There is a parasite that can make you more successful in life. It digs into the brain and alters its chemistry, causing the infected subject to, in scientific terms, stop giving a fuck. This is not a joke, though it only works if you’re a wolf. We think.
The parasite is called toxoplasma gondii and its life cycle requires it to get into the intestines of cats large and small. To facilitate this, it infects the cats’ likely prey (such as mice) and changes their brain chemistry to make them unafraid of predators, so they are more likely to get eaten. The twist is that if you try to pull that same trick on a wolf, you’ve simply created a more badass wolf: Infected wolves are far more likely to become pack leaders, or to strike out on their own and form new packs.
I know what you’re asking. “Will you, Jason, be the first to sell toxoplasma gondii as a supplement, perhaps under the tagline, ‘BECOME THE WOLF IN A WORLD OF SHEEP!’?” I absolutely would, except 1) I’m too tied up with getting the next book written and 2) it’s not clear to what degree human brains are affected by toxoplasma gondii, if at all (some studies claim to show that infected humans have a greater tendency toward aggression, car accidents and alcoholism, but their methodology is suspect). Still, this does hint at something everyone, everywhere should know...
Before we continue, THE NEXT BOOK IS UP FOR PRE-ORDER, INCLUDING SIGNED COPIES!
Zoey is Too Drunk for This Dystopia is the third book in the Zoey Ashe series of violent sci-fi novels that are definitely only for adults. Or mature youths who have the approval of their parents, whatever.
Get signed copies here, that’s PRE-ORDER ONLY! Normal unsigned copies are at Amazon (including audio), Barnes and Noble, Bookshop or wherever else you buy books. It’s out this fall, but as an author, pre-orders are make-or-break. They are how the booksellers judge interest in a title! If you’re sure you want it, don’t wait! Thanks!
1. Most Successful People Are The Brutalized Subjects Of A Cruel, Invisible Master
I am just successful enough that I get constant questions/requests for helpful tips, which puts me in an awkward position because my success is driven by a parasite. A figurative one. I think.
I have been infected with a savage anxiety all my life and I suspect it will kill me long before my time. So if you ask how I’m able to stick with big projects through the tedious parts, I can throw out plenty of tricks that are time-tested and proven (“Try making a to-do list every morning! Set and celebrate small milestones!”) but all of my advice needs to come with a disclaimer:
I couldn’t stop working even if I wanted to.
And I know this because I frequently want to. The parasite doesn’t let me.
This is not a boast. It’s not healthy and I didn’t seek it out. Here’s my schedule: I don’t set an alarm in the morning, because I don’t have to, because my fear wakes me up. Every single night I have stress dreams in which I am trying to accomplish something on deadline and failing. Early every morning I go through a transition from sleepily believing the stress dream was real, to feeling anxious and guilty that I allowed myself to sleep at all. I work seven days a week, only taking part of Saturday off to spend it with my wife.
I see a friend in-person about twice a year. I have 30 contacts in my phone and 22 of them are for some kind of business, including my old doctor, who retired years ago. If you converse with me, no matter where or when, you’re probably only getting half my attention. I’m not trying to be rude, it’s just that my nervous system is telling me that everything is on fire, all the time.
None of this is my choice. This is not a result of fucking Grindset Mentality or whatever those muscular guys on TikTok are talking about. Asking me to explain how you, too, can have this is like asking me to grant you a weird new sex fetish. I don’t know how to give it to you and I’m not sure you really want it. And yet…
2. I’m Not At All Certain That Greatness Is Possible Otherwise
I previously asked if success is just a matter of getting addicted to the right things, based on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s somewhat implausible claim that for him, pumping iron feels like a nonstop orgasm. But, of course, addiction swings both ways: if you train the brain for regular intervals of rapturous pleasure, it’s going to scream if you deprive it. I think that Arnold and Michael Jordan and whatever guy out there happens to be the World’s Best Bricklayer not only get a thrill from excellence, but are also chased through the dark by something they don’t actually know or understand. They can try to put it into words (“I just want to be the best!” “Nobody believed in me and I want to prove them wrong!”) but as far as I can tell, nobody actually knows where their motivation comes from or how to turn it on or off. If a doctor revealed that my work habits were the result of a parasite, or disease, or brain damage, I’d believe them.
But if so, it’s a parasite/disease/damage that has infected nearly all of the great figures in history as well as the successful people I personally know. A great roofer is, in approximately 100% of cases, someone who feels crooked shingles as almost physical pain. They’re deeply ashamed to have their name attached to shoddy work and are sickened by the lesser work done by their peers and rivals. It’s negative emotions in every direction, punishments from a savage master for whom nothing is ever good enough.
“Hold on,” you’re probably saying, “are you honestly asserting that no one has ever done great work while maintaining a sensible work-life balance?” I mean, nothing is ever absolute and I suppose it’s possible, if:
A. You’re such an extraordinary talent that you can produce rare, great work with only moderate time and effort, requiring little practice or revision;
B. You’re in a favorable economic situation in which you’re not forced to devote additional time and energy to another job to pay the bills;
C. You can block out the crowd of voices from within and without that are constantly demanding more, more, more. “We can only get this type of work from you, and yet you waste time going to Disneyland with your child.”
Otherwise, as far as I can tell, the mind that can produce this...
