The pupils dilate. The rush of expectation met and satisfied.

Everyone who’s done coke knows this: the expectation of the rush is as rewarding as the dopamine hit itself. Maybe more.

In a Behaviorist universe, we’ve come to understand the world in terms of this simple mechanism: supply and demand. We’ve stripped ourselves down, re-purposed myths of spirit, turned ourselves into hungry machines. And we’re machines driven by predictable needs, rewarded by chemical combinations.

I could be describing a junky scoring their next fix, or of the promise of seduction rewarded. I could be describing the satisfaction we receive when our virtual characters level up, or when we vanquish virtual enemies with our vorpal sword of badassness. (Some of us will even ostensibly sell our children for in-game currency). Hollywood has devised various formulas involving the offset of expectation and the big payoff: the protagonist “gets the girl,” the “bad guys” are destroyed by the hero after a fierce struggle. What is the chemical formula of fear, of love, of mindless compliance?

Like most of the things I contemplate, this train of thought has a grounding in personal experience.

I was waiting in line at the Pharmacy, anticipating the refill of my prescription of Oxycodone.

I have a legal and demonstrable need: pinched nerves in my back. The physical dependence that results makes you no less sick when your supply is suddenly cut, but our myths about drug addiction are still harmfully misplaced. I wouldn’t kick over a fruit stand if my supply was to go suddenly, unexpectedly dry as the Colorado river. I’d just puke and be in more back pain. The fiver in Grandma’s purse is safe.

The reward that washes over me when I know a prescription has been filled isn’t nefarious; it’s the comfortable knowledge that if I wake up with an icy pain running through my legs, I know I can take something that’ll make it all a little more bearable.

These pills are a comforting presence, like the State. And like the State, they aren’t nearly as benevolent as they at first seem.

Now that’s a thought. Where do we draw the line between one kind of pain and another?

Like so many Americans, I have anxiety and depression because I’ve not had a regularly paying job in two years, and doctors want to prescribe me medications for that as well because they can’t prescribe me an income. That’s the bitch of it, isn’t it? Our reduction of self to neurochemical automatons has some really questionable repercussions, especially when married with a pharmaceutical industry operating out of a profit motive. If a doctor acknowledges that being broke is making me depressed, then why would Prozac be the solution? Shouldn’t they prescribe me a trust fund?

I’m thinking all of this standing in line. I’d describe my surroundings to you, except that none of it is relevant or interesting. It was a Walgreens like any other Walgreens. We were all a bunch of people, like any other people. All the products on the shelves are identical. We are not, but pretend to be.

As my prescription was filled, as I took a pill, as I washed it down with a sugar-laden drink, it dawned on me that I’m not some kind of unique case. I just have the opportunity to get a less ubiquitous angle on this common experience, because we are all junkies.

Most all of us, anyway. Junkies to the core. Junkies to things far more dangerous than opiates. As a society, we are hooked on our junk so deeply that we’ll rape the planet, we will screw each other over, we will do absolutely anything possible to get our fix. It’s best if we can outsource and offset the damage done, avoid having to stare the damage we’ve caused dead in the eye. But either way, you know. We’ve gotta score.

I know this may piss some of you off. Many of our addictions aren’t just socially acceptable. They are socially mandated. Re-enforced and entrenched in our ideologies so deeply that we think any other possibility is downright crazy. Gasoline, cash, sex. We are insatiable, and our myths re-enforce our right to these things. How dare anyone imply otherwise? One kind of addiction is bad, the other good. The Television tells me so.

It’s been a while since I’ve worked a job that paid regularly, but I remember what it felt like when I got my paycheck. It felt exactly like I felt when I got my prescription filled. Exactly.

Corporations and our government counts on our addictions. Our needs and insecurities and fears are predictable, and predictability can be leveraged for profit. Even if we get past our fear of death, the things we use to pacify ourselves are pretty comical. “I was going to revolt, but I got a dulce cinnamon latte instead.” Above everything else, we’re addicted to comfort and safety. So long as we can maintain a square foot of real-estate that seems safe and familiar, we’ll overlook even the most egregious horrors. Scouring the planet of life, but so long as we have our latte, our pill, our paycheck—whatever it is—we’ll stay the course. When Americans can’t get a hamburger and a beer, that’s when our government should fear us.

I get it, man. I’m a junky too. I can barely leave the house without needing to get a mocha, can’t go more than a few days without missing my favorite shows. I see what’s happening to the environment, see the stress fractures forming in the cornerstone of our society. Like anyone else I want to get laid and eat well. Like everyone else I want to feel secure. The status quo presented to us by myths like the inherent value of a 9-5 job is hard to resist. I don’t think I can ever go back to seeing the world the same again, though. I’m just distracting myself now. Working as hard as I can on the things I am passionate about and praying that something presents itself. I’ve taken the first step: I’m a junky, and I’m not talking about the pills.

