Blog 1 - Robot pic

Welcome to my first Transitions blog.  It’s been a long time coming but I’ve finally got round to it. If you want to know more about me then click this link. Over the summer I’ve been watching the Channel 4 sci-fi series ‘Humans’, the last episode of which aired a couple of weeks ago on Sunday at 9pm. It’s set in London in a parallel reality where humanoid robot “synths” have become an integral part of society. They perform a variety of roles from answering the phone in call centres, through to being a servant in a family home. They seem almost human but they are not… for the most part. While this might seem a long way off, this July saw the opening of Henn-na, a hotel in Nagasaki staffed mainly by humanoids.

Anyway, I digress – Humans is a riveting drama series which also explores what it means to be human, and a particular dialogue sparked off the idea for this blog entry. In response to a question about pain, Niska, one of the synthetics retorts “True consciousness isn’t possible without suffering, and pleasure”. It’s a great philosophical question which goes to the heart of our existence, and the heart of addiction. While many people engage in drugs, alcohol, gambling, eating, sex, exercise and even tattoo-ing in a non-addictive way, for those who become addicted there is a significant link with pain. A growing body of research continues to show the link between those who have suffered painful life experiences and a vulnerability to addiction eg. Dube et al, 2006[1]; Dube et al, 2003[2]. The latter study even stated that “Adverse Childhood Experiences seem to account for one half to two thirds of serious problems with drug use”.

An addicted person knows that consuming their substance or participating in their activity of choice will change the way they feel. In an attempt to deal with pain, the addicted person becomes less human and more like a machine – seeking a specific input or ‘stimulus’, for example drug-taking or playing slot machines, to achieve a desired output ie. a change in their mood. To begin with, a specific input results in a predictable output a bit like a computer.

Professor Bruce Alexander an internationally respected author on addiction, who pioneered the Ratpark experiments in the late 1970s[i], traces the roots of addiction at a population level in societies and cultures where there was no real history of addiction. In “The globalisation of addiction: A study in the poverty of spirit” (Alexander, 2008[3]) he asserts that the pressures of a capitalist society with its emphasis on productivity and profit, damages people’s social and spiritual well-being which leads to many turning to addictive behaviour. Controversial but perhaps it should be no surprise that a society where people are treated people more like machines results in addiction rearing its head.

It’s been argued that the dominance of capitalism in the West and its subsequent global impact, results in everything being turned into a commodity to buy and sell (Walsh and Keesmaat, 2005[4]), from ownership of natural resources to people-trafficking. The effect is to turn humans into consumers – we acquire and accumulate ‘product’ to achieve a desired outcome, much like the motivation of an addict described earlier. We become disconnected from humanity, from other people like us, for example those who make our clothes. We also become disconnected from something greater than ourselves, that is from God, and lose sight of what makes us who we are and a recognition that we are all God’s children made in God’s image.

When a consumer driven society creates ideal conditions for addiction, we need to make a conscious effort to resist the status quo and not simply become a cog in the machine. We are so much more complex than robots and Niska’s assertion points to something fundamental about humanity – our consciousness and the universal capacity to experience pain and suffering, as well as pleasure.

When working with people who are addicted, let’s remember they may well be trying to cope with pain, an experience we can all identify with to some degree. Let’s also recognise their innate worth, just like ours and treat them as human beings. And let’s help to reconnect them with the divine, whose spark/image they were made to carry, while also not forgetting we need to do the same… (to be continued)

[1] Dube SR, Miller JW, Brown DW, Giles WH, Felitti VJ, Dong M & Anda RF. “Adverse childhood experiences and the association with ever using alcohol and initiating alcohol use during adolescence.” Journal of Adolescent Health. 2006 Apr;38(4):444.e1-10.

[2] Dube SR, Felitti VJ, Dong M, Chapman DP, Giles WH & Anda RF. “Childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction and the risk of illicit drug use: the adverse childhood experiences study.” Pediatrics. 2003 Mar;111(3):564-72.

[3] Bruce Alexander. The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit. Oxford University Press (2008).

[4] Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat. Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. Paternoster Press (2005).

[i] Experiments with rats which demonstrated the impact of the environment, rather than just substances, on the likelihood of addiction.