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ABOUT....greed, gluttony and addiction

Posted by on in General Ideas


Lately our website has been invaded with, so it seems, computer generated registry. Adverse events always interrupt what you are doing and you may feel disgruntled having to take care of a problem that will not go away by ignoring it. Some of the actions you may have to take, do not necessarily make you feel much better either, particularly not, when you are obliged to put up fences, though you prefer an open field. But to limit trespassing, a fence speaks a clear language for even the illiterate to understand. Though a fence can be jumped, at least, the trespasser knows, he is in the wrong and, more importantly, his actions reveal his true nature for all to see. Has this anything to do with the article? It sure has, because, coming to the point, the intentions of the trespassing agency or person behind it, are based on greed. Why get worked up about greed, you may ask? It’s just an unpleasant attitude, is it not? Well, you may change your mind when you look at it more closely.

Greed may initially not appear to be a “cry out loud” offence, but that is deceptive. It is one of the most destructive vices that hold individuals, communities and indeed, the human race in an ill-fated grip. Because greed is a force and is therefore dynamic, it has a snow balling effect, triggering an avalanche that does not stop once it gains momentum. Gluttony follows on its trajectory and, addiction marks the sad and (self-) destructive end. In its course, like the avalanche, it takes everybody and everything down with it.

Greedy people never get enough. They always want more, need more, seek more, of whatever that may be. They may not see it themselves but, they have assigned their life to it. If you let them do as they like, you become, like it or not, their accomplice and their victim.

Let us look at the topic’s three outlined categories. They seem to be three different issues, but they are really shades of one and the same. They describe three distinct phases, not distinct items, each having its own radius of activity and, though they are a product of the mind, fabricated in it and used by it, their origin lies way beyond. The immediate precursor of greed, psychologically speaking is desire, biologically speaking, it is the drive to survive. Developmentally of course, on the linear time-line of evolution, the physical plain precedes the organic, meaning biology precedes psychology. It is however important to acknowledge, that psychological development does not replace biology, it is just a younger sibling and, both continue to grow alongside. They go hand in hand with each other, they walk together, so to speak. 

At this point, some basic conceptual outlines of Sozieterna’s views are necessary to clarify how they see the chronological or developmental aspects of greed and its companions. It puts the topic into context of their philosophical understanding of life and, their own existence, which the reader may or may not share, but is invited to think about. Sozieternas insist, that it cannot be emphasized enough, how significant the inter-relationship between the aspects of physical life (as in physics, the world of non-organic life) and the aspects of biological/mental life (the world of organic life) really is. There is no ‘one or the other’, only a ‘one  a n d  the other’. For Sozieterna, to go back to the origins, be it that of organic or, physical life, makes sense. The origin of our cosmos, generally accepted to have catapulted into existence with the ‘Big Bang’, (the current theory), became apparent only through retrospective observation, which confirmed scientific calculations and predictions, as any scientist will confirm. It was a reconstructive process, a looking back into the past. However tiny the universe was at the beginning, literally less than a point at that point in time, within it lay the ‘blue print’ for the unfolding universe. What initially was the force or drive to inflate and expand and then, to accumulate (phases after the Big Bang), turns later, (very much later!), into the conscious drive to survive, - both are the same thing, the difference between them is only a timely and spatial one, specifying drive as an action of nature and desire as an action of mind. One exists on the physical level, the other on the mental level, ‘above’ the crudeness of matter but second in line of progression. Accumulation of matter was essential for building the stars and galaxies. Gathering and huddling together was essential for building complex life forms. Nothing has changed, as far as the ‘blue print goes! Even now, the universe is expanding, and so does organic life, (minds included!). Both carry on doing essentially the same, though on a different level. And all started with a few set rules and a few ingredients, but allowing for mind-boggling combinations that led to our incredible universe and the incredible diversity of life within it. Ingenious! Big Bang aside, look at the DNA! Only four building units, strung together and linked like a chain, growing long and still growing! Literally, all is born out of the existential drive to expand, to add on, grow, endure and indeed outlast and carry on as if there was no ending. 

