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How ‘Limbic Capitalism’ Preys on Our Addicted Brains

One summer day in 2010, a Swedish graduate student named Daniel Berg approached me after a talk I gave at Christ’s College, Cambridge. During the talk, I had casually mentioned internet addiction. Berg told me that I had spoken a truth larger than I knew. Many of his male friends at Stockholm University had dropped out of school and were living in crash pads, compulsively playing World of Warcraft. They spoke an argot more English than Swedish. It was all raiding, all the time.

“How do they feel about their circumstances?” I asked. “They feel angst,” Berg said.

“But they keep playing?” “They keep playing.”

This sort of behavior does seem like an addiction, in the sense of a compulsive, regret-filled pursuit of transient pleasures that are harmful to both the individual and society. For gaming, the personal cost was highest for Swedish men. “I am,” Berg reported, “now the only male in my graduate program in economic history.”

Back home in Florida, I noticed digital distractions exacting a more even academic toll. The smartphones that dotted the lecture halls were as often wielded by women as by men. But when I told Berg’s tale to my students, they instantly recognized the type. One admitted that he had lost a year to compulsive gaming. He said that he was in recovery—precariously, to judge by his grades. Another student knew gamers who kept cans by their computers. They used them to avoid having to take bathroom breaks.

The can by the computer became for me a symbol of the shifting meaning of addiction. As late as the 1970s, the word seldom referred to anything other than compulsive drug use. Over the next forty years, however, the concept of addiction broadened. Memoirists confessed to addictions to gambling, sex, shopping and carbs. German sex therapists called internet porn a “gateway drug” that ensnared the young. A New York Times op-ed declared sugar to be addictive, “literally, in the same way as drugs.” A toothless young New Zealand mother drank up to ten liters of Coke a day, then splashed the headlines when she died of coronary arrhythmia. A nineteen-year-old truant in Jiangsu Province made the news when he hacked off his left hand to cure his internet addiction. Chinese officials judged as many as 14 percent of his peers to be similarly hooked, and set up internet addiction rehabilitation camps. South Korea and Japan followed suit. Taiwanese legislators voted to fine parents who let their children spend too much time online, updating a law forbidding minors’ smoking, drinking, drug-taking and betel-chewing. Only the last habit failed to appeal to Americans, 47 percent of whom showed signs of at least one behavioral or substance addiction disorder in any given year in the early 2000s.

Often they showed signs of more than one: Medical researchers have discovered that substance and behavioral addictions have similar natural histories. They produce similar brain changes; similar patterns of tolerance; and similar experiences of craving, intoxication and withdrawal. And they reveal similar genetic tendencies toward similar personality disorders and compulsions. The manic gambler and the casino barfly are apt to be one and the same. In 2013, the new edition of the bible of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5, described gambling disorders in language indistinguishable from drug addiction. The editors ushered “internet gaming disorder” into the green room of addiction by designating it a “condition for further study.” In 2018, the WHO made it official by adding “gaming disorder” to the revised International Classification of Diseases.

Not everyone was happy with all the talk of addiction. Clinicians avoided it for fear of discouraging or stigmatizing patients. Libertarians dismissed it as an excuse for lack of discipline. Social scientists attacked it as medical imperialism. Philosophers detected equivocation, the misleading practice of using the same word to describe different things.

I give these critics a hearing. But in my own usage, I will stick to “addiction.” The word provides a usefully concise and universally understood way of referring to a pattern of compulsive, conditioned, relapse-prone and harmful behavior. The important job, and the goal of my new book, The Age of Addiction: How Bad Habits Became Big Business, is to explain why that pattern of harmful behavior has become more conspicuous and varied over time.

* * *

Addictions begin as journeys, usually unplanned, toward a harmful endpoint on a spectrum of consumption. The journey can be rapid, or slow or interrupted. Casual indulgence, even of a drug like heroin, does not always lead to addiction. When it does, the condition is not necessarily permanent. Addicts can and do quit, either permanently or for long stretches of time. Nor is all excessive consumption necessarily addiction. People can gamble too much without being compulsive, just as they can burden their scales without being food addicts. Yet—and this is the crucial point—regular, heavy consumption has a way of shading into addiction, as when a steady drinker’s craving intensifies, erupting into full-blown alcoholism. An addiction is a habit that has become a very bad habit, in the sense of being strong, preoccupying and damaging, both to oneself and to others. The type of damage depends on the substance or behavior. Compulsive gamers may ruin their scholastic and marital prospects. They do not ruin their livers or lungs.

The addiction process is social as well as biological. Conditions such as stress and peer behavior help tip individuals into addiction, though the process ultimately manifests itself in one’s brain. Frequent resort to alcohol, drugs and drug-like behaviors causes changes in neurons, including altered gene expression. Over time, these changes occur in more and larger regions of the central nervous system, like drops of dye spreading on a taut sheet. The changes are long-lasting, particularly in developing brains. The earlier children and adolescents experience an addictive substance or pastime, the likelier they are to retain, even when abstaining, a powerful emotional memory of the behavior that once made them feel so good.

The nature of addiction has implications—more precisely, temptations—for businesses that sell habituating products. One is to encourage early and frequent consumption. Treat the lads, the saloonkeepers used to say, and you’ll have their money in the till when they’re adults. And the more they drink, the greater the profits. To this day, 80 percent of alcohol sales go to the 20 percent of customers who are the heaviest users, a pattern that applies across the business of brain reward. More than half of all marijuana finds its way into the lungs and stomachs of those who spend more than half their waking hours stoned. Insofar as addictions to marijuana, or to anything else, develop most often among the poor, the marginal and the genetically vulnerable, they are sources of inequality and injustice as well as illness.

These realities are well understood in the addiction-research and public health communities. Less well understood is how we got into this fix and why it keeps getting worse, despite the best efforts of those communities. I propose that the main source of the problem has been what I call limbic capitalism. This refers to a technologically advanced but socially regressive business system in which global industries, often with the help of complicit governments and criminal organizations, encourage excessive consumption and addiction. They do so by targeting the limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for feeling and for quick reaction, as distinct from dispassionate thinking. The limbic system’s pathways of networked neurons make possible pleasure, motivation, long-term memory and other emotionally linked functions crucial for survival. Paradoxically, these same neural circuits enable profits from activities that work against survival, businesses having turned evolution’s handiwork to their own ends.

Limbic capitalism was itself a product of cultural evolution. It was a late development in a long historical process that saw the accelerating spread of novel pleasures and their twinned companions of vice and addiction. The pleasures, vices and addictions most conspicuously associated with limbic capitalism were those of intoxication. Considerations of private profit and state revenue encouraged alcohol and drug consumption until rising social costs forced governments to restrict or prohibit at least some drugs. Or so I argued in Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World, a 2001 book on the history of alcohol and drugs. Yet, even as I stated my case, I saw that it applied to more than the usual psychoactive suspects. It applied to all pleasures, vices and addictions that had become entwined in the emerging system of limbic capitalism.

This idea wasn’t entirely novel. Victorian-era reformers saw alcohol and non-medical drug use as part of an ill-starred constellation of vice. Granted, vice is a slippery category. Chinese men considered sniffing and sucking the tiny, deformed feet of girls and women to be normal erotic behavior until missionaries and modernizers stigmatized foot binding. Yet, for all the cultural malleability of vices, the Victorians recognized two important things about them. One was that they had become big business. The other was that they were linked. Rare was the brothel without booze, or the opium den without a gambling house nearby. Victorians also supposed vices to be linked neurologically, with those who had inherited or acquired defective nervous systems being most inclined to them.

The last hunch was a good one. A century later, neuroscientists and geneticists were mapping these connections at the cellular and molecular level. They discovered that different substances and activities generate similar types of brain reward and craving. They showed that addicted brains are alike in that reward cues activate the same pathways in drug and behavioral addictions. Researchers began to use the term pathological learning for the process that occurs when addictive substances or behaviors augment release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, turning what evolved as a beneficial process into a pathological one. Dopamine does its work of reward and conditioning in pathways originating in or near the limbic midbrain, a key region for regulating mood, pleasure and pain.

