The Ethics of Neurobiological Narratives Darcia Narvaez, Department of Psychology, University of Notre Dame1

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The Ethics of Neurobiological Narratives

Darcia Narvaez, Department of Psychology, University of Notre Dame1

Narvaez, D. (in press). The Ethics of Neurobiological Narratives. Poetics Today, special issue on Narrative and the Emotions


Narratives are embedded in human biology. Each individual’s emotion system is shaped by early experience and can be viewed as a biosocial personal grammar for the social life. A child builds a biosocial grammar initially from caregiver treatment. Caregivers and cultures help structure event memory and co-construct the narratives children use for self and moral identities. The bio-emotional landscape formed by experience influences the narratives that shape the life course. Initially, this occurs nonverbally through touch and emotional response; later, it occurs through explicit discourse and cultural practice. Triune Ethics Theory draws on evolutionary neurobiology, virtue ethics and multiple human sciences to illustrate three ethics that represent basic neurobiological narratives that are formed by early experience and by climates and cultures. The three basic ethical orientations that underlie human moral behavior are called Security, Engagement, and Imagination. One or more can become a dispositional orientation and each can be situationally primed. Cultures encourage one or another ethic through their support systems and common discourse. Mature moral functioning in most traditions involves self-actualization in selecting and self-cultivating the moral narratives that lead to peaceful coexistence.

Research in affective neuroscience has uncovered how brain development, including emotional circuitry design, is shaped by early life experience (e.g., Panksepp, 1998). With only 25% of the brain developed at birth, caregivers in early life co-construct its emotion structures and circuits, influencing personality formation (Schore, 1992; 1994), cognitive development (Greenspan & Shanker, 2004) and subsequent moral functioning (Narvaez, 2008). The view presented here is that the manner in which emotion systems are fostered in early life affects the unconscious processes used to understand socio-emotional events and the narratives used to explain and understand life experience. Moreover, the moral narratives that become attractive are those that resonate with the emotion circuitry shaped by early experience (Tompkins, 1965). After a very brief description of emotion development, it is linked to moral development. Then an application of these topics to culture and education narratives is outlined.

Emotion systems generally facilitate learning and represent “psychobehavioral potentials that are genetically ingrained in brain development” as “evolutionary operants” (Panksepp, 1998, p. 55). These operants are inherited emotional command systems that help animals behave adaptively in the face of life challenges. Throughout the brain, emotion systems (e.g., separation distress)2 are placed centrally in order to dynamically interact with more recently evolved cognitive structures (e.g., prefrontal cortex) and more basic physiological outputs (e.g., adrenaline). As a result, there is no emotion without a thought and most thoughts evoke emotion and there is no emotion without a behavioral or physiological outcome. Emotions guide animals in their aims and inform them about what has or has not worked in the past to meet needs or reach goals.

Emotional signaling and response drive adaptation from the beginning of life (Schore, 1994). Early experience of care, emotional resonance with others, reciprocity, tension and reconciliation (or their opposites) influence the neurobiology of emotion systems upon which the psyche builds its core (Schore, 2003a, 2003b). Infants seek to connect with others, to woo them into relationship (Hrdy, 2009). Actions are effective or not in reestablishing equilibrium or satisfaction. When a baby successfully communicates a need and it is satisfied by caregivers, the episode fosters a sense of self-efficacy, whereas if there is a recurrent pattern of failure to successfully communicate or receive care, a sense of insecurity is fostered along with a mistrust of the world for getting needs met (Tronick, 2007).

For each set of repeated experiences in life, the individual constructs a corresponding set of socio-cognitive-emotional responses. These patterns of response are generally formed during sensitive periods (such as early life) and later become triggered by particular events that are evocative of earlier experience. These patterns can be termed a personal biosocial grammar (an idea similar to, but individualized and not universal, to Mikhail’s, 2007, universal moral gramma) . Every individual’s “grammar” is unique and corresponds to a singular merging of “fantasy” and reality as discussed by Freud (1887-1902) and that can be demonstrated in an individual’s unique neuronal signature (Ansermet & Magistretti, 2007). Each person’s biosocial grammar provides a causal map for the individual’s social behavior. In a situation that evokes a response, there is an initiating event (an external or internal event), the internal (emotional and cognitive) response, and a reaction (usually a goal attempt)3 to re-establish equilibrium (Piaget, 1954). For example, internal (physiological signals such as pain in the stomach) and/or external signals (e.g., an expression on the face of another) provide initiating events for responses within a particular setting. When a basic emotional system is activated, goal setting and goal-focused action follow. A precipitating event (e.g., hunger) triggers an emotion system (e.g., seeking) which results in action to complete the goal of satisfying the need. The particular outcome of one episode may be the initiating event for the next. If these need-response-outcome patterns become frequent and predictable, the infant takes the internalized pattern into his/her personality. Thus, a baby begins to develop a habitual, biosocial personal grammar from caregiver treatment (similar to “internal working models” by Bowlby, 1951). As illustrated in Table 1, caregivers co-construct an individual’s personal biosocial grammar and resulting personal narrative through the repetition of social interactions.

Early experience has long term effects that reside in brain and body systems (Bowlby, 1962; Lupien et al., 2009). How well emotions guide adaptive behavior is dependent on how well emotion systems were developed in early life (Schore, 1994). Poor care leads to disorganized emotion systems which form the basis for further psychopathology (Cole, Michel & Teti, 1994). Caregivers intentionally and unintentionally foster particular grammars in children through their caregiving practices throughout childhood. For example, caregivers help structure event memory in older children through how and what they elaborate in conversations with the child (Nelson & Gruendel, 1981), establishing interpretive narratives for children’s self and moral identities (more below).

Early experiences set one on a course of emotional and social habits even before self-consciousness sets in around 18 months (Schore, 1994; Stern, 1999). Later in life one’s conscious, explicit aims and goals are affected by the implicit views of one’s relation to others (e.g., trusting or untrusting) and the world (benign or dangerous) that were established in early life. These “feelings” or intuitions about others and the world underlie the biosocial personal grammar but may be made conscious and explicit, unlike the grammar itself. As described further below, such intuitions influence which personal, cultural and life narratives attract and guide the individual (Tompkins, 1965) and lead to particular propensities in moral functioning. The neurobiological underpinnings of morality and moral narratives are becoming increasingly clear (Moll, Zahn, de Olivera-Souza, Krueger, & Grafman, 2005; Narvaez, 2009). Triune ethics theory links early life experience, emotion development and subsequent functioning, with moral functioning. We discuss this next.


Human morality has neurobiological roots that are apparent in several biological structures. For example, the limbic system, the source of our social emotions, is only partially constructed at birth. Caregivers co-construct the functioning of the social emotions in the limbic system through their responsiveness, influencing for example how easily distressed (and self-focused) the individual’s brain turns out to be (Henry & Wang, 1998). In conditions of early neglect or abuse, the emotional circuitry linked to social functioning is underdeveloped and self-calming mechanisms are faulty (Schore 2003a; 2003b), leading to a propensity to focus on self needs. Sensitive and responsive parenting from an early age shapes a more agreeable and conscientious personality (Kochanska, 2002). Early care influences the development and functioning of multiple biological and psychological systems, including for example, the vagus nerve which affects cardiac, digestive, respiratory and other systems (e.g., Calkins, Smith, Gill & Johnson, 1998; Porter, 2003), and is linked to compassionate response (Eisenberg & Eggum, 2008, for a review). The most recent addition to the evolved brain, the prefrontal cortex which controls executive functions, is also affected during early life and during other sensitive periods (Anderson, Bechara, Damasio, Tranel, & Damasio, 1999; Goldberg, 2002; Kodituwakku, Kalberg, & May, 2001; Newman, Holden, & Delville, 2005). In previous work (Narvaez, 2008a; 2009; in preparation; Narvaez & Brooks, 2010), I developed Triune Ethics4 Theory (TET) as a way to integrate findings from evolutionary neurobiology, neuroscience, virtue ethics and multiple psychological disciplines into a theory of moral development. TET distinguishes three basic moral orientations (or central motives that drive moral functioning; Moll, Zahn, de Oliveira-Souza, Drueger, & Grafman, 2005). These propel human moral action on an individual and group level: the Ethic of Security, the Ethic of Engagement, and the Ethic of Imagination. The three ethics and their subtypes draw on different parts of the brain. Each ethic draws on a different set of activated emotion systems that influence cognition and action. Subjectively, each ethic presents a different orientation to the moral life. When a particular orientation is used to guide action, thereby trumping other values or goals, it becomes an ethic. An ethic can be habitual or dispositional but also evoked by the situation. An individual’s grammar can resonate with others and promote a group orientation. Each ethic influences perception (e.g., vision: Rowe, Hirsh, & Anderson, 2007; Schmitz, de Rosa, & Anderson, 2009), affordances (action possiblities) and the attractiveness of particular rhetoric.

