I’m addicted, you’re addicted, we’re all addicted. But not addicted to love, sadly. We might like to think that we’re immune, but facing the truth, we must own up that our addictions are open secrets.
Let’s touch a few bases to see where addiction might be in our lives. From personal to popular, from body to mind and soul. Since the references are drawn from acquaintances, friends, family and myself, they probably apply to your circle too.Of course there are the simple ones like food and drink. We eat too much and it can be worse than that when the diet is chips, crisps, sweets, chocolate, soda pop, coffee or tea. When consumption is a habit or a compulsion (I’ll just get that bar of chocs at the checkout) you know its in the addiction zone. And then there are the recreational substances like tobacco, alcohol and more. If its a daily event, its a habit of the mind. We are happier if in control of our mind than hooked to a habit.Its not just what we eat, its what we wear. Fashion. It must be changed daily and the suite of fashion each season. The cosmetics and “personal care” products seem critical to our self-esteem, because we lack confidence in ourselves and our friends. The daily baptism of Protene-V or some other phosphorous potion followed by lashings of lotions and creams poison our water and cover our emotional blemishes. Of course, without them we would be closer to who we are and our friends would be true.
Let’s take one step beyond ourselves to reflect upon home and work. In this sphere we’re addicted to oil. I sum it all up as oil because it is the natural biosphere credit that we’ve used up in a century to provide the fantasy to which we’re addicted. That bounty of oil, created over millenia by forces we can not replicate, has given us the stuff we wanted without the effort; though that is now changing. We drive everywhere, even though often the time benefit and convenience is not real. We heat homes and workplaces in winter so much that we wear T-shirt indoors while it snows outside. We cool them in summer, so much that we wear jackets indoors. We even use machines (requiring energy, rather than tools that don’t) to exercise. And modern conveniences beyond transport and heating consume so much energy that we effectively eat the planet many times faster than we are naturally built to.
And then stepping into the virtual world, our values also display the negative side of addiction. The compulsive adherence to convention when our mind and soul tell us to rethink our perspective. This is the crutch of certainty. At its core it is the primitive survivalist mentality of exclusivity. I am right, you are wrong. It is manifest in the monotheistic religions of humanity and in most other institutions of our world: nationalism, corporate hubris, social class distinction, professional division, intellectual pursuit, lifestyle and more. It is an addiction because we can not let go of our righteousness, even for the sake of understanding others. It is the story of nightmares, the story of martyrs, the story of visionaries being crucified.
Addiction whether acceptable, because everyone does it or because it is not easily detectable by others (day trading), or not socially acceptable (gambling) is a waste of our lives. It is a natural condition which impares our decision making ability. In fact, the habitual tendency that is endemic to addiction alters our brain in areas that are critical to decision making, learning and behaviour (eg frontal cortex). Prevention of the vicious cycle of addiction is easier than cure. But we do like to experiment and we do need positive social comparison, so with everyone playing the same games it is hard to be confident in ourselves. And the popular route to socially destructive behavior, like overeating, sedentary lifestyles and more poisonous habits is catalysed by the bounty of an oil age that gives us what we want without true cost. We have given up living for “sweets”.
When the compulsive and destructive consequences of addictions are played out at a global level by humanity, there is no one to help the sick, except we ourselves, who are sick.
So what can we do?
Denial is the symptom of addiction. So, first face up to the facts. Not by telling family, friends or acquaintances that they have a problem – that doesn’t help. But by admitting our own personal problems to ourselves. On an individual level that is harder than on a social or species level, because our confidence is impaired anyway, yet confidence is what we need to make a change. At the big picture level, the effort of humanity is vested in organisations whose own restructuring must be an immediate consequence of recognising the addiction to oil; and we must admit our compulsion more widely in institutions and government.
It is wrong to think that a crisis will be the catalyst for change, particularly on a global scale. Once a crisis occurs it is too late. And it may not even help change addictive behaviour. Is not our denial of humanity’s overconsumption combined with pollution and climate volatility evidence that this is so? We deny that there is a problem (“oh, that is just natural geological cycles … etc”). We deny that we are the problem (“We didn’t do it. Its not our fault It’s natural. It’s their behaviour, not ours”). We deny that we need to change. And if we do change its cosmetic not real (“I buy organics” without the admission that its from the global supermarket chain, imported by plane, in my SUV.) For us to tackle our addiction it must be admitted first, on personal and global level. And then we have a chance to survive.
The cure advocated by “anonymous” associations (AA – see The Big Book, CA – the Twelve Steps) encourages individuals to adopt a spiritual practice as a critical part of habit control. The language used is to seek a power outside oneself to assist with behaviour change. While this is not a universal prescription it is certain that the spiritual dimension of our lives has been neglected in favour of physical aggrandisement, whether that be diet or material wealth and status. And the failure of confidence is inherent in a weakened spiritual capacity. This does not mean atheists are not able to rejuvenate their behaviour – you do not need to believe in god to love. It means that we must attend to our emotional intelligence and the virtues of humanity, like compassion and empathy. Awareness of the spiritual dimension of the universe allows us to engage in living more fully and with this our confidence builds.
And while we may not like it, survival is the issue. There is no possibility that we can consume energy at the rate we do now for the next three decades. Unless we reengineer our habits, our addictions, together with technological advances in human infrastructure (energy, transport, consumption, education etc) we will face poverty, famine and belligerence.
Personally I’m an optimist and my vision of the future is wonderful. It includes a richness of life without the greed of consumption that has driven our primitive intelligence. But that is nothing if we don’t all change. We must face our personal addictions. We must admit our addiction to oil. We must learn to love, ourselves and others. And we must grow up.
Excellent HBO media presentation on Addiction – Centrepiece Documentary , What is addiction…,
Answers.com on addiction
Addicted to Oil – T Friedman reporting