Bruce Alexander is a Canadian psychologist who has devoted the last four decades to the study of addiction. He has worked with injecting street addicts in Vancouver's notorious Down-town East Side, methadone users in Vancouver clinics, middle class addicts at Simon Fraser University, and wealthy users through personal interviews and biographical reading. He has studied drug using rodents in his psychopharmacology laboratory, better known as "Rat Park". His two books on addiction are Peaceful Measures: Canada's Way Out of the War on Drugs(University of Toronto Press, 1990) and The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit (Oxford University Press, 2010). He is presently working in East Vancouver with "A Community Aware," and the "Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives" and awaiting the publication of a history of psychology book (written with Curt Shelton) from Cambridge University Press. His website is "globalizationofaddiction.ca". A science comic book version of Rat Park by Stuart McMillan is at “ratpark.com”. Dockstreet Band says that their wonderful song “Connection” was inspired by his work.
Bruce recently delivered a talk that included a description of Earth Recovery Support Groups, one of the topics of this Conference -- Recovery From Addiction: The Role of Spirituality and the Planet Earth.
Bruce Alexander's view of the problem addressed at this conference, and his contribution to the solution:
The Ecological and Spiritual Crisis
Along with many other people in the 21st century, I feel a growing reverence for the Earth. The Earth is the source of my existence, my children’s only future home, and the destiny to which we all finally return. Could there be a greater sacrilege than standing idly by as it is degraded and destroyed?
If the bourgeoning spiritual view of the Earth finally prevails among human beings, all political and economic efforts to justify present toxic political and economic practices will collapse, even if they are backed by unlimited wealth and weaponry. History suggests that nothing short of this spiritual transformation can avert the ecological crises that are now upon us. May it not come too late!
The essential spiritual transformation is now being retarded by some grim psychological realities of the 21stcentury. The simplest and most obvious example is that a few of us are so addicted to power and wealth that we sacrifice everything to attain commanding positions in corporate and military bureaucracies, using these positions to gain even more riches and power – and to keep the toxic practices going.
Psychology’s Role in the Solution to the Ecological Crisis
The many psychological realities that impede the essential spiritual transformation grow neither from original sin nor unchangeable selfish genes. Instead, they are outcomes of the cultural history that shapes us. They can change.
I believe that major part of the change will derive from careful reanalysis of the psychology of addiction. My professional life has been devoted to understanding the full depth and cause of addiction among poor, middle class, and rich people.
Addiction is a state of intense single-mindedness that can be focused on almost anything – drugs, money, sex, power, Internet experiences, gambling thrills, career achievement, and a thousand more. Addiction can transform our lives and our society profoundly. It is not just the drug addictions of some habitual criminals or the wealth and power addictions of some ruthless CEOs that must be confronted. The less spectacular, but much more common, addictions of the rest of us contribute to the ecological crisis in major ways and impede the spiritual transformation that can end it. Paradoxically, addiction can be part of the solution as well as part of the problem. My current work involves exploring the psychological and social benefits of ecological activism with people in recovery from drug addictions.