ESSAY: Civilizational Collapse - closing the circle with dopamine

 (My avatar: An interesting mix of my Jewish mother's side and my father's Viking side.  This is my default lead-in image for my essays.)


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Here are my last five non-Rule Five posts (multi-part essays count as one):

RANDOM THOUGHTS October 25, 2020

Quick take: Does size matter?

WEDNESDAY WHITTLE October 22, 2020

REPUBLISHING Instapundit piece per Sarah Hoyt's request - please do on your blog too

RANDOM THOUGHTS October 19, 2020


Three from the past, chosen at my whim:

Happy Chanukah; Merry Christmas... and the deep breath before the plunge

"Fair Share" Follies

I Feel Like Sarah Connor: The Coming Financial Collapse


Speaking of the past: Volume I and Volume II.  (If I get inspired I may just fold them all into one…)  Other features: 

RANDOM THOUGHTS: A link aggregate built up over a few days – not “current” news per se but things that attract my attention, and about which I often comment.

WEDNESDAY WHITTLE: A collection of videos – not just by Bill though he figures prominently – that I think are informative.

CARTOONS: Editorial cartoons featuring my concepts, but that I have drawn by a professional (since I can’t draw my way out of a wet paper bag).  An example cartoon chosen at my whim:


If you’re a blogger and like any of these cartoons I’d greatly appreciate your using them.  All I ask for is:

1. No alterations to the image or notice on it

2. Give me credit for it

3. Give a linkback to my blog

I pay $150 for each of these.  If you “snip” the cartoon without the notice you are stealing my work without giving me credit.  That’s not right or ethical.


And for those interested in such things, every Friday I do a Rule Five picture post.  The last one is below (I know, I know, the image is clickbait… deal; give me a better way to get viewers to my blog and I’ll use that instead).  First, a notice about my use of such materials:

A very brief observation on Rule Five materials

Gratuitous Rule Five Friday: Women on boats



Recently I posted my central hypothesis from one of my very early essays, Civilizational Collapse and the Brain, as a comment on an essay on frontpagemag (generic link, not to the specific post):

Any advanced and thriving civilization has large numbers of people – especially at the top of the pile – who are comfortable and safe, and are so for generations.  This lack of meaningful threats, from birth onward, causes the amygdalae structures in the brain to not fully develop compared to prior, more stressed, generations because of a lack of stimulation; thus, the ability to recognize actual threats has atrophied.  This leads to the society as an aggregate, and the leadership class in particular, taking actions that they do not recognize as dangerous, which result in the collapse of the civilization.

Got some good feedback too – especially from people who know who I am.




(One of my favorites: The Seven Circle Theorem)


I’ve always loved math – yeah, I know, what a whackadoodle! – and in particular, geometry.  While I tend towards the analytical, equations, algebra and higher, there’s been a strange attraction to geometry in part because of the visual aesthetics of it.  (Strange attraction: You see what I did there?)


(Image source)


Anyway, one of the interesting lessons from having to do proofs was the concept of NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT.



My late mother once complained, as she was starting her slow descent into dementia and was already becoming physically diminished, that there wasn’t “one drug” that could extend longevity, cure myriad ills, etc.  I remarked to her that the human being is an incredibly complex system – as is all life – with feedback loops within feedback loops interacting with other feedback loops (as is the planet itself!).  Such a system cannot be “cured” by a one-stop pill.  Nor, as a snark against “climate change”, can such a complex system be uniquely dominated by CO2 as the single factor – which just *cough cough* just happens to be the one thing humans control.  Uh huh.

In the same way, the collapse of a civilization where people have a stake in its upkeep is also not a one-factor thing.  It doesn’t have to be thousands, or hundreds, or even a dozen things, but in looking at all the pressures and incentives to maintain a civilization, there has to be more than one thing undermining them that only together, working synergistically, actually cause a civilization to collapse. 

I’ve felt this in my bones ever since I wrote that first article: that the loss of threat recognition from atrophied amygdalae was a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition in-and-of-itself, to the collapse of a civilization.



Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in many neurological and cognitive functions; What Is Dopamine?.  One of the roles it plays is in providing pleasure feelings from group conformity, and from enforcing group conformity; Why I Did Not Become a Terrorist (bolding added, link in original):

It's normal to want to hurt others whom we understood to have hurt us. In August, 2004, scientists published "The Neural Basis of Altruistic Punishment" in Science magazine. Researchers instructed two subjects to play a game. If player B cheated player A, player A was offered a chance to retaliate against player B. Player A was attached to a PET scanner. The researchers discovered that while player A contemplated revenge against player B, his dorsal striatum would become active. If player A decided on a large punishment, his dorsal striatum fired intensely. "Many people voluntarily incur costs to punish violations of social norms," they wrote. "Evolutionary models and empirical evidence indicate that such altruistic punishment has been a decisive force in the evolution of human cooperation … people derive satisfaction from punishing norm violations"

Not only does it feel good to conform to the group norms and receive praise for them, it feels good to punish those who go outside the norms… as I observed while discussing this; American Jews: Still on the Shtetl:

Praise from those with whom you regularly associate is a powerful thing to keep you in line.

Confirming this; Dopamine Addiction:

To keep the dopamine flowing, heroin addicts shoot up, safety addicts follow, power addicts control, acceptance addicts flock, approval addicts acquiesce, and esteem addicts flaunt. One important distinction between addictions is that heroin addicts their needles whereas psychological addicts get away with pretending their addictions are normal, acceptable, and even admirable.

It becomes a feedback loop – those who enforce the rules, those who cleave to the rules, get more dopamine pleasure.  The ability to feel pleasure from dopamine therefore becomes a survival trait.  Imagine someone utterly immune from dopamine pleasure: they would be, at best, lukewarm in participation in the society and enforcing the norms.  Conversely, someone with high dopamine sensitivity would be enthusiastic in that – with the commensurate rewards of having a higher likelihood of survival, success, and reproduction with others also with that higher sensitivity; Dopamine linked to a personality trait and happiness (bolding added):

The higher the level of dopamine, or the more responsive the brain is to dopamine, the more likely a person is to be sensitive to incentives and rewards. "When our dopamine system is activated, we are more positive, excited and eager to go after goals or rewards, such as food, sex, money, education or professional achievements," Depue said.


"We have strong evidence that the feelings of being elated and excited because you are moving toward achieving an important goal are biochemically based, though they can be modified by experience," Depue said.

Higher dopamine levels and sensitivity would therefore be selected-for traits given the need to cooperate and obey rules.  Over many generations, higher dopamine sensitivity would become a prevalent trait in that society having been selected-for evolutionary-wise over generations.  But not just one society – every growing society that needs coherence and a working-together mentality.  When goodthink in deferring to the group is praised, and being praised leads – through dopamine – to pleasure, people work to maximize that pleasure; 7 Interesting Signs You Have Naturally High Levels Of Dopamine (bolding added, link in the original):

High levels of dopamine are also associated with addictive, pleasure-focused behaviors. This can include anything from alcohol use, to struggles with gambling too much. "This is because dopamine within the limbic system is related to pleasure, motivation, and learning through positive reinforcement,clinical psychologist Crystal I. Lee, Psy.D.



Such selection would also explain the appeal of Socialism: the desire for a “smooth-functioning” society where everyone (theoretically) contributes… and a willingness to keep trying it no matter the number of times it has failed.

From the What is Dopamine? article above (links in original):

Decades ago, researchers believed that symptoms stemmed from a hyperactive dopamine system. Now we know that some are due to too much of this chemical in certain parts of the brain. This includes hallucinations and delusions.

Figment of imagination: Elevated dopamine levels can cause hallucinations

When one looks at the failures time and time and time and time and time again of Socialism in various incarnations, including massive murder of uncooperative people who haven’t drunk the states’ Kool-Aid.  Over 100 million civilians murdered. 

The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression

Including my wife’s homeland – it’s a “lesser known” genocide, but Stalin starved 1/3 of the ethnic Kazakhs to death. 

The Hungry Steppe: Famine, Violence, and the Making of Soviet Kazakhstan

Myriad people in many venues have asked how, HOW, HOW can people ignore the grim reality of every attempt at Socialism, yet still try again?



Hallucination, perhaps?  Delusion, perhaps?  Look at the groupthink of the Left, and look at their absolute conviction in their correctness regardless of evidence.

The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness

The Closing of the Liberal Mind: How Groupthink and Intolerance Define the Left

The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy

Intellectuals and Society: Revised and Expanded Edition

Despite evidence like this, of people in the Socialist paradise of Venezuela picking through garbage hoping to find food, people still think it can work:


[Hungry Venezuelans Pick Through Garbage for Food / 1:45]


Or this BBC piece about women having to give up their children:


[Venezuela: Mothers giving away babies - BBC News / 7:25]


They still clamor for Socialism thinking that “this time” it’ll be done right:



(Video from this post: “This is a Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America”)


Only people in the grips of addiction pursue the high like this… pursue the hallucination like this.  Addiction feeds addiction.  People want to feel good about themselves; that’s why some pursue dopamine-generating activities that result in excitement and social praise.  And while this is an arm-waving argument, age does decrease dopamine levels (and sensitivity?), which is likely one reason why older people tend to be less excitable, more reserved, less likely to care about the opinions of others, and more likely to look before they leap.

