Rousseau seems basically right that when we leave the state of nature (whatever that may be), we are taught what to desire. Our wants, fears, emotions, things we think are natural desires and automatic and deeply private preferences are inculcated in us more often than we suppose. At least in developed, modernized societies, what we think we need to protect and fear on a day-to-day level is manufactured. We are in some sense automated. We form a thinking system with the things around us, as David Chalmers notes. Zizek talks about “thinking with objects”. That I stare so much at boxes in screens, at clocks and levers, certainly this influences my thinking. Even leaving ads aside, all of the tacit power dynamics in entertainment presented as sources of pleasure, this must affect what I think is pleasurable. The suppositions, the framings of debate, as Chomsky points out.
My more optimistic side comes from Buddhist philosophy and the notion that a certain way of looking at the world can give us distance from these false needs and automated thoughts. The term ‘mindfulness’ makes me wince, but I would at least say that a meditate state can do wonders here, as can time spent alone in nature.