental disorders often result in a patient’s behavior being largely determined by ancient brain modules that controlled the behavior of our ancestors. The biopolitical implications of this influence can be considered on two different levels.
1. The individual level. The role of primitive brain structures (modules) should be taken into account in order to understand aggressive (particularly criminal) behavior. In this point, biopolitics overlaps, apart from psychology per se, with criminology. Serious crime is frequently committed by psychopaths. Importantly, a large number of murderers are characterized by a primitive personality type and insufficiently developed superior psychological functions. Some murderers demonstrate emotional rather than rational responses to external stimuli; i.e. use their relatively archaic limbic system instead of the more recently evolved neocortex (see below for details). Data have been obtained50 that making a decision to commit murder in some cases involves a peculiar “short-circuit” mechanism within the brain that bypasses the neocortex. A strong negative stimulus elicits an automatic, subcortical, almost unconscious, response of an individual that is based upon the defense instinct manifesting itself in a “counter-offensive” strategy that aims to eliminate the negative stimulus at all costs.
Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago51, a novel partly dealing with the Civil War in Russia, provides an interesting example to the point. A Bolshevist was obsessed with the idea that the enemy (the White Guard) would inevitably seize his whole family, torture and kill them. Finally, the crazy Bolshevist took an axe and killed his wife and children himself, because this prevented their suffering at the hands of the Whites.
In the political arena, some of the people that lack higher cognitive functions and have an underdeveloped personality are nevertheless successfully used in terrorist groups, militias, or rebel forces. Their personal individuality is relatively easy to suppress by the “collective individuality” of a whole political network, an integrated organism-like entity that is ready to sacrifice the lives of some of its members in order to attain its goals. The death of a group of suicidal terrorists for the sake of the network’s goals is comparable, from a biological viewpoint, to programmed cell death (PCD), or apoptosis, which is a prerequisite of the normal functioning of the animal or human organism to which dying cells belong.
The dominant role of primitive brain structures in the behavior of an individual implies primitive behavioral motivations. Evolutionary psychologists claim that the behavioral strategy of a Pleistocene human male was aimed at accumulating as many material resources as possible, which would increase his chances to be selected by the most valuable females and to maximize his reproductive success.46, 47, 49 Admittedly, this strategy still works nowadays to some extent, despite the modifying influence of civilization. However, it was probably much more manifest in primitive society, because it was not masked by culturally determined factors.
A biopolitical hypothesis to suggest in this context is that people with archaic brain modules-dominated behavior would probably stop at nothing in their attempts to gain resources. Moreover, due to the compulsive-obsessive character of commands given by those brain modules, the resource-gaining behavior could easily be decoupled from its ultimate goal (reproduction), it could become just gaining resources for resources’ sake. This decoupling is characteristic of primitive brain structures and can be exemplified by the behavior of a fat cat that kills mice without eating them. It is conceivable that a terrorist is ready to carry out a suicidal attack because he perceives it as a peculiar risk strategy aimed at obtaining some extremely valuable resources that are unattainable otherwise. It is an open question whether these resources include (apart from the material reward promised to the terrorist’s relatives) the “keys to the Paradise” that were symbolically given to young soldiers who attacked pill-boxes during the war between Iran and Iraq in 1980’s.
Interestingly, there is much evidence that the career of a political leader does not necessarily imply a high intellectual level and highly “evolutionarily advanced” brains; on the contrary, assertive individuals with a low IQ value and a strong desire to become a leader can make a successful political career. As mentioned above, leadership is ultimately connected with dominance behavior, which only requires the functioning of a brain module that exists in reptiles.
2. The group level. A noteworthy example is an agitated crowd of people whose behavior is often largely subconscious and irrational. The behavior of angry, frustrated, or scared people in a crowd may be driven by brain structures that are quite primitive (compared to the neocortex). Importantly, Konrad Lorenz35 (1966) emphasized the similarity between the behavior of a crowd and that of a fish shoal. Fish behavior is under the control of the brainstem alone.
The following is a brief discussion of some biopolitical implications of the Triune Brain concept that dates back to the classic work of Paul MacLean. This concept emphasizes the heterochronic structure of the human brain, which is of paramount importance in this context. In terms of the Triune Brain concept, the brain includes the following major modules 44, 45:
• The reptilian module (the reptilian brain, the R complex) that incorporates the brainstem and the cerebellum, including a number of basal ganglia of the brain, such as the caudate nucleus, the lenticular nucleus (consisting of the globus pallidum and the putamen), and some brain structures involved in olfaction. In reptiles, the module controls various primitive forms of behavior associated with foraging, mating, and, importantly, social interaction. Despite the strong influence of superior brain structures, the reptilian module still influences these behavior forms in primates, including humans. The reptilian brain enables primitive agonistic behavior (aggression, threatening displays), dominance, submission, and territorial behavior. Not only are these behavior forms in general similar in reptiles and primates, but there are also a large number of analogous patterns in the species compared. For example, the reptilian module enables a lizard to perform aggressive displays in front of a competitor that lays claim to its territory or social rank. The lizard stands erect, and makes several steps with the upper part of the body turned to the rival(s). Interestingly, a similar aggressive display occurs in apes. To some extent, this behavior pattern is similar to the movements of a soldier during a military parade, and this similarity is not accidental. It should be emphasized that human power structures are based on dominance-submission relationships between individuals and groups, whose primitive versions already exist in creatures possessing the reptilian brain only.
