In the following two clips, first from Dr. Peterson, and then from Dr. Mate, you will see two drastically different psychological explanations for rifts between ourselves and the world. The general question is how depression and addiction are related phenomena? Addiction is often considered a symptom of depression. However, it may be better to understand that they are symptoms of a more general malaise of the corruption of what could be more innocent frameworks of private, social, and political parts of our existence. (See my article called “1958” to see the tendency toward technocratic rationality.) In alignment with Dr. Mate, mass society creates conditions which not only corrupt our private, communal and political lives, but open a crack to a kind of metaphysical disparity which plays out as politically “right vs left” in front of our eyes.
Both of these clinical psychologists have enormous followings, and they represent this disparity: Dr. Jordan Peterson (who thinks addiction is a matter of personality) and Gabor Mate (who thinks addiction is a response to the pain of unfulfilled childhood needs, frequently trauma). The difference between the two perspectives is particularly stark. Notice how Dr. Peterson, in the following short clip, talks about dealing with addiction as a “rebuilding of the personality”, which is conceived from the standpoint of the atomized individual. Ultimately, it is an incredibly self-responsible activity.
Contrast this with Dr. Gabor Maté, who asserts in the following video that it is a compassionate presence – essentially a caring presence of an “other” – which works at the origin of addiction and deals with it.
One takeaway from this contrast for me is one serious debate that goes to the heart of widespread social malaise, and that is depression. It is my belief that the political “left”, in other words, the ones who believe in the importance of community need to be clear about the mechanics of how they contribute to building resilient individuals. And the “right,” in other words, those who believe in the primacy of the individual towards self-responsibility, need to be absolutely certain that the individual has sufficient tools to take self-responsibility.
I suspect that the individual, as Dr. Peterson conceives her, does not have the requisite skills – or content – to take the kind of responsibility Dr. Peterson urges. Dr. Peterson here, and in other places, offers a conception of the individual that does not have the architecture required to sustain moral responsibility, i.e. responsible for, that is necessary. Dr. Mate points to the core role of significant others in developing that architecture. Dr. Peterson’s perspective of the individual omits such an architecture. The consequences for both sides are enormous, and as political societies, such clarity is needed to avoid being prepared for totalitarian rule, as “Trump as an Agitator” states. That it has taken 70 years for such an awareness to to catch widespread attention may be equated to the blindness of the fact that we have been the cause of climate change; that the world-ending consequences of the alienated individual may be of our own doing.
In other words, Dr. Peterson and Dr. Mate recognize the problem that addiction is a symptom of depression. But Dr. Peterson, pointing to the effectiveness of “religious conversion,” not knowing how to “induce” it can’t draw the connection between dealing with addiction and the operation of religious conversion. That admission shows that the individual self – conceived apart from her surroundings – has no resources for dealing effectively with addiction. Peterson in effect describes a situation where the pathways that reinforce addiction are strengthened but considers it abstractly as if it is just part and parcel of a personality. He is essentially asking, “why the addiction?”
Dr. Mate, on the other hand, poses the question, “why the pain?” And we see that such addiction is sourced in pain and that pain comes from somewhere deeper. This question leads him to situate the person so as to deal with the deeper depression. In other words, by connecting emotional and physical pain and treating them as integrally connected – rather than separate – Mate gets to the heart of the metaphysical illness to which Peterson’s view does not have access.
The stakes are enormous! We need to get this right.