Roaming with the Herd

Blaming cogjam entirely on all the adrenalin percolating away would be the easy way out. But adrenalin is not the only ingredient of fight or flight chemistry that is playing a contributing role.

Cogjam is a joint activity, a community-wide line dance that at times leads us directly toward the edge of that infamous cliff. This falls more within the realm of another neurochemical that highlights its presence during high stress: oxytocin.

Oxytocin and Herd Instinct

Here’s what Chapter Five of my upcoming book, The Cogjam Effect – and the Path to Healing Community Divisiveness and Fractured Science” says about this unfortunate case of social bonding gone awry:

“Oxytocin is an ingredient of our neurochemistry that promotes social bonding. Its presence is associated with love relationships, childbirth, and other social attachments. Interestingly, oxytocin is also released during states of high arousal.

When I first learned of this it brought to mind an acronym that turned up on the disaster trail during high-stress assignments: DII, short for “disaster induced infidelity.” I also recall packed neonatal wards in Portland, Oregon area hospitals about nine months after Mt. St. Helens blew. Then, of course, there’s the baby-boomer population that turned up after World War II. Being collectively thrown together for heavy-duty stress appears to strengthen at least one type of social bonding among those who endure it.


But in addition to encouraging attachments to specific individuals, oxytocin promotes bonding within groups. In disaster world, we called the instant joint efforts of workers and community members “disaster bonding.” Similar ties develop in other groups that regularly deal with emergency, combat, and other high-stress positions. The friendships that form in such scenarios may last a lifetime. Continue reading

Compassion? For Politicians?

Compassion is key to getting beyond cogjam–for others, ourselves, and even politicians. Yes, it’s true that much of today’s socio-political stress is fueled by politicians’ commentary and actions. But look at where they sit, as compared to the rest of us.

Book Excerpt

Chapter Four of my upcoming book, “The Cogjam Effect – and the Path to Healing Divisive Community and Fractured Science,” explains it this way:

“Opposing political opinions rarely involve the immediate life-or-death circumstances for which the fight or flight response was intended. We’d never know it, though, considering how politicians so often let gut reasoning take the lead. But look at it from their perspective. As far as their careers go, opposing political opinions may well represent life or death. Given the complexity and expense of election campaigns these days, our representatives no longer simply look out for the interests of their constituencies. They are in the unenviable position of also needing to satisfy those who finance their campaigns, which usually isn’t individual voters. Plus, they need to walk the line of party affiliations.

The needs and aims of these three factions may not coincide. The resulting conflicts of interest hack away at politicians’ increasingly precarious stumps. It’s a no-win situation, and probably terrifying for any elected official who values staying in office. The temptation to give in to gut reasoning must be profound, indeed. And as long as the status quo for election campaign practices continues, it’s a safe bet that cogjam will always be riding shotgun. Continue reading