The pleasurable effect depends, in part, on the intensity of the signal that dopamine produces after release into the synapses. In neurons as in life, first impressions matter. People keep on doing what their brains tell them is highly rewarding, often past the point where it is still pleasurable or beneficial. Addicts want something after they have ceased liking it, even if they realize its harmful effects. “I hate this shit,” a Swedish heroin addict told his doctor, “and it doesn’t give me much of a high. It is just that somehow, it seems I can’t be without it.”

Researchers identified common risk factors. Genetic variations and life circumstances—stress, social defeat, neglect or abuse during critical periods of brain development—make some people more susceptible to addiction than others. They feel uncomfortable or depressed until they discover that alcohol, drugs, sugar, gambling, computer games or some other thrilling behavior temporarily banishes their blues. Frequent resort to these substances and behaviors further damages their neural control systems and, often, other parts of their brains. What the Victorians called vice really is a vicious circle. Self-destructive habits are constitutionally linked, downwardly spiraling, and socially expansive. “Addiction is a memory, it’s a reflex,” summed up the American psychiatrist Charles P. O’Brien. “It’s training your brain in something which is harmful to yourself.”

Or having your brain trained. The deeper truth is that we live in a world nominally dedicated to progress, health, and longevity but in fact geared toward getting us to consume in ways that are unprogressive, unhealthful and often deadly. Understanding this paradox—the burden of my new book—requires going beyond neuroscience, beyond disordered neurons and defective genes. It requires understanding the history of novel pleasures, commercial vices, mass addiction and limbic capitalism’s ever-growing power to shape our habits and desires.

* * *

Limbic capitalism did not spring full-blown onto modern history’s stage. On the contrary, it emerged from something primal: the efforts of our species to continuously expand our repertoire of pleasures. The search for pleasure preceded civilization and contributed to its foundation.

Civilization in turn had disparate consequences for pleasure. It made possible (for some) the higher pleasures of learning, musical artistry, theater and absorbing games of skill such as chess. But it also sickened, immiserated, and subjugated billions of humans by making intoxication more desirable, vice more tempting, and addiction more likely. Civilization also incubated the technologies that quickened the global quest for pleasure. Chief among them were the improvement and spread of agriculture; the expansion and monetization of long-distance trade; the rise of cities, empires and industry; and, in the recent past, the explosion of digital communication.

Along the way, there were smaller breakthroughs that nonetheless had large consequences. Among them were the isolation of plant-drug alkaloids such as morphine and cocaine; the application of photography to pornography; the blending of sugar, fat and salt in processed foods; and the rapid (now virtual) transport of people from one amusement to another. Innovations like these gave entrepreneurs and their state enablers the means to expand and intensify pleasures and to promote vices, increasing the amount of harmful consumption and the variety of addictions.

In brief, civilized inventiveness weaponized pleasurable products and pastimes. The more rapid and intense the brain reward they imparted, the likelier they were to foster pathological learning and craving, particularly among socially and genetically vulnerable consumers. Meanwhile, globalization, industrialization and urbanization made these seductive commodities and services more accessible and affordable, often in anonymous environments conducive to anomie and saturated with advertising. Accessibility, affordability, advertising, anonymity and anomie, the five cylinders of the engine of mass addiction, ultimately have found their most radical technological expression in the floating world of the internet.

Though the internet supercharged limbic capitalism, it did not invent it. In fact, no one invented it. It emerged from an ancient quest to discover, refine and blend novel pleasures. New pleasures gave rise to new vices, new vices to new addictions—for some people, anyway. Addictive behavior was, to repeat, seldom majority behavior. But the risk of such behavior grew as entrepreneurs rationalized—that is, made more scientific and efficient—the trade in brain-rewarding commodities.

Ultimately this rationalization assumed the aspect of a global economic and political system, in the sense of being organized, interlocking and strategically active. By the nineteenth century, entrepreneurs were doing more than simply selling whatever new pleasures chance discovery and expanded trade made available. They had begun to engineer, produce and market potentially addictive products in ways calculated to increase demand and maximize profit.

They learned to play political hardball. They devoted a share of their profits to buying off opposition. They devised lobbying and public relations tactics to survive the big reform wave of the early twentieth century. They prospered in varying degrees during the mid-twentieth century, when some addictive behaviors were permitted, others winked at, and still others repressed. After the Cold War, their enterprises became increasingly varied, legitimate, and global. They created, not merely an age of addiction, but an age of “addiction by design” that is both the hallmark of limbic capitalism and the clearest demonstration of its inversion of the forces of reason and science that made it possible.

 

Excerpted with permission from The Age of Addiction: How Bad Habits Became Big Business, by David T. Courtwright. Copyright ©2019 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.

Featured image: 1881 wood engraving, American Opium Smokers—Interior of a New York Opium Den 

109 Comments

  1. E. Olson says

    Very interesting, and a very troubling aspect of modern marketing that isn’t limited to computer games, social media, and drug addictions, because the heavy user group (5 to 20% of the population) buys or consumes 80+% just about every product and service. Heavy beer consumers drink 24+ cans every 48 hours, and heavy ketchup users go through a standard sized bottle every couple of days, shopaholics go into massive debt to buy everything from clothes to cars to feed their desire to something “new” or “better”, and these buyers are tremendously profitable for the manufacturers and retailers that capture their fancy even as they abuse themselves physically and/or financially feeding their habit. And don’t think the governments are any better than private enterprise, because state run lotteries & gambling rely almost entirely on a tiny fraction of the public who spend every cent they have buying another ticket or chance, while heavy taxes on “vice” products are based on the expectation that customers will continue to buy (and pay taxes) high volumes of alcohol, smokes, and weed.

    And of course the tremendous wealth generated by the excessive/addictive consumption has created lots of jobs and economic growth that affords more people the ability to waste their lives feeding their addictions via free room and board in their parent’s basement to welfare payments for the “disabled” or “unemployed” or retired, and should “sanity” ever prevail among this small subset of addictive customers the economy will certainly take a major economic hit.

    • David of Kirkland says

      This is no worse than those who become addicted to religion, for example, where people will travel for miles on their knees to see some shrine built over an unbelievable story someone told (often long ago).
      This is just humanity, and then grumbling that humans shouldn’t be tricked into their humanity.

      • OleK says

        @David of Kirkland

        Really? Please explain. How is an atheist or other tourist visiting the Vatican for it’s beauty somehow different from a Roman Catholic visiting the Vatican as part of a pilgrimage? As to “addicted to religion”, I can only think of zealots/extremist types. Just subscribing everything addictive to “humanity” seems to call all psychology bunk. Fine – don’t believe it if you will and that is what you’re saying, but you’d likely be completely wrong. If not, are you questioning this just because the author (David Courtwright) only has a PhD in History and not a Psychologist? I don’t see anything in the article that necessarily conflicts w/ Psychology.

        • Aylwin says

          Really? You don’t think an atheist or other tourist visiting the Vatican for it’s beauty is somehow different from a Roman Catholic visiting the Vatican as part of a pilgrimage?

        • Alan Gore says

          People have consuming interests, and are willing to spend their earnings following those interests. Can people be “addicted” to skiing or travel or postgraduate education?

          • JS says

            I really vehemently disagree with the overwhelming use of the word “addiction” to refer to anything people to do excess because they like to do it, or because they are trying to drown out their sorrows, or because they have underlying psychological problems, or because the rat race in inherently unfulfilling and they are dropping out of it and passively rebelling, as young men seem to be doing with video games.
            Why? Because addiction is a real thing, not just “something you do and have difficulty finding the motivation to stop”. Opiates, alcohol, and certain other substances are addictive not only because they produce intense pleasure, but because if you try to stop taking them after having consumed them in sufficient quantity for long enough, you can become severely ill or even die. You need medical help to stop taking them safely. Also, merely taking them in those quantities can kill you in the meantime.
            Playing too many video games and shopping or gambling too much can cause you severe financial or social problems, but all it takes to stop is some willpower; and once you stop you have stopped, there is no imminent danger of death. The improvement in your life is immediate. Everyone has bad habits, really.
            Since I have lost relatives to heroin and alcohol abuse I really find the comparison of playing too many video games to heroin dependence rather offensive. They aren’t even remotely comparable.

