My Blog Week: August 8 to August 14
A Word on the Week
Although not as intense as hit of cocaine, positive social stimuli will similarly result in a release of dopamine, reinforcing whatever behavior preceded it. Cognitive neuroscientists have shown that rewarding social stimuli—laughing faces, positive recognition by our peers, messages from loved ones—activate the same dopaminergic reward pathways. Smartphones have provided us with a virtually unlimited supply of social stimuli, both positive and negative. Every notification, whether it’s a text message, a “like” on Instagram, or a Facebook notification, has the potential to be a positive social stimulus and dopamine influx.
Lots of jaws have been dropping since the Delta variant of COVID began to surge, and several states with Republican governors have taken opposition to mask mandates. Their rhetoric suggests the hair being split is the term “mandate”—while the only viable counterargument is that of personal responsibility. When you see hordes of anti-masker/vaxxers storming statehouses and school board meetings, you conclude that these leaders, having drummed up no consensus on the definition and conduct of personal responsibility, and having no control over the irresponsible, ought to find the weight of law humane and practical.
A problem we have, in America and elsewhere, is our wishful belief that “good” is inherent to human nature. We look at people who have become agents of death and we want to think they’ve strayed from something, and our job is to urge them back. They probably would change course, if good citizenship acted like dopamine. Humans are social animals, and our sense of reward comes from group approbation. There is really no more to it. When we feel “in” we are quite content, even when our group does evil.
Now, let’s theorize. Suppose politicians have websites that collect donations from the public, and that these, when they uptick, produce notifications. The officeholder, PAC leader, strategist, either self-informs, check-check-checking the phone, or relies on a flunky…an interaction stack, you might say. Next, suppose a bad actor wants to manipulate political thought in our country, and uses this simple system of stimulating rewards, to steer it. An alert that a public statement has generated an increase in attention excites the subject, and the cost of doing business this way is cheap. A Greene or a Gaetz, reinforced for extremity, heartlessness, holocaust comparisons, violence-celebrating jokes, believes these speeches are loved by the base—that there is a base, rather than a population of fellow addicts. The dopamine boost of positivity drives a behavioral trend, towards greater frequency of, and uglier, excesses; plus a euphoric self-aggrandizement.
This is only a theory. (I do wonder, though, if some of the over-50s, having grown up without social media and its mechanisms, are more dopamine-susceptible, since our old members of congress seem to have gone off the deepest end; the younger ones appear more dyed-in-the-wool, with no evidence of there having been a better version of themselves…)
On Monday, a poetry reissue, “Neither Do You”. Tuesday, “The Bog”, part five, with Laurel encountering an old classmate. Wednesday, The Sword Decides!, Andreas losing control over his destiny. Thursday, Shine!, Annie departing from Patrice with a feeling of doom. Friday, Hammersmith, and some cogitating of Shaw’s, capped by unexpected attention from Minnie. Saturday, “The Big Pants”, a short story about weight loss.
Images on my posts often have a link to related information (click first image), sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical, sometimes in answer to a direct reference. Since people can be leery about links, I include them here: what they are, what sites they point to.
My Blog Week: August 8 to August 14