Dislocation Theory of Addiction

Addiction as Seen from the Perspective of Karl Polanyi

Addiction as Seen from the Perspective of Karl Polanyi
Bruce K. Alexander, Professor Emeritus,
Simon Fraser University,
Burnaby BC, Canada

Global society has failed to control a rising tide of dangerous addictions to drug use and innumerable other habits. Science has not achieved a durable consensus on what addiction is, what causes it, and how it can be remedied. Members of the “helping professions”, including social workers and psychologists like myself, have not been able to help addicted people very much. However, there are reasons to believe that political economists can point the way to controlling the social calamity of addiction, although the way will be neither quick nor painless.
Society’s fundamental error in confronting addiction has been ignoring “dislocation”, in the sense that Karl Polanyi used this term. Great numbers of people are dislocated from their traditions and cultures by free-market society and this dislocation increases as free-market society globalizes its domination of everyday life. History shows that dislocated people compensate for their agonizing lack of social belonging, identity, and meaning by desperately clinging to the best substitutes for a full life that they can find. Addictions to drugs and a thousand other habits serve this compensatory function all too well. As the dislocation produced by free-market society increases, the flood of addiction rises and spreads, along with depression, child abuse, and suicide. Psychological treatments and harm reduction measures have reached the limit of their effectiveness. Only structural change can prevent the continuing growth of addiction and related problems.
Free-market society has evolved since Polanyi published The Great Transformation in 1944. Insights on the relationship between free-market society, dislocation, and addiction that arise directly from Polanyi's thinking can now be augmented with the work of more recent political economic scholars including Michael Hudson, F. William Engdahl, Michel Chossudovsky, Frédéric Lordon, Henry C.K. Liu, and Sheldon Wolin.

Although modern society has expended vast resources over the past couple of centuries to counteract the flood of addiction, the tide has continued to rise. The problem is intellectual as well as social: No durable consensus has been reached about addiction’s essential nature, its cause, or its remedy. Instead of consensus, there are hundreds of divergent theories and treatment practices. Standing outside of the theoretical mêlée among addiction professionals is a group of political economists and social historians who quite often agree on the causes of addiction and related problems when they encounter them in a particular historical context. Scholarship of this sort, most notably Karl Polanyi’s, can yield a clear understanding of addiction in the modern world and can reveal what will be required to bring it under control.
Why is Addiction Engulfing the Globalizing World?
Figure 1 first states three basic principles of social life in capsule form. Figure 2 shows how these principles coalesce into an understanding of the irrepressible spread of addiction in the globalizing world. Because Karl Polanyi’s work has moved into the center of my understanding of addiction, I debated calling my understanding a “Polanyian Theory” in my new book, The Globalisation of Addiction: A study of poverty of the spirit (Oxford University Press, 2008). However, I felt awkward about implicitly claiming Polanyi's support for the theory, since he did not, to my knowledge, write about addiction per se. In the end, I called my understanding a “Dislocation Theory” instead.

