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Dopamine Puppets

Dopamine Puppets

    Note: Twitter is hiding my tweets about politics from my followers, so I use the code word “kittens” in those tweets to beat their censorship bot.

    Here’s a funny article by David Wong of Cracked that talks about the dopamine high we sometimes get from outrage. The gist of it is that the brain gets some sort of chemical payoff from outrage, and we seek it when we’re otherwise bored with life. Politics serves up lots of outrage opportunities. That’s why we are drawn to it – for the high.

    We rationalize that we are fighting the good fight and making the world better. But mostly it just feels good to get worked up about issues and share the experience with like-minded dopamine addicts.

    The Dopamine Puppet idea is compatible with what I call the Persuasion Filter. This view on life says we do things for chemical rewards and we rationalize those choices after the fact as being totally reasonable. Our sense of reason is an illusion when it comes to most of our actions. 

    We do use reason to narrow our options. For example, you don’t try to marry a dead person, and you don’t try to get a job with a company that no longer exists. But our final decisions are generally based on some sort of feeling, not logic. 

    If what I describe is an accurate view of the world, one way to reduce all the protests and outrage is to provide alternative sources of dopamine. I have in the past referred to this as my Pleasure Unit concept. The idea is that humans need a minimum level of pleasure in life, and we will do almost anything to get it. If we don’t have socially-acceptable sources of pleasure, we can easily turn to crime, risky behavior, drugs, or anything else that can give us a buzz. We might even go so far as to hallucinate that Hitler became President of the United States just so we can be outraged about it.

    This filter on life suggests that the best way to bring the country together is to provide alternative sources of dopamine. Honest debate never changes anything. Facts never change anything. Reason has left the building. If we want unity, it will require new sources of dopamine to replace the outrage-induced kind.

    When I was younger and dumber I thought I could transform unhappy people into happy people by giving them whatever they wanted, or fixing whatever they thought was broken. This approach worked approximately zero times. Once a dopamine addict’s alleged problem is fixed, the addict still needs the next high. So they magnify small problems into big ones just to feel something. Or they create a problem where there was none. 

    If you want unity in the country, don’t think in terms of facts and policies and honest debate on the topics. That stuff never got anyone high. What you need is new sources of dopamine so people are less attracted to outrage.

    If my hypothesis is correct, I predict that you will see less passion in the protests over the summer because the dopamine addicts will be enjoying the warm weather pleasures of sunlight, greater activity, tanned bodies, and probably more sex. Those pleasures will partially replace their winter outrage. 

    If my dopamine-replacement idea has merit, the people who exercise several times a week would have less political outrage than those who do not. The fitness addicts are getting their dopamine high from another source. They don’t need outrage.

    Do you remember all of those muscular anti-Trump protesters who came straight from the gym?

    Neither do I.

    But that could be confirmation bias on my part.

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