This ties into a conversation I had with people with whom we were staying a couple of years ago.  The woman, a Russian, asked me what cultural differences I saw between me – American born – and my Kazakh wife.  One that I noticed a few days later, mulling it over because at the time I couldn’t think of anything that jumped to the fore, was that I had little regard for the opinion of others, but my wife was and is obsessed with what others think.  Standing on one’s own and not caring for the opinion of others is one characteristic of Stoicism, about which I learned here:

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

Implicit in the above is the willingness to differ from people.  As opposed to Leftists, The Leftist Sense of Self (formatting and links in the original): 

Why, because nothing terrifies a Leftist more than ostracism by their peers. Consider this video: AFDI Video at #WomensMarch: Violence, Profanity and Hate, Our Reporter Attacked; watch how viciously this reporter is treated for asking questions that violate the shibboleth that Islam is peaceful and tolerant (in general, note how they savage anyone who steps away from The Collective). Despite the actual facts of the Islamic Hijra Invasion, something I’ll speak to in another essay, they’ll deny-deny-deny – just as whenever any liberal, per Dr. Sanity above, will outright lie even when accused of something provable; and when the truth comes out, will admit to just a smidge of it, but deny the rest. Watch The Clinton Lie Ratchet as just one example.


Consider the absolute insanity of a German woman, raped by an immigrant, who apologized to her attacker. Doubtless moving in social circles dominated by the Left, she accepted being raped rather than go after him legally – because to do so would lead to her being shunned. Further, I’ll opine that she received applause in her social circle for doing so. Another example: the Czech girl scout who I am sure not only believes what she said about getting over the physical harm of being raped by a Muslim immigrant, but I’d bet good money she got praises and letters and flowers too. That can be a serious dopamine rush!



In my first essay my theorem said, repeating from above:

This leads to the society as an aggregate, and the leadership class in particular, taking actions that they do not recognize as dangerous….

But as I said, necessary but not sufficient. 




Now we have a society that doesn’t recognize threats, and when one in leadership gets an idea and it is presented as a “good thing” where implementing it is a "good thing”, groupthink – reinforced by increased dopamine sensitivity – prevents voices of sanity from speaking, being heeded if they do speak, and actively silenced as the group seeks to enforce conformity as the society sweeps headlong towards disaster.


In my revamped essay on gun control, The Revamp Project: A Very Personal Opposition to Gun Control (Parts 1-3), I discussed how so often I get the same refrain, often in precisely the same words, when I discuss the possibility of socialism taking over in the US, or genocide, or other societal problems: 

That can’t happen here.

Normalcy bias.  I’ve attempted to warn my relatives living in the cities about the coming “North American unpleasantness”.  Nothing.  “Oh, I’ve got a couple of days of food – don’t worry, things will die down and go back to normal soon”.  If I ask about calling the police if the power’s out, and ask what they’ll do if the police don’t show up, “Why wouldn’t they show up”?

Denial is not just a river in Egypt, after all.



Again note – I have no absolute scientific proof of my claims, though hearkening back to my original speculation about the amygdalae there’s this; Brain Scans Can Predict Your Political Ideology.  There is, apparently, some correlation between amygdalae size and your political inclination – though, as with the premise of this essay, it’s complicated.

So.  As civilizations coalesce from barbarism into societies where cooperation and deference to authority & group organization rise in importance compared to “rugged individualism”, both dopamine levels and sensitivity are selected for over generations.  This leads to an overall tendency to defer to the group consensus and the group’s inclination to punish those who differ from the consensus to bring them back into line.  If not outright shun or even expel them.

Combine this with the threat-recognition of the upper class diminishing over generations from a lack of stimulation of the amygdalae and a tendency to shelter and pamper their progeny.

Lack of threat recognition plus unwillingness of people to speak out against dangerous-to-society actions plus willingness and pleasure from enforcing the groupthink… yields a society willing to race off the cliff from any number of causes.  Few recognize the threat because of atrophied amygdalae, and those that do are ignored and/or silenced by the dopamine-addled horde.

So tell me, am I making sense?  Are there other factors which I might have missed?

Necessary?  Yes.  Sufficient?  I think so.




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