Snowstorm May Lay Bare Our ‘Control Addiction’ | Sojourners

Snowstorm May Lay Bare Our ‘Control Addiction’

Photo via REUTERS / Adrees Latif / RNS
New York City’s Times Square on Jan. 26, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Adrees Latif / RNS

Apocalypse or snowstorm? For a nervous few days, we worried that life as we know it in New York would be undone by a monster blizzard.

As it turned out, we didn’t get the feared 36 inches. But as we stood in long grocery lines and planned escape routes from work, we realized that not a single one of us — not even the mega-wealthy and mega-powerful in this mega-city — could control this moment.

For me, a blizzard would have imperiled my scheduled move Upstate on Jan. 29 and my scheduled flight to California next week and ensuing four-week pilgrimage driving east on two-lane roads, plans made over many months.

Now we could see our “control addiction” in action. Some believe control is the ultimate human addiction. Not caused by a chemical or harmful substance, but caused by the grand delusion that we are all-powerful, we are “masters of the universe,” as Tom Wolfe put it. Our wealth and our weapons can make life exactly what we want.

That delusion, in turn, frees us from having to grasp the nature of God and our actual place in God’s creation. We can seat ourselves on thrones. We can claim the right to take human life. We can brutalize other people and trash the universe. We can wage wars, enslave entire peoples, bomb, and pillage at will. We can declare our words ultimate truth and demonize whoever speaks a different word.

Until we can’t. Until reality intrudes. Until we discover the hard way that we aren’t God and we don’t control much of anything. Our hero this week will be the unknown and underpaid guy who mans a snowplow.

The grand delusion is our way of coping with fear, often fear arising from childhood trauma (abuse, neglect, divorce), as well as fears stirred in adulthood by loss of a job or ill health.

In the control addiction, many are compulsive caregivers, serving in order to create dependencies. Others spread fear by abuse and rage. Yet others turn to chemically induced numbness or go all-out for wealth and power, hoping to make life safe by hoarding riches and compelling other people.

The outcome of a widespread control addiction is what we see now: a breakdown in civility, toxic public posturing, paralyzed leaders, loss of the self-sacrifice, and sharing that undergird community. People become nasty online, bullies in the public square and uninterested in the welfare of others.

To sustain control and the safety we hope it will bring, we retreat into armed camps and rigid ideology. We collaborate in exploiting the weak and oppressing the different.

In some ways, the U.S. has experienced a massive “blizzard” in recent years. Things we counted on stopped working, from heavy industries to education to bridges. Other nations moved beyond our control. Masses turned hopeless and angry and vented their despair on us. The wealthy at home lost confidence in their own nation and became hoarders.

This blizzard of shattered expectations and loss of control can turn us into monsters, or we can work together to ameliorate the storm’s impact and find a way forward.

For now, we seem to be feeding the beast inside. I hope we learn in time that addiction to control will ruin our lives.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant, and Episcopal priest based in New York. Via RNS.