|picture by andrew hippie|
people want to know why i smoke cigarettes. when faced with that question i seldom ever answer it seriously. there is too much to say, too much that most people wouldn't seriously consider that would have to go into an explication of the issue. however, in this post i'm going to suspend that trend and give a few thoughts on the issue.
first, let's look at about societal perception of addiction. it is commonly thought that social consensus is a somewhat accurate division of the less harmful addictions from the more harmful ones. using this logic, we can see why addiction to heroin is a deal-breaker in many friendships while facebook addiction is a laughing matter.
however, this distinction is essentially a false dichotomy. society's fascination with partially hydrogenated oil and high-fructose corn syrup (think taco bell and rockstar energy drinks) is no less harmful than its flirting interactions with tobacco. are unprecedented epidemic-level outbreaks of obesity and diabetes negligible? are their causes laughable?
we are similarly engaged in a full-scale cultural addiction to transport by means of fossil fuel consumption. how many people that you know would still be alive if there were no car accidents? and what, in a land where we can grow our food locally and participate is the motivation for owning and operating cars in the first place? is it convenience, a large-scale fumbling for an elusive sense of control?
'these years of buy and sell'
it may be that health standards and mortality rates are not the final criteria for the social acceptance of a practice, but the separations between "good" and "bad" addictions are by no means arbitrary. they are determined by societal consent, and in a neocapitalist society consent is bought and sold in both on an individual basis (direct advertising) and on a large-scale collective level (deals worked out by legislators and lobbyists).
government propaganda campaigns invoke "big tobacco," but i haven't heard anything about "big fast food," or "big caffeine." as a result, consent is being produced, assembled and shipped with unprecedented freedom. the difference between a "good" addiction and a "bad" one might just be a few hundred thousand dollars.
what is happening here? what have we created? a universe of perceived ideals fueled and impassioned by perceived needs. large-scale addiction.
the western man needs to drive and drive fast in a car he often can't afford to prove that he is a sexually attractive entity. the western woman needs clothes with a brand on them from far, far away to prove that she can be attractive too.
why addiction (in the first place)?
essentially, we have all at least partially subscribed to the subjective worldview. we all know, deep down, that the one thing that is truly meaningful is our intangible and inexpressible self; we know that we can never quite say what we mean or convey what and who we are in the depths of our souls.
experientially, we are confounded by the realization that the force contained in our self is not a sufficient means by which to live. there are, in fact, other selves (and, arguably, a semi-static physical world) to deal with! the subjective self takes over from there and asserts needs; we crave a manifest denial of our insecurity, a tangible affirmation of our illusion that we are really in control, and these physical assertions of ego often very quickly become addictions.
this explanation also shows why addictions aren't as evidently prevalent in some religious groups. many of these groups at least nominally reject the idea that subjective truth is the most precious, substituting other methods of deriving truth (for fundamentalist christians, higher truth comes at least partially from a literal interpretation of the biblical narratives).
i've come to look at addiction as symptomatic of a widely-held cultural subjectivity and the resulting subconscious assertion of personal needs as a mission that will hold that subjectivity intact as source of higher truth by which to live. from an inter-subjective or transcendental absolutist viewpoint, all addiction is simply an arbitrary advancement of the self as the most important thing in the universe.
addiction is both a grasp for that sense of control and an expression of the futility of that grasp. so as long as we remain complicitly certain that real truth comes from within, we will remain in self-perpetuated cycles of progressively more damaging "self affirmations." but honestly, what else is there?