Addiction is a price we all pay for living in freedom, whether it touches our lives directly or not. Not any old idealistic freedom, but the liberty championed by politicians of every hue in the 21st century. A double-bind freedom in which a quarter of the population are free to suffer from some kind of mental illness at some point in their lives. This liberty might seem to be at the other end of the corridor from addiction, but its being hoist as the fundamental good of modern times leaves many staring into an abyss with nothing to be free for, no place to be free, no aspirations to cherish, no sense of who or what it is that has been set free.

In this empty freedom it is impressed upon us that we are free to choose whether to take the stuff, to do the things to which we become addicted. This is where the myth of “addictive substance” arises – how else can we explain that, up to a certain point, we are apparently free to choose what we take or do, but after we have crossed that river, we become slaves. It must be the stuff what done it.

In this mythology, addicts are not free. They are slaves, trapped at the other, the dark end of the passage, in portable prisons built from the stoned highs around which their addictions revolve. But a special kind of medical slave to whom we can give treatment – at best, a get-out-of-jail card, at worst, a furnish-the-jail-with-more-comfort-and- stability prescription. Freedom and addiction may look like opposites, but are in fact polarities that feed on each other.

Liberty is the greatest good, not just for the new Left, but also for the neo-con Right. So great a good is it deemed to be that many governments feel they have no choice but to adopt extreme measures to preserve it for their citizens. To keep the rest of us free, a government can lock up anyone they suspect of being a terrorist for as long as they like, send them to other countries to be persuaded to talk, even invade other countries that don’t have enough democratic freedom, killing hundreds of thousands in the process. We will make you free, whether you want it or not, free from your oppression, free to be whatever you want to be.

It’s hard to challenge such a dogma of liberty: it confuses freedom from oppression with the notional freedom to act that individual selves are thought to have. These two ideas have become interchangeable, but are in fact utterly different. Few would say oppression is a good thing – we all want to be free from it. I am the first to protest when my freedom to do what I want is challenged in the smallest way; my grumpy old man persona leaps to the barricades, keen to exercise its justified anger.

But then the other freedom is thrust upon us. We will make you free to be your self, to enjoy the fruits of capitalism, but we’re going to have to watch you with CCTV cameras that tell you to pick up your litter. You are free to drink whenever you want, to gamble as recklessly as you like, but not to indulge in things we have come to regard as evil; heroin for example. It’s a liberty thoroughly qualified, but only for your own good. It’s a liberty thoroughly confused, a double bind, a conflicted cul de sac, but it’s all we can think of. When you seek refuge from this dead end, becoming addicted can seem an attractive option; at least it does away with choice. The politicians’ liberty has no value in and of itself, because the self that is free, the individual that would assert its rights, is an empty thing.

In parallel with the ascendancy of the self as the prime icon of belief in the last fifty years, so the dogma of liberty has blossomed. With the decline of organised religion, liberty has become as good a value as any to justify capitalist liberal democracy, a value we can shape our lives around. But it also castes a dark shadow, a dank place filled with questions, anxiety and isolation freely stirring the turmoil most people live in. What’s the point of being free if that freedom gives you nothing and leaves you all alone in that nothingness? If existential angst is the overriding experience you are free to go through, then the simplicity, certainty, comfort and even the imprisonment of the addict’s life are going to look attractive.

Thus it is that addiction arises from a confused notion of liberty. Yes, we must be free from oppression, but no, the freedom to be ourselves, free will, is not an absolute good! How can it be when we have no clue as to what it is that is being free? The self is a fragile construct, a story we have to keep on retelling to keep sane. Frequently it collapses under the weight of its own mythology and expectation and we seek other forms of security, stability and comfort, often those found fleetingly in addiction.

It is also interesting to ask what it is to be free from addiction, to be unaddicted? A very different liberty, I think, from those I have touched on so far. Oddly, it has a similar shape to the deluded state the addict achieves in his first few highs – freedom from the burdens, frustrations and delusions of the self. But unaddiction, being unhooked, does not suppress, or even merely cope with the insecurities of the self, but actually envelops them in a state of being that transcends the myths of self. Though it is a construct, the self with all its stories is the source of all addiction. We are free to be addicted until we discover that to be unaddicted is to be truly free.

Albert Einstein, of all people, said: “The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self.”   The conference I set up, Unhooked Thinking, explores such philosophical approaches to addiction in the belief that they are at its core.  check out  www.unhookedthinking.com

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Yes, I really am one of 32 great great grandsons of the great man. And it was not just one guinea pig. All my Guinea Pigs have been stifled by science’s obsessive adherence to stuff they call “evidence”. You can’t float a guinea pig without evidence to stop it sinking. Conversation with a scientist is impossible without some reference to evidence. It’s about truth. Science says that truth – or “facts” as they like to call it – can only be found in the evidence. Nowhere else.

