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The Paradigm Conspiracy:
Recovery: The Art of Paradigm Shifts
Denise Breton and Christopher Largent

The Global Crisis of Addiction

Caught in deadly processes.  Recovery: it's not just for "addicts" anymore.  It's not even just for persons, not when addictive processes permeate every social System we've got, from schools to churches to workplaces to governments.  We're up to our ears in addict-making processes, and we can't take two steps out of bed without running into them.

Substance addictions.  Substance addictions--alcohol, drugs, nicotine, food, caffeine--are just the surface, the outward and visible ways addictive processes come get us.  And they do get us.  Drugs, alcohol, and tobacco constitute the world's biggest economic empire.  Only the weapons industry rivals it.  Journalist James Mills writes in The Underground Empire:

The inhabitants of earth spend more money on illegal drugs than they spend on food.  More than they spend on housing, clothes, education, medical care, or any other product or service.  The international narcotics industry is the largest growth industry in the world.  Its annual revenues exceed half a trillion dollars-three times the value of all United States currency in circulation, more than the gross national products of all but a half dozen major industrialized nations.[1]

That's just illegal drugs.  How about the money involved in dependence on prescribed drugs, alcohol, and nicotine?  It seems we can't afford not to be substance dependent; our economies certainly are.

Process addictions.  Next in the line of killers are process addictions, the ones society applauds: addiction to working, winning, high stress, fast-track jobs, perfectionism, relationships, making money, spending and debting, gaining power, getting fame or notoriety, living out family dramas, or--brace yourself--shopping.  Sex can be another process addiction, but it's not one society looks kindly on, however much advertising promotes insatiable and manipulative sex as the solution to life's challenges[2].  Gambling is an old addiction which, with all the state lotteries, is coming back now with a vengeance, especially among young people.

Even the most lauded activities--religion, scientific study, academic inquiry, and government service--may take on classic addictive patterns.  Religion turns into obsession.  Scientific study turns into dogma, as if collecting enough facts will make up for a narrow worldview.  Academic inquiry becomes an in-your-head addiction--quibbling esoterica with rabid acrimony, fiddling while Rome burns.  As for government service, it's power addiction from the bureaucrats who throw around their paper-pushing weight to the big-timers who become brokers for corporate conglomerates.

Process addictions are every bit as deadly as substance addictions, because they underlie substance addictions--as well as just about every social and global ill we've got.  They're the invisible killers, the ones we don't suspect, but the ones that made millionaire Ivan Boesky raid savings and loans to become a billionaire, leaving in his wake thousands who saw their life savings disappear.  As Boesky was later to admit, "It's a sickness I have in the face of which I am helpless." Nor was Boesky alone in his sickness.  Since the eighties, we've witnessed an army of greed-addicted corporate raiders, who made the jobs and pension funds of millions vanish overnight.[3]

Process addictions aren't limited to movers and shakers though.  Ordinary folks following the right diet and the right exercise program are dropping dead at age thirty-five from workaholism, relationship addiction, anxiety, and stress.

If all these substance and process addictions don't afflict us, they nonetheless affect us.  While addictions to drugs, food, alcohol, sex, or work hit us one by one, addictions to money[4], control, divisiveness, status, and official-think oppress us together.  We can't have power addicts running the world and not experience the consequences.  Even when we try to claim it's business or government as usual, we find ourselves suffering from global plagues made invisible by their familiarity.

But a familiar plague is no less deadly.  As Anne Wilson Schaef points out, a deadly virus is a deadly virus, even if the entire population has it.  Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) holds that addiction is a "progressive, fatal disease." Schaef believes-and we agree-that this is true, no matter what form the addiction takes.(2)  Our lungs may give out from tar and nicotine, or our hearts may give out from stress.  We may die from the greed that destroys the environment or from a nuclear chain reaction set off by someone's power play.  Addiction--substance or process, acted out privately or on the world stage-is a fatal illness that we ignore at our peril.