Progress however, as it goes on and becomes ever more complex, requires recording and memory. Organic life solves the problems most elegantly by building up an ever increasing memory bank, in order to pass on information, old and new, from generation to generation, one written within a genetic code to simplify succession, the other transcribed anew for genetic modification, when the message is given often enough. Repetition of new information is a bit like hammering a text into stone to make sure, it does not get lost and is readily available, even automatic and, eventually instinctual. It prevents an organisms from being bogged down in work that can be done routinely. Organism and environment are constantly communicating and interacting with each other. However! DNA does not judge what is transcribed into its genes, even if the recorded information leads in the long run to a dead end. There are no ‘faulty inscriptions’, there is only inscription but, the inscription determines the chance an organism has to sustain life. The ones not compatible with life, will die, sooner or later. It is a natural selection process, which, as we know, has led to the wonderful diversity of species, including ourselves with our ‘ballooning’ brain.  

Another tool of evolution are our senses and feelings. For example, we have to eat to live. Hunger is an unpleasant feeling, so we search for food. After a good meal, we feel satisfied. Hence, eating is associated with pleasure. But as we notice some foods tasting better than others, we develop preferences and may seek out certain foods. If that food then becomes the main nourishment, we speak of specialization. We know how vulnerable animals are who are highly specialized, because if you take away, as in this example, the food source they depend on, they die; except they have enough time to develop other eating habits. But evolution does not stop and natural selection does not stop, just the one species might. Coming full circle in the survival objective, something less competitive, adaptable or weakened will be terminated. To conclude: These are the foundations and ground rules to which life, including ours, is bound to. It should help with the exploration of the topic as follows below.

Let us now consider greed as the seed, gluttony as the plant and addiction the fruit you harvest. Ancestry becomes then quite important, isn’t it? It raises all kinds of concerns and emotions, history being full of horrible events due to misleading conclusions, made by our balloon of a mind.   

But really, what means greed? By definition it is the want or desire to have more of something, more than one needs that is, meaning, the basic needs for survival are stretched out further than is reasonable and, overstretched to the point of becoming unhealthy and, after all deadly.   

As the initial forces, after the ‘Big Bang’, relentlessly push on, just as the organic life force does,  there seems to be one goal only, to move on, survive, live and, (pro-) create. Death is never its aim! Though death is the best control for the never ending zest to refine matter and reach the sublime state of omnipotence. (See previous chapter 5, DNA II, part 3-4). Unsuitable material has to be eliminated, that is what specialization and, refinement of matter, is all about.

Greed is therefore the remnant of the thrust to survive that has expanded into overdrive within our mind, our internal universe, or if you like, our inflated or ‘ballooning’ brain. Whichever you prefer, micro cosmos, macro cosmos, the inanimate level of the universe, or the animated level of the brain, they are analogues, but the micro cosmos is the world you have to manage, the universe is out of your league. Now, since death is not the aim, neither here nor there, it is up to you and your mind to regulate the drive or your desire because greed is far more difficult to control and, nature’s forces are too coarse to do the job on the fine matter involved, as is the case with neurons and brain function! But regulation is needed because it is simply impossible to sustain life otherwise. Though our brain obliges, our mind struggles with control. Humans in general have a big problem with control. It is an ambiguous relationship at best. Greed is a true enemy because it erodes a person’s ability to be in control. It burns you out, it consumes you. To indulge and glutton yourself, be it with money, food, goods or be it wealth, power and vanity, you name it, it makes you a loser. Who cares, you may say, if you get what you want? Well, that’s the point, if you don’t care, greed has taken you over. Unfortunately, losing control is easy. It happens insidiously and it happens far quicker than you realize.  

As greed takes hold, behavior changes accordingly. The brain accommodates by building new pathways; these become more entrenched as habits form. The reward center in the brain where pleasure is recognized, provides feed-back, when your pleasure has lost its thrill. You go to provide new fuel for it, occasionally, then more often than not and, suddenly you seek it, even if it means you have to go out of your way to get it. Meanwhile, the pathways of habit have become prominent. They now can dictate your behavior. Without you realizing, the road to the hell of addiction has opened wide. You may keep deluding yourself that you have control over your behavior and habits. How can something be bad for you, when it feels good and, does not hurt anyone, or does it? Not yet, that is. 