So, what is this evidence? Where can it be found? By having an hypothesis, designing an experiment to test it and measuring the results. But that’s not how I know things, especially not in any measuring. I don’t hypothesise, experiment and measure; in common with everybody else, I just know things. From my experience. But that’s subjective, they say, and therefore of no possible use and most definitely not true. We need facts, they say.

This matters – to me – when psychology, psychiatry, sociology and other soft sciences attempt, largely through measurement, to tell me they know things about the human condition – and therefore about me – that just don’t fit with my knowledge of myself. They somehow reduce me to a guinea pig in their laboratory, an unconscious creature who has no say in what he does.

But it gets more confounding. Because I agree that any free will I might have is severely limited. One of their dastardly but hugely fascinating experiments was with people undergoing brain surgery. They only get a local anaesthetic – and the brain itself, interestingly, has no feeling. So, while the surgery was going on through a hole cut in the skull, they wired up that part of the brain known to be concerned with moving bits of the body. They asked the person with the hole in their head to say when they were going to do something like lift a finger, measuring the activity in the brain all the time. Significant nano-seconds before the person says and therefore knows they are going to lift their finger, the finger-lifting energy starts. In other words their free will, if they have any, is unconscious.

So you wouldn’t have thought I’d mind being a guinea pig in a psychologist’s lab, what with my will being largely non-existent. But I do, I mind that the truths they think they arrive at are deemed more important than the truths I arrive at, just by living, by attempting to know myself. Take happiness. Because seratonin levels in the brain are higher when people report feeling happy, direct links are made and neurochemicals devised that increase and stabilise the amount of seratonin in the brain. But it’s the wrong happiness, the fleeting, reactive happiness, they are trying to measure and control. And to do it by messing with neurochemicals is obviously (well, to some of us anyway) going to lead to dependency and addiction.

This all stems from a recent incident. I was invited to talk to a group of mostly mature students. The man in charge of the course, and the man who had invited me, sat to one side of the room. Every now and then he would interrupt my fairly inoccuous ramble through my own experience as I drew conclusions left right and centre based only on my own experience. He would interrupt saying, “That is absolute rubbish. Where is your evidence? The facts are quite different.” and other words of orthodoxy. I was shocked, but for the first few such dislocations, I adopted a jocular bantering escape route and carried on. He kept it up. And up I was wound. Till I lost my temper and stormed out, saying to the students, “I am sorry for you, having to put up with this.”

I know, I know, where would we be without the rigour and endeavour of science? We wouldn’t have computers or atom bombs, cars or bio-fuels, leucotomies or hip-replacements. But it’s the arrogance, the assumptions and the ignorance of science that make many scientists such bores. I took my guinea pig for a walk in front of those students and he stifled it. But it’ survived. It’s here crawling through this blog.

wp6sm.jpgMy blog is filling with evidence. Science demands evidence at every turn to prove the hypotheses its practitioners make. Both workers in the addiction industry and theorisers as to its nature love the phrase “evidence based”, which somehow gives their ideas respectibility. The evidence in this blog could be used to prove that I have written, that I was once a junky, that I’m in love with language – but it is the evidence I chose to present to the blogosphere. It is evidence for an online impression.

Anyway, the evidence so far would say I am more of a writer than anything else, a writer with a thing about addiction. But that’s not true. I spend (interesting word in this context) more time (from my dwindling time account) on the organisation of Unhooked Thinking, the development of the movie Survival of the Coolest and increasingly the development of MediaStores, than I do writing.

The conference is coming along very nicely. Seeds sown at the first event last year are beginning to blossom. An increasing number of academics, treatment workers, users, psychologists, doctors and families of users are realising that the old ways of talking about addiction, drugs and government policy have completely failed. The RSA Commission on Illegal Drugs, Communities and Public Policy published its report this week.  What a tonic it is!  This eminent group of grown-ups agree with so much of what I’ve been waffling on about and with the guiding spirit behind Unhooked Thinking.  There’s a chance one or more of them will speak at the conference.

The movie has a prestigious British director, a producer and a couple of name actors “attached” as we navigate our way through the treacle that is sometimes described as Development Hell. Some producer recently described the process as having to get a room full of plates spinning on sticks before you can go into production – if one falls off its stick, you usually have to start again. But it’s looking good at the moment.

MediaStores has the completion of Version 2 of our platform within site – we’ll be launching some time in May.  Briefly, MediaStores is a true Web 2, Long Tail  ecommerce business that will democratise the selling of books, film and music. We will enable anyone to build their own online store – either free-standing with its own URL, or attached to an existing web or blog presence – and populate it with their own selection drawn from all books, film and music available in the UK.  The cracker is that they will earn 20% of the recommended retail price of everything sold through their store.  Version One was built last year to do this with only books.  It’s taught us a great deal.  Version Two is a brand new platform being built using the latest technology that is Ruby on Rails.

