Brain & Mind Uncategorized

Oxytocin: Love is Hate

#Oxytocin #Love #Hate #LoveHate #LoveIsHate #DogLovers

I spent last week in highly enjoyable social media company of extremely articulate dog “lovers”, who were kind enough to suggest that I was a monster who should be starved and killed, merely because I had dared initiate a debate on violation of Animal Welfare Board of India guidelines that advises stray dog care-givers not to feed street dogs close to residences not their own, avoid feeding street dogs in areas where kids play or people walk.

While the polite debate raging between various dog “lovers” on my Facebook wall is now reduced mostly to finding out suitable means to terminate my existence from the planet, what struck me hard was a strange dichotomy here.

The pack baying for my blood is actually made of people who have committed their life for an extremely empathetic act of love.

So, what made this extreme hate and love to co-exist inside one brain?

The scary answer now emerging is, love is the real reason of all the hate around us.

Love comes in many forms, but the most wonderful love is borne of a hormone called oxytocin.

Oxytocin is a hormone that initially earned a fond name of “cuddle chemical” because of the pleasurable sensations induced by it that brain uses as a reward for strengthening bond between humans.

For humans incapable of living as stand-alone individual animals, bond-formation with other human beings is The Most Crucial activity for brain, and hence oxytocin have evolved as a very powerful behaviour moderator in brain.

As the first and foremost bond required for a human baby to survive is with the mother, role of oxytocin is most pronounced in this most loving relationships of them all.

As a human child also requires intensive parental protection and support from father, oxytocin also ensures strong bond formation between parents, and thus is the last nail in the relationship-joint between male and female engaged in procreation. So, oxytocin is the cement provided by nature for building the institution of human family.

Oxytocin doesn’t stop at family formation, as the same template continues all the way up to every bond formation. Hence, it drives the engine of trust between people and allow all of us to have bonds beyond the blood relations whereby we can convert strangers into friends.

As we are also prone to anthropomorphise (i.e. convert other living or non-living entities into human-form), oxytocin also causes us to form bonds with dogs, cats, cars, ships or even abstract ideas like nation or religion etc. with equal intensity.

So, oxytocin gifts us with a world full of people, things and ideas that we love. Take oxytocin out and human life would turn into a horribly dry phenomenon.

While blessing us with power of love, oxytocin also ends of doing something very interesting. It divides the world into a “in-group” of those who have or have potential of having oxytocin bonding with us and an “out-group” of those who are the “others”, be it people, things, nations, rats, lepers or even disagreeing ideas and thoughts.

Hence, if we shift the focus from all the good things that oxytocin brings to life, we can see a really sinister role this extremely powerful hormone can play in our brains.

Oxytocin is not only the hormones of love, it is also a hormone of hate.

And, to understand why it does so, we need to look at the life-history of human ape.

We are territorial animals who have evolved to function in small clans. We have evolved to bond and cooperate to defend our turf that provided us with resources to survive. As defending territory using our “in-group” is an act of survival, oxytocin also needs to ensure that it simultaneously powers engine of aggression to the “out-group”.

The intensity of our reaction to an “out-group” is directly connected to the intensity of love we feel for the same in the “in-group” bond.

For example, oxytocin bond makes a mother to be extremely protective towards the child but equally aggressive towards any threat she perceives for the child. A mother protecting her baby is the most aggressive animal no one would dare to trifle with. So, oxytocin is a very powerful love hormone for the inter-group relationship, but it is an equally strong hate hormone for those who don’t belong.

Scientists have now found that dual nature of oxytocin is likely to be the root cause of all the conflicts we see around us. From racial violence to aggressive responses to any disagreeable opinion, oxytocin is the likely driver of hate across the planet.

But, why did something so wonderful as love has also gifted us with hate?

The possible answer is extremely crucial for our future survival.

Oxytocin may have started misfiring because of emergence of a completely new social dynamics of global connect.

The inter-group nature of oxytocin has evolved in alignment of the scale of human societies. In a past as recent has couple of hundred years, our brain rarely faced the need to encounter “out-group” strangers.

Unfortunately for us, today we live in a world where interacting with out-group is a constant demand. We have formed massive cities where we live with complete strangers. Our work forces us to interact with unrelated aliens, so we live a lifestyle of stress that constantly flows below of our conscious thinking.

And, lot worse is that now we have created a brand new frontier that has caused an unprecedented disruption in our oxytocin driven brain.

The arrival of social media has broken all boundaries. We are suddenly thrown into a world full of out-group strangers and disagreeable opinions.

The desperate response of human brain is to look for in-groups and fight out-groups with vehemence on social media platforms as an oxytocin slave, as it is unable to grasp the nature of interactions.

The net result is a chaos of conflicts that is raging around us on web that is also percolating into our society.

So, if we wish to peacefully co-exist with each other on this small interconnected planet, we will need to understand this phenomenon and find a way to reconcile an ancient mechanism with new social dynamics.

It may sound strange, but as-is oxytocin drive is capable of robbing us of the diversity of co-existence. The only world where oxytocin can inhabit without causing conflicts is the one where all our-groups are destroyed. So, if we don’t learn how to counter it, oxytocin will lead us to constantly strive for it.

Oxytocin runs through the old brain drive of ancient context that needs to evolve to live in neocortical reality of modern times. Like all primordial drives, it is too intense to fit within modern context, and hence it need rationalisation.

The brutal reality is, It may be a great loss, but only way to reduce hate would be to let go of madness of love.

As love is just a reciprocal of hate, we have no way to deal with one without changing our perspective to this duo. We badly need a new form of love, freed from the resultant hate, and that is possible only if we learn to rationalise love.

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

2 comments on “Oxytocin: Love is Hate

  1. Nice take on oxytocin. Yes u need to cut the blog short. Some sentences are repeated too.

    Like

    • Thanks. Will surely look up. As these are published in a newspaper, I have only 600 words to explain complex scientific ideas so economy is crucial, so can’t afford repeating 🙂

      Like

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