Figure 1. Three Principles

Figure 2. A Dislocation Theory of Globalizing Addiction

Principle 1. Psychosocial integration is a necessity.
The human psyche is anything but self-sufficient. From early childhood until old age, individuals in every culture devote themselves to establishing and maintaining a place in their society. In a complementary manner, society’s subgroups and institutions, starting with the family, welcome and cultivate maturing individuals at appropriate stages of development. These subgroups give as much latitude as they can to individuals’ unique preferences and needs for autonomy, but always within limits that allow the group to carry out its essential economic and social functions. Following Erik Erikson, this complex state of interdependence of individuals and their societies will be called “psychosocial integration” in this talk.
Although the term “psychosocial integration” denotes active participation in society that gives people a powerful experience of belonging, it is experienced on other levels as well. Psychosocial integration is experienced as a sense of individual identity, because stable social relationships provide people with expectations and obligations that establish, in their own minds, exactly who they are and where they belong. Psychosocial integration is experienced as a comprehension of natural reality, because members of viable societies share and reinforce a conceptualization of their place in nature. Psychosocial integration is usually also experienced as a sense of the divine, because members of viable societies validate and extend each other’s images of the unseen world that environs mundane space and time.
The use of the word “soul” has been banned from the social sciences because it carries an implication of immortality in various religious traditions. Yet, Karl Polanyi pointed out in his 1935 paper in Christianity and the Social Revolution that, “The discovery of the individual soul is the discovery of community...Each is implied by the other.” Polanyi saw the individual’s “soul” as an essential part of the experience of psychosocial integration of individuals in their communities. I will use the word “soul” in this naturalistic sense in the remainder of this talk, without implying anything about an afterlife, one way or the other.
Karl Polanyi was not alone in recognizing the importance of people's needs for both social belonging and individual autonomy. This central fact of human nature has been emphasized by countless classical thinkers and contemporary social scientists, who use a great variety of alternate names for psychosocial integration, such as “belonging”, “community”, “wholeness”, or simply “culture”.
In my own multiethnic Canadian city, Vancouver, the subgroups and institutions that provide the bases for psychosocial integration today typically include nuclear families, children’s play groups, schools, sports teams, friendship groups, work groups, internet chat groups, and various neighbourhood, recreational, ethnic, religious, or nationalistic organizations. These subgroups and institutions often have short lives and conflicting values, making psychosocial integration a difficult, often precarious, achievement. In the pre-colonial aboriginal culture that existed on the same land as Vancouver only 150 years ago, the list of subgroups that provided the basis for psychosocial integration was quite different. As well as nuclear families, it included grandparents and long-dead ancestors, a large extended family, the village of birth, clans that extended beyond the village and family, social classes, and gender groups. Because the subgroups all grew from stable and internally consistent tribal traditions, attaining psychosocial integration was far less difficult.
Despite these important differences, achieving psychosocial integration is equally essential in aboriginal and modern culture. Establishing the delicate interpenetration of person and society enables each person to simultaneously satisfy both individualistic needs and needs for community – to be free and still belong. It enables society to simultaneously benefit from the diverse, creative abilities of its individual members and still maintain order and collective purpose. Psychosocial integration is a marvellous balancing act that makes human life bearable, and even joyful at its peaks. Moreover, psychosocial integration is the key to the success of the human species, which flourished by simultaneously evolving the capacity for close cooperation and individual creativity.
Lack of psychosocial integration is very close to “dislocation”, in the way that Polanyi used the word. Dislocation, in Polanyi's sense of it, does not necessarily imply geographic separation. Rather, it refers to an enduring lack of psychosocial integration, which can befall people who never leave home as well as those who are geographically removed. Dislocation is an inescapable consequence of free-market society. For example, Polanyi introduces his discussion of the industrial revolution in The Great Transformation thus: “At the heart of the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century there was an almost miraculous improvement in the tools of production, which was accompanied by a catastrophic dislocation of the lives of the common people.” Many of these dislocated people moved from devastated peasant societies to urban slums, but many others remained where there were and became more dislocated as their society disintegrated around them.
Like psychosocial integration, dislocation has been given diverse names by social scientists, perhaps the most familiar being  “alienation” or “disconnection”. However, I find “dislocation” to be the most useful, because Polanyi identified it so clearly as an inescapable side effect of free-market society.
Strong people can endure some degree of dislocation for a time. However, severe, prolonged dislocation eventually leads to unbearable despair, shame, rage, anguish, boredom, and bewilderment. It regularly precipitates suicide and less direct forms of self-destruction. This is why dislocation, in the form of ostracism, excommunication, exile, and solitary confinement has been a dreaded punishment from ancient times until the present.
Dislocation frequently occurs in conjunction with material poverty, but they are not the same thing. Although material poverty can crush the spirit of isolated individuals and families, it can be borne with dignity when people face it as a group. On the other hand, people who have lost their psychosocial integration are devastated even if they are rich.  Polanyi described the effects of free-market society on both the impoverished labourers and the rich as follows:
...the most obvious effect of the new institutional system was the destruction of the traditional character of settled population and their transmutation into a new type of people, migratory, nomadic, lacking in self-respect and discipline -- crude callous beings, of whom both laborer and capitalist were an example.

In contrast to material poverty, dislocation can be called “poverty of the spirit”. This phrase is suggested by Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. These words did not promise material wealth to the demoralized and degraded Galilean subjects of the Roman empire, but rather a spiritual community where they could truly belong, for it was “theirs”.
Dislocation can have many causes. For example, it can be caused by an earthquake that destroys a village or an individual idiosyncrasy that a person’s society cannot tolerate. It can be inflicted violently by abusing a child, ostracizing an adult, or destroying a culture. It can be inflicted with the best of intentions, by donating cheap manufactured products that undermine a local economy or by inculcating an unrealistic sense of superiority that makes a favoured child insufferable to others. It can be voluntarily chosen if a person turns from social life to the single-minded pursuit of wealth in a “gold rush” or a “window of opportunity”.
Most importantly, dislocation can become the norm if a civilization systematically curtails psychosocial integration in all or most of its members. Polanyi’s analysis leads to the realization that there are billions of severely dislocated people in today’s world, because dislocation is inescapably built into the free-market society that has been, and continues to be, globalized.