          • lewis guignard says

            Addictions come in many forms. I like the term consuming interest. I have friends who are addicted to bicycling. Others who have ruined their lives with cocaine or heroin. Others who are addicted to work. Some to sex. Me, I have numerous interests which each take time from the other, not allowing any to become consuming. If any of you would care to support my various habits, send donations to……

      • Damian says

        You really went out of your way to take a dump on religion here, buddy.

        • Moshe Hablilvilah says

          Yeah, I will never understand why people will settle for a savior who died 2000 years ago and has stood up his true believers for so long with the promise made by his ministers that he’ll be back any second now, or, others who tell you that if you believe and go on a quest or jihad, that you’ll be rewarded with 72 dark eyed virgins, when our TRUE BELIEVERS in the Lord Roscoe, The Great Hamster up in Heaven, has returned 17 times since 1962, and our true believers get DOUBLE VIRGINS, yes, 144, with CHOICE OF EYE COLOR, with the only caveat that two tone virgins are slightly extra.

          • Dot says

            You are entitled to your opinion, even if it totally misguided

      • Mitchell Clogg says

        This is fatalism, DoK. It could be restated “people are fallible and should be permitted their fallacies.” Religion, philosophy, psychology and all of education deny your assertion–the “should be permitted” part. Our progress is already too little, too late. Around the world humanity is failing in its pursuit of the common good. Maybe we’ll step on the gas of the neglected improvement machinery and head off an uncomfortable end for our species; maybe we won’t, but fer sher we won’t improve if we adopt the permissiveness you imply.

      • Rick from Corona ca says

        Limbic Capitalism may push people away from religion…

      • Deanna Johnston Clark says

        Interesting to pick on the self destructive cravings of poor people. Addictions of the wealthy, like golf, beautiful ever younger wives, and financial predation on suckers get spots on “lifestyles of the Rich & Famous”….
        As for religion, faith and prayers are one of the ways that encourage self restraint…until the heresies of Jupiter Jesus, the get rich guy supplanted the real thing.

      • lucas says

        @David of Kirkland. Addiction is when over indulgence in something interferes in your daily life. This interference leads to stress and unhappiness because the person notices that they are failing in other areas their life. To escape this stress, the person goes back to overindulge in what they were doing before. The author clearly explained this using gaming, pornography and sugar. If someone takes a leave from their work to go on pilgrimage in other to meditate and connect with their creator, that isn’t addiction because they come back to continue their daily activities feeling refreshed. You clearly missed the point of this article.

      • lucas says

        @David of Kirkland. Addiction is when over indulgence in something interferes in your daily life. This interference leads to stress and unhappiness because the person notices that they are failing in other areas their life. To escape this stress, the person goes back to overindulge in what they were doing before. The author clearly explained this using gaming, pornography and sugar. From this article, you know that a gamer is addicted because he or she dropped out of school or failed their course due to gaming. For the sugar lady, she suffered from health condition. For the Pornographer, he or she finds it hard to have healthy or healthy sexual relationship with opposite sex. If someone takes a leave from their work to go on pilgrimage in other to meditate and connect with their creator, that isn’t addiction because they come back to continue their daily activities feeling, refreshed. This is the same as a going on a vacation. Dude, you clearly missed the point of this article.

      • alex carter says

        I am Buddhist, and go to my local Buddhist temple, and yes, there’s incense (Oh, smell of my childhood!) and bell-ringing, and chants, and at the end you do “Oshoko” where you put a dollar or three in the bowl, sprinkle incense, and bow, but it’s all just so innocent.

        It’s almost like where you decide you will be “colonized” by this innocuous microbe because it will take up space and prevent worse ones from coming in.

        There are fund-raisers and Buddhism classes and Boy Scouts activities and a big golf tournament and a crab feed coming up, both of which are beyond my means, and also Obon dancing and a fund-raiser at a local Japanese restaurant which I’ve not been to and probably would not try except for the fund-raiser.

        You end up with a circle of friends and you exchange books, and all in all it’s awfully harmless, and it’s the same Jodo Shinshu Buddhism that originated in around the year 1200.

        So I can’t really be anti-religion these days. Yes, when you have a religion that says the Earth is yours to eat up, and the “other” based on race, class, skin color, etc., is your enemy, yeah, that’s not good. But there are older, deeper, religions that can help you.

        • Elizabeth says

          You can be addicted to many things but it is a matter of going to EXTREME. I read so many differing opinions and it seems any real difference between people, race, religion, habits, values, a few examples….divide people. When do we get to realizing our connectedness…. I hope more studies in DNA come out.

    • Leo Leclair says

      It could be argued, could it not….that this is the reason d’etre of human existence….I desire, therefore I am.

      • Gautama Buddha put it somewhat differently: “The root of suffering is desire.”

    • Aslan French says

      Your stereotype here of people on welfare as addicts is trite and ignorant. In reality the vast majority (something like 3/4th) of welfare users are off it within a 6 month period. Those who remain on it longer are almost entirely from the elderly demographic or the mentally ill.

      It may make you feel better to bah humbug and say that people on welfare are there because of their own vice but that nonsense simply has nothing to do with the facts.

  2. Fred Grosso says

    The greed of entrepreneurs is all consuming. Thanks for the read.

    • E. Olson says

      Fred – I hope your pension savings are invested in businesses that have a stated desire to not earn a profit.

    • David of Kirkland says

      The goofiness of humans blaming others because they continue to do stuff they like is all consuming and tiring…

  3. UJN says

    I wonder if it’s our abandoning of the sacred that causes capitalism to run amok, without a moral compass…

    • David of Kirkland says

      Sure, because there are no signs of addictive and weird behavior among the pious virtue signalers.

      • staticnoise says

        Do you have some kind of stick up your butt about religiously minded people? Not every believer is the ‘church lady’. Or crazy. Did you get your knuckles rapped by nuns or something?

      • Memetic Tribe says

        I’ve never seen a priest hit the pavement in west Baltimore after a dose of carfentanyl and go down to 4 breaths per minute.

        Then get out of emergency and head straight back to the same dealer…

        • Scott DeLano says

          But I’ll bet there are lots of naughty priests addicted to some pretty addicktive behaviors. I think that we’ve all seen that.

        • Lou says

          Right…they’re too busy molesting and sodomizing innocent children.

  4. PA says

    “Compulsive, regret-filled pursuit of transient pleasures” is a perfect description. Thank you.

  5. Mec B says

    Everything you laid out is technically factual but it doesn’t really provide some action that can taken to mitigate such addictive behavior. Perhaps the real truth is that we live in such a safe world free from real wars, poverty, famine and disease outbreaks that we actually have too much time to kill(maybe not literally, but maybe??).
    The other flip coin of this addictive behavior specifically in video games with men IS a contributing factor to the reduction of crime, rape and other physical abusive behaviors in the past 30 years. It is possible to see correlation between the two and if we were to ween off men from gaming, a potential upswing may result is you writing an article bemoaning the the fact that there is an upswing in crime.
    The reality is that if we reduce addictions, it does not mean that all these men (in particular) will somehow become PHD graduates or somehow we will become the greatest generation. The fantasy utopia that seems to be the underlying premise is not an end game but rather a way to lie about humanity’s untold truth…we are as awful as we are good.

    • E. Olson says

      Mec B – you bring up some very important points. Of course the way universities have turned into extremely expensive victimology and Leftism indoctrination centers, we also need to consider whether spending 4-8 years playing video games might actually do less brain damage than time spent in the classroom earning a BA, MSc, or PhD degree.

      • EK says

        In 2019, the workforce participation rate for males over 16 in the US is ~ 63%. It seem likely that the 37% of the idle males account for most of the seriously addicted males.

