Powdered-Sugar Doughnuts

“If you encounter a new kind of pleasure-if, say, you’ve somehow gone your whole life without eating a powdered-sugar doughnut, and somebody hands you one and suggests you try it – you’ll get a big blast of dopamine after the taste of the doughnut sinks in.  But later once you’re a confirmed powdered-sugar doughnut eater, the lion’s share of the dopamine spike comes before you actually bite into the doughnut, as you’re staring longingly at it; the amount that comes after the bite is much less than the amount you got after the first, blissful bite into a powdered-sugar doughnut.  The pre-bite dopamine blast you’re now getting is the promise of more bliss, and the post-bite drop in dopamine is, in a way, the breaking of the promise – or, at least, it’s a kind of biochemical acknowledgment that there was some overpromising.  To the extent that you bought the promise – anticipated greater pleasure than would be delivered by the consumption itself – you have been, if not deluded in the strong sense of that term, at least misled.”

-Robert Wright from his book, “Why Buddhism is True”

As I read these words I started thinking about our current political climate.  Scott Adams, writer of the Dilbert cartoon, who is oddly a fan of Donald Trump because of his brilliant powers of persuasion talks about the reason people love Trump is because he speaks emotional truth.  I hate to see the word truth get used so badly, and if you want to argue that emotional truth isn’t truth with a capital ‘T’, then I would say I hate to see the word emotional used so badly.  Because let’s face it.  If Trump is tapping into some sort of emotional truth of millions of Americans, there are some pretty emotionally unhealthy people out there.  But there is some truth to Adams words in general, and this passage from Robert Wright’s book made me think of this.  People wonder why so many would vote against their own best interest.  I have wondered that too.  I wondered why so many could vote for someone who is so obviously a charlatan?  Of course charlatans have been fooling people for as long as civilization has existed likely, but when it happens in the 10s of millions it seems strange.  Of course if every snake oil salesmen from history could reach the same number of people on a daily basis who knows?   Like every good charlatan what they are selling is the promise, and not the actual goods themselves.  People’s own interests have become secondary to the promise.  I would also add that Trump promises some mostly terrible things which again is why I shudder to think he is speaking some sort of emotional truth that people are responding to.  The fact still remains that the dopamine is high for the anticipation, the broken promise matters little as long as enough powdered-sugar doughnuts are waved in front of the voters faces.

I will pause to say that even I am guilty of that when Obama was elected.  I know many democrats feel the same way.  The promise of change we thought Obama could bring was definitely a contrast to what actually happened.  Many of us sat down.  We weren’t active, we expected it to happen all by itself instead of recognizing that a good democracy requires continual effort.  Although I still reject the idea that our own delusion of how change happens is the sole reason how someone like Trump got elected.  Republicans have been priming their base for years with fearmongering and misinformation.  They’ve convinced their base how much they like powdered-sugar doughnuts and convinced them that the left is the one that has taken all your powdered-sugar doughnuts.  Trump came on to the scene packing oodles of them (a lot of them in his waistline) and tossed them out to the masses like paper towels being thrown to displaced masses on a hurricane ravaged tropical island.

Every time we think we’ve hit rock bottom with Trump there seems to be another.  What it seems like we are seeing is the diminishing returns of the dopamine hit and so the ante is always being upped.  And make no mistake the dopamine here seems less about the promises that Trump is making but more about how miserable he is making his detractors.  Liberals were an easy mark after all those years of GOP priming and honestly it seems like the promises of Trump are long gone in most of their minds and most of his base just enjoy watching others squirm.  There is perhaps some wisdom to the philosophy of not reacting at all to Trump as this seems to be the dopamine hit they keep craving.  We may not be snowflakes, but our outrage might just be another white powdery substance.   I am not sure though I have much hope to give, because it feels more and more like we have a large group of Americans who have an addiction problem, and I’m not talking about opioids.  As long as Trump keeps increasing the dosage, dopamine levels will stay high in his voters.