• The limbic system (limbic module, paleo-mammalian brain) is composed of a number of brain structures including the amygdale, the hippocampus, the septum, the olfactory bulbs, and parts of thalamus and hypothalamus. Actually, there is no complete consensus among scholars, as far as the exact composition of the limbic system is concerned. Some scholars regard the term as obsolescent. However, the point to stress is that the term “limbic system” undoubtedly refers to moderately ancient brain structures that are less primitive than the reptile module but still less recent than the neocortex. Everything in the limbic system is “agreeable or disagreeable”,44 i. e. the limbic system is associated with affection. Unlike the reptilian brain, the limbic system enables not only agonistic (aggressive, hostile) but also loyal (friendly) behavior. While reptiles only regard one another as competitors and often engage in fighting or threatening behavior, mammals can be on friendly terms with some of the con-specifics. They distinguish between in-groups and out-groups, which is often equivalent, or at least related, to kin/non-kin discrimination. Of obvious biopolitical relevance is the fact that the human species is also credited with neuropsychological mechanisms responsible for selective affiliative behavior towards some con-specifics (kin, compatriots, etc.), in contrast to agonistic behavior displayed towards “aliens”. Not only the reptilian, but also the limbic module contains aggression centers. Limbic aggression centers provide for more differentiated aggressive responses. There are at least 17 genes involved in the development of various forms of aggressive behavior in mammals52, and the influence of genes is mostly mediated by neurochemical processes in the limbic system. Despite the important role of the neocortex in regulating human behavior, a fascinating fact in terms of biopolitics is that political activities often implicate the involvement of primitive brain structures. Both prehistoric and modern politics was often based upon emotional rather than rational decision-making and, therefore, depended in part on the operation of the limbic system that controls affection. For instance, the charisma of a political leader is partially associated with special feelings of bodily comfort and peace of mind experienced by those standing in close proximity to him. These feelings apparently involve olfactory perceptions caused by the odorous substances (pheromones) released by the leader and subliminally perceived by the subordinates via the olfactory system that is directly connected to the limbic module of the brain.
• The neocortex module gives a person important additional capacities, such as more sophisticated communication (including speech), planning competence, logical thinking, and consciousness. A biopolitically relevant item to be added to the above list of capacities or competences is the social cognitive function (SCF). It enables us to obey social norms of behavior and to respond adequately to the behavior of others. Thanks to this function, we know how we must, may, and must not behave in a given social situation. Neurologically, the social cognitive function depends upon the frontal lobe of the neocortex, particularly on its ventromedial zone. Due to the SCF, we know what others do and do not know, it makes it possible for an individual to understand the emotional state and the intentions of others.53 Understanding other’s emotions and intentions is also referred to as the Theory of Mind (TOM). We share the SCF and, to some extent, the TOM, with apes. They are credited with a degree of ‘Machiavellian’ intelligence. Apes, and in some cases even monkeys, deceive, bluff, and manipulate others for quasi-political purposes, such as attaining a high social rank by securing the support of a strong coalition or illegally copulating with a female from the dominant male’s harem.40 To some extent, attempting to steal the opportunity to copulate may be also considered politically relevant, because human politics is partly driven by the desire to maximize one’s reproductive success. Statistical data collected in over 100 traditional cultures demonstrate that high-ranking males have more offspring in these human societies.49 In as much that it can be said that ontogeny recapitulates evolution, the social cognitive function gradually develops in infants. Its development starts by the age of about 2 when a child is able to guess what another individual needs or wishes. By the age of 4.5, the child seems to know what cheating means54. It should be re-emphasized that political science often has to deal with illegal, asocial behavior that may result from the malfunctioning of the brain parts responsible for the SCF and TOM. People with these problems in their nervous system are often “morally blind”, which does prevent their political participation. Moreover, such people may become leaders of criminal gangs and even political dictators.
The heterochronic structure of our brain emphasizes the fact that some driving forces of present-day political activities, such as the tendency to form dominance-submission hierarchies, involve archaic brain structures that exist even in reptiles. We do not deny the fact that politics is also heavily influenced by cultural factors that are unique to human society. For example, while analyzing political power structures, it makes sense to distinguish between two superficially similar phenomena that actually belong to different levels in terms of human evolution.
One should distinguish repressive dominance per se, an extremely ancient phenomenon, from leadership that implies taking the responsibility for the welfare of others, the capacity to guide their behavior to achieve important social and cultural goals. Leadership (as defined above) is characteristic of some higher primates: the dominant male also performs important leadership functions, such as organizing the defense of the group involved, settling disputes among group members, promoting the collective nurturing of infants, etc.40, 55 Abnormal political situations that are characteristic of oppressive regimes may results from the political hierarchy being based on the crude dominance rather than the leadership principle.
