Assets or Addictions?
Dan Mahony, M.Phil.
"Real politics is the possession and distribution of power."—Benjamin Disraeli, 1804 - 1881
"Power is sweet; it is a drug, the desire for which increases with habit."—Bertrand Russell, 1951
"In order to understand the system in which we live and help move it toward recovery, the time has come to admit, without reservation, that it is an addict and functions on a societal level the same way as any decompensating or deteriorating drunk."—Dr. Anne Wilson Schaef, 1987
"The poor have little, beggars none, the rich too much, enough not one (Benjamin Franklin, 1743)."
"The rich have become richer and the poor have become poorer, and the vessel of state is driven between anarchy and despotism (Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1821)."
Years ago I was an addictions psychologist working with homeless persons on New York's Bowery, and later in Boston. As time went on I began to compile a list of the addictions of the surrounding society. It was then I saw that wealth & power addiction were very similar to alcoholism. The symptoms included increasing desire for the "substance," denial, impaired thinking, harm to family members, compulsive loyalty and secrecy, decline in the quality of life, and powerlessness in the face of the addiction.
Then I found more than a hundred quotations from many great philosophers and political leaders since ancient times. The quotations are, it seems to me, evidence that wealth & power have long been recognized as addictions, though the particular word was not used.
And then I saw that I could interpret a remarkable experiment as further evidence of the addictive nature of power. In 1971 psychologist Philip Zimbardo put volunteers in a simulated prison to play the roles of prisoner & guard. The aim was to see (and video) how the volunteers would behave in these roles. The experiment was intended to continue for two weeks, but all too soon the guards became verbally abusive to the prisoners. Things worsened and Dr. Zimbardo had to end the experiment on its sixth day in the interest of the safety of the prisoners.
In this book I propose a theory based on what I believe to be considerable evidence: wealth and power can be addictive just like drugs.
Here are some main points of this book:
"He who knows when he has enough is rich."―Lao-Tzu, ca. 565 B. C. E.
This work is part of a utopian trilogy, each part a different way of stating a utopian vision. The first is Out From Under! Treating Your Own Addictions. This work is the second. The third, Utopian Capitalism, offers some step-by-step proposals for treatment of our addicted society.
A healthy society must have a definite utopian plan or it will drift endlessly. In this 21st century the Internet brings historic possibilities. These are times for visions of utopia.
But addiction stands in the way. The American dollar has the spending power of only seven cents compared to when my parents grew up. Back then it bought 14 times more goods than now. A baby's dollar buys one fifth as much today as it did when its parents were babies. Even in the Great Depression of the 1930s its spending power was ten times greater than now.
In most families, both parents must work as America has fallen from providing the leading average wage to 13th in the world. It is actually more expensive for both parents to work because they must pay for child care, restaurants and take out foods, two cars instead of one, etc. America suffers from an epidemic of overweight because families must eat reconstructed appetite-trigger foods made by corporations addictively driven to get people to eat more of their products. The children of the baby-boomers are the first generation less educated than its parents because the cost of education has inflated to unfair levels. The Earth is in a state of environmental emergency because we and our corporations are powerless to stop our consumption.
A major contributor to all of this may be wealth & power addiction. It is reflected visibly in 70 years of rising prices of goods, and invisibly in smaller candy bars and pizzas, cereal boxes containing more air than cereal, and appliances that must be replaced rather than repaired. Like full-blown alcoholics, most addicted corporations are powerless to stop and cannot see that they are addicted.
As codependents to corporate addiction, we as a nation are also in denial. Few of us realize that inflation compounds like interest and that we are presently suffering under the burden of 80 years of compounding; and even though government constantly reminds us that the annual rate of inflation is presently low, this does not mean that inflation has magically disappeared. We carry 80 years of it on our backs every day. And we are working more, not less, than our parents.
We see in inflation the same side-effects we see in addiction: (1) chronic denial of a problem despite contrary information, (2) chronic decline in quality of family life, (3) 'more-and-more no-matter-what' compulsive consumption, and (4) codependent government spending compulsively to ease the pain of a codependent workforce.
We must remind ourselves throughout this book, however, that not all those who wield wealth & power are addicted, as not all those who drink are alcoholics.
The theory presented here is not completely scientific in the sense of having statistical predictability. The cases presented were "cherry-picked" rather than having arisen randomly. But I did try to proceed in a scientific manner. Science is as much a way of thinking and observing as it is proving and predicting. So I believe the theory herein to be somewhat scientific.
But as we said earlier, a powerful independent diagnosis is provided by the quotations of many great thinkers and political leaders of the past. Most were found in The Great Quotations by George Seldes. This masterpiece of compilation, 24 years in the making, made my gathering of the quotations quite enjoyable.
This theory is not an argument against capitalism itself. Rather it is a first step on the road to Utopian Capitalism. It is a warning that the corporation is particularly vulnerable to W&P addiction, and needs to be redesigned to better suit human psychology. One successful redesign might be a utopian corporation.
© 2008 by danmahony.com
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