        Is it reasonable to assume that their addictions can be managed or treated if their lives are still going to lack the structure and disciple associated with having to show up for work on time ready and able to work 5 days a week, 8 hours a day?

      • That last remark is a load of bunk. Playing hours of video games on a daily basis might strengthen hand-eye coordination (and probably strains eyes and hands), but the addictive stimulus to keep playing is the point. Exercising your brain through hours of arduous reading, writing, and thinking cannot be compared to pressing buttons like monkeys. As the author wrote, addiction is the term he is using to cover all stimuli and behaviors that lead to an inability to stop using or acting in a manner that is life defeating.
        Many people are suffering, lost, and without purpose. Our advancements without personal clarity of purpose leads many to wander and get trapped in pleasure pursuits especially if their basic needs are easily met.

    • Elizabeth R. says

      Mec B, I think you need to be careful with your ‘causality’. Just because two things happen at the same time does not mean they are inherently linked.

      But I do recognize that there could be an impact. In my opinion, one of the catalysts for crime is opportunity. And being in your room, no matter if you are playing video games, smoking weed, or reading dissertations, tends to keep you away from seeing those opportunities for criminal actions outside in the world.

    • Gloria Tucker says

      Read Passage Meditation by Eknath Easwaran, it will change your life and give you the compass you need.

  6. Mec B says

    Perhaps, and this is my opinion, that with such security, soft living and a relatively easy living experience, we are looking for risk, excitement, adventure in these addictions. Or put another way, the amount of safety regulations that control our lives each and everyday is dulling our senses and by finding a way to make even one part of your day excitable or worth living(ie. gambling with everything on the line)pushes us to get that high. Add in the fact that we all carry on our shoulders the personality of addiction, even if we were to change the limbic capitalism that this author pushes for, we would only move us to the next high.

  7. Shawn T says

    Addiction, as a clinical diagnosis, is horribly overused. The more behaviors/activities to which it is applied, the more useless it becomes. As I was reading the article I kept coming around to the same questions: So what? What are you really trying to say? There is a lot of discussion about the brain and how pleasure/stimulus works, but that is a decription of the body’s reaction to things it enjoys. That isn’t addiction, it’s simply reaction. Would we describe a scientist spending 16 hours per day in the lab for years on end as addicted or driven? A writer? Stock broker? On and on. We wouldn’t call that addiction, even as personal relationships, health and other aspects of their lives deteriorate and peel away. Pick your favorite biopic. The author’s inclusion of victorian perspectives adds a clue. Groups call those things THEY disapprove of as being addictions, people and activities of which they approve are not. I found this portion revealing: “Insofar as addictions to marijuana, or to anything else, develop most often among the poor, the marginal and the genetically vulnerable, they are sources of inequality and injustice as well as illness.” Really? So, too much beer bad, champaigne ok? Sounds more like addiction as a political framework to protect the rubes from themselves. This discussion seems more about identifying groups of people (specific, targeted groups) who have ruined their own lives, absolving them of any contribution to their own condition, fixing blame on some class (capitalists, in this case) and implying that class must be controlled for the benefit of the addicted. Is it inequality and injustice when a billionaire trust fund baby fritters their time and well-being away doing drugs and partying? Or is that only unequal and unjust when they are camped out on Ventura Blvd doing drugs, partying and living in their own filth? At least, in these cases, there is a demonstrable addiction (the common sense one we all recognize in an instant) driving the behavior. In terms of the “horrors” of addiction, is a retiree playing video games 24×7 different from a college dropout doing the same? Doesn’t that frame the argument more like: one is reaping the rewards of a lifetime of work, the other avoiding a lifetime of work? Either way, is it about “addiction” or choice? Is it an external capitalist bogey-man or an internal failure for one and not the other? Spinning clear choices of behavior as being exactly like actual addiction seems a poor use of the clinical word. It basically tells people their choices and behavior are excusable because it is all beyond their control. Hedonism with a doctor’s note.

    • Photondancer says

      Why wouldn’t I call the 16 hour a day scientist, stock broker etc an addict? Especially if it’s destroying their health and relationships. That’s pretty much the criteria for diagnosing something as pathological.

      I agree that some of these people may more accurately be described as avoidant rather than addicted. I think that may be true for quite a lot of so-called addicts.

      • rickoxo says

        Because you’d call it a choice, not an addiction

    • old geezer says

      excellent, your comment is as accurate as it is eloquent

    • rickoxo says

      I was getting ready to write this exact comment, but then you already did 🙂 Something was hitting me as strongly off in the article, I think part of it is the over-application of the concept of addiction to anything we don’t like. As a close to retiree who plays video games as a reward for having worked hard, I think the distinction you noted between me playing games and a college drop out playing games is worth noting.

      But I believe there is something to the concept of limbic capitalism in that many businesses today are taking “marketing” to new extremes that current human brains and culture are not well adapted to handle. We know all about how our visual system can be tricked by optical illusions, Kahneman and Tversky demonstrated how often our intuitions regarding stats and basic economic choices are fallible and I think the general concept of limbic capitalism is worth thinking through. It isn’t just 30% of the population who struggle with getting tricked, many of these pieces are biological realities that affect all humans.

      If capitalism 1.0 struggled with exploitation of workers and resources and fights between competitors, capitalism 2.0 is willing to take “marketing” to a whole new level. Whether it was cigarette companies doctoring the tobacco to increase addictiveness or McDonalds putting additives in the food to increase addictiveness, this tendency to: 1 use the latest and best research about where human weaknesses and blind spots tend to be (physiologically, psychologically and culturally), then 2 create and promote products that exploit these weaknesses feels like a new level of commercial warfare.

      I like the author’s point that at one level, none of this is new, but it feels like in the arms race of cultural evolution, the marketers have gotten way ahead and there’s some writing on the wall that non-“addicted” humans are getting hammered (beaten up not drunk 🙂

  8. Simon says

    I think the subject deserved to be reframed within Foucault’s chronology of liberalism.

    Liberalism occurs within a paradigm shift in western libidinal economy.

    Before liberailsm, we lived in a punitive environment of prohibitions and castigations. With liberalism we came to live in a disciplinary environment of surveillance and incentives.

    During the 19th century, this new model of behavioral incentivisation perpetuated the old objects of punishment and reward for a while. But the vices/virtues dichotomy, which distinguished qualitative degrees of pleasures, was quickly replaced by a purely quantitative framework, which only distinguished between various intensities of pleasures.

    The chronology that distinguish punitive and disciplinary societes is superimposed by another : the paradigm shift from the hierarchisation of objective, qualitative goods (the eudemonist, aristotelian framework) to the calculus of leveled subjective, quantitative pleasures (the hedonistic, spinozist to benthamian framework).

    What the author calls limbic capitalism is the accomplishment of this paradigm, when old vices were totally integrated within the production circuit because they were just another vector of utility maximization.

    • Simon says

      *We went from a world organized around hierarchical sphere of activities of intrinsic value to a world organized around equivalent ranges of sources of pleasures. The shift is similar to the one that occurred from labour value and value in use to exchange value and ranking of preferences.

      In the first world, lacking was a necessary evil to reaching higher goods. Virtues such as temperance were valued because consumption regulation was thought as a lever to higher anthropological goods, such as leading a theoretical life. Ascetic worldview.
      In the current regime, living a worthy life is understood as the perpetual fulfillment of one’s drive. Consumption regulation is inconvenient because it fundamentally opposes the intensification of individual satisfaction. Ecstatic worldview.

      Limbic capitalism is twofold : it’s an economic process built around the monetization of every sources pleasures and their permanent availability ; and it’s an affectual regime built around the eviction of every vacuum and the levelling of human capabilities.

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  10. Farris says

    The title of the book should have been “The Death of Personal Responsibility”. The notion of business engaged in a lawful enterprise being responsible for those who misuse or abuse their products is juvenile thinking at best. “It’s not my fault!” What of those in the business of inventing excuses to enable these wretches? I guess the days of standing on one’s own feet and accepting responsibility for their actions is dead. The crutch industry is the most detrimental of the last half century. What of those poor souls who are addicted to books, videos and pundits who excuse and enable their excesses? One certainly hopes the author is not profiting from his over indulgence of these reprobates.
    In order to truly help these people, there must be an acknowledgment of their own role and responsibility. Demanding anything less is coddling.

