The Greatest Drug of All

March 26, 2010 at 1:07 am (By Amba)

People might have in the past loved sex; I think they now love indignation more. Indignation seems to thrill. So a media storm is often driven beyond all reason, people taking offense or people huffing and puffing.

Ian McEwen (via Althouse).

I’ve had much the same thought, ne’er so well and tersely expressed.

(11/09) People will go again and again to have their fears, rages, and preconceptions reliably stimulated and serviced.  It’s our human equivalent of a rat pressing a lever.  It’s a way of getting off, as predictable and sterile as porn.  In fact I’m going to coin a word for the pull of political invective:  zornography (from the German Zorn, rage or fury).

Righteous outrage is a big part of what drives the blogosphere, and there are a lot of repeat customers.  It may be a physiological addiction; Rush pushes the most refined brand, with citrus overtones of intellectual satisfaction.  Addiction is a brain reward system rapid-cycling because the reward has become detached from the actions it is meant to motivate and reinforce.  Maybe we’re built to be chased by a sabertooth tiger every once in a while to clear out our pipes, and in the absence of natural threats to give us that limbic workout, we seek to escalate our sympathetic nervous systems by any means necessary.

Non sequitur: Another true line from McEwen’s interview:

The rhythm of walking can generate fresh ideas.

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5 Comments

  1. realpc920 said,

    “Maybe we’re built to be chased by a sabertooth tiger every once in a while”

    Yes I agree it feels good to be angry, when it turns out we were right. So even if something really horrible happens, we might feel good. “Oh I saw that financial crisis coming years in advance.” Why do we get so outraged these days? I think you can blame it on the American founders and their love of free speech. Also on literacy and the internet. When your whole community only knows one set of facts, everyone will agree and feel happy. Those days sure are over.

    But I don’t agree with that sabertooth tiger theory. Primitive people were a lot like us, and most of their fear, anxiety and rage was social. It’s like that with all social animals. Even though there are physical dangers, the social dangers are just as real. The threat of being thrown out of one’s social group is as scary as a sabertooth tiger.

  2. Maxwell said,

    Hey, isn’t that a Whitney Houston song?

  3. amba12 said,

    A Whitney Houston song with the euphemism removed.

  4. amba12 said,

    Good comment, by the way, real. Amazing what strong emotions social upsets trigger. And I have been thinking a lot about how tribal opinions are. They’re all about letting one’s group know, “I am one of you” and “You can count on me in a fight.”

  5. realpc920 said,

    “I am one of you” and “You can count on me in a fight.”

    Yes, our live always depended on belonging to some tribe. So it’s no wonder having non-standard opinions can be a threat. For example, liberals always thought McCarthyism was crazy, but from a tribal perspective it wasn’t completely irrational. There were serious communists in American and they could not necessarily be counted on to defend this country.

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