We Americans are habitual addicts. Indoctrinated into consumerism at an early age, most of us base every aspect of our lives on conspicuous consumption. Even when we work at producing something, it's all about being able to consume more. We're so enamored of self-indulgence that we've elevated addiction, per se, to a lifestyle.
Appetite, pleasure, well being, convenience and technology are the main ingredients of most addictions. Add varying amounts of greed, selfishness, indolence and flawed percepts and you have a winning formula for an addiction that's almost impossible to break.
In bygone eras, people worked hard, albeit at a slower pace, to grow, process, preserve and prepare their own food. The labors given over to such activities were part of making a living. Today, people work hard to earn money to buy inferior pre-packaged food that requires only a minimum of preparation. We no longer have the time or energy needed to make a home-cooked meal from scratch.
However, the object of the labor is the same. One must work in order to eat. The difference is that now our labor is co-opted by third parties to the betterment of third-party interests. In effect, we became the unwitting servants of a pervasive corporatocracy.
The same reasoning, the same logic, the same explanations can be applied to all of life's necessities. Houses, clothing, labor saving appliances—whatever it is we need—are all obtained in the same way. We exchange our labor for money, and then we exchange our money for that which we need or want.
Instead of working for a year or two to build a home out of materials that can be had at low cost or for free, we'll buy a pre-existing home and work for thirty years to pay off the mortgage. Credit becomes essential to our lives, and soon we're addicted to it.
Because the price of goods always rises faster than wages, we find ourselves in a classic dilemma. We work harder to increase our productivity, to make ourselves a more valuable commodity in the marketplace so we can earn more money. Often, we work more hours, further limiting the time and energy we have available to pursue personal goals. To free up more time and conserve more of our energy, we buy yet another labor saving device (on credit, of course), further increasing our indebtedness.
As the cost of living increases, we find ourselves lagging farther behind. At some point we discover that our life has become a racing, spinning, not so merry merry-go-round, and that the brass ring is always just beyond our reach. Each revolution of this vicious, whirling circle of insanity digs the rut a little deeper. Soon, the struggle to get ahead becomes a struggle to get caught up.
And so we become addicted to our job, addicted to the daily routine that having a job demands, addicted to the lifestyle we develop because of our job, addicted to our ability to accumulate possessions, addicted to our desire to keep up appearances. It's not just the job we're addicted to; every aspect of our job, everything that influences our job and everything that's influenced by it becomes a part of our addiction because it's a package deal.
Our job title, then, becomes an integral part of our identity. Whether doctor, lawyer, beggar, steelworker, stay-at-home mom, or blogger, we develop a behavior pattern specific to our identity, and we channel our thoughts and actions in ways that reinforce and protect our sense of self.
In essence, the identity we create for ourselves becomes an addiction, too.
*This article originally appeared, in slightly different form, on March 6, 2006, in Issue #26 of Petey’s Pipeline E-zine.