If you can’t even acknowledge your addictions, well. Then you’ve really got a problem.

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JAMES CURCIO creates dystopian propoganda for a generation of "hedonists, intellectuals, and drug addicts." Rumors of being a key member of a harem of feral lesbians are slightly exaggerated, however much his Bohemian lifestyle may indicate otherwise.

Previous brain-washing agents have taken the form of subversive novels, essays, scripts for comic and films, albums, soundtracks, podcasts, and performances. He works as creative director for Odd Duck Media, LLC.

6 responses to “The Big Score”

  1. Greg Sirfer says:

    Bravo my good man, Bravo.

  2. Eian Orangutan says:

    From the point of view of the drug-addict (not that I’d know anything about that) you’ve broken down what so-called recovery centers never mention: “You may be this way the rest of your life”

    They never give you false hope, meaning they never tell you how difficult the rest of your life becomes when your stash (whatever it may be: cooked-up, pills, H, comic books, tv, etc.) is depleted and you’re not sure how to come up with the cash to re-up.

    And so we steal from our own, we sell things we once cherished, we rob people at night and break into houses during the day, and once we get our fix illicitly or not we realize standing in line at the Rx or at the dealer’s crib that we are not the ones in control. It’s not the money nor the drug itself. It’s the risk we take trying to get our meds that really excites us.

    Remember, there is no joy in life without terror to contrast it.

    Once we’re all fixed, our tv show is over, our latte is empty, and our paycheck is deposited one day before it’s gone we’re still left with a craving for more. More of something you either can’t afford or can’t put your finger on or simply can’t find. The only thing stronger than (or as strong as) safety and comfort is excitement and risk. Our conscious minds (except for that of the Ipsissimus in the room) urge us into danger more often than we think (cheating sex is so much more intense than monogamous sex) in order to have more experiences that assist our personal evolution, our communal growth and ultimately our place in the dirt or ash.

    I had a point when I started, I guess you’ll all just have to re-read between the lines.

  3. Erika Rae says:

    I want a vorpal sword of badassness.

    You’re a really talented writer, James – and I dig your sense of humor. Thanks for this…

  4. Matthew G. says:

    This is probably the best and most thought-provoking of your essays I have read. Speaks to a lot of my own anxieties.

  5. Becky Palapala says:

    There’s a element here that suggests these addictions are necessarily artificial, though. Constructed. Thrust upon us. I disagree. At least in a sense.

    Sugar is a good example.

    You’ll never meet a cat who is addicted to sugary snacks because they do not have the ability to taste sweets. Sugar does not exist to them.

    People, though, DO have tastebuds for sweetness. And any animal that has them has them presumably because sugar is a hot commodity in the metabolic world and ancestors who reacted favorably to sugar and its taste sought it out, had more energy for conducting lifebusiness, and gradually came to dominate the gene pool.

    So although your addiction to soda, specifically, may seem arbitrary and market driven, on the other hand, from another perspective, it is not arbitrary at all. You like soda for the exact same reason you like fruit. The fact that you, as a human, are BORN addicted to sugar just as millions of years worth of ancestors before you were born addicted to sugar is to blame for soda’s very existence. Once it existed, the trick was not to get you to drink it, but to get you to drink one kind over another.

    One can do this, really, with any of the “junk” relationships you describe. Certainly, humans are not evolved to drink soda per se or to like celebrity gossip magazines or pornography specifically.

    But we are evolved to like sugar and gossip and sex in general. Nobody has to twist our arms to get us interested in these things. We needn’t be coerced or cajoled. We will show interest immediately because the addiction predates the object of addiction.

    Fashion, art, and even literature can be classified as novel, gratuitous, unnecessary and addictive applications of utilitarian evolutionary impulses surrounding social savvy, aesthetics, and language.

    If the impulse is evolved, can a manifestation of it ever be unnatural? In order for such a thing to be so, you have to talk in terms of what a given evolved impulse is “for,” which is tricky. Evolution is not sentient and doesn’t have an agenda of which there are correct and incorrect applications. Even the most “natural” means of obtaining sugar carry negative consequences.

    I can’t help but be reminded of George Carlin’s “Earth Plus Plastic” bit whenever I hear things like “rape the planet.”

    The planet will be fine. It’s ourselves we’ll destroy. Which may be the best thing that ever happened to the planet. If you’ve never seen it, it’s worth a look. Bit about the “save the planet” starts at about 1:25.


  6. JC says:

    I keep getting detected by the system here as spam for some reason. I guess WordPress doesn’t have a high opinion of what I have to say.

    But I just wanted to say to Becky that I completely agree. I wasn’t trying to imply a decoupling between social and biological factors. Not at all. It’s just, you know. A short piece. 🙂

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