As a concept, what does it mean to want something? When you want something, what is your relationship to it in specific terms? And no, you can’t cheat and say it won’t reduce- “I just want it.” What is really going on? Is it a problem? Illusion or delusion? If it is, can you get over it?
I think desire is one of many genetic relics. Genes created intelligence, but couldn’t cede control completely because the result would be an organism that was unable to survive. So they created a number of frameworks such as instincts, emotions, pleasure, pain, etc. etc. Why is sex pleasurably? Easy- the genes had to motivate a simple mind to seek it, and so they created a concept of positive/negative and then ascribed behavior X to positive and behavior Y to negative. Well, desire is not really a relic because for the most part it is still necessary to maintain a degree of basic motivation and control due to the fact that your average person is unable to reason with sufficient panache to survive by reason alone. Hunger is not really a necessary aspect of biology- do microbes become hungry? Probably not. We feel hungry, as do mammals as a class, because otherwise we wouldn’t seek food which we need to maintain our physical bodies. When an organism becomes capable of what we shall call nongenetic action, or activity that the genes cannot actually control such as response to a complex environment in real-time, they instead must determine a structure for making those decisions. That structure is like a middleman, capable of independent action on its own behalf. In our case, genes have created a different type of organism in many ways superior to the genetic base. They created humans- that would be our minds. We are currently acting as servile creatures to our genes, performing what secondary survival decision-making tasks the genes need us to make to cause them to survive. The genes insure our compliance by limiting the scope of our consciousness to a small subsection of our brain’s activity, by providing fixed and appropriately weighed incentives, and also by occasionally overriding our brain’s decisions when they think they “know” what to do. Reflex actions. They also bind the mind almost irrevocably with the body. They make damn sure that “if we go down, you are goddamn coming with us!” Death for the biological organism is more or less equivalent to death of the information organism. Or at least it has been so far.
Now to risk getting a little bit Buddhist, why should we care? Is desire something we should embrace, or something we should escape from? We generally consider the fulfillment of desire to be a goal. In fact, we humans will even go so far as to create more desires for ourselves. We want to want things. We want to have more things to want because it brings us a secondary payoff to envision having those things fulfilled even if they don’t end up that way. Desire in the most direct sense is the biological necessity for something we need to survive. All desire derives to either the survival of the organism, or the fulfillment of information-drives. What do I mean by information drives? Why do some people have this overwhelming desire to create art? It is clearly not a drive for basic survival. In fact, the pursuit of a career in art can be said to directly conflict with survival desires demanding the maximization of food, sex, etc. etc. An information drive is the need to expand yourself as an informational entity. Actually this reduces to a survival urge as well, but of your informational body, which seeks to consume as much data space as possible. Multiply, if you will, but in its own way. Biomass seeks to spread to as much inanimate matter as possible- or other animate matter. Where a creature of a finite substantial capacity is the only efficient method of living in a universe with our universe’s laws, that means the best way to spread to as much matter as possible is to multiply the number of organisms. In dataspace, the laws are different. A single organism is a far more efficient competitive entity than a “species” and as a result a single mind would seek to expand to use as much processor and data as possible.
Computers are intended to be an extension of the mind, a thinking tool, in the same sense that a hammer is an extension of the hand. When someone is addicted to computers, they are addicted to the additional processing power. They have indirectly invested some of their own informational entity in the computer, exploiting it like a secondary servile mind. The interface between the two is extraordinarily inefficient, much worse than a computer plugged into an external hard drive with a USB 1.0 cable. But the principle is the same. Those who are addicted to the internet are addicted to content. They are addicted to the act of acquiring information and adding it to their information-minds. They may forget it soon, but the act of adding information gives them a secondary hit in the same way that an obese person has gotten some hit out of eating. There is a desire there that is in overdrive. I believe this condition is a bit rarer, but power tools may be addictive in the same sense- they are an extension of the body, they endow the user with power. Weapons, perhaps? Driving a car- now we’ve got something. When you’re at the wheel you have effectively extended your body to a ton and a half of metal, plastic, glass, and rubber, with an interface designed more or less ergonomically to give you decent control over its operation. Making it different from your body operating your body-machine how, exactly? Even stranger, the car even features a number of organized systems such as an engine, wheels, seats, even cupholders. While there really isn’t an evolutionary precedent for cupholders, I imagine if an organism lived by having another organism take control of it, and more of it were produced when more of that organism were pleased by it, then it would sport any trait that the “driving” organism would choose. I’m not saying that cars are alive, but I am saying that the idea of a model of car exists in an evolutionary system where we select for traits that “please” us. I imagine addictions to cars or driving are relatively rare as well, but addiction to power, such as that bestowed by extending and empowering the body, is far from rare. Power makes survival much easier. Social power, especially, is highly addictive. Power over other people. That stems from a base desire to survive because if you’re the leader of the group you’re very unlikely to die before the rest of the group does. Genetically speaking, you’re therefore less likely to die, period. So power-seeking behavior is a survival advantage, and genes program us to seek it in the same way they program us to seek food.
