Neo-conservative values blamed for raging addiction.
That's the basic argument in Dr. Bruce K. Alexander's The Roots of Addiction in Free Market Society, a 26-page paper contributed to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives newsletter, available online at www.policyalternatives.ca/bc/rootsofaddiction.html.
Alexander believes addictive behavior is a natural defense mechanism humans use when faced with unnatural or inhuman stresses. Humans need "psychosocial integration," term that describes the community and extended family ties that existed in tribal communities. Without that integration, people experience "dislocation." Something is missing and they seek ways to replace it. He believes different people find different ways to fill that gap and concludes that, society judges some addicts more harshly than others.
"The word 'addiction' has come to be narrowly applied to excessive drug use in the 20th century, but historically it was applied to non-drug habits as well. There is ample evidence that severe addictions to non-drug habits are every bit as dangerous and resistant to treatment as drug addiction, whether they be the compulsion for money, power, work, food, or material goods," he wrote. "The notorious downtown Eastside [Vancouver] junkies--the most publicized addicts in Canada-- are not necessarily the most destructive ones. For example, some occupants of the country's boardrooms feed their own habits by ruinously exploiting natural resources, polluting the environment, misinforming the public, and purveying modern weapons in Third World countries. Severe addictions to power, money, and work motivate many of those who direct this destruction."
In deciding which addictions are considered socially acceptable and which are not, politics, moral bias and the views of interest groups skew the debate, the psychology professor believes.
"There have been decades of futile debate about whether addiction is a 'criminal' problem or a 'medical' problem," he wrote. "The hard fact is that it is neither. In free market society, the spread of addiction is primarily a political, social, and economic problem. If the political process does not find contemporary wellsprings of psychosocial integration, society--with its ever freer markets--will manifest ever more dislocation and addiction."
He concludes the paper by calling for a re-evaluation of public attitudes and an end to the unexamined self-righteousness that leads power or wealth junkies to criminalize alcoholics or drug addicts. The futility of the war on drugs and the general ineffectiveness of the health care profession to get drug addiction under control are signs the basic approach to the problem is wrong, led astray by faulty thinking, he argues.
"A century of intense effort has shown that no matter how well different approaches are co-ordinated, society cannot 'prevent,' 'treat,' or 'harm reduce' its way out of addiction any more than it can 'police' its way out of it," he wrote.
By detailing his research into the history of addictions, Alexander demonstrates that widespread addiction began just after free market capitalism took hold during the industrial revolution. The fundamental social changes of that period destroyed community life and its extended-family inter-connectedness and ripped humans out of their natural state of being.
"In order for 'free markets' to be 'free,' the exchange of labor, land, currency, and consumer goods must not be encumbered by elements of psychosocial integration such as clan loyalties, village responsibilities, guild or union rights, charity, family obligations, social roles, or religious values," he wrote. "Cultural traditions 'distort' the free play of the laws of supply and demand, and thus must be suppressed. In free market economies, for example, people are expected to move to where jobs can be found, and to adjust their work lives and cultural tastes to the demands of a global market."
He quotes many studies to show the spread of drug and alcohol addiction mirrors the spread of free market ideology.
"Addiction changed from being a nuisance in the ancient world to a steadily growing menace as Western society moved into free market economics and the industrial revolution. Because Western society is now based on free market principles that mass-produce dislocation, and because dislocation is the precursor of addiction, addiction to a wide variety of pursuits is not the pathological state of a few, but to a greater or lesser degree, the general condition in Western society. Western free market society also provides the model for globalization, which means that mass addiction is being globalized along with the English language, the Internet, and Mickey Mouse," he wrote.
Alexander believes the growing dominance of corporate attitudes and conservative values has created an unbalanced, one-sided debate within political, health provider and policing circles when it comes to dealing with addictions.
"There has been little analysis of free market society and dislocation among professional addiction researchers because their field has been fenced in on four sides by professional conventions. First, only experimental and medical research has been considered really valid, other approaches seeming too philosophical, political, literary, anecdotal, or unscientific. Second, attention has been lavished upon alcohol and drug addictions, although non-drug addictions are often as dangerous and far more widespread. Third, American examples, data, and ideology have provided most of the important guideposts in this field, although powerful political forces limit debate there more than other places. Fourth, although a few individual scholars do speak out, professional addiction researchers have rarely contradicted the mainstream media misinformation concerning drugs and addiction. Under these conditions, and since professionals are making little progress on the problem of addiction, society will do well to fall back on common sense and history," he wrote.
The colonial period reached its peak at almost the same time as free market ideology became universally accepted in the West. Alexander said that mainstream society can see its own future--should its attitudes not be re-evaluated--just by looking at the problems faced by Native nations when they were forcibly dislocated by European colonizers.
"Extensive anthropological evidence shows that prior to their devastation by Europeans, the diverse Native cultures in Canada all provided a level of psychosocial integration that is unknown to modern people. Most Native people lived communally and shared their resources within a matrix of expectations and responsibilities that grew from their family, clan, village, and religion, as well as their individual talents and inheritance of particular prerogatives.
"They clung to their cultures with courageous resolution--although they valued European trading goods, they found European ways repellant. I have as yet found no mention by anthropologists of anything [in pre-contact Native societies] that could reasonably be called addiction, despite the fact that activities were available that have proven addictive to many people in free market societies, such as eating, sex, gambling, psychedelic mushrooms, etc. Canadian Natives did not have access to alcohol, but Natives in what is now Mexico and the American Southwest did. Where alcohol was readily available, it was used moderately, often ceremonially rather than addictively."
That conclusion contradicts the "drunken Indian" stereotype. Alexander said that is just another example of the fuzzy, erroneous data that passes for knowledge in the area of addictions.
"Although some Canadian Natives developed a taste for riotous drunkenness from the time that Europeans first introduced alcohol, many individuals and tribes either abstained, drank only moderately, or drank only as part of tribal rituals for extended periods. It was only during assimilation that alcoholism emerged as a pervasive, crippling problem for Native people, along with suicide, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and so forth. Massive dislocation produced massive addiction," he wrote.
"There is a more popular explanation for the widespread alcoholism of Canadian Natives. They are often said to have a racial inability to control alcohol. However, this is unlikely, since alcoholism was not a ruinous problem among Natives until assimilation subjected them to extreme dislocation. Moreover, if Natives were handicapped by the 'gene for alcoholism,' the same must be said of the Europeans, since those subjected to conditions of extreme dislocation also fell into it, almost universally."
A lot of space in Alexander's paper is dedicated to the history of British colonization of Scotland. Alexander discovered that tribal villages were uprooted and the tribal lifestyle destroyed by British businessmen who wanted to use the land to graze sheep for the wool industry. The forced dislocations of the Scottish people were called "clearances."
Alexander learned of this almost-forgotten bit of colonial history from Native academic Roland Chrisjohn. Chrisjohn is a former psychologist who now teaches Native Studies at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B. He wrote The Circle Game, widely recognized as one of the definitive books about the residential school system.
Alexander said It was at a conference that was sponsored by the Treaty 7 organization in Edmonton about five years ago that he heard Chrisjohn speak.
"It was quite controversial with a lot of Native people and there were five of us white guys holding forth on alcoholism. Some of what we said ran into trouble, as it should have. There was some heavy discussion and a bit of animosity and in the end it was a marvelous experience for me and I hope for other people too," he said. "Anyway, on the last day, this guy--Roland Chrisjohn--stood up and gave this speech. It was called 'White guys are human beings.' He told the story of the highlands clearances. That's the first time I ever heard of it and I'm of Scottish descent. I later went back and checked it and he was right in every detail. The story is, of course, that these Scottish guys who settled Edmonton and every other place had had, the exact same thing done to them. They were victims of the same process but they had forgotten it, he said. He said, it's in their hearts but they've forgotten it. So you know they're human beings. You know that in the past it had been done to them and that's how they were able to do it to us, he said, as if they were inhuman, but they're not really inhuman."
The Simon Fraser University professor admits his liberal philosophy helped shape his conclusions, but he insists--and the very long list of other academic sources he quoted in his paper supports him--that the conclusions are based on hard science.
He believes Canadian policy makers have shifted to the ideological right, because of the influence of the business lobby that he sees as being dominated by Social Darwinists who have no sympathy for the less fortunate.
"I think, as far as I can understand it, there is a real kind of ideological war--a war of ideas -- because these ideas, this neocon mentality or whatever you want to call it--I like to call it free market ideology--is just so, so powerful. It's in every newspaper and every television station," Alexander told Windspeaker.
Social Darwinists believe in the survival of the fittest, that the wealthy have demonstrated they are superior to the poor simply by becoming wealthy and successful. They believe the state should do little if anything to help the poor because helping those who can't cope to survive weakens the species.
"What's got to happen, though, is we have to have a different ideology. We can't have an ideology that says free markets above all, competition above all, everything else is bullshit. As soon as we start thinking that way, we're doomed," he said. "We've got to have an ideology that says 'OK, we're going to have global markets and we're going to have technology, but we're not going to have it at the expense of what's vitally important to human beings.' That's, too much to pay; we won't pay it. That ideology has to prevail or I don't see how we can endure. Civilizations do crash and burn and ours perfectly well could if we can't solve that problem."
He urges the government to do its duty and provide good government, and the only way to have good government, he believes, is to put people first.
"A government has got to do that. We go downtown and blame the victim, you know, downtown in Eastside Vancouver. It's so easy but you just can't get away with it. Obviously, most people would be there if they'd gone through what those guys have gone through," he said.
People who amass great wealth and power show the same single-minded obsession to their activities as a heroin addict shows when obtaining and using drugs, Alexander said. Yet they can rationalize judging their fellow addicts only by denying they themselves are addicted. Alexander sees that process as the biggest hypocrisy in Western society.
"That word denial, I think, is key. What happens if a guy's an alcoholic? He says, 'I'm drinking because it' does something for me,' and then he gets accused of denial. He's not denying, he's telling the truth. The denial is on the other foot, so to speak. We're denying when we say everybody should be able to make it and do just fine in this society because we've got all this money and all this freedom. That's wrong. There's where the denial is. Denial is the first problem," he said.
A similar type of denial puts up a wall of racism and resentment between Native and non-Native people but Alexander doesn't believe that wall needs to be there.
"You can't deny what happened to the Native people. It's there. But you also can't deny that it happened to the white people too. So it doesn't mean that Native people are good people and white people are bad people. But I think it's sort of a fear that White people feel, that they'll end up as the bad guy. Roland Chrisjohn addressed that in such a good way. He said white people have been through it, too, and it's in their hearts. Somehow, that understanding makes it easier for white people to face up to what our grandfathers did do," he said.
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|Title Annotation:||compulsive behavior and free-market society|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2001|
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