Two months have passed since I’ve read Johann Hari’s Huffington Post article, “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think,” and ever since my first reading, I have been ruminating over his theory in my brain. I’ve spent thousands of hours working on my recovery and have read all of the AA approved materials multiple times. I also turned to the media. I listened to Dr. Drew’s Loveline and watched Celebrity Rehab, read many memoirs and novels on the subject of addiction, and what struck me in the article, is that Hari really offered a new perspective. It was a perspective that I had heard glimpses of in the novels of Thomas Pynchon and in the recovery rooms, but this point of view was entirely absent from the broad mainstream media. People were unaware of the truth about addiction and this is precisely why the article was read by millions and shared 260,000 times on Facebook.
The war on drugs is exactly what it sounds like. It is a persecution of the substances themselves. American policy believed that if only we could get rid of these drugs and take down the cartels there would be no more drug addiction. But what if the drugs are merely a symptom of a bigger void that lives in the mind of addict? What if addiction is really only a lack of connection to other people and an inability to feel meaning in life? This is exactly what Hari proposes.
Even before I turned to drugs, I was obsessed with addiction. First, as a six-year-old child when my Gen-X heroes all mourned the suicide of Kurt Cobain and now as someone who has felt the terror of needing substances just to get through the day, and has seen my peers overdose and kill themselves. I am fascinated by the minds of addicts. They are the type of people who seems to be eternally dissatisfied with life. Even after seeing the death toll of addiction, a part of me still has a romantic attachment to them. As a child, I wanted to know what makes them click and why so many of them are so talented. I was always drawn to them. I immediately connected with their sensibility. Even then a part of me knew I was one of them. I was searching for something they knew. They seemed to possess a truth that was blind to the average Joe 9-5ers and these drug addicted artists made bold steps to shroud the conformity of daily life I always resented.
The addict is an expression of the true state of the world. A world where people are entirely evil, motivated entirely by their own self-interest, even when this interest comes in the guise of helping others. Everyone is a slave to the way they feel. Addicts are just people with a quick remedy to their uncomfortable feelings. Their brain has been reprogrammed to be unable to tolerate discomfort. The discomfort everyone feels from time to time. When people are connected and feel a sense of purpose, they do not turn to drugs. This is why, as Hari writes, 85% of Vietnam veterans were able to quit the drug after coming home from the war. They had a family and friends to support them. Their environment wasn’t pushing drugs on them once they came home. Maybe as Alva Noe asserts in her reflection on Hari’s article, “The Fight Against Addiction: Is Love All You Need?,” they weren’t really addicts. An addict is someone who internally is in a state of isolation, whether they are alone or hosting a party. The addict is in tune with the ways of reality—their evil nature. But this romantic attachment is why addicts hurt so many people. We are attracted to self-seeking behavior and danger.
However, these tragic figures do much more harm than good. We need to find ways to help them, if only so they can stop hurting us. When we look at the people who could stop using heroin with almost no trouble, we have to ask ourselves, as Americans and as citizens of the world, why does the sore of addiction continue to grow? Why do 22 million people suffer from addiction? Why do we allow addiction to hurt 100 million relatives of these 22 million? What about the society we live in encourages isolation over connection? The only means the world has of helping these people is to reform the environment people inhabit and that means we as a world need to be nourished by new values. Only with the awareness that we are unconsciously harming others merely by existing will we be able to come to new, better solutions for all the problems that ail the world.
What Hari beautifully illustrates in his book and in his article, is that we are slaves to our environment. He does this simply, by expressing that rats in isolation will almost certainly kill themselves when they are given drugs, while rats in “Rat Park,” a communal rat paradise will use drugs casually without becoming dependent on them. We see a good environment instills positive values. The danger of this is that an unhealthy environment will do more harm than good.
America is clearly in a state of decline. Though the economy has recovered substantially in the last few years and we see small improvements from time to time, nearly every facet of society has been corrupted by our egos. We all have the undying belief that we are as they say in the rooms of recovery terminally unique. This uniqueness and entitlement that we all once believed would build a better world has proven to be a drain on the lives of ordinary people. This is because, as I wrote in my book, The Egotist, “The world seems to mirror Ayn Rand’s philosophy of the individual that says, ‘The mind is an attribute of the individual. There is no such thing as a collective brain. There is no such thing as a collective thought. An agreement reached by a group of men is only a compromise or an average drawn upon many individual thoughts. It is a secondary consequence.’
“It has become clear equal opportunity is an illusion. Upward mobility has all but vanished from society. Society’s progress is being hampered because the people who hold the levers of power, those with the money, live in a self-constructed environment where this idea of the supremacy of the individual dominates, to the detriment of everyone else.” We have reached the limits of such a system and though I know that communism and even socialism will not solve any of these problems, we need to begin to work in a way where we care for others in order to care for the entire society. These ideas don’t need to be confined to support groups, where there is an awareness that the ego corrupts absolutely. When man and governments will hold the self-evident truth that man must work against his nature to receive pleasure by harming others, we will be able to construct a much stronger, more unified society by searching for mutually beneficial solutions. We will be able to transcend our nature.
This article was originally published in The Jerusalem Post.