Let us then look at gluttony, defined as habitual greed or voracious eating. No further explanation needed, isn’t it? And our wonderful brain does, what it needs to do. It is like learning a poem, with repetition it sticks. It will be forgotten if not constantly repeated. Usually, habits are repeated because we like what we do, otherwise, we would just simply forget about it. As outlined before already, when we engage in an activity often enough, our brain ensures, it becomes an automatic action. Take driving a car as example. Having driven one often enough, you need no longer think about how to drive, you just do it. Your mind is free to perform other tasks at the same time, hopefully those concerned with safe driving. While this ability of our brain helps us to function effectively and efficiently and serves us incredibly well, it has its pitfalls, because not all behaviors are to our advantage. Overeating, too much drinking, too much work, play, or whatever; even healthy activities, such as sport or sex, can become destructive, but our brain still ‘makes way’. It’s what the brain does in service to us. Gluttony is a true danger to us personally, as well as to others, to the whole world in fact. The ravages and destruction of our planet is due to a society that has lost control over its greed and gluttony. 

Tell me, dear reader, is there is anything worse than a species that gluttons itself at the cost of everything that has given it life, sustained it with plenty of everything to let it grow and develop intelligence, so it can explore this world and other worlds and, - itself? Gluttony did not get us to the level of development where we are as humans now, but it sure gets us to the point of (self-) destruction. In the affluent societies obesity and diabetes have risen to a level that shortens the population’s life expectancy, including that of the children too. Though this may not be the biggest worry for them. They may not even have enough food anyway, with bees vanishing, forests disappearing, ice-caps melting and animals dying out in droves, only to mention some of their forefathers’ out of control plundering attitudes.   

But really! Who are these people who want far more of something than they need or is good for them? Sadly, they are not just the super-rich and powerful who accumulate wealth and ever more power than one can imagine. They are only the ones who succeeded in what the others dream of, but are not able to achieve. Greed and gluttony is in all of us. We, the masses, we, the consumer society, we help the rich to get richer, because they cater for our desires, for our wants. We let the rich get richer because we buy into the philosophy that consumerism is good, that the economy has to keep going and growing. By dangling in front of us the illusion of bought happiness and the dream of being rich ourselves, we buy stuff we don’t need and buy more and more, because happiness still eludes us and we never get rich, only the already rich do. But it does not stop there. To increase demand and goods production, our societies are now fed poor quality produce too, so repair of anything is out of the question, meaning, now we also  throw away everything to replace it with something new, something else, something better, necessary or not, true or not. The consumer society is now the throw-away society. And the mountains of waste grow while resources dwindle. It is the majority of people, who are not rich, who outnumber the rich, they keep the wheel rolling. In fact, it is a symbiotic relationship, feeding on each other but also strangling each other in a deadly embrace. Therefore, don’t blame the other! The blight of Mother Earth belongs to everyone. As much as the rich are guilty, so are you and me. Everybody, who gives in to greed and gluttony, who does not set boundaries to themselves, who trespasses and, let trespassers do as they like, ‘mea culpa’ it is.  We come back full circle to the universe, because nature will take control over an out of control species, because the ‘oh so intelligent’ human race is failing to do it themselves. Climate change heralds of what is for sure to come. And it will come faster than you may think. 

Greed and gluttony have been recognized in every religion and philosophical thought, either as affliction or sin, or as poison in Buddhist teachings. The Western arts are full of depictions of, especially in literature and paintings, the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’. Greed and gluttony are among envy, wrath, sloth, lust and pride, all recognized as excessive versions of one’s natural drives or passions, leading into “darkness” if not ruled in. In our modern society we should just call them a crime. But first, this kind of crime needs to be recognized not only by society, but by every individual. If humans cannot do so as individuals, global action cannot effectively eventuate, nor be enough to stop the inevitable. 

Now let us look at the last point in our journey from seed to fruit, we call addiction. The word is derived from Latin ‘ad-dicere’, literally translated as ‘assign’, or ‘addictio’ as assigned to… Being assigned to something means being bound to, adhere to, have a contract, a deal, or a certain arrangement that cannot freely be broken. To achieve this dubious arrangement is not a ‘one off call’ or negotiation, no, you ‘work’ for it. 

