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Detrancing and Detoxing in American Culture

I run a group for DWI Offenders. The other day one of the members complained vociferously that he felt brainwashed by AA and that he wouldn’t be taken “hostage” by its philosophy. I turned to look at him directly and asked straight out, “And what do you think you’ve been up till now?”

He seemed confused.

I said, “Let’s talk about brainwashing. Do you think you haven’t been brainwashed up to this point?” I looked at the group and called upon them to consider the pharmaceutical companies, the tobacco industry, Madison Avenue, and the hold that beer has on the American economy and then to talk to me about brainwashing.

They sat quietly for a while and then the fellow who had complained shrugged amiably and said, “I never thought about that. I guess you have a point.”

The point is one that is missed by most of us every time we walk into Wal-Mart or choose a product because of the advertising image with which its been endowed by virtue of millions of dollars and selectively researched media placement. We are constantly being sold. Usually we are being sold by fear–the fear of not being good enough, thin enough, smart enough, sexy enough, big enough, tough enough, rich enough, or hip enough. Sometimes it is by the fear of loss. Sometimes by the fear of exclusion. Often by the simple threat of death. And I know few people who are not a little afraid of that. Of course, the insurance companies have the answer to that. But, still no one feels secure.

We are sold shirts, bras, Viagra, and cars, TV’s we don’t need, pills they tell us we do (even though they may cause lymphoma). We are sold insurance and reverse mortgages and stuff to fill our garages till our cars don’t fit.

And we buy. Because we are afraid. And people like the one in my group think that the cure is the disease.┬áRecovery–from addiction, alcoholism or viral fear–is a detox of the mind, a de-trancing, an awakening from a video-induced sloth and media-induced greed that has made us the softest, fattest country on the planet. And so few are happy. We get more and more stuff, but less and less joy.

What we long for is simple. We long for love and purpose, a spiritual meaning in life. In all my years I’ve never met a bra, a pill, a diet plan or a bottle that ever made good on that promise.

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