Some Neurocognitive Implications For Nation-Building

Perhaps my favorite entirely apolitical blog is The Eide Neurolearning Blog run by the Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide, two physicians who specialize in brain research and its implications for educating children. With great regularity I find information there that either is of use to me professionally or has wider societal importance.

On Monday, the Eides posted “The Thinking Spot” which adds to the existing mountain of evidence regarding the role of the maturing prefrontal cortex in developing the capacity for higher order thinking that does not quite come to fruition until the early to mid-twenties but may begin as early as preadolescence. The Eides write, regarding the PDF studies cited:

“Rule-based learning has a developmental course (no big surprise), but what is a little surprising is the degree to which 12 year olds lag young adults in tests requiring them to make new rules.”

Consider that U.S. or Western intervention in Gap states, or alternatively, internal political reform movements like the ” Color Revolutions”, are essentially political efforts in forcing a ” Rule-set reset” on a dysfunctional society or failed state. If one prefers classic Lockean descriptors, rewriting the social contract to “create a more perfect union“.

Most, though not all, of the nations in which state failure threatens are also demographically undergoing a ” youth bulge”. In Iran for example, 66-70 % of the population is under 30 years of age with the “fattest” part of the population curve being aged between 10 and 20. Indeed, it is the poorest nations that tend to be the youngest. To quote a UN report:

“– Countries where fertility remains high and has declined only moderately will experience the slowest population ageing. By 2050, about 1 in 5 countries is still projected to have a median age under 30 years. The youngest populations
will be found in least developed countries, 11 of which are projected to have median ages at or below 23 years in 2050, including Angola, Burundi, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger and Uganda.”

What I infer from this data and the Neurolearning Blog post is that the most favorable time for any effort, external or indigenous, to engage in a positive restructuring of a nation’s societal rule-sets may be when a given country’s youth bulge hits their early twenties. A narrow window of time when the most physically vigorous and largest section of the population has reached mental maturity in terms of accepting, comprehending and processing abstractions yet are most open to new ideas and desirous of a productive future for themselves.

This is of course a two edged sword. Youthful populations that feel alienated and stymied tend to be restive, even revolutionary. 1968 was not just a year that saw tumultuous baby boomers in American streets but also the chaos of Cultural Revolution in China, the Prague Spring, riots in Paris, the rise of Marxist terrorism in Latin America, Germany and Italy and barely preceded an upsurge in PLO terrorism. Today, while Europe and China are rapidly graying and the U.S. is holding relatively steady, much of the world is very young

I suggest that we are not long for an era of great opportunities and great upheavals.

11 thoughts on “Some Neurocognitive Implications For Nation-Building”

  1. It’s an explicit strategy of the Jihadis to turn thier women into baby factories. Baby boomers’ (I’m not saying you are one of them) fond memories of their own mythology notwithstanding, I dont think there’s anything comparable to Islam’s reemergence and the 1960s events you note.

  2. hi James,

    As a personal aside, I am a GenX’er.

    Ideologically, Islamism goes back to the 1880’s with Mohammed Abdub and al-Afghani. It shifted from being a modernizing intellectual strand to one of extreme reaction thanks to such influences as the Saudi Ikwhan, the Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyid Qutb and the KSA ‘s sponsorship of radical proselytizing, starting with King Faisal in the 1960’s.

    Demographics on the other hand, determines the nature of the audience the Islamists are targeting. This is not nostalgia for the 1960’s ( I am no admirer of ’60’s Boomer radicalism)just some geopolitical speculation regarding the implications of a disproportionately youthful population.

  3. This “most favorable time for any effort, external or indigenous” sounds like another “strike while the iron is hot” (remember how Saddam was right on the verge of attack?)…. with a bit of “we liberators will be greeted with flowers” (in this case by young Iranians with their malleable cortexes).

    I’d like to look, instead, into the cortexes of the baby boomer Administration plotting invasion/bombing of Iran. I’d like to believe that learning can be lifelong, but they don’t seem to have learned a glaring lesson from the last external effort in the region.

  4. I recall that in “The Distant Mirror” Tuckman pointed out that one reason people in the middle ages seemed to “excitable” was the fact that they were on the whole a much younger population than in the industrial era. Their family based political system also meant that pivotal leaders could in fact be of an age we today would consider teenagers or young adults.

