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When so many people are outraged at the actions of their government, why do so many of them seem to be frozen? Why aren't people taking to the streets?

Why is the United States the only "first world" country without universal health care?

What is it that keeps people from leaving abusive jobs and abusive relationships?

These questions may seem to be unrelated, but they're actually all part of what happens...

When Society Becomes an Addict
by Anne Wilson Schaef
Harper and Row, 1987

When Society Becomes an Addict is an easy read, peppered with true stories and funny examples. The content is so true it's terrifying... all the more so because it was written almost twenty years ago.

Prior to this book, Schaef had broken some interesting ground about how gender and culture work in mainstream American society. In "Women's Reality," she broached the idea that men and women have different realities - that is, different cultures with different values and experiences. In fact, she proposed that there were several, including a white women's culture which is complicit with the corrupt parts of white male culture, and an "emerging female system" which has begun to define and explore itself and defy mainstream societal corruption.

It's an interesting idea, but it's not particularly revolutionary - or, for many people, particularly helpful. When Society Becomes an Addict, though, blows all her previous theories out of the water.

The Questions

Basically, Schaef has realized something. She has society's problems all figured out, but she's targeting the wrong people.

Our society responds to crises "not with action, but with a widespread malaise." With each crisis, moreover, it's becoming increasingly "conservative, complacent (and) more defensive of the status quo." The worse things get, the deeper we sink into denial. And when we do try to do something, we consistently pick our favorite part of the problem, take it out of context, and begin a misguided uphill battle to fix things.

There are two big questions raised by this: What's missing in this picture that would let us deal with problems more effectively? And how do we escape the denial and lack of information that pulls us in like quicksand?

Addiction: The Missing Piece

Anne Wilson Schaef has a simple and amazing explanation: Society itself has become an addict.

Addiction theory has not yet hit the mainstream, nearly twenty years after this book's publication. Fortunately, Schaef's book understands this and sets out to explain exactly what addiction looks like, how it works on a societal level, and what that means to all of us.

She starts out by presenting the four myths that our system believes about itself and which perpetuate it:

  1. This system is the only thing that exists. I chose to go to a women's college. One of the unexpected side effects of this was that I had to endure three and a half years of many people telling me over and over that I wasn't in "the real world," that I'd better prepare myself for "the real world," that "the real world" wouldn't be like this, that my education wasn't going to be applicable in "the real world." They seemed to imagine that Mills was a hermetically sealed environment in which no men were allowed (instead of having many men on the staff and faculty as well as in the graduate school and in classes which were open to grad students) and, most importantly, that nothing I could learn while surrounded by women would be worthwhile, important, or valued. Fortunately, I knew even then that there was no single "real world," and that I was making the right choices for myself.

  2. This system is innately superior. As Schaef points out, this idea is confusing because it directly contradicts the idea that a given system is the only system... much like the statement that you mustn't worship other gods is confusing when it comes from people who insist that there is only one God. But it is a useful thought, because it allows us to insist (with no direct experience and little knowledge of other cultures) that we are the best country in the whole entire world.

  3. This system knows and understands everything. This belief is often seen coming from doctors who think that whatever they've learned is all there is to learn. It is the fuel behind the idea that we are the best and we are always right. It is what lets us erase other people's cultures, experiences, and realities.

  4. It is possible to be totally logical, rational, and objective. If we believe this, we can ignore any ways in which we're not being objective, or rational, or logical - any areas in which we don't have all the information - and most importantly of all, anyone who disagrees with us. Even worse, it cuts us off from important information and from our own senses and feelings.

  5. It is possible to be God as defined by the system. This is the fifth of the four myths - that is, it's the overriding myth that includes them all. It's the idea of being always right, of being in control of and responsible for everything, of having or being able to have total power.

Throughout the book, she explains what behaviors are characteristic of addicts, and how they fit into her theory. She explains the processes used by an addicted system, and some ways in which we can work toward systemic recovery. The following is a list of the main issues she raises:

The need to create crisis: Addicts are universally addicted to drama and adrenaline. Many of us have a hard time feeling alive without a crisis. Not only does it break through our numbness, but it gives us something to control and, often, an excuse to use one of our substances of choice. It keeps our lives from feeling safe, because that confuses us. Safety and peace don't feel right or normal. As Schaef explains, "Even when the situation gets out of control, it is satisfying to us because it is OUR situation and WE made it.... There is no doubt that a crisis is good for the economy and keeps the public believing that our government is 'doing something.' Sometimes we need to create a crisis to give ourselves a role and feel needed."

