Although some countries have a socialistic or mixed form of economy, the world at large is moving towards capitalistic economies where private individuals and businesses control the country trade and industry. And no doubt, there are “n” numbers of benefits to consumers in a capitalistic economy. Good quality products, cheap prices, frequent technological innovation are just a few among the many by-products of cut-throat competition that exist in such economies. But as we know, companies run for profit motive and what better way to increase profit than by increasing sales? Today we are victims of the new strategy that companies employ known as limbic capitalism.
With technological advancement over the century, development and research have been tremendous in the psychological sector too. If you know how to play with a human brain, you can have what you want. It’s just that simple. Companies and their administrators have discovered a way of convincing us into buying their products with much ease now. This manipulation is what David T. Courtwright describes as limbic capitalism in his book “The Age of Addiction”. It refers to a business system whereby global companies encourage excessive consumption, similar to addiction, with the help of criminal organizations or complicit governments based on technological advancement and social regression. In simple terms, it’s just provoking us to consume more, at such level that it turns us into addicts and we tend to be compulsive. They do so by targeting the limbic region of the human brain which is responsible for pleasure, long term memory, motivation, and other emotionally linked functions. Companies offer brain-rewarding products that lead to dopamine burst which changes the brain conditions and ultimately leads to addictive behaviours.
THE NEW ADDICTION
Half a century ago, addiction meant compulsive engagement in heroin, drugs, cigarettes, etc. Today, limbic capitalism has linked it to entirely different dimensions like video games, digital addiction, gambling, watching excessive porn, compulsive scrolling on social media, or even food. We may easily conclude that businesses in capitalistic economies exploit our weakness of addiction, but we will not be entirely wrong if we look the other way round and conclude that these businesses have now reached a point where they are designing products that we get addicted too and thereafter exploit us. Production, marketing, and distribution of semi-durable or perishable goods that stimulate pleasure response in the limbic region of the brain combined with affordability and social isolation of humans are the main reason behind our addictive behaviours.
REASONS FOR SPREAD
Humans are easily persuadable and crave for social approval. Leading tech companies like Facebook, Snapchat, Tinder, etc. exploit this very vulnerability of fear of missing out. Their target and profit lie in time we spend on their sites. A notification for every like, comment, share, or subscribe exploits our vulnerability and takes us back to where they want us to be. We are so obsessed with ourselves that we stop everything and dive our way back with every ding of notification, making us no different from addicts. Humans love the unpredictability and variable reward system, this very love is the reason behind the success of casinos. Just like a slot machine is unpredictable and may reward us anything, social media feed is no different. Since we don’t know what we will get with every scroll, we end up scrolling our feed for hours. This brain reward system is used by many companies in capitalistic economies to earn profits, which we call limbic capitalism.
Advertising, accessibility, affordability combined with urbanization, globalization, and industrialization have made seductive commodities universal and more addicting over the past few decades. Limbic capitalism is dangerous in a way that it mainly targets the young and is seen as an “evil twin” of capitalism that works through brain-rewarding products and addictive engineering. No one invented limbic capitalism, rather it’s just a by-product of our ancient quest to discover, refine, and cultivate habituating pleasures that got supercharged with the internet revolution.
The question now arises, what can be done to tackle this problem? In a few words, nothing much can be done. Some suggest that one particular way is taxes. Taxes are generally levied for two important purposes. Firstly, it acts as a source of revenue to the government, secondly, it allows the government to discourage the use of certain products by increasing their cost to the consumers. Governments can employ taxes in such a manner that it provides revenue and at the same time not completely but slightly discourage the use of products. However, the flip side of this is that lot of these products are categorized under essentials, and at the same time, this strategy further exploits the economic gap between the rich and poor. Mr Courtwright believes that proper and organized opposition from across the political spectrum can help hold limbic capitalism. However, it is easier said than done. Gathering a common viewpoint from parties having opposing ideologies is difficult and at the same time, the share of many political figures in multi-billion companies cannot be denied.
The point here is not to prove that all capitalistic economies necessarily exploit our psychological weakness but to spread awareness about how we can be easily manipulated. The final solution lies within us. If we can control ourselves, none of this would ever exist in the first place. It’s less of a practical solution to have a rehab center for say digital addiction. Addiction has been a part of human history for long now, with all the changes in different forms and spheres. If we don’t let a product hijack our system and at the same time have adequate control over our desires, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.