“When Society Becomes An Addict”

Update 6/15/22: Our current political mess is something self-identified “recovering psychotherapist” and addictions/codependency expert Anne Wilson Schaef (1934-2020) could have predicted, no doubt. Her 1987 When Society Becomes An Addict was both revelatory and prescient.

Schaef believed that every individual has at least one addiction of some kind, and that has a lot to do with society’s dysfunction and demands. In 1990 Beth Ann Krier, Los Angeles Times, reported on a lecture Schaef had given on this theme:

Even those rare individuals who come from healthy, non-dysfunctional families are not safe from the clutches of the addictive society, in Schaef’s opinion. She points out that if you didn’t learn to become a television, relationship, food, gambling, shopping, romance, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol or drug addict at home, you probably learned compulsive behaviors in your neighborhood, your school, your office or your church. Or possibly even your Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop, racking up all those merit badges.

‘We live in a society that demands addiction. The person who is best adjusted to this society is not dead and not alive because if you were fully alive, you couldn’t support the system’ [emphasis mine], she frequently tells audiences…

Important words taken directly from When Society Becomes An Addict:

…When you are fully alive you are constantly saying, ‘No’ to many of the processes of society, the racism, the polluted environment, the nuclear threat, the arms race, drinking unsafe water and eating carcinogenic foods. Thus it is in the interest of our society to promote those things that take the edge off, keep us busy with our fixes, and keep us slightly numbed out and zombie-like. In this way our modern consumer society itself functions as an addict. 

Addicted individuals and society-as-an-addict can exhibit many of the same traits (the comments refer to the latter):

  • Self-centeredness: The U.S. believes it’s the center of the world.
  • Arrogance: …And the rest of the world revolves around us.
  • Control Issues: The main aim of government.
  • Perfectionism: Too-high standards regarding both policing the world and helping it.
  • Depression and stress: Can lead to irrational decision-making.
  • The need to create crisis: Such as unnecessary wars.
  • Dishonesty: Equals much of politics.
  • “Stinking Thinking”: Always with the quick justifications for misguided actions.
  • Confusion: Just look at the bizarre process of choosing presidential candidates.
  • Denial: Should be a river in the U.S., not Egypt.
  • Forgetfulness: Thus, bad actions repeat themselves.
  • Dependency: Many “hostage-captor” type of relationships.
  • The Scarcity Model and the Zero-Sum Model: Not enough of anything to go around for everyone.
  • Negativism: Because of continually failing to meet unrealistic standards.
  • Communication gap: Ineffective countercommunication and interrogation are the norm.
  • Avoidance of responsibility and blame: Dems vs. GOP, e.g.
  • Tunnel Vision: And light at the end of it is an oncoming train.
  • Frozen Feelings: As in, out of touch with them.
  • Ethical Deterioration: Or, “spiritual bankruptcy.”
  • Fear: Drives many actions.

Interestingly, as she’d written in Women’s Reality: An Emerging Female System (1981), Schaef equated our dysfunctional society with the “White Male System.

Like a more playful version of Schaef, filmmmaker Michael Moore imagines the better world there’d be with women as rulers, as in Iceland. Moore’s new Where to Invade Next is about “how other countries around the world — with their happy workers, superior schools, humane prisons, healthy sexual attitudes and fully empowered women — are putting U.S. progress to shame,” notes Justin Chang, Variety.

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “Watching it made me feel like a deprived child with my nose pressed against the glass of a magical toy store in a faraway land. On one side is a happy, harmonious land of productive people. On the other is a world of misery, anxiety, war and greed.”

Guess which side is the U.S.—then watch the trailer:

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