    • Anarchist Egghead says

      “Addiction is a chronic brain disorder and not simply a behavior problem involving alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex, experts contend in a new definition of addiction, one that is not solely related to problematic substance abuse.

      The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) just released this new definition of addiction after a four-year process involving more than 80 experts.

      “At its core, addiction isn’t just a social problem or a moral problem or a criminal problem. It’s a brain problem whose behaviors manifest in all these other areas,” said Dr. Michael Miller, past president of ASAM who oversaw the development of the new definition. “Many behaviors driven by addiction are real problems and sometimes criminal acts. But the disease is about brains, not drugs. It’s about underlying neurology, not outward actions.”

      The new definition also describes addiction as a primary disease, meaning that it’s not the result of other causes, such as emotional or psychiatric problems. And like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, addiction is recognized as a chronic disease; so it must be treated, managed and monitored over a person’s lifetime, the researchers say.”

      https://www.livescience.com/15563-addiction-defined-brain-disease.html

      “Johnson & Johnson, one of the world’s largest drug manufacturers, has gone on trial in a multi-billion dollar lawsuit by the US state of Oklahoma.

      Prosecutors accuse the firm of deceptively marketing painkillers and downplaying addiction risks, fuelling a so-called “opioid epidemic”.”

      https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-48437082

    • Andrew Blake says

      Yes we are all responsible for our own actions. But it is just not that simple. Your argument is black and white and there are countless shades of grey. Can you really expect normal people like us to always have defences against legions of psychologists and marketers who are researching us and manipulating us? As in warfare, defences improve in the light of experience but there is no defence that can always resist every attack.

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  17. dmm says

    The author’s theory notes some history, neurological research and human psychological tendencies, and asserts, unpersuasively IMO, that they’re the cause of the problem. I have another theory which I think is at least as plausible: the nanny state. From subsidized education, subsidized health care, subsidized livelihoods, to completely subsidized lives, the welfare state enables and subsidizes such behavior. There’d be a lot less of it if the government didn’t usurp individuals’ responsibility for themselves. All of us are imperfect, and some will always be susceptible to such dependence.

    The article is just another attempt to blame capitalism for the ills of society. The cronyism noted by the author is not capitalism. It is special-interest, rent-seeking behavior which exists in any power structure.

    The addiction here, including the author’s, is really to the state.

    • m. says

      The only thing that would happen if you got rid of the “nanny state” is that people would be “nannied” by their extended family instead, which is what always happened historically. You libertarians and your atomized individualist fantasy-land are always so exhausting.

      • dmm says

        The difference is that the extended family has the choice to “nanny” or not. It doesn’t extort money from millions of other people to “nanny” their relatives. I’m happy to hear that we libertarians are exhausting to you indoctrinated statists. Maybe we’ll exhaust some of you out of your addiction to free stuff bought with extorted money.

    • K. says

      Funny? how everyone uses whatever is presented to them, as absolute proof that their already preconceived political theories of life are correct ! And if you read all the comments, here these can be diametrically opposite ! Why not read materials to gain insight learn & hone your views for better outcomes? THINK! Good Answers are complicated & nuanced … All people (including you & me) are flawed! Picture it in your mind ? Do you really feel that a society with no safety nets, & unbridled capitalism, would be a better safer place for us to live in ?

  18. Michael says

    Perhaps an important reason we haven’t seen interstellar civilizations consuming our galaxy through the natural geometric expansion of life. I consider this a bigger barrier to the viability of advanced civilization than the possibility of annihilation by nuclear or biological war.

    I suspect this post will be controversial but hopefully in a good way. I invite you to prove me wrong or start seriously worrying like I am.

    This is not just a filter but may be great filter that we haven’t passed through yet. The ability to feel and the tendency to seek pleasure it’s probably intrinsic in virtually all forms of intelligent life. It would seem to be convergent evolution. With technology comes the ability to Short Circuit motivational and pleasure-seeking systems, with a variety of social systems whether you’re talking about consumer capitalism or less intensely a government interested in Social stability oh, you have continuous and evolving incentives to give the general population easier and easier ways to indulge their pleasure-seeking more intensely. This is captured at least as far back as Roman politics. Give the people bread and gladiatorial spectacle and you can do to them pretty much what you want.

    Yes the Amish and anarcho primitivism it’s and individuals are going to all be resistant to hedonic hacking, by simply avoiding it. That doesn’t help, because first those people don’t form spacefaring civilizations. Second of all as is witnessed by the rise in for example methamphetamine problems in Amish communities, the agents creating these addiction Technologies do not respect the autonomy of potential consumers of their tools of power and profit.

  19. Dylan says

    Addictions are short-circuits. Make something useful and receive admiration, this is the proper reward for a job well done. Addiction skips the work, skips the prerequisite and delivers the reward directly. The incentive is misplaced.

    People who lack social support, who lack community, who have unappreciated jobs; the lonely the downtrodden and the depressed. Addiction is attractive, it’s a “better than nothing”, it’s a chance to feel, a chance to participate. A chance to reach the rewards of a life well-lived when doing so through the proper means is sadly non-possible.

    Addiction is solved by compassion and empathy, by caring and nurturing, by valuing the small and quiet, by making sure everyone is included.

    • David Lloyd says

      Bravo Dylan, your comment was a ray of constructive sunshine after an onslaught of despairing negativity.

    • dmm says

      “Addiction is solved by compassion and empathy, by caring and nurturing, by valuing the small and quiet, by making sure everyone is included.”

      While I can appreciate the gentleness with which your comment is imbued, it’s sadly just wrong, or at least incomplete. Do you have any evidence for it? I’ll settle for even personal anecdotal evidence. And how does “including everyone” solve addiction?

      Oh wait. It appears that you’re talking about solving “the addiction problem” – that is, preventing addiction in the first place, rather than solving individual addiction cases after the fact. Ok, I see where you’re coming from now. I would add merely that those admirable human qualities can be provided only by individuals in a genuine community, never by the faceless bureaucracy of the state.

      • Gabrielle P says

        You are incorrect.

        Libertarians argue that they oppose the state, but support “admirable human qualities and charity provided by a genuine community”. If you support charity and caring, why are you so vehemently opposed to offering help to people? Why do you rail against what you deem to be “extorted money”. A charitable person would not care if a small quantity of money was taken from them in the form of a tax to assist people, because they would be willing to give that aid whether a government took it from them or not. And yes, regardless of what you argue the individual quantity taken is small. Taxes pay for much more than just aid to people, and if taxes are high it’s because they pay for many things. Not just social aid.

        The truth is Libertarians want those they deem “unfit” to be killed. It’s that simple. If said person’s family is willing and able to step in and avoid this, they won’t be monstrous enough to stop it, but if said individual has no family at all, or none that is willing to help, the Libertarian will gleefully see them homeless, hungry, without any medical care etc.

        As for “charities” such as churches and organizations, I have had personal experience with numerous charities that offer absolutely no help. Their websites and mailings seek donations non stop, but when approached for help they always claim that they have “no funds”, “no volunteers”, etc. If Libertarians believe in these charities, as opposed to the state, then they should start handing their time and money over to them, because I contacted dozens when in need of help, and not one did a single thing. NOTHING. Either people are truly uncharitable, or else these so called “charities” are pocketing money and not helping. I’ll leave it to you to decide which. I am too exhausted to guess.

        However the state did help, when I needed it. Furthermore I was rigorously vetted to ensure that help was warranted before receiving it. There is no fraud, there is no limitless “free stuff”. There is a bare bones system, offering a small amount of help to those who deserve it. Yet this is still “too much” for Libertarians. Your kind is a pox.

