Quests for Identity and Other Addictions: An Unfinished Manifesto
Day 3 - October 25, 1999
Today I postulate the ultimate sacrilege: that "figuring it out" once and for all--that holy grail of respectable adulthood--is another way of saying "addiciton," and is itself just another addiction.
Like every individual addiction that stands emblematically, as a temporary icon or substitute, for "figuring it out," this meta-addiction is a hard one to shake. If we know that what weve figured out today will be superceded tomorrow, or opposed by anothers equally valid truth, how can we proceed with any certainty at all?
To be fairly compassionate to ourselves, I can say that in the same way we continue living in the face of ultimate death, it appears the best we can do, at the moment. Its what we are given to do, in the course of learning how to survive.
Figuring it out: adopting an -ism, a theology, a doctrine, is satisfying to the ego and satisfying to the society which thrives on predictable relationships between known entities. But if we change our mind tomorrow; are presented with fresh evidence or a more cogent analysis; if we wake up after a revelatory dream or find our lifelong lover has left us; what then? Are we outcast as pariahs, condemned as atheists, challenged to take up a dialectical weaponany one will doand fight again?
We need to be respected, honored, acknowledged and recognized: all of these in place of, or in addition to, the love we need to feel but rarely can, in a hustle-bustle world, the marketplace of ideas, the family on the go. So we choose a hat and proceed to accumulate feathers to wear in it, by which to attract more convincingly the members of the opposite sex or sect, or the acclaim of those of our more homogenious tribe. To fit the hat we need to know our stuff, and to do that we need to spend some time with it. Day by day, speech by speech, year by conquest by mercy, we are given credit for holding our argument together. In the end its arching reason is ironclad. We are imprisoned within.
To own a philosophy is to become an addict. But the philosophy of "figuring it out" also comes into play quite unconsciously, in the innumerable forms of substance and behavior addiction. While trying to figure it out, we stumble on an experience of elation, or euphoria, or calm contentment: we drink beverage x or "have sex," or get lost in a book or found in a bath: and for the moment our figuring it out has figured itself out for us. We have found a new friend, who after repeated visitations becomes our most trusted allywe think.
Beset by a welter of choices and opportunities, from material comforts all the way up to salvation theologies, we juggle in adolescence until we arrive at our personalized or ready-made grail. We have arrived: adult, with or without a habit, with or without vocation, but certainly with a name and creed. Even if that creed is nihilism, or "Balance," or "Come what may."
The strength of addiction can be measured by the strength of attack or defensiveness with which one identifies with ones chosen creed, at the expense of other creeds and those who profess them. Does an all-permissive approach then solve the problem and lead us into the promised land of health and benificence? I wonder. This too, like the balancing act of the liberal or the disappearing act of the mystic, cannot be above reproach in the eyes of those who choose to be reproachful.
So we pick our poison, chat amiably with our fellow poisoneers, and depart finally for home, walking warily in the streets beyond the tracks. Who knows? Some untouchable might pounce on us from behind and stick a needle or gun up our ass. Where would we be then, with our fully marked ledger cast into the alley, our cap stripped of its fine feathers?
So we walk warilyif we dare to walk there at all--smiling at everyone we see but not too much. This much we have figured out.
© Nowick Gray
See also: There Must Be More Than This: Finding More Life, Love, and Meaning by Overcoming Your Soft Addictions - by Judith Wright