Not that this is news.  We can't read the papers or watch TV without wondering, What on earth is going on?  We have the knowledge and technology.  We have the resources, human and natural.  We even have the desire.  Why can't our social, economic, and environmental problems be solved?  Why do we live from crisis to crisis?

Addict-making systems.  Neither substance nor process addictions are limited to one race, sex, economic class, region, or occupation.  Rich and poor, conservative and liberal, male and female, Hispanic, European, African, Asian, and Native Americans share the same disease.

When something so deadly cuts across society, we have to look at what we share: our social systems.  In her 1987 ground-breaking book When Society Becomes an Addict, Anne Wilson Schaef suggests family dynamics, school rules, workplace policies and practices, corporate hierarchies, government workings, media messages, as well as cultural and religious belief structures all operate in ways that set us up to behave addictively.  In fact, society itself, Schaef writes, "is an addictive system."(3)

That's a strong statement, yet the more we understand addiction, the more it seems like an understatement.  Award-winning teacher John Taylor Gatto, for instance, pulls no punches about the messages schools send through their structure: "I began to realize that the bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children front learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior."(4)

In When Money Is the Drug, counselor and writer Donna Boundy sketches a similarly addict-making picture for corporations.  The level of thinking distortion that takes over people in these systems is astonishing:

For money-accumulators, huge sums take on an unreal quality, become distorted.  One commodities trader reportedly flew into a rage when he got his monthly bonus check, stormed into his boss's office, threw the check on the floor, and spat on it.  The check was for $2.1 million, but he thought it wasn't enough.  Even J. Paul Getty once admitted, "I've never felt rich-in the oil business others were all much richer than I was."

Even corporations sometimes behave as if their thinking has become distorted. The Wall Street firm of Drexel Burnham Lambert was nearing bankruptcy, some executives still received million-dollar bonuses every month.  In fact, as the firm's condition worsened, the bonuses grew larger.  Less than a month before the firm filed bankruptcy, one executive received a bonus of $16.6 million.  The company itself was acting like an addict, denying and defying reality.(5)

The Paradigm Conspiracy

What's going on?  Why are systems betraying their service to us?  Instead of performing their rightful functions of educating (schools), nurturing (families), promoting public good (governments), managing the shared household (businesses), and inspiring us to find and fulfill our life's purpose (religious institutions), they're abusing us and turning us into people we never wanted to be.  Why?

Enter "paradigms." Back in 1962--so long ago John Kennedy was still alive--historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn gave an analysis of how systems change (or don't) in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that rocked the intellectual world.  He wasn't talking about addictive systems but about the system of scientific research, which has its own brand of obsessive-compulsive behavior.

Introducing the term "paradigm," Kuhn said that scientists operate from mental models--paradigms--that shape everything they think, feel, and do.  How scientists perceive and interpret experience is shaped by their internal structure of beliefs and concepts--their paradigm.  If something is wrong, the paradigm is the place to look to find out why.

To raise paradigm issues is to reflect on the ideas or concepts we're using as our map of reality--our worldview, life perspective, philosophy, or mental model.  Whatever we call it, it's powerful stuff.  To look at our paradigm is to look at the blueprint we're using to build our worlds.[5]

How do paradigms start?  They usually begin with some exemplary model--"Newtonian science" or "Einsteinian relativity"--that weaves together theories, standards, and methods in a way that makes better sense than anything else.  To share a paradigm is to share a commitment to rules that define how a scientist acts and reacts.  No part of scientific activity is outside the reach of the paradigm's influence.  It's as if scientists' energies get poured through the paradigm's mold, and whatever comes out is stamped by that all-encompassing model.

In the decades since Kuhn's paradigm concept was introduced, it has been applied to every discipline, from the arts to business.  And rightly so, We experience our lives the way we do because of the paradigms we carry around.  In computer terms, paradigms function like the central operating system of consciousness-the supra-program that transforms undefined perceptions into something we call our experience.  They give us the mental tools to make sense of life and survive in it.  We may not be able to summarize our paradigm in ten words or less, but our every thought is paradigm connected, even paradigm created.