  20. michael f says

    The author states “I give these critics a hearing. But in my own usage, I will stick to “addiction.” The word provides a usefully concise and universally understood way of referring to a pattern of compulsive, conditioned, relapse-prone and harmful behavior. ”
    Of course the preference he shows for such a definition means that his book title is more attractive and that contributes to his own compulsion to sell more of those books all for the pursuit of money which we all know is the “root of all evil” and surely must therefore be classed as an addiction.
    He should stop it immediately or he will go blind.

    Shawn T above offers a well agued post.

  21. Outraged says

    What you disciples of free choice and personal responsibility seem to fail to understand is that people must choose from a limited number of choices on the menu, and they don’t get to choose what’s on the menu. For a lot of these people, they can’t win no matter what they do, and any complaining on their part will be dismissed as the privileged rantings of an angry white male (no matter how disprivileged their actual situation is). So they make the rational decision to drop out. Why bust their butts to support a society that will only stab them in the back?

  22. michael f says

    the menu is limited only by one’s imagination.
    True, some options suck and and some may choose to avoid a world they find unsympathetic.
    Most choose to be challenged to achieve goals of one kind or another.
    The goals some choose are winnings in a virtual reality game played with virtual people.
    In my experience this stage does not last too long.
    Such persons mostly grow out of their adolescent fantasies and address the world in real time.
    And remember, win lose or draw, we’re all dead at the end of the game.

  23. Daniel says

    I noticed my addiction to Twitter when I was spending eight hours a day on it. I was eventually kicked off twitter for trolling the Islamist Dhalia Mogahed. It was a blessing.
    The entire social media world is overrated and a cesspool of half educated idiots. A recent study seems to confirm tha Twitter actually makes you less intelligent. https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/05/30/twitter-is-eroding-your-intelligence-now-theres-data-to-prove-it/
    Our world is a beautiful wonderful place, we can live in it without FB, games and Twitter.

  24. Nearly every one of these repliers is retarded. If you need more evidence that the internet is a low rent asylum for babbling idiots, here you go.

    There’s a nitwit ranting about religious compulsions, completely irrelevant. A few “life is so soft and easy these days what people need is some real hardship” posturing. Truly inane. I love the pseudo-conservative perspective that people are sad sick and lonely because their lives are too easy. It makes so much sense, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t they be happy and virtuous if they struggled more? Maybe a good bloodbath would perk them up, right? They should shovel coal for sixteen hours a day or be drafted into a brutal war. No time for addiction there.

    Then you have the personal responsibility numbskulls. I wonder if they’re aware they contribute nothing to these conversations. If your only thought on today’s social problems is that individuals should be responsible for their actions, then it’s likely that you’re mentally incurious or morally callous. And funny how the personal responsibility almost always falls on the poorest, least educated segments of the population. All the condemnation is reserved for the addict, and not the economic powers that exploit vulnerable people.

    The addiction or limbic capitalist system compliments and reinforces an extremely complex, densely populated, atomized society. The problem isn’t that life is just so easy now because of microwave dinners, air conditioning and smartphones, or that people just don’t take responsibility for themselves; it’s that life in modern society is profoundly alienating, overwhelming, overstimulating and uncomfortable. People are constantly besieged by corrupting and degrading influences; their worst impulses are encouraged and even rewarded in the short term; economic growth is predicated on destroying organic social networks and replacing them with synthetic and transactional relationships; shrinking family size deprives people of their deeper sense of identity and leaves them desperate for belonging; the vast majority of jobs are insulting and pointless and stultifying; stuck in this bog of despair and technologically mediated discomfort some call “convenience” the great mass of people should choose to be virtuous republicans, am I getting this?

    • old geezer says

      mentally uncurious … nope. morally callous, guilty as charged.

      and i signal no virtue other than my deplorableness.

      it doesn’t take much more intelligence than a moron level to quickly realize life is a gift. it is a shame to see someone flush themselves down the toilet. so therefore the moron loses.

      there is an entire political party dedicated to encouraging such personal destruction in order to obtain more power than what they can reasonably wield. but they always find another path to destroying more individuals. the latest is to have grade school teachers tell little boys they can be little girls, and vice versa.

      it has been claimed power is the ultimate addiction.

    • Rev Wazoo! says

      @The Empty Subject

      Despite leavening your vitriol with a few apt observations, you reveal your essential nihilism with this claim,, “the vast majority of jobs are insulting and pointless and stultifying”

      You may feel that doing useful things is insulting but we can’t all be artistes, supported to grace society with their wondrous, if otherwise useless, creations. It would a wonderful utopia if crops grew themselves, clothes wove themselves, smartphone assembled themselves so dream on.

      Sounds like you bought the bogus idea that everyone should be able to “do what they love and love their rewarding, fulfilling job.” Yes, a few can navigate to that desired perch but most know work is work and you learn to like what you do because it has to be done and it pays the rent. your just annoyed that everyone doesn’t share your entitled grievance that you (oh and everyone else as an afterthought) should get to have a good-paying job that you love and is personally fulfilling.

      Grow up.

      • Gabrielle P says

        Sounds like you’re just bitter as hell because you DON’T love your job. Yeah, things need to be done whether we enjoy it or not, and all work is useful. So therefore all work should be respected and paid enough to live no? Because it’s all useful and it all matters right? But here we stop short. You want to tell people that ALL work is useful and needs to be done, but then you want to pay them enough to live in a cardboard box and belittle them every single day if they don’t do work deemed “important enough”.

        Society sends mixed messages about this, and THAT is where nihilism develops and breeds. Start showing REAL respect to all workers and this would disappear.

    • Stephanie says

      Then, worst of all, you have the everyone-is-retarded-but-me comment, which of course is the most inane of them all.

  25. The Monster from Polaris says

    Is reading Quillette an addiction? Probably not, but I suspect it’s somewhere on the same spectrum, at least in some cases 😉

  26. Rev. Wazoo says

    I notice this piece ignores women focuses on men failing to produce a material surplus; choosing abstract almost free activities instead .

    Those in power always see a major problem if large numbers of men decide to produce little more than they themselves need, and many choose to need very little indeed.

    The monkish/academic life with little luxury but ample time to pursue arcane matters, has always had a strong appeal, especially in the absence of a family needing support. Henry VIII didn’t just want the monastery’s money/land when he dissolved them; he wanted the huge numbers of monks to do useful toil instead of debates over the minutia of canon.

    The prospect of a family in the near future makes a man practical but with women postponing child-bearing till the mid-30’s that becomes a remote and a bridge to be crossed when arrived at.

    The subtext of the article is that men are shirking their duty to train for and produce significantly more than they need. Blaming capitalism for this asceticism is ironic as usually it’s blamed for mindless consumption. It’s a bit rich trying to blame it for mindful non-consumption. After all, video gaming is a very green lifestyle, consuming very little with a small carbon footprint.

    It’s only problem when widespread is the consequent lack of surplus production to pay for single-mother benefits, married mothers taking some years off from full-time work, child-support payments, maternity leave, the disproportionate costs of women’s health care usage, burgeoning HR and Diversity Inclusivity and Equity departments etc.

  27. neoteny says

    Insofar as addictions to marijuana, or to anything else, develop most often among the poor, the marginal and the genetically vulnerable, they are sources of inequality and injustice as well as illness.

    Indeed: it is a source of inequality & injustice that I can’t have the same sexual sexual satisfactions Justin Bieber had (thinking of Selena Gomez in particular).

    • Gabrielle P says

      Yes, because not having sex with Selena is somehow just as devastating and problematic as not having enough to eat. Rolls eyes.

      • neoteny says

        I thought the subject was addiction, not famine.

  28. meerkat says

    Computer role-playing games (RPG’s) have been designed in a way that mimics addiction for decades(it may go back further to their tabletop pen and paper roots). Basically whenever the player completes a task(killing a monster, saving a princess, whatever) they get experience points(XP for short). When they accumulate enough XP, they can “level up” by spending points to increase their character’s abilities(their cyber alter ego becomes tougher, is a better sword fighter, or can cast better spells). But the catch is that each new level requires more points than the last. So if getting level 1 requires you to earn 500 XP, getting to level 2 will required 700 and so on. Since progression through the main story line of the game requires increasingly certain abilities(and thus levels),earning and hoarding these XP compulsively for less and less reward is the only option.

