this piece, from the atlantic, on 'privileged, white' twenty-something addicts, is typical of a certain style of middle-brow, pseudo-profound analysis, a genre pioneered by people like malcolm gladwell and, um, jonah lehrer. liz kulze produces a seemingly definitive account that is just a mess. now i am going to attack almost any 'external' account of addiction; i think if you are explaining addiction as something bizarre and external that needs to be explained sociologically or medically, you've already missed everything, or you have little credibility; the only real explanations include the first-person experience of addiction, which does not come from collaging quotes to make your pre-conceived points. but just one problem with kulze's account: it accounts for addiction in this sort of person, first, on the grounds that these kids are coddled and spoiled so much that they never form a self, and second, because their parents are always driving them to succeed, that they grew up in excessively-structured contexts, both in their families and in educational institutions. surely these things are in tension with one another. but either way, over and over, she moves straight from incredibly vague cultural observations that apply perfectly well to non-addicts and addicts alike (but really apply to no one in particular) to an explanation of particular people's addiction.
first off, i doubt that addiction is a greater problem in this population than in many others. but it is an explanatory problem: how can people like me end up like that? i'm going to tell you exactly how: the same way people not like you end up like that. the essence of addiction is in the relation betweeen the person and the substance: demographic explanations are going to be wrong, especially if you start by assuming that certain people should be immune. addiction among privileged, white twenty-somethings is exactly no more puzzling than among trailer-dwelling rednecks or inner-city black people, and that you think the one needs explaining and the other does not only displays all your prejudices right there on the page. you might start out instead, if you have to go sociological or whatever, with addiction patterns among the parents of these people. and then that you offer pseudo-profound pseudo-explanations that do absolutely nothing just shows that you've been reading way too much new yorker. on both counts, you need to get out of your own little demographic spider hole.