By David Jones – August 2019
The first thing you think of when you hear the word addict, is of drug addiction. Actually the word refers to a far broader range of social behavior than drug use. The word itself dates back to Roman times and was used in law to refer to a person who could not pay debts and was given over as a bond slave to his creditor. Today it has come to mean a passionate dedication to any activity. In the modern world addiction, in this sense, has become prolific. People are addicted to shopping, the internet, sport, games. Any activity has its passionate devotees and these are termed addicts. But addiction has a darker side. When the dedication to an activity becomes an obsession and begins to have harmful effects, not just on the devotee, but to those around him and also to the society.
Bruce Alexander (In his book “The Globalisation of addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit”) attributes this darker kind of addiction to inadequate social integration or dislocation, caused by globalization. The problem as he sees it, is that addiction in all its forms, not just drug addiction, is a way of adapting to the sustained dislocation of globalisation. Our society, he believes deliberately obscures the link between free markets, mass dislocation and addiction. Mass media and political leaders celebrate the achievements and innovations of the free-market, while attributing its failings to individual immorality and weakness. Advertising urges people to keep consuming, regardless of the consequences. Millions are spent distracting people from the truth. Research funded by government and industry is designed to confuse and obfuscate reality. Educational institutions no longer teach critical thinking. Fake news abounds, to the point where it becomes nearly impossible to find the truth. In this milieu, drugs become the scapegoat, the reason for all that is wrong in the world. In truth it is dislocation that is at the core of what he refers to as “the modern poverty of the spirit”, and is the root cause of addiction.
If we take Alexander’s thinking to its logical conclusion then our society is sick from the disease of addiction; we are all addicts to one degree or another. In fact there is a deeper alienation that affects us all: an alienation from nature. Everything in this world is interconnected: one species relies on another to provide its food, its air, its sustenance. But we have forgotten that. Addiction stems from this alienation. It creates a feeling in us that something is not right in our world, an emptiness, a desire for something more, something we feel we can’t have. Some see it as a spiritual malady: a searching for something beyond ourselves. Others see it as an existential pain, a search for completeness and wholeness. We all suffer from it to some extent, but we all react to it in different ways. Some seek to fill the emptiness with money, with power: they seek power over those they see as less then themselves, they become judgmental of anyone not like themselves: they turn to war and violence. Others seek it in work. Others in helping people less fortunate than themselves, often to their own detriment. But it is the world, our society that is sick. Our society runs on natural resources that are quickly running out, but we refuse to change, to find other ways to live. We are killing the very thing that sustains us: our natural world; the planet that gives us life. This is the dark side of addiction.
Some people turn to taking drugs to find relief from the chaos and pain, and in turn create more pain for themselves and the people around them. They are cast as the villains of society: but are they really? Who is creating more pain and suffering? The world leaders who are putting children into cages, fighting wars, spending trillions to create weapons of mass destruction, and then claiming there is no money to feed the hungry people of the world? Or the drug user on the street who has turned to drugs because there are no jobs for him: no hope … none of the pieces of paper we supposedly need, to eat, pay rent, and there is none because others are stealing and hoarding it all, creating vast domains of luxury and pleasure for themselves. And the ordinary people strive for that. They become obsessed with celebrities and the mega rich, and t buy into the fantasy that one day they too can be like them. So they buy the clothes that they wear, the food that they eat: they model their lives on them, and in doing so they empower them and continue their own oppression They don’t realise that it is all a big con, that they can never be one of them.
Gabor Mate (in his book “ In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts”) says all addiction stems from pain . “We question we should be asking” he says “is not, ‘Why the addiction?’ but ‘Why the pain?’. We all have stories of pain, of suffering, of trauma. But no matter what I (or you) have been through in our personal lives there are always people in the world that have suffered far worse. Children that have had to watch their parents being blown to smithereens, little girls raped by their own fathers or sold into sexual slavery. This is the world we live in. It is sick. So we indulge in our addictions, and turn a blind eye to the reality of the world, and blame the drug addict, the foreigner, the gays, whoever is different to us, saying that they are the root of all evil in the world. And this is just what the real rulers of the world want you to think. It divides us and distracts us from the truth.
So, if you want to know the truth, instead of blaming the addict, the other ask yourself: “What is my addiction? What am I using to make the world seem a more tolerable and less painful place?.” We despise the addict, because he is the one who carries the symptoms of the disease. He reminds us of how sick our world is. Instead of blaming the addict and the drugs, which for him are his solution, just as yours may be shopping or the internet or sex, we need to find a way to heal the sickness of the world. It is the world, our society, that like the individual addict needs to find recovery. The first step is to stop the denialism, to wake up to the realisation of just how sick the world really is. To say to ourselves: “I will no longer part of this blind rush to destruction.” To stand up and take to the streets if necessary to demand change. This includes the realisation that essentially the drug user on the street is no worse, or less human than anyone else, (including the so-called leaders of the world), and to start to treat them with the empathy and respect they deserve as human beings. (I have certainly met people on the street that are more likeable, honest and human, more worthy of my time than the President of the United States). To say the corporations and the people destroying our natural environment: “No we will not let you steal our water, and put it into bottles to sell to rich people, while our children die of thirst. No we will not let you take our oil and use it to drive machines that kill us, No we will not let you put our children in cages, No we will not let you kill any more of the beautiful wildlife with which we share this planet in, the name of greed and addiction to wealth.” What are you doing to make the world a better place, so that we don’t all need to hide away in our little bubbles of addiction and pretend that everything is OK while the world burns?
We are more than just residents on this planet, we share with all the living beings on it a deep and real connection, and as long as we treat it only as a source of wealth, rather than what it truly is, the divine and glorious life- giving Gaia, we will remain dislocated and alienated and addicted to our own eventual destruction.