A promising area of biopolitical research is concerned with neurophysiological (and, more generally, somatic) variables that can help us distinguish a dominant from a subdominant or a subordinate individual. I this context, it seems appropriate to discuss the relevance of neurochemistry to biopolitics, on the one hand, and to psychology, on the other.
Neurotransmitters as Important Links between Biopolitics and Psychology
Political activity and, more generally, social behavior implies ongoing communication among the individuals involved. Communication in human society and animal groups, families, and communities alike, proceeds via a number of different channels. An ancient communication channel is based upon chemical signals. Despite it antiquity, this communication channel is still in operation in human society. Chemical signal-mediated communication is based on
• Pheromones that are defined as substances released by an individual and influence the behavior and/or the physiological state of other individuals. As for Homo sapiens, pheromones are involved in mother-child recognition. They apparently indicate the social and sexual status of an individual to others, and this message is perceived subconsciously. For comparison, it should be noted that mice prefer the pheromones of other mice who have elevated their social status because of attacking and defeating their rivals58. Both male and female pheromones play an important role in human sexual behavior. Female pheromones stimulate the synthesis of the male hormone testosterone in men, enhance their sex drive, and make them regard ugly women as attractive59. Of obvious relevance for biopolitics is the fact that pheromone exchange seems to be involved in dominance-submission relationships. It should be re-emphasized that a charismatic leader’s pheromones are apparently one of the factors causing a feeling of physical comfort among his subordinates.9 Data have been recently obtained that the high or low social rank of a new individual placed in a prison cell is instantly determined by the other inmates who subconsciously perceive his/her pheromones.60
• Neurotransmitters (neuromediators) have an important bearing upon human social behavior and political activity. They will be the main subject of this section.
Defined as substances transmitting information between nerve cells (or between a nerve cell and a muscle/gland cell), neurotransmitters are essential tools involved in the operation of various functional zones (modules) of the brain. Their concentrations in these zones significantly influence the behavior, emotional state, and health status of a human or animal individual. Some neuromediators have been already extensively discussed in the literature concerning biopolitics, including serotonin, that was one of the main items on the agenda of a conference entitled “The Neurotransmitter Revolution: Serotonin, Social Behavior, and the Law” (1991). Serotonin, a product of the indispensable amino acid tryptophan, is an evolutionarily conserved signal substance performing a wide variety of informational functions in a large number of biological species. As far as the nervous system is concerned, serotonin limits the spreading of excitation waves in the brain caused by stimulus perception. As a result, stimulus processing is normally compartmentalized in specialized loci within the brain. Therefore, with a sufficiently high serotonin concentration, the activities of various perceptive zones are harmoniously equilibrated, coordinated, and integrated. This equilibration is prevented by LSD, which disrupts the operation of serotonergic perceptive zones and, therefore, causes hallucinations.
The well-balanced functioning of the brain that is enabled by serotonin is associated with a feeling of self-confidence. In animal species ranging from -male)lobsters to fireflies and vervet monkeys, the dominant male (the typically contains more serotonin in its blood (hemolymph) serum than a subordinate.56, 57 Dominant vervets are also characterized by increased concentrations of 5-hydroxyindolacetic acid (5-HIAA), the product of oxidative deamination of serotonin, in the spinal fluid.57 It should be noted, however, that dominant males in monkey species other than vervets (cynomolgus and talapoin monkeys) are distinguished by lower levels of serotonin-dependent activity than subordinate males (see62). The different relationships between serotonin activity and dominance status can be accounted for by the differences in the hierarchy types formed by respective species (hierarchies can be agonistic or hedonistic, see below).
There is good evidence that a low activity of the serotonin-dependent (serotonergic) system of the brain is characteristic of severe depression associated with anxiety, anger, and uncontrollable impulsive behavior. However, this condition is apparently associated with a decrease in the activity of another neuromediator, norepinephrine.
Depleting the brain of serotonin or norepineprine by administering an amino acid mixture lacking the serotonin precursor tryptophan or a-methyl tyrosine, respecitvely, causes a relapse in patients previously cured for depression with an antidepressant; However, such kind of treatment fails to induce depression in healthy subjects. Hence, despite the role of serotonin/norepinephrine, additional factors seem to be required to cause depression62a.
Serotonin is believed to play an inportant role in interactions between the neocortex and more primitive brain modules. Hence, its lack limits the influence of the cortex over these modules, which may take over the control over human behavior under these conditions. Taken together, all these consequences of a lack of serotonin may cause a person to commit serious crimes. Low serotonin levels in combination with a low baseline glucose concentration in the bloodstream (hypoglycemia) are regarded as factors statistically correlated with recidivism for arson and impulsive homicide.57
A lack of serotonin in the serotonin-dependent brain structures (the serotonergic system) is responsible for conditions such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The symptoms of both disorders include depression, anxiety, and often impulsive behavior. While SAD is associated with an increase in the synthesis of melatonin in the brain, which inhibits the activity of the serotonergic system, PMS manifests itself against the background of decreased serotonin concentrations that are characteristic of the female brain shortly before her period. Some women display increased aggressiveness that may result in violence. In Great Britain, a legal precedent was created in which a female suspect with PMS was considered “situationally insane”. She was not punished but medically treated and rehabilitated.
