While addiction traditionally has referred to a problem with a substance, such as illegal drugs…
Consumerism Ruthlessly Targets Brain, Pulling Us All Toward Addiction, ‘The Fix’ Argues
If we are to take what Damian Thompson says at face value in his book “The Fix: How Addiction Is Taking Over Our Lives and Invading Your World,” we might have reason to believe that one day we may not see or struggle with the mainstream addictions we see now. And it isn’t because society will be progressing to a new level of enlightenment in which excessive alcohol, illicit drugs and compulsive gambling will no longer allure us, but because contemporary capitalism will have provided us with enough viable, socially acceptable substitutes so as to make the old highs unnecessary.
But that doesn’t mean that we’re becoming well, healthy, whole or resilient. It means we’re finding so many titillating little fixes all around us, and we’re indulging our constant cravings with low hanging fruit—the Twitter feed, the bag of Fritos, the can of soda, the mindless TV, the purchase we can’t live without, the Facebook “likes.” Through consumerism of one kind or another, we are finding the constant mini-validations and ego strokes that keep us moving through our lives of pain, disappointment, stress and trauma without much upset. The constant consumption keeps us emotionally numb, but mostly functional.
Initially this might not seem like such a threat or even a bad thing. Isn’t a little Internet gaming better than alcoholism? Isn’t a compulsively eaten candy bar better than a drug fix? While these fixes may initially appear safe, their psychological effect is no different than what the drugs or alcohol provide—addictions are the mechanisms of choice for people who cannot cope with life and who crave isolation because standard human relationships are unbearable.
There are pros and cons to this trend and it has to do with all those other people around us—family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, fellow churchgoers. When we engage our addictive selves, we disengage from community, the thing that we most need. Instead of gaining our personal sense of value and our enjoyment from being in community with real people, we find virtual substitutes for community. In the void we have created, we up our consumerism and we find that it so much safer, emotionally, than the challenge of humans. Despite the appearance of safety, we face a greater danger in the disconnect.
Said The Economist book review: “Mr. Thompson leaves no room for smugness. Everyone is potentially at risk from addiction, not just ‘coke-snorting hedge-fund managers, bulimic receptionists and absent fathers glued to World of Warcraft.’ He sees no difference in principle between the high of illegal drugs, the sugar rush of cupcakes and the blinking red light on a BlackBerry that signals a new message. All involve the replacement of real relationships and real people with surrogates. Whether these are events, processes, objects or consumable substances (or a mixture) depends on the person concerned. He reserves particular scorn for the abuse of medicines, from the Ritalin habitually doled out to lively children to the Modafinil and Adderall munched by students seeking an advantage over their peers. … Conditioned by evolution to seek pleasure where we find it, we are now in an environment that ‘bombards us with rewards that our bodies don’t need and that do nothing to ensure our survival as a species,’ ” he says.
The “beauty” of some of these new addictions coming into the marketplace is that they’re more easily hidden and certainly more socially acceptable, he says. While once the shame of walking into an adult bookstore may have kept a young man off pornography, today he has it in secret, at his fingertips, free and uncensored. There is no “no,” there is no barrier, and in today’s society, there is seen to be very little value in self-control. Who wants to be labeled prude or self-righteous or boring? The spirit of capitalism and easy credit pushes the superlative merit of instant gratification. Waiting, moderating and saying no are for losers. Thus a society of addicts is cultivated.
According to a review in The Telegraph: “Contemporary capitalism,” Thompson argues, “is relentlessly, ruthlessly targeting these neurological pathways and exploiting them, and we are blissfully unaware that we are stumbling into a state of dependent consumerism.”
It’s a bleak picture that Thompson paints but it makes perfect, horrific sense. It’s a truly fresh, innovative look not just at how we view addiction but, more importantly, the late-capitalist utopia that we have created.