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The Paradigm Conspiracy:
Recovery: The Art of Paradigm Shifts
Denise Breton and Christopher Largent
The Global Crisis of Addiction
Caught in deadly processes.
Recovery: it's not just for "addicts" anymore. It's not even just for persons,
not when addictive processes permeate every social System we've got,
from schools to churches to workplaces to governments. We're up to our
ears in addict-making processes, and we can't take two steps out of bed
without running into them.
Substance addictions--alcohol, drugs, nicotine, food, caffeine--are just the
surface, the outward and visible ways addictive processes come get us.
And they do get us. Drugs, alcohol, and tobacco constitute the world's
biggest economic empire. Only the weapons industry rivals it.
Journalist James Mills writes in The Underground Empire:
The inhabitants of earth spend more money on illegal drugs than they spend
on food. More than they spend on housing, clothes, education, medical
care, or any other product or service. The international narcotics
industry is the largest growth industry in the world. Its annual
revenues exceed half a trillion dollars-three times the value of all
United States currency in circulation, more than the gross national
products of all but a half dozen major industrialized nations.
That's just illegal drugs. How about the money involved in dependence on
prescribed drugs, alcohol, and nicotine? It seems we can't afford not
to be substance dependent; our economies certainly are.
Next in the line of killers are process addictions, the ones society applauds:
addiction to working, winning, high stress, fast-track jobs,
perfectionism, relationships, making money, spending and debting,
gaining power, getting fame or notoriety, living out family dramas,
or--brace yourself--shopping. Sex can be another process addiction, but
it's not one society looks kindly on, however much advertising promotes
insatiable and manipulative sex as the solution to life's challenges.
Gambling is an old addiction which, with all the state lotteries, is
coming back now with a vengeance, especially among young people.
Even the most lauded activities--religion, scientific study, academic
inquiry, and government service--may take on classic addictive
patterns. Religion turns into obsession. Scientific study turns into
dogma, as if collecting enough facts will make up for a narrow
worldview. Academic inquiry becomes an in-your-head
addiction--quibbling esoterica with rabid acrimony, fiddling while Rome
burns. As for government service, it's power addiction from the
bureaucrats who throw around their paper-pushing weight to the
big-timers who become brokers for corporate conglomerates.
Process addictions are every bit as deadly as substance addictions,
because they underlie substance addictions--as well as just about every
social and global ill we've got. They're the invisible killers, the
ones we don't suspect, but the ones that made millionaire Ivan
Boesky raid savings and loans to become a billionaire, leaving in
his wake thousands who saw their life savings disappear. As Boesky was
later to admit, "It's a sickness I have in the face of which I am
helpless." Nor was Boesky alone in his sickness. Since the eighties,
we've witnessed an army of greed-addicted corporate raiders, who made
the jobs and pension funds of millions vanish overnight.
Process addictions aren't limited to movers and shakers though.
Ordinary folks following the right diet and the right exercise program
are dropping dead at age thirty-five from workaholism, relationship
addiction, anxiety, and stress.
If all these substance and process addictions don't afflict us, they
nonetheless affect us. While addictions to drugs, food, alcohol, sex,
or work hit us one by one, addictions to money,
control, divisiveness, status, and official-think oppress us together.
We can't have power addicts running the world and not experience the
consequences. Even when we try to claim it's business or government as
usual, we find ourselves suffering from global plagues made invisible by their familiarity.
But a familiar plague is no less deadly. As Anne Wilson Schaef points out,
a deadly virus is a deadly virus, even if the entire population has it.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) holds that addiction is a "progressive, fatal
disease." Schaef believes-and we agree-that this is true, no matter what
form the addiction takes.(2) Our lungs may give out from tar and
nicotine, or our hearts may give out from stress. We may die from the
greed that destroys the environment or from a nuclear chain reaction set
off by someone's power play. Addiction--substance or process, acted out
privately or on the world stage-is a fatal illness that we ignore at our peril.
Not that this is news. We can't read the papers or watch TV without
wondering, What on earth is going on? We have the knowledge and
technology. We have the resources, human and natural. We even have the
desire. Why can't our social, economic, and environmental problems be
solved? Why do we live from crisis to crisis?
