Our Brain Reward System

Our brains are working against our ability to make and carry out good choices.

It turns out that when people in a restaurant are offered a choice of salad or fries, merely considering salad as an option causes our brains to release the reward chemicals and sensations as it would if we actually selected the salad.

So, considering a good choice acts as permission to make the bad choice.

We don’t seem to consider that we may later regret that bad choice, because we tend to prefer to avoid or delay harm or bad consequences, even when we bring them on ourselves. There’s a little bit of Scarlett O’Hara in all of us.

This made me realize why so many high-profile people are so righteous – arguing for restricting gay rights and condemning gay sex as immoral is basically giving yourself permission to head to the nearest cruising zone to get yourself some.

I don’t think it’s a “do as I pray, but not as I do” situation or even arrogant risk taking anymore.

People really are not good or bad, but a neutral balancing act between the two things – I have done a good thing (condemn gays) so now I can or must do a bad thing (gay sex) in order for good and bad to be in balance.

Which really puts a new perspective on all those arguments in Dungeons and Dragons game about what actions are within any given character’s alignment. We all tend towards neutral by doing both good and bad actions and choices to create a net zero balance.

Aside: for the non-geeks – Character alignment is a character’s worldview of lawfulness (lawful, neutral, chaotic) and fairness (good, neutral, chaotic). A character can be any combination of one from the law column and one from the fair column.

Here’s an alignment quiz you can take.

I’m Lawful Neutral.

The only way to move away from these sorts of choices would be to consider future consequences instead of instant gratification.

Although in the extreme cases of dramatic differences between a person’s public morality and private activities, is probably more in need of serious therapy for the high level of self loathing the person is compensating for. Given how completely normal racism used to be (just watch any 1940’s cartoons), it’s really a matter of time before anti-gay public statements stop driving public policy.

So if you are trying to improve your health, it’s not enough to consider salad and order fries – order the salad and get the reward of considering a good choice and carrying out that good choice into future benefit. Remembering that fries may be the better option if the “salad” is soaked with fatty dressing, cheese and lunch-meats. That’s not really a salad, that’s a submarine sandwich minus the bun.

If you really don’t want to have gay sex, then stop talking against it so much in public. If you slip up and have gay sex, then instead of talking, lobbying, drafting legislation and voting for it (or the politician), make a donation to a charity instead – Doctors without Borders is about as good as it gets.

At least that way, when you get caught – and you will be – in the gay bar or outed by your lover – there’s not really a scandal because you’ve not had a public record on the matter.

Better yet, stop thinking about sex – any sex as a bad thing – sex is a good thing, it’s good for stress release, creates intimacy, feels good and is a great cardio workout. So, if you shift your framework just a bit, the sex (gay or not)  can be the neutralizing act in and of itself – the perceived immorality is balanced by the health benefits.