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Addictions are compulsive behavior patterns that we unconsciously do to bring temporary relief. When we have a feeling of lack, we misperceive addictions as actions that can solve our real needs and sufferings. So we may grasp for alcohol, gambling, hedonic experiences, romantic love, self improvement programs, peer approval, new possessions, and all ranges of gratifications that help us escape ourselves..

Addiction doesn’t just happen to individuals, but can be built into larger systems – agriculture industries addicted to government subsidies, teachers addicted to union protection, the defense industry addicted to government contracts, a banking sector addicted to bailouts. We call this archetype “Shifting the burden to the intervenor” because outside intervenors help solve problems (often with good intentions), and successfully take the burden off the people within the system so that they don’t learn how to deal with the problem themselves. Rather than find solutions to solve the long-term problem, we pursue quick fixes that relieve symptoms under the auspice of true problem-solving. The addicted, now tied to the helper for success, is less capable, responsible, and willing to solve its own problems in the future.

Here are some examples of addiction:

  • Government aid that attempts to solve social problems also foster more dependency on aid in the future. By classifying “welfare programs” as “entitlement spending”, we label welfare as a policy that supports addiction since the word “entitlement” signals that recipients feel that they have the right to something. Sometimes, entitlement recipients don’t know where the money comes from and warns government to “get their hands off my medicare.”
  • Social security discourages personal responsibility of saving money, and removes burdens from the family unit of taking care of their elders. Over time, this creates attitudes and expectations that support the expansion of social security.
  • Government tariffs protect old  industries that have lost their competitiveness; These corporations claim that tariffs help protect domestic industry and prevent unemployment, but tariff protection also enables these companies to maintain their high prices and delay innovation, increasing their need for more protection.
  • Corn-ethanol producers benefit from government subsidies and tariffs on foreign cheaper ethanol imports. American corn farmers receive almost half their income from subsidies rather than their production. Meanwhile, the majority of cash flows to large corn-ethanol producers. As farmers focus their land use, equipment, and skillset to growing the single subsidized crop, they become less resilient and able to adapt to changes in consumer preferences.
  • The growing diet fad industry encourages people to find quick fix solutions rather than live sustainable healthy lifestyles with exercise and good nutrition.
  • Access to health insurance and doctors shift responsibility of personal health to these caretakers rather than individual practices of healthy lifestyles.
  • Work environments relying on senior-ranking employees to make company strategic decisions removes responsibility and engagement from other employees who may have valuable perspective and insight into company problems
  • Easy access to obtaining multiple credit cards enables the American consumption lifestyle to run high amounts of debt rather than save responsibly before making purchases.
  • Smartphones providing a wealth of entertainment, news, and communication tools allow people to enjoy leisure time through a small electronic device rather than engaging with the community of people around them

Shifting the Burden is not always a bad thing – it’s necessary in some cases in order to keep a system stable and avoid suffering negative consequences.  But since nothing has been done to solve the root of the problem, the same problems will reappear year after year, and the intervenor will need to continue spending time and resources to prop up the system. An effective intervention is one that doesn’t erode the capabilities of the people within the system to fix its own problems; failure to do so will lead to ever-increasing dependency.

Donella Meadows gives a great example of the Addiction archetype:

“Is the price of oil going up? Rather than acknowledge the inevitable depletion of a nonrenewable resource and increase fuel efficiency or switch to other fuels, we can fix the price. (Both the Soviet Union and the United States did this as their first response to the oil-price shocks of the 1970s.) That way we can pretend that nothing is happening and go on burning oil—making the depletion problem worse. When that policy breaks down, we can go to war for oil. Or find more oil. Like a drunk ransacking the house in hopes of unearthing just one more bottle, we can pollute the beaches and invade the last wilderness areas, searching for just one more big deposit of oil.“

Further Reading:

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