Lying: Schaef says, firmly, that "an addiction is anything we feel tempted to lie about. An addiction is anything we are not willing to give up (we may not have to give it up and we must be willing to do so to be free of addiction." Addicts are deeply invested in lying, especially to ourselves, about what our lives feel like, what we are doing, and why we are doing it; denial is a huge part of this.

And what does our government do? Our public figures lie to us and each other about the evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in order to invade it, lie about their affairs, about their drunk driving arrests, have their driving records erased.... Our government agencies have engaged in roughly a hundred years of torture and other nonconsensual human experimentation and repeatedly attempted to shred the documentation about it so that even Congress doesn't hear about it for decades. Politicians lie so much, as Schaef later points out, that their speeches are often well-nigh unintelligible. On a more personal level, there's advertising, faked orgasms, and Fox News.

A sense that something is very wrong - but it can't possibly be our fault: And, equally importantly, a sense that we can't possibly make things right. We pick someone else who is supposed to fix things, and when they can't, (and of course they can't, because we're not taking care of our part), we blame them for what is happening. We blame our spouses for all the problems in our relationship. We blame the economy for our debt. If only France had backed us up, we would have had everything under (our) control in the Middle East in no time. It's all everyone else's fault. As Schaef says, "On a system level, we believe we are not causing the unrest in the world. If others would only behave, we would not have to retaliate." This book was written in 1987, but it describes most of the United States' history over and over.

Self-centeredness: As addicts, we become increasingly focused on our fix. We can't hear what others are saying to us; all we can hear is whether they are supporting our addictive behavior or not. In other words, "Everything that happens is perceived as being either for or against the self." And on a national level, we perceive everything that happens in the world as being either for or against the United States. We perceive ourselves, moreover, as a sort of police officer to the rest of the world; we have to take sides in everything, no matter how little it has to do with us or how little the rest of the world wants our involvement. And that's easy when we perceive every country and every group in terms of whether or not they are on our side. It also leads to the inabilty to see others' perspectives or be objective, because the idea of our selves, or ourselves as a country, is a concept so large that it blocks everything else out.

Arrogance: The addictive person or system "assumes that it has the right to define everything... (and) really believes that it is possible to be God as defined by our system." Addicts believe, on some level, that we are God. The world revolves around us; we think we have total control over everything that happens in our lives, or in many cases, in the world.

This comes out in a scary way on the governmental level. One "question" asked of George Bush at a sycophantic press conference (at which he screened everyone to decide who could ask the questions) was, "This is the first time I've ever felt that God was in the White House!" Questions of the separation of church and state aside, this is a pretty terrifying image in its own right. And as Schaef remarks, "the outstanding characteristic of that particular God is that ability to control everything. He is white, male, and in charge."

Control Issues: Oh, my, yes. Addicts have serious boundary issues. We can't tell where others end and we begin. And that has some pretty serious effects. It makes it feel like "everything is me and everything starts coming at me and is either for or against me." It's an overwhelming and terrifying sensation -- which leads to paranoia and the need to control everything around us. On a national level, we want to control the whole world, and we need constant reassurance that other countries are on our side and willing to collaborate on whatever we want. For that matter, our government sees its entire purpose as regulation and control. "Consider our political leaders: We have a president and a cabinet who believe firmly that they can control everything.... One of our greatest fears is that of losing control of ourselves, our families, our surroundings."

Perfectionism: This is the equally destructive flip side of all of our control issues. Schaef calls addicts "conscientious, concerned people with high aspirations and high expectations of themselves." Being an addict doesn't mean being a bad person -- it's just unhealthy.

And as a country, we are all of these things. There is that aspect of America which sees itself as noble, which tries so hard to be a conscientious world citizen, full of people who volunteer and give money to good causes and help lost children find their parents. We want to be the world police and the world's helping hand, often to the point of delusions of grandeur. And unfortunately, this perfectionism sets a standard for ourselves that we can and should never reach.

"Stinking Thinking": In Alcoholics Anonymous, it is often said that alcoholism is the symptom, not the problem. An alcoholic can stop drinking and still behave just as chaotically and irresponsibly as if they had just finished off a six-pack. "Stinkin' thinkin'" is the kind of fast-moving, circular justifications we make to ourselves to excuse behavior we know is wrong or harmful. It comes out of fear, and then Schaef identifies this as the experience of being a person, or a system, with "confused, alcoholic thinking... dishonesty, self-centeredness, dependency, and need for control at its core."