Addiction follows distinct patterns, one biologically, the other psychologically. That has led to the claim that it is a brain disorder, if not an illness. Particularly mental health and other medical professionals base this claim on the evidence of changes found in the brain and the biochemical processes involved in biological memory formation that modify genetic coding. Over-expression of brain pathways and activity of molecular substrates lead to the changes and to genetic transcription, allowing hereditary trait expression, gene modification and thus, a predisposition for addiction. Well, to call that an organic disorder or illness is unjustified and an utter misinterpretation of normal biological processes. Yes, the changes are evident, but to make the biological expression of an ill-fated behavior to an illness and implying that the predisposition or trait will inevitably lead to (addiction) illness, is utterly misleading. Though the biological evidence lets us see what happens in our brain and how the transcription into genetic material eventuates, it is nothing less than a perfectly normal process and a sign of a very effective neurological and biochemical functioning. Nor are genetic traits, or predispositions causing any illness! Despite their presence, without certain presence of environmental and personal factors, no illness does occur. Besides! Desirable activity or non-desirable activity, both increase brain matter, both alter brain functioning, both lead to genetic adjustment! Humans would not have the brain they have if it was not for exactly these wonderful abilities of the brain to form new pathways and put the information into long term biological memory for future reference. In Sozieterna’s opinion, this splendid process deserves better than being labelled illness and, no gene alleles be branded as a lurking illness. The truth is, bad behaviors cause illness. That is a given! Most of our health problems are due to them. We do not call or claim that they are an illness itself.

Sure, genes can malfunction and may be aberrant and, whatever information genes may carry, even true hereditary diseases, we generally do not know why they have developed, at least not in every single instance, but when we do know how it happens and why, then we can at least do something about it. It becomes a personal responsibility. This may sound hard and uncaring, but be assured, nothing could be further from the truth. It is the truth that is hard to face! 

So the forefathers made bad choices? Whatever they did, does not mean their mistakes must be repeated. Understanding the processes is however a good thing. It explains, why some people have more difficulties than others to prevent or rectify an addiction and, it allows to develop effective strategies to help the afflicted, if they want help and do commit to undoing. Mind you, to force them, is unlikely to achieve any change. For the sake of discussion: The Irish, having a longstanding love affair with drinking, are also known to have a genetic loading for alcoholism. Is the whole nation suffering from an illness? Are they ‘sick people’? No! They love their drink, for better or worse. They have no, not yet at least, the intention to rehabilitate. Is that a good thing? No! But they don’t claim to be victims either.             

May be some readers would like a simple overview of the patterns that signify addiction psychologically, after outlining the biological one. Generally, it is the classical process of conditioning, where stimulus and reward build a circuit that reinforces the behavior. Initially, the pleasure seeking behavior is not a problem as we keep up conscious control. If we don’t do that well, it means, control is weak. The more we pursue our pleasure, our behavior and our social life will change as we rearrange our life accordingly. We may think we have control, but we start to delude ourselves. This stage is followed by gratification to whatever cost; what once was pleasure, is now need. We no longer care about the consequences of our behavior, neither if it affects only us or others. Our life slowly falls apart on every level of it. We have a full blown habit and if it cannot be maintained, withdrawal symptoms appear and make us suffer. This is the stage of dependency, with its painful and destructive side. 

The most common addiction refers to alcohol and drug abuse but any pleasure seeking behavior can be addictive, there is really no exclusion. And anyone can get addicted, because body and mind have a close knit relationship. If you want to get rid of an addiction, you have to be mindful that both aspects of addiction, the physical and mental, need attention. Mind you, though an acute state of withdrawal may require urgent medical intervention, it still is not an illness! Illness may be present, as a consequence of the unhealthy habit, but make no mistake, they are different agendas.