We are probably not long away from Stormy Daniels telling her story publicly.  As I read about how she is going to do this now because of Trump’s lawyer saying that it was his own personal money basically violated their “hush” deal about the affair.  I started thinking that this will finally sink this “upside-down world” Titanic.  A covered-up affair, while his 3rd wife is pregnant with their child.  Not someone he had any romantic attachment to, but a porn star, who during the election tried to silence with money.  There are few acts that I can think of more bereft of any morality for a candidate running on the ticket for the party who is supposedly pro-family, and pro-God.  There are few things less corrupt than a politician bribing people who could bring truthful facts about his character to light either.  For a party that is supposedly pro-American values which should include democracy and not corrupting that process I am dubious that this will be taken seriously.  Just as Russian interference in the election, sexual assault, and overt racism, was not taken seriously.

I see little hope at all that this ship will sink.  I see those that will discredit this woman because she makes adult films.  We will have the deluded evangelicals still claiming Trump is an instrument of God.  We will have the hyper-masculine crowded thinking, “well she has big knockers he had to fuck her because he’s a rich powerful man, and such men can fuck anybody they want”.  And some portion of all those people will just be selfish, rich, pricks who really don’t care and just pick whatever defense looks best in their social circle, because in the end, they are making tons of cash and that’s all that matters.  As an aside the only criticism I can think of for Stormy Daniels is that it only took $130,000 dollars to convince her to keep quiet about something that might have affected who the leader was of a nation of 300 million people, and the world’s most powerful economy and imperialistic force.  But perhaps like the rest of us, she thought he couldn’t win anyway and just decided to make a little cash.  Also, I would have thought that as a porn star you are already having a lot of sex with people you don’t choose on-camera, so there would be a stronger impetus to be more choosy with who you have sex with off-camera.  🙂 Apparently, that’s an incorrect assumption.  (Trump…really?  Trump?)

I do think there are also a lot of people who regret voting for Trump.  They regretted it probably within the first 6 months of him being elected, so I’m not trying to pretend that some people haven’t accepted they were duped, or that they knew they probably were but were so desperate for some help they figured why not see what the other side of the aisle can do.  There is good reason for people to feel frustrated by a government that is rife with corruption from big business.  I hope we can turn a corner here for those people in the future.  As I write this we have young people ignited by the recent gun shooting trying to fight for change.  We have more women entering politics.  We have the #MeToo movement.  I also hope we can turn a corner for those whose mouth waters for powdered-sugar doughnuts, because a government that is actually interested in making things better for people, softens the zealotry.  The best way to recover from addiction is to remove the environment in which that addiction flourishes.  I hope we can find away to wash away the toxicity in our society that harms us all.


24 thoughts on “Powdered-Sugar Doughnuts

  1. If Trump is tapping into some sort of emotional truth of millions of Americans, there are some pretty emotionally unhealthy people out there.

    This appears to be a capital “T” Truth.

    I hope we can find away to wash away the toxicity in our society that harms us all.

    It’s going to take someone very special, and it should start with a blanket EO rescinding everything Trump did. Absolutely everything, starting again as if it were Jan 2017.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. I say something similar when people say they like Trump because he speaks his mind…the quality of the mind matters. lol

      Can there be one EO that says…”Everything Trump did has been reversed?” lol

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This is a REALLY good post … but gosh, Swarn … you put so many words on the screen! 😍

    Nevertheless, lots of good thoughts that I agree with 100%. And while I would absolutely LOVE to see this guy get his dues, I think I’d rather put up with him until 2020 in hopes he’ll get voted out and we’ll get rid of him AND Pence (who none of us want either). Naturally, there’s always the chance “the deplorables” will hit the poll booths again … but I think at least some of them are waking up to the fact he’s as fake as his hairdo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Nan. Yeah I know this was a bit of a long one. I do agree that there is a core group of voters who won’t change their mind no matter what, but I do think more are seeing through Trump now. I also think that more people got a kick in the pants, who thought this election was all but over, and more people are getting to the polls. Not only for federal elections, but also for state elections as well. A lot more people are fighting to get back state legislatures from Republican policies which have been terrible.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Swarn,

