Quora answer: What are some socially acceptable addictions?

I up voted those who said reading. I have always been addicted to reading. But there is no 12 step program for readers. It is considered laudable, and and there is no help for those for whom it has gotten out of hand. What goes with that is the addiction to buying books. And what also goes with that is writing copiously thinking you have something unique to contribute but the results of which no one is interested in but oneself. And what goes with that is intellectual loneliness, if one happens to live in an anti-intellectual society, and are not part of academia. And what goes with that is a consequent addiction to social media. And what goes with that is neglect of other things that one should be doing in life.

There is a viscous cycle with regard to this addiction. First, one reads a good book, concerning a subject one is fascinated with. Then you get all excited, and you read another book referenced in the first book that looked interesting. One thing leads to another and you have read all the available books about that subject. So now you know a whole lot about something no one cares about but yourself. But while you were reading about that subject you managed to get side tracked in other subjects, and so having exhausted everything written about the first subject you then get lost in the second subject, and so it goes from subject to subject in this never ending cycle, because no more is it possible to read everything about everything.

But there is a problem which is that most of the books or articles on a given subject are not worth reading. So finding something that is actually worth spending your time reading is difficult. This leads to endless searching for the right book, on a given subject, or the best article. And so before you know it you are spending more time searching than actually reading.

But then a strange phenomena occurs that was noted by Gregory Bateson in Mind and Nature which is that one starts to actually pursue two subjects simultaneously, because the subjects worth reading about are piling up faster than they can be absorbed, and you notice the phenomena that Bateson noticed which is you get better information about two subjects by studying them simultaneously. And so you start to have ideas about interesting connections between subjects that no one noticed before. And this is very problematic because one starts to think that one should capture these insights. So one gets a notebook and writes them down, and then another notebook, and so on until you have stacks of notebooks full of little known ideas, that no one cares about but you. And that is because the others are not reading significant works.

So you get an idea that you would like to write down these ideas that are stacking up, and starting to reinforce each other, and taking on a life of their own. So one day you put pen to paper and the flood gates open, and you write and write and you realize you are not just addicted to reading but also writing, but you have no audience, because no one knows what you are talking about. But what you learn is that writing itself is a source of even more ideas. In fact, the flood gates of writing causes a deluge of new ideas that you would never have had if you had not started writing, and so you realize that when ever you have an idea you need to try to write a short working paper on it. But those papers get longer and longer until you have a few thousand page books that you don’t know anyone who is interested in reading. So you put them on the internet, people download them, but very few comment about what they have read, so you don’t get any feedback.

But then the worst thing happens, you actually discover something significant. This is where a run of the mill out of control addiction becomes a real horror story. Since you think you have something to say of significance, after years of ideas that were interesting but not “significant” then you start going to conferences and publishing papers and giving talks. Of course, everyone at those conferences has their own ideas, and so they are not really interested in your significant idea, so you continue to publish and go to conferences, but really all you can do is to continue to research your significant idea, and it becomes more and more significant, and connects to more and more things, until you believe that it is the best thing since sliced bread. Once you think that your “significant”idea has become the center of the universe and the key to understanding everything, then one starts to be seen as a crackpot. Because like the rhyme of the ancient mariner one is going around and grabbing wedding guests and sitting them down and letting them know about this idea that you have that is going to change the world. Of course, wedding guests that will sit transfixed while you tell your story are rare, and people start avoiding you so they do not get harangued, and slowly but surely one enters ones own world, which is different from everyone else’s world, because it is a world in which things make sense to oneself, which do not make sense to anyone else. It is at this point that one starts to see scenes in movies where there is a wall with bits of paper glued to it of every sort that makes a mess, but which to you makes perfect sense. And you realize that you have entered the twilight zone of the Perfect Mind like John Nash and others before you have entered, and found it difficult to leave.

And there are others in this world whom you can talk to and who become your friends. People who also had “significant” even “crucial” ideas but who were socially accepted, at least after their deaths, and a few during their lifetimes, and who were rehabilitated by the tradition and become part of the Canon. These others have names like Plato, or Kant, or Hegel, or Heidegger, or Husserl, or Merleau-Ponty, or Sartre, or Bataille, or Badiou, or Zizek and others too numerous to recount. They become more real than the people around you because they actually had something significant to say too, but everyone thinks they were significant, but no one things that what ever you have to say is significant. But secretly you know that what ever idea you have had is just as significant as theirs, in fact it explains what their ideas really mean.

If one had only listend to all those skeptical souls who said it was better to go to the beach, one might have avoided this state of affairs. One could have avoided walking down the street and seing Kant, or Descartes in the coffeeshop. Or Heidegger cleaning windows outside the bookstore one has taken refuge in. One looks around at the customers that are there with you in the last bookstore on earth, all seeming to have a similar desperation, as they search though the bookshelves looking for something to read. But you don’t find any self-help books on reading addictions, or the horror of becoming a crackpot, or how to market your idea within the market place of attention, because all the books are about how to crate a business that sells something tangible, like sliced bread.

But then one day one realizes that the fact that everyone is walking around like zombies in a perpetual daze, not seeing the world that is right before their eyes, is not ones own problem. One did not make them blind and ignorant of their own worldview, one was just as ignorant as they are at some point. And one realizes that the world is unlikely to change, not matter how good one’s “significant” idea is, and one stops caring whether anyone gets it or not. It has been published on the web, it is there written down for those who are interested to pursue if they desires, and so one can return to one’s quest for more knowledge, and deeper understanding of the nature of the worldview. And so the cycle begins again. One returns to ones friends, the ones who understood, their worldview, the ones that have said something significant and others realized it mostly after their deaths. And that makes one wonder about ones own death, and this causes a bad case of authenticity which is hard to shake, but eventually that too passes.


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