Limbic Politics, Then and Now

It all started with a news story about violent protests at a university after a cancelled talk.

"Who is this speaker?" I wondered. So I Googled the name and discovered that he is a celebrity among the "alt-right" crowd. As a self-described "provocateur," he delights in ridiculing the norms and standards of what he considers to be liberal America.

It's a strategy that has drawn him widespread attention, but has also led to his downfall. He recently resigned from Breitbart News after crossing a line that no one around him would dare to tolerate.

I watched a few videos of this fast-talking political pot-stirrer. I resolved quickly that we are mistaken if we try to find some logical consistency in his positions. He transgresses for the sake of transgression. He trades in outrage. He prods, he pokes, and he laughs a dehumanizing laugh.

In other words, this is limbic politics. 

With limbic politics, there is no effort to advance an agenda or correct a social problem. Instead, it appeals to a collective reptilian brain in order to create an emotional response. Fear and anger, and lots of it. All in the service of drawing attention, and nothing more.

As I watched these videos, my mind traveled back to another "provocateur" from another era: Morton Downey, Jr. When I was a teenager, I couldn't get enough of his television show. He smoked and shouted, often at the same time--and often in the face of a "pablum puking liberal." His insults came packaged in gratuitous vulgarities and even physical confrontations.

With so much unrestrained hyper-masculinity, it was a celebration of limbic politics.

As a teenager, Mort made me aware of enemies that I never knew I had. I remember him shouting at a death penalty opponent, saying something to the order of "AN EYE FOR AN EYE!" I tried using this line in a debate with a friend once. I even conjured Mort's vile and certainty. In response, my friend calmly alerted me to the fact that Jesus said "turn the other cheek."

Oh, well... Um.... MORT RULES!

After remembering Mort some, I checked around and discovered an outstanding 2012 documentary about his life and legacy.  Watching it was a trip down memory lane. But I also saw how Mort lived a life of grasping for stardom. Once his show gained notice, he made every effort to display his newfound wealth and status--to include living in Trump Towers. Let that settle in for a bit.


Just as quickly as Mort's star rose, it fizzled into irrelevance. He died of lung cancer in 2001. Now, I'm not sure that many people remember him. 

But we certainly do still see his limbic politics.