    I’m not a fan of Trump at all, first and foremost because his disrespectful treatment of other people is a profoundly difficult pill for me to swallow. It is hard for me to see past that and even begin to consider the issues, because, in a way that may perhaps be naive, I simply don’t see the possibility that a person who acts that way can be motivated deep down to desire just outcomes for the maximum number of people. I’d rather someone with political views very different from my own who valued listening, reasonable discussion, and had enough value and respect for those around him or her to acknowledge that this country isn’t about just one thing, and part of the job of the President is to incorporate potentially disparate voices into something of a cogent whole. No one who treats people as Trump does can ever hope to accomplish that.

    But I do think Scott Adams’ point is interesting. There’s a way in which Trump doesn’t really try and be other than who he is. Unlike the snake oil salesman you reference, he doesn’t exactly lure us in with charm, and then pull the bait and switch. I don’t see Trump the human being in any way now that is all that different from how I saw him in 2016, and the thing with Stormy Daniels seems altogether consistent. So when you compare that consistency with the way many politicians attempt to portray a certain image–e.g. one that is difficult to sustain, may be inconsistent with their real character, and opportunistic as to political circumstance–there seems to be a way that Trump doesn’t do as much of that.

    In your piece here it would be easy to assume America had a myriad of options, but part of the difficulty I think is that it came down to Trump and Clinton. That’s certainly our own fault, and disappointing. What strikes me is that we’ve believed our own headlines, in a sense, so what you described in our previous discussion as American exceptionalism–closely related to perhaps a populist American dream internally–is crumbling. For those who are living this disappointment daily, it’s not clear to me that Hilary was a superior option–all bigotry and nationalism and xenophobia aside. I thought this video was interesting along those lines. While the interpretation was that there is some sort of crisis of meaning at work in middle America, my immediate reaction is that the set-up to this crisis was the notion that America is special, and in particular that white Americans have long thought they were special. That’s an unrealistic position to advocate for and to sustain.

    But the fact is the data suggest this belt of despair exists. I don’t know that it’s a question of self-interest as much as nihilism that we’ve seen. A move rooted in uncertainty and anger perhaps. The question is how do we as a nation serve these people? It seems obvious there need to be systems in place to catch people as economies and industries change, and give them a chance to retool. Those people will have to meet the world halfway, of course. But at the same time, how do you do that without making the same efforts to reach into destitute urban areas with the same net? I think a compassionate reach to areas of the country that are in the economic and cultural decline is vital, or we’ll just keep reaching for the doughnut.

    So I don’t think people were fooled. Some perhaps. But I give people more credit than that on the average. I do think greed became Go(o)d in America, to a large extent, and that is perhaps where we are impoverished. In our values. I don’t see Trump has having any rational notion of how to move us in that direction. And the polarity in the national discourse is of course debilitating.


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Perhaps you are right that there weren’t a lot of people “fooled” as you say, but that says something even more concerning about such people, because if they weren’t fooled and knew Trump couldn’t deliver in so many areas, then there vote for Trump was just to screw everybody over. And of course there were many well off people who voted for Trump and certainly there was some selfishness in that demographic vote as well. As you say, if it was obvious to everybody that Trump wasn’t interested in hearing different voices and finding compromise, then they were actually voting for this type of narcissism and self-interest. So honestly, by saying they are fooled or suckered in by Trump is me actually being charitable to the voters, because if they weren’t I think it says something much darker about many voters seemed interested in.

