Letters from Green Island

November 25 2007

A Slightly Different 'Dose of Reality'

Dear Island Morning,
I have been listening with some interest to your series on drug abuse in the young this week, A Dose of Reality.

However, I think there are a few important aspects of 'reality' that you are missing here.

1. The most striking thing about this series is the almost total avoidance of the question 'why??', which seems quite perverse to me - you are never going to solve any kind of problem if you don't look back and understand the 'why', and then direct your solutions to doing something about the frontend cause or causes - there's not much usefulness in curing a person of, shall we say, rabies, only to send them right back into an area crawling with rabid animals with no attempt to do something about those animals. Why are these children you talk about in the series - for that is what most of them are in terms of intellectual maturity - turning to drugs to the point of becoming addicted? You (or your interviewees) occasionally refer somewhat obliquely to shady drug dealers, and apparently the thought the listener is supposed to absorb is that this is some common fact we all know so don't need to talk about it anymore, that these evil people are sneaking around out there, doing nefarious things to get otherwise intelligent and well-adjusted young people addicted to their offerings, in a kind of replay of 'Reefer Madness' from the dark ages of the last century, and that is really the only 'reason' that these children do what they do, and thus we don't need to look at the 'why' they are addicted any further, just pass harsher laws against these dealers, and then talk about how terrible the addiction is, and the problems it causes, and the things we can try, or are trying, to do about it. Which seems to be the focus of this series.

But is this really the case? Is the answer really as simple as harsher penalties and more enforcement to get these nasty drug dealers who are entrapping our innocent children off the street? You offer no evidence for this idea that shady drug dealers are at the root of the problem beyond the opinions of law enforcement people or social workers or parents, which are not 'evidence' in any way at all - and I would suggest there are much deeper things at play here - things which you, and everyone involved, are either unaware of or simply do not want to talk about.

(Note: I would suggest that the words and recommendations of law enforcement and social workers are to be taken with a grain of salt, in any 'dose of reality' - well-meaning no doubt that many of these people are, we must also, realistically speaking, understand that their jobs are somewhat related to the extent of problems such as you discuss in the series. If there is no serious problem, then there is no excuse for their job, and the budget that goes along with it. As jobs go these days, with ever fewer good paying and secure ones, anything to do with the government is one of the better ones, with good security, benefits, pensions, etc. That may sound a bit cynical, and no doubt it is - but it is also true that we live in cynical times, with reason. In the light of the remarks of police officers and social workers that we have a terrible, terrible, problem, which it is their job to do something about - let us also not forget that many young people, as a very natural part of growing up, are going to be curious about trying 'forbidden substances' of any sort, and we should not be panicing at such things, and pretending all such experimentation is a big problem. Those whose livelihoods depend on such problems, however, are more apt to include such experimentation in their 'terrible drug problem' stats. At least, I don't recall anyone mentioning this fact of natural curiosity and experimentation in the young.

The laments of parents also need to be listened to with a bit of skepticism, considering that the reason many children do bad things is that they have been poorly raised in various ways. This is no secret, although it's one of those things that doesn't get talked about much, but any complaints coming from the parents must be met by the question of 'how did you fail your children that they turned out this way?' It may sound heartless to accuse a wailing mother of mismanaging her child's rearing, but not doing so if indeed poor parenting is involved is not going to help solve the problem, if that is the true objective of this documentary and related activities. I don't want to suggest that parents are entirely to blame, as certainly there are many good parents and children do meet outside influences - but you must not go the other direction either, and pretend that all parents are lovely and doing wonderful jobs of raising the next generation of our society and it is terrible to suggest otherwise, and that they should share no blame in the way their children turn out. As the old saying goes, apples tend to fall close to the tree, and if the children are doing bad things, you need to have a look this way before shifting the blame to bogeymen drug dealers for everything. Root causes - if you jail all the drug dealers but don't deal with the poor parenting, you are still going to have problems.)

