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Why do we do what we know is bad for us? Here’s what ancient and modern philosophers (as well as economists) think about this conundrum. “This is a universal feature of being human.”

Discussion  3 comments

Tim Gerdes

About a decade ago I was working on a grant project that utilized technology to help people make better food choices to help manage chronic illness. As one of my tasks for the project's organization I blogged about food policy, and discovered George Orwell's "The Road to Wigan Pier," Orwell's investigation into the bleak living conditions of the working poor in the north of England.

The book spent a good deal of time exploring why we do things that are bad for us, observing:

"Would it not be better if [an unemployed person] spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread…? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t… When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit 'tasty.' There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you."

That passage has stuck with me. Sometimes we make bad choices because live can be hard and we all need a little temporary joy.


So, I know I'm getting older, but if I can just eat a small amount of Flamin' Hot Cheetos, it'll all be OK.

(two hours later)

Damn you, Flamin' Hot Cheetos! Never again!

Colter Mccorkindale

Possibly because we decide that a sense of short-term safety/satiety is preferable to long-term safety/health. As Daniel Kahneman would say, we defer more often to System 1 (bias & instinct) than to System 2 (rational thought. And in terms of addictive behaviors, Gabor Maté would say we prescribe for ourselves the most effective medication for treating our trauma.

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