Desensitization and Exhaustion

At a later date I will write a sermon about how a great deal of confusion results from the lack of proportion in modernity. For now I will address only one aspect of this and its most proximate results.

The Physiology and Psychology of Tension

This sign on the Capital Beltway in Northern Virginia threatens drivers with the watchful eye of enforcement and punishment. Though the speed limit is 55mph, the average driver travels at 75mph which as a matter of law is considered reckless driving. Citizens are powerless to change the law and the ritual of enforcement continues because in democracy everyone is just following orders and no one is responsible. Though this is a small example, in general the supposed "government by the people" acts against the will of the people and cannot be reformed. Thus idiocy and absurdity reign because we have established a cultureless structure wherein everyone evades larger issues because they are in competition with one another and only come together when they briefly unite to exploit others.
A cue signifying an important situation is met by the body with every preparation: adrenaline flows, blood vessels constrict, focus peaks, and a nervous awareness is heightened. If the cue is valid and relevant, the physical preparations predispose the individual to better face the situation. If the cue generates tension but is seen to lack a legitimate foundation then the preparations are for naught -- and an aware body comes to learns this.

Desensitization means to have a reduced or complete lack of response to cues that previously provoked a response. The mechanism that typically causes a response is the generation of tension, but when tension is manufactured in excess and without any relation to reality, it quickly produces a numbing effect.

As a result, cues that attempt to shock and are transparently unrelated to reality or any sensible consequences might at first produce an effect, but soon lose whatever power their staged gestures once held and are correctly seen only as nonsense.

Though not all tensions are of the same magnitude, the underlying effects are the same. Tension creates energy -- and the most sensitive people feel the greatest tensions and have the most energy. But to squander energy on the irrelevant is terrible for energy is a precious force in an individual. This also gives a hint for why Buddhism and other Eastern approaches only result in impairing Westerners who attempt them.


Desensitization becomes especially problematic in our current societal configuration, which is entertainment-based, because all social efforts attempt to direct thought and time to spectacles of amusement. This barrage of spectacles in turn attempts to establish differentiation by being more shocking, outrageous, numbing, or novel than the others, in turn creating a festival of overstimulation. Individuals subjected to this find themselves paralyzed, typically living either as if in a dream-world of images and characters that guide their lives or as narcotic addicts who seek out that which harms them and renders them incapacitated.

Ten years ago people used to respond to fluorescent orange colors, but as their use became widespread, they ceased having any effect. Like penicillin, we cycle through superficial patches without addressing the root problem, thus merely exchanging time for a rapidly established immunity to the quick fix.

We know that orange is no longer effective for provoking a reaction. What type of effect do you think this new yellow-green color will have on people in ten years? Will we simply switch to another color again?

Eventually the lack of proportion between the reality promised and the actual effect encounters a physical feedback loop that both devalues the feeling of the tension and removes the anticipatory effect from the perception of the tension-causing event. There are three paths in which a person can go:

  1. Seek more tension and thrill to feel the same jolted effect.
    This is the method of addicts who need entertainment, drugs, soda, or junk food.
  2. Become numb and desensitized.
    Those who are overwhelmed by excessive stimulation stop receiving stimulation in general after having their receptors overloaded to unnatural levels.
  3. Filter manufactured stimulation as nonsense before reaction.
    People who intentionally break the stimulus/response cycle by sensing stimuli but separating it from any socially programmed response also break all efforts at social manipulation.

This is Your World

In marketing, every message is considered more important than any other one. Pitching useless products to people or even just stunning them long enough with entertainment to play a few commercials is not only considered moral, but even good. The consequences of this to society and the individual are never considered.

This is your world. Do you really want it based on entertainment and amusement instead of something cultural and meaningful? You can inspire others to boycott the entertainment industry and its ideological garbage. You can be active in creating cultural contributions that add to intelligent discourse instead of striving to capture minds and condemning them to a cycle of stupidity.

You too can make a choice about the world you help create.

February 6, 2002