Testosterone, Oxytocin, Dopamine: 3 Ages of Civilization

Uploaded 1/14/2022, approx. 17 minute read

You can look at it as three ages of serialization, each signified and connoted by its biochemical.

So you have the age of testosterone, which is the patriarchy, since the agricultural revolution until about 150 years ago.

Then you have the age of oxytocin, which is the age of romanticism. And then you have the age of dopamine, which is the age we live in.

And what I would like to do, I would like to give you an overview of these three biochemicals, hormones, neurotransmitters, and how they correspond to the social and cultural structures that had been created to cater to the needs and mores of the respective ages of civilization.

So we start with testosterone, which corresponds to the age of patriarchy.

Testosterone is involved in facilitating almost all social behaviors and almost all internal states. It's an amazing hormone.

An amazing hormone because it regulates aggression, dominance, selfishness, antisocial behavior, anxiety, depression.

So quite a list of negative traits and behaviors and moods and effects. But on the other hand, it is also the prime regulator of social behaviors.

So victory or defeat, aggression and pathologies like anxiety and depression, but also sexual motivation, fecundity, all kinds of courting behaviors, bonding, attachment, not in pairs because that's the role of a citizen, but attachment in social units, parental care, for example.

So testosterone is probably closely associated with the formation of the patriarchy, because the patriarchy, the role of men, the age of men, was founded on aggression and social bonding. On the one hand, on constant conflict and warfare, and on the other hand, on urbanization, the formation of cities, was founded upon excess food production. And food production in itself relied on muscle power and gave men an edge over women, which they did not have in hunter-gatherer societies. Hunter-gatherer societies were almost totally egalitarian, but urban societies, and definitely industrialized societies, up to about 150 years ago, were totally male-dominated and male-oriented. Women were chattels.

They were a kind of property and a yielding property. And children were considered also an integral part of the workforce.

The very concept of childhood is relatively new. It started with the romanticism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for example. So it's about maybe 200 years old.

Even authors like Dickens and Louisa May Alcott, when they wrote about children, when they included incorporated children in their works, they don't refer to them as children. They refer to them as little women or little men.

So the increase in testosterone, and we know that during the age of the patriarchy, until about 40 or 50 years ago, the levels of testosterone were much higher than they are today.

What I'm saying is not only a metaphor. These are actual changes in the human body, in the production of specific hormones and specific neurotransmitters.

Testosterone prepares people, prepares especially men, prepares them to conquer, to breed, to procreate, affect the production of sperm.

So, for example, sperm counts in modern men are much lower, sometimes 70 percent lower, than sperm counts in men only 50 or 60 years ago.

And so at the behavioral level, increasing testosterone is intimately linked to territorial conduct, territory, courtship, mating, all the foundations of the of the patriarchy, the family, marriage, land, inheritance and succession.

Soselfishness in the sense that there was clannishness, everyone was in clans, and the interests of the family, and the interest of your nearest and dearest were much more important than the interest of any, any collective, it was everyone. Everyone was fending for for themselves. There were no social safety nets or great societies, or whatever, but pair bonding and as embodied in the family is reified in the family was a critical building block of the patriarchy, and in this sense families are right.

When they castigate and chat and cast families as essentially a male invention intended to some somehow enslave women, or, but women of course traded off sexuality, sex, they traded off sex for protection and for provision. They made a trade off this, they kind of colluded with the men in creating the patriarchy, it's very misleading to pretend that women didn't want anything to do with the patriarchy and we're sort of chain gang into it.

It's nonsense. Women actively pursued the formation of the patriarchy and its maintenance, women are the guardians of, of social mores and ethics and morality. Women are the gatekeepers had women not collaborate in the continued existence of the patriarchy, women would have collapsed exactly as it did in the last 50 years, women now refuse to continue to collaborate with men.

And so the patriarchy had crumbled to dust in effect.

So, this was the age of testosterone, testosterone is also responsible for monogamy in group, living in group and out group roles, cooperative tasks and protection of territory, all familiar facets of human history, until about the 20 and the middle of the 20th century.

Then, starting 150 years ago. There was a new social and literary and artistic movement, known as romanticism, romanticism inexorably led to the rise of feminism.

Now, because romanticism postulated, even if we only in a latent way, but postulated a kind of equality between the genders, men and women collaborated in love, you can't love your unequal, you can love only your equal. Men and women collaborated in love. Men and women became soulmates. They were supposed to have some kind of telepathic access to each other's minds. They merged and fused. This merger infusion fostered and engendered and encouraged and broadcast by romanticism had equated ipso facto had equated men and women made them one unique gender, started with romanticism, actually.

