Money is an addiction — and we need an intervention

For many years, experts believed that only alcohol and powerful drugs could cause addiction. Neuroimaging technologies, and just plain common sense, have shown that certain pleasurable activities such as eating, sex and even money can also co-opt the brain. But those experts, and anyone paying attention, have come to realize that there are many people who have an almost impossible-to-break, psychological need for money.  Unfortunately, these money addicts are often in denial — and they are often in charge.

Addiction exerts a powerful influence on the brain that causes a craving for the object of the addiction, and this leads to continuing involvement with the habit-forming substance despite adverse consequences — and that pretty much explains our political system.

Money addicts dominate elections with their political donations. Then the elected politicians pass tax breaks and beneficial regulations, hooking the addicts on ever more obscene income streams. The addicts shovel more donations to their politician dealers, who nominate judges to ensure that the financial gains and undemocratic outcomes all are legal.  This co-dependence is an unbreakable cycle giving the money junkies the riches they crave, and the political pushers a job for life. The only people who lose out are the entirety of humanity.

But addiction does have consequences: “A survey of people ages 16 to 25 in 10 countries published in The Lancet found that three-quarters were frightened of the future. More than half of those surveyed said humanity was doomed and almost 40 percent of young people say they are hesitant about having children.

“We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe,” United Nations Secretary-General António Gutterres said in a grim warning.  Extreme heat in the world’s oceans passed the point of no return in 2014. The planet is “firmly on track toward an unlivable world. We are already perilously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate impacts.”

Repeated exposure to an addictive substance appears to cause nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex to convince money addicts that they are special and deserve a life of unfathomable riches. A person addicted to heroin may be in danger of relapse when he sees a hypodermic needle, while another person might start to drink again after seeing a bottle of whiskey. A person addicted to money might relapse when they see a yacht, or a private island or a gold-plated toilet.

Even corporations find themselves hopelessly addicted, which is not surprising given that the Supreme Court has defined corporations as “people.” A corporation’s money addiction can be revealed by an obsession with misinformation and an inability to think about the consequences of their actions on our collective future.

Marty Hoffert, one of the first scientists to create a model which predicted the effects of man-made climate change, did so while working for Exxon. But he noticed a clash between Exxon’s own findings and public statements made by company bosses. “They were saying things that were contradicting their own world-class research groups,” Hoffert said. “What they did was immoral. They spread doubt about the dangers of climate change when their own researchers were confirming how serious a threat it was.”

An intervention is needed to break the chain of dysfunction so the healing can start. But money addicts will act in unpredictable ways when confronted during an intervention. They may choose to leave the room, cry hysterically or say ugly and hurtful things — claiming that the majority of people don’t work hard, that they are wasteful and even dangerous. 

Money addicts will search for ever more efficient ways to get high off of exploiting the world’s resources.  They will pursue more money, their stimulant of choice, no matter how destructive. For example, if the world remains on its current track, global average temperatures are projected to rise 3.2 degrees Celsius (5.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels by the end of the century. Under this scenario more frequent and extreme disasters will lead to over 250,000 unnecessary deaths each year worldwide. Up to 3 billion people are projected to experience chronic water scarcity due to droughts at 2 degrees Celsius warming, and up to 4 billion at 4 degrees Celsius warming. And up to 18 percent of all those species on land will be at high risk of extinction if the world warms 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. If the world warms up to 4 degrees Celsius, roughly 50 percent of plant or animal species will be threatened

Money addicts are lost in the single-minded pursuit of their drug, caring more about money than even their kids and grandkids’ future.  We need to break the cycle of addiction and turn suffering into healing. We need to give them hope that even as they are lost in a dark place, they can find their way to a rosy future if they will admit that they have a problem. It is possible to kick this awful habit, all they have to do is develop some compassion, some empathy and a true understanding that every life is valuable. Addiction is a disease, unfortunately addiction to money is a disease that is killing everyone.

Joe Gantz is the producer of the documentaries “American Winter,” “Ending Disease” and most recently “The Race to Save the World” about people who are fighting to stop climate change. He has just republished his book from 40 years ago, “A Secret I Can’t Tell,” on the first generation of children growing up in openly gay homes with updates from the families.

Tags addication Climate change Global warming Greed oil and gas

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