Saturday, August 20, 2011

Addiction Goes Dionysian But Falls Short of Real Change

It looks like the “illness” called “addiction” has gone into the right hemisphere.  The medical community has released a new definition (here; a news story about it here) and it is very much a Dionysian version.

From the news essay:

Addiction…is a “bio-psycho-socio-spiritual” illness characterized by (a) damaged decision-making (affecting learning, perception, and judgment) and by (b) persistent risk and/or recurrence of relapse; the unambiguous implications are that (a) addicts have no control over their addictive behaviors and (b) total abstinence is, for some addicts, an unrealistic goal of effective treatment.


bad behaviors themselves are all symptoms of addiction, not the disease itself. "The state of addiction is not the same as the state of intoxication…” Far from being evidence of a failure of will or morality, the behaviors are the addict's attempt to resolve the general "dysfunctional emotional state" that develops in tandem with the disease.

While I am in general agreement with the new definition (because I prefer Dionysian holistic views on medicine and the old Modernist view was medieval), I also find some of its wording to be awful.

We continue to place “mental illness” in categories that demean people and incite prejudice.  Calling something a “disorder” or “dysfunction” or “illness” tends to place those with these traits into a living hell.  They are pushed to the margins of our society and generally treated poorly by the masses.

When you start out by calling something “bad behavior” or “illness” or “disorder” you taint the characterization with moral overtones.  While the medical community tries very hard to combat the morality discussion (Far from being evidence of a failure of will or morality) all they do is perpetuate it.  Terms such as these are based in Apollonian values of order, functionality, and “normality” (as defined by the scientific community) [1].

If you want to argue that people with “mental illness” are not immoral [2], then you must rephrase the discussion. 

Such as, some people are mentally blessed, they are closer to god, they are touched by god.  Their purpose in society is to inspire us and remind us of our shortcomings.  Many of these people have spurts of creativity that most of us will never have; many are or have been conceptual geniuses who can give us brief periods of wonder and bedazzlement. When their era of creativity is done we take care of them with honesty and dignity.

If 10 percent of our society has “mental illness” then why is it an illness?  Why not view it as part of the known range of human existence, as part of the order of life?  From this perspective we can confront excessive or destructive behaviors as something we want to limit without demeaning people or stifling creativity.

1. Modernists were obsessed with psychological and psychiatric issues; they wanted to define normal mental behavior and kill off all "abnormal" mentality.  They were broadly anti mental illness.  It threatened their love of intellectualism and conceptualism. They used to say that there was a thin line between genius and crazy. I think they were using bad ideas.
2.  Why do we have to continually live with 18th century (Kantian) ideas about human morality?  If excessive literalism is an addiction are Christian fundamentalists "addicts"?

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