January 16, 2006

Addiction Why is addiction a problem? It seems to be a problem in and of itself, disconnected from any specific practice or substance. In fact, in rhetorics of addiction these practices and substances blur together: cigarettes, alcohol, porn, chocolate, shopping, sleeping pills, heroin, carbohydrates, coffee, painkillers. It's as if the problem isn't with any specific addiction (heroin, chocolate) but with the very fact of addiction. Why? I think the answer involves the fantasy of a free, rational individuals. Liberal democracy presupposes that its subjects make free and rational choices. Consumer-driven capital, however, know that its subjects are insecure impulse buyers, motivated by hopes and dreams over which they have no control. The popular discourses that try to bring these conflicting elements into some kind of alignment, discourses of health and therapy, thus use addiction as the disease that plagues the otherwise free and rational. Get over your addiction, and everything will be fine. There is an additional benefit to rhetorics of addiction: they locate problems within the terrain of individual control and accountability; drinking is positioned not as a reasonable response to overwhelming pressures and overall hopeless but as an individual problem warranting an individual solution. Addiction talk, like self help talk more generally, condenses massive structural problems into small, individual matters and displaces these matters onto the medicalized subject. Am I just making excuses for not wanting to give up my addictions?

Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean is a political theorist.

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