Principle 2. Globalizing free-market society produces mass dislocation.
Whereas a variety of calamities can dislocate people in any society, including tribal, feudal, and socialist ones, and whereas the collapse of any society produces mass dislocation, only free-market society produces mass dislocation as part of its normal functioning, even at the best of times.
Polanyi showed that dislocation of individuals from their community, culture, sense of meaning, and personal identity can be rare in a settled society for centuries, and then become nearly universal in a single generation. Mass dislocation can occur when a tribal culture is devastated by colonization, when the commons of a peasant society are enclosed, or when industrial revolution devastates world of farms and villages. Polanyi also showed how mass dislocation has been built into the globalized free-market society that has swept the planet since the beginning of the industrial revolution, and whose current icons include Friedrich von Hayek, Milton Friedman, Margaret Thatcher, the Washington Consensus, and Goldman Sachs, Inc.
A “free-market society” is a social system in which virtually every aspect of human existence is embedded within, and shaped by, unregulated competitive markets. This sort of social system would have been inconceivable up until a few centuries ago, but it is fast becoming the everyday experience of most people of the world. 
The promise that sustains free-market societies is that free markets based on intense individual competition will maximize everybody’s well-being in the long run, multiplying individual happiness and the “wealth of nations”. The imperative that gradually emerged from this promise is that free, competitive markets must dominate every possible aspect of human life and that the only essential functions of government are to maintain the efficiency of markets and to help them grow.
Although movement towards this free-market ideal has, paradoxically, required abundant administrative and military force, and although there have been halts, reversals, counter-currents, corruption and hypocritical pretense throughout its development, including the present day, free-market society has been expanding and consolidating its hold on people’s everyday lives around the globe for the last few centuries. Meanwhile, the institutions that promulgate it have grown ever larger and more powerful. There is much more to globalization than its economic system of course, but the principle of free-market society is at the heart of it, at least at the level of everyday experience.
Polanyi showed why, along with its dazzling benefits, the global movement towards free-market society must produce mass dislocation. To the degree that labour, land, credit, goods, education, medicine, entertainment, etc. are traded in free, competitive markets, dislocation becomes inevitable. This is because competitive free markets work efficiently only if each buyer and seller pursues his or her individual enrichment – however he or she individually defines it – competitively and acquisitively. This economic individualism allows the law of supply and demand to work its magic. In theory, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” will bring the beneficence of the market to all, but only if they remember that “business is business” and that they must always “think for themselves”.
People cannot be this individualistic if they are encumbered by loyalties to their family, friends, traditional obligations, customs, trade unions, or guilds. Nor can they be encumbered by the transcendental values of a religion, culture, ethnic group, or nation. A single, classic example used by Polanyi: the free market in labour, in its original form, used the threat of starvation to force masses of people into tedious, meaningless toil in factories. Forms of society which guaranteed that whatever food there was would be shared by all had to be suppressed so that the market could supply the labour needs of the free-market society. Still today, fundamental aspects of psychosocial integration in every type of society are being identified as “market distortions”, that have to be eliminated.
For these reasons, the ideal form of free-market society would inevitably create universal dislocation. Although today’s global society falls far short of this ideal with its garish cornucopia of individual corruption, corporate collusion, and market manipulation for geopolitical purposes, globalized society continues to impose “market discipline” on ordinary people around the world  in the name of the free market.
To the degree that western civilization approximates a free-market society in everyday life, dislocation is not the pathological state of a few but the general condition. As free-market economics engulfs ever more aspects of life that were formerly considered cultural, personal, or intellectual, dislocation spreads. Because dislocation makes parents desperate and families dysfunctional in western society, it affects children as much as adults who participate directly in commerce. Because western free-market society is an essential part of the model for globalization, mass dislocation has spread to every corner of the globe along with the Internet, the English language, and Mickey Mouse.
The complex history of dislocation and addiction in China and the USSR when they were socialist societies provide crucial cases for the dislocation theory of addiction to explain, and I have discussed these at some length in my book, The Globalization of Addiction: A study in poverty of the spirit. Today I will focus on how free-market society generates mass dislocation, without intending to deny that other kinds of society can generate problems of their own.