      And I see what you’re saying in terms of character regarding Trump. He is very consistent. He lies pathologically though. So much so, that one could say that he’s always authentic. It’s a bit of a paradox. I guess you’re right in the sense that a good snake oil salesman is one that is convincing at telling the truth, and Trump is not that. But the thing is there were a lot of people who did seem to believe his lies. Maybe not all, or even a bulk of the people that voted for him, but there are a lot of people who think that he was genuinely going to be good for the country. And there is just no way that this is true. More to the point that even if one accepts the policy details of his as lies, he is, to me, a charlatan on an emotional level as well. This is the point that Scott Adams make. That he speaks emotional truth. Now he might be tapping into the rage and fears of those voted for him, but he clearly cares nothing about it. And so even if I grant him a free pass on all the populist nonsense he was spouting and we agree that everybody saw through that, the fact that they didn’t see he was void of compassion and cares for nobody but himself is a problem. And even if we take the route of saying well he was voted for because he would buck the establishment, also doesn’t make sense. Because the establishment is corrupted by billionaires and corporations. What sense does it make to vote in a billionaire to solve that problem? I guess in the end I still feel people were duped as much emotionally even if not factually.

      I watched the video and I am not sure I fully agree with their conclusions. I do think that we have gotten too individualistic in this country and this is hurting us. Whether that corresponds to suicide rates or not doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me. And certainly the individualistic message of white Christian evangelism should be stronger in the Bible Belt and yet we don’t see the suicide rates there overall that we see in the states mention. Of course there is more nuance to despair, but if we are looking at poverty itself, Michigan should have the most, and yet in terms of suicide rate it is low compared (39th lowest) compared to other states. I have also seen suicides increases being correlated to the prevalence of guns. And that correlation seems fairly strong. In terms of the states that the video outlines where suicide is highest, a number of those states correlate to areas that are at high elevation. Here is a link to a journal article that found a link between suicides and high elevations. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3114154/

      Of course correlation doesn’t mean causation, but of course even if elevation is likely to make you more depressed, your brain has to work to justify that depression and so it may pull from the factors that they mention in the video. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3114154/

      And I would agree that greed is the number one problem we have. Or rather are reverence of monetary wealth as some sort of metric of goodness and success.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The link between altitude and suicide is interesting, Swarn. I hadn’t heard of that previously. One of the interesting things about the link you sent and the video is the time scale. The research in the paper you referenced covered a period from 1979 – 1998 according to the abstract, and the graphics in the video cover the time period 2002 – 2016. Also, if we corrected for altitude and for gun ownership it would be interesting to see if trends over the last two decades hold, relative differences between high and low altitude regions aside. For instance, maybe suicides in communities at elevation have gone up (or maybe not) relative to their rates before 2002? Or maybe more people live at elevation now, or increasing numbers have moved there? I don’t know. The paper you reference and the video could both be correct in regards to their claims. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive claims. Also they stated clearly that suicide was not correlated to participation in evangelical communities, which was confusing to me, too. I’m not sure what the point was of including that segment! Lastly, the point was not about poverty either, but about despair, which is a perception. It was really interesting to me that African American suicide rates have not increased while they obviously have for white Americans, despite the fact that standards of living in the two communities might suggest otherwise if you just went by the numbers (though I haven’t researched that, am assuming on average that is so).

        As to Trump, I think we’re both right about parts of this puzzle. I was ultimately hoping to suggest there’s more to it than duping. For those who live a life of desperation, IF they perceive the left as privileged and running amok and leaving them behind, THEN they may not care if a vote for Trump makes things worse for the country or that Trump’s a blowhard, because in their minds, it won’t get worse where they are. It’ll just get worse for those they blame. Their lives have already been destroyed, and they feel they’re falling behind, so while that is certainly a dark sentiment, it’s an understandable one. It’s an expression of bitterness, and a retaliation to being left behind in some sense. It’s a last ditch effort to be heard. It is dark, but on those terms it’s also a common element of human nature, and nature in general, to lash out when backed into a corner.

        So back to voting against one’s own interest, in your post you point out all the ways the choice for Trump isn’t rationally plausible, but that assessment is based on your perception of things. I don’t disagree with it entirely; I’m just saying not all those who voted for Trump would agree with the positions you do probably. They don’t see this the same way. Or at least they didn’t, right? I do see that some were probably fooled in the sense that they thought Trump would deliver on promises they felt would directly improve their lives, and obviously the dynamics involved are much bigger than any one person. For instance, bringing back certain types of jobs in a world economy is difficult, and in many cases the ship has sailed, right? But I don’t think people were fooled necessarily about Trump’s egotism or his bombastic nature, etc. I think it was a price people were willing to pay, and also, to Pink’s point, the ideological divides, identity politics and utter distrust of the political left and it’s entrenched power structures certainly played a role, no? I’d guess a few probably felt that well, you know, Hilary lies, too. She’s more sophisticated, but so what!? Name me a politician that doesn’t lie. There are all sorts of ways to justify an emotional decision, as you know.

