Another nice thing that emerged from the Dean Sluyter interview I mentioned the other day was how meditation can be a road to undoing anxiety by confronting its function. There's this idea we have in the West that, as Sluyter put it, "if you're not worrying, you're not being responsible" — that we need to make a show of our worries to convince other, and ourselves, that we Take This Seriously.
Moralizing was the term that came back to mind. We have this horrible tendency to slather a moralizing froth over the top of everything we want people to regard as important, because we think that's the only way to get people to Take This Seriously. But the cost of getting people to Take This Seriously in that form is to have moralism attached to things that need to be seen without it to be fully appreciated.
Over the last couple of years, most likely because of the widening acceptance of legal marijuana, there's been a greater push towards rethinking how we conceive of drug addiction. The old explanation was that addicts are morally weak, but this explains nothing; it's a garbage can into which we can pitch the problem without having to actually address it. The new model is that addicts are people for whom the reward and regulation centers of the brain have become hijacked by chemical feedback loops. We don't moralize about people who go to the hospital because they came down with meningitis or pancreatitis, so why moralize about this?
Well, so goes the easy answer, it's because people are deeply uncomfortable with the idea that they are not in full control. If we admit that such things can cease to exist for other people, the we have to admit they can cease to exist for ourselves, too. It undermines the can-do mythology many people tell themselves in the West (especially in the United States), that any problem can be solved if we just will it hard enough. But as George Orwell once pointed out, sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.
The other correlate to this unease is the idea that if we "go easy" on drug addicts, then people will have no excuse not to become addicts. And again, the morality-play aspect of the discussion takes over, one that is based on a view of human nature as being essentially fallen and sinful — and one that, to the surprise of no one but those who have actually studied this issue instead of just blathered about it, runs contrary to just about all the evidence collected so far on it. The part of the mind that is moral or immoral is not the part of the mind that feels like it has no choice but to say yes to drugs.
We feel that the minute we try not to think about an issue moralistically, that we are succumbing to thinking about it in a cold, amoral way that will leave us in a vacuum of selfish desire. And it's just not true. If anything, it's the other way around. Saying people who can't say no to drugs are just being weak is to ignore that there is such a thing as human complexity. But I guess there are plenty of people who are deeply invested in the idea that there's no such thing as human complexity.
Anyway, I got a little far afield there. My original point was that all this moralizing is essentially a way for some people to say: Look how seriously I take this issue! But all that is aimed only at satisfying other people who think about such things in the same one-dimensional way. It's not aimed at an actual examination of the problem. It's just a way to look grown-up without actually acting like it.
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Other Lives Of The Mind