Principle 3. Addiction3 is a way of adapting to sustained dislocation.
However dislocation comes about, it provokes a desperate response. Dislocated people struggle valiantly to establish or restore psychosocial integration – to somehow “get a life”, “figure out who they are”, “find themselves”, or “build community”. Many do eventually achieve a sufficient degree of psychosocial integration. Those who do not, however, often compensate for the anguish of sustained dislocation by devoting themselves to narrow lifestyles that function as substitutes for psychosocial integration. Individually, these substitutes have distinct names: junkie, miser, shopaholic, workaholic, crackhead, alcoholic, religious zealot, anorexic, etc. Collectively, they comprise the full spectrum of addiction, in the traditional English language meaning of this word. Addiction is neither a disease nor a moral failure, but a narrowly focused lifestyle that functions as a partial substitute for people who cannot achieve adequate psychosocial integration. The psychological basis of addiction to drugs is no different from the psychological basis of addiction to anything else.
Even the most harmful addictions serve a vital substitute function for dislocated individuals. For example, the barren pleasures of being a junkie – membership in a drug-injecting sub-culture, transient relief from pain, the excitement of petty crime, identification with a tragic mystique  – provide desperately-needed relief from the unrelenting torment of social exclusion and aimlessness. At the other end of the social hierarchy, the barren pleasures of endlessly amassing expensive consumer goods and organizing them for display and consumption provide some kind of meaning and identity for affluent people bereft of richer purposes, reaching grotesque “shopaholic” proportions in some of them. Similarly, religious or political fanaticism provides some sense of belonging and purity for people whose sacred traditions have been profaned beyond recovery “Co-dependent relationships” and addictive ties to dysfunctional families provide emotionally captivating substitutes for a network of healthy relationships. Addictions often serve other functions simultaneously, but their raison d’être is to provide some kind of substitute for psychosocial integration. Without their addictions, many people would have terrifyingly little reason to live.
Addictions may endure for days, for years, or for a lifetime, but they are not sufficiently close, stable, or complex to afford a complete substitute for psychosocial integration. Nevertheless, people for whom addiction is the best achievable substitute for psychosocial integration cling to their addictions with grim resolution, despite the harm that follows. Often they flatly deny all harm, despite obvious evidence.
Thus, addiction is adaptive for dislocated people. To acknowledge that addiction is “adaptive” is not to imply that it is desirable either for the addicted person or for society, but only that it buffers people against the pain and suffering of unbearable dislocation. Since addictions do not have the depth or breadth to replenish the soul, addicted people cannot find the full contentment that they desperately need. Often they appear insatiable, since no amount of addictive consumption can replace what is missing.  In their futile attempts to achieve psychosocial integration by narrowing their lives, addicted people often exacerbate their own dislocation; for example, by stigmatizing themselves, by ruining their health, or by irrevocably alienating people who care about them.
At best, addictions can be narrowly creative and socially acceptable, as in the case of some bohemian artists, high-tech wizards, or brilliant mathematicians. More usually, however, addictions are banal and harmful, as in the case of a thieving street junkie; an irresponsible alcoholic; a driven, ruthless CEO; a compulsive “consumer” who bankrupts his or her family and depletes precious resources; or a religious or political fanatic, willing to kill indiscriminately for the cause.
Only chronically and severely dislocated people are vulnerable to addiction. The extensive evidence required to document this claim is summarized in my book, but a feeling for the idea can be gotten by trying to think of an addicted person who is not severely dislocated and whose addiction does not serve in some way to relieve this dislocation. Also, try to think of an addiction that does not provide a substitute for psychosocial integration. Why would anybody who was not suffering from an agonizing lack of psychosocial integration ever devote his or her life to a narrow, dangerous, offensive lifestyle?
People generally behave adaptively, both in an evolutionary sense and in a psychological sense. In an evolutionary sense, behaving adaptively means that people act in ways that have promoted inclusive fitness during the long evolutionary history of the human species. These ways of acting are likely to be beneficial in the present as well. In a psychological sense, behaving adaptively means that people generally act both in their own personal interest and in the interest of the other people that they care about. At least for biologists, the burden of proof is always upon those who claim that a behaviour that is widespread throughout a species is maladaptive, since this is not the normal expectation.
Since the 19th century, however, society has consistently viewed addiction as maladaptive and explained it with malign hidden causes like loss of will power to “addictive drugs,” unconscious fixations of the libido, deficiencies in the brain reward system, neural sensitization to the reinforcing effects of drugs, genes for addiction, or some combination of these. But theories based on these hidden causes have failed to generate either a generally believable account of addiction or anything more than marginally effective forms of therapy. A reasonable conclusion after more than a century of frustrated searching for the hidden underlying disorder is that it does not exist. The major quality that severely addicted people have in common is that they are adapting to somewhat higher levels of dislocation than the rest of us who reside in the globalized free-market society.
Although only dislocated people become addicted, many severely dislocated people live and die in ways that cannot be called “addiction” without stretching the word too thin. Many of them adapt by dint of admirable resolution and a little help from their friends. Others may become depressed, suicidal, apathetic, murderous, abusive to their children, or mentally erratic, rather than addicted. Thus, dislocation is a necessary, but not sufficient, cause of addiction.
Since psychosocial integration is a fundamental human need, and since free-market society, by its nature, produces mass dislocation at all times (not just during times of recession or collapse), and since addiction is the predominant way of adapting to dislocation, addiction is endemic and spreading fast. Free-market society can no more be addiction-free than it can be free of intense competition, income disparity, environmental destruction, unequal access to medical care, or predatory business practices. There can be no “technical fix” or “market solution” for problems that are embedded in the structure of society itself. Instead, today’s society must either modify its free-market structure enough to keep its side effects under control or endure their continuing spread.
Global society obviously is not going to revert to tribalism or convert to marxism in the 21st century. My aim is not to reverse the course of time, but to describe the roots of the present proliferation of addiction in the globalization of free-market society with an eye for the kinds of structural changes that can ameliorate the problem.
How The Three Principles Comprise a Theory; How the Theory Predicates a Policy Goal
The three principles coalesce into the single theoretical statement that is summarized above and schematized in Figure 2. The upshot of this theoretical conclusion is that global society as currently constituted will experience an ever-increasing level of addictions of all sorts. The only solution to this problem, apart from a transformation of human nature, is a structural change in the modern economic system. In my mind, this does not imply an overthrow of capitalism, but rather a reconceptualization of the vague notion of “mixed economy” so that it describes a system that is designed to be not only economically efficient, but also fit for habitation by non-addicted human beings.

