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Friday, March 9, 2012

A Mind Wired for Pleasure

As the previous posts explain, human perceptions of pleasure and pain, desire and avoidance, pulling and pushing, are at the core of the human will.  Our will derives from our perceptions of the world and our reactions to it.

Good and evil are higher values that only are really understood as a child develops.  Until the mind is better formed and thoughts stretch out into the abstract, the person knows only what he wants and what he wants to avoid.

The Fathers of the Church speak of this, which translators have turning into the rather fun terms of 'appetitive' and 'irascible' aspects of the human will.  Yes, I had to get a dictionary to figure out what was meant by 'irascible' (, and then there's  Think of these two terms as 'pushing' and 'pulling,' and you will get the general idea.

Our minds are designed for the appetite for pleasure, and will use its own irascible avoidance to move away from what is not pleasurable.  Children will unashamedly plunge head-first into delicious food.  When a child receives food from a bowl it does not like, it will often strike the bowl in anger.  There you have a simple demonstration.

These aspects of our will, one causing us to run after something desirable and the other to run away from something unwanted are at the core of our daily decision-making.  It is unavoidable for mankind to not seek after what is 'pleasurable.'

Our problem is that our minds can deceive us in telling us what is pleasurable or not.  When we are young, we can receive exquisite pleasure from cartoons that now only bore us or, worse yet, are agonizingly insipid.  We remember when teenage banter was greatly entertaining, yet as we age it seems all the more ignorant and foolish.

The difference is context.  As we grow up, our context is that we learn more about what is really 'good' and 'evil' and we integrate this knowledge into these elementary drives of desire and avoidance ('appetitive' and 'irascible' aspects for you amateur theologians screaming at your computer screens for me to keep my terminology in line with the officially-recognized translations of the Fathers).

And, because this association is learned for the most part (though I have argued elsewhere that the general nature of man is to choose good, but this does not always happen and man has the ability to choose evil in the face of a threat), it is susceptible to distortion.  Perception is powerful, but it can be impermanent.  Context, such as present circumstances and long-term experiences, can alter it.

What we must do is bring our desire/avoidance expectations in line with what is good/evil in reality.  God has provided these two 'direction' for our will for a specific purpose: that we might learn, deliberate, and freely choose what is good. This choice of what is good is even more profound: we did not choose to be born, but we are free to choose whether to eternally accept this life or eternally reject it.

A big part of sobriety is accepting life on life's terms.  We must accept who we were made to be and where we were put.  To reject ourselves is the ultimate evil, because it is the ultimate form of destruction.

Our society is a mess right now because we are taught such a high expectation for perfection that we are constantly unhappy.  We chase after unattainable pleasures and are irascibly annoyed with many things that are actually good.  we are losing the ability to be happy as our expectations become more and more distorted with images that are 'photoshopped' and appear better than the real thing.  And, because we constantly see these things, we build up the expectation of having them.

You can imagine a rural villager in the Carpathian Mountains, fed on a steady diet of 'Baywatch' and '90210,' is going to become dissatisfied with village life.  When I was in Greece years ago, I used to laugh at Greeks watching these shows dubbed over in Greek, which the locals religiously watched in their houses while there were beautiful beaches right outside their front doors.  They under-appreciated what they had, wasting countless hours of real experiences on the beach while engaging in fantasies about beaches that really didn't exist outside the imagination of a TV producer.

Next week, I will start to explain more of the mechanics of pleasure and how we can, with a lot of Divine healing and assistance, begin to shift our perception of pleasure to match up with what is good.  This is essential to sobriety, and it is essential to the Christian.

1 comment:

  1. Well, being from Romania, I can tell you that right after the revolution in 89, which replaced the communist regime with the democratic regime (as it's become very clear nowadays), all that people were being taught to want through tv were tropicana juice, american cigarettes and Dallas episodes. This became a religion very quickly and exponentially expanded to more products and tv shows.
    It was no wonder that when I went to a summer camp in Canada, the other children were amazed at how well I knew their cartoon culture. A couple years later I actually moved to Canada and it only took about a year of high-school and you almost couldn't tell the difference between me and the local kids.

    Looking back though I realize how crazy this actually was and how easy it was to manipulate people right after the revolution. I now live back in Romania, and see the results after 20 years of "democracy". Many people left the country for the western locations they saw on tv, the locals have become very disconnected from their own country, the local environment and resources are largely disrespected, a huge percent of the population smoke and drink, and the rich and corrupt have taken full advantage by stealing and selling the entire country (literally).

    Sorry, for being off topic, but this is a very unhappy example of what our world can and sometimes does become.

    And now the "government" gets to act like something from an Orwell novel, but that's probably yet another story with deeper and more evil roots.