Sunday, August 09, 2009

Addictive behaviour is the West's major challenge

"I finally decided to give up", say some. Yet I made that decision about smoking many times, before the last time (1977) that worked. I haven't seen an account of how to make a decision that sticks. Otherwise most of us would be slim, fit etc.

Gerald Durrell, in "My Family and Other Animals", tells how as a child he let his sister take care of some orphaned baby hedgehogs while he was away. He told her to be strict with the milk, not to overfeed. When he came back, he found that she'd fed on demand and they'd all died, because they couldn't stop demanding.

We live in a society that has plentiful cheap food, readily available and aggressively marketed alcohol, easily obtainable tobacco, easily found illegal drugs (and glamourised a thousand times by the media), computer games everywhere. It's surprising that anything gets done.

Some argue for decriminalisation of "harmless" drugs like cannabis, contrasting it with the undoubted dangers of alcohol. I agree with them in a way they won't like: alcohol is far too easy to get hold of.

Libertarians overestimate the amount of control we have over our behaviour, I think. Sartre argued stubbornly against the theory of the unconscious, because it undermined his philosophy of existentialism. I incline to the Buddhist analysis, that we continually form strong attachments and only the most determined can break the chains. Few manage it on their own. Some would say only 5% per year break free of alcohol, and perhaps a far smaller percentage stay off it permanently.

In our debates on liberty, should there be some discussion about restrictions that make us more free?


sobers said...

As a non drinking, non smoking non illegal drug taking person, I lean to the reverse - no restrictions whatsoever on anything. But also no help for those that abuse such substances.

This on the basis that if society is going to improve, we need to stop saving people from the consequences of their own stupid behaviour. Drink too much and injure yourself - don't expect the NHS to patch you up. Smoke and get lung cancer - fund your own treatment. Take illegal drugs and OD - no NHS to pump your stomach either.

That way you improve the gene pool by removing the weakest elements (just evolution really) and provide an impressive reason for others avoid all three behaviours.

If you constantly protect people from their own folly you just end up with a society of adult sized children.

Sackerson said...

I don't think your approach would work. People breed before their bad habits carry them off. Besides, I don't think you're quite as hard-hearted as you make out.

And while I agree that each person has to take responsibility for his actions, it's not his responsibility solely. Others do have an influence and are responsible for that influence.

James Higham said...

Oh yeah, now this is a nice theme. Good one.

Paddington said...

I believe that the hedgehog story was in 'Birds, Beasts and Relatives'.

As for the main theme, the issue to me is not whehter people drink etc., it's whether they get their work done first.

sobers said...

There are certain things that have consequences, even in these elf'n'safety ridden days. Jump off a tall building and no amount of laws passed by well meaning people will prevent you hitting the floor at high speed. Waving metal objects around in lightning storms is pretty stupid too.

We accept that if people choose to do some things they will die, or suffer serious injury. Taking drugs of any kind is a personal choice. No one is forced at gun point to smoke dope, or drink 17 pints of snakebite, or smoke JPS.

Why is it not reasonable for society say 'You may do these things freely (as long as you endanger no one else while doing so), but do not expect us (the collective) to shelter you from the consequences of your choices'

Which is most likely to have an impact on youngsters growing up, the current 'smoking/drinking/drugs are bad don't do them' message, followed by spending billions patching up the very people who have done them, or the sight of real deaths in their community caused directly by those addictions?

If every high building had some sort of safety system built in that saved you if you jumped off, what do you think would happen? My guess is there would be an epidemic of people jumping off buildings. Some would die anyway as the mechanism might malfunction or something but they would still do it for kicks.

The same goes for other dangerous activities. Make them safer and you'll get more of them. If they really are deadly people won't do them once they've seen the consequences. Simple really.

Sackerson said...

Simples, Alexander? I understand that research shows that e.g. in driving situations, people have individual settings for risk tolerance and will adjust behaviour if the perceived danger level changes. So far, so correct.

But what of the many people who appreciate the risks they are incurring, and wish to change their behaviour, but find they cannot do it on their own? Look at all the interventions on smoking, for example, and the varying levels of success.

I think there are many elements in addictive behaviour and assessment of risk is only one of them. People seem more likely to try to lose weight for social rather than health reasons.

In many cases, the best strategy is not to be in the situation to begin with. Bond gets into lethal circumstances and with one bound he's free (fiction); M gives him his orders and then toddles to his club. Isn't prevention better than attempted (and often failed) cure? Or would you reintroduce TV ads for smoking?

sobers said...

It comes down to whether you think people should be responsible for the consequences of their own actions with their bodies, or whether the collective (the State, society at large) has some say over what you do with your body. I happen to to believe that we are all free to abuse or cherish our bodies as we see fit. And that others should not be forced to pay via their taxes for my choices.

Well meaning help for people 'who can't (or won't) make good decisions' merely encourages more people to make bad decisions and penalises (via the tax system) those that make good ones.

I wish to return to a benefit and health system that protects people who lose their jobs, or are injured accidentally, who are born disabled, who are able through no fault of their own to support themselves. Not to provide a way of life for people who do not wish to work, or injure themselves through their own actions.

Sackerson said...

But where do you stand on restraints on the "pushers" - advertising and promotion of unhealthy products and over-consumption?

Sackerson said...

... although this article supports a libertarian approach to censorship:

sobers said...

Advertising: I've no problem with advertising cigarettes, drinks or drugs (if they were legalised). It would be mandatory for all of the effects of them to be included on the packaging, much as is the case on your pill bottle now. And in reasonably large print, so everyone could make an informed decision.

"Smoke Happy Hippy brand marijuana, for a smoother toke. May cause schizophrenia, memory loss, throat cancer, and exacerbate existing mental health problems. And make you VERY boring."

Paddington said...

My little observation is that many people abuse drugs and alcohol because their lives suck, and they are building nothing. They go from work shift to the bar and/or television.

As for the rich who do so, perhaps it's ennui. Mao would encourage some time in a labour camp.

For me, I like to drink, but am to busy and compulsive to become useless - on top of everything, my barn water supply is leaking again.

Sackerson said...

P: "many people abuse drugs and alcohol because their lives suck, and they are building nothing... As for the rich who do so, perhaps it's ennui."

Which I think reopens the debate about the Good Society (or at least, a better on). Libertarian laissez-faire needs to mean more than simply standing aside and watching the rich and powerful cock it up for everyone. Paradoxically, libertarianism implies some kind of rule-setting and limitation of power.

Paddington said...

Sackerson - there's always the atomic option, to eat the rich and powerful.

DAve said...

Anyone who thinks that more people getting high or people getting higher is a good thing either has no idea what they're talking about or...they're high!!!

Sackerson said...

P: "...there's always the atomic option, to eat the rich and powerful."

And they're probably better quality meat than the underclass. Though I'd worry about the illegal drug residues. Put them in a tank of clean water for a few days first, like clams.

Dave: what goes up...