Free-Market Society in the British Empire and in the American Empire
The laissez-faire capitalism of Europe during the British Empire provided the background for Polanyi’s analysis of free-market society in The Great Transformation. Since World War II, the British Empire has given way to a new variety of free-market society, often characterized as a global American Empire. At the same time, the global prevalence of addiction has increased enormously, especially in countries that have undertaken the most drastic shifts into the  new variety of free-market eoncomics, including the U.K. after 1970 and China after 1980.
Is today's free–market society mass producing addiction for the same reasons that the earlier British Empire did? Although the American government and the international agencies that it dominates exalt free-market principles at every turn and impose rigid free-market constraints on other countries when they can, the reverse is not true. The US does not apply free-market principles to itself with nearly the same rigor that the European nations of the British Empire did, nor do the IMF and World Bank impose free-market constraints on the US. Can free-market society be the cause of an epidemic of addiction if some of the most important markets are not free?    
Michael Hudson’s book, Super Imperialism, details how the free-market principles proclaimed by American officials from their dominating post-World War II position were not honoured by the US in its own national policies, by contrast with the more rule-bound free-market imperium of Great Britain prior to World War II. The international markets for food and money provide obvious examples. Great Britain demonstrated the austere reality of its commitment to free trade very early. For example, by repealing its Corn Laws, the basis of its agricultural protectionism, in 1846. The repeal of the Corn Laws caused an upheaval in British agriculture, which could not compete with cheap imported food, but it also established a credible international free-trade milieu . Likewise, the British and other European nations honoured their national debts to the limits of their abilities, in accordance with the principles of a free market in finance capital. After World War I, for example, Britain and France almost bankrupted themselves in the attempt to pay off their huge war debts. After World War II, Great Britain, with its economy in ruins, agreed to laissez-faire trade in manufactured goods, rather than pursuing protectionism to rebuild its industries.
Whereas European nations generally followed free market principles in their own national comportment, the US has refused to follow them itself when they proved too costly, even as it imposed them on its conquered enemires, it allies, the third world, and eventually the former USSR. For example, US agricultural policy has remained fiercely protectionistic throughout the post-World War II period until the present day, even though the US has, whenever possible, forced open domestic markets that other countries sought to protect in their national interest. The US has refused to honour its international debts after 1950 by using political power and military threats to prevent its debtors from redeeming their dollars from American gold reserves and from buying US industries. By leaving no option to holders of its debt other than purchasing US treasury bonds, the US has created a “treasury bond standard” of wealth to replace the gold standard, and this new standard is a pillar in the current dollar hegemony of the world economy. The US has also made itself an exception to international free-trade rules that it initiated at Bretton Woods by imposing tariffs and non-tariff barriers when they suited its national interest. Despite this “monetary imperialism”, as Hudson calls it, the US gushes the purest free-market piety in its national rhetoric even now and continues to impose stringent free market discipline on people under its sway, including its own citizens of the lower ranks. In addition to monetary imperialism, the US has arguably led the way in socializing the capital markets in the current credit crisis, by providing government capital to virtually all its major financial institutions threatened with bankruptcy. This shatters the illusion of a free market in finance capital.
Highly visible deviations from the free-market ideal at the highest levels do not reduce dislocation, but rather exacerbate it. People find themselves alienated from reality itself, as the official reality contradicts what they see. For example, American people who have been led to believe that their government practices the purest free market capitalism are alienated from their own perceived reality when their government bails out their banking and insurance giants, using money it does not have. People in third-world nations can see that the IMF free-market principles that have been applied to them like acts of God do not apply to the US and their other creditors. These glaring discrepancies can only amplify the experienced dislocation of people whose communities, families, and traditions are already in tatters. By exacerbating dislocation, these discrepancies increase people’s vulnerability to addiction.
As the American Empire took shape after World War II, addiction, already a serious problem, became a greater one and global society undertook a seemingly perpetual “War on Drugs.” The United States, leader of the American empire with its post-modernized free-market principles and prime mover in the “War on Drugs” also leads the countries of the developed world in the prevalence of addiction. Here are some illustrative data.