Neither substance nor process addictions are limited to one race, sex, economic
class, region, or occupation. Rich and poor, conservative and liberal,
male and female, Hispanic, European, African, Asian, and Native
Americans share the same disease.
When something so deadly cuts across society, we have to look at what we
share: our social systems. In her 1987 ground-breaking book When
Society Becomes an Addict, Anne Wilson Schaef suggests family
dynamics, school rules, workplace policies and practices, corporate
hierarchies, government workings, media messages, as well as cultural
and religious belief structures all operate in ways that set us up to
behave addictively. In fact, society itself, Schaef writes, "is an
That's a strong statement, yet the more we understand addiction, the
more it seems like an understatement. Award-winning teacher John Taylor
Gatto, for instance, pulls no punches about the messages schools send
through their structure: "I began to realize that the bells and the
confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of
privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national
curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out
to prevent children front learning how to think and act, to coax
them into addiction and dependent behavior."(4)
In When Money Is the Drug,
counselor and writer Donna Boundy sketches a similarly addict-making picture for
corporations. The level of thinking distortion that takes over people
in these systems is astonishing:
For money-accumulators, huge sums take on an unreal quality, become
distorted. One commodities trader reportedly flew into a rage when he
got his monthly bonus check, stormed into his boss's office, threw the
check on the floor, and spat on it. The check was for $2.1 million, but
he thought it wasn't enough. Even J. Paul Getty once admitted, "I've
never felt rich-in the oil business others were all much richer than I was."
Even corporations sometimes behave as if their thinking has become
distorted. The Wall Street firm of Drexel Burnham Lambert was nearing
bankruptcy, some executives still received million-dollar bonuses every
month. In fact, as the firm's condition worsened, the bonuses grew
larger. Less than a month before the firm filed bankruptcy, one
executive received a bonus of $16.6 million. The company itself was
acting like an addict, denying and defying reality.(5)
The Paradigm Conspiracy
What's going on? Why are systems betraying their service to us? Instead of
performing their rightful functions of educating (schools), nurturing
(families), promoting public good (governments), managing the shared
household (businesses), and inspiring us to find and fulfill our life's
purpose (religious institutions), they're abusing us and turning us into
people we never wanted to be. Why?
Back in 1962--so long ago John Kennedy was still alive--historian and
philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn gave an analysis of how systems
change (or don't) in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
that rocked the intellectual world. He wasn't talking about
addictive systems but about the system of scientific research, which has
its own brand of obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Introducing the term "paradigm," Kuhn said that scientists operate from
mental models--paradigms--that shape everything they think, feel, and
do. How scientists perceive and interpret experience is shaped by their
internal structure of beliefs and concepts--their paradigm. If
something is wrong, the paradigm is the place to look to find out why.
To raise paradigm issues is to reflect on the ideas or concepts we're using
as our map of reality--our worldview, life perspective, philosophy, or
mental model. Whatever we call it, it's powerful stuff. To look at our
paradigm is to look at the blueprint we're using to build our
How do paradigms start? They usually begin with some exemplary
model--"Newtonian science" or "Einsteinian relativity"--that weaves
together theories, standards, and methods in a way that makes better
sense than anything else. To share a paradigm is to share a commitment
to rules that define how a scientist acts and reacts. No part of
scientific activity is outside the reach of the paradigm's influence.
It's as if scientists' energies get poured through the paradigm's mold,
and whatever comes out is stamped by that all-encompassing model.
In the decades since Kuhn's paradigm concept was introduced, it has been
applied to every discipline, from the arts to business. And rightly so,
We experience our lives the way we do because of the paradigms we carry
around. In computer terms, paradigms function like the central
operating system of consciousness-the supra-program that transforms
undefined perceptions into something we call our experience. They give
us the mental tools to make sense of life and survive in it. We may not
be able to summarize our paradigm in ten words or less, but our every
thought is paradigm connected, even paradigm created.
