The Paramount Addiction

     “There are many varieties of addiction, but, sooner or later, we each have to address what is the paramount addiction in the Western world: our psychological dependence on the world-view and lifestyle of Western civilization itself…The Western worldview says, in essence, that technological progress is the highest value and that we were born to consume…The most highly prized freedom is the right to shop. It’s a world of commodities not entities, and economic expansion is the primary measure of progress. Competition, taking and hoarding are higher values than cooperation, sharing, and gifting. Profits are valued over people, money over meaning.”

     The above is a pretty hard hitting commentary on the values and lifestyle of our culture. We may convince ourselves that we’re not caught up in consumerism, materialism, and a “profits over people, money over meaning” mindset, but because we breathe the air of the Western world-view, it’s hard to imagine escaping its pervasive influence.

     Psychotherapist Bill Plotkin refers to our embrace of the Western world-view as an addiction because its impact can be drug-like — a little easily leads to a desire/need for more. Although it may appear somewhat harmless compared to its more obvious relatives (drugs, alcohol, food, work, sex, gambling), the “paramount addiction” can result in nothing less than an alienation from our soul, a subtle loss of the larger sense of our spiritual identity and the purpose of our life.

    All addictions serve the same purpose; they fill a void, they deaden pain, they make life tolerable, albeit briefly, when it becomes wearisome. There is nothing wrong with valuing the right to shop, but when we attach greater importance to what and how much we have, rather than to whom we and others are, we have lost our spiritual moorings. 

5 thoughts on “The Paramount Addiction

  1. A few thoughts come to mind for me in response to what you have written here:
    1) Chellis Glendinning has written about how when people cannot access primary sources of satisfaction (i.e., connection and nurturance), then they turn to secondary sources of satisfaction (addictions of all sorts).
    2) Our current culture is a breeding ground for addictions. Many people today no longer believe in the religion they grew up with and they are not able to find a spiritual community (connection) where they feel at home. The level of political fragmentation in our country is high as is the level of social isolation that many people are experiencing due to covid.

    I agree with Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy who argued that there are three stages in our cultural evolution:
    1) Many thousands of years ago: We are living in relative harmony with the natural world, but we are also relatively unconscious.
    2) We acquire language and eventually develop the ability to objectify the natural world, and then as a result of this ability we develop our sciences and technologies (beginning just a few hundred years ago). One of the consequences of this is that we end up creating a way of life that is out of harmony with the natural world.
    3) Macy argues that we are now at the beginning of our 3rd stage of cultural evolution. In this stage we begin to focus on bringing our technologies and our way of life back into harmony with the natural world.

    I also agree with many Jungians who believe that we as a people are in the midst of a great transition (or even a dark age): the old is dying or dead and the new isn’t here yet. It can be a challenge for people to sustain their faith through such times.


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