    The competitive, merit based leader selection process of liberal-democracies not only selects for better leaders (hard to believe but a quick glance at history will show it true) but pretty much guarantees they will be middle-aged or older (since people have to work their way up the food chain.) We end up with a political system run by people with at least some management skills and who have matured past their more emotional times. (Of course, this is just a rough rule. Look at Clinton.)

    Most of the 3rd world still lives an a medieval-like pre-industrial milieu in which populations are not only young but in which leaders are still selected based on their family.

  5. Hi Outraged,

    I’m actually not in favor of invading Iran even though that state is unpopular with its population, particularly those under 30. Indeed, the voting age was recently raised because the of the strongly anti-Ahmadinejad sentiments of teen-age voters.

    My overall point was intended to be general, rather than specific to the Mideast.

    Hi Shannon,

    “Their family based political system also meant that pivotal leaders could in fact be of an age we today would consider teenagers or young adults.”

    Very true. The urgency of dynastic politics is a driver to hand over the reins as early as possible. Regents can easily become usurpers.

  6. I dont support any invasion of Iran, I do support a crushing campaign of destruction from the sky. It’s up to the Iranian people what to do with the govt that brought them to such lows.

  7. I also thought of Tuchman’s comments regarding the adolescent attitudes exhibited during the tumultuous times she chronicled in “Mirror”. As I see new research supporting that intuition on her part, I am again reminded why I enjoyed her various books so much.

    As a further aside, this type of mentality, i.e., undeveloped or immature, is a nice little insight into the urban gang culture which so bedevils many of our metropolitan areas. The classic gangbanger is exactly this teenage/young adult emotional volcano with little or no concern for later consequences or long term strategy.

    As was mentioned, much of the non-western world falls neatly into that demographic, and, unfortunately, that sort of mindset.

  8. “I dont support any invasion of Iran, I do support a crushing campaign of destruction from the sky. It’s up to the Iranian people what to do with the govt that brought them to such lows.”

    We Americans just love to bomb, don’t we? And we always think we’re going to get away with it scot free….like the carpet bombing of North Vietnam and Cambodia, or the shock and awe campaign in Iraq in 2003 (which I think set the stage for the disaster we’re seeing now). We don’t think about the human beings beneath the bombs. At least a suicide bomber sees his victim and puts himself at risk.

    Non western/”third world” countries may have chronologically younger populations, but when our middle aged men salivate over the idea of crushing campaigns from the sky, who is immature?

  9. Do those who come from the left to this blog have a basic inability to consider, or perhaps even notice, the content of the posts on which they comment?

  10. Ginny, I think I stumbled on the best answer to that yesterday.

    Check out this speech.

    Evan Sayet has been a top Hollywood writer and producer for more than 20 years. His credits range from “The Arsenio Hall Show” to “Politically Incorrect.” After the Sept. 11 attacks, Sayet decided to step from behind the camera and speak out in his own voice – that of one of the nation’s top political satirists. At Heritage, his entertaining yet quite serious lecture will examine the modern liberal “mindset” and how it can lead to siding with evil over good and behaviors that produce failure rather than success

    here is a summary about it:

    Liberals Have the Mentality of Kindergarteners, Comedian Says
    By Monisha Bansal Staff Writer
    March 06, 2007

    ( – Liberals are wrong about everything and have the mentality of kindergarteners, in the view of conservative comedian and commentator Evan Sayet.

    “The Democrats are wrong on quite literally every issue,” Sayet said at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., on Monday. “They are not just wrong. They are as wrong as wrong can be.

    “It’s not just domestic policy. It’s foreign policy. It’s every policy,” he said, adding that liberals are “diametrically opposed to that which is good, right and successful.”

    “The modern liberal will invariably side with evil over good, wrong over right, and the behaviors that lead to failure over those that lead to success,” Sayet said.

    “How could you possibly live in the freest nation in the history of the world and only see oppression? How could you live in the least imperialist power in human history and see us as the ultimate in imperialism? How can you live in the least bigoted nation in human history … and see racism lurking in every dark shadow?” he asked.

    The comedian attributed the trend to a “rejection of all fact, reason, evidence, logic, truth, morality, and decency.”

    Sayet also argued that liberals “have the mentality of five-year-olds.”

    He said the 1986 Robert Fulghum book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” “reads like the bible of modern liberalism and the playbook of Democratic Party policy.”

    “‘Don’t hit’ has just become ‘War is not the answer,’” Sayet said.

    “If we’re going to save America, we must take back the schools, the universities, the media, [and] the entertainment industry,” he said.

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