Development within a paradigm.  Given the power of paradigms, two kinds of development follow.  The first occurs within the paradigm's framework.  The second chucks the paradigm and forges a new one.

"Normal science," as Kuhn calls it, is the first kind of development., Practitioners operate within their mental model and pursue its implications to the nth degree.  Working inside the prevailing paradigm is the secure, accepted, and well-rewarded way to do science.

In fact, the paradigm gets so comfortable that scientists forget that it's there; it becomes functionally invisible.  The way they see things is just the way things are.  For them, there is no paradigm between their ideas and reality.

Applied to life, the normal-science phase is business as usual, families as usual, politics, churches, schools, and professions as usual.  When we're ticking away within a paradigm's framework, the norm is well defined, and we conform.  Coping skills mean finding ways to fit into the norm, whether it is healthy or not.  In fact, "healthy" is whatever the paradigm says it is.  Becoming healthy means adjusting to the paradigm's definition.

Paradigm shifts.  The revolutionary development comes when the paradigm reaches a crisis.  It doesn't solve problems the way it once did.  Anomalies-things that the paradigm can't explain-start accumulating.  Paradigm health starts making us sick.  More and more, the paradigm doesn't work.  That's when scientists are challenged to shift paradigms by moving into a phase Kuhn calls "extraordinary science."

But "extraordinary science" isn't easy.  In language suited to academia, Kuhn describes how scientists essentially freak out.  Everything they ever learned is called into question.  During the revolutions in physics early in this century, even Einstein, no slouch in forward thinking, wrote, "It was as if the ground had been pulled out from under one, with no firm foundation to be seen anywhere, upon which one could have built."(6)

The more the paradigm fails to do its job, the more old-paradigm scientists try to make it work.  The paradigm is ripe for a revolution, but because they've forgotten that they even have a paradigm, scientists conclude instead that their world is falling apart.  Solutions--alternative ways of doing science--don't exist.  As far as they're concerned, they've explored all the possibilities, and the only options they see don't help.  They're too paradigm-bound to notice that they're stumbling over the limits of their own models.

The paradigm cause of soul-abusive systems.  "Extraordinary science" describes the situation we face today.  We're not experiencing paradigm norms as healthy, either personally or globally.  The blueprint for our families, schools, businesses, and governments isn't working.  It's causing our shared social systems to function abusively and to make us sick as a result.  Happy people and healthy systems don't turn addictive, life-destroying substances into the biggest growth industry on the planet.

We'd think changing a paradigm that's not working would be easy, but it's not.  As Kuhn observed, the paradigm cause of crises remains invisible to old-paradigm practitioners.  We don't need a new paradigm, they believe, we just need to make the one we have work better.  Nothing is wrong with our social systems, since that would call the underlying paradigm into question.  Instead, when things don't work, something must be wrong with us.

"Blame certain people and label them as the troublemakers.  We need more discipline, more restraints," old-paradigm experts advise us, "more tests and tougher grading systems, more hard-nosed business management practices, more God-fearing, sex-repressing piety, and more laws with stricter enforcement."

In other words, according to the prevailing paradigm, coming down hard on people isn't abuse.  It's how we create healthy families, schools, businesses, governments, and churches, because it rids us of the sinful, ignorant or otherwise unruly souls that muck up the social machinery.  If things don't work, the solution is to take away more rights, stifle more creativity, intimidate more people, build more prisons, and bring back the death penalty.  More fear keeps people in line.

This paradigm touches every part of our lives--but invisibly.  We don't realize that the paradigm is there, which means we don't recognize its role in creating our social institutions.  As long as the paradigm remains hidden, we don't see what's causing system-wide suffering, which means we can't stop it.

The paradigm of control and power-over.  What kind of paradigm requires that we blame individuals, intimidate, and punish them in order to keep our social systems "healthy"?  Like a complex tapestry, the paradigm has many threads, but the overall pattern has to do with control: Who has power over whom, and how is a power-over relation maintained?[6]  Riane Eisler, in' her pioneering work The Chalice and the Blade calls this the "dominator model," contrasting it with the "partnership way."  Domination is the paradigm's driving issue, and for a reason: in this worldview, top-down control is necessary for social order.