Ethic of Security. The Ethic of Security is rooted in emotional instincts for survival that are present at birth (the emotional systems for exploration, fear, panic, rage, as well exploration; see Panksepp, 1998). The Security ethic emerges from the extrapyramidal action nervous system (Panksepp, 1998) that attends to basic survival and relates to territoriality, imitation, deception, struggles for power, maintenance of routine and following precedent (MacLean, 1990). When this system drives social functioning, it becomes an ethic. One might call this a “first-person” morality—‘it’s all about me’. The security ethic emphasizes self-protection, autonomous seeking, status enhancement (hierarchy or pecking order), and ingroup loyalty (maintained with rules for purity of belief or action, e.g., virginity). The security ethic can easily dominate thought and behavior when a person or group is threatened, leading to action that appears moral subjectively but is objectively immoral. It is evident in Othello’s jealous rage and MacBeth’s ruthless grab for power. When the security ethic is triggered, tribalism predominates, rivalry and the pecking order are stressed, and mob behavior can be set in motion (Bloom, 1995). The Security personality is a type of human nature that is expressed typically only under conditions of threat or perceived injustice (Eidelson & Eidelson, 2003). Indeed, laboratory studies show that when people feel threatened, they are less responsive to helping others and more focused on self-preservation (e.g., Mikulincer, Shaver, Gillath, & Nitzberg, 2005).

Although the security ethic is useful in moments of actual physical threat, it can dominate one’s personality as a result of poor early care. A dispositional security ethic can be exhibited in the self-focused orientations of narcissism, depression or aggression which are seen among abused and neglected children. The externalizing form I call bunker security. It is defensive aggression that is used to protect the physical or psychological self (i.e., ego). In this case the individual tends to perceive threat everywhere. Because the preservational system is so strong, the urge to self-protect becomes overwhelming, reflecting Simone Weil’s view, “Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty.” The internalizing form I call wallpaper security. It tends towards a submissive, emotionally withdrawn response to authority. The virtues of the security ethic are loyalty and obedience, depicted perhaps in Hester at the end of The Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne, 1981) when she returns voluntarily to the colony to live out her life wearing the scarlet letter.

Ethic of Engagement. Rooted physiologically in both the brain and the heart, the second ethic, the Ethic of Engagement, involves the emotional systems that drive us towards intimacy. A well-functioning visceral-emotional nervous system on the hypothalamic-limbic axis (Panksepp, 1998) and a well-developed right brain (Schore, 1994) allow for here-and-now emotional signaling. Found among mammals and particularly primates, these systems were identified as the locus of human moral sense by Darwin because they are the root of our social and sexual instincts, empathy, parental care and playfulness (Darwin, 1891; Loye, 2002). I call the Engagement ethic a “harmony morality,” focused on love/care/attachment, play and ‘being-in-the-moment’ (relational flow) with others where egoistic self-interest is minimized. One might call this a “second-person morality,” in which the focus is on the Other.

When the security ethic runs amok, the more humane engagement ethic may provide a counter pressure if aroused by particular events, as in Saul Bellow’s, Herzog, when the titular hero is about to avenge himself on his ex-wife and her lover. Seeing his wife bathing their daughter, his humanity is touched and his heart melts. Similarly, in To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus by the jailhouse is confronted by a mob. His children come up to protect him and his daughter recognizes a man in the crowd. She starts talking to him regarding his son, whom she knows. The man does not reply. She asks what is wrong, saying she was just trying to be polite. He “awakens” from the trance of mob violence to his softer emotions and he turns to leave, taking the crowd with him.

When empathy is strong but self-regulatory systems are weak, one may experience what I call engagement distress. Feminist literature, such as Alice Walker’s, The Color Purple, often reflects the struggles within the engagement ethic of caring or attaching too much to another. More rarely, the engagement ethic may predominate to such an extent that it leads to a type of ‘donor fatigue’ as in Graham Greene’s Heart of the Matter where Scobie becomes a victim of his own compassion for others. The Ethic of Engagement is suppressed in some societies, including the USA, especially in boys, being regarded as feminine and “weak” to show much empathy for others (but this may be an attitude widely accepted for all, see XXXXX). James Joyce, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, artfully describes the type of ridicule that a “mama’s boy” encounters in patriarchal societies.