Figure 3. National Prevalence of Problem Drug Use, 1999-2004

But why would the American government, which most conspicuously excepts itself from free-market principles and leads an enormous War on Drugs, suffer the worst drug addiction problem of all?
The dislocating effects of the free-market discipline that continues to dominate the everyday life of the middle and working class have already been discussed, as have the dislocation provoked by the disregard of cherished free-market principles in society's stratosphere, but there is another important reason. The US has evolved into a political oligarchy of the tycoons of American finance capital and American military leaders, which Engdahl calls “crony capitalism” , Hudson calls a “kleptocracy” , and Wolin calls a “managed democracy” , and American president Eisenhower famously called “the military-industrial complex”. The blatant corruption of a democracy bespeaks not only the dislocation of people from their social habitat and from their cherished values, but also a republican system in a stage of political collapse. Foreshadowings of collapse colour the scenarios of many political economists.
The corruption and collapse of a society generates universal dislocation. In addiction to the loss of economic and political security, the dislocation has is generated psychologically,. Wolin, for example, shows how the corrupt, sham democracy of the U.S. corrodes the identity of Americans who have been raised to believe in their country as as the font and model of democracy for the world. Thus the slow-motion collapse of the American Empire provides an additional explanation for why addiction is so much more abundant in the US than in other developed nations. Other developed nations are not so directly and intimately facing collapse today, except as they might fall in the shock waves of an American explosion.
It also seems obvious in this context why the US would be the most enthusiastic promoter of the War on Drugs. This war responds to an addiction problem growing to crisis proportions in the US. In addition, the drug war serves the function of drawing attention from the agonizingly painful fact that the origins of the addiction problem lie in the basic economic structure of American society and its deep, but hypocritical faith in the Market God. The drug war focuses the nation's and the world's attention on overworked scapegoats such as demon drugs and dark drug lords.
If global addiction is to be brought under control, it will necessarily be in the context of a radical economic restructuring of the modern world. This economic restructuring may already be underway, although it will certainly not originate in the United States which is largely controlled by its financial behemoths, and will probably not originate in Europe or Canda, which have travelled too far down the same road to turn back now. It is more likely to originate in Asia and Latin America and to be forced upon the United States and Europe.
The role of political economists, as I see it, is to insure that those who organize the inevitable economic reorganization are mindful of the psychological as well as the material harmfulness of the current economic structure and the importance of conceptualizing a new economic order that serves the needs of the mind, and, indeed, the soul as well as the material economy. The acutely painful lesson of the last half-century is that an economy that disregards the human spirit can become mankind’s worst enemy.


An extended discussion of the tangle of conflicting definitions that bedevil the addictions field  appears in chapter 2 of my book (Alexander, B.K., 2008, The globalisation of addiction: A study in poverty of the spirit. Oxford University Press). This presentation circumvents these complexities. It is based on the traditional English language definition of addiction as a kind of voluntary slavery or overwhelming involvement (See definition 2a in the 1989 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary).

Although Erikson used a great variety of other words such as “wholeness” or “healthy personality” more frequently than he used “psychosocial integration” (Erikson, E.H., 1963, Childhood and society, 2nd ed., New York: Norton), this book will doggedly stick to “psychosocial integration”. Although this bit of jargon is less lyrical than some of its synonyms, it conveys the essential idea with greater precision.

Polanyi, K. (1944, The great transformation: The political and economic origins of our times. Boston, MA: Beacon).See also Glendinning, C. (1994, My name is Chellis and I’m in recovery from Western civilization.Boston, MA: Shambhala). Although the author of this fascinating book of popular psychology speaks of living in a “primal matrix” more often in environmental and spiritual than in social terms, this seems to me primarily a difference in emphasis. Dufour, D.-R. (2005, On achève bien les hommes: Des conséquences actuelle et future de la mort de Dieu.Paris: Denoël, esp. pp. 117-120) speaks of human identity as founded more on a relationship to some sort of god than to society. However, he says that a relationship with god can only be achieved in conjunction with other people who help to socially construct the deity (see pp. 121-124; 213) and, conversely, enduring relationships with other people can only become established when people share an understanding of transcendent reality(pp. 132-133, 277-278). See also O’Meara, M. (2004, New culture, new right: Anti-liberalism in postmodern Europe.Bloomington, Indiana: 1stBooks, pp. 50-51, endnote 44, pp. 99-102).

Polanyi, K. (1935, The essence of fascism. In J. Lewis, K. Polanyi, & D.K. Kitchin, Eds, Christianity and the social revolution, pp. 359-394,London, UK: Victor Gollancz, quote from p. 370).

This is a central theme in Plato's Republic, for example.

