Addiction: the Short and the Long of It

Here are two ways in which we can view addiction:

1. As an individual problem
2. As an environmental problem

We must ask ourselves: what is the wisest way to view it?

To answer this question, we must first know our goals. What kind of society do we want? For example, someone who desires an unbalanced society in which the few exploit the many will suggest different solutions to someone who desires a more level playing field. As a collective, our goals must be based on consensus. Our wisdom, and our solutions, then spring from these goals.

This isn't to suggest that the goals we settle on, and the wisdom we let guide us, are always going to be healthy for us; at an individual or collective level. Many of us chase goals that are decidedly unhealthy. Collectively we are currently driven by the wisdom of commerce, which is healthy for corporations, but unhealthy for human beings. Each of us must look in our hearts to decide how it is we want the world to be. It is here that true wisdom resides.

Perhaps how we view addiction depends on our understanding of what it is. One way of looking at it is to place emphasis on the object of the addiction. This approach focuses on 'addicts' and 'addictive substances.' It is what we could call the narrow, or short-sighted, approach. We focus on the immediate problem, the stimulus. Yet if our focus remains here then we risk overlooking the cause of that stimulus. To use a cycling analogy, it is akin to fixing a puncture in your bicycle inner-tube, yet overlooking the thorn that is stuck in your tyre. You have solved the immediate problem (the hole that let out the air has been patched), but have failed to address the cause (the thorn that caused the hole remains in your tyre). Thus, in time, the problem will reoccur.

All things can be approached with either a short or a long view. Which view we tend to take depends on the type of person we are, and whatever biases we may have picked up over the years. Thus, one view is, in itself, no better or worse than the other, in much the same way that a square is no better than a circle. However, in a certain context one view may serve us better than the other; just as a circle makes a better wheel, and a square makes a better brick.

Of course, we can take either view in any given situation. But what type of person we are will determine which mindset we tend towards. Some are naturally biased towards the long view, some towards the short. Clues to this can be found in labels like 'men of action' and 'men of words,' amongst other terms. Taking the long-view is like standing atop a mountain; from such a height we are able to see how all things fit together - how the river winds around the forest; how the city streets form a geometric pattern. But what we cannot see are the details. The cracks in the pavement; the stones on the riverbed; the insects in the grass. The short-view is to be found at the bottom of the mountain. From here we can see all of those details. But we don't see how anything fits together. These views complement each other, and together they provide a full picture.

In taking the short-view we are able to devise short-term solutions. One of the good things about such answers is that they are quick. The short-view is decisive; if your boat is on fire then you jump into the water. It may strike you later that there could be predators around, or that you may freeze. The moment required a decisive decision - weighing up your options could have cost you your life. Thus, in this context, a short view was favourable.

When looking at the issue of addiction, the short-view takes the first things that it gets to along the line of causality - the substance and the addict - and it looks for solutions at this level. It comes up with ideas like the following; prohibiting certain substances; urging restraint and self-control; criminalising addicts; support-groups; and so on. All are short-term solutions, and may have varying degrees of success in the short-term. They are the patch on the inner-tube. Patch the hole and no more air can escape: take the substance away and no-one can get addicted to it. Logical and effective. For a while.

The long-view travels further along the chain of causality. If it works its way back far enough it may begin to realise that an addict is not an isolated individual; and if it goes further it may see that addiction is not an isolated problem. It may see that it shares a root with a lot of other seemingly unrelated problems. And that most of these problems stem from a dysfunctional environment. The problem for the long-view is always where to draw the line; where to stop chasing that endless chain of causes. Wisdom may well dictate this line.

To state it one more time: there are two ways in which we can view addiction:

1. As an individual problem (short-view)
2. As an environmental problem (long-view)

It is natural for a long-view to see the environment and the short-view to see the object within the environment. One sees forest, the other trees. Both are important. But which will offer you the best solution to achieve your goal? And what is your goal?

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A common form of empty explanation is the appeal to what I have called 'dormative principles' [...]

There is a coda [...] to Moliere's Le Malade Imaginaire, and in this coda, we see on the stage a medieval oral doctoral examination. The examiners ask the candidate why opium puts people to sleep. The candidate triumphantly answers, 'Because, learned doctors, it contains a dormitive principle.'

We can imagine the candidate spending the rest of his life fractioning opium in a biochemistry lab and succesively identifying in which fraction the so-called dormitive principle remained.

A better answer to the doctor's question would involve, not the opium alone, but a relationship between the opium and the people.

[Gregory Bateson]
Mind and Nature, P. 97-8


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One reason people are suffering today to an almost intolerable degree is that their umediated suffering has no conscious connection with its archetypal ground.

Cut off from that ground they feel they are alone, and their suffering become meaningless. 

They do not realize that what they are suffering exists within creation itself, and that the gods and goddesses of religion and mythology have been there before.

The agony of their suffering is caused by hubris, which Jung describes as "the overweening pride --- of individual consciousness, which must necessarily collide with [the eternal truths] and lead to the catastrophic destruction of the individual."

[Marion Woodman]
Addiction to Perfection, p. 134


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Related posts:-
The Pyramid
It's in my DNA 
A Healthy Environment 
Beggars and Choosers
Digging Deeper 
Individual v Environment 

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