Saturday, December 12, 2009

Republicans, Gambling and Addiction

Addictive and self-destructive behavior, such as gambling or voting Republican, is something very different from a habit, although habits are part of their mechanisms. In a human being these behaviors are mediated and maintained by belief systems; and are extremely resistant to any real or lasting change unless the belief system changes.

What all addictions have in common is the belief that there is something "out there" in the world which can take our pain away and make us feel good if we can acquire it, use it or get more of it. It involves making something or someone else responsible for our feelings, and then seeing ourselves as deprived, as having lost or given up something we need, when we don't get it. The actual physical withdrawal symptoms turn out to be relatively tolerable without this psychological component.

The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, and The Easy Way to Stop Drinking, both by Alan Carr, are two powerful applications of this framework for understanding addictive behavior, with very high long-term success rates reported. The user is asked to simply read the book - a detailed description of the physical and ideational processes whereby the addiction is maintained and how the user experiences these - while changing nothing. They examine their own experience and become observers of their own process. Then they pick a day and time, invite in witnesses, and have a last drink or smoke, and redefine themselves as a non-smoker or non-drinker from that moment forward.

I tried this. I read Carr's alcohol book fifteen months ago, after 47 years of regular and sometimes heavy drinking. Then I threw a "last drink" party for some friends, had my final drink and stopped cold. I do not regard myself now as an abstaining alcoholic or a reformed drinker; I am a non-drinker. I have open bottles of wine in my house now left behind by guests, and I trust myself not to touch them. Sometimes I feel the urge to take a drink when I'm really upset or discouraged about something, but then I think about it for a minute and the urge goes away.

I hadn't thought about voting Republican - and engaging in Republican rants - in this light, but it fits! The essence of it is the belief that there is something - someone -out there who is responsible for one's feeling bad, and there is something the authorities should do to take that pain away - more arrests, more imprisonment, more executions or police shootings, more mothers thrown off welfare, more kids thrown into boot camps or more teachers fired, more enemy cities bombed or terrorist supporters killed by missile strikes or death squads, more girls forced to have a baby they don't want or more addicts killed by dirty needles. Ranting about this seems to take away the feelings of powerlessness, anxiety and humiliation and make one feel powerful and in control again. It's never enough, but the lesson drawn is only that we need more. No amount of lessons from life that this does not further our real interests, that it only makes things worse, seems to be able to penetrate.

How do we change this?

Perhaps Carr could be prevailed on to write the book The Easy Way to Stop Supporting Republicans. And then we would have to get them to read it!
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