Take a deep breath. Now hold it. Without letting it out, take another deep breath. You can’t do it can you? Now go back to breathing normally before you pass out.
The point of all that was to show you in a visceral way that at the core of your being are cycles, in this case breathing in and breathing out. Cycles are all around us. The entire universe revolves on cycles: day and night, the seasons, the moon, and even most important for your immediate survival, breathing in and breathing out.
Problems don’t arise from cycles, though we often look at the nadir of the cycle and say that it’s problem. It’s not; it’s just nature. The problems are invented in our own human cortex when we deny that cycles are necessary or we imagine were in a different part of the cycle from where we really are.
An example of that is our country’s monetary policy. It’s based loosely on the Keynesian philosophy of stimulating the economy in a downturn and withdrawing that stimulation when the economy is an upswing. Our modern central bankers are very good at stimulating downturns but seem not to know how to take their foot off the gas during an upswing. Their goal of a world with no recessions is like the house of a hoarder. At first he feels wealthy because he has so much stuff, but soon he isn’t able to move around to get anything done. By believing in linearity and not allowing the natural cleansing cycle of recession/expansion we have cluttered our economy and made it less productive.
Another example is our national policy on addiction. For a hundred years this country has treated addiction like a set of voluntary behaviors that can be changed with appropriate legal and economic disincentives. This has led to endless repetition of a pattern of moving from one drug crisis to another only to find the next as soon as we solve the last. Only in the last 10 years, and especially the last two, have the leaders of this country come to call addiction an actual disease. And unfortunately it looks like it might be too little, too late.
Strauss and Howe’s The Fourth Turning describe how national moods change every generation lasting approximately 15 to 25 years. They tell us that these moods repeat every 4 cycles like the seasons. Their work suggests that since the world financial crisis of 2008 we have left the autumn unraveling and entered the winter crisis period. Such periods are marked by increasing social order, lower crime, increasing government power, public condemnation of substance use, and in general would be consistent with the pull away from the idea of addiction as a disease.
Just at this time the American Society of Addiction Medicine, finally after years of work, published a new definition of addiction which outlines addiction as a primary chronic illness. And just as this major advance is taking place the American Board of Addiction Medicine has agreed to give up its role as the certifying board for physicians and pass that on to the American Board of Preventive Medicine, a group which, rather than seeing addiction is a primary brain illness, sees addiction as limited to drugs and a consequence of drug use and believes it can be prevented by preventing drug use. Just as the mood of the country is heading into winter and away from seeing addiction as an illness ABAM handing its role to a powerful medical group in line with the coming public mood. Believing the progress they have made is linear, they don’t see the coming change or the coming danger to their own message.
We have a delusion of linearity in this country, that our progress is continually up and forever endless. We don’t like the idea of cycles but like Geoffrey Rush’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean says, we “best start believing in them because were in one.”