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Introduction: Altering Consciousness

Drugs are merely one kind of object people can become addicted to -- there are a range of other addictive substances available to us in consumer culture.
Catherine Hollis and Annalee Newitz, Issue Editors

Issue #10, December 1993

At Bad Subjects, we know why people do drugs. They want to diminish their pain; or they want to enjoy their jobs; or they want to alter their consciousness — ultimately, people do drugs because their everyday lives do not satisfy them. We often associate drug use with a process known today as 'addiction.' However, drugs are merely one kind of object people can become addicted to — there are a range of other addictive substances available to us in consumer culture: food, cigarettes, coffee, pornographic movies, CNN, or even bureaucratic work. Simply put, one may become addicted to almost anything.

Addiction is most commonly understood as a sickness in which a person engages repeatedly in an activity to the point where they do almost nothing else. It is an anti-social process; people neglect themselves or their responsibilities to others when they are addicted to something. Most often, people become addicted to substances or activities which give them pleasure. But during the process of addiction, what was originally a pleasurable activity becomes psychologically, socially or physically destructive. Most importantly, the addict's relationship to her chosen substance is a dependent one, for she believes that she has no choice but to consume the object of her addiction in order to function at all.

In other words, addiction is that process which converts human pleasure into a kind of consumer dependency. We find it therefore unsuprising that consumer capitalism is the economic system in which addictions have diversified and awareness of addiction itself has become commonplace. Capitalism encourages its users to become dependent upon a particular form of repetitive action: working at buying and selling objects. To the extent that human action in capitalism is mostly directed at objects, it is a system that produces profoundly anti-social behavior not unlike addictive behavior. The addict's primary relationship with the addictive object mirrors the isolation caused by capitalism's emphasis on individualism and commodity consumption. It is in capitalism's interest to engender addictive dependency in its subjects to maintain itself and produce the illusion that there is no alternative.

Capitalist culture is in the habit of offering itself as the solution to everyone's problems. Take, for example, the widespread popularity of the anti-depressant Prozac among the middle-class. Unhappy people are increasingly encouraged to purchase and consume a drug rather than change the social circumstances that create economic and mental depression. Offered as a cure for individual discomfort, Prozac undertakes to reconstruct personalities so that they work better for the system — those who take Prozac find that they are able to work more efficiently and happily. Moreover, Prozac itself is a lucrative industry; in 1992, Prozac earned its manufacturer Eli Lilly more than $1 billion in profits. Here we find a capitalist enterprise offering a commodity — at $2.11 per pill — as a solution to unhappy consciousness.

Bad Subjects has devoted this issue to the problems and cultures of addiction because we believe understanding capitalism as a kind of addictive sickness allows us to speculate about the possibility of a 'cure' or 'recovery' from it. Whereas the 'cure' of a drug like Prozac relies upon repeated acts of commodity consumption, we at Bad Subjects believe the solution to a capitalist system can only lie outside that system. Bad Subjects is our collective attempt at recovery from our addictions to capitalism and capitalist practices of consumption. Our recovery involves producing, as a group, critical ideas and narratives which we hope will lead to a genuine alteration in social consciousness. It is only by altering the way we think that we will come to believe that the world *can* be different. We do have a choice. We do not have to continue in our dependence upon a destructive social system.

Part of altering the way we think involves reconceiving our relationship to social systems. Our practice of collective production — rather than addictive consumption — is intended as an antidote to the anti-social individualism and lonely relationships with objects which comprise people's everyday experiences under capitalism. Collective social systems encourage personal autonomy and choice while fostering a sense of community united around common goals and shared work. Ultimately, collective production is a means of putting altered consciousness into action. The drugs people buy, sell, and become addicted to in capitalism offer a *feeling* of transcendence or pleasure. But we attempt to suggest that transcending our present social state is not just a feeling — it is a practical politicial possiblity.

Copyright © 1993 by Catherine Hollis and Annalee Newitz. All rights reserved.