As for catecholamines, an important neurotransmitter is the catecholamine norepinephrine, which also functions as a hormone released by the adrenals under stress (which also results in increased amounts of epinephrine in the bloodstream). The stress-related function of the cathecholamines as adrenal hormones has interesting implications for biopolitics. Norepinnephrine is primarily responsible for long-term, and epinephrine for short-term adaptation to stress. The ratio between their concentrations varies to some extent from individual to individual. A long-distance skier whose blood contains more norepinephrine than epinephrine has better chances to win a contest. In similar fashion, political leaders differ in their strategies (styles) of coping with political stress factors caused, for instance, by a war. The “epinephrine” response strategy would probably imply a transient outburst of political activity followed by a longer period of fatigue and a lack of will, while the “norepinephrine” strategy involves a less significant initial arousal followed by a prolonged period of successful resistance to stress. During World War II, the two styles were exemplified by the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, respectively.
Apparently, the role of norepinephrine in the central nervous system (CNS) per se is of biopolitical interest as well, because the norepinephrine-dependent brain circuits are responsible for activating the CNS, increasing locomotive activity, decreasing the anxiety level, preparing the individual involved for fighting and responding to new potentially dangerous stimuli.64, 65
Dopamine, another important brain catecholamine, predominantly functions as a neuromediator, although it is also known to be a hypothalamus-produced hormone that inhibits prolactin-induced lactation in females. Like norepinephrine, it helps the brain maintain a normal level of locomotive activity. It enables a human individual to coordinate his voluntary movements, secures the maintenance of the brain’s active wakeful state, and promotes hedonistic (pleasure-seeking) behavior. It seems likely that the role of dopamine is related to “the value that humans and animals attach different actions and stimuli.” A deeper understanding of dopamine will expand economists’ understanding of how new beliefs and preferences are formed.66 In an analogy to serotonin, dopamine seems to be involved in establishing dominance-submission relationships in primates. Dominant monkeys reveal a higher activity level of D2 receptors to dopamine than their subordinate conspecifics.67 Dopamine accumulation in the relevant zones of the brain also removes stress with gamblers, thieves, and drug addicts.64 The relationship between dopamine and hedonistic (also spelled hedonic) behavior raises an interesting biopolitical question.
Hierarchies in human society (and apparently in groups of non-human primates as well) can be subdivided into9, 68
• Agonistic hierarchies based on aggression and the demonstration of power, and
• Hedonistic hierarchies based on attention structure, in which the dominant individual is considered to be the most interesting, intelligent, or sociable person by others.
It seems likely that a prerequisite for the formation of a hedonistic hierarchy is that the dopamine levels of the members of the social group involved should be sufficiently high to enable pleasure-seeking behavior. Choosing the leader is actually part of the hedonistic strategy. There is sociological evidence that hedonistic hierarchies transform into agonistic ones under stressful conditions caused by deprivations and overcrowding (in prisons or army barracks). The issue to raise is whether, among other factors, this transition results from a lack of dopamine caused by malnutrition.
Prolonged starvation deprives a human organism the catecholamine precursor tyrosine, resulting in apathy, anomie, and inactivity. Here we should make reference to the biopolitical studies that demonstrated that starvation, after an initial short period of protest, inhibits any organized political resistance because of its neurochemical impact.69 Therefore, political dictators can use food deprivation as a method of suppressing political protest, both on the individual and on the group level. It seems likely that Hitler had this method in mind when making the decision to stop supplying food to the Netherlands in 1944.
Based on the data concerning the relationship between neuromediator levels and leadership-related capacities, it seems feasible to improve the performance of political leaders by enriching their diet with ingredients containing neuromediator precursors. Unfortunately, monoamine neuromediators (dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine) are almost unable to cross the blood-brain barrier. Nevertheless, there are projects of adding monoamine-rich items, such as serotonin-rich bananas, to the food consumed by politicians, in the hope that even the insignificant additional amount that penetrates the barrier would suffice to exert a positive influence on the politicians’ leadership capacities and political activities
The baseline levels of the three major neuromediators (serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine) vary from individual to individual. Apart from the influence of the genes, these individual differences result from early social experiences that are imprinted on the structure of brain synapses and on the neurochemistry of young individuals. A victory or a defeat in a fight with conspecifics often causes lasting changes in the neurochemical systems of the brain, including the serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine systems. Studies with mice (belonging to the CBA/Lac line) revealed an increase in the concentration of dihidroxyphenylacetic acid, a product of dopamine, in the limbic module of the brain of successful aggressors. They are also characterized by increased norepinephrine concentrations in the hypothalamus. In contrast, repeated defeats result in a decrease in the activity of the dopamine and norepinephrine systems that is accompanied by an increase in the activity of the serotonin system.70 It seems likely that similar neurochemical changes occur in the brains of young humans. The imprinting of successful aggression on their brains may help convert some of them into efficient task force soldiers, terrorists, militiamen, or perhaps even political dictators. Napoleon was an aggressive, assertive, and dominant type even in his childhood.
