Why Seemingly Nice People Do Silly, Inane, and Not-So-Nice Things

by Charles Lyell on March 26, 2013

Question: Why do so many seemingly rational human beings behave so irrationally? What makes nice people buy ivory, deny mistakes, complain, harm their health, destroy environments, and/or care about Kim Kardashian?

Answer: Everything we do, we do to protect or trigger dopamine flow.

  • The need to protect and trigger dopamine flow is so powerful that our mammalian brains reduce all choices, behaviors, and beliefs down to dopamine appeal and dopamine repel.
  • Dopamine appeal = dopamine-triggering expectations of food, sex, safety, power, acceptance, approval, esteem, status, money, drugs and beliefs = yes/go/do/crave/believe/adore.
  • Money = ultimate dopamine appeal because money can be converted into dopamine-triggering drugs, food, sex, safety, power, acceptance, attention, status, and more money.
  • Dopamine repel = dopamine-threatening expectations of want, pain, fear, loss, rejection, scorn, humiliation = no/stop/don’t/avoid/dismiss/attack.
  • Dopamine ignorance protects dopamine flow by short-circuiting our rational brains and making it possible to ignore the obvious, deny the undeniable, and believe the unbelievable.
  • Understanding that dopamine appeal, dopamine repel, and dopamine ignorance exist and how they work = extremely dopamine repellent because the information threatens safety and esteem.

In upcoming posts I’ll cover the nuances, influences, and complications that provide insights into more complex behaviors. Until then, I’d like to demonstrate how a few dopamine awareness basics help explain some common, irrational, and perplexing behaviors, starting with…

Killing elephants for tusks

Elephants are being needlessly slaughtered because ivory has compound dopamine appeal.

  • Poachers and traders kill the majestic mammals for money.
  • Approval/esteem addicts buy ivory to win approval and elevate status.

Understanding that money, acceptance, and esteem addicts are murdering elephants to score the same brain chemical junkies trigger with heroin is dopamine repellent.

Dopamine ignorance helps ivory owners ignore the culpability, inhumanity, and depravity they share with the killers and traders.

On a sane planet, elephants would be safe because owning ivory would be dopamine repellent. Acceptance/esteem addicts are needy individuals burdened with insecurities and unmet needs that leave them craving approval and status. If owning ivory came with the threat of exposure, rejection and humiliation, acceptance/esteem addicts would shun ivory.


Complaining is dopamine appealing because it attracts attention and elevates esteem. For some, complaining is a way of saying, “I’m important and my complaints matter!”  For others, it’s a convenient pretense about doing something, when the only thing being done is using empty words to trigger the same dopamine nicotine addicts trigger with tobacco.

Dopamine ignorance helps complainers ignore their convenient charades.

The inability to admit to mistakes

The expectation of admitting to mistakes is dopamine repellent because of the threat to safety, acceptance, approval, and esteem. The more insecure, craven, and needy the individual, the more dopamine repellent, the harder it is to admit to mistakes.

Dopamine repel can be so powerful that some safety/acceptance/approval/esteem addicts protect dopamine flow by repeating mistakes. Repeating mistakes protects dopamine flow with the deception that repetition somehow proves the mistakes weren’t mistakes in the first place.

Dopamine ignorance provides the unconsciousness that facilitates flimsy denials.

Unhealthy behaviors

Unhealthy substances and behaviors that trigger high dopamine flow = high dopamine appeal.

Considering the depressing, upsetting, life-threatening consequences of unhealthy / high dopamine appeal substances and behaviors = high dopamine repel.

High dopamine appeal + high dopamine repel = high dopamine ignorance = go for the dopamine, ignore the facts.

Why nice people do bad things

When nice people do bad things it’s usually due to powerful dopamine appeal that turns caring individuals into callous addicts. That’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation. If all dopamine addicts were held accountable for their actions our planet would be a virtual heaven.

The way things are, money, power, and esteem addicts are more common and dangerous than heroin addicts. One difference is that junkies get arrested while money, power, and esteem addicts get away with flaunting their addictions and pretending their dopamine triggers are logical, acceptable, and even admirable.

Dopamine repel keeps money, power, and esteem addicts from wanting to admit to any facts that threaten dopamine flow by threatening their wealth, power, or status.

Dopamine ignorance helps not-very-nice people ignore bad behavior and convince themselves that they’re decent, compassionate, and kind.

Kim Kardashian’s popularity

Miss Kardashian is living proof of the power of seductive, unquestioned, mindless dopamine appeal. Luckily for Kim, dopamine is triggered by expectations and, as Henry David Thoreau noted, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

Kardashian owes her popularity to an ability to help large numbers of desperate fans trigger dopamine by tapping into her expectations of fame, fortune, misfortune, and excitement.

Dopamine ignorance protects Kardashian fans’ esteem and dopamine flow by keeping them blissfully ignorant about their desperation.

Why this isn’t common knowledge

“In matters of science, a thousand proclamations by so-called experts are outweighed by the humble reasoning of a single individual.”
– Galileo Galilei

The delusion that human behavior is too complicated to explain protects and triggers dopamine flow by protecting and elevating esteem = dopamine appealing.

Understanding that it’s possible to get addicted to all of the dopamine-induced survival behaviors humans share with chimpanzees (for food, sex, safety, power, acceptance, approval, attention, esteem, and status) blocks dopamine flow by threatening safety, approval, esteem = dopamine repellent.

Understanding and admitting that humans (and chimpanzees) obsess over triggering the same dopamine that junkies trigger with heroin threatens safety, acceptance, and esteem = dopamine repellent.

Unconscious expectations of having to give up favorite dopamine-triggering substances, behaviors, and beliefs = dopamine repellent.

The resulting dopamine ignorance makes it possible to ignore the obvious, deny the undeniable, believe the unbelievable.

Ignoring the obvious, denying the undeniable, and believing the unbelievable isn’t a new phenomenon. Heliocentrism and evolution were so dopamine repellent that two obvious and undeniable observations were ignored and denied for centuries while countless millions continue to believe the unbelievable.

The difference between the past and present is that we no longer have centuries, or even decades, for safety/acceptance/esteems addicts to rise above their dopamine ignorance and accept inconvenient but obvious truths simply because they threaten dopamine flow.


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