American Samizdat

Monday, October 09, 2006. *
A Companion Piece

From top to bottom of the ladder, greed is aroused without knowing where to find ultimate foothold. Nothing can calm it, since its goal is far beyond all it can attain. Reality seems valueless by comparison with the dreams of fevered imaginations; reality is therefore abandoned.~Emile Durkheim

the full onset of a process addiction, which in many cases, is more subtle and thereby more dangerous and insidious than overt addictions.

What are process addictions? First coined by Anne Wilson Schaef. Process addictions are a series of activities or interactions that "hook" a person, or on which a person becomes desperately dependent. Process addictions include but are not limited to: work, shopping, sex, money, exercising, eating, gambling, religion, relationships, greed and power.

"The time has come to admit, without reservation, that society is an addict and functions on a systemic level the same way as any decompensating or deteriorating drunk. In order to tolerate this system you have to be addicted (Dr. Anne Wilson Schaef, 1987)".

(San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987)

From the book's introduction: "Our society is deteriorating at an alarming rate. As we watch the news and read the newspapers, we are increasingly made aware of corruption in high places, financial collapse, and a lack of morality in settings ranging from preschools to meat packing plans. Our planet is being destroyed by acid rain and pollution. Hunger and wars rage over the planet.

"As a society, we are responding not with action but with a widespread malaise. The market for antidepressants has never been better. Apathy and depression have become synonymous with adjustment. Rather than looking for ways to change, to save ourselves, we are becoming more conservative, more complacent, more defensive of the status quo.

"Those few individuals who notice and draw attention to these growing problems are met with massive denial. When they run for public office, they are not elected. When they confront us with what they know, they are ignored, dismissed, or discredited."

Finally, she writes, “Since the White Male System/Addictive System defines itself as reality, everything else is unreal by definition. Since its referent is the external referent, the internal referent is unreal and nonexistent by definition. The process of invalidating that which the system does not know, understand, cannot measure, and cannot thereby control is so extreme that large areas of perception and knowledge are lost. We give the system the power to make the known unknown.” futher, “Whole areas of knowledge and information have been defined into nonexistence because the system cannot know, understand, control, or measure them.”

She understands that the institutions of society perpetuate addictive behaviors; "The Addictive System operates out of a "scarcity model" and is quite institutionalized. When Society Becomes an Addict is an easy read, peppered with true stories and funny examples. The content is so true it's terrifying... all the more so because it was written almost twenty years ago.

Prior to this book, Schaef had broken some interesting ground about how gender and culture work in mainstream American society. In "Women's Reality," she broached the idea that men and women have different realities - that is, different cultures with different values and experiences. In fact, she proposed that there were several, including a white women's culture which is complicit with the corrupt parts of white male culture, and an "emerging female system" which has begun to define and explore itself and defy mainstream societal corruption.

Basically, Schaef has realized something. She has society's problems all figured out, but she's targeting the wrong people.

Our society responds to crises "not with action, but with a widespread malaise." With each crisis, moreover, it's becoming increasingly "conservative, complacent (and) more defensive of the status quo." The worse things get, the deeper we sink into denial. And when we do try to do something, we consistently pick our favorite part of the problem, take it out of context, and begin a misguided uphill battle to fix things.

There are two big questions raised by this: What's missing in this picture that would let us deal with problems more effectively? And how do we escape the denial and lack of information that pulls us in like quicksand?

Addiction: The Missing Piece

Anne Wilson Schaef has a simple and amazing explanation: Society itself has become an addict.

Addiction theory has not yet hit the mainstream, nearly twenty years after this book's publication. Fortunately, Schaef's book understands this and sets out to explain exactly what addiction looks like, how it works on a societal level, and what that means to all of us.

She starts out by presenting the four myths that our system believes about itself and which perpetuate it:

1. This system is the only thing that exists. I chose to go to a women's college. One of the unexpected side effects of this was that I had to endure three and a half years of many people telling me over and over that I wasn't in "the real world," that I'd better prepare myself for "the real world," that "the real world" wouldn't be like this, that my education wasn't going to be applicable in "the real world." They seemed to imagine that Mills was a hermetically sealed environment in which no men were allowed (instead of having many men on the staff and faculty as well as in the graduate school and in classes which were open to grad students) and, most importantly, that nothing I could learn while surrounded by women would be worthwhile, important, or valued. Fortunately, I knew even then that there was no single "real world," and that I was making the right choices for myself.

2. This system is innately superior. As Schaef points out, this idea is confusing because it directly contradicts the idea that a given system is the only system... much like the statement that you mustn't worship other gods is confusing when it comes from people who insist that there is only one God. But it is a useful thought, because it allows us to insist (with no direct experience and little knowledge of other cultures) that we are the best country in the whole entire world.

3. This system knows and understands everything. This belief is often seen coming from doctors who think that whatever they've learned is all there is to learn. It is the fuel behind the idea that we are the best and we are always right. It is what lets us erase other people's cultures, experiences, and realities.

4. It is possible to be totally logical, rational, and objective. If we believe this, we can ignore any ways in which we're not being objective, or rational, or logical - any areas in which we don't have all the information - and most importantly of all, anyone who disagrees with us. Even worse, it cuts us off from important information and from our own senses and feelings.

5. It is possible to be God as defined by the system. This is the fifth of the four myths - that is, it's the overriding myth that includes them all. It's the idea of being always right, of being in control of and responsible for everything, of having or being able to have total power.

