My brain made me do it

Heather rants about addiction inflation. She seems to fear the trend towards attributing behavior to the phenotype.

First, I want to defend the labeling of foods as addictive. There isn’t a magic distinction between “positive addiction” which seeks stimulation of pleasure centers and “negative addition” in avoidance of pain. The brain gets balanced at a certain level of comfort, so removing a pleasure is a form of pain. Heroin makes you so comfortable the brain acclimates to that new level, so doing without it now brings you “down” and causes discomfort. Good food, nicotine, sex, the endorphins released by exercise they all “addict” us via similar mechanisms, to a lesser degree. The dangerous substances are the ones that “short circuit” and directly stimulate pleasure centers.

So, sure, any comfort food is “phyisically” addicting, and a few might even qualify as dangerous short circuiters.

I welcome research like this, because “everything good is addicting” is trojan horse fuel to the enemies of personal responsibility. In their quest to blame history (of nature or nurturing) for present behavior, they are stepping onto a slippery slope.

As brain-powered organisms, every choice we make has its roots in the physical.

Every gene we’re born with and every experience we have has an effect on who we are. Our body, as an adaptable phenotype, contains the physical manifestation of us: the choices we have made, the consequences we experienced, and our current “wiring” for making the next choice.

As we accept this (even if initially in pursuit of a devil to account for our actions), blaming the environment or the past for today’s choices subsides to reductio ad absurdum. How valid will the defense “I did it because of my environment and genes” seem when conventional wisdom understands that you do everything because of your environment or genes, albeit indirectly? Anyone who says “I’m fat because I’m addicted to chocolate” is looking for something else to blame for their actions, and has chosen their own brain as scapegoat. Newsflash: you are your brain; your brain is you.

So, you’re addicted to chocolate. It makes you feel good. That doesn’t mean you get any sympathy for choosing to eat chocolate all day rather than going for a walk, then bemoaning that you don’t fit in your jeans.

I posted this in April 2004 during week 1573.

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