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At the root of our “being,” just below consciousness and mostly hidden from us, pre-spoken emotions and urges guide our behaviors. As individuals we share many if not most of these, though where we fall on any one scale may be different from one to another.

You may have one glass of wine and be content, but your brother’s seven are not nearly enough.

You may be happy to sit quietly with a book while your sister must go out to a movie to allay a slight anxiety at not being “with people.” Or you may stay home because of a slight anxiety of being out in a crowd.

You may be still married after decades to your high school sweetheart, while a brother’s series of broken relationships paint a picture of him, not his partners.

The emotions and responses to these situations, some learned and some epigenetically triggered, lie on wiring that evolved over the millennia to promote the success of various strands of our DNA. But evolution is complicated, and responses harmful to the individual may be beneficial to the family, the band, the tribe, or society over time.

Addictions do not create something new. They operate on mechanisms that evolved to guide our behavior: dopamine and endorphin splashes in our brain that once required discovery of a full berry bush, or the sharing of spoils of the hunt, or the grooming of a mate or family member, can now be triggered by the point of a needle, flick of flame to nicotine or crack, the flicker of a screen filled with Facebook.

Our responses are not completely our “own.” They precede thought and word, lie at deeper levels of behavior where we are marionettes, our strings the promise of reward. We alter this only when we are quiet, aware, detached, intentional.

Acquire and Defend

Squirrels and rabbits below my treehouse fill a stash and then guard it. Sparrows chase hawks lurking near their nest. Observng my own bio-psychology, I feel different emotions attached to “gathering” and “protecting.”

Gathering gives a rush of pleasure. Senses are heightened, the “looking for and finding” sends a little endorphin pulse. Future behavior wants to replicate that little stroke.

Protecting follows a pulse of fear. Potential loss flairs as a form of anger, behavior aggressive. Successful protecting  may not reenforce this behavior, the fear impulse seems more primal. It takes a while to get over loss of love, wealth, or right to bear arms.

Science indicates we value something we are trying to protect twice as much as we value the same thing if we are trying to gather it.  See Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” Psychologists talk of “systems” of behavior.

These systems may originate in various regions of the brain, but are not like the pipes of a power plant. They are organizations of input and response, similar to what we used to consider “instinct,” though that implied not being changeable.

Though these systems seem to be inherited, so is our ability for language, and our ability to use words and images to trigger fear or pleasure nearly as real as the actual loss or gain.