When Society Becomes an Addict

When Society Becomes an Addict

by Anne Wilson Schaef


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An incisive look at the system of addiction pervasive in Western society today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062548542
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/20/1988
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 608,713
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.38(d)

About the Author

Anne Wilson Schaef, Ph.D., is the bestselling author of Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much, Women's Reality, and Co-Dependence, among others. Schaef specializes in work with women's issues and addictions and has developed her own approach to healing which she calls Living in Process. Her focus now is helping people, societies, and the planet make a paradigm shift.

Read an Excerpt

I. The Addictive System


Our society is deteriorating at an alarming rate. As we watch the news and read the newspapers, we are increasingly made aware of corruption in high places, financial collapse, and a lack of morality in settings ranging from preschools to meat packing plants. We fear that our children will be stolen by child pornography rings, and we hear of our "healers" taking sexual advantage of their clients. Our planet is being destroyed by acid rain and pollution, and nuclear holocaust is a very real possibility. Hunger and wars rage over the planet.

As a society, we are responding not with action but with a widespread malaise. The market for antidepressants has never been better. Apathy and depression have become synonymous with adjustment. Rather than looking for ways to change, to save ourselves, we are becoming more conservative, more complacent, more defensive of the status quo.

Those few individuals who notice and draw attention to these growing problems are met with massive denial. When they run for public office, they are not elected. When they confront us with what they know, they are ignored, dismissed, or discredited.

Other persons attempt to analyze and combat these problems by writing about them. Recent years have, seen a proliferation of books expressing their concern from every field of study: My Democracies Perish, The Reenchantment of the World, The One Straw Revolution, Turning Point, Entropy, Megatrends, and Green Paradise Lost are just a few.*

How-to books on subjects ranging from weight control to psychological self-help are more popular than ever. Alltry to give us answers, and none really addresses the problem.

I believe that there are two reasons this is true. First, most, if not all, stop at analysis and go no further. The thinking behind them is almost exclusively "left-brain"—rational and logical. To paraphrase Morris Berman in The Reenchantment of the World, they come out of a nonparticipatory, scientific approach that is based upon empiricism and logical positivism. This approach is quite limited; it views the world through a very narrow set of lenses.

Second, most, if not all, deal with only one piece of the problem. No one as yet has put the pieces together and treated the problem as a whole. In fact, I suspect that no one has yet perceived the problem as a whole—or, at least, seen it for what it is.

Much of what we know about our society can be compared to what the blind persons knew about the elephant. As that old story teaches us, an elephant is more than just ears, a tail, or a trunk; it is more, even, than just an animal. It is also a process within a context. It is born, it lives, and it dies. This is a process.

The context of our elephant—our society—is the fact that the system in which we live is an addictive system. It has all the characteristics and exhibits all the processes of the individual alcoholic or addict. It functions in precisely the same ways. To say the society is an addictive system is not to condemn the society, just as an intervention with an alcoholic does not condemn the alcoholic. In fact, those of us who work with addicts know that the most caring thing to do is not to embrace the denial and to confront the disease. This is the only possibility the addict has to recover. just as with the addict, one has to say that the society has a disease. It is not itself the disease. If it admits having the disease, it has the option of recovery.

This awareness that society has an addictive disease is what is missing from other explanations and treatments of the problems we are facing today. Most other concerned writers focus only on their specific area of interest or expertise. This is the norm within a fragmented society such as ours. It is also characteristic of the tunnel vision of the alcoholic/addict.

In addition, most people who look at the system are too close to it and too involved in it to see it clearly. They are frequently themselves functioning addicts (in ways I will go on to make clear), come from addictive, dysfunctional families, or they have tried to step outside the system and be "objective," which only serves to keep them uninformed and nonparticipating.

In order to perceive the Addictive System for what it is, one must be in it but not of it. In other words, one must be recovering from its effects. There are people who fit this criterion. Historically, however, the main curing agent for addictions has been anonymous—Alcoholics Anonymous, AI-Anon, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and so on. As a result, the people who have the most accurate perceptions of our system have often hidden this knowledge in anonymity.

It is impossible to come to a real understanding of anything without actively participating in it. My work in the women's movement and the chemical dependency field has taught me that the most reliable information is that which comes from people with personal experience. Objectivity is a myth. The people who can be trusted the most are those who can honestly say, "I know how you feel because I have been there myself."

When one brings personal participation to the generation of theory, the outcome is synthesis. This book is a synthesis of ideas and experience.

The good news is that, like the individual alcoholic/addict, the Addictive System can recover. Before that can happen, though, we must name and accept the disease. We must admit that the society we care about has a disease and can recover from that disease.

We must also be willing to do the necessary work toward recovery. This is a long process that eventually requires a shift to a new system, one I call the Living Process System.

Before being ready for recovery, the individual alcoholic/addict must often "hit bottom." I believe that our society is rapidly approaching this point, and that it may now be ready for the ideas discussed here.

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