Serial Addictions, Serial Speculative Bubbles: a Sickness Unto Death   (February 2, 2010)

In which I tie together serial addictions, serial speculative bubbles and the cultural/spiritual sickness at the heart of the American devolution.

I do not use the term addiction cavalierly. The word is bandied about rather lightly in our society (yet another normalization of destructive behaviors), but since I have seen the devastation and ruined lives in my own family, the word is employed here in sober seriousness.

Longtime readers know my roots are deeply religious, with missionaries aplenty and a Christian foundation so deep it passes without mention; you would never detect it in conversation with me or my cousins.

As a result, the Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard speaks as directly to me as psychiatrist R.D. Laing, existentialist icon J.P. Sartre or German philosophers Karl Marx and Edmund Husserl, author of Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology.

I know this sounds like heavy-going, but do we want to understand the nature of our crises or not? Do we want to delude ourselves that serial addictions and serial speculative bubbles are in any sense sustainable "answers"?

We know they are not, yet we as a society are drawn to them as moths are drawn to the flame.

Let's start with an insightful commentary from correspondent and fellow blogger Nina, who pens the Deep Into ArtLife West blog (one of the few I visit/read due to its unique perspective and interesting audience).

Nina begins with a quote from a review of a book: The globalisation of addiction.

Nina then comments on my recent entry on obesity Sugar: the Bitter Truth (January 29, 2010).

"For Alexander, all these seemingly disparate accounts are united by their focus on the individual addict; but even a cursory historical and cultural survey reveals that the incidence of addiction is essentially a social phenomenon.

Many historical and indigenous cultures have lacked even the concept of addiction - but many of these same cultures, once their traditional structures have been disrupted by conquest or colonisation, have been destroyed by it. All across the Americas, the Pacific and Australia, hundreds of 'demoralised' cultures have descended into vicious spirals of addiction, usually to alcohol, in many tragic cases wiping themselves out entirely.

The root causes of addiction, then, must run deeper than any individual pathology: they must be sought in a larger story of cultural malaise and 'poverty of the spirit' that forces individuals, often en masse, into desperate and dysfunctional coping strategies..."

Fat is the resulting self-protective buffer against intrusion of the cold, cruel world. Take one crutch away and it is replaced by another. Nature abhors a vacuum. Many people will do anything to avoid suffering. What they are doing is filling a personal requirement perceived as necessary for their own survival.

Unfortunately, when our cells are stretched, bloated with fat, then starved by exercise and lean caloric intake, a person's body has already become a lifetime trap for any new fat that drops in and those previously fat cells, now thin, were just biding their time, lying in wait to billow out again.

You can say the same thing for any addiction. We have to be in control of ourselves at all times, attentive to contrived personal weaknesses in order to operate as efficient machines in these times.

The trick to efficiency would then be never to have indulged in the first place, but that isn't profitable, or accomplish goals set for society by big money cartels.

We can take that visual picture even further. Likely there were no obese slaves.

Thank you, Nina. We might extend the visual metaphor one click further and note that while galley slaves were unlikely to be fat, debt-serfs/slaves in our own society are very likely to be overweight.

Is there a connection between debt-servitude, dislocation/alienation and obesity? Here is another quote from the link above:

To test his hunch he designed Rat Park, an alternative laboratory environment constructed around the need of the subjects rather than the experimenters. A colony of rats, who are naturally gregarious, were allowed to roam together in a large vivarium enriched with wheels, balls and other playthings, on a deep bed of aromatic cedar shavings and with plenty of space for breeding and private interactions. Pleasant woodland vistas were even painted on the surrounding walls.

In this situation, the rats' responses to drugs such as opiates were transformed. They no longer showed interest in pressing levers for rewards of morphine: even if forcibly addicted, they would suffer withdrawals rather than maintaining their dependence. Even a sugar solution could not tempt them to the morphine water (though they would choose this if naloxone was added to block the opiate effects).

It seemed that the standard experiments were measuring not the addictiveness of opiates but the cruelty of the stresses inflicted on lab rats caged in solitary confinement, shaved, catheterised and with probes inserted into their median forebrain bundles.

It is, he acknowledges, too simplistic to blame capitalism itself: the fundamental problem, dislocation, can equally be generated by feudalism, communism or any other political system. Nevertheless, a consumer society systemically erodes the sovereign remedy against addiction which, following Erik Erikson, Alexander terms 'psychosocial integration'.

This has long been recognised as a necessity for social functioning: even Charles Darwin, whose theory is typically used to support competitive free market ideology, insisted that generating 'social and moral qualities' was a crucial factor in human evolutionary success.

I'm not sure how many of you picked up on yesterday's reference to the Danish Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard ("sickness unto death"), but here is a brief description of the phrase which explains its Christian and existential meanings:

This sickness unto death is what Kierkegaard calls despair. According to Kierkegaard, an individual is "in despair" if he does not align himself with God or God's plan for the self. In this way he loses his self.

