I suppose if you don’t do any drugs at all you can stop reading this. But for many of us, perhaps most of us, we all do something. When our drug of choice isn’t pot it’s certainly alcohol. And when it’s not either of those the national standard for our consumer society is, of course, shopping. More than likely it’s probably both or a combination of many.
But for most Americans, shopping fills the void and thrills the would-be thrilled. In fact science now confirms this. A recent study found that when people go shopping, a brain chemical known as Dopamine is released into the body, the same chemical that’s released when users drink alcohol or sniff cocaine. Dopamine acts on the brains reward center, and is what gives people a “shoppers high” when looking for new things to buy. Also like cocaine, this shoppers high can lead to addiction. Indeed, for the well-adjusted and law-abiding, shopping is one of America’s favorite past-times.
Not to say buying things, or smoking pot or drinking alcohol is bad in and of itself. They’re not. It’s our habit of getting addicted to them that’s cause for the question: why do we do drugs? Doesn’t matter if your personal drug is socially acceptable or not. Gambling, TV, sex, videogames, sports, cars, eating, prescription drugs, wealth accumulation, relationships – the point is that culturally, socially, very few of us are not addicted to something.
If you want to be cynical you could say that what you’re addicted to is what makes you, you. Truthfully, though, most people are addicted to the same things. From a social perspective, it’s what makes these addictions okay. It’s what makes them not seem like addictions.
But here’s why I’m really asking this question: would we feel the desire to use these activities as our drug of choice so much if the world was different? If there were fewer problems, both on a personal and global level, would we keep drinking or shopping all the time? If there were new mediums for our society to derive meaning and happiness, and less social oppressions conforming our lives into little boxes of paying rent and toilsome work – would we hold onto these drugs in our free time?
It may not be easy to imagine a world so amazing that smoking a joint or having a drink would somehow lesson the experience. For a moment though, let me argue that if we were to live in communities with radically different social and cultural structures, many of us, though not all I think, would have far less desire to take these opiates, or at least not as much. If you are high from the excitement of a more spontaneous, authentic life – pot, alcohol, consumerism, TV and all the rest do, truly, make you “stoned” and more numb in the long run to more genuine forms of happiness.
Why? Because every time we use a synthetic or commercial means to create enjoyment when we want to relax or chill out for a while, we are giving up the means to find happiness from within ourselves. If we chose not to watch TV, drink, or smoke pot when we wanted to have fun, we would have to think of some other activity, like doing yoga, or going swimming, or drawing, or countless other activities that require our participation to create the experience. Whatever it is that we like to do, they would be activities that would rely on ourselves to find contentment and fun, and I think there is a certain worth in being able to create happiness independent of external forces. Substances which do most of the work of creating happiness for us create dependencies. Granted, its certainly a lot less work, but I don’t think these solutions are very healthy.
It’s like when a person only feeds their body fast food. Because most fast food contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil, a fat that is synthetically manufactured and not found in nature, your body doesn’t know how to process the fat and convert it into energy. But if you eat fast food long enough your body will manage to process it, however inefficient, just the way we are learning to process the low-protein high-fat entertainment we take in everyday. We just need more of it to function, more to find that moment of immersion. More infotainment, more intoxication, more personal hollywood scandals, more absurd and violent TV shows, more shopping – more visual and physical stimulus.
That’s not all. The way these partially hydrogenated fats work, they block the processing of healthy fats, making you more dependent on the bad ones. We are reaching this crisis in society today: where real hearty forms of joy and happiness are becoming more and more scarce. The beauty and joy once appreciated and gained from connecting with nature, for example: getting out into the wilderness and enjoying the intrinsic quality of a local place is becoming a rare and misunderstood outlet to finding more joy in life.
Kids today living in urban jungles are increasingly growing up without this fundamental connection. Nature is something “out there”, read about in textbooks and more and more seems boring and uninteresting in comparison to the frenetic entertainment of TV, video-games and the cellphone-shopping mall life of today’s kids. The fun kids perceive they want to have nowadays is almost always commercialized, packaged, and purchased at a store.
The myriad forms of cheap entertainment produced by our present economy is now blocking our ability to process genuine forms of fun. In fact, we’re so conditioned to accept this culture’s escape routes it’s possible we couldn’t even recognize a better life if we saw it. And if we could see it, I’m wondering if it would appear so alien to us that we would choose the comfortable and familiar over the less known, even though we secretly hate it. What if we have gone too far, and lived so long this way that we now identify with our addictive habits so much that we see them as a part of ourselves? Toxic as our culture may be to our health – with all its drugs and distractions – if these drugs have become our comforting friend, could we let them go?
Ladies and gentlemen!: Has our bread has become baked?
Well, maybe. But if we were to wean ourselves from the fast-food opiates of our culture, I think it’s possible we could begin to discover new mediums for creating meaning in our lives, and possibly a source of joy that is far more valuable than any transient satisfaction.
Now, this means that we must wake up to the problems that our generation must deal with. Part of the apathetic nature of our generation lies in our awareness of large problems and our in-action to do anything about them. Indeed, this behavior, this conflict of mental awareness and physical inaction is in large part what creates apathy. When one has ideals but doesn’t live by them, it creates a subtle but long-term conflict of self, because its not authentic living. Apathy is a coping mechanism for this conflict. Either you have to take action or you have to stop caring. One has to happen for your inner psychology to not go nuts. To suppress that empathy and anger in the face of or awareness of oppression is usually the path of least resistance.
Yes, if we do seek the other path, we will get angry. Yes, there will be frustration and we will be face to face with the true injustices of the world as they exist today, but ultimately, this anger can be a good thing. If we can channel it into creating new systems of living and propagating the positive values we believe in it will be a hell of a good thing.
However, if we do decide today’s the day to get down to business, after a while, drugs can pose another potential problem. When we get fired up to change things and have begun to do the work that it’s going to take to make it happen, the changes we seek will still not come to fruition for some time. The large paradigm shifting change we envision may be more than a generation away. What we will experience until then will be many small, sometimes large, but often immediately intangible differences that won’t be noticed until they have begun to stack up.