Development within a paradigm. Given the
power of paradigms, two kinds of development follow. The first occurs
within the paradigm's framework. The second chucks the paradigm and
forges a new one.
"Normal science," as Kuhn calls it, is the first kind of development.,
Practitioners operate within their mental model and pursue its
implications to the nth degree. Working inside the prevailing paradigm
is the secure, accepted, and well-rewarded way to do science.
In fact, the paradigm gets so comfortable that scientists forget that it's
there; it becomes functionally invisible. The way they see things is
just the way things are. For them, there is no paradigm between their
ideas and reality.
Applied to life, the normal-science phase is business as usual, families
as usual, politics, churches, schools, and professions as usual. When
we're ticking away within a paradigm's framework, the norm is well
defined, and we conform. Coping skills mean finding ways to fit into
the norm, whether it is healthy or not. In fact, "healthy" is whatever
the paradigm says it is. Becoming healthy means adjusting to the
The revolutionary development comes when the paradigm reaches a crisis. It
doesn't solve problems the way it once did. Anomalies-things that the
paradigm can't explain-start accumulating. Paradigm health starts
making us sick. More and more, the paradigm doesn't work. That's when
scientists are challenged to shift paradigms by moving into a phase Kuhn
calls "extraordinary science."
But "extraordinary science" isn't easy. In language suited to academia,
Kuhn describes how scientists essentially freak out. Everything they
ever learned is called into question. During the revolutions in physics
early in this century, even Einstein, no slouch in forward thinking,
wrote, "It was as if the ground had been pulled out from under one, with
no firm foundation to be seen anywhere, upon which one could have
The more the paradigm fails to do its job, the more old-paradigm scientists
try to make it work. The paradigm is ripe for a revolution, but because
they've forgotten that they even have a paradigm, scientists conclude
instead that their world is falling apart. Solutions--alternative ways
of doing science--don't exist. As far as they're concerned, they've
explored all the possibilities, and the only options they see don't
help. They're too paradigm-bound to notice that they're stumbling over
the limits of their own models.
The paradigm cause of soul-abusive systems.
"Extraordinary science" describes the situation we face today. We're
not experiencing paradigm norms as healthy, either personally or
globally. The blueprint for our families, schools, businesses, and
governments isn't working. It's causing our shared social systems to
function abusively and to make us sick as a result. Happy people and
healthy systems don't turn addictive, life-destroying substances into
the biggest growth industry on the planet.
We'd think changing a paradigm that's not working would be easy, but
it's not. As Kuhn observed, the paradigm cause of crises remains
invisible to old-paradigm practitioners. We don't need a new paradigm,
they believe, we just need to make the one we have work better. Nothing
is wrong with our social systems, since that would call the underlying
paradigm into question. Instead, when things don't work, something must
be wrong with us.
"Blame certain people and label them as the troublemakers. We need more
discipline, more restraints," old-paradigm experts advise us, "more
tests and tougher grading systems, more hard-nosed business management
practices, more God-fearing, sex-repressing piety, and more laws with
In other words, according to the prevailing paradigm, coming down hard on
people isn't abuse. It's how we create healthy families, schools,
businesses, governments, and churches, because it rids us of the sinful,
ignorant or otherwise unruly souls that muck up the social machinery.
If things don't work, the solution is to take away more rights, stifle
more creativity, intimidate more people, build more prisons, and bring
back the death penalty. More fear keeps people in line.
This paradigm touches every part of our lives--but invisibly. We don't
realize that the paradigm is there, which means we don't recognize its
role in creating our social institutions. As long as the paradigm
remains hidden, we don't see what's causing system-wide suffering, which
means we can't stop it.
The paradigm of control and power-over.
What kind of paradigm requires that we blame individuals, intimidate, and punish
them in order to keep our social systems "healthy"? Like a complex
tapestry, the paradigm has many threads, but the overall pattern has to
do with control: Who has power over whom, and how is a power-over
Riane Eisler, in' her pioneering work The Chalice and the Blade
calls this the "dominator model," contrasting it with the "partnership
way." Domination is the paradigm's driving issue, and for a reason: in
this worldview, top-down control is necessary for social order.
