Monday, September 10, 2001

Week of 09/10/2001

On Obsessions and Addictions
- by David Matthews 2

"The basic need of the creator is independence. The reasoning mind cannot work under any form of compulsion. It cannot be curbed, sacrificed or subordinated to any consideration whatsoever. It demands total independence in function and in motive. To a creator, all relations with men are secondary." - Ayn Rand

We all like to think that what drives the human spirit – indeed, what defines the human spirit – is a lofty spiritual quest for information, knowledge, insight, and understanding. We want to think that what we do is all part of some grand scheme to make humanity that much better. We convince ourselves that our intentions are noble and pure, for the most selfless of purposes.

However, quite often the chief motivations of man are more selfish than selfless.

For instance, do you think that Captain Ahab in James Melville’s classic tale "Moby Dick" was motivated to hunt down the great white whale simply for humanitarian purposes? Do you think his disastrous quest for the behemoth was made in the interest of maritime safety? Or do you really think that his suicide quest was for vengeance for the earlier loss of his leg? Do you think his obsession for revenge was the reason why he lost his ship, almost all of his crew, and certainly his life?

How about the zealotry of the neo-apostle Paul? What would motivate a former persecutor of Christianity to abandon the messages of Jesus of tolerance and forgiveness for messages of self-righteousness and conversion at all cost? And what would motivate him to demonize anything sexual in nature? Would it be the "Holy Spirit" he was channeling? Or was it the pains from venereal disease that some believe he had contracted prior to his supposed conversion? It certainly would explain much of his letters in the New Testament, including his temporary blindness which sparked his conversion in the first place.

How about the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Carol Lightner? Would she have been concerned about the issue of drunk driving if her child wasn’t killed by a habitual drunk driver? Or if the justice system had meted out the appropriate punishment? Would that have prevented the resurrection of the Temperance movement and efforts to essentially resurrect the failed program called Prohibition?

Sure we all wish that our intentions were as pure as those of the late Mother Theresa of Calcutta, but we need to be honest with ourselves and accept the fact that some of our prime motivators come of our darkest emotions… our obsessions and our addictions.

It’s easy to see obsessions and addictions when they are at their most absurd, or when they become obviously destructive. But not all obsessions and addictions are that obvious.

We all think it’s sick to have a shrine up for some movie actress or model. The character "Stan" in Emenem’s music video, for instance, had a whole shrine dedicated to the rap star. But what about parents who have shrines of their kids in their homes? What about parents who are obsessed with the progress of their kids? Would that be considered destructive as well? Yes, in some instances, it is. That obsession for the "perfect" child has led some parents to abuse their kids in order to get them to succeed. They would lie, cheat, steal, even kill in order for their kids to be the success stories they want them to be.

And yet we easily excuse such obsessive behavior as simply good parenting.

It is human nature to be obsessed over that which we cannot have. It doesn’t matter if that object of desire is a person, a material object, or a status. But whether or not we deem it to be dangerous depends on what that obsession is, and how it can be tempered. Being obsessed is not dangerous. Being obsessed to the point of doing harm to others is.

As for addictions, there are people who are addicted to plenty of things, not all of them considered to be illegal. Tobacco is addictive. So is alcohol. So is aspirin. For that matter, so is television, the Internet, publicity, soap operas, reality-based programming, potato chips, Twinkies, love, sex, religion, exercise, music… just about ANYTHING can be considered addictive.

There are those who say that government needs to protect people from the obsessive and compulsive activities. Lawmakers in Georgia, for instance, recently passed a law making it illegal for people to possess video gambling machines. They say the ban is needed to "protect" those who become so addictive to the machines that they do stupid things… like leave their young kids locked inside their cars to roast in the summer sun, or waste their entire paychecks and drain their life savings.

Stupid actions, to be sure, and quite destructive.

But let’s get brutally honest here… banning something does not prevent the destructive acts, it simply compounds the activity.

Consider the great failed experiment called Prohibition. Did it cut down on crime? No, crime exploded. Did it cut down on people being addicted to alcohol? No, it simply drove the addiction further underground, and created even more addicts who could not admit their addiction for fear of being further persecuted. The "experiment" failed because it did nothing to stop the destructive parts of the addictive behavior, but rather complicated them.

So how does Georgia stop the destructive aspects of video gambling by banning the item? It can’t! All it does is transfer those who are addicted to gambling from one form to another… in this case, the state’s own lottery program. You ever get caught up in one of their "instant win" scratch-off games? They can be just as addictive as any video poker machine!

But that does bring up another group of addicts and obsessive personalities whose actions are often never questioned, and are more destructive than all of the crack cocaine, liquor, and video poker games around. Of course, I’m talking about those who are forever hooked on GOVERNMENT!

We never do talk about those people, do we? No, we don’t.

But we know who they are, don’t we? The ones who feel that there is no aspect of the world that cannot exist without some government program monitoring, funding, or otherwise regulating it. The ones who feel that there is no solution that does not involve some aspect of the government, be it the courts or some committee or some agency. The ones who feel that there should be a government program to raise and educate our children, teach them the "proper" ethical standards, provide food, clothing, shelter, jobs, health care, prescription drugs, and then provide pension, senior care, and even burial services. In other words, having government serve as parens patriae, or "parent’s parent", providing womb-to-tomb coverage of each life.

And don’t think for a minute that I’m just talking about liberals! There are conservative who are addicted to government as well! Conservatives who feel that government must pass and enforce laws that reflect THEIR moral standards. Conservatives who feel that government must subsidize THEIR social programs and dictate to other programs HOW such subsidies should be used. And there are conservatives who feel that government should regulate every aspect of human action, from birth to death. Believe me, conservatives are just as addicted to government as liberals are!

So why aren’t we hearing about these addicts? Why aren’t there any 12-step programs for these poor souls?

Certainly those who are addicted to government can be destructive, although their destruction usually affects other people, not them. Their addiction forces others to fork over a percentage of their hard-earned money to support this nasty habit. Their addiction forces others to comply with a myriad of rules and regulations that could possibly hurt their businesses.

If you don’t believe me, look at the small businesses in Georgia that will lose up to one billion dollars that video gambling brought in every year until it was made illegal. They’re not going to get that back with corn dogs and cappuccino machines.

How about the farmers of the Kalmouth Basin? Their crops are going dry because the water that would irrigate their lands was shut off because some judge thinks it would harm some endangered fish. No water, no crops. No crops, no food.

Well, we can’t outlaw government, but it certainly is hypocritical of those who are addicted to government sit in judgement of those who suffer from other forms of addiction.

And as for obsessive personalities, well, I can think of a group of people who are so obsessed with making people think like them that they would turn to government addicts to satisfy their obsession. People who will stop at nothing until everything they survey reflect their beliefs. They’re called moralists.

Look, sometimes having obsessions and addictions can have a positive effect, and sometimes it can have a negative one. But trying to pass laws simply on the fear of those who might develop an addiction does not help resolve that addiction, and it serves to punish those who would not be addicted to that item. It would be better to deal with the addiction than blindly trying to ban anything that could cause it.

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