Bonding with Ethnocentrism

I’ve never been much for seeking recreation in a pill. Even mild analgesics don’t offer much appeal. A headache has to be an impressive specimen before I’ll indulge it with an Advil. On at least one occasion this reticence proved highly problematic.

Some time ago I had an outpatient medical procedure performed under local anesthetic. The attending physician was a genteel white man with the soul of a Hutu. Once my flesh had been rendered insensate, he set about mutilating it with an alacrity I can only characterize as diabolical. At one point I nearly offered to wipe my gore off his goggles, that it might make his slashing more precise–though withheld for fear of further enflaming his bloodlust. In any event, upon finally painting the room red, he scrawled out a prescription for narcotics and advised I see it filled immediately…You’re going to need it.

Well, I was younger then. So burying his scrap in a pant pocket, I gave a roguish grin and assured him Nah, I’ll be alright. So long doc! He surely chuckled as the door closed.

As heedless to what was coming as a small-town liberal, I drove home and began piddling on the computer without a care. It’s interesting in hindsight how vertically a local anesthetic evaporates. One moment I’m chortling at funny cat pictures, and the next I’m in the fetal position praying for a merciful death. That’s where my wife found me. Her worried questions answered with only the upward thrust of a prescription and the gasp Get. This. Now! It probably wasn’t my best overall showing.

While that’s a bland tale of opioid use, it’s the only one I got. Much better are available from the many users and abusers of drugs such as Oxycontin. This being a time-released narcotic that isn’t at all the same as Oxytocin (OXT), which is a naturally occurring hormone used medically to induce contractions in the uterus. And if convulsing wombs aren’t enticing enough on their own, OXT offers other utility in addition. From the National Institute of Health, an oxytocin paradox.

In 2005, Kosfeld et al. published their now seminal paper showing that intranasal oxytocin (OXT) administration increased interpersonal trust. This finding spawned broad interest into the effects of OXT on social and emotional behavior in humans and its implications for translational medicine. Over the years OXT has gained the reputation of facilitating empathy and affiliation, based on early findings reporting beneficial effects of OXT on trust, social support, and processing social information. This view is supported by studies showing that OXT improves cognitive empathic abilities such as mindreading [always heartening to see advances in mindreading] and recognizing positive emotional expressions. As a result of these positive effects on social behavior, there has been considerable speculation about OXT’s therapeutic potential in people with social and emotional disabilities.

So oxytocin (have they even tested oxycontin?) increases trust, empathy, and affiliation. Can you guess what therapeutic possibilities this research is destined to pursue? Might just a little squirt up the beak of certain intransigent populations make them more accommodating to being on the right side of history? It’s tantalizing to imagine. Let’s see.

This prosocial view of OXT has been challenged by findings showing that the effects of OXT are strongly context-dependent.

What context?

For example, OXT has also been shown to increase…defensiveness toward out-group members and increased in-group conformity.

Well that won’t do at all in a Western country. Though as you are reading, keep in mind: the effect of enhanced in-group cohesion is a challenge to the “prosocial” view.

Although this ethnocentrism might be considered prosocial within one’s own group [Yes, I think it just might] defensiveness toward an out-group is not, and extreme ethnocentrism often leads to nationalism or even racism.

Interesting. They’ve established discrete silos of hate. So from a strictly objective, clinical standpoint ethnocentrism is different and more benign than nationalism, which is itself separate from and innocuous in comparison to racism. Thus the medical profession has endorsed the existence of non-racist nationalism. That’s excellent news. Though the good thing about ethnocentrism is that it is an adaptive group trait. The good thing about defensiveness toward out-groups is that it is mitigated by separate countries. And the good thing about racism is that it is a gibberish term, which promptly expires outside the liberal test tube. While the researchers didn’t quite reach these identical conclusions, they did offer a related concession so obvious that each must have died a little in putting it to print.

Furthermore, ethnocentrism occurs naturally in the normal population: under normal circumstances people tend to favor their own group over out-group members. Thus, interaction with in-group members is generally considered more rewarding. Also, a negative interaction with out-group members may constitute a form of negative feedback compared to positive interaction with in-group members. Our model predicts that administration of OXT would increase these differences. It strengthens the rewarding type of interaction and reinforces the effect of negative feedback. In this context, OXT indeed promotes ethnocentrism.

Given that OXT is abundantly produced in sex, childbirth, and lactation, and is widely considered a chemical key in human pair-bonding, do these researchers actually consider it a paradox that the increased empathy, trust, and affiliation that occurs in a bonding scenario would not apply to those outside its radius? Surely they must not.

This paradox gives rise to two questions. First, how can the beneficial effects of OXT on empathy, trust and affiliation be compatible with its seemingly contradictory anti-social effects?

I suppose I can’t always be right. Though here are some related examples that are equally paradoxical:

1️⃣ A baby that clings to its mother, but fears other women who are not its mother.
2️⃣ A woman who marries one man while now refusing sex with all other men.
3️⃣ A Blacklivesmatter protestor who maintains resolute indifference toward white lives.

In the simplest terms, OXT seems to incrementally enhance bonding. And bonding (socially or individually) represents a tacit rejection of those not party to it. Thus affinity is increased for in-groups and decreased for out. This is so fundamental that ten out of ten inebriated Mexican landscapers comprehend the concept without need of further calculation. And so science steps into the void.

But for the purpose of establishing this settled doctrine as a premise for all further debates, let us reiterate: the National Center for Biotechnology Information states that ethnocentrism occurs naturally in the normal population: under normal circumstances people tend to favor their own group over out-group members. I don’t think it can be stated any more plainly. Ethnocentrism is perfectly natural and normal. That is to say: Welcome to ethnocentrism! And pass the oxytocin.


6 thoughts on “Bonding with Ethnocentrism

  1. Pingback: Bonding with Ethnocentrism | Reaction Times

  2. The future doesn’t look good for OXT. It will soon be a controlled substance on a par with heroin everywhere except Israel.

  3. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2016/01/10) – The Reactivity Place

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