“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.