One point must be raised in view of children becoming victims of their parent’s failures, present and past. Since ancestors can pass on predispositions, or ‘faulty genes’, the ‘bad seed’ is no longer a laughing matter. If the reader is interested, there is plenty of information available that describe the biochemical steps, how habits undergo transformation on a molecular level to become part of genetic information. Roughly, it starts with the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter dopamine, followed by an over-expression of transcription factors in the nucleus accumbens in the brain and through biochemical correlations, or transcription, it finds genetic expression, ending in structural changes of the brain and as trans-generational (epigenetic) inheritance. The literature sure is interesting reading, but for an overall understanding of how addiction comes about and what it entails, the above may suffice. We better look now at other aspects and consequences of addiction, though we may skip the individual ones and concentrate more on the ‘big scale’ implications.

Everybody knows how hard it is to quit habits and how vulnerable people are to relapse. We also know that there are many co-factors why people have such a hard time, but now we also need to consider the genetic loading. Unfortunately, this has serious implications, particularly in view of addiction being turned into a medical problem and, legal issue. Though addiction is a moral problem, for the individual and the society, to treat it as an illness, or a crime, is a true disservice and beside the point. Ill health and crime are associated with it, and that is costly and therefore the reason why society cares. However! The motives of the new medical specialty of addiction-medicine advocating for addiction to be a brain disorder or an illness, leave doubts as to who will benefit. They may be rather self-serving interests, offering help to fight an enemy (illness) that does not exist. The ‘illness concept’ is also favored by societal advocates who like nothing more than being the tinkering rescuers, but really only want to push their favored life-style on to everybody else. Then there are the defense lawyers; they have a ‘field day’ in the courtrooms, claiming that their clients are victims and the drug, illness or ancestor is to blame for whatever they have done. And who does not know the family who rather have their offspring being labeled sick, not ‘bad’. The joke “My father made me do it”, not guilty Your Honor, becomes ever more backed up by ‘scientific evidence’ that biological causes are the problem and the offender cannot or should not be held responsible. That marks a significant change in health administration and jurisdiction practice. Punishment is out of date, and rehabilitation is the way to go. Well, good luck with that if nothing else changes, meaning societal changes at large! Rehabilitation can only be successful in a supportive social setting and plenty of resources. Not many communities or societies are able to provide the suitable environment, neither morally nor financially. A good example how it can work, is Norway. But honestly, their model is not easily transferred to societies who are after revenge and physical retribution. 

Though Sozieterna is all for rehabilitation, it does not support the idea to make genes, illness or anyone or anything responsible for one’s own actions. An explanation is not an excuse. If the forefather did wrong, if you do wrong, just stop, not repeat or sanction it. A predisposition is and should serve as a warning, that the afflicted individual is vulnerable and needs to exercise more control than a not afflicted peer. Prevention is the key instrument, likely more beneficial and less costly too. 

Rehabilitation programs are definitely necessary, any time as an offer, but emphasis must be put on teaching or re-establishing a person’s responsibility, not watering it down or taking it away, neither from the individual nor the community or society at large. Besides, no general rehabilitation programs will suit everyone either and, in some cases, sanctions may be needed too. They don’t have to be cruel but they have their purpose, as a tool in order to initiate rehabilitation. Justice nowadays is already hard to find, not only victims will tell you that, but to think that undoing firm established habits or worse, a gene imprint, by streamlined neurological reprogramming in a predetermined period of time, is as naïve as believing in Santa Clause. It may however be done with force, a prospect that is rather frightening. There is also the issue of relapse. Only the person in question decides if he wants control over his life, nothing and nobody can do so for him or force him to. 

But where does it leave the world at large which has fallen victim to greed, gluttony and its addictions. You think that is a non-sense claim? It is not! Modern human beings show all the signs of addiction to consumerism that is. How else is it possible that arguments about climate change on a political and economic level go on without serious intervention? How come that the individual consumer does not give up his cravings for more and more foods, items, money and, superficial happiness altogether, though he knows obesity, diabetes, industrial pollution and resource exploitation are killing him. While millions in other parts of the world starve, or hardly survive, he keeps on throwing food away to keep market prices profitable, keeps on farming animals under cruel conditions and does not care about any suffering here or there. Modern man is only interested in finding satisfaction to his pleasure and goes out of his way in constant search for the goods he graves. Aren’t these markers or criteria for diagnosing an addiction? Ah! Risk behaviors, withdrawals are missing? No they are not! He risks his health as the green lungs of our planet, the dschungels are burning giving way to mono-culture for profitable business to serve consumers’ demands. He risks to lose his essential water supplies as rivers get polluted, choking from rubbish and, glaciers melting at a rate never seen before. He still lives in denial that men is to blame for it, that climate change is due to his doings and that his actions threaten every single life on earth with extinction, including himself. If that is not the classical risk behavior, you tell me, what is. 