Feminism was the inevitable outcome of romanticism and this whole age could be easily called the oxytocin age. Oxytocin is a peptide hormone. It's a neuropeptide. It's usually produced in the brain, but we have discovered recently that oxytocin is producing numerous locations in the body.

Oxytocin is crucial for social bonding, reproduction, childbirth, the period after childbirth, like breastfeeding, but also sexual activity, and especially orgasm. Oxytocin is also released during labor.

So oxytocin is about love. It's the age of love. Romanticism was the age of love, exalting love, elevating love, idolizing love, the perfect love, the blemishless and flawless love, the two souls who had found each other across the ocean and against all odds.

It was a narrative that was captivating and was carried on later by the likes of Hollywood. And to this very day, we are embedded in romantic notions because, for example, we seek love and romantic affiliation and sex is the foundation of our long-term committed relationships, which would have been unthinkable before the 19th century, until the 19th century, marriage and committed relationships.

Not only marriage, by the way, they were alternative lifestyles, but any committed relationship until the 19th century was based strictly and purely on interests, the confluence and matching of interests.

Adjacent landlords, your income, my income, common property, transferring wealth to the next generations was totally transactional. Sex was outsourced, men went to prostitutes, women had lovers.

So combining the two, sex and love within a committed relationship is a totally new invention. It's a romantic invention and it is based on the neuron, on the hormone, oxytocin.

So oxytocin has to do with all the elements and the aspects of having or running family. The family became the foundation of family-like structures.

When people came up with the idea of the nation state in the 19th century, they regarded it as an extension of the family.

National economies were considered an inflated version of family budgets.

Bismarck, who was the Iron Chancellor of Germany, introduced social safety networks, pension schemes and other social security programs.


Because the nation state was supposed to be your family. It was supposed to take care of you.

So oxytocin is the bonding hormone. It's a hormone that puts people together in order to generate new life and to protect life, to protect progeny and the nation state by extension.

These are the two roles of the nation state.

Many functions of the family were outsourced to the nation state. For example, education became an outsourced thing. You sent your child to a school. You didn't educate your child at home.

So you sent the child to a school. Even very intimate functions were outsourced. Work was outsourced until the inception of the Industrial Revolution, work and family were one.

Families were work units. Everyone in the family, including children, worked from dawn to dusk.

And so the family was hollowed out and the nation state took over many of its functions, but they coexisted and all these structures were founded and established on bonding. They emanated from bonding.

Now, when we look at oxytocin, one of the main roles is sexual. Oxytocin, for example, induces erection and ejaculation, sperm release.

Human sexual response, oxytocin levels rise in plasma during sexual stimulation and orgasm. Oxytocin released into the brain of the female is important for pair bonding with her sexual partner.

As it happens also in one night stands, which is why there's no such thing as casual sex. It's total myth. It's nonsense, as anyone who has had casual sex will tell you, even if they deny.

So, oxytocin is responsible for maternal behavior, for in group bonding, for out group conflict, because if you bond in group, there's by definition people who are out group.

Oxytocin is also very crucial when it comes to empathy.

We can induce heightened heightened states of empathy just by spraying nasally oxytocin.

Oxytocin has to do with all socially lubricated behaviors, and that includes, by the way, lying and dishonesty, because lying and dishonesty lubricate day to day social interactions.

If you were totally honest with each other, we would be doomed. We would be fighting all the time. Oxytocin helps us with this.

And so it is strongly correlated, oxytocin, with associating with members of your own group and conflicting with others.

So, oxytocin seamlessly took over testosterone, and indeed, in the past few decades, testosterone levels have declined dramatically, together with spam counts, but there had been a notable increase in the production of oxytocin.

In group dynamics became crucial. People placed enormous value on pair bonding, couples, families, committed relationships, nation states, and so on.

In other words, people placed a premium on belonging.

They began to associate emotions with group affiliation. The group could be another person in a committed relationship, and the group could be your country.

But there was an association with being formed between emotions and belonging, emotions and acceptance. Oxytocin is a pro-social hormone.

It facilitates trust and attachment between individuals. It enhances social behaviors.

Oxytocin also modulates fear and anxiety. It does not elicit fear and anxiety, like testosterone, but it modulates them. It seems to kind of regulate behaviors of approach avoidance, but only in social contexts, and it increases the salience of certain social stimuli.

So again, it's a regulator of social behavior. It reduces fear. We know that when we administer oxytocin, fear is reduced. It inhibits probably the amygdala, although we are not sure quite yet.

On the other hand, it increases emotions like envy and schadenfreude, glee at someone else's misfortune.

Envy is a major driver, a major driver of capitalism. It is not an accident that capitalism emerged.