Roger D. Masters10 established a relationship between
• The concentrations of heavy metals (Pb, Mn, and Cd) in the environment of various US states and counties
• A decrease in the activities of serotonergic and dopaminergic brain systems under the influence of these metals
• The frequency of crime (arson, murder, battery) caused by impulsive aggression in respective states/counties.
Importantly, this relationship stays unchallenged even after taking account of all other variables that influence delinquency (population density, poverty, etc.). Manganese and lead were found to potentate each other’s effects: the US counties characterized by high environmental concentrations of both metals, demonstrated higher criminality levels than the counties where only the Pb or the Mn concentration was too high10.
Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that not only heavy metals and other pollutants, but also the social milieu (and probably the political situation, an area to be researched by biopoliticians) exerts a considerable influence on the level of neurotransmitters in a person’s brain. These concentrations change in response not only to real, but also to imaginary social developments that form part of the interiorized social environment. Expecting an important victory during a war or in one’s personal life causes an increase in the serotonin level; at the same time, the concentrations of catecholamines may decrease63.
Nitic oxide (NO) is a volatile short-lived inorganic compound that functions as a neuromediator, in addition to serving a wide range of other functions in humans and animals. Physical contact between two individuals, which is part of affiliative or mating behavior, causes a feeling of comfort and happiness. This effect is partially due to the impact of NO. A mutation in the NosI gene that codes for the NO synthase (the enzyme converting arginine to NO) manifest itself, in mice, in increased aggressiveness and frequent attempts to copulate with sexually inactive partners.71 Presumably, sexual maniacs and serial murderers in human society may also have a defective NO synthase.
Peptide factors typically perform the functions of neuromodulators that increase or decrease the efficiency of neuromediator transfer across synapses between nervous cells. Opiates (endorphins, encephalins, and dinorphins) block the transmission of nervous impulses related to pain sensitivity. They also cause a feeling of happiness (euphoria) and represent internal rewards for certain kinds of behavior. The opiates produced by the brain promote altruistic behavior. They are synthesized in the brains of law-abiding people as a reward for complying with laws.72
These facts provide the neurophysiological foundations for the biopolitical subfields related to bio-legislation27 that aims to bring legal norms and laws in line with the biologically determined features of human beings.
Other peptide factors produce a different effect on the brain. The cleavage of the peptide cholecystokinine by a specific enzyme yields a short fragment that causes fear and anxiety. The hypothalamus-released hormone corticoliberin, apart from stimulating the synthesis of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), influences the brain, which results in anxiety and increased locomotive activity. Such peptides are probably involved in controlling the behavior of crowds that are in a state of panic. They and their synthetic analogs can potentially be used for modifying human behavior. This behavior modification can be regarded as a new kind of crime that can be committed for political or military purposes.
Apart from neuromediators/neuromodulators per se, enzymes that are involved in their synthesis or degradation have important implications both for biopolitics and psychology. Deficiency in monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) that degrades norepinephrine and serotonin results in enhanced aggressivity in male mice and men 72a.
The following biopolitical issues faced by the present-day human society that are related to recent neurochemical developments:
• Criminal behavior is to be corrected on the basis of our knowledge in the field of neurophysiology with a special emphasis on neurochemistry, while methods should be developed to lower the risk of recidivism, particularly in people that suffer from neurological disorders. Neurotransmitter research can diminish the risk of impulsive aggression by developing methods to improve the operation of relevant neurochemical systems. For instance, the effects of SAD can be mitigated by adjusting light conditions in order to boost the brain serotonin level.57
• A general concept of criminal behavior should be developed, taking account of the neurochemical factors involved. In terms of neurochemistry, committing a crime can be considered a peculiar illegal strategy aiming at obtaining an internal reward such as endorphin release in the brain. Interesting data could probably be obtained by analyzing the neurophysiology of gunmen, militants, and suicidal terrorists, as well as of those who order them to commit crime and often to sacrifice their own lives.
Importantly, understanding attempts to commit crime as an individual’s means to attain an internal neurochemical reward is part of a more general behavioral strategy that can be termed “tendency to attain a state of neurophysiological homeostasis”. This state implies equilibrium between the activities of various neurophysiological factors. In particular, the concentrations of different neurotransmitters, which often counteract each other, should be in balance.63 For instance, catecholamines enhance the activities of a large number of functional zones of the brain, whereas serotonin decreases their activities. Neurophysiological homeostasis has significant psychological implications. It corresponds to feelings of comfort and self-control and enables a person to lead an active social life.
Political ideologies are efficient, i.e., they are accepted by a sufficiently large number of citizens, if they promote homeostasis. In this case, their adherents perceive their life as meaningful and are convinced that their social and political participation is sufficiently important for the society as a whole. However, if an individual adopts a socially unpopular ideology, the negative reactions of other people will change his psychological and, accordingly, neurophysiological state for the worse, preventing neurophsyciological homeostasis.
