Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Are they [/we] indignant self-dopes?

The estimable David Brin has a blog. And he belongs on my blogroll. But that's not what this post is about. This post is about a piece Dr B did not long ago. It nails some corners down on an idea others including myself have speculated idly about: emotional state-seeking as analogous to so-called "drug-seeking behavior" -- and perhaps more than merely analogous -- perhaps identical to.

David is speculating "ah, with vigah!" Viz:

An Open Letter to Researchers of Addiction, Brain Chemistry & Social Psychology

Though Dr B often delights in being provocative and contrarian, he usually does it with grace and style and substance, and I give him mad Roman Legionary props for that. He's more worthy than your run-of-the-mill gadfly, by far. More a worthy gadversary. When I disagree with him, I must think hard about why and how. And that makes him a gadsend!

Here's the money quote re self-righteousness as endogenous self-medication, near the end:
Why the Issue Has Grown Urgent

We have entered an era of rising ideological division and "culture war" that increasingly stymies our knack at problem-solving. Nowadays, few adversarial groups seem capable of negotiating peaceful consensus solutions to problems, especially with opponents that are perceived as even more unreasonably dogmatic than they are. This cycle is often driven by the irate stubbornness of a few vigorous leaders. After all, the indignant have both stamina and dedication, helping them take high positions in advocacy organizations, from Left to Right.

Might recent exaggerated levels of bilious social division be partly attributed to an all-too human tendency to fall into addictive patterns of self-doping, by wallowing in a pleasurable mental state? A state that undermines our ability to empathize with opponents, accept criticism, or negotiate practical solutions to problems?

May I boldly suggest that this insidious type of reinforcement may cause vastly more overall social harm than every illegal drug on the street?
We're probably a long way from proving anything about this stuff, and of course people will be indignant about the suggestions they see as implicit in all of that. What rich irony. Send in the clown car. Don't bother, it's here.


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