So What?: That's Just the Beginning

These are all fairly abstract. They are the wide-screen version, the grand scheme of things, the venti latte of it all.

What is it like to live in this way?

The illusion of and addiction to control keeps us in crisis. It causes stress. Stress, anger, stress at work, repetitive stress, and the belief that stress is not only normal but inescapable. We worry so much about stress relief and symptoms of stress and how to deal with stress that it just stresses us out more. It's everywhere. Schaef has something very valuable to say about that relationship: "I have observed in myself and my clients that almost all stress is a by-product of control.... A society that operates out of an illusion of control certainly would accept stress as normal." And most people don't know how to distinguish between what we can and can't control, much less how to accept the latter.

Last week, my Nonna lost the ability to walk all of a sudden. My mother arrived at her house and found her in bed. She ended up having literally to drag her own mother - who is heavier than her -- to the car, banging her head on the car door and breaking her glasses in the process. They went to the hospital and my mother struggled for hours to get Nonna admitted and placed in a convalescent home which would provide physical therapy. They said she had five days to show improvement or else she would be discharged, given up on and sent to a rest home. My mother told me all of this, and said repeatedly how stressful it was. Not terrifying, scary, traumatic, infuriating, or saddening -- just stressful.

This is the addiction model, the way that we deal with our feelings when we are stuck in addiction. We can't really feel them, most of the time; in fact, we use our addictions to stuff our feelings down. They become terrifying to us. And, usually, we don't talk to others about them; we don't know how to trust most people enough for that, and we don't have the language for it.

Then there's dishonesty. She talks about the dishonesty of "if only," "as if," and "what if." That is, lying to ourselves by insisting that our lives would be different "if only..." when we can never know that, instead of taking responsibility for changing the way they are now; lying to ourselves and others by acting "as if" we are something we're not; and lying to ourselves by obsessing about the future, about "what if" this or that happens and what things will be like if we do one thing or another. We live, Schaef explains, in "a system in which we are expected to cheat on our taxes and get away with as much as we can," where people entering the workplace are considered naive if they try to be honest, where it is both generally assumed that we will pad our resumes and heavily penalized if we are caught. That last is a particularly strong example: there is dishonesty all around, the rules are kept hidden, and the system is often set up to penalize us no matter what we do. This is why movies like Office Space are so successful: for a moment, we get to see people tell the truth about the insanity going on around us.

Stinkin' thinkin', addictive mental patterns, or "abnormal thinking processes" as Schaef calls them, involve making assumptions and using them to support our addictions and our cherished misconceptions of the world. For example, I might have a tendency to think that people secretly hate me and are angrily planning to hurt me... self-centeredness! In order to keep that idea up, I might look at my roommate sitting silently on the sofa watching television, and assume that his silence means that I've done something wrong. I can wrack my brains to come up with something that might have angered him and become convinced that he's fuming because I'm not paying enough attention to him. I can spend hours obsessing about what that means and what I've done and what he's going to do. And in reality, the whole time, he's just watching Buffy.

Schaef, apparently writing under the Reagan administration, elaborates this in the following way: "If we assume that the Russians are going to attack us, it is logical and rational to assume that we must protect ourselves by making the first strike. It is also paranoid. Abnormal thinking processes can and do slip into paranoid thinking processes." And these processes are so common in our society that I suspect it wouldn't even occur to most people that there is another way to behave in that situation.

All of these ideas led me to one word....

ABUSE

The most valuable thing I got from this book was something which Schaef did not even appear to see.

I found her analysis of society's addictions to be very powerful, and it helped me understand a lot more about the world in which I live and answer many questions which had been plaguing me about it. But as I read the book, I discovered something even more interesting to me. The more she talked about the behaviors involved in addiction, the more convinced I became that addicts and abuse survivors are one and the same. Every behavior she described was either something I already understood as being caused by abuse, or something new which I could now see would come from abuse.

For example:

She states that we create crises in order to feel, and that addicts are often so out of touch with our emotions that we feel dead, unable to respond to the world. Creating crises becomes a form of self-injury, serving one of the same purposes: to feel something, to know that we are alive. In reality, she says, we feel very deeply but don't know how to handle that, and we have little abilty to know what exactly it is that we are feeling. And this is all very characteristic of abuse survivors: we have had to block off our emotions in order to survive our abuse. It was not safe to feel; if we had really known at the time how scared or angry or sad we were, what our abuse really felt like, we would not have survived it. (And some of us don't.)

