Picture a pleasant valley with numerous shallow streams trickling down from the hills and feeding into a larger stream that winds temptingly into the distance. Choose one of these streams and amble along, ankle deep, to the main stream. There are many paths in, and just as many out, of this main stream, and so it continues as we wade along. It can be pleasant in this stream so we may not notice how the banks are getting steeper as the stream becomes a river. Smiling merchants sell us canoes so we can be carried along at a faster rate. A few become uneasy and make for the bank to clamber out, a task that is rapidly getting more difficult. The river now enters a gorge. A few still try to struggle out and those who succeed are often disdainful of those who do not. The many who remain are made up of those who are content and those who are not but are unable to see a way out. Many have a vague fear of the rapids ahead, but need not worry now as they are in the distant future. These tiny streams that lead to the Gorge of Addiction have a wide variety of labels that include:
ALCOHOL: Wine making has been with us for some 10,000 years, although proper storage containers entered the scene only 8,000 years ago, so for some 2,000 years the wine had to be consumed quickly which gave us our basis, and historical validity, for binges. Wine and beer were such desired commodities that quantities had to be reserved to ensure the after life would be enjoyable. The burial chamber at Abydos, Egypt, of King Scorpion I, (3150 BC), contained vessels that held 1,200 gallons of grape wine.
Lacking the gentile, moderate-alcohol upbringing of Europeans, North Americans have been addicted to excess. The Vietnamese worked hard to kill 50,000 U.S. servicemen while drunken drivers killed 250,000 in the U.S. in the same time frame. Today, alcohol kills 2.5 million humans per year.
COLLECTABLES: Many humans, and some birds and animals, love to collect things. Fortunes are spent on items so numerous that it is impossible to appreciate single items. A stamp collector, with tens of thousands of stamps that fill so many albums they crowd books off the shelves, still seeks more and more. Countries are well aware of this and earn a tidy profit by issuing a steady stream of new commemoratives. In the good old days of collecting, a country would issue three or four commemoratives per year, making the hobby interesting, educational, and reasonable so that one could collect the world. Today countries issue scores per year, well in excess of postal needs and with high values that quickly empty a collector’s pocketbook. In the race to keep up there is no time to glean knowledge and pleasure from each stamp. Money is also a collectible. The more one has the more one wants in spite of increasing problems of security, taxes, solicitors and heirs. Guns are as numerous as people in the United States where addicts insist that the right to bear arms is theirs by law. The crime rate reflects this with 1.5 million in jail and a death rate by guns of 10.54 per 100,000 people as compared to 1.97 in Canada, 0.23 in the UK, and 0.06 in Japan. But that compares to Honduras 67.18, Venezuela 59.13, Swaziland 37.16, Guatemala 34.1, Jamaica 30.72, and El Salvador 26.8.
DRUGS: All forms of addiction rob us of will power and common sense and are, therefore, drugs. Yet we tend to limit the term to substances like cocaine, LSD, heroin, and opium that lower pain, create hallucinations to permit us to escape our mundane world, or give us a glow of peace or satisfaction, at first for a few minutes of inferred bliss, but we soon become more dependent. Horrendous crimes are committed, either under the influence or to obtain money to buy more. As fortunes are made by those who control the trade, the interaction of rivalries and law enforcement creates insurrections, wars, murders, and the loss of thousands of innocent lives. Another vice, with us as long as recorded history, gambling is becoming even more addictive:
GAMBLING: A few still maintain that we are clever enough to understanding the odds and the truth that, over time, we can only lose while governments and casino owners win. World gamblers spend over $440 billion annually, but can be considered patriotic being such a help to their governments. China and the US lead the world in tax revenues at $22 billion each, followed by Japan, S. Korea, Germany, UK, France, and Canada who total $32 billion. Internet gambling is increasing and adds to these figures. Russia has banned it, gaining $1.2 billion from other forms. But, then, we have all those church, clubs, and school groups with petty gambling.Who is left to teach us ethics and common sense?