Ethic of Imagination. The third ethic, the Ethic of Imagination is grounded in a well-functioning somatic-cognitive nervous system on the thalamic-neocortical axis (Panksepp, 1998), It is based in the more recently evolved parts of the brain and is the source of deliberative reasoning and imagination. One might call this a “third-person morality” because of the ability to detach emotionally from the present moment and use abstraction adaptively. Although humans have evolved to favor face-to-face relationships and have difficulty imagining those not present (such as future generations; see Trout, 2009, for a review), the prefrontal lobes provide a means for a sense of community that extends beyond immediate experience.

In my view, the Imagination Ethic has three forms. Detached imagination occurs when the mind is dissociated from emotion and presence in the here-and-now, which means functioning is dominated by the left brain (McGilchrist, 2009). Such an intellectualized morality uses abstraction to solve moral problems, analyzing discrete pieces of life without attending to the rich context. Morality can degrade into a set of procedures. Futuristic novels, such as Orwell’s 1984, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, often envision nightmares of bureaucracies operating from a detached imagination ethic. It can also be seen in characters who are dissociated from their emotions, like Daisy, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby.

When the left brain is dominant but additionally fueled by anger, the result is vicious imagination, driven by a clever seeking of power. This ego-centered morality is more sophisticated and reflective than Bunker Security (which is more reflexively aggressive) producing a sophisticated reptile. Literary narratives often depict such individuals, as in Thomas Mann’s Adrian Leverkuhn’s lust for success at the cost of his soul in Doktor Faustus. Colonel Miles Quaritch in the film, Avatar, also exhibits this type of ethic.

Communal imagination is the capacity for a sense of connection to others who are not present. It combines social rich experience on the ground with an ability to envision realistic consequences of potential action with deep prosociality. Andy Griffith, as sheriff on the Andy Griffith Show, is an exemplar of communal imagination. He manifests little egoism or self-promotion. He is sensitive to the needs and foibles of townsfolk and navigates leadership with a deep regard for the common good.

The most exemplary moral orientation I call Mindful Morality, which is a combination of Communal Imagination and Engagement. Mindful morality coordinates the right and left parts of the brain, intuition and conscious reason, emotion and abstraction. It combines the intersubjectivity and resonance with the other (Engagement ethic), with the use of abstraction capabilities grounded in experience (Communal Imagination). This is moral wisdom. Mindful morality guides the intuitions and instincts of the other ethics, able to counter instincts with “free won’t” (Cotterill, 1999), the ability to stop an impulse or talk oneself out of taking rash action, an ability most other animals do not possess I am reminded of the old television show, Maverick, in which the star would avoid taking violent action unless it were absolutely necessary. The Na’vi creatures in Avatar also exhibit this wisdom.

Both the engagement and imagination ethics rely on early experience, specifically conditions that best match the “environment of evolutionary adaptedness” (EEA; Bowlby, 1951). The EEA represents what human mammals need for optimal development and functioning. Based on research of nomadic hunter-gatherer bands around the world, the type of society in which the human genus spent 99% of its history (Fry, 2008), anthropologists have identified what the EEA looked like for young children (breastfeeding for 2-5 years, nearly constant touch in first years of life, prompt response to expressed needs, multiple caregivers, free play with other children of various ages; Hewlett & Lamb, 2005). In the presumed EEA environment, anthropologists find consistent evidence for what I call the Engagement and Communal Imagination ethics. In the EEA, human basic emotional needs (for belonging, autonomy, competence, trust, understanding, self-fulfillment; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Staub, 2003) largely were met (the 99% of our history spent in small-band foraging communities). Elsewhere I describe in more detail the expected environment for optimal moral functioning (e.g., Narvaez, 2008; Narvaez & Panksepp, 2010).

EEA characteristics have been disappearing from early childhood in the USA (Narvaez & Panksepp, 2010). A habitually-neglected (not responded to) young child has weaker social satisfaction, and becomes more self-centered in the biosocial grammar and narratives that carry her along. When a particular need is not met in early life, the personality may form around this need in a polarized way. For example, children who are not cherished by their caregivers may be driven to seek freedom from the demands of others or narcissistic love from others (Bowlby, 1982); such children may adopt a narrative of independence or self-aggrandizement.

