Dopamine Profile: Is Harvard’s Howard Shaffer This Century’s Cardinal Bellarmine?

by Charles Lyell on May 18, 2015

“There are horrible people who, instead of solving a problem, tangle it up and make it harder to solve for anyone who wants to deal with it. Whoever does not know how to hit the nail on the head should be asked not to hit it at all.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

Without modern brain scanning equipment, Mr. Nietzsche couldn’t know why there’s never been a shortage of horrible people in high places ready, willing, and able to make it harder for others to solve problems.

The philosopher’s observation provides interesting insights into the drive to maintain dopamine flow. I believe the scoundrels Nietzsche assailed are power/status addicts who spend their lives scrambling for titles to trigger the same dopamine squirts junkies score with heroin. Once ensconced, control freaks pretend they’re defending the institutions they head when the only thing they care about is protecting a neurotransmitter manufactured in their heads.

Addiction is the reason Roberto Bellarmine, who pretended to worship a loving savior, found it so easy to ignore a commandment forbidding killing while using trumped up charges of heresy as an excuse to burn threats to his ignorance.

The cardinal couldn’t have been more wrong about the sun orbiting the earth but that didn’t keep the horrible little man from ordering Galileo to stop writing and talking about Copernicus’ helocentrism.

Bellarmine and his gang didn’t give a damn about planets, scriptures, science, truth, facts, justice, or sin. They were colluding addicts protecting dopamine flow by defending jobs, peer approval, prestige, and an embarrassing falsehood. As a bonus, the high and mighty hypocrites fed one another gratuitous dopamine squirts with esteem elevating delusions of cutting an intimidating genius down to size for a virtuous cause.

Like Bellarmine, Howard Shaffer is a self-serving addict locked in denial and incapable of grasping the connections between insatiable cravings for power/status and a relentless drive to become Director of the Division on Addictions at Harvard Medical School.

Unlike Bellarmine, Shaffer doesn’t have to bully inquisitive researchers who threaten his credibility, position, and dopamine flow. After all, how many scientists, at Harvard or anywhere else, are likely to risk their reputations, positions, and funding by challenging the pope of addictions?

A little background…

On January 9, 2011 CBS’s 60 Minutes repeated a previously aired segment about gambling that helps explain why dopamine addiction’s existence continues to fly under the radar.

On the surface, the story was about states legalizing gambling to cover tax shortfalls. The sub story addressed the pathology of gambling.

The piece featured an interview with Dr. Shaffer about gambling addiction. Despite numerous stories of grannies pouring pensions into slot machines, Shaffer refused to accept the possibility gambling is addictive. To defend a statement he made about slot machines being “the crack cocaine of gambling” the bad doctor doubled down on denial by insisting what he said didn’t suggest slots were addictive because cocaine isn’t addictive. His conclusion (about gambling and cocaine not being addictive) is based on the rationalization that most gamblers (or coke users) never get addicted.

Using similar illogic, alcohol shouldn’t be blamed for cirrhosis, tobacco for cancer, junk foods for diabetes, or guns for homicides.

Magicians call it misdirection

According to a column written by Dr. Shaffer (with the help of five colleagues) “…each outwardly unique addiction disorder might be a distinctive expression of the same underlying addiction syndrome.” The column, Toward a Syndrome Model of Addiction: Multiple Expressions, Common Etiology, offers interesting insights into a horrible man and his unconscious and unconscionable efforts.

With a straight face, Shaffer told an interviewer, “addiction is the result of a relationship of a person with an activity.”

It’s not that his doublespeak is wrong, it’s just that obfuscating the addiction equation (by being partially right) makes it harder for legitimate researchers to do their jobs, which would eventually expose Shaffer’s addictions. As long as the scientific community swallows the fairy tale about gambling and cocaine not being addictive, who’s left to use brain scanning equipment to investigate the possibility that all of Abraham Maslow’s psychological deficiency needs (for safety/power, acceptance/approval/attention, and esteem/status) are not only highly addictive, they’re the root cause of every man-made disaster?

I believe “the same underlying addiction syndrome” is responsible for the power/status addictions driving Howard to (unconsciously) entangle the efforts of honest researchers.

In Shaffer’s team’s terms, his deceptive behavior can be traced to an addictive relationship with activities that artificially inflate esteem. That means the planet is stuck with an influential power/esteem addict and, no surprise, ardent addiction denier.

Howie is especially reprehensible because his position and unfounded confidence, bolstered by unlimited self-deception and denial (key symptoms of all addictions), have made him “the man the gambling industry loves to quote.”

Is there any hope?

It’s more than a little disconcerting to think the man responsible for solving one of our species’ most pressing problems is using his power and position to tangle things up. In effect, an out-of-control power/status addict with a vested interest in not hitting the nail on the head is doing his best to make sure nobody does.

Given the past, the future seems bleak:

  • Horrible people have always been, and continue to be, the biggest problem makers because they’re addicts.
  • Dishonest money/power/status addicts excel at accumulating and then wielding money and power to protect their dopamine flow against honest peers looking to solve the problems the addicts cause.
  • Addictions provide addicts with invincible advantages, including dishonesty, self-deception, denial, indifference to the damage they cause, and an unconscious vindictiveness that drives them to squash any and all threats to their deceptions and dopamine flow.
  • Most powerful institutions are headed by colluding addicts who protect one another’s dopamine flow by defending their own. Instead of being chastised for making the church look foolish, Bellarmine was canonized.
  • Addicts do not voluntary give up favorite dopamine triggers.
  • Subordinates jockeying for superiors’ positions are where they are because they’re also addicted to power and esteem. Like wack-a-moles, eliminating one flunky makes another pop up.
  • As Dr. Shaffer demonstrates, it’s illogical to expect addicts heading powerful institutions to support research that threatens to expose how addictions to money, power, and status are responsible for all man-made problems.

Why bother trying?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.  One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”  – F. Scott Fitzgerald

If the insiders entrusted with solving our species’ most destructive problems are both responsible for the destruction and more interested in making it harder for everyone else to deal with the problems, what choice does that leave outsiders? Do we sit back and allow delusional addicts (who happen to control the institutions, access to expensive equipment, definition of addictions, and deception that researchers are the only ones capable of advancing science) to continue getting away with placing their addictive needs ahead of everything else?

No sane society would allow junkies to destroy our species’ future. It’s time to confront addicts, who are no better than junkies, responsible for the current logjam and whose only concern is protecting and triggering dopamine squirts in their heads?

And a good place to start is with Howard J. Shaffer, Ph.D., C.A.S.
Director, Division on Addiction
Associate Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School

Dear Dr. Shaffer,

If you happen to read this (all the way to the end) and you’re having a problem understanding what I’m getting at, please feel free to ask any questions. I would be happy to sit down and discuss why you should consider opening your mind and admitting to the obvious.

Here’s your chance to be a nice person who’s part of the solution instead of a contender for this century’s most horrible person.


Charles Lyell






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