Toxicity in Late Capitalism


From Patreon: The rate of addiction to alcohol, opioids, gambling, social media, and porn has shown a steady increase in recent years. While conservatives often believe addiction to be a moral failing, liberals view it as a disease; both paradigms ignore the reality and context — i.e. late capitalism — within which addiction exists.

“For Trump, addicts are victims of dealers who should be killed. For moral reformers, they are victims of circumstance, in need of a dose of soft paternalism: say, the sort of silent nudge provided by behavioural economics.

To treat addiction as a disease, while it may appear to validate the experience of compulsion from one point of view, can also be a way of dismissing what is particular to it. Addiction, as the autoerotic connection suggests, has a relationship to satisfaction that diseases generally do not. This is true even (especially) where the addiction gives us hell.

Addiction is, for that reason, a passionate relationship that we have toward a substance, an activity or a person. We organise our lives around maintaining contact with the addictive object, in a way that we wouldn’t with the mumps. It means something to us, in other words. The drug, and the addict’s relationship to it, is meaningful because it acts out a subjective truth.

To medicalise addiction is to refuse to hear what the addiction is saying. It is to do, in a way, exactly what addiction is designed to do: to cover up the personal meaning of the addict’s toxicomania.”

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  1. Still analogies …

    Opioid addiction is a biologically objective fact, while the acceptance or non-acceptance of pornography or “social networks” is a fact of culture, which has nothing to do with it.

    There is no doubt that psychiatrists, in an appropriate cultural environment, would declare that Victor Hugo is dependent on writing, Pierre de Fermat dependent on mathematics, and Albert Einstein on theoretical physics.

    The addiction that psychiatrists do not recognize is addiction to psychiatry. Yet, it’s easy to prove from their own point of view: psychiatrists do psychiatry all day, they can not do without it, as soon as we are told they have to stop they get angry and go deeper into psychiatry.

    We must treat them, the poor, and give them their own drugs against addiction.

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    • I wouldn’t confuse vocation with addiction.

      As for psychiatrists and treatment addiction, true enough, the two go together like a horse and carriage, and if the psychiatrist were not excessively attached to his or her trade, it might not be so.

      Drugs against addiction? I’m afraid I don’t follow you. Is addicting people to methadone really the answer to heroin addiction? And do the poor need treatment and drugs, or, money, and what provides it, jobs?

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  2. Late capitalism? Capitalism is saying goodnight, or goodbye? You think….or, are we merely indulging in theorizing?

    I would say in some measure the right wing emphasis on morality makes more sense than the liberal imposition of what the author terms “soft paternalism”.

    The most recent versions of the DSM, if you will notice, have let behavioral addiction in through the side door, and by doing so, given a big boost to the medicalisation the author is complaining about.

    The addict/”substance abuser’s” impulse to self-sacrifice, his or her death wish, serves capitalism after a fashion, late, middle, early, or indeterminate. Legality, however, is the issue. One set of crooks has achieved legitimacy while the other set of crooks must operate entirely outside of the law, or rather, with the underhanded blessing of the other set.

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  3. What is it about late capitalism, and the social relations therein, that burdens its subjects with an unspeakable excess? What is this surplus that poisons and intoxicates us? It might be capitalism itself. There is no ‘holiday’ from capitalism, after all.

    Maybe overthinking it just a tad, but this is at least on the right track. I would posit that, as the toll of corporate totalitarianism becomes more insufferable, the increasingly alienated relationship people experience between their inner needs and the daily expectations they must navigate to survive makes the need/desire to escape or transcend their routines ever more overwhelming.

    Hopefully “late-stage capitalism” is a relatively short stage but it’s impossible to predict, largely due to subjective factors. Marcuse discussed this.

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  4. I’m not all that well-versed in Marxist theory, but I do recall reading that, in late stage capitalism, there’s a whole lot of “alienation of the worker” going on. I think MIA had a brief piece on this just a little while ago. We also have (I’m speaking of the 21st century US here) a huge and growing under-class, those with criminal convictions and/or mental health histories. I think the growing underclass, the loss of upward mobility, the never-ending war on whomever, plus the alienation of those fortunate enough to remain in what is left of the middle-middle class is fueling a good bit of these “epidemics of addiction.”

    of course, rich people love drugs, too. and shrinks love treating rich people, which explains why the higher status drug users end up with various labels/diagnoses…usually some flavor “Bipolar,” but not always. The issue with the rich seems to be more of having ample resources, status, power, and the anomie that strikes at the upper and lower ends of the social class system. Of course, American culture as a whole has largely disintegrated, probably because of our version of capitalism, so anomie is part of the American experience, overall.

    I don’t see an end in sight to the “medicalization of deviance” that Szasz and numerous others write about. That’s the other thing…”experts” are taking over -all- aspects of our lives. Mental Health “experts” are an obvious example, but there are other “experts,” too…”experts” on the right way to eat, the right way to exercise, even “experts” on the best ways to organize and decorate one’s home. Honestly, I’m sometimes afraid for US culture, because there is no longer any room more meaningful conversation, reflection, dissent, redemption, or…anything, really. Perhaps part of the “drug epidemics” is also a search for identity, meaning, and escape from a cold, controlling, demanding, impossible world?

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