Erikson (1959, op. cit.); Slater, P. (1976, The pursuit of loneliness, Rev. ed., Boston, MA: Beacon Press); Berman, M. (1982, All that is solid melts into air: The experience of modernity, New York: Simon and Schuster); Cushman, P. (1995, Constructing the self, constructing America: A cultural history of psychology,Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley); Kawachi, I., Kennedy, B.P., & Lochner, K. (1997, November-December, Long live community: Social capital as public health., American Prospect, 8(35),56-59); O'Meara (2004, op. cit., pp. 63-64), Dufour (2005, op. cit.).

Erikson, E.H. (1959, Identity and the life cycle. Selected papers [Monograph]. Psychological Issues, 1, 1-171, see especially p. 40).

Polanyi (1944, op. cit., p. 33).

Naomi Klein (2007, The shock doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism.Toronto, ON: Knopf Canada) showed how social isolation has become a key component in today’s most advanced forms of torture.

Polanyi (1944, op. cit., p. 128).

Holy Bible (1611/1956, Matthew 5:3).

Polanyi (1944) and many other economic historians have shown the free markets do not come into existence freely, but are formed and sustained by whatever degree of administrative and military force is required. See also Panitch, L. (2008, 26 November). The financial crisis and democratic public finance. Retrieved 27 November from http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=11181

Among the reversals were the Speenhamland period in England (1795-1832; see Polanyi, 1944, op. cit.) and the “welfare state” period in Western Europe and North America in the 30 years following World War II. See also Bayly, C.A. (2004, The birth of the modern world, 1780 - 1914.Oxford, UK: Blackwell, pp. 295-300) for a description of various forms of resistance to the spread of Western economics throughout the long 19th century. See Stiglitz, J.E. (2002. Globalisation and its discontents. New York: W.W. Norton) for failures and reversals precipitated by the International Monetary Fund in the 1990s. The most obvious reversals in the 21st century have been in numerous Latin American countries that have retreated from extreme forms of free trade and privatisation. The sham has been evident in the double standard of free-market principles imposed upon third-world countries by the US, the IMF and the World Bank after World War II, but on the United States inself (Hudson, M., 2003. Super imperialism: The economic strategy of American Empire (2nd Edition). London: Pluto Press.) and in the use of free market rhetoric to mask the imperial ambitions of the US in the 21st century (Wolin, S.S., 2008,  Democracy, Inc.: Managed Democracy and the specter of inverted totalitarianism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.)

Economists Michael Hudson (2003, op. cit.) and F. William Engdahl (2004, A century of war: Angle-American oil politics and the new world order, Revised Edition. London: Pluto Press) emphasize the role of free-market society more as an ideology than an operating principle in a world where markets are profoundly influenced by geopolitical force, particularly that of the United States. They do not deny, however, that the ideology is actually enforced on the everyday level for most of the world’s population most of the time. A.C. Bayly’s (2004, op. cit.) influential history of the modern world stresses the importance of a variety of economic and non-economic factors in the genesis of modernity, in contrast to the stricter economic determinism of other scholars. Nevertheless, Bayly (2004, op. cit., pp. 3-5, 290-292, 473-475) explicitly acknowledges the definitive role of capitalism in shaping the modern world and provides abundant examples of its fundamental importance throughout his account.

K. Polanyi (1944, op. cit.). See also Friedman, M., & Friedman, R. (1979, Free to choose: A personal statement.San Diego, California: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich); Bayly (2004, op. cit., pp. 290-292), O’Meara (2004, op. cit., pp. 63-64).

K. Polanyi (1944, op. cit., pp. 163-165).

For an example of the application of this principle in modern times, see Cordonnier, L. (2006, December, Guerre aux chômeurs! Des experts aux idées fracassantes. Le Monde diplomatique.pp. 1, 4, 5) on the campaign of the OECD against the European welfare state.

Soros, G. (1997, The capitalist threat. Atlantic Monthly.pp. 45-48; Stiglitz (2002, op. cit.); Hudson (2003, op. cit.); Engdahl (2004, op. cit).

Alexander (2008, op. cit., chap. 6).

See the Oxford English Dictionary, definition of addiction 2a. For a full discussion of the perplexed problem of defining addiction see Alexander (2008, chapter 2).

Chein, I., Gerard, D.L., Lee, R.S., & Rosenfeld, E. (1964, The road to H: Narcotics, delinquency, and social policy.New York: Basic Books, chap. 9, p. 216); Granfield, R., & Cloud, W. (1999, Coming clean: Overcoming addiction without treatment.New York: New York University Press, chap. 2); Dalrymple, T. (2006, Romancing opiates: Pharmacological lies and the addiction bureaucracy.New York: Encounter Books., chap. 2).

Naomi Klein (2000, No logo: Taking aim at the brand bullies.Toronto, Ontario: Random House of Canada) has described this brilliantly for the youth culture and the “branded” merchandise of the late 20th century. See also Homer-Dixon, T. (2006, The upside of down: Catastrophe, creativity, and the renewal of civilisation.Toronto, Ontario: Knopf, pp. 197-198).

