Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Different Drug Problem

Sometimes, I see things posted on Facebook that seem like they're just there to poke at me. Today is one of those days. While looking through my FB news feed, I saw a picture that one of my family members posted. I clicked on it and read through it, and facepalmed. The wonderful thing about social media is that information can spread quickly through it, and you can learn a lot. The downfall of social media is that misinformation can spread quickly through, and you get taught wrong.

This is a case of the later.

Here's the text:

The following letter has appeared on the internet and was viewed by many readers. Many felt it would be appropriate for the readers of Avayelles Parish.

The other day, someone at a store in our town read that a Methamphetamine lab had been found in an old farmhouse in the adjoining county and he asked me a rhetorical question, "Why didn't we have a drug problem when you and I were growing up?"

I replied, I had a drug problem when I was young. I was drug to church on Sunday mornings. I was drug to church for weddings and funerals. I was drug to family reunions and community socials no matter what the weather.

I was drug by my ears when I was disrespectful to adults. I was also drug to the woodshed when I disobeyed my parents, told a lie, brought home a bad report card, did not speak with respect, spoke ill of the teacher or the preacher, or if I didn't put forth my best effort in everything that was asked of me.

I was drug to the kitchen to have my mouth washed out with soap if I uttered a profanity. I was drug out to pull weeds in mom's garden and flower beds and cockleburs out of dad's fields. I was drug to homes of family, friends, and neighbors to help out some poor soul who had no one to mow the yard, repair the clothesline, chop some firewood, and, if my mother had ever known I took a single dime as a tip for this kindness, she would have drug me back to the woodshed.

Those drugs are still in my veins and they affect my behavior in everything I do, say, or think. They are stronger than cocaine, crack, or heroin; and, if today's children had this kind of drug problem, America would be a better place.

God bless the parents who drugged us.

Overlooking the horrible grammar issues here ("drugged us?" shouldn't that be "dragged us?"; I understand the intended pun but damn is it painful), there's some pretty heavy victim-blaming happening here, classism, and one hell of a nostalgia filter. There's also some heavily implied child-abuse; because as we all know, fear and threat of pain is the best way to keep your subjects in-line, right? You can be loved or feared, but you cannot be both - to quote Machiavelli. Who, mind you, was also from the 60s... the late 1460s, that is.

First off, I'm not sure what era the writer is from. However, because I hear this all the time in the folks who grew up in the 40s, 50s, and early 60s, I'm going to assume that they're from the era of Andy Griffith, Leave it to Beaver, and other "wholesome" 50s/60s sitcoms. This is one of the reasons why I'm so jaded anymore; I hear shit like this and slap my forehead. Andy Griffith was not a historical documentary. Leave it to Beaver was not how things were in the 1950s and 60s. Alright? Let's lay that down now. You say you're from the 1950s and 1960s. I know how memory works; if you're White and you come to me telling me this stuff, I won't believe you. Oh sure, I'll look at you and know you were alive at that time. But I won't believe your experiences.

First off, our memory is influenced more by our peers than by any actual event that we may have experienced. Your memory goes through a process called "reconsolidation", whereby it "updates" old, long-term memories with new information that your brain feels may be relevant. Television ads have a huge impact on this, and memories can be spoofed or invented whole cloth through external stimulus - even if they never happened to begin with. The net worth of all this means that your memories are not trustworthy. Some of your experiences may not even be real. I've studied history - I have my minor in history. World history, not American history, but from the perspective of an American, guess what? Modern world history as taught to Americans is basically modern American history, with America as the protagonist and those funny Europeans as our sidekicks who occasionally do weird things and get mentioned for it. I'm more willing to filter through subjective writings of the period and build what resembles an objective reality of that era as opposed to listen to the ramblings of a few backwards looking individuals wearing the nostalgia filter like a gas mask during World War I, who have their memories dictated to them by FOX like a court stenographer.

I'm not saying that the individual who wrote this listens to FOX, or watches it. But I wouldn't be surprised if they did.

Having said all that, when you approach me and you tell me what you remember of that era, and your memory of that era is one of eternal sunshine, when everyone believed in God, parents respected their children, unicorns shit rainbows and pissed gumdrops and everything would be perfect if we could just go back to that age again, I will look at you like you're out of your fucking mind. Because you are. Your memories may seem real to you, but guess what? the 1950s and 60s were over 60 years ago. You don't think, in that time, your memory has reconsolidated memories, been impacted by television ads and your peers, and in some cases been invented whole cloth because you saw those old sitcoms and remembered it exactly like it was?