It should be noted that the effects of political ideologies should not be reduced to their neurophysiological impact. This impact is definitely to be taken into consideration, which provides enough room for the cooperation of biopoliticians, neurophysiologists, and, naturally, psychologists. However, since human beings are multilevel systems, a purely neurophysiological interpretation of the effects of an ideology on people would be of limited value. Obviously, a valid explanation for the success or failure of a particular ideology can only be provided by a mixed team of researchers that also includes sociologists and political scientists.
Impact of Human Microflora on Human Neurophysiology (and Psychology)
Neuromediators and hormones are not only produced by the human organism per se. These substances are also known to be synthesized by symbiotic microorganisms inhabiting various parts of the body. Of particular importance are the substances released by intestinal -aminobutyric acid (GABA),microflora. The human inhibitory neuromediator involved in blocking the transmission of impulses in a number of parts of the nervous system, is synthesized by normal intestinal microflora. Severe stress, or antibiotics administered by a surgeon, change the composition of the microflora, resulting in decreased GABA synthesis and an increased pain sensitivity of the colon. This causes the disease known as the “irritated colon syndrome”.73 Recent studies have revealed that the human microsymbiont Escherichia coli contains micromolar concentrations of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin inside their cells. Importantly, these substances are in part released into the medium, and their extracellular concentrations are sufficient to trigger functional responses in human cells that possess specific receptors (Table 1). The bacterium Bacillus subtilis that is often detected on the human skin contains dopamine and norepinephrine, and the dangerous pathogen Staphylococcus aureus contains serotonin; overall, neurotransmitters appear to be widely spread among microorganisms 74.
In all likelihood, microbial neurotransmitters as well as other biologically active substances produce both local and systemic effects on the human organism and, accordingly, influence our health and psyche. The effects of all these microorganism-produced neuromediators on the neurophysiological state of humans and human behavior is an area to be researched in the future.
Apart from neurochemicals, microflora influences our health, psyche, and behavior in a number of other ways. For instance, not only pathogens, but also normally “friendly” symbiotic microbes constantly produce low amounts of toxins (poisons). These low doses promote the operation of our immune system, enabling it to stay vigilant. Microbes also produce heat in the intestines, functioning as a peculiar built-in “heater” helping us survive at low temperatures. There are a large number of other reasons why their activities are vital for human beings.
Importantly, not only do we respond to substances released by our microsymbionts. They also respond to human-produced chemical agents that can promote or inhibit their growth and activity. These agents include neuromediators. Serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and histamine stimulate – to a different extent - the growth of E. coli (Table 2)75, 76. They also influence the formation of microcolonies (compact cell groups): dopamine inhibits, and norepinephrine, serotoin, and histamine stimulate this process.
Serotonin is normally contained in the chromaffine granules of the mucous membrane cells of the gut. Local inflammation that frequently results from digesting irritating food results in the production of histamine along with additional serotonin amounts and the rupture of nerve terminals in the mucosa and submucosa. The nerves release the dopamine and norepinephrine contained in them. Microflora seems to use these host-released neuromediators for its own benefit. It reciprocates by producing a variety of beneficial effects on the human organism (see above). In contrast, harmful E. coli strains such as O157:H7, which also respond to catecholamines (particularly to norepinephrine released into the bloodstream in response to a severe infection) by drastically accelerating their growth77, 78 are dangerous pathogens that often kill their host.
Microbes also inhabit our skin. They produce volatile substances that are partially responsible for the individual odors of humans. The exact composition of skin microflora in the human population is variable, and this is correlated with the variability of the genes coding for their histocompatability complexes (HCC). Depending on the HCC types, the immunity system of an individual may be more or less efficient, which determines the species composition of skin microflor. The individual odor that is (mostly subconsciously) perceived by others helps them recognize individuals. Moreover, the degree of the similarity or difference between the odors of two individuals seems to influence their relationships under various circumstances79, although this is still a controversial issue. Both humans and mice apparently prefer mates whose odor (and HCC type) is moderately different from their own.64
Interestingly, both male and female pheromones are produced by the human body in collaboration with microorganisms. The male organism only produces a pheromone precursor to be processed by armpit-inhabiting corynebacteria, in order to synthesize the active pheromone. In similar fashion, pheromone precursors in the vaginal fluid are processed by specific bacteria to yield the female pheromone that makes male subjects in an experiment consider ugly females to be beauties59.
Of both psychological and biopolitical interest is the fact that a large number of potentially virulent microbes become active in response to serious changes in the mood and psychological state of the individual involved. The pathogen Helicobacter pylori is activated and causes ulcer if a human individual sustains severe stress78a. In line with these data, social stress in mice influences the behavior of their microflora: their skin and gut microbes start migrating to lymph nodes78b. Political factors often cause stress and other psychophysiological problems that exert an influence on microorganisms. Their behavior including aggression directed against the host (infection) should be considered one of the biopolitically relevant somatic variables that reflect the political situation and the political behavior of human individuals.
From the above data it is evident that an adequate functional status of symbiotic microflora and harmonious host-microflora relationships are expected to be accompanied with an adequate social behavior and optimum political activity of the human individual involved. Efforts to develop such harmonious relationships are actually part of biopolitics in the P→B interpretation (see beginning of this article), i. e. part of the policies aimed at improving the biology of the human organism, as envisaged by M. Foucault20. Such policies actually are in line with the idea that a human individual should be viewed as a whole consortium including microbial symbionts78c. They are indirectly involved even in the political activities of an individual.
Ethological Approaches to Psychology and Psychiatry
We have considered a number of areas in which neurophysiology plays the role of an intermediate in biopolitics—psychology interactions. Following is a discussion of potentially fruitful interactions between biopolitics and psychology that involve ethology rather than neurophysiology. Naturally, neurophysiology is, nonetheless, of indirect relevance, because all kinds of behavior (that are studied by ethologists) are regulated and controlled by the nervous system. However, of paramount importance is genetics, because the information contained in the DNA ultimately determines species-specific, inborn forms of behavior that are the focus of attention of human ethologists.
One of the main goals of human ethology is to compile the ethogram of human behavior, i.e. to describe the whole spectrum of human behavioral patterns under various conditions. Importantly, this ethogram includes nonverbal cues that occur in all human cultures and, moreover, resemble those displayed by non-human primates. For example, the aggressive display that involves opening the mouth (that may become square-shaped because of lowering its corners), showing one’s teeth, and often pushing out the tongue, is widely spread both in primitive human societies and various primate species.
Biopolitics as interpreted by APLS members such as R. Masters, A. Somit, S. Peterson, and others is closely related to human ethology. For instance, Masters8 investigated the ethograms of candidates during presidential elections in the USA. Their pictures in the New York Times, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, and other newspapers and magazines, were broken down into parts that were analyzed separately. For example, the lips could be parted, shut, or compressed. In analogy to non-human primates (such as chimpanzees), this analysis yielded data that the politicians demonstrated dominant or submissive facial expressions (“plus” or “minus” faces). These data were used to single out the nonverbal cues that were subconsciously perceived by voters and influenced their decisions.
This biopolitical research per se is not the focal point of this section, which aims to demonstrate the relevance of human ethology not only to biopolitics, but also to modern psychology including psychiatry. Behavior is one of the main indices of the psychological state, and its analysis is sometimes the only way of evaluating the clinical state of a patient.80 Ethological approaches are increasingly used in modern psychological techniques aimed at modifying human behavior, including human engineering and neurolinguistic programming.
Ethological methods can often help psychiatrists make diagnoses, because mental diseases change the human ethogram. For instance, raising the brows is a normal pattern involved in greeting behavior in Europe, New Guinea, and a large number of other parts of the world. It is considered inappropriate in the Japanese culture and, therefore, suppressed by it. However, schizophrenia alters the human ethogram, and schizophrenics fail to raise their brows when meeting other people. They are also characterized by an increased activity of the lower part of the face. They smack their lips, curl or push them out to form a proboscis-like mouth. Mania, in contrast, increases the activity of the upper face part, resulting in raised eyebrows, quick eye movements, and fluttering eyelids. Euphoria manifests itself in discrepancies between the movements of the left and the right halves of the face, while depression causes the movements of its upper and lower parts to be discordant.81
It is important to note that ethological approaches are not only applicable in psychiatry. As far as mentally healthy people are concerned, they can be used to disclose subconscious messages (that may be transmitted against the will of the individual involved). Of obvious political relevance is research on nonverbal cues that betray cheaters. Some of these cues, such as covering one’s mouth with the hand or rubbing the eyelids, are relatively easy to eliminate by making an effort. However, getting rid of other cues that still signal deception, including pupil contraction, forehead sweating, blushing, etc. requires a long period of training which is necessary for certain politicians, journalists, or business people. It is possible to distinguish between a real and a feigned smile: a real smile involves the zygomatic and the periocular muscle. The external portion of the periocular muscle is not under the control of our consciousness, and its inactivity is evidence that a smile is fake.58
Dominance—submission relationships are of special interest for biopolitics. These relationships are a prerequisite for the formation of hierarchies (including bureaucracies) and power structures in human political systems. A wide variety of nonverbal signals is characteristic of these relationships. For instance, the palm of the hand of a dominant individual looks down, when shaking hands with a subordinate individual whose palm looks up. A part of dominance-submission cues seems to be of purely cultural origin. However, the precursors of some dominance/submission cues are displayed by nonhuman primates. For instance, a marmoset smiles (i.e., it silently opens its mouth, which is round in shape) to signal its submission to others. The human smile has a wide variety of meanings and connotations, depending on the situation. Nevertheless, a submissive smile forms part of the behavioral repertoire of political leaders. For example, this kind of smile appeared on Mikhail Gorbachev’s face. Some dominance cues cannot be controlled consciously. Dominant males snore louder than their subordinates.80
Taing account of all these facts, it is to be hoped that, despite the differences between the approaches and methods of biopolitics and psychology, their marriage will yield fascinating scientific results.
Hierarchies and Networks in the Brain and in Human Society
Biological systems can be structured according to one of the two alternative organizational principles:
• They can include an active central (dominant) element that guides and controls the activities of the whole system; its influence on the system can be further spread by several second-order (subdominant) regulatory elements. This is a hierarchy.
