Addiction exposes the deepest forms of physical and psychological dependency. It is typically considered a personal affliction or an individual failing. But the deadly solicitations of any addictive substance -- cocaine, alcohol, nicotine -- rely upon a social, economic, and political infrastructure.
The great behavioral scientist Gregory Bateson, who studied addiction at the Langley Porter Institute in San Francisco during the 1950s, drew an analogy between the addict and a runaway car precisely to highlight the "system of addiction."
He wrote: "The panic of the alcoholic who has hit bottom is the panic of the man who thought he had control over a vehicle but suddenly finds that the vehicle can run away with him. Suddenly, pressure on what he knows is the brake seems to make the vehicle go faster. It is the panic of discovering that it (the system, self plus vehicle) is bigger than he is. ... He has bankrupted the epistemology of 'self-control.'" Read full article »
Ed Kashi has photographed in 60-plus countries. His images have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Time, Newsweek, National Geographic and other publications. His work on West Bank settlers received a World Press Photo award. His eight-year project, "Aging in America: The Years Ahead," won prizes from Pictures of the Year and World Press Photo. Kashi and his wife, writer/filmmaker Julie Winokur, founded Talking Eyes Media, a multimedia nonprofit.
Michael Watts, who wrote the above essay, is Chancellor's Professor of Geography and Development Studies and director of the Center for African Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Watts has received grants from the Rockefeller, MacArthur and Guggenheim Foundations, the last to study the interplay of oil, politics and wealth in West Africa. He is the author of five books. His latest, in cooperation with Kashi, is titled "Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta."