We live at a time of fakes. Anything you want, there’s an easy way to get something a bit like it, but not quite. Those distract from the real stuff.
Here are some examples:
- Wants to feel a sense of progress – plays a videogame.
- Wants to have sex – masturbates.
- Wants human contact – chats online.
- Wants a sense of meaning – goes on a crusade of manufactured outrage.
- Wants to have kids – gets a dog.
And so on. You can probably think of more examples from personal experience and observing other people.
Modern life brings amazing opportunities and material comfort. It is also a minefield of temptations to take the easy way out and reduce the tension in abortive ways, wasting energy – and therefore potential – through instant gratification and surrogate outlets for (thereby frustrated) natural needs and wants, scratching the itch at the cost of real fulfillment.
Now, it’s true that everyone can’t have everything, and people who get the fake thing are at least less likely to riot. But giving people videogame Lamborghinis that they’re otherwise unlikely to get is one thing, while replacing even easily achievable mundane basics (like human contact and some sense of progress in life) with masturbatory fakes is simply bad.
We’re cost/benefit optimising monkeys, and this stuff is new at this scale. It shortcircuits us. We feel that something isn’t quite right, but it’s close enough to real fulfillment and much easier to achieve, so we make do and push the button, in effect conditioning ourselves into unfulfilled lifestyles.
It’s a kind of laziness.
Escapism where we should be engaging.
We live at a time when people find the choice between masturbation and sex actually hard. Hungry people looking at food while chewing on a napkin feel like it’s good enough, because it’s easy.
The logical end point is virtual reality, where everyone experiences anything they wish while actually never doing anything at all – philosophical debates that “it makes no subjective difference” aside.
Energy that would be invested in improving the odds of success is wasted by metaphorical (as well as literal) masturbation.
In a way similar to junk food, it satisfies the craving, but makes people feel empty and horrible. Let’s try the opposite. Let’s go for the real stuff. See how that makes you feel.
The tension is not a bad thing. It serves both an orienting and a motivating function: it tells you what to do, and makes you do it.
Tempted with a low-effort route that provides a passable semblance of the desired outcome, though fake and ultimately unsatisfactory and at the expense of achieving real satisfaction, we too often take it.
Cost-benefit optimisation is good. But instant gratification is a trap that optimises jackshit, because it prevents and replaces real satisfaction.
Instant gratification is a very dangerous, anti-darwinian trait to have in a technologically advanced society. Sexual selection now favors discipline and self-direction, at least at the top, so that’s good news. It is quite likely society will split along this axis.
Say you want to have sex. If you resist the temptation of opening one of the internet’s “-tubes” (full of people’s tubes, with pubes – I could go on) and touching yourself, you’re much more likely to channel the energy into working out, socializing, figuring out ways to make yourself better and therefore more attractive – and actually having sex.
If you “tube and lube”, you’ll release the tension, but end up in a state of hungover ennui instead of satisfaction.
That contributes to the existential crisis many people experience.
They systematically remove the fire from under their asses, and then they’re surprised about being “unmotivated” and not knowing what to do with themselves.
They somehow fail to see the connection to their constant habit, which is this:
Whenever a motive force swells up in their psyche, their first instinct is to defuse it and reduce the tension in the easiest way available, taking the shortest route back into a tensionless “vegetative” state – to reduce the “potential energy” in their system, and become comfortably numb.
There are certain things that humans are naturally inclined to pursue. The tension between as-is and as-you-want builds a motive force that directs attention and effort towards reconciling the difference by achieving your objectives. Easy discharge simply makes you feel the difference less acutely – it’s an anaesthetic, not a cure. That’s a cold comfort that should only be chosen when there is literally zero chance of getting the real thing.
We’ve been building a culture of short-circuiting the tension->action->result process, and reverting to a low-tension but uncomfortable (which is a signal) state at the push of a button.
This isn’t a moralising argument – it’s purely practical. Smart hedonism uses strategic asceticism, deferring gratification in order to maximise fulfillment and pleasure in the long run.
Normally, you should:
Cultivate the tension.
Don’t waste fuel.
Strategically avoid “easy outlets” that don’t result in real outcomes. At the very least, schedule your vices to take control of them, and make no exceptions.
Focus on real gratification instead of taking the easy way.
Redirect your energy to real goals.
Seek out self-mastery and fight inertia as a primary goal, the way a hero hunts monsters.
Declare war on fake satisfaction.
Live in the real world.
Do real things.
You’ll feel real (good).