Proto-capitalism was already evident in the 13th and 14th centuries, but capitalism in its modern rapacious form, the jungle capitalism, had emerged recently, and it's not an accident that it had emerged in the age of oxytocin, because these emotions of envy and so on, relative positioning, that is now all the rage in social media, these are mediated via oxytocin.

There's a contagion element in oxytocin. Oxytocin increases the salience and the prevalence of cues, social cues, that imply some kind of contamination.

These cues are critical to survival. Oxytocin is about survival in groups.

In this sense, oxytocin is a collectivist hormone, unlike testosterone, which is essentially everyone for himself.

So this was the second age of civilization, the age that we are just emerging from.

The reason we all feel so disoriented, dislocated, depressed and anxious is because we are in a major transition period between one age and another.

The age of oxytocin to the age of dopamine.

Testosterone, by the way, suppresses oxytocin. They fight each other.

So the transition to oxytocin had to mean the reduction in testosterone.

So oxytocin affects generosity. It affects trust, as I said. It affects romantic attachment. It affects group serving, dishonesty and deception. It affects social distance between people. It creates romantic affections and monogamous pair bonding.

Social behavior and wound healing are actually mediated by oxytocin.

So it's a very metaphorical thing. Wounds in the body heal because of oxytocin. It's a healer. It's a healer hormone.

Testosterone was aggressive in your face, a bit psychopathic hormone, which allowed humanity to emerge from the agricultural age and to create cities, to transition to the age of urbanization and to be very territorial and to conquer and to fight.

Colonialism may have been the last example of the testosterone age. And then the oxytocin age reversed all this.

It placed emphasis on the collective.

No wonder. Up until the 1930s or 1940s, all the major social movements in the world were collectivist movements.

Nazism, fascism, communism. There were all collectivist movements, even in the United States. There was a socialist agenda at work under FDR, Frank Villeneuve Roosevelt.

And then 50 or 60 years ago, the trends that had started with romanticism and culminated with feminism had reached a crescendo. And they had reached a crescendo because of advances in medicine, for example, contraception, and because of advances in technology, both medicine and technology, self-empowered people. They were empowerment technologies.

So people became empowered and they became self-sufficient.

For the first time in human history, people did not need each other that much.

And so the rise of contraception allowed women, for example, to engage in riskless sex. The rise in social media and similar technologies, the Internet, allowed people in general to produce, for example, books, movies, to order things.

So they became each person, each household became a hub, a hub of consumption, global consumption, and self-sufficiency.

You could entertain yourself. You can even have sex via the Internet.

So the rise of these technologies pushed humanity inexorably into the Third Age.

The Third Age is the age of dopamine. It's a hedonistic age. It's a narcissistic age. It's a self-centered age.

And it's psychopathic in the bad sense of the word because the psychopathy of the testosterone age was centered around the family unit, the clan, the tribe.

So the selfishness, the egotism of the testosterone age was harnessed and channeled into collective aims.

So people created cities, dynasties, but still everything was done collectively.

The selfishness of the testosterone age was communal and prosocial.

The hedonism and selfishness of the dopamine age are atomized. They are solipsistic. They are individualistic, the very concept of individual and self. These are totally new concepts. These concepts would not have been recognized only 150 years ago. These are very new concepts, individual, divided from society, self, as opposed to others, the self and the other.

There's a lot of alienation, a lot of separation, a lot of self-containment and self-sufficiency. I don't need you. Go away.

The dopamine age, which we had just entered about 50 or 60 years ago, started in the 1960s. The dopamine age is an age where we drift away from each other. We find it increasingly more difficult to collaborate on common goals and common aims. We disagree on agendas. We have partisanship, tribal thinking, and they translate into aggression.

The dopamine age relies, of course, on dopamine. Dopamine, as opposed to the previous two, is a neurotransmitter. It's not a hormone. It is made in the body. The nervous system uses dopamine to send messages between nerve cells. It's a chemical messenger. Dopamine is about pleasure, almost exclusively. It's a big part of our unique ability to think and plan, but think and plan within a reward system.

So the dopamine is a reward chemical. Whatever you do with dopamine or through dopamine or with the use of dopamine, you do in order to derive pleasure. It's what Freud called the pleasure principle. Dopamine helps you strive, focus, find things interesting.

When you're interested in something, you release dopamine. It's all about pleasure. Cocaine increases dopamine in the brain. It satisfies the natural reward system big time.

But the problem with dopamine is the more you're exposed to it, the more you develop tolerance. In other words, you need increasing doses of dopamine to take you to the same point of pleasure or to a high.

That's why you need to consume more and more cocaine, coke, in order to reach the same level of high.

And this leads to emotional loss when the dopamine hit is over. So dopamine rush or dopamine hits are, quite a long story short, addictive.