I'll also quickly mention the obvious thing that needs to be a central part of the solution, as many people in Canada and elsewhere understand and are advocating, although you appear to have managed to avoid mentioning this at all during the series (it's not a popular mainstream media item, regardless of its wide support) - the legalisation of soft drugs, and the de-criminalisation of harder drugs. This would overnight remove all of those nasty drug dealers from the streets, as their profit motive would be gone, as soft drugs were purchased through legal means, probably licenced dealers such as for alcohol or tobacco currently (and thus offering considerable financial incentive to the province as well, in greatly reduced law enforcement costs and increased tax revenue), and the few who really have a problem with harder drugs are looked after as alcoholics are looked after today, with no legal ramifications for most of them (actually it would be desirable to look after all addicted people a bit better than we do today, but that's a different story). And lest your immediate reaction is the theory that legalising soft drugs would lead to an explosion of the addiction problem, I think you are very mistaken - insofar as you are now blaming much or most of the problem on drug dealers luring the children into addiction, I suspect the reverse would actually be the case, as to whatever extent those drug dealers were formerly enticing young children into doing drugs, which you seem to believe is the major source of the problem, would no longer be occurring, as their financial motive for doing so would be gone (and that is the only motive they have). And your second objection - that even legal drugs have age limits and we're talking in this series about mostly underaged abusers - is not very strong, in that we know that many underage people drink alcohol and even smoke cigarettes, but there is no outcry about 'street dealers of alcohol or tobacco' sneaking around in the dark entrapping those children. If pot is legal for older young people, the younger young people will get their pot the same place they get their beer.

But even so, legalised drugs or no, realistic assessment assumed, I suspect you would still find a considerable number of people, young and otherwise, turning to drugs one way or another - as you have today, from those finding escape 'legally' through alcohol or prescription drugs to others turning to harder drugs through illegal channels.

And we have to ask a broader question, as indicated earlier - why?

Why do so many people in our society, young and old, feel a need to turn to drugs?

Happy, well-adjusted, intelligent people do not feel any need to turn to drugs - they may use them occasionally in a social way, but only very, very rarely does a happy, well adjusted, intelligent person fall to some sort of addiction. Addiction is an escape - happy, well-adjusted people don't need to escape from anything. The drugs either provide the user with some sense of happiness they are not getting in their lives otherwise, or simply an escape from a life in which they believe no happiness is possible, and oblivion is preferable.

So why are the children you document in your series feeling so unhappy or depressed that they turn to drugs? - is the question you should be concentrating your time and efforts on here, yet I don't recall you actually exploring that question at all in any kind of meaningful way in your series, beyond the odd comment that 'everyone does it' or something, which does not qualify as 'in depth'.

What are you doing in your society that causes this emptiness in your children, this feeling of hopelessness, that causes them to take what escape they can, either searching it out themselves, or being more vulnerable when others offer it to them?

And to the extent they are young enough, and innocent enough, to be trapped into addiction from casual usage even though more or less well-adjusted, as I suppose some minority of them are - you are the adults, you are responsible for raising your children to be aware of such dangers and strong and secure enough to turn away if offered, so I must ask - how are YOU failing your children, and what do YOU plan to do about it, besides blaming the victims and throwing them in jail when their lack of education and protection, and other things, causes them to turn to these drugs?

This is a quite deep question, involving some serious sociological analysis which I obviously cannot explore in depth here, but that does not mean it can't shed some light on your problem by helping to open some doors it would be useful for you to go through if you're seriously concerned with dealing with this problem. Let me offer a couple of places to start looking.

Let us begin with something that is closely related to drug use and abuse - poverty. Check your stats - are a majority of these kids from wealthy homes? Middle-class homes? Or poor homes? I don't recall the idea of poverty being mentioned once in your series - but you can be sure there is a relationship between the group of your drug-abusing children and poverty.

You know as well as I that poor families, and their children, are much more at risk to become involved in drug abuse, or other criminal or anti-social activity. Not surprisingly - they do not feel valued by their society, they have little opportunity to avail themselves of the nice middle-class things available in our society they see all around them, and constantly on the television they all watch, and resent those closed doors. And do things like turning to drugs to escape, or crime to try to get these things they will otherwise be denied, including simply the social status that money confers, and lack of money denies in our materialistic society. It's hard to rationalize to a child that he or she was simply born to the wrong parents, so all odds are seriously stacked against her/him from the day he or she was born, and our society doesn't much care, and the only response we offer to their confusion and anger is 'toe the line or it's off to jail for you'. (Yes, we 'say' we care about them, but the children also understand very directly the great gulf between our lovely caring words and our somewhat less lovely actions, as it's off to the foodbank every week for their poorfolk meals and off to the fishplant whenever they get out of high school rather than medical school where their wealthier 'peers' are heading.)

Unhappiness is not confined to poor children, of course, and many children from middle-class or even well-to-do families live in homes that are dysfunctional in one way or another, with various unhappiness-creating problems concealed behind those trusty closed doors. And in such families, the children have not developed the tools or maturity to have much hope of dealing with such problems from those they look to for protection and nurturing, so very often look for some kind of escape in one or another type of drug.