• They can lack a central element. The functioning of such a system is based upon the cooperation and competition of several active elements (partial leaders). These elements form a network.
These two patterns are characteristic both of the brain and animal and human societies. Presumably, the organization of the human brain should leave its mark on the organization of human society, primarily because social behavior that results in the formation of social structures is under the control of the brain. It is also to be expected that social structures exert their influence on the functioning of the brain, facilitating the organizational patterns of its work that resemble them in organizational terms.
As for the brain, let us revisit the brain module concept introduced in one of the preceding sections of this article. A module is regarded as a self-contained structural block, and the whole brain is believed to consist of an array of such modules, each performing certain functions. A large module (like the limbic system discussed above) can be subdivided into smaller modules that deal only with some of the functions performed by the larger module. This module scheme of the brain predicts, as far as it is valid, that damaging a small brain part would cause a limited (“pinpoint”) functional defect. For example, a patient sustaining a local speech module lesion forgets animal names but still remembers other kinds of words.82 The module concept actually conforms with the hierarchical organizational pattern of the brain. It is assumed that the brain includes
• inferior modules that perform simple routine tasks and
• superior modules that sum up the results of the operation of the inferior modules.
For example, the thalamus is dominated by its dorsoventral nucleus that integrates information supplied by other parts of the thalamus. In its turn, the dorsoventral nucleus of the thalamus is subordinate to the frontal cortex. The frontal lobes of the cortex are viewed as the “brain leader”; the “command post” that virtually interacts with all other brain structures.82
Nonetheless, the brain does not work on the authoritarian principle, and the subordinates can carry out a variety of processes without waiting for the permission of their ‘bosses’.65 It should be emphasized that a large number of intracerebral information transmission pathways bypass the frontal cortex and function on the subconscious level, leaving us ignorant of what is really going on inside our brain.
Hence both the module concept and the hierarchical principle have their limitations. The brain also functions in keeping with the gradient concept. In its terms, some of the brain functions are performed by distributed networks, not modules. In this case, a local brain lesion may partially inhibit a particular function (such as speech), and not suppress it completely. The gradient concept implies that zones responsible for different functions may overlap. Local damage to the brain may affect several functions (without disrupting any of them completely). For instance, a local brain lesion may slow down the processing of visual information and also cause memory problems.
The brain parts using the network principle can be compared to the political map of the present-day world, where nation states with their localized influence zones are increasingly replaced by a more complex political mosaic including supranational network political structures such as the European Union. This political situation is fraught with anarchy unless new regulations imposing order on international network systems are developed.83
It should be re-emphasized that the network principle implies that at least some brain functions are distributed, in a non-hierarchical fashion, among the whole array of cells that form a network circuit. Long-term memory involves information storage in a large number of synapses in the nervous cell networks of the cortex.63
Human society is largely dominated by hierarchies. Political systems are predominantly vertical structures, and political power is a variation on the theme of dominance-submission relationships that occur in various biological species. Nevertheless, there is good evidence that our evolutionary legacy is ambivalent (contradictory). Apart from hierarchies, humans are also predisposed to form horizontal structures such as networks. Largely horizontal (egalitarian) structures are widely spread in apes, despite the existence of dominance-submission relationships in their groups.54 Egalitarian organizational patterns are also characteristic of many primitive hunter—gatherer societies that have recently been discovered in various parts of the world.58
The currently predominant pattern of human social organization that overemphasizes hierarchies to the detriment of networks seems, therefore, to be at variance with some of our evolution-molded behavioral tendencies. Moreover, there seems to be a major discrepancy between the organizational pattern of human society and that of the brain, which apparently combines both scenarios. This discrepancy could be one of the factors causing “civilization stress” in modern human beings.
Modern social network organizations engaging in various activities ranging from small-scale business to education and political decision making (the job of network-style think-tanks) possess important advantages over more traditional hierarchical bureaucracies.83 Like hunter-gatherer bands, these organizations are characterized by a lack of central authority. Instead, they include as many partial leaders as there are concrete subgoals to attain and problems to solve.
We believe that the existing list of network advantages should be supplemented with their positive effects on the operation of the brain, Current network projects redress the balance between the two main organizational patterns in human society and, therefore, approximate the harmonious equilibrium between them which is characteristic of the human brain. In turn, this is expected to improve the performance of the brains of the people involved in the network and the way in which it functions on a collective level.
Taken together, the subjects discussed in this article demonstrate the potential importance of connections between biopolitics and psychology (often facilitated by neurophysiology) for our understanding of human social behavior and political activities under various circumstances. Naturally, some aspects of these interdisciplinary interactions were left out of consideration by the author. Two of potentially fruitful areas of research are to be mentioned in this context:
1. Classifying human personality types on the basis of relevant neuro-physiological features.
2. Classifying whole regions of the world on the basis of three-way correlations between (i) their climate and other natural conditions; (ii) the characteristic personality types, and (iii) the recommendable political regime. This controversial field could be referred to as “biogeopolitics”.
Regardless of other interesting issues that we failed to mention in this article, the main idea to be re-emphasized is that an important current trend in biopolitics seems to be its marriage with modern psychology.