And what is with withdrawal symptoms? They are there, but have not been recognized, not yet, as many addicts in fact don’t either, initially that is. Asking now: Can you as the consumer honestly state you are not afraid of having to make significant alterations to your life style, that you don’t get the jitters just by thinking of what these changes would encompass? And would you be prepared to make the changes and not feeling the loss and despair of having to do without the things you think you need or are accustomed to? If the economy does not grow, don’t you fear that it is the end of your life as you think it ought to be? Don’t you get worried that you would be starving if there was no work in the factories so you can maintain the comfort you have? Fear to lose all you have, all you know you need to have, ‘unable’ to live without, this is the withdrawal state! And you cannot bear even the thinking it. So you rather die than give up what you so desperately need and seek, because you cannot see your life to go on without. Sure, death comes this or that way, so why not resign to destruction rather than change? Still believing this has nothing to do with addiction? 

Well! Acknowledgment is the first step on the road of rehabilitation. It may not come easy but is necessary all the same. Be assured, by knowing what you are dealing with, no one needs to die of withdrawal, as painful as it may be, and you need  no longer be afraid of change, if you have the courage to face reality and make the conscious adjustments. If it is not done, the road downhill will be far worse. May be you can blame it on the genetic imprint, after so many generations of greed, it would be part of the genome, as pointed out above, but too bad, blame does not solve the problem or get you anywhere. 

However, the understanding of addiction and that humans have to deal with it now, may indeed help the species to survive. It is not necessary to go back to stone-age life style, if that worries you. Ever thought about why it should be necessary to have x-many car models to drive around? One would do the job. No need for x-many types of anything, one quality product that lasts well would serve every purpose, and so the list goes on. Food can be grown locally, no need to have the supermarket shelves full of x-brands and all year round fruit and vegetables from the furthest corner of earth, not tasting nice after all for so many reasons. No need to cut down on modern technology, health care, education, you name it, it just does not need the competing industry to sell you their products, all being basically the same for what they can be used for anyway. Fear to give up an addiction is absolutely unwarranted, better fear what is to come, if you don’t.

The question was raised already by several scientist from all walks of life: Is our civilization doomed to self-destruct? That depends solely on the decision humans will make as a whole species. The future is easy to foretell if you take the present facts as point of reference, meaning, if the addiction of consumerism cannot be shed and control be achieved, then no, survival is impossible. Particularly as it most likely is part of the genome, caused and reinforced by habitual factors, it is extremely hard to undo, but it is not impossible.

Of course, future is not set in stone, too many variables can change the outcome. If insight prevails and steps are taken immediately and globally with all involved, our survival is possible, particularly due to the regenerative power of nature. But humans need to work within and with it, not against. To believe that the human species can take control over Mother Nature is a terrible mistake. If humans were able to control her, you would not have to ask if civilization could survive. Humans with their intelligence need to be care givers not destroyers, work in harmony with nature, not fight against it. Humans need to get rid of their deadly ‘sins’ and their addictions. Mind you, one has to scratch one’s head, how the Bible would propagate such nonsense of telling men to take control of nature. Most likely the text was modified by power hungry priests, replacing the word care with the word control because, no wise mind would ever put power ahead of love.

Maybe, if nature gets rid of most of the world’s population, man and civilization may have a chance. Reduced in numbers, the remaining rest, having learnt its lesson, may then evolve further to reach the species’ full potential, where wisdom handles progress, not intelligence, because intelligence is a tool, not a ruler.

There is hardly doubt which way the future will go. But Sozieterna leaves it up to the reader what he or she considers as the most likely outcome. Once again, to tell the future is not hard and, it sure is not set in stone. It is just like the genetic modification, an imprint yes, but it can be undone. So let us always keep an open mind and work together towards a positive goal, no matter what may or may not be.           






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