There is a broader picture to address. The culture is influential in promoting one ethic or another. For example, how caregivers care for a child and how the child understands him or herself are influenced by the narratives of a culture, affecting personal grammar and favored ethical orientation. We examine further the influence of culture on ethical orientation.

Cultures provide narratives that promote different emotions, different selves, and different moralities in group members. For example, 99% of human genus existence over millions of years took place without war, yet the cultural narrative in the USA assumes that humans are warriors by nature (Fry, 2009). Over 99% of human existence occurred in egalitarian bands (Lee & Daly, 1999), but the cultural narratives that dominate the world emphasize hierarchy as natural. Through 99% of human existence humans thrived without obedience to authority, yet for many cultures today obedience is the number one virtue. Whereas 99% of human existence was spent in a loving kinship community (mother, father, extended family members), narratives in the 19th century began to adopt the nuclear family (mother, father, child) as normal (Coontz, 2002). This was accompanied by the narrative that children should be treated harshly (although that is a longer Judeo-Christian tradition).

The view presented here is that modern beliefs and corresponding social practices have contributed to the predominance of the Security Ethic in Western human religion, culture and everyday life today. Personal gain is emphasized, generalized fear is common, and relationships are minimally nurtured relative to what mammals need for flourishing (Narvaez & Panksepp, 2010). These poor nurturing conditions lead to greater propensities for violence and disregard for life of all forms.

Since the 1960s, psychologists have been lamenting the individualistic emphasis of psychology with its “systematic denial of man’s social nature” (Hogan and Emler 1978, p. 487) and berating the U.S. culture, suggesting that it fosters “alienation and estrangement,” separating the person from the nutrient-rich relational source from which each person is cast, with the culture espousing as an ideal the breakdown of attachments (Sampson, 1977, p. 780). A culture that emphasizes self-reliance tends to make it more difficult to maintain a focus on empathic helping. Thus a self-focus, whether it arises from threat or from a culture that emphasizes self-concern, will dampen the engagement ethic. Berkowitz (1970) points out how self-concern was emphasized not only by Rousseau and other Romantic philosophers, but by psychologists such as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, who emphasized self-actualization with little regard for others. A similar emphasis is found in the works of Ayn Rand and the neo-conservatives of the turn of the 20th century (Burns, 2009; Rand, 1964). Extreme Western individualism, adult self-preoccupation and a culture of fear and distrust establish conditions that emphasize a security ethic and hijack the imagination to focus on survival, status, and power, as in Stanley Kubrick’s film, Dr. Strangelove, and John Dos Passos’, USA.

U.S. popular and mainstream culture makes salient a security ethic orientation on a daily basis. Whereas the security ethic is vital in moments of real threat, focusing attention on survival interests, when it is activated on an everyday basis its social presence discourages helping and prosocial behavior (Berkowitz, 1970). For example, studies showed that when self-focus was heightened experimentally, people’s helping behavior diminished, especially in males. In one study (Brehm & Cole, 1966) control subjects helped with a dull task 93% of the time in contrast to 13% when self-focus was aroused. When a self-focused person receives an unrequested favor, he or she feels a restriction on his subsequent behavior (i.e., the obligation to reciprocate) often reacts with hostility, and has even less inclination to help others (Brehm, 1966). Whereas when a person has salient the view of self as a helper, it doesn’t matter what the external forces are (i.e., someone doing an unrequested favor for them), he is more likely to help than are those without such a self view. Cultures that emphasize group-beneficial acts and discourage selfishness are less aggressive than cultures that encourage individual gain at the expense of others (research by Ruth Benedict presented by Maslow, 1993, and Fromm, 1973).

Similarly within religious cultures, group narratives can emphasize different ethics of those describe here, evoking different emotion systems. When fear of the stranger is emphasized, actions taken against the stranger are viewed as moral and actions to protect the stranger are considered immoral (Wright, 2009); this is a characteristic of fundamentalisms around the world (Marty & Appleby, 1995). When compassion is emphasized, prosocial actions towards the stranger are considered moral and aggression considered immoral; this is a characteristic of the major religions and traditions around the world (Wright, 2009).