LIFE: Jean Chrétien, Canadian prime minister 1993-2003, observed: “Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but few are willing to die to get there.” In spite of promises of heavenly bliss we hesitate to give up the pains and sufferings of this world for something perhaps better but still unknown. Muslim fundamentalists who are guaranteed an issue of several virgins may be more willing than the rest of us who want to see one more dawn and collect one more pension cheque even when we lack the energy to do anything with the new day or the new cheque. We are addicted to this life.
NATIONALISM and RELIGION: It appears we are all insecure and need something to identify ourselves with and to cling to. The mobility of Homo sapiens has kept us all one, yet we still seek comfort and safety in our own small groups and with people who think as we do. Slowly we have grown from nuclear families to clans to tribes to city states to nations to empires to multi-nationals. Intellect or habit may link us more with certain members of far-away groups, but we still cling to our local groups where we know and are known. Suspicion of foreigners has been a drawback to peace. Our hardships are often attributed to the people who live on the other side of the river or mountain, or to those who have infiltrated but who came from afar. For ulterior purposes it has been all too easy for the few to incite the many to hate and to war. Insignificant religious differences have been used as excuses for wars that have killed millions. More Muslims have been killed by Muslims and more Christians by Christians than by others.
SEX: The pleasurable aspects have far surpassed the basic reasons for it. Males devote much of their waking, and dreaming, hours to this pastime. The pleasure is fleeting, but repeat performances are continually desired. The church, social norms, and small-town moralities suppressed these desires until urban sprawl, mobility, and lowered moral standards permitted ever-greater indulgence until AIDS became a major fear, far surpassing the old, and often ignored, venereal-disease fears. Yet, the drive remains so strong that many throw caution to the winds and risk jobs, families, and social standing for a few minutes of satisfaction. The one advantage to the mobile male impregnating every female he can is the fact that we remain one species unlike other animals.
TOBACCO: In 1590 King James I described it as “loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, and dangerous to the lungs.” Although the first few tries at using tobacco are distasteful, peer pressure influenced the majority to carry on to the point where the practice becomes pleasurable, relaxing, and addictive. The minority, who found the habit distasteful and filthy, had to accept the fact that social graces demanded they tolerate, and even assist, smokers. The alarming degree of addiction was manifested during wartime conditions when people were starving yet would trade desperately-needed food for cigarettes. Attitudes changed when the health costs to smokers and to those about them, became apparent and publicised. Smoke-free zones, once unheard of, proliferated, but worldwide the battle remains as tobacco kills, 15 years prematurely, over 5 million humans per year. My mother, brother, sister, and I never smoked yet my sister died at age 71 of lung cancer from second-hand smoke inhaled from clients in the lawyers’ offices in which she worked. My nephew, David, an Ottawa lawyer, is a world leader and advisor to governments on reducing smoking and promoting e-cigarettes to provide hard-core addicts the nicotine minus the harmful chemicals.
WORK: A fortunate few are able to find work that is immediately enjoyable. Most accept a job to earn an income. In either case work can become addictive. It gives us a routine and companionship. The greatest addiction comes with owning a business. Pressures, competitions, paper work, taxes, and employee problems demand ever-more time until the business becomes all there is in life.
We can change some behaviours. Dogs, horses, and humans come to mind. Where can we draw the line between addictions and ingrained, genetically-dictated behaviour? Some humans are predisposed to homosexuality in spite of the fact that this is self-defeating for the species. Or, is it?
OTHER THOUGHTS: Elephants, who dine on marula fruit, drink lots of water, then jog around to let fermentation produce a drunken state. Butterflies, bees and bats will also damage themselves with addictions to fermented nectar. Ants and Bees: A once-independent foraging life style has, over the millennia, been programmed to group behaviour where each individual is born to have strictly confined responsibilities. This may enhance the survival of the species but it destroys free will. Will our addictions lead to this?
BLOGGING: Is this not also addictive? Perhaps I should taper off before I can boast “I got a house for blogging - it came brick by brick.”
LOVE: Ending on a positive note, what addiction has had more songs and books written plus tales told? Ye Olde Scribe succumbs eagerly to this one, but does expect those he loves to show empathy for others who themselves possess such empathy for others and for the environment. Basic human empathy can rebound, as we have seen many times, when the controlling hands of Profit, Hate, and Ignorance are removed. Your help is needed in this ongoing task.
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