0.4% and Addiction
The Prime Minister was describing the Royal Air Force, whose bravery and skill fought off an unstoppable Luftwaffe and cauterized the inevitable invasion of Britain. The blunting of tyranny came at a huge cost. RAF Bomber Command crews suffered a high casualty rate: 55,573 were killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew, a 44% death rate.
Approximately 0.4% of the US population currently serves as active military personnel, meaning that nearly always, someone else stands guard for our freedoms.
Most of us have never really had to sacrifice, or even know someone who has sacrificed, for the commonwealth. There is an assumption that our nation will self-sustain with the guidance of the invisible hand. A steel hand in a velvet glove. However, our form of capitalism, with weak government leadership and executives who ask for government handouts and deflect issues of national defense in the pursuit of additional wealth, is not capitalism but tyranny. Without empathy, generosity, and a reverence for America, capitalism is doomed to collapse under the collective weight of self-interest — and to enable autocrats.
In a capitalist society, the wealthy enjoy a longer life, a broader selection of mates, and more opportunity for their children. These spoils make it near-impossible not to push the limits of what’s right in the pursuit of economic success and the accoutrements that accompany it.
Marx said the end of capitalism arrives when the end product is poverty in a world of plenty. We’d like to think that capitalism evokes generosity, and that there’s a code, an empathy for the less fortunate. The most recent Facebook scandal is a failure of a generation to nod its head to the people who’ve sacrificed for freedom and the commonwealth. Without rehashing the details of the brilliant NYT article, it’s easiest to summarize the situation with a twist on Sir Churchill’s words:
Never have so few made so much money doing so much damage.
When a rat presses a lever and gets a treat, predictably, every time, the rat will return to the lever when it’s hungry. But if you start varying the reward — no sugary snack for several tries, and then maybe three fall after the lever is pushed — then the rat will remain at the lever tapping uncontrollably. Random, unpredictable rewards are the stuff of addiction.
I’m addicted to Twitter, or more likely the reaffirmation from the micro-blogging platform. However, there is no free lunch with addiction. The hangover for me, after wrapping the pursuit of truth (what all academics are supposed to do) in the sensationalism that sells (@rt), is that I feel empty and a bit pathetic. Why is a 54-year-old professor of marketing even on Twitter?
The Arm on the Slot Machine
We unwittingly pull the arm of a slot machine every day. Our youngest, eight years old, usually stumbles into our room for the last hour of his sleep. There are few things (maybe heroin?) that can turn from so wonderful to so awful in three minutes. When he rests on me, I am whole … and everything makes sense. I drift back to sleep knowing I matter. Despite mattering, three minutes later my medulla oblongata wakes me, as I’m near asphyxiation. I need to get this 34lb sack of flesh off my chest or I’ll die — and he (I think/hope) would be scarred waking up on top of his dead dad. I might sell the idea to the Hallmark Channel. But I digress.
So now he’s up. His mom and dad sit in dopamine-filled anticipation as his senses light up and begin processing. Looking around, hair so disheveled it’s extraordinary, the spinning wheels of perception whirring, absorbing the new world the day may bring. He’s deciding if it’s a good day. Hey, there’s Dad, and he loves me, and I love him so much I’ll flop on him again, and lie still for 15 seconds radiating happiness. Then he pops up and informs us he’s headed downstairs to find his best friend, his brother.
Or — and this is the key to the dopa, as there seems to be no discernible pattern — he senses there’s something bad about today. In three seconds, the suspicion turns to certainty. Yes, definitely, the day ahead is a force of evil threatening all that’s good in the world, and his ferociously bad attitude is the key weapon to be deployed.
The spawn of Satan begins whining and picking fights posed as questions: “Do I have to go to soccer?” “Can I have gummy bears for breakfast?” The rest of the day turns into a hostage situation where I long for the days of Bing Crosby, when hitting your kids was not only acceptable, but good parenting. And then, out of nowhere … the terrorist in Iron Man pajamas sits next to me and begins rubbing my head and laughing at the way it feels, and asking me questions about my mom. “Did she look like you? Did you live in a big house?”
In addition to video games, my kids are developing their own dopamine loops, and it’s interesting to see them unfold. Last weekend my youngest came into our bedroom and took his place between his mom and dad. I noticed him clinging to a large spherical object and assumed it was a stuffed Angry Bird. I eased the object from my son’s hands and, in the dark, made out an “8” on the sphere. My son had a Magic 8 Ball and was now sleeping with it.
Later that morning, my Hallmark-Channel son showed up and decided we should ask the most important questions of the all-knowing M8B:
“Will dad ever get his hair back?” Answer: Outlook not so good (hard to explain how hilarious my eight-year-old found this).
“Will Mommy buy me FIFA 18?” Answer: Better not tell you now.
For three days my son walked around clinging to his M8B. Addicted to random rewards and feedback.
The unpredictability, immediate feedback, and variability of rewards, coupled with a genetic predisposition to fixate on your kids so the species continues, makes kids an addictive substance to their parents. I spend much of the week in NYC, away from them. By Thursday, I’m feeling antsy and depressed. Need my fix.
Food, sex, and kids. We’re wired to be addicted to things fundamental to the survival of the species. I trust my boys will recognize that their mom and dad did not offer the dopa hit of an addictive substance, but we offered sustenance. We are always here, predictable. We’re a sure thing, wired to love them no matter what, and present this love with less variance than any other relationship. Will my sons remember that, while not perfect, we were always there?
Life is so rich,