Most humans love to eat. We enjoy a great meal, and desserts are just the best. The sweet taste of a perfectly melted Crème brûlée. The dopamine rush in our system signals us that we did something good. Most humans love to love. Finding the right partner to spend your life or a night with creates a feeling difficult to describe. Again it's a rush of endorphins, and again, your system is trying to tell you that you did something remarkable. Of course, the list of things that bring us, humans, joy and satisfaction is longer than the two examples. Humans generally operate based on signals and internal incentive structures. These are programmed in our bodies and are part of evolutionary development. Those who developed the right incentive structure for the context we lived in used to survive. The others didn't, leading to some characteristics and traits that most of us are familiar with.
For a peaceful life in a society, not all attributes and qualities are advantageous. For example, if you eat all the food by yourself and don't leave enough for others, chances are high that the others will get mad at you. Also, if you are trying to steal somebodies mate, chances are high that that person is not happy sharing their partner with you. So we, as social animals, created rules for each other to reduce specific non-beneficial behaviour that is programmed into our evolutionary brain. We develop moral norms that guide us, and we declare typical behaviour as not okay. Famously, there is a category of seven traits viewed as the worst characteristics of a human being, at least when found in extreme forms.
The list goes like this: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. Our ancestors realized people who behaved in those extremes used to damage the well-being of society.
Let's take a closer look at each of these:
- Lust is a strong passion, especially for sexual desires.
- Gluttony is excessive consumption of food.
- Greed is an excessive pursuit of material goods.
- Sloth is extreme laziness or failure to utilize one's talents.
- Wrath is intense anger and hatred towards another person.
- Envy is the fierce desire to have someone else's possessions.
- Finally, pride is an excessive view of oneself without regard for others.
Most of us are capable of those excessive behavioural traits. Still, since it's harming cohabitating in groups, we try to control and limit that behaviour to not damage our families, friends, and other people who are part of our lives. It's helpful if you are surrounded by others who help you control yourself, especially when the sin is easy to commit. For example, assume there is so much great food right in front of you, and nobody is watching, so nobody would stop you from eating it all. Controlling yourself not overeating can might be a challenge.
So the ancient struggle was the struggle of tribes. You had your friends and family, community, religion, and country. You identified yourself as part of different groups of people, where you had to control yourself to be the best version for that tribe.
Modern society kept many of those aspects. We still obey rules and follow our moral compasses, but the environment changed.
But the difference is that many humans no longer have the same sense of belonging as they used to have. Few people consider themselves religious. Many people live alone in big cities where they operate relatively anonymous. We no longer live in tribes, and the sense of nationality and country is fading in the context of a globally connected society.
At the same time, the temptation is rising. We create goods and services that lure us into those behaviours we are so susceptive to. Most of the foods we buy contain sugar and other substances that make stopping their consumption more difficult. We distilled substances from plants and synthetically created drugs that instantly trigger our evolutionary rewards systems. We made all types of information publicly accessible on the internet, allowing us to observe other people's lives. We created video games that will enable us to forget ourselves and get lost in virtual reality instead of living our own lives. People consume pornographic content instead of finding a partner for life, and we create the perfect storm of things that we easily get addicted to.
And while the temptation and risk of committing a cardinal sin is rising, the society that should support it not to get trapped in those addictive patterns is atomized to a degree where it feels that you are all alone in this world full of temptation.
So, you have to figure out how to resist all those addictive things by yourself.
And it would be so easy to blame all those companies that use sugar, build social networks and sell drugs to us, right? Of course, it's all their fault, and each of us is just a victim of big cooperation. But are we?
As adult human beings who are self-aware and cautious about all potential addictive temptations, it is our responsibility to learn how to navigate the modern struggle. Similar to how our ancestors came up with the idea of the cardinal sins, we also need to find solutions to prevent each other from losing ourselves in sugary foods, social media, porn, drugs, video games and other addictive aspects of our lives. The solution is not to blame others or ban all of those goods or services. Instead, it's about learning how to handle all the temptation and help others do the same thing.
We need to be aware that we all face the same problems and are all in this together.