So we can imagine the power of these cultural stories as they line up with biological narratives. If the culture emphasizes individual independence over cooperation, self-concern is triggered. If the culture depresses or discourages emotion, then detached or vicious imagination ethic may be fostered. When religions or social groups emphasize “dangerous ideas” (e.g., sense of helplessness, superiority, injustice, suspicion or vulnerability, Eidelson & Eidelson, 2003), they foster vicious imagination and aggression. In contrast, in communities like the Amish, compassion, humility and forgiveness are deliberately fostered towards both insiders and outsiders (Hostetler & Huntington, 1971). Recently when several children were killed in an Amish school by a neighbor who then committed suicide, local Amish elders immediately went to forgive and comfort the wife of the murderer (Kraybill, Nolt, & Weaver-Zercher, 2008). If the culture emphasizes cooperation over individual passions, the engagement ethic is likely evoked. Communal imagination is encouraged by an emphasis on the common good (Daly & Cobb, 1989) and on ecological interdependence (Worster, 1994).

Although the macro level (culture) is influential so too is the micro level (situational climate). Situational climates—the established culture for a local group setting—also effect how people view themselves and others, and how they behave. Climates at schools and workplaces support different narratives about the purpose of the community and its members (de Vries & Zan, 1999), fostering different ethical orientations (see Narvaez, 2009; 2009). A competitive, uncaring environment fosters self concern, encouraging a security ethic orientation. As extreme cases, school shooters typically feel bullied and do not feel as if they belong to the school community; these circumstances encourage a revenge narrative (vicious imagination) (Newman et al., 2004). A positive, caring climate, particularly one that meets basic needs, fosters the engagement ethic.

Traditionally, families and communities tell the stories that children, after infancy, adopt as frameworks for life. Those who tell the stories establish the culture. In contrast, many argue that children today are hearing and seeing stories that lead them away from a moral life (Linn, 2004; Narvaez, 2005). First, in the USA many stories about “the good life” are generated by public relations or advertising firms whose aim is to shape positive attitudes towards consumerism generally and buying their products in particular. As a result, children are “branded” from a young age (Quart, 2003) and children’s lives have become controlled by corporate interests (Rushkoff, 2009). When corporate messages are infused in the school day, for example through sponsored classroom materials and Channel One television, and consumerism is a primary leisure activity in society, families no longer have control over the stories their children hear and adopt.

Children and adolescents spend on average forty hours a week with electronic media (Rideout, Foehr & Roberts, 2010). Children and family programming has become much more violent than in previous generations (Aust, 2007). Increased television viewing is related to all sorts of problems including aggressive behavior, like bullying, and other social issues, obesity, ADHD, sleeping problems, among other negative effects (e.g., Acevedo-Polakovich et al., 2006; Christakis et al., 2004; Collins et al., 2004; Gidwani et al., 2002; Hancox et al., 2005 ; Johnson et al., 2004 ; Lumeng et al., 2006 ; Ozmert et al., 2002; Zimmerman & Christakis, 2005). Electronic media today model for children immense amounts of graphic violence, aggression, sexuality, and disregard for human dignity and life in general with multiple ill effects (Singer & Singer, 2000). At no previous time in history have children been so systematically inundated with immoral examples of how to live. Moreover, seeing violence is related to lowered empathy, greater fear of the world, and a propensity to act in harmful ways towards others (Mundorf & Laird, 2002). Additionally, tools that are supposed to help parents in guiding choices for children are not always reliable. For example, the Motion Picture Association ratings of movies have shifted over prior decades (“ratings creep”), counting as “G” films that were once “PG,” and so on through the ratings (Thompson & Yokota, 2004).

Garbarino (1999) suggests that we are raising our children in a toxic social environment that has all sorts of ill effects. Schore (2009) suggests that the right brain (related to engagement) is undernourished by current child rearing. McGilchrist (2009) describes how the left brain view of the world (re-presented, discretely parceled) has dominated Western civilization from its inception, at the expense of right brain emotional “presence,” contextual awareness, and ecological respect. And so we have a society that maximizes bunker security, vicious and detached imagination in contrast to the societies of our ancestors that fostered a right brain, engagement orientation. Korten (2006) has suggested that the predominant USA narrative of dominance, exploitation and empire, reflected in the media, be replaced with one emphasizing collaboration and sustainability or earth as a community. Next, we examine how narrative literature can help us move in this direction.

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