And our entire society is quite dysfunctional as well, in the sense that it is not healthy emotionally or intellectually. Emotionally, although the mythology is that Canada is a 'democracy', and it may well look to be on the surface with elections and so on, it is quite evident that it is still a class society, with a priviledged ruling class and a large middle and poor class of workers who are forced to work all of their lives, more often than not at jobs they really do not much like, and the pressures of not having enough money and not being very happy with the job affect almost everyone, and lead to many problems. This is why so many adults abuse 'legal' drugs, or are abusive to their spouses and/or children - the sense of hopelessness and despair they feel at lost dreams, a life very much less than the one they dreamed of (and were promised on the television and in school) when they were young, and that they do see the priviledged few still having. And children from such families grow up with the same problems.

And intellectually, that we refuse to acknowledge this fundamental truth about our country, the very large number of people living substandard lives of poverty and misery and what amounts to forced labour, is essentially a lie, and lies are not healthy things to be basing societies on, and the disconnect and confusion caused in the brain by pretending to believe things that somewhere inside one understands are not true leads again to many problems, that get relieved in many ways.

Children see these things as well as adults, even if they cannot really understand them, but have not yet learned to subdue their feelings to the extent that they can pretend to function 'happily' in such a society as most 'adults' have done, with many poor and the few wealthy, as most societies throughout history have been. The older people have by and large learned to accept this and have subdued the parts of their brain that once yearned for freedom and happiness - Canadian society, imperfect and dysfunctional though it is, is still considerably better than living in caves, and our western governments are somewhat better to the working class than many governments have been in the past or are in other countries today, but 'better' does not necessarily equate with 'good', and the more intelligent young people still look forward, and see stretching ahead of them a life chained to a desk or a fishplant canning line, and this does not make them happy, so they reach for escape.

And if the problems seem worse today than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, it is because our modern society, where globalisation has become the new guiding principle, is also growing ever worse, as the social support systems we used to have are being removed in the name of funneling even more money to the already rich, and offering even fewer, and poorer-paying, jobs to the new people leaving school and looking for a way to support themselves. For every half-decent IT job, there are 50 call-center cubicles with their completely unfulfilling lives of drudgery looming for the kids of PEI, and they understand this. The things that lead to drug abuse or other anti-social activity are becoming stronger, and the children understanding better the fundamental lies and hypocricies of our society, thus paying less attention to the 'do as we say and not as we do' words of their elders. And drugs and booze are a very natural thing to turn to, to try to escape.

Well, I've gone on enough for this morning, as I don't expect anyone is really interested in opening these doors since you carefully avoided them in your series and they would lead to a fundamental rexamination of many things I expect nobody wants to get into, but just in case someone is ready - this is the way to begin to deal with the drug problems you talk about in this short series.

  • Legalise soft drugs, decriminalize hard drugs.
  • Don't let the problem be greatly magnified into something much larger than it really is by those whose livelihoods depend on having a serious problem to justify their jobs.
  • Don't let the parents of these children present themselves as innocent victims of some sort - in most cases, they will be part of the problem because of their poor parenting skills.
  • Look at society in general - if many parents have poor parenting skills - why is this so? This is important to society, because, as this series illustrates if we care to think about it, poor parenting skills lead to poorly raised children who then cause problems for all of us to deal with.
  • Get serious about alleviating poverty in our society - and even if you're pursing your lips in scroogelike resistance to 'lazy adults' getting a 'free ride' on your generous welfare checks, don't punish the children for the sins of the parents, and get some serious programs in place to ensure that all children have open doors to a decent life.
Note I did say begin - although these things would go a long ways towards helping these children (not to mention many other problems our society faces), they would still only be a stopgap, as the entire focus of society needs to be looked at carefully, and we need to push back the walls of the box that is slowly enclosing everyone, a box which is designed to make most people poorly paid, dumbed-down willing workers on a capitalist treadmill, producing great wealth for those who truly control our society. There is more about this box here - They're Building a Box and You're In It - http://www.rudemacedon.ca/dlp/box/box-intro.html - if anyone is interested.

Good luck - but if you really want to solve this 'problem', it's certainly going to take more than luck - it's going to take a 'real' dose of reality, which this series pretty much avoids.

(late PS - I note one of the comments above states that children should be responsible for themselves as they become adolescents, and to some extent in a better society this would be the case - but in PEI (most places in Canada as well) they are taught to obey, not to think for themselves - I would recall the comment of George MacDonald many years ago in the Rick Morin case - "These children will do as they are told in high school, they can think for themselves when they go to university." - and thus those who are trying to teach them to 'do as they are told' must surely share some of the blame when they resist this control, partly through experimenting with drugs.)
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