Schaef talks about dissociation at length, but calls it "forgetfulness" and "blackouts." She explains that when people are deep in addictive behavior, they can drive around, go drinking, get into fights, fly to another country, and do almost anything wide awake with no memory of it. This is a form of dissociation (losing time) which will be familiar to most multiples -- in fact, to most self-aware abuse survivors. I suspect that addictive forgetfulness and blackouts are part of the same thing, particularly given the high correlation between abuse and addiction.

The process of recovery, ideally, is one which slowly heals this forgetfulness and allows us to feel safe being present in our lives. Schaef connects it to addiction even further, saying that "any addictive pattern or process can blur our thinking and block our memory. It causes us to lose contact with what we know and have learned." This is part of the reason that addiction is considered a "progressive illness" in twelve-step circles -- that is, among people who understand it and are working to recover from it. When we engage in our addictive behavior, we can lose all the healthy behaviors that we have learned.

Low self-esteem is also a common, if not guaranteed, effect of abuse prior to recovery. Schaef states that addicts perceive the world in negatives, are hypercritical and judgmental, focused on perfection. Our society's ideas of luxury and decadence, according to the media, are things like eating dessert without feeling guilty: we are struggling with extreme self-judgement and the codependence of obsessing about what others think. All of these things are forms of low self-esteem and effects of abuse. Abuse survivors become hypercritical and judgmental because we have learned that we are bad people -- otherwise, why would we have been abused? Even when we intellectually know that the abuse was not our fault, it is very hard to internalize that fact.

We struggle to be good enough to avoid further abuse even after we have escaped our abusers. Codependence is also essentially an automatic result of abuse. It is Stockholm Syndrome: we have to identify with our abusers in some way to survive. We internalize the abuse and continue it through things like believing terrible things about ourselves and creating more chaotic and damaging environments in which to live, as well as more obviously addictive behaviors. Essentially, we judge and abuse ourselves emotionally (if not physically as well) to escape further abuse, as if we were being chased by a mad gorilla and had to attack ourselves to calm it down.

She also talks about the way that addicts equate responsibility with blame. And this, too, is an effect of abuse. Addicts, Schaef says, think that "cause and effect" means "if something happened it is because I made it happen." The effect of abuse is to sever cause and effect -- to break those concepts so that we don't have a real sense of what cause and effect mean or how they go together. After all, abuse is the least logical thing in the world, the act with the least apparent or reasonable cause. The mother who explodes in rage when her child loses a library card, or the boy who fondles his baby cousin, is proving that people's actions don't make sense. Survivors often spend their entire lives trying to find the sense in these behaviors, which usually leads to the above experience of attacking oneself for experiencing (and therefore causing) them. Many of us are convinced that we must have done something to bring it on ourselves, because it's easier to believe that than that people can do something so damaging for no good reason.

This also feeds into the confusion of addictive thinking: it's much easier to believe that "Because it's 5 p.m. somewhere in the world" is a fine reason to drink if you don't see connections between things. Personally, I get tripped up by my loss of cause and effect all too often. Just now someone was spoofing people in the chatterbox, which I realized when I saw that I had apparently said "san fransisco" (sic) without noticing it. And yet, even though my first instinct was that there was a spoofer, even though I didn't remember typing anything of the sort and I had just been looking at another node and not typing anything, even though I live near San Francisco and can damn well spell it, I still seriously and repeatedly questioned whether I hadn't just typed it by accident somehow and sent it all without noticing.

Equating responsibility with blame, furthermore, makes people very defensive. We always have to be on guard against attack, or we might get abused again. (This, of course, does not stop that from happening.) And this defensiveness makes it difficult for people to deal with their own abuse, both for fear of being blamed for it again as well as simply out of fear of the pain they have already experienced. As a society, we accuse survivors of "victimology" when they speak out about their abuse -- "You just want attention!" And, usually, that kind of attack comes from abuse survivors who resent that someone else can talk openly about the same abuse that they suffered.

Are You In an Abusive Relationship?

People in AA and Al-Anon say that "alcoholics don't have relationships, they have hostages." This is a scary thought when applied to our society. And intriguing; unquestioning patriotism, for example, "my country right or wrong," could be the equivalent of the codependent partner who won't leave the relationship no matter what and refuses to acknowledge anything their addicted partner does wrong.