Now, having dismissed the nostalgia filter, let's get into the bulk of this nasty and toxic little memetic message.

There are three things wrong here. The first thing wrong is the notion there wasn't a drug problem. It's a lie in some ways, and not in others. What it boils down to is how you define "a drug." The next thing is this notion that abuse is the best way to keep a child in line - drag their ass behind the woodshed for discipline or rinse the mouth out with soap if they said "fuck", which, mind you, didn't exist back then. The last is the victim-blaming. Illegal narcotics are not just endemic in poor communities - it's just that more poor people get caught using them. Do you seriously think you could go to rehab like one of those celebrities do? Nope. Sorry, you're Black/Latino, male, and got some drugs? Your ass is in jail. If you're White? Maybe. We'll have to wait and see. There's another in there; it's this privileged notion that the world would be better if everyone went to church, everyone believed in God, everyone had two parents, and everyone lived in a perfect world where all this could happen, so I guess that makes four things wrong - that stand up and grab me by the lapels of my jacket, anyway.

Let's take a look at the "drug problem" first. Today, Meth is classified as a Schedule II substance under a U.N. Convention called the "Convention of Psychotropic Substances." The DEA follows through with that, also classing Meth as a Schedule II substance. Meth is a psychostimulant, and according to Wikipedia, "Methamphetamine increases alertness, concentration, energy, and in high doses, can induce euphoria, enhance self-esteem and increase libido." Like any drug, Meth goes by a 100+ names. It was first synthesized in the 1800s in Germany, and in the 1930s, it was marketed as Benzedrine, an OTC inhaler used for treating nasal congestion. By 37, it was available as a pill. During the 40s, Meth was used by the military to keep soldiers awake and moving - especially during World War II, when it was used to help the fighting men keep going for hours on end. Non-medical use of Meth first appeared in the 1950s, when it was marketed under two names; Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine) and Methedrine (methamphetamine). It was used by truck drivers, college students, athletes, and eventually, became a cure-all for everything from weight loss to mild depression. In the 1960s, Meth became available through injections, and that was about the time when they started to restrict it ("History of Meth"). Today, legal sell of meth as an OTC is no longer allowed; it is, however, FDA-approved as an ADHD medication and of treating exogenous obesity (Wikipedia article on Meth).

So, they didn't have a drug problem back in the 1930s-1950s. They didn't because Meth was totally legal. Of course, that didn't stop abuse of it, but as the approval of it to treat ADHD and exogenous obesity proves, abuse does not negate use. Once the FDA started to ban Meth and make it's possession illegal, you started to see a rise in illegal trade of it - people who want something bad enough will do anything to get it; rule number one of human psychology. So they turned towards the black market. The black market then said "O Hai. I got what you need" and what followed was a lot of money funneling into illegal industries - ones that became very strong and very powerful. So actually, depending upon how you define "drug" and how you define "problem," the 1950s had a very serious drug problem.

But that's never seen in all those old television shows and sitcoms. Apparently, pa didn't drag enough kids out behind the woodshed. Look at how many people abused it. That or they were really, really good about keeping there skeletons in the closet and, if you'll pardon my pun, whitewashing the era.

This notion that there was no drug problem in the 1950s is bullshit. It's pure nostalgia filter and nothing more; looking backwards on an era that was not at all like it keeps getting painted as being. And even aside from meth, "drug" is defined in a variety of ways. For instance, tobacco is a drug. Alcohol is a drug. Any kind of substance that affects the brain chemistry in ways outside of the norm is a narcotic. Are you going to tell me that alcoholics didn't exist int he 1950s, 40s, or 30s? Are you going to say that people didn't smoke Cuban cigars, or enjoy cigarettes?

