“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely!” - Lord Acton
Understanding why power, money, and esteem addicts are so dangerous starts with a crash course on how dopamine manipulates behavior.
Everything we do, we do to protect or trigger dopamine flow.
Understanding how a powerful neurotransmitter manipulates behavior is a major threat to dopamine flow. As a result, even dopamine experts aren’t interested in considering the possibility that they are under the spell of the dopamine-induced addictions (to safety, acceptance, esteem, and money) responsible for every man-made problem.
If this sounds simplistic it’s because we inherited our addictive behaviors from aggressive simpletons who had more in common with chimpanzees (who also obsess over safety, acceptance, and esteem) than humans. Countless generations later, the same unconscious commitment to protecting dopamine flow, that kept Galileo’s adversaries oblivious to the obvious, keeps today’s scholars from wanting to know how dopamine-induced ignorance is the reason they’re as clueless as their 16th century counterparts.
Protecting and triggering dopamine flow.
To protect dopamine flow:
- Drug and food addicts stash, stockpile, and score.
- Safety addicts blame.
- Power addicts collude.
- Acceptance addicts fawn.
- Esteem addicts feign.
- Religion addicts pray.
- Money addicts connive.
- Non-addicts avoid unhealthy substances, beliefs, behaviors, and stress.
To trigger dopamine:
- Drug and food addicts inject, inhale, imbibe, and ingest.
- Safety addicts flock.
- Power addicts control.
- Acceptance addicts flatter.
- Esteem addicts flaunt.
- Religion addicts judge.
- Money addicts work, work, work.
- Non-addicts contribute, enjoy, appreciate, communicate, accomplish, achieve.
Viewing behavior through a dopamine lens.
One way to understand how powerful dopamine is, how it undermines free will, and how it manipulates behavior is to start a dopamine diary. (See: Keeping a Dopamine Diary Can Make You Happier, Healthier, Wealthier, and Wiser).
Few people are capable of comprehending or admitting why they’re unlikely, unwilling, and unable to invest a few minutes a day maintaining something as potentially beneficial as a dopamine diary. Viewed through a dopamine lens, it’s possible to understand how an unconscious need to protect dopamine flow (against esteem deflating admissions) can make it impossible to follow through on even a small effort that offers enormous rewards.
A dopamine lens edifies how many seemingly disparate and unrelated behaviors are, upon close inspection, strikingly similar. For example, esteem addicts are a lot like junkies — only less honest and more pathetic. Both scramble to score the same neurotransmitter, but while junkies tend to limit their destruction to themselves and a small circle of family, friends, and strangers, esteem addicts destroy environments, economies, and untold lives.
Introduction to compound addictions.
Everyone’s addicted to multiple substances, beliefs, and behaviors. Acceptance junkies are especially susceptible to compound addictions because the dopamine-induced deficiency need for approval exposes them to the addictions of the peers whose approval they need. Hence the profusion of acceptance/nicotine, acceptance/alcohol, and acceptance/religion addicts.
The large number of addictive combinations fosters the esteem and dopamine triggering deception that human behavior is so complex that it’s inexplicable. Once you realize how powerful dopamine is you’ll find that it’s possible to distill most behaviors down to either protecting or triggering dopamine flow for a handful of reasons. (In upcoming posts I’ll cover how childhood traumas negatively impact on self-esteem and how esteem issues influence, and often determine, predictable addictive combinations.)
Esteem addiction combos are the most interesting and destructive because esteem addicts are extremely self-deceptive. Bolstered by unbridled self-deception, esteem addicts excel at sidestepping facts that threaten dopamine flow and fabricating dopamine-triggering rationalizations that justify despicable behavior. History books are filled with examples of petty and powerful miscreants who elevate their esteem by ascribing their illogical, irrational, and inhumane (dopamine-triggering) actions to esteem inflating (dopamine-triggering) high-minded ideals.
For the remainder of this post I’ll focus on esteem addiction combinations that fall into three groups — amusing, dangerous, and disastrous.
- Alcohol/esteem addicts who guzzle pricey booze that help lushes pretend they’re connoisseurs.
- Nicotine/esteem addicts who puff on expensive stogies that help smoke fiends convince one another they’re aficionados.
- Food/esteem addicts who pretend they’re gourmets.
- Safety/esteem addicts whose swagger betrays insecurities.
- Power/esteem addicts whose boasts broadcast fears.
- Acceptance/esteem addicts whose status symbols scream neediness.
- Money/esteem addicts who loathe their high-paying, high-status jobs.
- Religion/esteem addicts who think that picking the one true savior connotes superior intelligence.
- Drug/esteem addicts who flaunt excesses.
- Safety/esteem addicts who wave guns.
- Power/esteem addicts who browbeat and bully.
- Acceptance/esteem addicts who crave approval.
- Money/esteem addicts who worship profits.
- Religion/esteem addicts who hate religion/esteem addicts.
- Safety/acceptance/esteem addicts who would rather ignore inconvenient truths than risk having to deal with a few seconds of dopamine withdrawal.
The most destructive combination.
Power/money/esteem addicts are, by far, the most destructive of all addicts because they will do anything to protect and trigger dopamine flow. They abhor truth and ruthlessly lie, cheat, steal, bribe, corrupt, demean, persecute, attack, destroy, and/or crush. To make matters worse, their addictions provide them with the resources that make it possible to ignore, obfuscate, or eliminate any and all threats to their dopamine flow. It doesn’t help that insatiable dopamine cravings keep power/money/esteem addicts scrambling for the degrees, positions, and power that allow them to define what are and aren’t addictions.
In a nutshell
Power/money/esteem addictions are the reason our species is flirting with self-annihilation.
Safety/acceptance/esteem addictions are the reason few want to know.