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What do health and productivity optimization experts like Dr. Andrew Huberman, “dopamine addiction” experts like Dr. Anna Lembke, strict, clean-eating diets, personal finance experts, and welfare reform all have in common? Unreasonably high standards, rigidity, and traditionalism are common themes, but the narrative around them, and the way they are influencing us to view systemic problems affecting others is perhaps their most problematic aspect.
Terms like “instant gratification” and “dopamine addiction” that came from health and productivity optimization theories, have popped up in spaces ranging from fitness to finance to homelessness in order to blame the victims of late-stage capitalism for their own distress. Among the most spurious claims was made by Jordan Peterson, who says that people suffer with issues like depression because they are not “optimally deprived.” Productivity optimization ideas are creating self-doubt on levels similar to conservative religious ideologies, with people even questioning themselves over decisions as minor and banal as whether or not they are allowed to listen to music or watch TV at all. This is because people are afraid that imperfect practice of protocols, whether it be not completely depriving themselves of all spending in the finance realm, or not doing only productive things in the productivity space, will result in economic demise, just as the religious ideas will make people afraid of spiritual demise. This leads to people not only blaming themselves for their own economic hardship, but in turn blaming the supposed “bad habits” of others for their failures, which impedes solidarity. As I have explained in prior episodes, the newest means of enforcement of late stage capitalism is us enforcing its ideals on others and that is precisely how these overly strict self-help ideas are being used. Overall, these ideas are serving to promote right-wing ideologies, obfuscate systemic problems, and distract the public from seeking social change.
Self-help ideas can be a positive influence and some of these practices and protocols can substantially help people, but they need to be implemented in a way that is non-judgmental, inclusive, and understands systemic problems. Here, I start to discuss a path forward for a progressive and inclusive approach to self-help.
(Always rough, may contain errors.)
They don’t want you to be able to trust yourself when you know there is something wrong.
They blame you for everything, you cannot do anything right, so why listen to what you think? Then you only listen to what they think.
Health optimization/dopamine addiction narratives:
People constantly questioning themselves about normal things like listening to music and watching TV, just like I’ve seen in strict religious environments.
Dopamine addiction is now being tied to almost everything
Because of the influence of these ideas in the San Francisco tech community, their terminology is even leaking into the way they discuss homelessness.
Is instant gratification really the reason why people suffer? NO!
It Is Not Dopamine Addiction, It Is Futility Aversion.
Based on their experience of working hard and never seeing the fruit of their labor, people rightly do not believe that working harder and harder will yield any different or better results.
Jess’ video on religious asceticism and dopamine narratives: https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZT82FkkNt/
Jess’ website is sluggish.substack.com
All far-right ideologies keep you in a loop that keeps you from seeing the true systemic problems.
People who are in bad situations already feel ashamed enough!
People in bad situations are a lot smarter than the ivory tower gives them credit for.
Even now fitness is moving away from more inclusive models like IIFYM to strict diets to fix so-called “dopamine addiction.”
The term “processed food” is super ambiguous
Personal finance – Dave Ramsey and Caleb Hammer:
Hammer commenters calling people immature, associating immaturity with people in hardship wanting better conditions and to be treated better
Telling people to only work and sleep, but also meal prep everything
The ironic importance of processed food for productivity (even as health optimization people say it’s terrible for productivity) and how we subsidize food impacts what food is available – Frenchy’s video on this: https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZT82FNecC/
Irony of strict budgeting to survive in capitalism is that the capitalist system depends on you to spend. Look at the RTO narrative.
Making you spend more and keeping you less financially healthy to “save downtowns.”
They don’t want you using your power, withholding your labor, they want you subservient
The common threat is that they don’t want you to know your own power
Finance experts will claim that you only need to severely deprive yourself and work extremely long hours for a few years to pay off your debt, that it’s only temporary, but claiming the suffering is temporary is totally false for most people.
Always feeling like you need to do more can ironically be a source of so-called distraction.
Avoiding “instant gratification” aka poor people don’t deserve to be happy
Trying to do everything to become a so-called better person and climb out of poverty through optimization and frugality will lead to severe burnout.
No one understands cognitive burden/load and workload capacity, and that there is substantial individual variation. You cannot work every moment you are awake. A free hour is not a free hour to do any specific thing there are certain times for someone can be awake, but incapable of doing work.
Yes, there may be some “super” people who can do all of those things at the same time, but that’s not most people.
Welfare reform is based around treating poor people as undeserving, forcing them into bad low wage jobs, even when they are qualified for better, and motivational rhetoric, blaming them for their own hardship.
Uncertain Hour podcast from NPR on welfare reform: https://www.marketplace.org/shows/the-uncertain-hour/season-6-the-welfare-to-work-industrial-complex/
They want us to enforce these norms on each other so we blame each other, and those more marginalized among us for their problems. May not be a coincidence this stuff is regaining popularity with a recession coming.
The Economic Police State episode explains this tactic of capitalism getting us to do the bidding of the wealthy against each other in further depth and is very helpful in understanding this concept: https://podcast.greysonpeltier.com/wp/2023/07/01/the-economic-police-state-is-coming-for-the-working-class-in-little-and-big-ways/
The solution is not to dismiss these ideas of improvement, but to get these concepts into conversation with the ideas of marginalized communities and systemic change
These ideas in Health, Fitness, Finance, and Productivity can be very helpful to many people if we can find ways to adapt them and use them in an inclusive way.
The 5 Keys to creating a more Progressive or Leftist Form of Self-Help: Positive, Inclusive, Empowering, Systemic, Supported
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