“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 maintain 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’re 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 maintain 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.
Maintaining dopamine flow.
To protect dopamine flow:
- Drug and food addicts score and stash.
- Safety addicts blame.
- Power addicts collude.
- Acceptance addicts fawn.
- Esteem addicts feign.
- Religion addicts pray.
- Money addicts connive.
To trigger dopamine:
- Drug and food addicts ingest, imbibe, inhale, and inject.
- Safety addicts flock.
- Power addicts dominate.
- Acceptance addicts flatter.
- Esteem addicts flaunt.
- Religion addicts judge.
- Money addicts work, work, work.
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 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.
Acceptance junkies are especially susceptible to compound addictions because the dopamine-induced deficiency need for approval exposes them to the addictions of peers whose approval they crave. 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 it’s inexplicable. Once you realize how powerful dopamine is you’ll find 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 elevated their esteem by ascribing selfish, 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 pretend drinking pricey booze makes them connoisseurs.
- Nicotine/esteem addicts who puff on expensive stogies that help smoke fiends convince one another they’re aficionados.
- Food/esteem addicts who consider themselves gourmets.
- Safety/esteem addicts whose swagger betrays insecurities.
- Power/esteem addicts whose boasts mask fears.
- Acceptance/esteem addicts whose status symbols reveal neediness.
- Money/esteem addicts who loathe their high-paying, high-status jobs.
- Religion/esteem addicts who believe 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 are desperate for 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 maintain 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 legalities, moralities, and 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.