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Published on Friday, March 24, 2023

The addictions we don’t know we have

Sunday January 29, 2023

A group of young people filled the restaurant booth next to mine. The first thing they all did was to pull out their cell phones.
Anne Wilson Shaef would define their behaviour as addictive. Sheaf wrote two influential books 40 years ago: When Society Becomes an Addict (1988), and The Addictive Organization (1989).
Like Marshall McLuhan’s musings on media, Shaef identified a social trend before it became too obvious to notice.
Most writing about addiction focuses on substance abuse. The illegal and dangerous drugs: heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamine. And the more socially acceptable drugs: tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol.
There’s no doubt addictions are dangerous. Last year in Canada, about 20 people died every day from drug overdoses. The province of B.C. alone had over 3,000 deaths.
There are fewer definitive statistics for the socially tolerated addictions. But about 48,000 Canadians die of smoking-related illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease.
The same criteria are not applied to alcohol. Statistics Canada includes only the deaths directly caused by alcohol consumption. Even though alcohol is known to contribute to kidney and liver failure, as well as cancer and heart disease. And even though there is a growing consensus that every drink of alcohol harms health. =

Invisible addictions
One of Shaef’s contributions was to point out that social or behavioural addictions are just as pervasive as substance addictions.
Tragically, these addictions are more often encouraged than discouraged.
Gambling once went on only in the back rooms of seedy establishments. Now it’s openly promoted by massive advertising from government lotteries and casinos.
Workaholism becomes a condition for retaining your job at Twitter.
Video games and “binge-watching” multi-year series on Netflix would qualify as addictions.
There are also less noticeable addictions: shopping, money, eating, and belonging.
Did any of those surprise you? Good!
Is your cure for the blues to head for the mall? Shopping addiction.
Have you done something just because everyone else was doing it? The others in your church group, your hockey team, your political party? Perhaps your need to belong overrides your self-control.
And do your conversations always turn to how much things cost? You’re addicted to money.
I sometimes think my granddaughter is addicted to expensiveness. Whatever it is – cars, holidays, handbags, or T-shirts – she always gravitates to the most expensive items.
And internet search algorithms assist her. Once she shows a preference for Teslas over Toyotas, Google will always send her to high-price domains.

Mental blinders
Recognizing an addiction can be harder than it seems. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as “a chronic disease that affects the brain’s reward, motivation, and memory functions.”
So a significant number of people are not aware that they have relinquished their self-control to an addiction.
Alcoholics, smokers, gamblers will all insist – and probably believe – that they can quit “anytime they want to.”
It’s harder to recognize and deal with, say, eating disorders. Or needing to conform to your group. Especially when one almost universal characteristic of addiction is denial. “I don’t have a problem,” we insist.
Anne Wilson Shaef contended that our society, as a whole, promotes addiction. It encourages people to fling themselves, heart and soul, into their careers, their hobbies, their relationships.
She was prophetic. And she wrote before internet search algorithms capitalized on our weaknesses.
The algorithms that run internet search engines find out what you’re already hooked on, and give you more of it. I made the mistake, once, of clicking on “25 embarrassing wedding photos.” For weeks, every time I opened my Safari browser, I got invited to view embarrassing photos of beach beauties, brides, and celebrity boo-boos.
But search engines will never direct a conservative politician to a socialist manifesto. Or a hard-core evangelical Christian to a critical view of the Bible.
And they will never tell the young people in the next booth to put away their cell phones.

