The Most Dangerous Addiction?

A certain percentage of human beings have addictive personalities. They may be addicted to substances or behaviors. Thrill-seekers are often addicted to the adrenaline rush that comes with successfully surviving dangerous sports or activities. Substance abusers may become addicted to smoking, to alcohol, or to more dangerous drugs or substances.

But there are other addictions that are also dangerous and destructive, such as excessive gambling. In recent years, there’s also been recognition of so-called sex addicts.

In the end, a percentage of these addicts will overdose. They may seek too much danger, or the ultimate high of some sort, and many die every single year. Not only can overdosing destroy the addict, but the costs to family and others, and to society, can be enormous.

But there’s one kind of addiction that we as a society have been unwilling to recognize as an actual addiction – and that’s the addiction to power.

Seeking power for the sake of power is indeed an addiction, but there are also those who seek power to do good or for some cause or another and subsequently become addicted to power itself. We see this most often in politics and on the national level, most recently with a President so addicted to power that he attempted what amounted to coup in order to stay in office.

But it happens in other areas as well – the corporation president who bends laws and customs and stacks the corporate board room to maintain power, or the one who micromanages everything. Perhaps it’s even the head of local arts or cultural organization who ends up running the organization into the ground rather than give up that position, all the time insisting that no one else could possibly do it as well.

Unlike more personal addiction overdosing, where the results affect a limited number of individuals in each instance and where the ultimate price is the one paid by the overdoser, those who overdose on power ruin more people and can destroy large organizations and even governments, all the while lying and rationalizing their actions with misleading statements and statistics, as well as often with blatant lies.

Yet today no one seems to recognize, directly, this most deadly of addictions, although the Founding Fathers did. Isn’t it about time we do?

5 thoughts on “The Most Dangerous Addiction?”

  1. Tom says:

    Martin Buber’s 1949 book ‘Paths in Utopia’ includes the line: ‘Power abdicates only under the stress of counter-power’.

    This opinion in February 28, 2014, uses the power of science to influence our thinking. Unfortunately it provides no therapy for this addiction. Not surprising because, all potentially workable treatments require an admission by the subject that they have an addiction problem.

    Four years of Trump demonstrated that the addict’s belief that they are “A very stable genius” makes it impossible for them to believe that their actions could have deleterious consequences. The multiple books from those who tried to influence Trump (for better) agreed on at least this one point; Trump could not be swayed from: ” … Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

    The system usually does not need “fixing” but it needs rational unemotional application as it was intended, in all governances – business or state.

    As you have noted, given the appropriate circumstance all humans have the same tendency as Trump. The Founding Fathers recognized the problem and tried to give us the tools to keep power addiction in governance at bay. Unfortunately they could not integrate a method to ensure that citizens would apply the Constitution rationally and specifically ensure separation of powers in our congress. So here we are re-enacting the Civil War with the “sovereign” individual citizens and states refusing to act as a nation (not even those who think of “America First” literally).

    1. Tim says:

      @Tom. In your last paragraph, you could replace ‘tool’ with ‘controls’. Here in the UK, there is a bill going before Parliament to change the legal framework used to approve plans for new building work.

      Essentially this means using a rule-based deterministic system to largely replace planning committees.

      However we humans are creative and will generally find ways to exploit loopholes to our advantage. And few builders go to college but they are very astute at gaming the system.

      Your 2nd amendment is a case in point where the letter and the intended spirit diverge.

      1. Tom says:

        I agree with your recommendation but “controls” were unacceptable to many people in the late 18th century as they are to 72 million US citizens today.

        The Articles of Confederation and Perfect Union were written in 1776. They were argued about until the Articles were implemented in 1781.

        Finally Great Britain was defeated in the American War of Independence in 1783.

        The Confederation of American States agreed to write the US Constitution in 1787 because it became obvious that the Articles of Confederation and Perfect Union were insufficient for a national government to function. Even with evidence of internal and external threats to the Confederation one state refused to send delegates, because they did not understand the many reason for cooperation within a group – above all at that time, security.

        Benjamin Franklin said on the closing day of the convention in 1787: “I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such, because I think a central government is necessary for us… I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution.” It took a concerted effort including the Federalist Papers almost 11 years before “a More Perfect Union’ was ratified in 1788.

        I used the word “tools” to indicate what Franklin was referring to in his statement: few clear cut controls for Federal, State, and combined responsibilities, and, to remind that tools are only as good as the people who use them.

        1. Tom says:

          I regret I missed your point Tim.

          The rules based system should indeed be useful for constructing laws and would also cut down the time taken from committee to Presidents desk.

          The hang-up is the acceptance of the need for a rule for a specific societal concern.

  2. alecia flores says:

    Cuomo is a glaring example of the addiction to power – as were Weinstein & Ailes & they were brought down by women. I believe a predilection for sexual harassment is a major aspect of powerful men. It will be interesting to watch who else will fall for this reason.

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