According to the power-over model--what we refer to as the control paradigm--if somebody doesn't control us, our social systems will fall into chaos.  Archaeologist John Romer notes, for instance, that the Roman Emperor Diocletian, in an attempt to hold "a ramshackle empire" together, "made a state where animals, land and people were all tightly organized and controlled; one writer complained that there were more tax collectors than tax payers.  Like Diocletian, authorities of today believe that nothing would work if we each did our own thing.  To have order, we must do what the authorities tell us to do.

Soul:  The big threat. Now come the threads: to be controlled, we have to be unplugged from competing sources of control.  The major threat to external control is our internal guidance system--our souls.

A clear definition of "soul" isn't easy to come by, since it's not an object we can measure or photograph.  But "inner identity" or the "core of who we are" are good places to start.  Soul refers to our deep presence.  It's our inner connectedness to whatever we take to be Being, God, the One, the whole, or the ground of creation (to paraphrase theologian Paul Tillich).  Physician Larry Dossey describes the soul as "some aspect of ourselves that is infinite, beyond the limits of space and time."' It's our direct link to reality.

This whole-connected core is the source of our talents and the wellspring of creativity.  It's also what gives us the conviction that our lives have meaning.  When we live from our souls, we feel alive and vital, and we take seriously the idea that we're here for a purpose.

To us, our souls are our best friends and most trusted guides.  But to the control paradigm, they're the enemy--what has to be removed in order for external control to work.  Only when we're sufficiently disconnected from our inner compass will we follow outer demands.

"Get rid of the troublemakers." For fear of chaos, social systems adopt the control paradigm and run with it.  Through all sorts of institutionalized policies, we get the message that we're unacceptable as we are, but that if we surrender ourselves to the social system (the family, school, business, profession, or religion), we'll become acceptable.  Our souls are sloppy and unmanageable troublemakers; they clog the system's efficient workings, and we're better off without them.

This isn't reality talking; it's a paradigm--an old one.  Maybe sometime in the dim, dark recesses of human evolution a control-based paradigm may have served the species (we're skeptical about that), but it's not serving us now, The more power-over systems zap our inner lives, the less social order we have.  It's a paradigm in crisis, and it's creating neither personal nor global health

[1] James Mills, The Underground Empire: Where Crime and Governments Embrace (New York: Doubleday, 1986), 3. His figures being over ten years old, we can only imagine what they may be now.  Statistics on this global empire are hard to come by, many estimates being filed away in secret and classified government documents (see p. 7).

[2] Patrick Carnes has pioneered the understanding of sexual addiction, which has a wide spectrum of manifestationsSee Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction  (Center  City, MN: Hazelden, 1992) and Contrary to Love: Helping the Sexual Addict (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1989).

[3] When Corporations Rule the World, David C. Korten reports: "Nearly 2,000 cases have been identified in which the new owners corporate raiders have virtually stolen a total of $21 billion of what they often declare to be 'excess' funding from company pension accounts to apply to debt repayment" (West Hartford, CT.  Kumarian Press, 1995), 209

[4] See Donna Boundy's excellent analysis of this in When Money Is the Drug: The Compulsion for Credit, Cash, and Chronic Debt (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993)

[5] For instance, in his 1995 social critique Opposing the System, Charles Reich suggests that "the system" presents us with a paradigm through the use of images: the "free market," other," the "predatory criminal."  Reich maintains that "an entire ideology can be rendered as a series of pictures making up a comprehensive map of reality.  Constantly repeated without rebuttal or dissent, these pictures and the map paradigm they form set the parameters of debate and imagination" Charles Reich, Opposing the System (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 154.

[6] Riane Eisler's books, The Chalice and the Blade (HarperSanFrancisco, 1988) and (with David Loye) The Partnership Way (HarperSanFrancisco, 1990) contrast the dominator model with the partnership model, suggesting as we do that the former makes humans suffer, while the latter, both historically and culturally, allows humans to thrive.

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