Belated tribute
Social media is based on fostering your existing addictions, whatever they are.
We live in an addictive society, Shaef insisted, where social pressures and corporate profits combine to promote addictive behaviour.
The first step in curing addictions is to recognize them. That’s what Anne Wilson Shaef did, 40 years ago.
When I started looking her up, 40 years later, I discovered that Shaef died January 19, 2020 – two months before the Covid-19 pandemic turned so many of our social customs upside down. Perhaps this column is a belated tribute to her warnings about the addictions that we don’t know we have.
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Copyright © 2023 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Your turn

I’ve had umpteen letters asking for the name, email, and/or address for Erika van Oyen’s charity, ISEE Solutions, that provides re-usable menstrual kits for girls in Uganda. So here it is:
ISEE Solutions Society
C/O 307 Whitman Road, Apt 305
Kelowna BC V1V 2P3
Send email funding transfer to erika@iseesolutions.org

Now, what you wrote about last week’s column, otherwise.

Vera Gottlieb called Erika’s initiative a ”great idea. It’ll take many years to educate those cultures to see a woman’s menstruation as a natural process, nothing to be ashamed of. Lately, here and there, I see advertising for medications to stop the monthly ‘curse’ (as it is often called). Interfering with Mother Nature is NOT a good idea…”

Nenke Jongkind: “Occasionally we run into amazing people. It sounds as though Erika van Oyen is one! Good for her to offer the education and the usefulness of reusable products. For the first many years of my menstrual cycles, that’s what my mother and I used.”

Tom Watson: “Choose your charity and support it – a great idea that I wish more people would follow. Each of us needs to give back something for the privilege of living in community.”

Isabel Gibson: “There was a similar initiative during the early days of the pandemic -- that is, suggesting that well-off seniors donate their Covid payment from other taxpayers to something, anything.
“There are, of course, many ways and endless opportunities to share the wealth, but most of us need a nudge now and then. Thanks for this one.”

Ted Wilson took a political angle: “Just before the last Ontario provincial election, the sitting premier and his cronies decided to refund two years’ worth of car license fees. Everybody with a car got $300 or so. I don’t recall a more cynical case (in Canada) of a twisted politician buying votes with folks’ own money. The jerk got re-elected with a solid majority.
“Of course, it -- now -- doesn't cost anything for a car license in Ontario. It’s so nice to know that the roads are all fixed up and paid for, the hospitals and schools are awash with cash, and the provincial debt is paid off.
“My rebate? It went to the jerk’s most reviled party in opposition. I’m sorry I didn’t know about ISEE at the time; supporting them would, I’m sure, have been, to him, an even greater anathema.”

John Shaffer noted refunds in other locations: “As you may or may not know, Alaska gives its residents a dividend from its oil resources. Some years it is a significant amount. The 2022 Permanent Fund Dividend was $3,284. If you have six children, that could amount to real money.
“When we lived there, we used the funds to start a scholarship at the United Methodist University, now named Alaska Pacific University. However, when one leaves Alaska, the dividend stops flowing.”

Jane Wallbrown supported Erika’s initiative – her son Sheldon worked with an NGO in India that was doing much the same thing – but she was surprised by some Indian attitudes: “Within our circle there are women who use nothing and simply take the pill to abort! That kind of shocked me when I first heard about it. It isn't the morning after pill, it's the pill you can take when you have missed your period and know you are pregnant.
“I'm pro-choice but this surprised me.”

Duane Martin felt that the emphasis on keeping women in school was one-sided: “It is not only girls who need and deserve help in attaining an education. A UNESCO report updated in June 2022 stated, ‘There are just as many boys out of school as girls…”
The report continued, “While girls are less likely to enter school in the first place in many countries, a GEM Report paper, Don't Forget The Boys, shows that boys are at a higher risk globally of not progressing and completing their education. They also perform less well in reading assessments worldwide. We won’t achieve gender equality in education if we ignore one half of the story.’”
Duane substantiated his argument with reams of statistics and reports, but you get the picture.

Sandy Hayes objected to one word: “Your column was excellent. But please, not ‘panties’-- it is underwear. ‘Panties’ seems to try to keep women as little girls...it really is quite silly, although I also think much of our word policing is silly too. However, I cringe whenever I hear this word.”

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TECHNICAL STUFF

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PROMOTION STUFF…

To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)

ALVA WOOD ARCHIVE
The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns

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