Many of them are fundamentally tasty. Others are simply addictive and/or cool. Elsewhere, the bad is unseen or far away.
Salt and fat used to be hard to come by, so it was useful to develop a taste for them, as they are (in small quantities) essential. This is the sort of evolutionary explanation I distrust and don’t know the veracity of, but there’s a logic. We’re still physiologically roughly the same as we were a few thousand years ago. I don’t think this extends to psychology, but it might explain why we find those things so tasty. It could definitely still be a learnt or chemical thing. There is a logic to finding them good though, its just that we’re now in control enough of our foodstuffs that the tastiness becomes a trap. We slather it on everything, and the benefit is lost to the risks.
Cigarettes are weirder. There’s something satisfying about the routine of it. The taste you have to learn to enjoy. You think they calm you down even though they (physiologically) do the opposite. They make you smell and eventually kill you. But none of this gets in the way. The death is probably further away, even as you bring it closer. People have a difficult relationship with probability. We don’t really see odds as they are. We see ourselves as different to the statistical masses. We can’t always see the things we know as impacting on our own life.
Lives aren’t made of numbers. At least not how we see them. Of course, on average, they are. Spread out over enough people, the odds make up the numbers. You can get some nice even bell curves if you look at enough people.
But it never feels like that from the inside. Even if you’re slap in the middle, you don’t recognise your life as average. The uniqueness of perspective gives you this. Nobody else could possibly know what it is like to be in your skin, in your brain. No amount of maths can take that away from you.
Unfortunately, this comfortable exceptionalism means we don’t always act with pure logic. It kind of makes us incapable of it. We know our feelings better than anyone else does. We know what’s right for us, right?
And its kind of fair enough. I can do bad things to myself if I want. It’s only me that suffers?
I don’t quite think so. I think there is an element of responsibility that comes from societal engagement. We live with other people, so our lives impact others. Our needs don’t necessarily go under theirs, but we need to take it all into account.
If you slowly kill yourself, and there’s people watching who love you, you’re not just killing yourself.
But there’s that perspective trap, yet again. We can’t always see our impact, as well as not seeing our life objectively and simply.
We do bad things because we don’t know better.
Or we don’t try.
Illustration by Michael