Noise and addiction

Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, while in London in 1791, wrote to his friend Marianne von Genzinger in Vienna: "I wish I could fly for a time to Vienna to have some quiet in which to work, for the noise in the street is intolerable." Roughly 100 years ago, the noted German bacteriologist and Nobel-Prize winner Dr. Robert Koch said: "One day man will have to wage just as inexorable a battle against noise as he once did against plague and cholera."

Haydn's longing for more quiet is now shared by a rapidly growing number of people, especially in urban are- as around the globe. And Dr. Koch's prediction has certainly come true. When on April 24 in 1996 the first International Noise Awareness Day was proclaimed, we joined with others to expand the campaign for noise prevention and abatement world-wide. Still, our hope for making this world a quieter and, subsequently, a healthier place to live in remains unfulfilled.

Perhaps the battle was not waged as inexorably as necessary to generate enough change in attitude and human behaviour, the source of the problem. Maybe our approach was wrong, or we are dealing with an insolvable problem altogether. The latter could possibly be the case, especially when considering that the root of the problem could quite well be addiction, and if the explanation of addiction by Simon-Fraser-University psychology professor Dr. Bruce Alexander is taken into account.

In a very interesting paper, published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (ISBN 0-88627-274-2) in 2001, Dr. Alexander wrote about the problems with drug addiction in the City of Vancouver. He explained in part: "The word 'addiction' has come to be narrowly applied to excessive drug use in the 20th century, but historically it was applied to non-drug habits as well. There is ample evidence that severe addictions to non-drug habits are every bit as dangerous and resistant to treatment as drug addiction."

A 1998 study at North Eastern University in Boston, which found that people can, indeed, get addicted to loud music, is just one part of that afore mentioned evidence. Dr. Alexander further stated: "Addiction in the modern world can be best understood as a compulsive lifestyle that people adopt in desperation as a substitute when they are dislocated from the myriad intimate ties between people and groups - from the family to the spiritual community - that are essential for every person in every type of society. These ties are called 'psychosocial integration' in this paper."

As a cause of dislocation Dr. Alexander identified free market: "This paper argues that dislocation is the necessary precursor of addiction, and uses examples from Canadian and Scottish History to show that free markets inevitably produce widespread dislocation among the poor and the rich. As free market globalization speeds up, so does the spread of dislocation and addiction. ? Because Western society is now based on free market principles that mass-produce dislocation, and because dislocation is the precursor of addiction, addiction to a wide variety of pursuits is not the pathological state of a few, but to a greater or lesser degree, the general condition in western society."

In order to understand and effectively deal with addictions, Dr. Alexander wrote: "Attempts to treat or prevent addiction that ignore the connection between free markets, dislocation, and addiction have proven to be little better than band-aids. Addressing the problem of addiction will require fundamental political and economic changes. The beginning of political change is a realistic discussion of addiction that recognizes that addiction is mass-produced in free market society, and that society, as well as individuals, must change. It requires moves toward good government and away from policies that undermine our ability to care for one another and build sustainable, healthy communities."

In the paper's "Conclusion", Dr. Alexander is very critical of modern ways of treating addiction, and how the media support the trend toward globalizing the free market: "There have been decades of futile debate about whether addiction is a 'criminal' problem or a 'medical' problem. The hard fact is that it is neither. In free market society, the spread of addiction is primarily a political, social, and economic problem. If the political process does not find contemporary wellsprings of psychosocial integration, society - with its ever freer markets - will manifest ever more dislocation and addiction."

With this explanation of addiction in mind, one can appreciate the complexity of the problem, and also extrapolate that the deliberately made types of noise (i.e. loud, amplified entertainment, modified mufflers etc.) can well be of the addictive variety. The fact that addiction is so difficult to treat and prevent presents an enormous challenge. It is my hope that, in a combined effort and with perseverance, we will be more successful at raising awareness and achieving a positive change of attitude in the future.

- Hans Schmid



Right to Quiet Society Newsletter, Spring 2005
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