        So while I’m not suggesting all these perspectives are defensible, I think there are elements of these perspectives worth understanding. And they are understandable to me for reasons other than chicanery. I do agree that some were duped, but I think chalking it all up to duping obscures some of the other realities of how people felt. And if those other realities are obscured they cannot be worked with and related to in a way that generates improvement.

        And as to education I agree completely. As in: Hell. Yes.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. “they thought Trump would deliver on promises they felt would directly improve their lives,”

          And most of them STILL think that … no matter what. They have this gilded image of him as their political “savior” and, IMO, even if he’s found guilty of the Russia debacle, their loyalty won’t waver. They have thoroughly and completely convinced themselves that HE is the one that’s going to make their lives better. After all … isn’t that what he “promised”?

          Liked by 3 people

        2. I know there are a lot of people who are in desperate situations. You probably saw that piece the Guardian did around election time that interviewed the people from McDowell County West Virginia that voted for Trump by the biggest margin. Many of those people had voted for Obama previously. This people were so desperately poor that it’s clear they were just voting out of the hope that a change of party would be the answer perhaps. And many people have simply been voting for a party over the candidate, but it’s not like the RNC platform was shy about basically saying that “we don’t understand economics and we don’t really care about poor people”. I mean this has been their message for years. And while democrats didn’t clearly do enough either, it’s still frustrating. Because those people are still in the same boat. Maybe though it wakes a lot of democrats up to the problems that are facing white America as well. I think the focus has too often been on people of race and their economic hardships, but with increased income inequality a lot of families regardless of color are feeling worried about being able to support their families. The DNC hasn’t done much to unite Americans either, and doesn’t reach across the aisle enough. They don’t even speak in certain states once the general election starts and that’s a problem. How can the people of Alabama ever vote for a democrat when a democrat doesn’t even go to speak with them?

          I guess I forgot to say, that in regards to Hillary, I agree that she wasn’t the best candidate either, but she was your pretty standard establishment politician. I am all for bucking the establishment, but there are good ways and bad ways of doing that. Domestically I wouldn’t have expected much change from her if she was president, but in foreign policy where I think Trump has been not only horrible but woefully ignorant, I think she would have been better. I think she wouldn’t have attacked the media the way Trump has, and that matters as well. There are a lot of factors beyond actual legislation that I feel Trump is making worse, that Hillary would not have.

          And I do think there is a difference between Trump’s lying and other politicians. First Trump lies a lot. Way more than any politician. Second of all such politicians pay a consequence for those lies. For Trump it doesn’t matter. He can tell bald-faced lies with no consequences. In fact his supporters actually love it and celebrate it how crazy it drives the “liberal media” with all their “fake news”. This is an extremely dangerous situation that sets the U.S. up for a much worse leader than Trump. A narcissist who is actually competent.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I agree with all your points here, Swarn. It is all frustrating. Completely. I also think a decent quantity of people on the left felt pretty head over heels for Obama without having all the facts there either. I’ve probably got to stop b/c political commentary is not a strength for me, but it feels as though Obama’s use of Executive Orders sort of paved the way for Trump to do the same in some sense. I’m not a historian and neither am I well-versed at any real depth on what has transpired so I’ll just say that’s an impression. I think we’ve agreed there’s more to the psychology of the moment than being duped, and I thought that was important to assert.

