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The addiction made me do it

Posted on July 17, 2003 at 12:19 PM in My 2.2 cents, Science | Permalink

Mick Hume in The Times (London) reports on how we've become 'addicted to addictions', that is, explaining away every vice & sin as a result of an addiction. People are 'addicted' to fatty foods, 'addicted' to driving cars, etc.

We are becoming a nation of addiction addicts. Our society has become hooked on the habit of blaming human behaviour on some form of addiction. Apparently normal people — doctors, scientists, politicians, lawyers, even journalists — seem incapable of resisting the urge to inject "addict" or "dependency" into any discussion of social problems.

If it were just left at that it would be mostly harmless. Nonsense, but mostly harmless. The problem comes from the 'victims' of these 'addictions' wanting to blame someone else for their problems & their mistakes. They want to sue McDonalds for exploiting their weakness & making them get obese. The mother of one of the plaintiffs in that case said

she had "always believed McDonalds was healthy for my son"

Now either she has completely deceived herself or she is practicing blatant deception. While the advertising of McDonalds does try to make its food look attractive & good to eat, the fact is that it is not as healthy as a standard home-cooked meal. They make no pretence about this, the contents of McDonalds food is made freely available (click on the 'Nutrition Calculator'). In fact, McDonald's own claims about it's food is that it is "good, hot, safe, fresh and tasty", not "health food" or "highly nutritional" or even "low in fat".

UPDATE: Shuggy has a couple of words to say about this situation (obligatory language warning)

Now there are valid addictions. Narcotics affect the brain to create a dependency and a tolerance effect so that you not only need the substance, you need it in ever increasing quantities. This is beyond dispute. What is in dispute is the suggestion that every ailment, every vice, every unacceptable trait in a person can be attributed to something beyond their control. This is a ridiculous situation to suggest. Made even more ridiculous by the fact that lots of people who suffer from genuine chemical addictions can quit by their own choice. Some do it on their own. A lot of people get some sort of assistance, professional or just moral support. But either way they have extricated themselves from the addiction by their own choice. In fact people who work with addiction sufferers will tell you that the only way a person can be cured of an addiction is if they choose it.

The underlying problem here seems to me to stem from a greater problem in society, that is, the desire to shift the blame. Now it is standard for people to try and weasel their way out of bad situations by trying to blame someone else. This has always been the case. The ultimate is the old "The devil made me do it", which of course is nonsense. Up until recently this type of behaviour was looked down on as dishonourable, deceitful & just generally cowardly. To own up to your failings and attempt to do something about them was seen as a highly commendable thing.

Now however, we have a 'victim' mentality. We believe that everything that goes wrong in our lives is because we are put upon by those around us or by those in power. This can be seen in the huge increase in public litigation. People suing local councils because they tripped over a bit of pavement. People suing McDonalds (again) because they spill coffee in their own lap. And so it goes on.

We can't attribute anything to an 'accident' anymore. People make statements like "accidents don't just happen, they're caused". This is an amazingly far-fetched assumption. What about earthquakes? Will we start suing geologists because they failed to prevent that.

We sue doctors when medical procedures don't go according to plan. Not just when there is negligence, but when anything goes wrong. We have been so conditioned to believe that the world should be perfect that if anything goes wrong we have to blame someone. So if surgery fails due to complications, I can sue for damages & I will win. Even if the doctors did everything they could I can still win because the claim is that if the doctors weren't negligent then nothing would go wrong. This, once again, is an amazingly far-fetched assumption, yet it is pervasive.

Lets take a hypothetical situation.

I am driving down the road when there is traffic ahead. I overtake, moving on to the other side of the road (it is legal on this particular stretch of road to overtake). Just at that moment a pedestrian steps out onto the road without looking both ways. This is not at a pedestrian crossing. I do not have time to stop & there is traffic in the other lane so I can't get out of the way. My car hits the pedestrian, they are injured; broken bones and other internal injuries.

Now, who is at fault here? At no point did I break any road rules. The pedestrian, however, did not cross at a crossing and did not look. Yet again & again these cases are brought up to the civil courts even after the driver has been cleared of criminal damages. Thankfully the driver is often absolved, but not always. And even if the case is dismissed or found in favour of defendant, it still costs a fortune in legal fees and in court time.

People who advocate that the pedestrian should not get compensation in cases such as this are often accused of being 'insensitive' and having 'no empathy' with the victim. That seems to be the governing issue. The facts don't seem to matter, the only thing that seems to matter is that someone has been injured and therefore the poor person must be given some assistance and it is 'uncharitable' to deny them that. Never mind that their pain is self-inflicted, never mind that the driver is going to be put through hell as they are accused of being negligent & causing someone harm. And never mind that each time a case like this occurs it pushes up the price of insurance to the point now where non-profit organisations and sporting groups can hardly afford to provide their generally volunteer services to the public because they have to have public liability insurance to protect them against such ridiculous claims.

So what is the solution? Personally I would like to see the legal system changed so that if there is no criminal culpability then there can be no civil claim. That is, if no law has been broken then there can be no claim on the defendant. But I'm no lawyer so that may be unworkable. I would like to see doctors have more protection so that if things go wrong, not due to negligence, but due to dumb luck, they cannot be sued. Also a general increase in the education of people of what their responsibilities are. We have had a number of years of people crying out about knowing what their rights are. And rightly so, as having rights is what makes our democratic nations as good as they are to live in. But what I have heard very little of over the last few years is people talking about what their corresponding responsibilities are. Because for every right there is a corresponding responsibility, generally the responsibility to not abuse that right.

Mostly, however, I would like to see people understand that there is not always someone to blame, sometimes not even yourself. Sometimes accidents happen. Sometimes they are caused, either by the victim themselves or by a third party. In case of an accident there should be an investigation into fault. But it should not be assumed that there will be someone to blame. It is part of this sad, fallen world that things go wrong.

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Two words: Personal responsibility.

# Posted by: OAK ( at Jul 21, 2003 11:33:39 AM

"I wish the real world would just stop hassling me" - Rob Thomas