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Morality, Oxytocin, and Testosterone


By davidswanson - Posted on 02 January 2012

If you watch the above pitch for Oxytocin as the hormone of morality, it will quickly become clear that this guy and the rest of us actually know very little about how our brains and blood and bodies work.  In fact, another guy claims that oxytocin is the hormone of ethnocentrism, not of universal love. Of course it's being marketed as a spray that can make people trust you. And a little reflection can make you realize that there is an enormous gap between personal relations and war making.  If you trust your boss at the Pentagon more will you work for war less?  Would we really want the peace movement purged of everyone in it who isn't terribly nice or trusting? 

There is, however, in the above video something I find particularly interesting.  It's the part where he says that testosterone may be an opponent of oxytocin but it also makes people (or at least men) more eager to punish immoral actions by others.  Now, I have no idea if that is true or as simple as described.  I would be willing to bet that description will change soon if it hasn't already.  What interests me is the possibility of thinking of the punishment of war as sharing a motivation with war — whether or not that motivation is tied to testosterone. 

Of course, I want war makers punished if it will prevent and deter war making, but I want them punished with prison and rehab.  I don't want them punished with war.  The idea behind the United Nations, and the League of Nations before it, not to mention NATO, is to use war to punish war.  This results, of course, in lots of wars that merely pretend to punish war.  And that would not be the case if we were not considering war an available option.  Europe has stopped thinking of war as an option internally, but not abroad.  The United States thinks of little other than war in foreign relations, and is beginning to train domestic police to make war on their own.  What we need is not so much the right hormone as the right way of thinking.  That way of thinking will of course exist in a complex physical event within brains, but "complex" is the key word.  If peace can be sprayed up somebody's nose, today's scientists are nowhere near knowing how, and a general inclination to trust or love does not begin to approach it.

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