Which leads us to our next issue - the classism, racism, and victim-blaming. Why are cigarettes/cigars and alcohol overlooked when one talks about "society's drug problem?" The bulk of it is classism. The wealthy and rich smoke and drink alcohol - wine, but spirits too. Drugs like meth and crack and cocaine are usually associated with the underclass. They're associated with the poor - and because the face of poor is almost always Black/Latino, that's who they're associated with. Alcohol and cigarettes/cigars? Not so much. Meth tends to get associated with White "trailer trash", but what is "trailer trash" if not poor White people? Alcohol and cigarettes/cigars transcend classes. In fact, both can be a marker of wealth and thus, authority. Meth, crack, and cocaine? Not so much. The way these drugs are seen by society - either as status symbols or markers of a low class and being poor - affect whether or not they're viewed as "a problem". Part of this is certainly because being poor means you're viewed "as a problem" by society, especially in the case of education. Education is your key to "social advancement," which is this mythical American beast like Bigfoot; often sighted, there's some scant evidence that suggests it exists, but otherwise, nobody sees it but the people who claim it's there. If you're poor, you likely live a shitty, shitty life. Sometimes, it benefits you to try and get away from that life - a person can only take so much for so long before they get burned out and can't handle it anymore. Remember that not everyone is the same - "oh, but I can do it, why can't they?" Because they're not you? Because you're not aware of their economic situation, and because by asking that question you prove yourself conceited and apathetic to the problems of others by, in essence, blaming them for being different from you and having different circumstances than you? Because you're judging them, without knowing whether or not they might have a mental illness like depression or bipolar, and can't afford treatment because, y'know, they're fucking poor, so they medicate themselves instead and wind up getting hooked at a young age when their friends share this stuff, and thus they devote their entire time to trying to escape the hellish world that they live in when there's no apparently way out?

Poverty was a large problem in the 1950s too, but income disparity was nowhere near as steep as it is today (in the 2010s). Social mobility is completely possible - so long as it's downward social mobility. When it rains, it pours. If you can keep yourself together and weather it, good for you. Don't expect everyone to be like you. Have some empathy for a change. Most people hooked on these drugs don't want to be there - or they want to be there, because it's so much better than what they have. Especially when people like you and society keep holding their heads underwater while demanding they pick themselves up by their bootstraps.

So there's the classism with undercurrents of racism and victim-blaming. The other thing that grabbed me was the notion that so long as you went to church, things were just fine. Not even a few months ago some guy was shot and murdered in the parking lot of a church where I live at, in what was likely a drug deal gone bad. Obviously going to church has no bearings at all on the kind of person that you are - this is more of the same old tired bullshit that being Christian makes you better person, when really, it makes you no different from anyone else - no more given to be a bad person, but no less, either.

And then there's the child abuse here - daddy drags your ass out behind the woodshed for a whooping. I wasn't mocking when I quoted Machiavelli. You can either have your child love you or fear you, but you can't have both. And what happens here is that the author sounds more like they fear their parents than respect them.

In short, this is an ugly piece of fail that, again, highlights everything that's wrong with the drug war and society's view of narcotics and drugs. If you happen to see this on FB, make sure to make a note of how toxic and destructive this sort of thinking actually is. Because part of the reason society has the problems that it has is because we keep trying to progress, but there's a vocal group trying to regress, and we're being split in two different directions with no place to go. So we sit and stagnant.

This is that regressive nature made visible. And it must be attacked wherever it is seen - for the sake of society and the future of our species.


  1. Sounds like this person is advocating replacing a drug problem with a child abuse problem, with the sincere presupposition that this would even be an effective measure against drug use.

    "Thank God for the parents who drugged me." Oh my fucking god. This hits a raw spot with me. I was put on Ritalyn in first grade, and was on my first antidepressant by age eight. Maybe it was the best thing to do, maybe it wasn't, but twenty-eight years and at least two upgraded diagnoses later (bipolar, possible Asperger's or other spectrum autism) I am still completely dependent on drugs to get me from one day to the next relatively intact. Oh, but those must be OK, because after all they were prescribed by a doctor and I have an illness that was diagnosed... which wouldn't have happened if my parents didn't have the money to drag me to the psychiatrist in the first fucking place.

    Note the difference in the verbs and tenses. First I got dragged. Then I got drugged. Two completely different things there, Sparky.

    aaarrrrgh. the stupid. it hurts my head.

    ... sorry for the swears.

    1. Whoops, not 28 years, got dyslexia in mathematics too. lessee what's 30 minus 8, that's 22. That is what I meant... I think. Yes. No. *checks calculator.* Yes.

      frakking embarrassing, maybe I should have gone on letting you think I was... *calculator* 36 instead of dyslexic. But then I would have been Wrong on the Internet, and I can't abide that. >.<

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