Entry 95: A Packet of White Powder– You would really like Rat Park, if you were a rat. And- actually- it doesn’t look too bad from a human perspective. Lots of friends and things to do, plentiful food and diverting activities including the odd hit of stimulating substances such as cocaine: what’s not to like? In Rat Park there is no war on drugs and hence no multi-billion-dollar organised criminal rodent cartels corrupting the institutions of society and spreading misery and mayhem through every level of Rat Park.
The rats are free to have a blast whenever they feel like it. But, surely then, there are hordes of addicted, drug-addled rats committing all sorts of dastardly rat-crimes all over the place? No… Back in the 1970s a perceptive psychology professor from Vancouver, Bruce K Alexander, questioned the accepted protocol of placing lone rats in a bare cage and offering them drug-laced water. The outcome of such a protocol was: heavily addicted rats who would take the drugged water repeatedly until death intervened.
He and his colleagues built Rat Park as described before and, guess what? Because the rats lived in a healthy, harmonious community, they partook of the stimulants offered- but did not become dysfunctional. I read an article (or it may be a transcript of a speech) of his from July 3 2014 which begins,
Herewith, I confess to the charge of attempted murder. My intended victim was – and still is – the Official View of Addiction, sometimes known in the field by its aliases including, “the brain disease model of addiction” or “The NIDA model”. The presentation below contains irrefutable evidence of my guilt. However, it also expresses my plea to the High Court that ridding the world of the Official View of Addiction is justifiable.
His thesis is simple and compelling: addicts are not brain-damaged creatures in thrall to their substance of abuse in an otherwise well-functioning society, but rather, in modern times, most addiction arises because of the dislocation caused by fragmented societies. In fragmented societies, addiction leaves few people untouched. This dislocation thesis is eloquently elaborated by Johann Hari in his book, Chasing the Scream: the First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.
Now initially, he, like many of you, felt the glowing reports from Rat Park were, well, rat-o-centric. But, as he writes in a Huff Post article in 2015, I discovered that there was – at the same time as the Rat Park experiment – a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War.
The American forces in that conflict used heroin habitually: 1 in 5 becoming addicted. There were some professionals back in the good old USA who were terrified of the prospect of hordes of addicted, drug-addled G.I.s returning home to commit all sorts of dastardly crimes all over the place.
Bated breath now, as Johann Hari reports what happened next, but in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers…simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more. WTF! All this was known forty years ago?
How much money has been misspent, how much misery has been inflicted, and- yes- how much dislocation has been visited on societies and communities throughout our world over the decades since the war on drugs was declared by powerful forces in the US long, long ago?
Sort of reminiscent of the war on terror that exercises the bulging craniums of the great and good in our contemporary world, don’t you think? Now, I could be privy to the secrets of deeply imbedded whistle-blowers and reveal here incontrovertible evidence that would support the professor’s thesis.
But it would be in vain. The only force that can break through the immovable object which is the world’s received wisdom is…(drumroll)…Poetry! Music! Literature! Art! Who knows!
But I sit and sip my shiraz and feel the fan swirling the humid midnight air around me and I thank God that I can still tap, tap, tap on the keyboard as I try to negotiate a way through this thicket before I have to go to bed and plug in the earplugs that will deliver to me Beethoven’s late quartets as I toss and turn in the sheets and try to imagine a sun rising sometime soon when I can re-join the world of birds and buses and busy, busy, busy people.
Our addictions are legion. And I am grateful for those artists who have negotiated the shoals and reefs of their pain in order to show us what it is like to be on the edge of agony: and here, I would like to pay homage to Anne Sexton,
I’m the queen of this condition./I’m an expert on making the trip- …Then I lie on my altar/ elevated by the eight chemical kisses./What a lay me down this is/with two pink, two orange,/ two green, two white goodnights./Fee-fi-fo-fum-/Now I’m borrowed./Now I’m numb.