    Remind you of anything?

    That’s why I stopped playing these games years ago. Slaying dragons no longer felt like an escape from a job I hated. It felt like a different job, except that I was paying instead of being paid.

    It’s a shame more game designers haven’t progressed beyond those mechanics, because a large number of very talented people contribute a lot of energy to creating the better games(artists, writers, software engineers).

    • Video games RPGS do not have to have levels and Wograld, is in the process of removing them entirely.
      Multi-player games also have a social component, and if it gets cars off the road because people are not driving somewhere to socialize, lives are saved from car accidents.
      If a game feels like a chore, it is time to quit, (or better yet hack the source code if the game is open source)

  29. Maximilian says

    Human Capitalism, Yang2020, anyone?

  30. barry rohweder says

    I’m annoyed that I read through this babble. You people need something to do. Take a walk.

  31. Alex says

    Quite honestly it’s not much a surprise to me. I think we have as of yet to see how deep down the rabbit hole we’ll go. I’ve explored this deeply within my mind as a technologist. I think Elon Musk was right in that a lot of the limitations around how we interact with computers is the bandwidth. The original phases were non interactive (TV, print, radio) The second phase (video/computer games) had a modicum of interaction that wasn’t user adaptive, the third phase (now) has calculated interaction which is user adaptive. The phase after will likely have some method of direct ingestion ala The Matrix or other immersive reality. I have a Dystopian Novel I wrote about such things. Although I also use (and abuse) these facilities I am at least somewhat honest about my identity and how it fits into this realm.

  32. An important point about addiction: the opposite of addition is not sobriety, but rather, connection — primarily bonding with others, but also finding meaning in ones actions or conducting fulfilling work, whatever. Treating an exploitive/addictive product as the source of the problem doesn’t get us anywhere. The product serves as a distraction and form of escapism from a boring or otherwise unhealthy environment. As such, they are great products which are well engineered to fill a market gap, and are not to blame.

    • I think this is why internet addiction is such a problem in repressive societies like Communist China. They do it to escape. I binge watched TV shows to escape the depression, to distract me, after a death in the family.

  33. Herein lies the secret to popular TV shows like “Game of Thrones”, or binge watching of your favorite thriller, like ‘House of Cards”. It’s all about your Limbics.
    Addiction behavior seen in internet habits also has a bearing on many of the mass murders perpetrated by internet addicted loners who play war games for hours and hours that consist of killing and more killing, nothing but killing. As in: Nikolas Cruz for the ideal example, or Adam Lanza. These mass murderers aren’t repulsed by killing. They enjoy it. Consider the admission of Carla Fay Tucker, executed in Texas for murder. She said that every time she plunged the pickax into her victim’s chest she “got a nut”, had an orgasm.
    I once made the observation that many of the school mass shootings perpetrated by middle class white boys occurred in suburban communities where cable TV, back when, and the internet were the primary forms of entertainment among most of the kids in those communities. Their families had the money to pay for computers and regular internet access. As a consequence there was less and less interpersonal interaction between people, kids, teenagers. The landscape has completely changed for kids going to school now. “Happy Days” are no more.

  34. john sowders says

    Its make sense simply because addiction is bolstered in humans regardless of genetic malformation, dysfunctional development, pecking order placement, commercialization of everything profitably addictive, etc. The proof would be an averaging of sameness in a complex chemical cocktail existing in practically all human brain activity. The sameness would show up in complementary samplings in “before addiction and after addiction”! The creation and posting of the author’s brief of his book should fill in a lot of blanks for most reader! Even the articles detractors could agree after sniffing and sucking on a tiny, unbound foot!

  35. Rick Riffel says

    Limbic Capitalism? A sensory-emotional free market of arts, entertainments and brand-name franchises? We had it since at least the ancient Greek comedies and tragedies. This covers just about everything we take for granted — Sunday funnies, Barbie dolls, movies, radio, TV, the Internet, games of all kinds, every logo, design and tattoo, every story, song and slogan. Can Humanity live free and independent from Limbic Capitalism? Would you or I want to?

  36. Ralph says

    When you think about it, it is beyond absurd that academics in the Humanties have adopted the outlook on the world of Natural Science, as if if humans react and behave in the same way and according to the same laws as physical objects in space.

    Historians, philosophers, psychologists, literary critics etc all tend to view their work as scientific. But the Humanities are the opposite of Natural Science. Nothing in the Humanties can be proven with hard facts, the way it is possible to do in Natural Science.

    Statistics lie. And any statistic research in the Humanities therefore is not only false, but in fact an inhumane treatment of its subject. The numbers and categories have nothing to do with the reality they aim to reveal. The all-important ‘hows’, ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ are non-existent.

    The categorical treatment of human reality not only turns individuals into objects and experience into words and numbers, but significantly, it also sweeps individual lives into one huge blurry mass, the way totalitarian regimes treat their subjects.

    In order to make this world more humane, you cannot resort to a treatment of humans that is part of the inhumane treatment of humans. It would be equal to attempt to treat an alcoholic with alcohol.

    Will not work. Ever.

    • doctors DO treat alcohol with alcohol. some of the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol include sudden death.

  37. Stephen Bujno says

    Edward Bernays anyone? Have something to sell, determine the obstacle, (mis)use psychological persuasion to remove the obstacle, and sell…sell…sell.

  38. Harry Coin says

    Shall we then define ‘limbic economic denial’ as ‘similar to internet advertising blindness, the traumatic inability to recognize somewhat to catastrophically increased suffering when, throughout history, alternatives to capitalism are attempted in a sustained fashion (other than pseudo non-capitalist zones – small regions whose survival is dependent on larger external capitalist structures’).

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  40. Exploring American easy reading (for my American kids, because I am an immigrant raised in entirely different socio-economic situation) I found all the signs of addiction exploited by the industry, which is heavily linked to the government. The name of such things is mafia.

    As a computer professional, I discovered that personal computing is an addiction itself, and it spawns numerous addictive pastimes. it was over 20 years ago.

    Reading was something new to me. I tried to ask Reddit and was ridiculed. Only then realized the scale and pervasiveness of this phenomenon.

  41. bill says

    I honestly have to report that while reading this article, and eventually stopping midway through, that I wanted to escape the reality of addiction discussion to play online games. World of Tanks here I come!!

  42. Scarchin says

    Anyone who thinks that the word “addiction” is misapplied here has never taken a phone or video game away from a teenager. The response is often truly scary and the lengths they will go to to regain the device or access to the tech is exactly what you would see in an addict trying to get a fix.

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  44. Cailin Donaill says

    My credentials – I have been in recovery from addiction to alcohol for more than 30 years now, worked as a state and national certified addiction treatment counselor for ten of those years and got a masters in social work with the idea of becoming a therapist. But I shifted my career focus to health care and technology, and now work as an EHR implementation specialist. I studied and practiced Tibetan Buddhism for a while, but dropped the ceremony and tradition a while ago, although I kept the daily meditative practice.

    Driving down the street one day, I had the oddest experience. It was brief, like the aperture of a camera opening and closing. First, the psychological “me” disappeared. Just vanished. Suddenly, there was no center, no self. Just awareness without an object in awareness. Accompanied by the most profound acceptance.

    I have to say, I wasn’t actually mentally present for it – after all, the first thing that happened was the disappearance of “me.” There was no “me” to have the experience, no self to try to hang onto the experience. But as it happened, it was all recorded by my brain, and a vivid memory was available for my consideration.

    Then I knew something I never could have even imagined before. We are, as a species, profoundly ignorant of the most important, most fundamental truth about being human – we are all sharing a single consciousness. We don’t share thoughts, those are objects in awareness. We share Awareness itself. We believe consciousness exists as a product of our brains, but it’s everywhere – in all parts of our body, in all the space around us. It listens and hears and accepts everything.

