Posts Tagged ‘Addiction’

How harmful is ubiquitous pornograpy?

December 26, 2019

Pornography is as old, or almost as old, as human civilization.  But, thanks to the Internet, it is readily available to anyone in the USA and many other countries who has access to the Internet.

This is something new in the world.  Never before has pornography been so ubiquitous.  By pornography, I mean depiction of sex in a cruel or degrading light.

Scientific studies indicate that prolonged exposure to pornography re-wires certain centers of the brain, much as taking addictive drugs does.

I don’t find this hard to believe.  We know that the human brain changes depending on how it is used.  A famous study of London taxi drivers showed that that process of memorizing the city street grid in order to pass a licensing test resulted in the growth of extra neurons in the memory centers of their brains.

Pornography addiction, which is a something I never heard of until five or so years ago, is so widespread a concern that there are 12-step groups to help fight it.

Some experts say that many adolescent boys and girls are growing up with a distorted view of sex through exposure to pornography.

Erectile disfunction (ED) is an increasing problem among men.  Involuntary celibates, or “incels,” have always existed, but now they constitute an identity group.

There is no proof that Internet pornography, in and of itself, is a cause of either erectile disfunction or involuntary celibacy.  But there are reports of men find who find more pornography more arousing than flesh-and-blood women, and also less trouble than dealing with an actual person.

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Life is harder for young men today than it was when I came of age.  (I’m 83).  It is perfectly understandable that some of them should turn to pornography, drugs or alcohol for solace, even these are false solutions that make their problems worse.

For one thing, young men today face a more uncertain and unforgiving economy than I did.  There is a widespread attitude that lack of success in economic competition defines you as a contemptible loser.

There also is a widespread attitude that postponing sex and marriage, rather than being a rational response to circumstances, also defines you as a loser in the arena of sexual competition.

Young men also are up against a certain hostility to men and masculinity in our culture.  Even qualities such as stoicism and risk-taking that once were honored are considered “toxic masculinity.”

Then there is the sexual revolution, which holds out the promise of unlimited sexual gratification, and the feminist revolution, which requires men to be careful of what they do and say around women.  As a society, we haven’t yet figured out how to strike a balance between the two.

Not all young men experience loneliness, frustration and rejection, not all who do turn to drugs, alcohol or pornography as a response, and not everybody who finds solace in drugs, alcohol or pornography becomes an addict.  I don’t want to make overly sweeping generalizations.

I do think a stagnant economy, current cultural expectations and ubiquitous availability of pornography are bad ingredients that produce a poisonous mix, and there is nothing to stop it from getting worse.

I give Jordan Peterson a lot of credit for helping young men.  I don’t agree with him about everything, but he presents an an ideal of a healthy and even heroic masculinity in opposition to so much of what young men hear today.    His 12 Steps for Life is excellent advice

Of course women also experience loneliness, frustration and rejection, but the topic of this post is Internet pornography, and I don’t think that pornography is a big issue for women, except for its impact on the men in their lives.

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Pornography addiction is a kind of drug addiction

December 19, 2019

A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that Internet pornography is a true addiction, like heroin, alcohol or tobacco addiction.

It literally rewires the human brain.  The male human brain is hard-wired to respond to sexual novelty.  It processes Internet pornography as a constant access to new sexual partners engaging in new kinds of sexual activity.

Brutal and kinky is a more powerful stimulus that erotic and gentle, so that would be the bias of any Internet side that wants viewers to keep coming back.

My inclination is to err, if I must, on the side of protection of free speech.  I am suspicious of any form of censorship.  But I have to reconsider after reading an eye-opening article yesterday by a writer named Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry who surveyed the scientific literature on pornography addiction.

Porn is a sexual stimulus, but it is not sex.  Notoriously, heroin addicts eventually lose interest in sex: this is because their brains are rewired so that their sex reward system is reprogrammed to seek out heroin rather than sex.  

In the same way, as we consume more and more porn, which we must since it is addictive and we need more to get the same kick, our brain is rewired so that what triggers the reward system that is supposed to be linked to sex is no longer linked to sex—to a human in the flesh, to touching, to kissing, to caressing—but to porn.

Which is why we are witnessing a phenomenon which, as best as anyone can tell, is totally unprecedented in all of human history: an epidemic of chronic erectile dysfunction (ED) among men under 40.

Pornography, including sado-masochistic pornography, has always been with us.  It is as old as civilization.  But never before has pornography been so universally available.  A 12-year-old boy with a Smartphone has more access to sexual stimulation than the most decadent Roman emperor, Turkish sultan or 1970s rock star.  I’m glad I’m not a parent today.

