06 June 2017

Do you think of yourself as a self-inflicted masochist? I doubt it. Yet, I bet you are quite often acting as a such. Give me a few minutes and I’ll find a few things that hurt you, but you keep on doing. You might be drinking alcohol or caffeine, or taking other drugs, mindlessly shopping, getting really stressed about things you can’t change, or smearing hot sauce all over your take-out food which you don’t like.

We all do such things. But they are not natural. Have you heard of a teenager who, when they first tried alcohol liked the taste? Nope. That’s because it is an acquired taste. It actually tastes bad, but our minds play tricks on us and convince us over time that it is a precursor to fun times, and we keep on having it.

It’s quite easy to get addicted to such masochistic habits. Take Sriracha, or other hot sauces for example. Even if you claim that alcohol might have some delayed pleasure, hot sauce does not. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chilli peppers, just burns our mouths and cause pain. Yet, people use it all the time.

It’s an acquired taste. It might only give pain, but that pain is able, even for a moment, to disconnect you the rest of your life, and the other unhappy things in it. That’s why. It’s not the amount of pain, it’s the variety in pain. A little bit of variety in pain makes it easier to bear. So our minds learn to associate that chilli with feeling better, but after a while it doesn’t actually help us feel better. It just becomes a normalized part of our other pain.

That’s how we get tricked into acquiring new tastes. We experience some benefit, and get addicted. But then the benefit goes away, and the addiction remains. We are so fucking gullible.

Of course, society doesn’t mind our gullibility. Why should it. As others take advantage of our naivete, they get to profit. That drives society and keeps money around. Advertising and promotion play a large role in planting those new acquired tastes in our minds, and it’s just so easy. Have you ever seen an advertisement of a tasty sandwitch on the TV, or nice picture of Tiramisu in the restaurant menu and thought “Dang, I could take a bite of this now, even though I’m full”. Then you know what I’m talking about.

Once we acquire a taste, it is harder to not act as a baloon, swayed easily by the lightest of winds. If your willpower and self-confidence are lighter than air, then you become a pawn to the rest of society. The rest of society will use you for their own benefit, and it’s all your fault. Because you’re the baloon.

The opposite of a baloon is the air-bender. A good air-bender will shape their environment in a way that doesn’t push them in an unwanted direction. That can get them protected from society’s craze, but could also get them isolated in the long run. A really powerful air-bender will be able to shift the direction of society, and cause a wind of change.

One short post per week, discussing actionable mental models. Join a community of readers, who receive these posts over email.