When is winning losing?


This morning I remembered a speech I gave some years ago to Nicki’s elementary school class about DARE, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education.


The trouble is that I considered the program bullshit.  Looking at the pamphlets, it seemed to me that they were dishonest in the extreme, exaggerating the dangers of drugs while simultaneously suggesting that alcohol was a different more positive matter.   A perfect example of what happens when alcohol drinkers get to set the laws for the other man’s poison.   Much better, I’ve always thought, to have teetotlers write the laws for both.  That would at least be more fair and honest.


But…I know damned well I don’t want kids using drugs OR alcohol.  But if I used lies and exaggerations, the kids would know and stop listening. So…what do I think the problem actually is?


Well…there are physical downsides to the injestion of most drugs.   But they vary.  People who say “smoking pot is as bad as smoking cigarettes” are right in some senses, and very wrong in others (just the fact that only the most extreme potheads smoke the equivalent of a pack a day is just the beginning).  It is also true that you can ingest pot by vaping or eating it, so you are inviting creative thinking for those seeking a loophole.


What about muzzy-headedness?   I can’t think of a psychoactive that doesn’t scramble your thinking at least a bit.  I mean, that’s kinda the point.   But one could effectively argue that once it leaves your system, thought patterns return to normal, and then quote studies to back up your position.  Another argument.


So I chose the following: pain is good.  So is pleasure.  They are teaching mechanisms, signals to take action or notice the results you got from a past action.   Diseases that numb you to pain are actually dangerous, making it more likely to hurt yourself by changing your sensorial relation with your environment.   You literally cannot create an accurate map of reality.


Pot certainly is pleasureable, as is alcohol, and any number of other substances.   I take the position that children are learning the most basic maps of reality, the pains and pleasures, disciplines and connections that allow them to begin the process of navigating to adulthood, asking the question: how can I accomplish my dreams? How do I maximize my pleasure and minimize my pain long term?


ANY psychoactive worth a damn short-circuits the pain-pleasure process, and allows us to feel good even if the circumstances suck. That’s why we like ‘em.  But note the danger, if you use it in the wrong part of the learning cycle, or if you allow the substance to substitute for action to get the hell OUT of there…


That approach I could both defend and feel honest about.  But…how else are we doing this?  Does this same principle obtain in other arenas?


I think it does.


  1. The obesity epidemic is partially due to the success of civilization. There is no longer a direct link between action and result.  Caloric expenditure is no longer tied to caloric intake. A single hour of a minimum-wage office job can earn you all the calories you can eat (at a cheap salad bar, say).  In comparison, the “wealthiest” society I’ve heard of are hunter-gatherers in lush areas where gathering nuts and berries for 2-3 hours a day gets you all the food you need.   We simply didn’t evolve to have it that easy, and we’re paying for it.
  2. Video games (and to a lesser degree spectator sports,  books, television, and film) allow us to experience the evolutionarily programmed excitement and pleasure of peak physical performance without ANY of the disciplines or pains associated with learning skill or strengthening your body in the real world. Heck, because the physics are phony, you can’t even model skills as you can watching spectator sports.  You can sit all day and imagine yourself a warrior, athlete, criminal, whatever…and the images bend to your touch.
  3. I mentioned that the physics are off, which makes modeling those behaviors potentially disastrous.   Well, what happens when the games follow rules that are contrary to the rules of society?   Grand Theft Auto is hysterical fun BECAUSE it is transgressive as hell. But…what if you are just developing your moral sense?  Imagine playing for hours in an alpha-hypnotic state of imprintability, talking online to a tribe of others playing the same game, laughing at hurting people, stealing, lying, killing.     Hmmm.  Do you think we evolved to do THAT?  Do you think that an impressionable person might begin to hear those voices in their heads, start having difficulty sorting one reality from another?    It is not an absurd question.  We learn the rules that avoid pain and gain pleasure.  That’s what we’re designed to do.


So I look at this stuff.   Most of my concern is for children, who live in a world of magic disconnected from the cause and effect of actually earning a living.  Kids want to be heroes, strong and powerful and smart and attractive to whoever they are attracted to.   We say: learn these things, express yourself in these ways, learn to deal with your fear and sloth and dishonesty and you can have these rewards.   Evolutionary/Cultural carrot and stick.


What happens if we short-circuit that?  What is the emotional equivalent of being able to type for an hour and get all the food you need?  Human beings struggled most of our existence to survive the elements and the animals. And now…we are powerful enough to drive animals into extinction (and have been for about 10% of our species’ lifetime, about 20 thousand years), and I would agree with those who say that we are having one hell of an effect on our climate.  

We’ve won, dammit.  

And its time to transition to being “good winners”, gracious conquerors, or we’re going to pay a price.  The oppressed become the oppressors.  Wow.  That can happen with humans versus environment, humans versus humans, emotions versus intellect, one survival drive versus another.


Balance.  This is just morning musings, and I’m not sure where it goes, but wanted to get it out this morning and see if anyone had thoughts on all of this…






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