I’ll write more about all these projects in later blogs

I do actually do some work in my double-glazed log cabin. As well as the writing (see below) I am kept busy by a few other projects:

  • Unhooked Thinking, an annual conference about the nature of addiction to be held in Bath’s Guildhall May 9 to 11, 2007.
  • MediaStores, an e-commerce business set to revolutionise how media products are sold online – a veritable Long Tail, Web 2.0 business. The real deal, Version 2, launches in May, 2007, but you can look at the Version One Beta that only does books here.
  • 1904555136survivaltn.JPGThe Survival of the Coolest the memoir I wrote of the love-affair I had with chemicals – in particular heroin – that changed how I lived in my skin, starting in the sixties.
  • Survival of the Coolest, the movie. I am Associate Producer of the project, developing a film from the screenplay I wrote (with great help from Adele Simmons) based on my book of the same name. It has become a magical-realist fiction that is gathering the kind of interest it needs to get made into an actual movie: Gillies MacKinnon as Director, Carl Schoenfeld as Producer, Robert Carlyle and Natalie Press attached in two key roles.
  • Virginia Woolf and the Raverats 1904555020vwtrade.JPGI compiled and edited the complete correspondence between Virginia Woolf and my maternal grandparents, the Raverats, illustrated with my grandfather’s paintings and my grandmother’s wood engravings.

Here is my beginning. And in my beginning were words. And the words were good.

I am a many-headed monster and will divide this be-log accordingly into several parts:

1. I am a founder and the chairman of Eclector Ltd, a Web 2.0, Long Tail business par excellence that has soft-launched in August 2008. A revolution in e-commerce that will make us a nation of shopkeepers once more.

2. I am a poet and writer of numerous articles and essays, two books and a screenplay. Some of which I shall post here. More on that.

3. I am a founder and the director of Unhooked Thinking, the international, multi-disciplinary and iconoclastic conference that enquires into the very nature of addiction. The second, whose theme was Love and Baggage started on May 8th and ran til Friday, May 11th, 2007 in Bath’s Guildhall. And I write about addiction.

4. I was a beat poet in sixties Cambridge, London and Paris and here’s some photos to prove it.

anitaparis7.jpghaunted in Paris, 1964writing at my bidet, Paris, 1964

anitaparis83.jpganitaparis6.jpg

click a photo to see a big version

wpchristiansm.JPGI was born in 1945 in Farnborough, Hampshire, England, where my father was inventing a new glue to stick Mosquito aeroplanes together. Once Oppenheimer had perfected his atomic bomb, we moved back to Cambridge, to the bosom of the Darwin-Bloomsbury nexus. (My grandmother, Gwen Raverat was a friend of that paragon of Bloomsbury, Virginia Woolf.)

Being the only boy-child with three sisters, I had to succeed and join the ruling class and was packed off to Eton. By my 16th birthday I had escaped and was hanging out with beats, GI’s, Jamaicans, jazz musicians and those that would be the Pink Floyd: the now mythic Syd Barrett with his architectural student friends, as I studied for my A levels at a crammer.

wpheadswedensm.JPGOne day I packed up my belongings in a spotted suitcase and went to seek my fortune as a beatnik in Paris. I chewed and retched morning glory seeds for their crude LSD. I hung out with Daevid Allen of Gong, American Beat poets and assorted bohemians.

My visions of myself grew to such an extent that I rushed back to Cambridge to tell family and friends that I was a genius, next to Samuel Beckett. “How interesting!” they said.

I was depressed. I didn’t know that’s what the persistent knot in my belly was called, but it stopped me being fully, fully being. When I drank a whole bottle of Dr Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne, the opium and chloroform it contained answered my lack of definition. The love affair, the intoxication that manifested as poet and ’pataphysician had begun. All my pain was soon subsumed into the pain of being a junky.

But I still managed to pretend to be a student getting into Trinity, Cambridge, to read Moral Sciences, as philosophy was strangely called.

After many cultural and other adventures and happenings (read a free chapter of the book), where I forged my own whirlwind through the more extreme edges of the sixties cultural revolution, I found myself floundering along the sewer of addiction. A sewer used to drain away society’s and my family’s denials, rejections and embarrassments.

greencataloguecover.jpgHere I skip lightly over the years and the detail of my addictions. Suffice it to say that circumstance supplanted drugs with alcohol for the last few years, but you really will have to read The Survival of the Coolest to discover how far down I went and how I eventually skidded to a low from which change was the only answer. The addiction was no longer useful.

Since that rebirth, I have spent a good deal of time exploring the mythologies of business and busy-hatsmaller.JPGness. I started what became Airlift Book Company, the Green Catalogue, Bath.co.uk and a pioneer Internet music business, Floot.com, but 9/11 put paid to that.

And now, when not out on MediaStores, Unhooked or Survival of the Coolest Movie business I sit in my log cabin on the edges of Bath, having views, writing, improvising cadenzas to the concerto of the living.