            My one question is, what did you mean by this, “we don’t understand economics…” because I would have said that, at least historically anyway, or at least philosophically, that the RNC thinks their economic strategies (free markets, smaller government, less red tape and regulation, etc.) are not only best for overall economic growth of the country but proven so historically around the world–at least when compared to socialist or planned economies. Maybe you’re saying that tongue-in-cheek–they think that, but they’re obviously wrong?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I was referring specifically to unrestrained free market capitalism and trickle down economics. They want to keep cutting taxes, even while increasing spending. Despite what they say about small government, they aren’t exactly showing a lot of fiscal responsibility. The debt will balloon under Trump just as it did under Bush. I am not saying Obama was a whole lot better but when you look at it from a percentage, Bush increased the debt by 101% in his time in office compared to Obama at 68%. I don’t think pure socialism is possible, at least not on any short time scale, I am for a mixed economy. I think you need protections, and regulations, and taxes sometimes need to go up and sometimes they can go down.

              Obama’s executive orders were a problem, I agree. But I say that with a couple of caveats. First if you have a congress who just plans on blocking you no matter what you try to pass, what other options do you have but do nothing? Let’s say you know a population of children who were brought here as children by their parents illegally are an asset to your society and you want to give them a path to citizenship, but the other party for no reason but to obstructionist won’t allow you to pass any legislation? What do you do? Do you do an EO, or do you just let people continue languishing? So on the one hand I agree that such things can set bad precedents. On the other hand if I felt I had morally right actions I could take and I am being prevented from taking those actions through the normal channels, I would probably try other options. And it’s not like Republicans seem to have a problem with using EOs. Because they don’t have a problem with Trump doing, and I don’t think they would care even if OBama hadn’t done it at all. Obama certainly wasn’t the worst when it came to EOs historically. I think the Republicans were uniquely obstructionist when it came to Obama as well.

              Liked by 1 person

      2. “So honestly, by saying they are fooled or suckered in by Trump is me actually being charitable to the voters”
        But have you factored into the equation how much it’s sometimes psychologically necessary for people to believe certain things? Meaning sometimes people will believe things for the sake of hope, or to protect the ego, or to assuage fears.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I have. I mean obviously there are reasons why people get suckered, and it’s usually because of they are being won over psychologically. But all politicians promise things. Why put hope in the most shallow of people? If I need to believe in a lie…I still have a host of people with lies to choose from. Why Trump’s lies?

          Liked by 1 person

    2. I forgot to mention that I also agree with the sentiment in the video that education makes a difference. We should be investing much more into education than we do if we are concerned about quality of life, and future growth.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think there’s a whole lot less rationality to it than most people imagine. The tribal instinct goes very deep. Just consider something like the Amanda Knox case to name an interesting example. Many aspects of the coverage turned into a US vs. Italy thing – both in the US and in Italy. To many she was automatically guilty or innocent based on her identity and not her actions. That is of course the dynamic in classical patriarchal power structures (present in families, monotheistic religions, class systems and so forth.) So the conservative audience is already “trained” to function within the structure Trump proposes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with you. That’s why I said, I don’t think a guy like Trump just walks in and wins elections without a large group of people already primed to view Trump as some sort of lost America that they think is gone. They’ve been primed towards that message for years. The respect for white male authority is definitely ingrained in many Trump supporters. Men and women.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Brilliantly written. Lots of little gems I would highlight and reiterate to you, but they are too numerous. I wonder about an imperiled planet and people having such deep-seated existential fears around annihilation (mostly by their own hands, albeit). Human nature being what it is, they dive INTO the mountain of donuts that are killing them. Along comes the Wizard of Oz, and these people don’t care who’s behind the curtain, only that what appears onscreen is entertaining. (And they can snack while they’re watching! Ooooh, goodie.) I just don’t have the patience anymore to entertain ignorance in any form. What that leaves me with are well researched podcast news platforms like Neal Conan’s “Truth, Politics and Power.” Which help me understand the underpinnings of world events. The historial import. Not a distraction so much as a sane dive into the depths of causalities. Aloha, S.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your kind words Bela and I share your sentiment about ignorance. It’s difficult to tolerate. I haven’t listened tot hat podcast, but I’ll check it out. I have been looking for a new podcast to listen to while driving to work!

      Liked by 1 person

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