And because the brain itself releases dopamine, we have an inbuilt addictive system, addiction within our minds. And it is extremely dangerous to play with this system.

And what we've been doing in the past 50, 60 years with casual sex, with social media, with entertainment, mass entertainment, what we've been doing, we've been screwing around with the dopamine system in our brains. We've been creating addictions, artificially induced addictions, which would be very near impossible to reverse and which will have devastating consequences on the level of the species itself.

Yes, I think this is an existential threat to the species. I even consider it much bigger than climate change.

We feel pleasure when we do certain things, like, for example, sex. We feel pleasure when we accomplish something. We feel pleasure when we consume certain substances, sexual stimulation produces dopamine. We feel enjoyment. We feel joy, we feel cheer.

But dopamine can lead you into very bad ways. Take, for example, social media, and I've been sounding the alarm on social media for many years.

I refer you to my interviews with Richard Grannon.

So social media, dopamine, as I said, is a naturally occurring, feel-good chemical. It triggers our inner reward system.

Social media mimics human connection. Social media prompts dopamine release. When we get a like, dopamine hit, when we get a favorable comment, dopamine hit, when we get views on YouTube, dopamine hit.

We are constantly exposed to dopamine rushes and dopamine hits. When we have sex, especially, by the way, casual sex, dopamine hit. When we have regular sex within relationships, oxytocin hit.

So casual sex is a dopamine release activity that creates definitely an addiction.

Anyone who had experienced casual sex will tell you that despite the fact that casual sex is extremely bad, bad quality, it's difficult to extricate yourself. It's difficult to transition to a committed relationship.

And this is the mild case.

Drugs, of course, are very difficult to get rid of. It's a habit that's difficult to get rid of.

In other words, dopamine habituates and it creates tolerance, exactly like alcohol.

Beautiful images of other people with minimal effort. They create dopamine hits. They create a dopamine rush. It's the equivalent of a real life interaction. It's a drug. It's addictive. It creates conditioning. It's an intense pleasure response. It's exciting and it's the same kind of reinforcement that you get when you win in a casino, when you win money in a casino or in the lottery.

And so we are gambling on this outcome in a way.

There's a critic of social media by the name of Lemke, L-E-M-B-K-E. I recommend that you watch some of her work. She says that we had entered a dopamine deficit age.

We constantly crave dopamine because we experience less pleasure when we are not using the kind of activity or drug that create dopamine surges.

And this drug is in her mind is social media. She says the problem with things that release a lot of dopamine all at once is that our brains have to compensate.

But this is really the key point. Our brains don't just then bring our dopamine firing back to baseline level.

The brain actually pushes dopamine levels below the baseline. We go into a dopamine deficit state.

That's the way the brain restores homeostasis. If there's a huge deviation upward, then there's going to be a deviation downward.

That's essentially the countdown. That moment of wanting to stay online, to click on one more video, to connect with one more person.

And I would add to take one more shot or to sleep with one more stranger.

The dopamine deficit state, says Lemke, you know that you are in this state when you scroll through social media and you feel that you cannot stop.

It doesn't necessarily feel good. You are not getting anything from your actions, but you can't stop. You just keep scrolling.

In a dopamine deficit, she says it can feel similar to depression and anxiety and indeed rates of depression and anxiety among social media users are much higher than among non users.

Same with casual sex. Casual sex has been associated with depression and anxiety, especially among women.

Social media, therefore, casual sex, food addictions, any other types, they all have impacts on mental health.

And we are living in an age that fosters and encourages addiction because there's a lot of money in it. Addictions have become cottage industries.

So this is the age of dopamine, the age of addiction.

Some people are more susceptible to addiction. They are dependent. They have dependent personalities or what is colloquially known as addictive personalities.

The brain is changing. Whenever the brain is exposed to dopamine, repeated hits of dopamine, the brain changes.

It's been proven in studies. There's neuroplasticity of the brain is reactive to abuse, but it also reactive to pleasure.

There's very little effort now required in getting a dopamine reward. You go online, you watch pornography, you go online, your social media, you watch something on YouTube, you got your dopamine.

The reward threshold in our brain is changing.

So this age, this third age of civilization, the age of hedonism, the age of atomization, the age of narcissism and the age of reward, constant reward, which creates entitlement.

This is the age that we had entered.

It would make it impossible for us to coordinate our efforts as a species, even if these efforts are focused on survival.

Look how difficult, how impossible it is for us to agree on a common agenda regarding COVID-19.

To agree on common efforts regarding climate change. These are existential threats and yet we can't get our act together and we can't get our act together because we are all dopamine addicts and we have entered the third age of civilization, the age of dopamine.

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