"Addiction is helping to teach us what's important."
Bruce Alexander is an expert in the field of addiction. He joined the psychology department at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada in 1970. He has counseled hard-core heroin addicts, conducted psychopharmacological research (the “Rat Park” experiments), supervised field research on cocaine use for the World Health Organization, studied the history of drug law and drug policy, documented the diverse addictions of university students, studied the “temperance mentality” in several countries, served on the Boards of NGOs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and published two controversial books, Peaceful Measures: Canada’s Way Out of the War on Drugs (University of Toronto Press, 1990) and The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit (Oxford University Press, 2008). Since retiring from the university as Professor Emeritus in 2005, Dr. Alexander continues to write, conduct research and teach neighbourhood addiction seminars in Vancouver. He lectures frequently across Canada and in Europe. He was awarded the Sterling Prize for Controversy in 2007.
Visit Bruce Alexander's website: globalizationofaddiction.ca
And since we speak about Martin Luther King and his rousing last speech, here is a link to the recent special program in celebration of Dr. King, which aired on Democracy Now, on January 17, 2011. It includes part of his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech in the second half of the program, beginning at minute 29:32.
Listen at your convenience!
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Very interesting interview, given how we are a society full of addiction, unhappiness and greed.
Great questions and comments.
Alexander is hugely important. I’d be inclined to extend his insights to suggest that a lot of the world’s most powerful and influential people are addicted to money and or power, such that for this wisdom to be recognized at the uppermost levels of society seems like quite a challenge, above and beyond Alexander’s challenge to the prevailing religion of free market capitalism. I just love this website for recognizing Alexander as a real hero.
Thanks, Neil. I agree about power and money addiction and this is a big part of why a top-down approach to social change will not work. I think Alexander is clearly aware of this and he is calling for organization at the grassroots level. This is why he kept returning to MLK, to say it’s not enough to be aware or to share an ideology or awaken our spirituality. We have got to engage in bonds of solidarity and activism to restore health to self, society, Earth.
very nice post, i certainly love this website, keep on it…
Very interesting interview. I want to make two related points.
1. China’s rise offers another example of what happens when nations become prosperous. If the Chinese were previously an example of a people who had relatively little addiction or money in the past, capitalism and consumerism might be credited with financing their drug use more than eroding their culture. Would their long history and deep culture - with socially supportive qualities that made low drug use possible - dissolve so quickly? We may be giving too much credit to greed and capitalism. Both the human condition and transcendence are said to be unbounded by material wealth and prosperity. Doesn’t prosperity just amplify the same desires and actions that many people already have inside themselves?
2. I do think stress, dislocation, isolation and immaturity correlate with addiction. The young, isolated and over-worked feature prominently in drug and alcohol abuse cases. However, there are many correlates that shouldn’t be ignored in a complex discussion looking for causal factors in worldwide addiction. For instance, many lack an education about addiction, underestimate health risks and heavily discount the future.
I like the ideas brought up and I think more ideas should be explored and allowed into the discussion. Should we be talking about the value of education and how to develop maturity?
David, thanks for writing in. Regarding your comments on China, remember that Mao’s China set things up for capitalism to sweep in, by crippling the spiritual and aesthetic traditional China, leaving people bereft of “soul-satisfying” meaning. At the same time, I think you are correct in your last statements in the China point; but this only underscores the fact that capitalism panders to the worst in human nature and the untrained mind and unwise person is too weak to resist all its titillations. So one must ask of any social system: is it one that has wholesome values that meet the deeper needs of humanity and, if so, integrated structures that effectively actualize those values or is it deceptive, misleading, exploitive?
In your second point, addicted people, even youngsters, generally know their addiction isn’t good for them in the long run, but they are dependent upon the addictive substance or behavior just to get through the next hour, the next day. Such people need much more support (from before they were even born) than education about what’s good for them. In the moment, it is the lesser of evils, as they lack the metaphysical essentials like love, trust, esteem, hope . . .