Some time ago, our county was in a funding crunch, and was cutting funding for most health care, especially preventative services. Mandana Community Recovery Center, the beloved house which hosted dozens of different twelve-step groups a week, including the only Survivors of Incest Anonymous and Self-Mutilators Anonymous meetings for miles around, was going to close. It was at this point that I realized I felt like I was in an abusive relationship with the government. It was like being stuck in a marriage where I wasn't allowed to go to therapy, to get health care, where the other person held all the financial reins and was making it clear that my needs weren't important and weren't going to get met. It was scary. How do you leave an abusive relationship with your country? Ironically, I suppose many people have fled here to escape those very relationships where they lived.

Our society also becomes controlling and abusive when it tries to control our intimate relationships with others. We operate out of a scarcity model, like all addicts and abuse survivors, terrified that our needs will not be met. For individuals, this is because in some way our needs were not met before -- often our needs for consistent emotional and physical safety. On a national level, I am not sure what the cause is.

The fear of scarcity is what drives us to stockpile nuclear weapons long after we have enough to demolish the entire planet. It uses a zero-sum model: scarcity comes when there is not enough for everyone, when what you take leaves less for me. And that zero-sum model is what turns our society against same-sex marriage. The idea put forth by the conservative members of our government is that same-sex marriage demolishes "traditional" marriage. It's as if they think, "If those queer folks start having legal marriages, there will be less marriage left for the normal folks!" Like, too, the idea that "Victims, not murderers, deserve compassion." And it leads us into the divide and conquer strategies of which our society is so fond.

Society itself is not the only abuser. Society's active addict behavior keeps it largely oblivious to abuse, and that helps perpetuate abuse on an individual level. And this in turn means that more and more people have been abused, more and more people cling to numbness and denial, and more and more people then don't have the energy to protest the things our society does with which we disagree. We look apathetic, but really our feelings about what is going on in the world are too intense to deal with. For many people, the only apparent option is to turn away, or to talk about it without getting involved. And losing that contact with what we are feeling robs us both of important information about ourselves and of important information about the world around us. For example, when we can't feel and trust that gut sense that something is wrong, it is hard to know when we are being lied to.

What Can We Do?

Choosing to brave the unknown, to try living as honestly as possible, is the definition of recovery. It is also the way out of the abusive system in which we live.

Annoyingly, Schaef doesn't devote a lot of space to the solution. Her ideas about how we can begin healing ourselves and the system in which we live take up a small section at the end of the book. However, she does offer some suggestions, and there are others which can be extrapolated from what we now know about living with addiction.

Honesty is the first step. And this is literally true: in the twelve steps which addicts have developed to deal with these problems, the first step is to take an honest look at exactly what the effects of this behavior have been in our lives and to make an honest assessment of how well our attempts to control it have worked.

When Schaef was introduced to the women's movement, she started noticing the chauvinism in Disney shows. She saw the way women were limited to a few stereotypical roles with sexist story lines, and had to stop watching them with her family because "continuing to watch would have been a form of self-delusion. When we refuse to see what we see and know what we know, we participate in a dishonest system and help to perpetuate it."

Getting in touch with what we want to change in the world and doing what we need to do to live honestly, in accordance with our own personal values, can be a slow process. Even though (or possibly because) I feel very strongly about the negative effects of gas on the world and the environment, it took me a long time to get a car that didn't run on gas. I did a lot of research into different alternative fuels, and eventually decided to get an old diesel Mercedes and run it on biodiesel. There is a biodiesel collective where I live which purchases biodiesel in bulk for its members, who go pick it up in carboys; even though I knew about them, had talked to them, and was on their listserv, I still couldn't get it together to buy fuel from them instead of getting extra-polluting diesel at the gas station. I finally switched over when they opened a biodiesel gas station nearby. It is only open a half the day a few days a week, but it was enough within my comfort and ability levels to do it. It's that way with many things: even though logically it seems like we should be able to just suddenly change everything, it just doesn't seem to be how people work. It's that old trap of perfectionism.

Schaef retains her anonymity by not specifying which twelve-step program she's in (if any, as sometimes she sounds like she's just read everyone's literature without knowing what people in the program really sound like) but talks about working the program in general. She describes it as a process, like breathing, which she needs to stay healthy. And as she describes it, "I began to see this as analogous to living in an Addictive System. I have chosen to continue to live in this system, so I must do the things that will keep me alive from day to day. I must take time to be alone. I must take care of my spiritual needs. I must think and reflect. I must check myself out for symptoms of backsliding into addictive behaviors and do what is necessary to return to clarity - or sobriety, as the Twelve-Step Program calls it... In fact, I recommend that all my trainees try working with some sort of Twelve-Step Program as an aid in making a systems shift."

