The Worst American Addiction

Ice Cream SundaeThere is a kind of addiction in the United States that is destroying it. It isn’t new. In fact, it has been around for so long, it is invisible. It is the addiction of superiority. If you watch the right kind of television, you will see it everywhere. My favorite example is the court show. I find these shows deeply disturbing. In fact, I find them so disturbing that I’ve come up with a theory — probably wrong — to make them more palatable. I believe friends get together and pretend to sue each other to make a little cash and to get their faces on the television. But clearly, if most viewers thought this, they would not watch. Indeed, even with my theory, I find the shows repellent.

The way the shows work is by stimulating endorphins that make the viewer feel superior. “At least I don’t sleep with my best friend’s husband and then steal her television set!” Oh, can you feel that flood of endorphins?! That feels good. And I’m all for that! Please, my fellow humans: be happy. It’s a good thing to do. All I ask is that you superiority junkies admit that you do have an addiction and that you aren’t any different from a random heroin addict who gets her endorphins more directly.

I see the people watching the court shows and Fox News as being minor addicts. The major addicts design their entire lives around their addictions. For example, they will never drink alcohol because it is a drug. But what they are really doing is stimulating their endorphins because they feel superior to the person who drinks to stimulate her endorphins. These same people will tend toward “healthy” food (how ever that might be defined this week) and against tasty food. There is really no end to the ways that a superiority addiction may manifest itself. People might hoard money or they might vote against their political interests.

From the outside, we may see the hardcore superiority addict as a sad person. But I suspect that is wrong. Your average heroin addict may seem sad on the outside but with her brain swimming in synthetic endorphins, she is very likely happy as one of the happiest clams. So we shouldn’t feel sorry for the superiority fiend. But just the same, we should not be codependent. If she wants to feel good about herself because she eats better and drinks better and votes better than the rest of us, that’s her right. But we needn’t buy into that delusion.

In a perfect world, such superiority addicts would quickly disappear. Our reactions to them would make it clear that their ascetic lifestyles were just a way of getting high. So when a ascetic and a glutton are both offered a delicious piece of chocolate cake, the glutton’s acceptance of the cake is exactly the same as the ascetic’s refusal. And if the ascetic’s real motivation (endorphins from a sense of superiority) were widely recognized (and, hopefully, mocked), the ascetic would take the cake. Because being addicted to a feeling of superiority is a great weakness.

Choose the cake!


I’m not that found of chocolate myself. I mean, I’ll eat it. I’ll eat just about anything that is sweet. I’ve even been getting into coconut because it is combined with lots of sugar. But don’t get the wrong idea about me. Most people think I’m a sugar addict, but I actually like fatty foods a lot more. Of course, after a great fatty meal, nothing is so great as a sugary dessert. Or better: a sugary, fatty dessert. Ice cream sundae!

5 thoughts on “The Worst American Addiction

  1. I totally agree with you that our attachment to superiority is an addiction. I would add that it is an addiction because it is a defense–a defense that we put in place to soothe ourselves, to assure ourselves that no matter how terrible, in our darkest moments, that we know ourselves and our lives to be, at least we’re not that guy on TV who hoards 13,000 newspapers and has a rat infestation, or those low-lives on daytime talk shows pulling each other’s weaves out over paternity tests. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched “Intervention” while sucking down a tumbler of wine and assuring myself I’m way better than that meth head on the streets the cameramen are following around. The superiority addiction is protective–it allow us to create a delusion that our own, lily-white, or morally correct, or “intelligent” or “educated” choices will somehow protect us from pain, humiliation, failure and suffering. Because if we can’t smugly assign blame to others for their poor circumstances, it means we may not have total control over what happens to us–and that’s a terrifying feeling.

    • It’s a double edged sword, isn’t it? What I want is for everyone to just feel okay with themselves. But how likely is that?! So maybe all I’m doing is depriving them of a way they’ve found to make themselves feel good. And there’s a whole rabbit hole thing going on here anyway. Having been pointedly looked down upon, my perception of that act as being a kind of self-destructive (or at least society-destructive) addiction puts me in the position of feeling superior to them. But I don’t actually feel that way. What 50 years on this earth has taught me is that we are all trapped in who we are. There are people I don’t want to be around and there are people who make the world a worse place. But I don’t blame them. Free will is a myth. We have as much control of our lives as we do the movie we’re watching at the multiplex.

  2. Oh, also–people who are smug about food choices are especially galling to me. It really sends me through the roof to listen to anyone drone on about how they don’t eat “anything processed” or that they refuse to consume anything not organic, local, vegan, etc. It makes want to cry. When you grow up literally without enough food, witnessing people get imperious and hobbyist about what they eat is crazy-making.

    • What annoys me about the food thing is that people have been telling me for decades that I shouldn’t eat this or that. Now they tell me I shouldn’t eat potatoes and rice and bread. I don’t think they know what they are talking about. So I’m just going to eat what I like. And the amazing thing is that the body (well, my body) does not want to eat exclusively Haagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche, even though it is one of the best things on the planet!

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