Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
From the publishers of THE HINDU
ADDICTIONS: February 25,2001
The taste of success
G. N. Devy
The writer is a historian and researcher based inVadodara.
Manoj K. Jain
That addiction is a psychological phenomenon and not biological is universally accepted. That is to say that the origin of the addictive impulse is in the human brain and not in any other part of the anatomy. Why is it then that other animals with a relatively well developed brain do not show a marked degree of addictive impulse? The answer to that wide question is that the process of image making is far more complex in the human brain than in other animal intelligence. And image-making and addiction are intimately related. In order to understand this interdependence, one must start looking at not the causes but the consequences of addiction first.
It is universally known that the impact of any addictive material such as a drug or alcohol is hallucinatory. The degree of the illusion created may vary from substance to substance, but the temporary suspension of previously received imagery of the material world is a certainty. Under the spell of an addictive, one experiences a significant rise in the dynamic quality of the natural and material phenomena. One feels excited, enthused, elated, empowered, one starts seeing more colours, more shapes, hearing more sounds, tones and timbre. Probably, therefore, one may say that the psychological need to get under a spell arises out of the urge to experience a greater range of imagery than the human eye, memory and cognitive power can together offer to the human intelligence.
Why is it that it is the human intelligence alone, as far as we know, that stands in the need to see this wide array of imagery? It is the same as asking why it is the human animal alone, as far as we know, that craves to belong to a community stretching far beyond one's immediate family ?
The answer to both these questions lies in one and the same experience that is considered an absolute necessity in the process of maturation of a human child. That experience is described by the psychologist Jaques Lacan as the "mirror-stage". During this stage the infant learns to perceive itself through the eyes of the others - as if it is looking itself through the eyes of its own image in a mirror. This helps the infant to distinguish the subjective realm from the objective, that which is itself from all that which is not itself. The awareness of alterity and the emotions of shame, guilt, repentance - which are peculiarly human emotions - are rooted in this perception of the self as the other. The same perception paves a human infant's way to becoming a social animal. Similarly, the peculiarly human proclivity to using addictive materials has its roots in this special human way of constructing the self-image.
The so called "conscience" is in reality the ever awake presence of the "other world" looking at the most private emotional transactions of "the self". When the conscience becomes too severe or restrictive, when one's being starts too alarmingly divergent from the expectations of "the other" embedded in oneself, it becomes necessary to violate the existing imagery - both of the self and of the external world. That is where hallucinatory experiences become inevitable.
Manoj K. Jain
In the initial degree, such experiences are induced by the chemicals generated within the human brain, and through the agency of the unconscious part of the psyche by proliferating dreams. But sleep and dreams may not suffice to protect the sensitivity of a person's self-image. The second degree of inducing hallucinatory imagery is achieved through a reconstruction of the imagery of the world through personalised and distorted verbal behaviour. This may result at the ordinary level in humour, hysteria or banter. At the higher level, it may result in a creative articulation such as acting, creation of fiction or poetry and even yielding to silence and meditation. The third degree of image making or reordering the placement of the self in relation to the non-self, is achieved through aids that are external to human biology. These are drugs and addictive substances.
But there is another way of coming to terms with that all pervasive pursuit of the self by the "other" planted in the human consciousness, during the mirror stage of maturation. And that way is reconstruction through appeasement. It is the method of telling a smart lie to oneself; and in order to convince the self that the lie indeed is the truth, it needs be told repeatedly.
The addiction to work and the pursuit of success are the manifestations of this reverse psychic tendency. It amounts to saying that if one cannot change the world to suit one's own perception of it, it is better to mould oneself to suit the world's perception of oneself.
Two considerations are important in following this peculiarly human drive : One, normally those who are considered successful in society, and by applying the yardstick of material achievements, are rarely in need of acquiring any further measure of such success for their biological preservation. A rich man, in fact, should feel less need of earning further. A powerful man should feel less fear of attack on his power by those who do not have it. But in reality we notice the converse happening. Riches only whet up the instinct for avarice, and power breeds the fear of loss of that power.
The second consideration is that all those who are considered successful tend to become increasingly orthodox in that they start opposing any ideas of change. These two tags permanently attached to material success are the inevitable machinery of the smart lie that the self tells the perpetually awake other in one's consciousness. To speak metaphorically, these persons start sleeping with their socks on, or even better, they do not sleep at all even when their bodies may go through the motion of physical sleep. It may not sound convincing but the materially successful individuals are in the act of eternally escaping from their self. It is, therefore, that they must chase further success, even after becoming successful.
Workaholics belong to the same category. They are all like tigers that have tasted human blood, having tasted it they can never go back to their natural diet. It is impossible to ascertain if this is so, but in all likelihood, a man-eater is not favoured among the community of tigers. However, in human society the successful one is not only valued but even overvalued. This is so because, thanks once again to the human need to form a community, labour has come to be stratified in terms of nonproductive and that which is productive as well convertible to capital. And those who manage this completely unnatural conversion, those who succeed in building up capital, are seen as successful. And hence, the parameters for assessing success in human society have remained restricted to the material ones alone.
In fact, those who are the real achievers, not just for themselves but for the human race, are normally those who are far from being successful in this limited sense. The thinkers, the revolutionaries, the prophets, the inventors, have more often than not been those who have learnt to taste not success but failure. It is said of Shakespeare that his greatness lies in the fact that he never exploited his own success. Someone of the calibre of James Joyce is seen as the writer's writer precisely because he knew how to explore the farthest verge of failure of language. And neither Jesus Christ nor Mahatma Gandhi can be put down to the category of successful persons. They were great mainly because they were aware of their own vulnerability, their weaknesses and were prepared to taste failures. Those addicts who seek solace in drug induced hallucinatory imagery are the psychologically weakest of the creative type. But those who, on the other hand, head for a static world and pursue the path of material success, even when such material is not necessary for meeting their biological needs, are the weakest of the addicts. The Bhagwad Gita understood how ephemeral and how non-creative their drive for facing the self is. Therefore, the two most persuasive injunctions the Gita offers are, one, detaching the Karma from its acquisitional impulse and two, unveiling the self so as to disengage it from the tyranny of definition by the others.
In the ultimate analysis, it is only apparently an irony that those whom the world considers successful are the failed ones, and those who are prepared to face failure are the true creators. However, the fear of unleashing the world - the other - on the self is so threatening that most of us either go narcotic or try to chase success. That too is an addiction by proxy. And because such a large number of human animals are engaged in that pursuit, rarely do we muster up the courage and honesty to call the bluff. Sadly enough, it is an old historical habit of the human race to leave that burden to the seers and the prophets.
And yet, there is something to be said in favour of the human pursuit of success. The human brain, both as a collective property of the human species as well as the neurological aggregate for an individual, is an ever developing entity. A community likes to use this property for entering into a more complete negotiation with the natural phenomena, an individual likes to use it for sharpening physical skills. That process of excelling oneself, which may have nothing to do with the acquisitive drive, satisfies one's pride in being oneself.
Many of those who are addicted to success are driven by the desire to excel in their field of activity or skill. It is therefore that those who are truly successful are never content with their past accomplishments. There is only one direction to which their faces are permanently turned, and that is the future. No writer ever thinks that he has already written his best work, no sportsman ever thinks that he has already played his best game. In such cases, the intellect and the body drive each other to the extreme verge of possibility. One may therefore say that the addiction to success, when it is not born out of the desire to escape censure, is caused by the irresistible inquisitiveness for exploring the abyss of failure.
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