Aren't serial addictions--moving in manic progression from nicotine to food to gambling-- and financial speculative bubbles (gambling normalized) two facets of this spiritual despair?

Frequent contributor Ken R. recently submitted two insightful stories which also tie marketing, obesity and a profound alienation together:

Is television making us stupid?

The researchers concluded that children's exposure to massive amounts of food advertising on TV "raises concerns, especially when combined with the potentially increased effectiveness of food product ads and the proliferation of cable TV. These most recent trends are not to be taken lightly given the recently released national estimates on the prevalence of obesity that show overweight among children aged 2 through 5 years to have increased."

Television fosters an overall belief that the purchase of a product is the ultimate path to happiness. Additionally, consumption of goods and services is not only important for individual fulfillment, but is also a guaranteed right of society. All men and women are entitled to continue to purchase products as needed without restraint. The Entitlement of Consumption means that "you deserve" to spend money. Television teaches that everyone consumes. Individual needs and happiness are the only criteria. A product's impact on community or the environment are externalities and pale in comparison to convenience and entertainment value.

Some readers have complained (politely) that I have been pushing my book Survival+ too hard. I understand; it becomes wearisome to regular readers. Yet I can't help jumping up and down because I wrote the book specifically to tie together all these various threads in a way which no one else has attempted.

Ken's next recommended read takes the gloves off in a rare display of brute honesty:

Economic Stagnation, Wars, Pandemics, Welcome to the The New Dark Age.

The people of North America and Western Europe now accept a level of ugliness in their daily lives which is almost without precedent in the history of Western civilization. Our own city streets, home to legions of the homeless, are ruled by Dope, Inc., the largest industry in the world, and on those streets Americans now murder each other at a rate not seen since the Dark Ages.

At the same time, a thousand smaller horrors are so commonplace as to go unnoticed. Our children spend as much time sitting in front of television sets as they do in school, watching with glee, scenes of torture and death which might have shocked an audience in the Roman Coliseum.

Music is everywhere, almost unavoidable—but it does not uplift, nor even tranquilize--it claws at the ears, sometimes spitting out an obscenity. Our plastic arts are ugly, our architecture is ugly, our clothes are ugly.

There have certainly been periods in history where mankind has lived through similar kinds of brutishness, but our time is crucially different. Our post-World War II era is the first in history in which these horrors are completely avoidable.

Hyperbole, perhaps, but nonetheless an honest appraisal of the devolution of our society.

Let's switch gears and look at four charts.

Strikingly, my prediction of skyrocketing national debt has been proven correct as the President's budget calls for an astounding increase in unprecendented trillion-dollar deficits spending as far as the eye can see.

Did you notice the correlation between the first two charts--that the housing bubble exploded higher just as the Nasdaq bubble burst? The U.S. economy now depends entirely and completely on serial speculative bubbles.

The last chart proves the case: hundreds of billions of dollars were extracted from the housing bubble every year and spent on a consumerist binge which can only be described as addictive in nature.

Hundreds of billions more were scraped off by hedge funds and Wall Street firms which wrote derivatives on the mortgage-backed securities they bundled and tranched.

Now that the speculative bubbles have popped, the U.S. economy is a wasteland propped up by $1.5 trillion in annual Federal deficits. The addiction to exponential debt, leverage, easy ever-expanding credit and speculative bubbles which feed the Wall Street/ banking cartel machine and the government's stupendous appetite for tax revenue has finally reached the level of sickness unto death: we as a nation either confess that our sickness is deeply spiritual and physical, or we, like a desperate dysfunctional, massively in denial addict, seek to either reinflate the speculative bubbles which fueled our past excesses, or find the next such bubble.

Wall Street would love nothing better than a speculative bubble in gold and silver. The rubber tube is tight and the vein is already swelling; the needle is dripping with liquid leverage, and all we need is another serial bubble to feed our national addiction. We have burned through stocks and real estate, and bonds are in a bubble which few understand is already popping; the losses wil be catastrophic as interest rates suddenly skyrocket, catching all but the insiders by surprise.

So gold and silver will fit the bill most admirably; sucker in the debt-serfs one more time, selling derivatives and contracts worth 100 or even 1,000 times the value of the physical gold in the world; make another fortune in transactional churn and derivatives.

And when the last debt-serf has mortgaged his remaining life to buy gold at $3,000 an ounce, having seen it double almost overnight from $1,500/ounce, then the last speculative bubble of the American Empire will pop, and the last best hope of an addicted nation will expire with that bubble.

Serial speculative frenzies, a pandemic of obesity, a culture of addiction, denial and magical thinking: these are the roots of a spiritual sickness unto death.

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