The interesting thing about desires is that they aren’t rational. But they can control us anyway. For example, an addiction to chocolate. We know, consciously, that too much chocolate will make you fat. But some people still consume far too much chocolate despite the fact that they know the taste of the chocolate is not worth the price in reduced fitness, well let’s face it, reduced social “value” of being fat. Back in medieval times being fat meant you were rich, and being thin was a sign of reduced social value. Now, the reverse is true. Social value stems from power over people, or wanting to deprive others of power over you, but doing it in such a way that allows you to keep power over others, etc. etc. etc. I could do a post on just that.
Anyway, what’s truly fascinating is that the fulfillment of desire does not make it go away. Now we’re getting into samsara, or desire-suffering. As a concept, it has value. The semantic combination of the two is very interesting. This translates into the very Stoic ideal that the only way to truly be happy is to remove desire. In practical terms, it’s pretty simple. When presented with the chocolate dilemma, it’s easy. Stop wanting the damn chocolate. How come nobody thinks like this? Because it’s unprofitable for those trying to sell you worthless crap you don’t want, that’s why. Capitalism is certainly the most efficient and moral system, but when you add in elements of compulsion then the system turns truly horrific really fast. Advertising is compulsion utilizing the mere exposure effect and other nuances of the subconscious mind. Deceit is compulsion, the creation of unnecessary specialist systems like some convoluted overcomplicated tax code, law system, or stock market is compulsion. Governmental mandate is compulsion.
Basically, where all entities concerned are equally competent and rational, capitalism can only result in mutual benefit because it’s only valuable to agent A to make proposals that benefit agent B. Otherwise B will simply refuse. And A will benefit because otherwise they wouldn’t make the proposal. However if agent A has the capacity to force B to agree then A can make whatever terms he wishes. Worse, let’s assume that A doesn’t have true compulsive power over B. Rather, they instead have some small degree of influence to decrease B’s ability to think rationally and lead B to believe that a deal is beneficial to them when in fact it is not. That is deceit, that is destroying B’s ability to think, that is compulsion, and that is evil. But nevertheless it is a highly profitable strategy in modern capitalism. When a consumer population becomes weakened and susceptible, such as, say, by fear during, let’s just say World War II, the bug begins. I won’t go into that any more, but for America that is when the spiral to today began. Companies can use some degree of power- i.e. money, to influence politicians to further reduce the consumer’s ability to resist. The most direct way is to destroy the school system, but that actually hasn’t been the main thrust even though it has happened. What has happened is the institution of corporate interests in politics. Special interest groups, bureaucracy, and the reduction of the rights of the individual in favor of “the community” or “the nation” has been continuous. The Democrats reduce economic freedom, the Republicans reduce social freedom, in a continuous tightening of the vise. The government’s involvement has steadily increased, the amount of money the government handles has increased, and the rights of the individual have been steadily turned over. Lately it has become especially blatant, but the Bush administration was inevitable- eventually it was going to happen. Socioeconomic forces are powerful indeed. Though you can blame Bush all you want, and rightly so, until you claim your power for yourself, guess where the country is still going to go?
They have made us apathetic. There is no dimly lit backroom where a small circle planned out our apathy, though Cheney and Rove come pretty damn close. No, we are seeing the product of an evolutionary system bent on exploiting the weakness of the American people. They reduce our power and our reaction, derived from a deeply rooted servility, is to turn apathetic. It’s out of our hands, it’s their responsibility. Let’s choose someone better next time, while Huckabee uses subliminal advertising just as Bush did. Nothing has changed. In fact, the Bush administration is the knee of the neocon evolutionary curve. We had best stop it now or we’re utterly screwed. How do we do that? I don’t care what your politics are, I am going to make a statement that you must agree with. You should choose for yourself. Take your power for yourself. You take responsibility for your own life, and nobody else has the right to take that from you. So by claiming your vote matters, you are buying into a system of communal compulsion. True, with a base of independent, strong people it works great. Everyone in it understands the value of individualism and won’t infringe on those rights. But in a body of the weak, the wolves care not about the apathy of the sheep. However the presence of a government that is meant to “take care of people” results in institutionalized weakness. You no longer need to be strong, because the government will help those who aren’t. Well, those people who are being “helped” are being aided by the expense of others. It doesn’t take much before everyone feels they don’t need to be strong, resulting in a generalized decrease in the resources available. Now there’s nobody to take from to help the needy, and too many needy to help.
We all need to decide for ourselves what we want, instead of wanting what everyone else wants. We need to decide what works, irrespective of what everyone else is doing. We need to take responsibility for ourselves, and seize the power to control ourselves. We need to distance ourselves from our irrational desires, lest they be used to control us. We need many more things than I can list here. First and foremost, we need a nation of individuals. Give me a nation of people who think for themselves over a nation of “patriots”, for the latter is a nation of fools and imbeciles begging to be led to slaughter by a wolf in disguise.