Throughout the book, she explains what behaviors are characteristic of addicts, and how they fit into her theory. She explains the processes used by an addicted system, and some ways in which we can work toward systemic recovery. The following is a list of the main issues she raises:

The need to create crisis: Addicts are universally addicted to drama and adrenaline. Many of us have a hard time feeling alive without a crisis. Not only does it break through our numbness, but it gives us something to control and, often, an excuse to use one of our substances of choice. It keeps our lives from feeling safe, because that confuses us. Safety and peace don't feel right or normal. As Schaef explains, "Even when the situation gets out of control, it is satisfying to us because it is OUR situation and WE made it.... There is no doubt that a crisis is good for the economy and keeps the public believing that our government is 'doing something.' Sometimes we need to create a crisis to give ourselves a role and feel needed."

Lying: Schaef says, firmly, that "an addiction is anything we feel tempted to lie about. An addiction is anything we are not willing to give up (we may not have to give it up and we must be willing to do so to be free of addiction." Addicts are deeply invested in lying, especially to ourselves, about what our lives feel like, what we are doing, and why we are doing it; denial is a huge part of this.

And what does our government do? Our public figures lie to us and each other about the evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in order to invade it, lie about their affairs, about their drunk driving arrests, have their driving records erased.... Our government agencies have engaged in roughly a hundred years of torture and other nonconsensual human experimentation and repeatedly attempted to shred the documentation about it so that even Congress doesn't hear about it for decades. Politicians lie so much, as Schaef later points out, that their speeches are often well-nigh unintelligible. On a more personal level, there's advertising, faked orgasms, and Fox News.

A sense that something is very wrong - but it can't possibly be our fault: And, equally importantly, a sense that we can't possibly make things right. We pick someone else who is supposed to fix things, and when they can't, (and of course they can't, because we're not taking care of our part), we blame them for what is happening. We blame our spouses for all the problems in our relationship. We blame the economy for our debt. If only France had backed us up, we would have had everything under (our) control in the Middle East in no time. It's all everyone else's fault. As Schaef says, "On a system level, we believe we are not causing the unrest in the world. If others would only behave, we would not have to retaliate." This book was written in 1987, but it describes most of the United States' history over and over.

Self-centeredness: As addicts, we become increasingly focused on our fix. We can't hear what others are saying to us; all we can hear is whether they are supporting our addictive behavior or not. In other words, "Everything that happens is perceived as being either for or against the self." And on a national level, we perceive everything that happens in the world as being either for or against the United States. We perceive ourselves, moreover, as a sort of police officer to the rest of the world; we have to take sides in everything, no matter how little it has to do with us or how little the rest of the world wants our involvement. And that's easy when we perceive every country and every group in terms of whether or not they are on our side. It also leads to the inabilty to see others' perspectives or be objective, because the idea of our selves, or ourselves as a country, is a concept so large that it blocks everything else out.

Arrogance: The addictive person or system "assumes that it has the right to define everything... (and) really believes that it is possible to be God as defined by our system." Addicts believe, on some level, that we are God. The world revolves around us; we think we have total control over everything that happens in our lives, or in many cases, in the world.

This comes out in a scary way on the governmental level. One "question" asked of George Bush at a sycophantic press conference (at which he screened everyone to decide who could ask the questions) was, "This is the first time I've ever felt that God was in the White House!" Questions of the separation of church and state aside, this is a pretty terrifying image in its own right. And as Schaef remarks, "the outstanding characteristic of that particular God is that ability to control everything. He is white, male, and in charge."

Control Issues: Oh, my, yes. Addicts have serious boundary issues. We can't tell where others end and we begin. And that has some pretty serious effects. It makes it feel like "everything is me and everything starts coming at me and is either for or against me." It's an overwhelming and terrifying sensation -- which leads to paranoia and the need to control everything around us. On a national level, we want to control the whole world, and we need constant reassurance that other countries are on our side and willing to collaborate on whatever we want. For that matter, our government sees its entire purpose as regulation and control. "Consider our political leaders: We have a president and a cabinet who believe firmly that they can control everything.... One of our greatest fears is that of losing control of ourselves, our families, our surroundings."

Perfectionism: This is the equally destructive flip side of all of our control issues. Schaef calls addicts "conscientious, concerned people with high aspirations and high expectations of themselves." Being an addict doesn't mean being a bad person -- it's just unhealthy.

And as a country, we are all of these things. There is that aspect of America which sees itself as noble, which tries so hard to be a conscientious world citizen, full of people who volunteer and give money to good causes and help lost children find their parents. We want to be the world police and the world's helping hand, often to the point of delusions of grandeur. And unfortunately, this perfectionism sets a standard for ourselves that we can and should never reach.

"Stinking Thinking": In Alcoholics Anonymous, it is often said that alcoholism is the symptom, not the problem. An alcoholic can stop drinking and still behave just as chaotically and irresponsibly as if they had just finished off a six-pack. "Stinkin' thinkin'" is the kind of fast-moving, circular justifications we make to ourselves to excuse behavior we know is wrong or harmful. It comes out of fear, and then Schaef identifies this as the experience of being a person, or a system, with "confused, alcoholic thinking... dishonesty, self-centeredness, dependency, and need for control at its core."

That's Just the Beginning...

Also see*: The Global Crisis of Addictions

Dry drunk Chief clearing brush, has let the Cheneyco Presidency have full access to the bar. And like a co-dependant terrorized by the active insanity of extremely dangerous behavior, the American people are so inflicted with their own brand of sickness they are incapable, followed by pitiful and complete incomprehensive demoralization WITH NO Intervention Strategies.

[Note: I don want to hear any shit about where my second link is hosted, it has nothing to do w/the data and info, want to throw the baby out w/the bathwater, then reread the above.]
posted by Uncle $cam at 3:36 AM
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