According to the power-over model--what we refer to as the control
paradigm--if somebody doesn't control us, our social systems will fall
into chaos. Archaeologist John Romer notes, for instance, that the
Roman Emperor Diocletian, in an attempt to hold "a ramshackle empire"
together, "made a state where animals, land and people were all tightly
organized and controlled; one writer complained that there were more tax
collectors than tax payers. Like Diocletian, authorities of today
believe that nothing would work if we each did our own thing. To have
order, we must do what the authorities tell us to do.
Soul: The big threat.
Now come the threads: to be controlled, we have to be unplugged from competing
sources of control. The major threat to external control is our
internal guidance system--our souls.
A clear definition of "soul" isn't easy to come by, since it's not an
object we can measure or photograph. But "inner identity" or the "core
of who we are" are good places to start. Soul refers to our deep
presence. It's our inner connectedness to whatever we take to be Being,
God, the One, the whole, or the ground of creation (to paraphrase
theologian Paul Tillich). Physician Larry Dossey describes the soul as
"some aspect of ourselves that is infinite, beyond the limits of space
and time."' It's our direct link to reality.
This whole-connected core is the source of our talents and the
wellspring of creativity. It's also what gives us the conviction that
our lives have meaning. When we live from our souls, we feel alive and
vital, and we take seriously the idea that we're here for a purpose.
To us, our souls are our best friends and most trusted guides. But to the
control paradigm, they're the enemy--what has to be removed in order for
external control to work. Only when we're sufficiently disconnected
from our inner compass will we follow outer demands.
"Get rid of the troublemakers."
For fear of chaos, social systems adopt the control paradigm and run with it.
Through all sorts of institutionalized policies, we get the message that
we're unacceptable as we are, but that if we surrender ourselves to the
social system (the family, school, business, profession, or religion),
we'll become acceptable. Our souls are sloppy and unmanageable
troublemakers; they clog the system's efficient workings, and we're
better off without them.
This isn't reality talking; it's a paradigm--an old one. Maybe sometime
in the dim, dark recesses of human evolution a control-based paradigm
may have served the species (we're skeptical about that), but it's not
serving us now, The more power-over systems zap our inner lives, the
less social order we have. It's a paradigm in crisis, and it's creating
neither personal nor global health
 James Mills, The Underground Empire:
Where Crime and Governments Embrace (New York: Doubleday,
1986), 3. His figures being over ten years old, we can only
imagine what they may be now. Statistics on this global empire
are hard to come by, many estimates being filed away in secret
and classified government documents (see p. 7).
 Patrick Carnes has pioneered the
understanding of sexual addiction, which has a wide spectrum of
manifestations. See Out of the Shadows: Understanding
Sexual Addiction (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1992)
and Contrary to Love: Helping the Sexual Addict (Center
City, MN: Hazelden, 1989).
 When Corporations Rule the World,
David C. Korten reports: "Nearly 2,000 cases have been
identified in which the new owners corporate raiders have
virtually stolen a total of $21 billion of what they often
declare to be 'excess' funding from company pension accounts to
apply to debt repayment" (West Hartford, CT. Kumarian Press,
 See Donna Boundy's excellent analysis of
this in When Money Is the Drug: The Compulsion for Credit,
Cash, and Chronic Debt (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco,
 For instance, in his 1995 social critique
Opposing the System, Charles Reich suggests that "the
system" presents us with a paradigm through the use of images:
the "free market," other," the "predatory criminal." Reich
maintains that "an entire ideology can be rendered as a series
of pictures making up a comprehensive map of reality.
Constantly repeated without rebuttal or dissent, these pictures
and the map paradigm they form set the parameters of debate
and imagination" Charles Reich, Opposing the System (New
York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 154.
 Riane Eisler's books, The Chalice and
the Blade (HarperSanFrancisco, 1988) and (with David Loye)
The Partnership Way (HarperSanFrancisco, 1990) contrast
the dominator model with the partnership model, suggesting as we
do that the former makes humans suffer, while the latter, both
historically and culturally, allows humans to thrive.