    As long as we remain ignorant of this very simple, spiritually unadorned fact of our existence, we can’t truly progress. We are trapped in the illusion of a completely imaginary self that is, as another writer pointed out, always suffering, and always seeking relief from suffering. The sticking point is that the behaviors that lead to addiction actually do provide release from this suffering, at the beginning. If they didn’t, the brain would not bother with them. And the brain really does not really want to meditate, either.

    • Fixer Dave says

      You know… I had that moment of selflessness. It’s actually fairly common among the high-risk types. Meditation will get you there if you practice long enough, maybe. But, if you engage in a repetitive behaviour that is also very risky… say riding a dirt bike at speed, your focus on said repetitive behaviour eventually consumes “me,” or you crash. Total selflessness. Impossible to describe to those that have never experienced it but immediately recognizable to those that have. I get what you’re saying, totally.

      Maybe it’s because my training is in computer rather than Tibetan Buddhism, but my take at the end was completely different. Where you saw a common consciousness, I saw a secondary thread shutting down because the resources were needed for survival. I see the mind as a multi-threading computer and that sense of “I”, or “me” as you call it, is just another one of them. It evolved to model other human’s behaviour such that we could more easily live in complex social structures but eventually became a model of ourselves, self-awareness. From there, it evolved into something that can do trigonometry. But, for most of what we do, it’s just this annoying voice in our head that takes up resources. Most animals don’t have it and we don’t need it for basic survival. So, when that corner is coming up, that corner where you make it and live or don’t and die, you’re brain will shut that annoying voice down and get on with the business at hand. It happens, and it’s amazing what you can accomplish when it does.

      The truly remarkable thing about this experience is how ecstatic it makes a person feel. Nirvana. Absolute joy. Why is shutting off that voice in your head so pleasurable?

      Way off topic… unless you put those that practice extreme meditation in the addicted category. Adrenalin junkie… yeah, probably more on-topic than I care to admit.

  45. Anonymous Centrist says

    I think a point to be made is that although limbic addiction is not as dangerous as alcohol, sex, drugs, or gambling addiction, it still is an addiction that needs to be addressed. It wastes time and ,depending on what you’re doing, it affects perception.

    Limbic addiction is quite novel since the advent of digital communication technology. As long as you have a screen, you can easily access “limbic capitalism”. Now just because you watch a few seasons on Netflix or play hours of Overwatch, it doesn’t make you an addict. Personally, I am addicted to multiple forms of limbic addiction. How do I know? Well, there are two things. I’m overcome by the expectation of pleasure when I decide to participate in virtual media. This in turn can cause me to avoid responsibilities of higher significance and priority. Second, my perception on things are skewed. For example, watching porn cause me to view sex, men, and women different from what they are in reality. If people make a habit of watching media that skews perception, then that habit can be considered an addiction since it introduces social and psychological problems into one’s life.

  46. Fixer Dave says

    And… the cultural alternative?

    Should we avoid anything pleasurable lest it be seized upon by business, turned profitable, and sold back to us? I understand the risks… I’m reading and posting comments, taking up the break time that could well be spent waking. Yes, I have a problem walking away from comments. But, what is the alternative?

    It is I that must deal with my issues with comments, not the culture of commenting, not those that would profit from these comments. Should all comments be banned as addictive, should only not-profits be allowed to promote them? If pleasure-seeking behaviour has been co-opted by culture and business, do we turn away from pleasure? Do we ban all business that provides pleasure? Clearly, anything that can be pleasurable can be abused to the point of an addiction. How can we make that abuse a problem for culture to solve?

    Do we all pursue the life of an aesthetic? Do we all become stoic? Life is hard and then you die? Is that all there is? Is everything pleasurable to be banned? No thank you.

    I would propose an alternative. Maximize exposure to addictive behaviours as a genetic fitness test. By way of example, there is the Peacock Theory. The idea being that deliberately exposing yourself to danger and surviving means you are more fit to breed. Young male risk-taking being the prime example. So, expose people to gaming at an early age. Give them alcohol or other drugs. The earlier the better. Those that fail, that become addicted, need to fail as soon as possible so they get out of the way to benefit society. Let them fail, let businesses profit from this. Take care of these failures, there is no need to let them suffer. But, preventing them from failing in the first place is counter-productive. Those that can will resist. They should reap the rewards.

    We do not need 7 billion highly productive and self-actualized human beings on this single planet. We are already far too productive for our own good. Let them fail. It’s okay. So what if only one young male finished that History of Economics course. How many graduates do we need?

    Think about it… meanwhile, I’m going for a walk.

  47. Daughtery says

    lol. Bro, I don’t think you get it. People drop out of school to play World of Warcraft because the modern world absolutely sucks and men see no point in showing up to compete. Better to get a wage slave job and enjoy life in WoW with friends, right? The real world is burning anyways and there is no structure or order to society or culture anymore.

    The problem is not addiction, in fact there are very few people addicted to games like WoW. It’s that the world offers nothing to them and they feel that there is no point in competing in the modern world because straight white men are canceled.

  48. Gene Asner says

    I’ve read many of the comments and I haven’t seen an important related subject addressed. It isn’t a question of addiction but the pattern is similar. It is a craving for new experiences and novelty in general. Ridiculous new flavors are created and distributed by food manufacturers, such as making chocolate versions of everything. This trend leads to increasingly bad taste and a lack of appreciation for what is truly good.

    Popular music is by and large the most emotionally empty, vacuous content, musically and in the lyrics. Everything is consumed faster and faster and matters less and less. People are shocked, shocked, by the latest outrage and tomorrow its forgotten and replaced by another. Social media thrives on conflict. People binge watch series and there is so much content that consuming it takes up more time and the quantity makes experiencing it increasingly fleeting and meaningless. Such fare is to be consumed, not in a thoughtful or meaningful way, but consumed as one fast food meal after another. It is consumption to consume, to satisfy the increasing need for emotion, diversion, novelty. There is increasingly less connection between the arts and life.

    In short, as with addiction, people crave increasingly more of everything and increasingly more things to crave. No wonder people are so unhappy with their lives. And a good deal of this is the result of capitalism, which never tires in providing increasingly more of everything and convincing people they want and need increasingly more. A rational society doesn’t have perhaps seventy varieties of toothpaste in a drugstore. If this trend continues, the future doesn’t look promising.

    I’m not against capitalism. I’m pointing out that if people don’t take control of how they live, their lives will be increasingly not worth living. And part of taking control is to become aware and not just react.

  49. Jezza says

    Limbic capitalism is a very interesting concept. I shall seek out the book for further contemplation. (Was this the author’s intention?)

  50. Ironically, when reading this on my smartphone, some ‘limbic capitalist’ ads appeared. Seemed odd as I usually don’t see this kind of ad. Perhaps because the article had the words ‘addiction’ and ‘pornography’ in it?

  51. Stan Doughope says

    There’s no such thing as addiction. I mean on the most minor levels, there are–if you’re a hardcore substance abuser, there is a physical addiction where you might need a medical detox for a few days so you don’t seizure up and swallow your tongue. After that, it’s done. Then it’s a choice. It’s right back to a fucking choice.

    There’s no such thing as addiction. There’s only things that you enjoy doing more than life

  52. Gloria Tucker says

    Thank heaven for meditation, as means to retrain the mind in to slowly and steadily look forward to activities that are good and not harmful. If you want to know how to get out of this spiral of addictive habits, read Passage Meditation by Eknath Easwaran. He summarizes it succinctly and gives a plan to navigate your life. Interestingly, the longer I practice meditation and turn my back on addictive behavior, the more secure my life becomes, the better relationships i have and the happier I am. I also completely changed my career to one that is very useful and helps people a lot without selling them any crazy notions or stuff

  53. Tersitus says

    Newsflash, David T— some humans seek to profit from the wants and needs and irrational desires of other humans. Is there anything new here under the sun?

  54. Pingback: “Limbic Capitalism” – The business of selling behavioral addictions. – Ditch The Porn

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