Here I am distinguishing between “addiction” in the Oxford English Dictionary meaning of the term and simple dependence on drugs for relief of symptoms. The crucial issue of definition is considered at length in chapter 2 of Alexander (2008, op. cit.).

Alexander (2008, op. cit., chaps. 1-8).

See Durkheim, E. (1951, Suicide: A study in sociology, J.A. Spaulding & G. Simpson, Trans., Glenco, IL: Free Press, Original work published 1897); Bourdieu, P. (2003, June, Ce terrible repos qui est celui de la mort sociale. Le Monde diplomatique, p. 5, Original work published 1981); Homer-Dixon (2006, op. cit., p. 198).

Many people have shown logically or empirically that the woes enumerated in this paragraph cannot be eliminated in free-market society (e.g., Lenin, N.,1966, L’imperialisme, stade supreme du capitalisme.Pékin, Chine: Editions en langues étangères, Original work published 1916); Velásquez, G., 2003, July, Hold-up sur le médicament: Le profit contre la santé. Le Monde diplomatique,pp. 1, 26-27; Rivière, P., 2003, July, Mobilisation contre le SARS, inaction contre le sida. Le Monde diplomatique, p. 27.)

This crucial point is made eloquently by Velásquez (2003, op. cit.) and by Peele, S., Brodsky, A., & Arnold, M. (1991, The truth about addiction and recovery: The life process program for outgrowing destructive habits. New York: Simon & Schuster, pp. 374-378).

Hudson (2003, op. cit., pp. 117-118), Liu, H.C.K. (2008, 30 July, China’s Dollar Millstone, Part 1: Breaking free of dollar hegemony. The Asia times online. Retrieved 21 October 2008 from http://www.atimes.com/stimes/China_Business/JG30Cb02.html); Lordon, F. (2008, October, Le jour où Wall Street est devenu socialiste. Le Monde diplomatique, pp. 1, 4-5); Wolin, S. (2008). Democracy, Inc.: Managed democracy and the specter of inverted totalitarianism. Princeton: Princeton University Pres; Amin, S. (2008, 24 November). Débâcle financière, crise systémique: réponses illusoires et réponses nécessaires. Mondialisation.ca: Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation. Retrieved 25 November 2008 from http://www.mondialisation.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=11116

Hudson (2003, op. cit.)

Hudson (2003, op. cit., p. 380).

Hudson (2003, op. cit., chap. 2).

Hudson (2003, op. cit., chaps. p. 282).

Hudson (2003, op. citl, chaps. 1-9); Chossudovsky, M. (1997, The globalisation of poverty: Impacts of IMF and World Bank reforms. London, UK: Zed Books); Stiglitz (2002, op. cit.)

Hudson (2003, op. cit.), Bulard, M. (2008, November, Finance, puissances...le monde bascule. Le Monde diplomatique. pp. 1, 18-19..

Liu (2008, op. cit.), see also Reuters (2008, 25 October, U.S. has plundered world wealth with dollar: China paper. (retrieved 29 October 2008 from file:///Users/brucealexander/Desktop/U.S.dollar hegemony: China paper.webarchive).

Hudson (2003, op. cit., chaps. 11-15), See also Liu (2008, op. cit.)

See Stolberg, S. G. (2008, 19 October, Leaders move toward meetings on economic crisis. The New York Times. Retrieved 19 October 2008 from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/19/washington/19summitweb.html?ref=todayspaper); McCarthy, S. (2008, 14 November, Harper lines up with Bush on reform. The Globe and Mail, pp. B1, B2.

There are many indications that addictions of all sorts are flourishing everywhere (Alexander, 2008, op. cit., pp. 37-42).

Reuter, P., & Stevens, A. (2007). An analysis of UK drug policy: A monograph prepared for the UK Drug Policy Commission. London, UK: UK Drug Policy Commission.

Engdahl, F.W. (2008, 10 October). Behind the panic: Financial warfare and the future of global bank power. Global Research. Retrieved 20 October 2008 at http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=10495

Faulkner, B. (2008, Interview with Micheal Hudson). The new kleptocracy: Biggest “Giveaway” in American History. Global Research.ca. (Retrieved 30 October 2001 from http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=10731).

Wolin (2008, op. cit.)

Wolin (2008, op. cit., chap. 5, 6)

Cox, H. (1999, March). The market as God. Atlantic Monthly,pp. 18-23.

Chossudovsky, M. (2008, 15 November). The great depression of 2008: Collapse of the real economy. (Retrieved 16 November 2008 from Global Research. ca at http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=10977).

Halimi, S. (2008, November).  Penser l'impensable. Le Monde diplomatique, p. 1.

Amin (2008, op. cit.), Bulard, M. (2008, op. cit.)

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