This may be a surprise to you all. But I watch documentaries.
It’s tough to fit them in in between running ultra marathons, hunting beef liver for your crisps and trolling vegans on twitter.
But I can do it.
Recently, I watched the Paris Hilton documentary. Paris was the OG influencer and represents the modern zeitgeist in many ways. Her story is fascinating and there are a lot of important lessons.
(BTW, I bet you didn’t think I’d be writing a carnivore essay about Paris Hilton…)
Paris has it all but is clearly miserable. Yes, some of it has to do with early childhood trauma. But a lot of her misery stems from not knowing what to care about and instead bullshitting herself into thinking she does.
What do I mean?
At one point in the documentary she talks about how when she was 18 all she wanted to be happy was $100m. Well, now she probably has close to $500m, is miserable but still thinks that money will make her happy. Specifically, that she can “finally relax” once she makes $1bn.
Anybody watching can see through this BS. It’s more likely that Dr Greger becomes a carnivore than Paris becomes happy just because she makes $500m more…
This is a ubiquitous problem. No, I don’t meant the frantic pursuit of money (although that’s a problem too). The deeper problem is caring about the wrong things.
Most people don’t realize this, but there’s a hierarchy of things you should care about. Caring about certain things will undoubtedly make you less happy than caring about others. Specifically, if you care about things that are impermanent and out of your control you will never be happy.
This is sort of a combination of buddhism + stoicism.
Epictetus says: ““There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will.”
But I actually think the Buddhists get this point even more than the stoics (and my father Marcus…).
The buddhists believe that craving anything impermanent sets you up to be miserable. The fact of the matter is that she will get a huge dopamine rush and high the second her net worth hits $1bn. But that high is impermanent. When it disappears, you will crave more.
If anybody here has ever gambled, you know what I’m talking about. When you walk into a casino you think you’ll be happy walking out with $100 more…But after hitting blackjack a few times (and the free drinks start coming), there’s no slowing down. Why stop at $100 when you can make $1000. Why stop at $1,000 when you just need a few more blackjacks to hit $10,000.
The high from the win will not last. The second noble truth of buddhism is that craving is suffering. Craving more will make you miserable. But Paris doesn’t yet realize this. Nobody does.
Why is it so challenging to understand?
All of us have innate and adaptive mechanisms that increase chances of getting your genetic material passed on. Things like conformity, status seeking, wealth accumulation and cravings for sugar.
Happiness is not a priority for your genes…all they want is to procreate and survive. To put it bluntly, your genes don’t care if you have to climb through mud soaked barbed wire…they just want you to mate, even if it means you come out with dysentery on the other end…
On the African savannah during evolution this wasn’t as big of an issue as it is today…
There was a concordance with these behaviors and the environment. The drive for sugar was okay because there wasn’t much sugar available, for instance. The drive for wealth was fine because you could only become so wealthy (maybe you had a few more cave paintings than the other guys).
But with modernity all of that changed.
Companies created hyper normal versions of stimuli and realized that they could tap into these evolutionary drives. This was a huge business opportunity.
Because they are adaptive — meaning they used to (and still do) increase survival chances — they are almost impossible to resist. For Paris, having a net worth of $1bn probably does increase her chances of survival versus having a net worth of $10,000. But at some point there are massive diminishing returns.
Another level higher, culture conditioned people to crave these things. In fact, culture became a mechanism to justify + glorify them. In a way, culture is working for your genes too and not your happiness.
This brings me back to Paris. Love and adoration is a sign you have status. A sign your tribe cares about you and won’t kick you to the curb one day…It’s a natural human craving.
But during evolution, the most amount of people that could have possibly cared about you was around 150 (dunbar’s number). With social media and the outsourcing of relationship management to technology, this number has increase almost 1 million fold.
Yes, it is good to have a support network. But do you need 15 million people watching your every move? Culture has glorified the life of an influencer and incentivized people to build massive followings. Who cares if it sucks being attacked by an army of paparazzi…this is what the pinnacle of life is according to society…In fact, if you complain about it you’re just an ungrateful POS…Think about all the kids who are dying to have followers!!
Pedal to the medal. Keep driving down this path. If you’re not happy growing from 1,000 to 10,000 followers maybe it’s because you really need 100,000 to be happy…
A natural human urge was pathologized and Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian became society’s role models…
Same goes for other desires.
The drive for sugar was translated into recommendations to eat literal dessert for breakfast…
The drive to accumulate fat turned into a massive rise in obesity and an anti fat shaming movement…
The drive to accumulate wealth led to billionaires richer than beyond all conception while much of the world starves…
Greed to this extent was never really possible. Culture then rationalizes this pleasure addicted hedonism to the point where it’s weird not to follow.
For instance, someone who follows a carnivore diet is judged more than someone who guzzles down doritos and waffles all day. It all makes sense from this perspective. Culture is a lagging indicator that justifies our pathologized desires. It’s not a mechanism to figure out what you really want in life. It’s an instantiation of our will to power.
Your brain’s adapted computer code has been hijacked and hacked by these modern stimuli. Modern businesses and technology are like hackers for your brain. In fact, many companies hire addiction experts to find the biggest vulnerabilities to capitalize.
For that reason, these aren’t just problems you can’t just think your way out of. Even willpower alone is moot…It’s like your computer has been hijacked and you just shut the volume off. The virus doesn’t go away. You need something stronger.
You need a ruthless antiviral software. You need institutions and practices to fight this hedonic tendency. And you need to expect that what this antiviral software requires is that you go against mainstream culture.
This is where true philosophy comes in. Real philosophy isn’t about mere propositional beliefs. It’s about a way of life. Constant practices and reminders of what a good life is and how to live.
You are not a philosopher if you just read Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. You’re only a philosopher if you implement his practices and live it every single day.
For me, that’s reading stoicism and socrates weekly. It’s reminding myself what I really care about. It’s constantly breaking my addiction to comfort by purposefully doing hard things (like eating beef liver). It’s breaking my addiction to comfort and doing things that most of society thinks is weird.
It’s a much longer discussion, but it’s a daily search for true wisdom. It’s hard as hell. But it’s the only way to not be miserable.
Like Paris, you need a constant daily reminder that meaningless sex, money, junk food and porn will not make you happy despite the visceral pull they have…
Do you have any practices you do to remind you what really matters?
Let me know.