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|Addictions and the Control of Our Behavior|
Sep. 11th, 2007 at 5:57 pm
I’m addicted to wearing shoes. I’ve tried to stop wearing them, but after a short period of time, I experience intense withdrawal. My back begins to hurt, and my feet just start killing me. With the right help, perhaps I can overcome my addiction and walk barefoot like our ancestors did for millennia. For now, after only a few short hours in my bare feet, I compulsively cave-in to my shoe cravings and I lace-up. I wish I knew how to quit shoes.
Can’t stop looking at porn? You’re addicted. It can’t possibly be that men have a barely controllable biological drive that leads them to actively seek out sexual stimulation. Get headaches when you stop drinking coffee? You’re addicted. Can’t stop eating? You’re addicted.
Lately, whenever anyone has trouble controlling their behavior, there’s an addiction or a syndrome or a disorder to blame. Not only does this make a mockery of real addictions and legitimate behavioral disorders, but it implies that when we’re addiction-free we are in complete control over our own behavior. It’s as though this lack of control becomes a disease. Once cured of this disease, self-control is much easier.
Over the past few decades, society has increasingly shied away from admiring and recommending discipline as an approach to problem-solving. The result is this ever-growing list of pathologies that cloak out-of-control behavior. Thus, the people who control their behavior are doing nothing special, and everyone else is merely a victim of a variety of unfortunate maladies.
This approach distorts reality. Discipline will never be normal. That’s why we call it discipline. It would be more constructive to create a cluster of pathologies to describe disciplined activities. We might, for example, invent several mild variants of obsessive-compulsive disorder, throw in some rather tame manias, and top it all off with a few low-grade frenzies.
We’d still keep all of the major behavioral problems, like kleptomania, alcoholism, and Tourette syndrome. But we could dispense with all the low-level addictions that we’ve created in the past 20 years; e.g., addictions to sex, porn, cigarettes, gambling, food, online games, work, and shopping.
Such an approach is, of course, doomed to fail, because it would decimate the daytime talk-show industry.