After the intriguing and seductive chapter on smoking, the “Wild Hunger” book begins to unravel into binaries typical of the Nineties: male/female, art/science, and so on. Wilshire admits a hunger for achievement so strong that it caused him to neglect his family. Perhaps he reveals himself more than he intends when he describes climbing a mountain in grueling detail, full of domination and summiting, and finds up there a guy with an easel and oils painting the view. He says, “Why try to reduce it to a square foot of canvas daubed with pigments, lumps of colored mud smeared into shapes? It was redundant, or worse than that, an insult somehow. As the painter worked, my fascination alternated with contempt.” Wilshire is a philosopher, a head-tripper. In this book he ends up with Michael Harner, shaman-teacher, in Ecuador, spacing out on ayahuaska, like any New Age seeker, full of the false conviction that “primal peoples” are happy, never suffering. Is this not an addiction?
He should have stuck with Emerson, who says: “A painter told me that nobody could draw a tree without in some sort becoming a tree; or draw a child by studying the outlines of its form merely, -- but by watching for a time his motions and plays, the painter enters into his nature and can then draw him at will in every attitude.” Same goes for photography or sculpture. He used it for a chapter epigraph but then ignored it.
He NEVER comes to the conclusion that on some level there is NO contradiction between art and technology, it’s just that there’s no WORD for the blend, even among those who combine them in their life’s work, like Theo Jansen’s “Strandbeest.” (www.strandbeest.com) The strandbeest is a machine/animal that walks the beach with wind power. It is literally marginal, technology and art interwoven.
Likewise with Wilshire’s male/female split. He asserts a zygote must be either XX or XY, so I guess he just didn’t know that they can also be XXY, XYY, or XXX but never YY because the X is the part that has the primal plans for the cell. I guess he didn’t know that pieces of chromosomes can break off and attach where they shouldn’t be or just stay missing. He didn’t know people can be both gendersatonce, or awkwardly one psychologically and the other physically. According to his bibliography, he’s read the books about these molecular marvels and about how the brain works and that the “brain” is really the whole body, so maybe he just hasn’t integrated it all yet. Because his kernel for addiction theory is his own addiction to smoking, it doesn’t expand except to object to these splits that he imagines. His most powerful thinking dissipates like smoke in a breeze.
So I’ll go to a new source -- actually, a guy whose blog I’ve been reading for years: Ricky Raw at therawness.com. He’s a dude who’s into vernacular and practical reality, no limits, and he is generally addressing young men, 1552 of them subscribed. They don’t hesitate to ask questions. They appear to be mostly urban and race inclusive. Mostly het.
So what does make someone an addict as opposed to, say, an avid enthusiast? There are three main components that warp an interest into an addiction.
- Compulsion. This means that the person’s use or indulgence in the object has a compulsive nature. It’s an urge that feels irresistible, often irrational and contrary to one’s conscious will, defies reason, and displays an extreme disregard for risk and consequences. For example I may like food and occasionally overeat, but if I am regularly binging to the point where I am almost vomiting or can’t move for hours afterward and have developed diabetes, that’s compulsive behavior. Another example: many men may like sex, but if a specific opportunity to engage in a quickie is so risky that it may destroy his family and career, he may pass up that opportunity. This ability to properly assess risk and responsibly decide to resist the impulse is a sign that his love of sex isn’t compulsive.
- Tolerance. This is when you have used and abused an object so much that you now need much stronger and more frequent doses of the object in order to feel relief. Instead of just needing the desired object to feel grandiose and high, you start needing the object just to feel normal. It becomes less about chasing a larger than life feeling and more about keeping emotional sensations of worthlessness at bay in order to just get through the day.
- Withdrawal. This is when you feel extreme emotional distress and intense cravings whenever deprived of the object. The longer one fails to procure the desired object, the more the feelings of worthlessness creep in and the more desperate one gets in what they’ll do to get their fix. To return to the sex addiction example, the reason most men aren’t sex addicts is because even though most men really like sex, they don’t feel despondent and wracked with self-loathing if they go out partying one night without getting laid.
The Internet means that a person can consult others of every kind, but it is still difficult to get down to the primal layers of human life. Wilshire may climb mountains and go to Ecuador, but he might do better to go to the Senior Citizens Center or the Sallie Ann and just listen to stories from those who have been there -- or rather been here -- and suffered for it. I saw very little in this book about compassion or how to reach out to others on the level that Ricky T. does.
And yet I appreciate the places Wilshire DID manage to break through the terrible ice that maintains separations. It just wasn’t the book I expected from the cover.
Once I visited a zoo in Seattle that specialized in sea mammals. There were two beluga whales, those smallish white whales with bulging foreheads that some say can sing human songs. They were in separate pools with a closed gate between. As soon as I appeared, one beluga rushed over to me and made it clear that he wanted me to do something -- the way a dog tries to get you to do something. He expressed a lot of noisy distress. I was concerned and went to the keeper. “Oh, don’t worry,” said the keeper. “The female is in season and he wants to get to her but we’re keeping the gate closed. Just ignore him.” I swear that when I walked away the whale looked bleak. I wanted to come back at night and open the gate. Why stop there? Dismantle the zoo. I used to love them.
Was this an addiction? It was certainly and eloquently body/mind as the lover dashed back and forth between the gate and me. But the deeper addiction here, the real cause of the distress, was the unnatural management of something natural, OUR addiction to capturing, confining and observing, leaving a yearning mammal desperate with desire. How much of human addiction is also the result of unnatural barriers to happiness? Empathy is the key to the gates of perception that allow the imposed boundaries of the culture to be breached.