“Sir, what sciences have you addicted yourself to?”
someone asks Don Quixote in an eighteenth-century English translation of the Cervantes classic. To Shakespeare, addiction was an activity that one was passionate about.
Today, when we talk about addiction, we have quite a different understanding. Where 15 years ago, people thought of drugs, alcohol, and gambling. Today, we can be addicted to sex, food, sleep, or dogs.
I am addicted to my dog
According to addiction expert Gabor Mate
Addiction is any repeated behaviour, substance-related or not, in which a person feels compelled to persist, regardless of its negative impact on one’s own life and the lives of others. Addiction involves:
- compulsive engagement with the behavior, a preoccupation with it;
- impaired control over the behaviour;
- persistence or relapse, despite evidence of harm; and
- dissatisfaction, irritability or intense craving when the object—be it a drug, activity or another goal—is not immediately available.
As we keep harming the planet despite our better knowledge, are we - as a society - addicted to a behaviour pattern?
Especially, in the Global North, rates of depression are growing. Together with the GDP. There is no causal relation between the two, but it hints at what we all already know anyways: economic growth and hence consumerism doesn’t lead to flourishing life.
As Robert Kennedy observed already in 1968
The Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
Studies confirm this.
Nonetheless, we keep pursing a way of life, focused on consumption.
The problems we face today are an unintended consequence of the addictive patterns of modern life.
What is it about modern life than that requires ever-increasing consumption?
According to addiction research, the conditions that promote the neurobiology of addiction in human beings are emotional isolation, powerlessness, and stress. The same factors, that many in todays society face.
For a lot of people, this is very obvious. They have long given up on accumulating money and stuff in the hope of a better life. But even though many are trying to escape the cycle of work hard shop hard, only a few actually make it out of the hamster wheel. Many want to flourish and are stuck in old habits. It is a question of how deeply we are buried in our habitual ways of acting individually and socially. And just as an addict is blind to the causes of his struggle, society - and maybe you - display the same patterns.
How do we get out of our addictive patterns, individually and collectively?
The most famous method to escape any kind of addiction is the 12 step program by alcoholic anonymous.
Russel Brand adapted these 12 steps in the following way:
- Are you a bit fucked?
- Could you not be fucked?
- Are you, on your own, going to ‘unfuck’ yourself?
- Write down all the things that are fucking you up or have ever fucked you up and don’t lie, or leave anything out.
- Honestly tell someone trustworthy about how fucked you are.
- Well, that’s revealed a lot of fucked up patterns. Do you want to stop it? Seriously?
- Are you willing to live in a new way that’s not all about you and your previous, fucked up stuff? You have to.
- Prepare to apologize to everyone for everything affected by your being so fucked up.
- Now apologize. Unless that would make things worse.
- Watch out for fucked up thinking and behaviour and be honest when it happens.
- Stay connected to your new perspective.
- Look at life less selfishly, be nice to everyone, help people if you can.
As a society we are still stuck in step no 1: to accept that our actions are responsible.
A lot of us keep going with our daily lives as if nothing was happening. We know, that our actions cause climate change, that we run out of resources and that species are dying in the hundreds daily. And yet, we don’t admit that we are actually responsible for it. We turn to politics, cooperations, and experts to find a solution. The popularity of quick cures and life-hacks to all kinds of problems - from obesity to life-satisfaction - displays that we understand change as something that is given to us, without putting efforts into it.
As probably any ex-alcoholic can tell you, it takes more than reading a life-hack. It takes trial and error, the willingness to change and the willingness to fail.What you get in the end is not the end of un-sustainability.