As Gobry admits, we don’t have conclusive evidence of the effects on society of universal availability of hard-core pornography.

… What we do know is that large numbers of our civilization are hooked on a drug that has profound effects on the brain, which we mostly don’t understand, except that everything we understand is negative and alarming.

And we are just ten years into the process.  If we don’t act, pretty soon the next generation will be a generation that largely got hooked on this brain-eating drug as children, whose brains are uniquely vulnerable. It seems perfectly reasonable and consistent with the evidence as we have it to be deeply alarmed.

Indeed, what seems supremely irrational is our bizarre complacency about something which, at some level, we all know to be happening.

I am in favor of sexual freedom.  Do whatever you like with whatever consenting adult you like in your own space.  This is more than a question of individual behavior.  It is a question of what kind of society we want to make.

LINK

A Science-Based Case for Ending the Porn Epidemic by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry for American Greatness.  Print-Friendly Version.

Jaron Lanier on addictive social media

September 21, 2018

View at Medium.com

These are notes for a presentation to the drop-in discussion group at First Universalist Church of Rochester, 150 S. Clinton Ave., Rochester, N.Y. at 9:15 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 23.

Free market capitalism + technological change = addictiveness.

Free market capitalism + technological change + artificial intelligence + behavioral psychology + advertising-based social media = maximum addictiveness.

In 2010, a venture capitalist named Paul Graham wrote an essay entitled “The Acceleration of Addictiveness.”  He said that in a free market, the most addictive products would be the most successful, and technological progress would accelerate addictiveness.

He didn’t have a good answer for this, because he didn’t want to give up the benefits of either the free market or technology, except for individuals to understand this process and shield themselves from it.

This has happened in social media. Addiction is a business model.  Research centers, such as the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Laboratory, perfected ways to use technology to modify behavior. Companies use behavioral psychology—positive and negative reinforcement—to make video games and social networks compulsive. 

Jaron Lanier in Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now explains that Internet addiction is a real thing.  It is by design.

A vast amount of data is collected about you, moment to moment, including your facial expressions, the way your body moves, who you know, what you read, where you goes, what you eat, and your likely susceptibility to assorted attempts at persuasion.  This data is then used by algorithms to create feeds of stimuli – both paid ads and unpaid posts – that are designed to boost your “engagement” and increase the effectiveness of “advertisements.”  (The honest terms would be “addiction” and “behavior modification stimuli.” Indeed, Facebook executives have written that they deliberately incorporated addictive techniques into their service.) 

Advertising was previously a mostly one-way street; the advertiser sent forth the ad and hoped for the best.  But now you are closely monitored to measure the effect of what is called an ad so that a personalized stream of stimuli can be incrementally adjusted until the person’s behavior is finally altered.  Most of you are now living in automated virtual Skinner Boxes.

Everyone is susceptible of being influenced on the biochemical level by positive and negative stimuli.

On social media, positive stimuli conveyed might include being retweeted, friended, or made momentarily viral.  Negative stimuli include the familiar occurrences of being made to feel unappreciated, unnoticed, or ridiculed.  Unfortunately, positive and negative online stimuli are pitted against each other in an unfair fight. 

Positive and negative emotions have comparable ultimate power over us, but they exhibit crucially different timing.  Positive emotions typically take longer to build and can be lost quickly, while negative ones can come on faster and dissipate more slowly.  It takes longer to build trust than to lose it.  One can become scared or angry quickly, but it takes longer for the feelings to fade. 

Those who use social media to exert influence – whether human or algorithm – are a little like high frequency traders, constantly watching results and adjusting.  The feedback loop is tight and fast. 

The sour and lousy consequence, which no one foresaw, is that the negative emotions are the most often emphasized, because positive ones take too long to show up in the feedback loop that influences how paying customers and dark actors use these services to manipulate ordinary users and society.

Whatever divisions exist in society are likely to be widened by social media.  The Internet can be a means of bringing people together, but anger, paranoia, xenophobia and conspiracy theories are more engaging.

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Addiction as a successful business model

August 2, 2018

The problem is not just pornography.   Promoting addictiveness is a widespread business model.

A venture capitalist named Paul Graham, writing in 2010, said it is the nature of free market capitalism to make products addictive.

He wasn’t speaking of pornography in particular, but of everything from tobacco to gambling to compulsive viewing of the Internet.

The logic of the marketplace is that the person who makes the most addictive product wins the largest market share.

More recent Jaron Lanier, a famous virtual reality pioneer, wrote a book giving 10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, which is about addictive social media companies.  The business model for companies such as Facebook is behavior modification, he wrote; they cannot give that model up and stay in business.