…will tear itself apart if it produces anything less than that. It sees even that work as primarily a series of flaws that could have been avoided with a little more time, a little more effort, a little less sleep. The same goes for the guys who did these cables:
It’s the result of the cruel mater, the perfection parasite. I’d know its work anywhere. This is just one manifestation of it, which raises the question…
3. Hold On, Do We Actually Know Where ANY Impulse Comes From?
I know I can be prone to hyperbole, but I believe that understanding where motivation comes from is not only the most important task for a civilization, but the only one that really matters. Everything you see around you—the cultures, the religions, the myths, the propaganda, the laws—it’s all designed to motivate the population to do what they’d otherwise prefer not to. A normal person on a normal day will not run screaming through clouds of poison gas to charge a trench full of bayonets. But the right slogans, myths, icons and incentives will cause that otherwise-normal person to follow a colorful square of cloth right into the jaws of certain death, to serve the interests of a group of strangers hundreds or thousands of miles away.
So, uh, how is that any different than what the wolf parasite is doing?
See, that’s the thing about the invisible, cruel master: It’s a force that the powerful are desperate to harness and exploit. They want to control the impulse for battlefield risk-taking, innovation, relentless labor, and cultural conformity. The problem is that the methods for accomplishing this are ancient and poorly understood. To be clear: the majority of us don’t abstain from violence and theft because we fear the police, we would remain peaceful even in their absence. If we harmed someone, we would feel guilt and shame even if we were never caught, the same guilt and shame I would feel if I ever missed a deadline.
If you ask most people why they hold those values they’ll try to articulate some clear origin. “My parents raised me that way!” But surely you know of people with good parents who turned out rotten. “Jesus commands us to be good!” But surely you know devout Christians who were sadistic and violent. “I don’t need a reason, hurting people is just wrong!” So it’s a universally understood element of existence? I won’t find any cultures or species that disagree? “It’s just logical, society functions better when people are moral!” So you have no moral taboos that aren’t based in pure utilitarian logic? You’d be okay with an adult website making a deepfake video of your mother, as long as we can prove there are no tangible downsides to society?
No, I don’t think we know why we are the way we are, I think we perceive our impulses as just inherent laws of reality. I secretly don’t think I’m weird for feeling like the world will end if I don’t get this next dumb book done on time. I think everyone else is weird for not feeling the same.
4. Society Is Currently In A Panic Over This
I have previously talked about the obsession from Elon Musk and others over the “Woke Mind Virus,” and how it’s telling that this is the phrasing they chose. They believe that the right performance or book can infect a brain just like our parasite up there, that individuals have no resistance or free will. They will say that the danger of these trends is the breakdown of traditional “values” or “gender roles,” but this is literally another way of saying, “Our mind virus is failing in the face of their mind virus!” Their goal is not to convince the population, but to have a population that doesn’t ask certain questions at all. They want citizens who will never ask, “Why shouldn’t a man wear a dress?” because the mere idea will reflexively trigger disgust (or shame, or anxiety), the invisible guardrails that maintain conformity.
But their panic comes from the fact that in the internet era, none of this works the same as it used to. The result is a series of noisy and clumsy attempts to restore control. Do they really think that making a public show of pulling certain books from libraries is an effective way to make the population instinctively reject those books, to feel the required disgust/shame/anxiety at the thought of engaging with them? They can’t think that it still works that way, right?
5. Oh No Here Is Where The Column Usually Gets Weird
Knowing how this column started, and where we ended up, you surely can see where this is going: “If a parasite has learned how to alter behavior purely on a chemical level in a way that not even the infected understands or notices, why can’t science do the same for us?”
It’s coming. You may have heard that there’s an actual miracle prescription weight loss drug now (currently being sold as Ozempic, Wegovy and others). This has caused lots of backlash because it feels like cheating; if you google any of those drugs you’ll get blog posts and columns demanding the weight be lost the old-fashioned way, with willpower and discipline. But that’s the thing: these drugs literally give you willpower, that’s how they work. They improve impulse control, so that you can actually stick to whatever healthy diet you choose.
Buried in all of the publications about these drugs is a note that, oh by the way, they don’t just help with overeating, but with impulse control in general. So now you should be asking if this would work to reduce the destructive impulses of the compulsive gambler or sex predator or [insert irresistible impulse here]. Could this cure somebody who’s gotten addicted to a smartphone game? Who compulsively masturbates to porn? Remember, the obesity treatment aspect is already an off-label use, once the public hears about any positive side effects, they’re going to come running even before the TV ads start.
If so, inevitably the question becomes, “If we are able to chemically turn ourselves into different people, who sets the standard for what type of people we should turn ourselves into? Could an authoritarian eventually have a chemical shortcut that turns normal people into devout followers?” But I’ll stop there because the dangers and implications of such a practice have already been thoroughly explored in the documentary Resident Evil 4.
The next novel is out later this year, but you can pre-order it now:
Get signed copies here, that’s PRE-ORDER ONLY!
Normal unsigned copies:
…or wherever else you buy books. It’s out this fall, but as an author, pre-orders are make-or-break. They are how the booksellers judge interest in a title! If you’re sure you want it, don’t wait! Thanks!
How Disgust is Weaponized to Control You
False Binaries Are Making Us Miserable
The Internet’s Social Status Games Are Driving Us Crazy
VERY important to note here that TLP/Alone thinks that Toxoplasmosis in humans is a possible reason behind schizophrenia.
Although schizophrenia is probably more related to that C4 runaway synaptic collapse thing due to the high heritability, it should be noted that "too much dopamine" maps eerily well to the effects of toxoplasmosis on a wolf, and too much dopamine is a huge part of what psychosis is, thus every antipsychotic downregulating dopamine.
Fantastic article. Just re this bit though, "But if so, it’s a parasite/disease/damage that has infected nearly all of the great figures in history as well as the successful people I personally know", you might be using a limited definition of success here. The Harvard Longitudinal Study on Happiness suggests that happiness and life satisfaction are pretty much only correlated with the quality of our human relationships. There might be some pursuits it ain't worth winning at.