The Addict as Prophet: Part 6, Modernity and Loneliness

This is my last post summarizing selected material from Kent Dunnington's book Addiction and Virtue.

I've been focusing on Dunnington's argument that addiction can be viewed as a prophetic critique of modernity. Addiction, if we pay attention to it, points us to the failures of modernity. Addiction is addictive because it gives us what we find missing in modern life.

In the last two posts we described how addiction helps us overcome the existential vacuum of modernity. Lacking a Story that gives life motivated and clarifying purpose and direction, addiction gives us a habit and a lifestyle that fills this void. Addiction makes something matter, creating a focused, unifying, consuming and motivated lifestyle.

This is not to deny the physiological aspects of chemical dependency. This is simply the observation that even when the addict is detoxed and clean the lifestyle of addiction remains alluring because of how it addresses the spiritual and psychological vacuum of modernity.

Consequently, if detoxed addicts cannot replace addiction with something that is as equally compelling and consuming they will remain vulnerable to addiction's allures.

And yet, as we've seen, modernity, because it lacks a Story, cannot give us anything as compelling or consuming. Thus we remain ever vulnerable to addictive habits and lifestyles.

Beyond filling the existential void, addiction also reduces the feeling of loneliness in modernity. As Dunnington says, "Lonely people make good addicts."

Again, loneliness is a uniquely modern problem. We are, as Robert Putnam has so ably documented, "bowling alone."

Addiction thrives in this social vacuum. Addiction often starts in social contexts, is sustained by circles of friends, and is often maintained by a webs of connection between fellow users and suppliers. And even when addiction isolates us from others it does so by becoming a surrogate "friend." Addicts often refer to the chemical they are addicted to as their "best friend." Addiction is a companion.

Thus, once again we see addiction filling a great void in modernity.

In conclusion, then, addiction provides a critique of modernity and puts a challenge before the church. Can the church provide us with something more compelling than addiction? Can the church provide us with a life that overcomes the malaise of modernity? Can the church address the modern symptoms of arbitrariness, boredom and loneliness?

I'll leave the last word for Dunnington (p. 123):
Addiction is in fact a kind of embodied cultural critique of modernity and the addict a kind of unwitting modern prophet. The church has a great stake in listening to such unwitting prophets. If the church will listen, it will be led to an examination of how its own culture contributes to the production of addiction, whether it offers an alternative culture and what such an alternative culture would require.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply