Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain | R. Douglas Fields, PhD

We all have a rage circuit we can’t fully control once it is engaged as R. Douglas Fields, PhD, reveals in this essential book for our time.  The daily headlines are filled with examples of otherwise rational people with no history of violence or mental illness suddenly snapping in a domestic dispute, an altercation with police, or road rage attack. We all wish to believe that we are in control of our actions, but the fact is, in certain circumstances we are not. The sad truth is that the right trigger in the right circumstance can unleash a fit of rage in almost anyone.

But there is a twist: Essentially the same pathway in the brain that can result in a violent outburst can also enable us to act heroically and altruistically before our conscious brain knows what we are doing. Think of the stranger who dives into a frigid winter lake to save a drowning child.

Dr. Fields is an internationally recognized neurobiologist and authority on the brain and the cellular mechanisms of memory. He has spent years trying to understand the biological basis of rage and anomalous violence, and he has concluded that our culture’s understanding of the problem is based on an erroneous assumption: that rage attacks are the product of morally or mentally defective individuals, rather than a capacity that we all possess.

Fields shows that violent behavior is the result of the clash between our evolutionary hardwiring and triggers in our contemporary world. Our personal space is more crowded than ever, we get less sleep, and we just aren’t as fit as our ancestors. We need to understand how the hardwiring works and how to recognize the nine triggers. With a totally new perspective, engaging narrative, and practical advice, Why We Snap uncovers the biological roots of the rage response and how we can protect ourselves—and others.

Step back and view our species objectively from the outside, the way a zoologist would carefully observe any other animal, or see us the way every other creature perceives human beings. The brutal reality could not be more evident or more horrifying. We are the most relentless yet oblivious killers on Earth.

Our violence operates far outside the bounds of any other species. Human beings kill anything. Slaughter is a defining behavior of our species. We kill all other creatures, and we kill our own. Read today’s paper. Read yesterday’s, or read tomorrow’s. The enormous industry of print and broadcast journalism serves predominantly to document our killing. Violence exists in the animal world, of course, but on a far different scale. Carnivores kill for food; we kill our family members, our children, our parents, our spouses, our brothers and sisters, our cousins and in-laws. We kill strangers. We kill people who are different from us, in appearance, beliefs, race, and social status. We kill ourselves in suicide. We kill for the advantage and for revenge, and we kill for entertainment: The Roman Coliseum, drive-by shootings, bullfights, hunting and fishing, animal roadkill in an instantaneous reflex for sport. We kill friends, rivals, coworkers, and classmates. Children kill children, in school and on the playground. Grandparents, parents, fathers, mothers – all kill and all of them are the targets of killing. We devise the cruelest means possible to kill other people: crucifixion, burning at the stake, beheadings, napalm, and Nazi gas chambers. We devise unthinkable means of systematic cruelty designed to produce the most extreme pain and agony possible, which we call torture. There is no animal on land, in the sea, or in the air that we do not kill. Many species that have inhabited the Earth for millions of years have been slaughtered to extinction by human beings. We kill whales, dolphins, seals, otters, sharks, and every other fish that swims or shellfish that hides in the sea. On land we kill herbivores and we kill carnivores: deer, cattle, squirrels, elephants, bears, and lions. Since 1970, human beings have kill off half of the entire world’s animal population (vertebrate animals), according to a World Wildlife Fund report in 2014. If a virus had been the cause of this global scourge, there would be widespread panic.

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