Their artificial intelligence systems use personal information, social science information and psychology to create “engagement” — which laymen would call “addiction” — by means of advertising and propaganda.  The systems are constantly at work to increase the power of their algorithms.

Stanford University has a Persuasive Technology Laboratory, which learns how to design interactive technology to alter human thoughts and behavior in the interests of advertisers and politicians, not the individuals targeted.

Richard Freed wrote about B.J. Fogg, the head of the laboratory, and how psychological research is used not to liberate people from addictive and compulsive behavior, but the opposite.

Click to enlarge

The “Fogg Behavior Model” is a well-tested method to change behavior and, in its simplified form, involves three primary factors: motivation, ability, and triggers.

Describing how his formula is effective at getting people to use a social network, the psychologist says in an academic paper that a key motivator is users’ desire for “social acceptance,” although he says an even more powerful motivator is the desire “to avoid being socially rejected.”

Regarding ability, Fogg suggests that digital products should be made so that users don’t have to “think hard.”  Hence, social networks are designed for ease of use.

Finally, Fogg says that potential users need to be triggered to use a site.  This is accomplished by a myriad of digital tricks, including the sending of incessant notifications urging users to view friends’ pictures, telling them they are missing out while not on the social network, or suggesting that they check — yet again — to see if anyone liked their post or photo.

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‘The opposite of addiction is connection’

July 21, 2015

Hat tip to Andrew Tobias.

A controversial British journalist named Johann Hari has written a book, Chasing the Scream, (which I haven’t read) , arguing that drug addiction is not caused by the body’s response to the drugs themselves.

He said addiction is caused by people being so disconnected from society and so lacking in life’s normal satisfactions that the pleasure of taking drugs is life’s best alternatives.

Hari based his conclusion on two experiments.  One involved rats.  The other involved the people of Portugal.

Experimenters in the 1950s and 1960s found that caged rats, when offered the option of self-administering heroin, would take the heroin in preference to food and water.

But another scientist, Bruce Alexander, noted that rats are social, active and sexual creatures.  A rat in a cage is equivalent to a human being in solitary confinement.  He wondered what normal rats would do if exposed to heroin.

Starting in 1977, he created a “rat park”—a kind of paradise for rats—in which there was plenty of cheese, and brightly-colored objects, tunnels to hide in, plus other rats to hang out with, including sexy members of the opposite sex.

These rats had no interest in morphine-laced water, even when mixed with sugar to make it more attractive.

Furthermore rats that had been turned into heroin addicts in cages lost interest in drugs when released into the rat park.

Portugal’s experiment began in 2001.  The country had a serious drug addiction problem, and arresting and punishing drug addicts was as ineffective there as it was elsewhere.

So the government tried a different approach.  They reduced the penalty for possession of small amounts of illegal drugs—a supply of less than 10 days—to a minor offense, equivalent to a traffic ticket.

But instead of just leaving it at that, the Portuguese government put the resources that formally went into drug enforcement to helping drug addicts lead a normal life—for example, by subsidizing salaries so they could get jobs.

There is something about this that doesn’t sit quite well with me.  Why should an addict get help from the government that is not available to someone who keeps free of addiction?  It is like Jesus’s parable of the Prodigal Son.  Why should the son who goes away and wastes his life be treated better than the faithful son who stayed at home and did his duty?

But this is not rational thinking.  The fact is that the Portuguese solution worked.  Drug addiction didn’t vanish, but Portugal has one of the lowest addiction rates in Europe.   Mercy, forgiveness and human kindness work (in this case) better than a narrow idea of justice.

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The secret of addiction

April 12, 2015

addictionSource: backonpoint123.

In other words, if you have a habit you’re ashamed to let people know about, it’s almost certainly an addiction.

Could my coffee addiction be good for me?

October 18, 2014
caffeinechart

Double click to enlarge.

I started drinking coffee as a college student and, ever since then, I have been heavily addicted to caffeine.

I would stay up late at night studying and working on the college newspaper, but, being young and foolish, I took pride in being caffeinated and being able to go without sleep.

During my 40 years working on newspapers, I drank coffee throughout the day to stay alert.   After a couple of hours at my desk, I began to get sleepy and sluggish if I couldn’t get a cup of coffee out of the vending machine.  Having drunk all that coffee, I didn’t feel sleepy in the morning, and often stayed up until nearly midnight or beyond midnight.  And then, of course, I needed more coffee in the morning to become fully alert.

My nightmare of being shipwrecked or surviving an airplane crash in wilderness is that I would not be able to function without a cup of coffee.

