Deep Underground with Raul Groom

Monday, August 23, 2004

One of the major missed opportunities of our generation was our failure (which failure was greatly assisted by our parents and other authority figures) to develop a coherent understanding of the concept of addiction. Almost all of us were subjected to substantial social engineering to attempt to protect us from ever becoming addicted to drugs, but the effort - in addition to being a complete failure - involved almost no investigation of the true nature of addiction, and indeed probably contributed, through shameless and often neccesarily willful disinformation, to the very self-deceptive behaviors and thought-patterns that actually lead to addiction.

One of the most harmful myths about addiction, which for all I know is still being taught, is that addiction is something that happens quickly, like an acute illness that grabs hold of you and pulls you down into a quagmire of pain and depravity. Indeed, in the movie Traffic, it was exactly this demon version of drug abuse that we were treated to, replete with the racist coup de grace that's always been integral to hysterical anti-drug crusading. The female lead was a normal high-school kid (except that her dad was the drug czar) just smoking a little pot, but one day somebody brough over some freebase heroin and within weeks our heroine (ha ha) was living in the projects with a well-muscled black man, boinking him for smack.

There was plenty of appropriately derisive commentary about this at the time, and my intention isn't to rehash the flaws of Traffic. But in a rich society, addiction is one of the key social maladies, and it would be hard to overstate the damage that the lack of a meaningful dialogue about the problem is doing to us as a society.

In the case of this particular point - the speed with which addiction grabs hold of a person - it is not difficult for someone who has struggled with addiction to see the problem. (By the way, the phrase "someone who has struggled with addiction" should be understood to mean "virtually the entire human population.") In fact, addiction is the name we give to a particularly harmful class of habits, and habits do not spring up overnight. On the contrary, habits are insidious precisely because they take hold slowly, and by the time a habit is truly entrenched in a person's life, it has become so much a part of who he is that it is difficult for him to imagine his life without it.

The reason I'm bringing all of this up, by the way, is that I'm addicted to wasting time. I get the problem under control periodically, and then I fall back into the problem again. The reasons for the ebbs and flows are complicated, but the underlying condition isn't - it's "relaxing" for me, in a shallow sense, to switch off my brain and surf the web, or play a computer game, or look at chess puzzles... Basically to do anything that has nothing to do with the everyday business of living. To those who don't struggle with this particular addiction, you are probably thinking "well, everybody does that." Which is true. But addiction is more a matter of magnitude than a qualitative condition. When I'm in the depths of a procrastination bender, I can spend 40+ hours a week just sitting on my ass wasting time.

There are a lot of negative consequences to this behavior, but I'll tell you the worst one. When you spend all day wasting time, the days go slow, but the months fly by, and before you know it...


I was in a tent one time in Georgia in 105-degree heat, with 98% humidity, and I was trying to sleep, and this little snippet of a song kept running through my head:

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
And racing around to come up behind you again
The Sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death

Which pretty much sums it up.


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