What is it good for?
Whether we’re addicted to heroin or hallucinogens, romance or righteousness, our addictions are resolved as we seek, in fellowship with others, to abandon our control-based mentality, and to develop our capacities for personal humility, indiscriminate compassion, and responsible participation in the many layers of community in which we are nested.
I like that quote from this short but suggestive piece in Orion by Roget Lockard. It’s about addiction in general and addiction to righteousness specifically.
On righteousness, every progressive and every green would well heed these words:
Viewing ourselves as "good," in fact we become grievously toxic, literally intoxicated. In this poisonous state of mind we are able to write off others — often literally billions of others — without hesitation or remorse, because they are "bad." It’s on the news every day: people addicted to righteousness are wreaking havoc, at home and abroad. And as I view this madness, I feel myself swell up with — what? You guessed it — righteous indignation! As usual, addiction becomes a closed system, feeding on itself.
I’d put it this way: There are two different ways to go about formulating positions and advocating for change.
One is to examine the system for weaknesses and choose the most pragmatic route to creating tangible progress. This requires a certain degree of selflessness and humility.
The other is to develop a position that is maximally righteous — that reflects most favorably on the depth, intelligence, and unimpeachable virtue of the person espousing it.
These two routes converge occasionally, but rarely. Way, way too often, greens — particularly those who fashion themselves radicals — opt for the latter over the former, and render themselves callous and contemptuous in the process. (I’m not innocent on this score, obviously.)
There are no points for having the most comprehensive critique of The System. There are no points for an ability to see the flaws in any change agent and any change. There are no points for identifying pathologies and delusions in the masses. There are no points for refusal to compromise or accept anything other than fundamental revolution.
Karma points accrue to one thing and one thing only: results. Leaving the world better than you found it — that’s all that matters. Righteousness is a luxury that comes at too high a price.
It’s also significant that Lockard identifies the quest for control as a central feature of addiction. There’s a book to be written tying together our national addiction to oil, our attachment to centralized political and energy systems, the authoritarian personality profile, the war on terrorism, limbic system biochemistry, and the illusion of human omnipotence. If I had the patience and attention span God gave a fruit fly, maybe I’d write it.