I suspect that that idea is key to living in and changing an addictive society. Most of us in this society have addictive behaviors around money or food or relationships or love or sex or alcohol or marijunana or cocaine or self-injury or people we love with these problems or experiences of sexual abuse.... It makes sense to seek a greater understanding of these issues and to deal with them. Twelve-step groups are, by and large, excellent places in which to understand more about these connections between ourselves and society and abuse and addiction and how it all affects us. And (my favorite aspect of them) ultimately they are like classes in how to handle life -- with, bit by bit, all the information that we needed before being hurled into adulthood, and didn't get.

Happily, Schaef suggests that the addictive and abusive aspects of society contain within them the seeds of their own destruction. She points out that like any addict, society needs to hit bottom before it will be ready to change, and that she thinks it is rapidly getting to that point. But she was amazed, when she wrote this decades ago, at how many people were in twelve-step programs. People are rebelling; many of us are already unwilling to live this way. Maybe that's all it takes to change society: maybe we just need a critical mass of people within it to change.

The Flaws

For all its groundbreaking ideas, this book has a lot of flaws. In many ways, this is a good thing.

Over the past twenty or thirty years, we have been experiencing a miracle. Survivors in the 1980s were the first generation to speak openly and publicly about their abuse. As a result, many more people became aware of the abuse that they had experienced themselves, and many more people realized that what happened to them "counted" as abuse. Even more importantly, survivors began to talk to one another, figuring out for themselves what their common experiences were and what those things meant. In many ways, the therapeutic community is just beginning to catch up to what survivors have figured out: for example, the newly proposed diagnosis for Complex PTSD mirrors exactly a lot of twenty-year-old literature from Survivors of Incest Anonymous on the effects of abuse. As survivors discover more and more about themselves, I suspect that it will be easier to identify and help abused children, that people will begin coming out about and dealing with their abuse at younger ages, and that many more people will understand the kind of connections explored here and figure out how to heal these issues. In short, I think that we are present at the beginning of an incredible renaissance.

Schaef has some reason, then, to go through the entire book with barely a mention (if that) of incest and other abuse. When it was written, this process had barely begun to become visible. There are, though, a few less excusable omissions. I find it difficult to believe that she did not spend more time looking at the roots of individual addiction. She seems to conclude that we learn our addictive behavior from society, and that to some extent it's impossible not to be an addict in this kind of society. (I include codependency in that.) But this begs the question of where society's addictive behavior started. It begins to seem like a very large omission, as if on one level the entire book is operating to silence the extreme frequency of abuse.

She also makes another rather strange slip. In her introduction, she reviews the idea of a white male system and the reactive and emerging female systems, and notes that "The beliefs and perceptions of other systems - including the Black System, the Chicano System, the Asian-American System, the Native American System, and both female systems - are unknown to the White Male System and dismissed as irrelevant, inconsequential, or crazy." Later on, she talks about Western cultures versus the rest of the world, but cites behavior that is evident in many cultures all the way around the world.

Basically, she doesn't know enough about any of these other systems to make clear statements about them in global terms. And this is clear in the way that she lists other systems. She states that there are all these systems which are unknown to what later becomes the addictive system, but she never mentions them again. Even more telling are the systems that she lists: the paragraph basically reads like a short list of minority groups in the United States, rather than like a list of actual separate systems that she's noticed.

She also divides race and gender inappropriately: all of the systems are either about race or about being female, except the white male system. Are there separate Chicano and Chicana systems? I wanted her to acknowledge that she was specifically talking about her personal experiences of white male and white female culture, to put more thought into the way she talked about race, and to educate herself enough that she could include it in her analysis of American society. As it stands, she takes the role of the dominant, addictive society: these systems are unknown to her, and dismissed as inconsequential to the book. (It also seems that she has not really educated herself in later years; recently, she published a book entitled "Native Wisdom for White Minds: Daily Reflections Inspired by the Native Peoples of the World," which presents serious problems of cultural appropriation.)

I wish that she had continued to write in this vein after this book, and further explore the questions raised here and the question of what we can do to change our lives and society. But at least she has given us incredibly fertile ground from which to do more work.


And a resource:
Survivors of Incest Anonymous
http://www.siawso.org
Survivors of Incest Anonymous World Service Office
P.O. Box 190
Benson, MD 21018-9998
Telephone: 1-410-893-3322
Online meetings: http://leaves.fabglitter.org/sia/online

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