When I retired, one of my goals was to kick the caffeine habit.  I cut back to one cup of coffee a day, but, without that one cup, I couldn’t function in the morning.  Now I drink two or three cups a day.

The other day I read an article about a study by a team at the Harvard School of Public Health that concluded that coffee is good for you, and that habitual coffee drinkers are a little bit more mentally alert than they would be otherwise.  Furthermore there are genetic differences among people in their need and tolerance for coffee, and most people drink the amount of coffee that is good for them.

Can this be right?  Can something to which you are addicted be good for you?

LINK

 Drinking Coffee, For Your Health by Andrew Gambone for The Atlantic.

If marijuana is legalized, what then?

February 3, 2014

I’m opposed to drug prohibition for the same reason that I’m opposed to alcohol prohibition, gun prohibition or any other law that can’t be enforced.  The social cost of increased addiction if the law is changed is less than the social cost of mass incarceration of young black men and of the drug wars being fought in Mexico, Colombia and other countries.

Still, I wonder whether the big tobacco companies will start to mass-market marijuana products the way they market cigarettes, and tweak THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, to make it more addictive, the way they did nicotine?  They would not be the only companies to promote an additive drug.

The engineering of junk food addiction

April 3, 2013

We human beings are conditioned through natural selection to desire sugar, salt and fat.   They were scarce for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who ate them every chance they got.  So it is no wonder that we like sweet, salty and greasy junk foods, and that food processors and fast-food restaurants make a lot of money selling them.  Since we Americans are no longer hunter-gatherers, our craving for junk food has many of us unhealthy and obese.

Recently a New York Times reporter named Michael Mann discovered there is more going on than that.  He found, through interviews and a search of court documents, that food processors are able to engineer their products to contain the exact amount of sugar, salt and fat that will maximize the human appetite for more—much as the tobacco companies were able to engineer nicotine to contain the exact amount that would maximize the craving for more cigarettes and cigars.

This is a drawback of competition and free enterprise.  So long as corporate profits depend on producing excellent goods and services at a reasonable price, the free market works for the benefit of the public in a way that no planned system could.  But when profits are increased by doing something that is harmful, any company that holds bag risks falling behind and being crowded out.

We as individuals have the power to refrain from addiction to an unhealthy diet.  I am glad the Food and Drug Administration requires packaged foods to be labeled as to their fat content, and their ingredients.  I have only become concerned about a healthy diet fairly late in life, but I now look carefully at what I buy.  I don’t know what I would do without this information.

Click on The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food for Michael Mann’s article in the New York Times Magazine.

Click on How the government subsidizes obesity for an earlier post of mine on how the federal government’s grain subsidies make junk food cheaper than healthy food.

Click on The Acceleration of Addictiveness for an article by venture capitalist Paul Graham on the synergy between addictiveness and free enterprise.

I depend on an addictive drug

September 24, 2012

Since my late teenage years, I’ve been addicted to a drug.  I had to take it several times a day during my working years in order to function normally, and even in retirement, I need to take it at least once a day.  I see that a blogger named Jennifer Abel has the same dependency.

I’m trying to kick a drug addiction.  The monkey on my back has sunk its sharp claws deep into me in a strangled mixed metaphor no self-respecting English-major professional like me would commit to print, were her judgment not clouded by the aforementioned addiction.  Really strong, choice Colombian product — it’s become a crutch rather than a pick-me-up but I’m determined to break that crutch and my dependence on caffeine and walk on my own two legs again, by Zod. I’m feeling okay.  Yeah, I think I can do this OH MY GOD THE HALLUCINATIONS ARE STARTING THERE’S BUGS CRAWLING EVERYWHERE … no, wait, that’s not a hallucination.  That’s just me living in The South nowadays.  Damned bugs.  Screw this; I’m making some coffee.

So here I am, hooked on a strong Columbian intoxicant and suffering actual medical withdrawal symptoms when I try not-using it.  Doesn’t matter how many hours of quality sleep I get of a night; I still won’t feel well-rested until I drink that first cup of coffee.  So much for use in moderation.  The government ought to ban this poison.  You know what would really help me improve my life via ending my coffee dependence?  An armed SWAT team working in conjunction with the DEA, breaking into my house, demolishing everything within it and hauling me off to spend several years in prison. … …

It’s a good thing I picked the right thing to be addicted to.   If I were addicted to something less socially acceptable, I might have done serious prison time in my life, especially if I had not been born white and middle-class.

Click on Save Me, Uncle Sam! I’ve Lost Control for Jennifer Abel’s post on her Ravings of a Feral Genius web log.