Drugs as a tool

I’ve been reading John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the intricacies of giving meaning to their story.

For those who haven’t read the book, Mr. Truby approaches story as if it were a body, and dissects it as if her were doing an autopsy. He has a chapter on technology (tools). In it he observes that within a story “tools are an extension of the human form, taking a simple capability and magnifying its power”. Why do I mention this? Because while reading Truby’s book, I have also been working through some ideas for major redraft of Carrion.

One of the ideas at the centre of Carrion is that insects have been genetically engineered to eat drugs. Within my story they are physical manifestation of prohibition. A tool that takes the ruthless unrelenting enforcement of prohibition to its merciless conclusion, the physical destruction of anyone who takes drugs. With that in mind, I started to think about drugs as a tool, and asked the question, what kind of tool are drugs?

This quickly becomes more complicated than you think. It’s all too easy to view drugs simply a tool to alter your mood. I’ve written before about the link I see between drugs and prohibition. In a previous post I outlined a paradigm that uses drug prohibition as a tool for social control.

Certainly that is one function drugs play within society, but it’s not the only one. I read a paper recently by Tammy L Anderson that points to A Cultural-Identity Theory Of Drug Abuse. The paper differentiates between drug use and abuse. “The theory proposes that drug abuse is an outcome of a drug-related identity change process featuring three micro-level (personal marginalization, ego identity discomfort, and lost control in defining an identity), two mesolevel (social marginalization and identification with a drug subcultural group), and three macro-level (economic opportunity, educational opportunity, and popular culture) concepts.”

Without getting into the intricacies of a theory that describes twelve hypothetical relationships that lead to drug abuse. It does point to another way drugs are used. As a tool of cultural identity. From my own experiences I can say there is certainly an identification between those have used drugs, and those who have not. You only have to look at the way those who drink alcohol view those who do not to see a shared identity works.

Conversely in this instance, because alcohol is a socially acceptable drug, those who do not drink are the ones viewed with hostility. This binary polarisation of “us” and “them” points to the dynamics at work when looking at the way illicit drugs are viewed. Cultural-identity theory argues that drug abuse is a consequence of a multitude of marginalizing experiences. “The greater the number of marginalizing experiences… the greater the risk for drug abuse.”

If that is the case, and drug abuse is a consequence of an accumulation of negative experiences both personal and social, drugs become a consequence of negative forces that define those who eventually abuse drugs, and not the other way round. This perhaps accounts for the vicious way in which the sober world treats drug users. There’s a sense of guilt felt by the sober world, a guilt that recognises drug use is not simply people being somehow weak willed, a guilt that can not be solved, and ultimately elicits hostility.

There is a scene in David Mamet’s film The Spanish Prisoner that explains the psychological origins of human cruelty.

Steve Martin explains the psychological origins of human cruelty in “The Spanish Prisoner”

The key line comes at the end of Steve Martin’s speech, when Campbell Scott asks him why his employers will start to act cruelly toward him, Martin replies. “To suppress their guilt.”

For me, and certainly within the context of Carrion, I’m starting to see drugs as a tool of guilt, and motivating forces for both protagonist and his antagonist.


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