Saturday, 31 October 2015
Being true to nature What have addiction and free market capitalism got in common? They are both symptoms of a spectacular failure of imagination. Jean Paul Sartre argued that the traditional religious view of the origins of mankind, that a creator god had the idea of man and then created the human race, should be inverted. Sartre, an atheist, argued that in the absence of a god man existed physically first and then had to invent himself. What Sartre, the great existentialist meant was that human beings only really became fully human when they decided who they were and what purpose they would exist in the world to fulfil. Similarly, the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm stated that: “Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve.” The pressure of this need to find purpose, meaning and identity in part explains the emotional appeal of alcohol, drugs and other addictions. The challenge of being authentic and finding a purpose in life, in straying away from a herd mentality that clings to values that are both absurd and damaging is overwhelming for a great many of us. Instead, the temptation to self-medicate and to use alcohol and drugs to resolve these pressing questions is overwhelming. A person who retreats into addiction retreats from the moral, existential and spiritual questions that life inevitably presents and returns to a childlike state where there is no responsibility or pressure to participate or assert one’s own values. At present, the world is buckling under the weight of the ultimate addiction, the addiction to a fantasy, a utopia. It is the utopia of the market, one which was a lot more convincing before 2008 and is now held together, Heath-Robinson style, by capitalism’s chief advocates, the main political parties of the western world. The advocates of free market capitalism, most of the mainstream media, initially frame any discussion by telling us the audience that ‘there is no other way’, and that societies based on competition are harsh but fair. Those who rise to the top through hard work and initiative deserve to be there and those that sink, well that’s their own fault. Private vices, consumerism and vast environmental degradation are all a price worth paying because they yield public goods, i.e. without enterprise with its creativity and destructiveness, there would be no one to pay taxes and keep the NHS going. The power of addiction over the addict can often be so strong that they will continue to consume their drug of choice long after the body is capable of recovering and the obsession that the drug user can control their behaviour will take them to an early death. The same is true with our addiction to capitalism, there is only so much the biosphere will withstand and the fantasy that the earth was created to exploit for the vast riches of a small few is a massively overpowering delusion that may well make the 21st Century humanity’s last. For addicts and the adherents of free market capitalism the imagination must be re-ignited. Not only is it essential that we individually and collectively strive to see that there are alternatives, that another world for all of us is possible and must be fought for, but the conscience of the individual addict and the conscience of the world must be engaged. Deep questions about our place in the world, our values, beliefs and responsibilities must be sought by addicts and the wider society instead of the vapid, meaningless bilge that consumerism consistently reinforces.