Why is Adam against drugs?

In the story world of Carrion, drug users are the enemy. As a distinct social group they are to Reiner and the prohibitionist what the Jews were to Hitler and the Nazis, “if we did not have them we should have to invent him. It is essential to have a tangible enemy”.

They’re the outsider, the other, the enemy, the threat that people can be united against. Defeat drugs and the world will be a better place.

From Reiner’s point of view, the choice to do drugs represents a kind of desire for freedom, that poses a direct challenge to the security he craves. This makes Adam’s animosity towards drugs, more about his desire to be part of something bigger. Which raises the question, if you strip away that belonging would the animosity go with it?

Adam wants to be part of something bigger. The price to become part of that something is his sister. Unwilling to pay the piper he is exiled, forced to experience the world thusly.

Does that make Adam’s animosity to drugs environmental, a learned behaviour that has more to do with his relationship with Christine, than some innate hatred of drugs and users.


Christine’s desire

I ended my last post with a question; what does Christine’s desire line look like?

It would be easy to say Christine’s desire is to escape prohibition but I don’t think that adequately describes what she wants. To truly understand her desire we first have to understand her need. What must Christine fullfil within herself to have a better life?

Need is about overcoming her moral and psychological weaknesses. The knee-jerk reaction to this question identifies her drug use as her weakness, but as I tried to explain in my previous post, Christine’s drug use is not a negative. That understanding just doesn’t fit with the moral vision or theme I have for the story.

As I understand it Christine’s weakness is her rebelliousness, that impulse she has to resist authority, control, or convention. In the chapter “Character Web by Archetype” of “The Anatomy of Story” John Truby notes that the rebel’s strength is the “courage to stand out from the crowd and act against a system that is enslaving people”. The weakness of this archetype is that they “often cannot provide a better alternative, so end up destroying the society”.

I think of the link between the two sides of her weakness like this. If Adam’s self-righteousness is a product of a positive pushed until it becomes a negative, his responsibility, taken to the extreme, is oppressive.

Christine’s weakness is a product of her bravery pushed until it becomes destructive. At the beginning of the story her rebelliousness is the wellspring of the conflict with Adam. Her defiance exasperates Adam. He reacts with self-righteous indignation and arrests her, which reenforces her will to resist. She has a destructiveness about her at the beginning of the story.

The question then becomes, what is she at the end? In purely technical terms she needs to achieve the polar opposite. Put simply if her weakness is destructive she needs to create something.

That insight brings me to the conclusion that Christine’s need is to change the society she lives in. Ironically, a need she is only able to fulfil through Adam. When, at the end of the story, Adam chooses freedom over security, he is fulfilling Christine’s creative need to free society. He is doing it because of what he’s learned through Christine.

A conclusion I wasn’t really aware of until now. Christine’s desire line is not to escape prohibition, it’s to change Adam. This insight changes the way I look at Adam and how he relates to Christine.

Why does Christine Leigh take drugs?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Christine Leigh. Who she is? What she wants? Why she takes drugs?

Christine’s relationship with Adam is the cornerstone of Carrion.

She is the reason he goes up against Reiner. Without her Adam would remain inactive, Reiner’s actions would go unchallenged, and our view of prohibition would remain inviolate.

The story only gets under way when Adam’s desire to save Christine kicks in. But there is a problem with characterising Christine as something that needs to be saved. Certainly it allows Adam to justify arresting her at the beginning of the story, but it has the potential to make her incredibly passive.

There is another thing. “Characterising Christine as something that needs to be saved” underestimates, or more accurately, misrepresents her drug use. Overall it presupposes she is victimised by drugs. Certainly she is persecuted by prohibition, but when I think of her drug use I don’t see her as a victim.

The understanding of drug user as victim relies heavily on the popular perception of those who take drugs as damaged individual running away from something. While there are undoubtably a percentage of individuals who fit this profile. I know the vast majority of people who use drugs take them for entirely different reason. If the truth were told there are probably as many reasons for using drugs as there are people who take them.

There’s also another misconception at play, one that presumes everyone who takes drugs is an addict. I view this as prohibitionist propaganda. The truth is less hysterical. Just as not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic, not everyone who takes drugs is an addict.

Which brings me back to the question, why does Christine take drugs? The short answer is she’s looking for something. If I had to pin it down I’d say she is actually seeking a state of grace. I don’t think of Christine as a religious person. I think what she seeks is less devine grace and more secular enlightenment. In an earlier post I outlined something of Christine’s character.

Born in 1995. She was two when her brother joined the army. In the years that followed she saw him occasionally. His absence from the family home meant she actually grew up an only child. The sole beneficiary of her parents emotional, physical and financials resources, the constant attention lead to a strong willed girl sensitive to disapproval. Denied competition from a sibling she exhibits a certain possessiveness with her time, space and belongings. Perfectly happy to spend time alone and fiercely loyal, she prefers the company of a few close friends to the superficial connections exhibited by her extrovert peers. (2)

I view Christine’s drug use as her way of connecting to others. It’s not just that she has a small group of friends who are united by a common activity, or the feelings of empathy that comes with the use of a drug like ecstasy. I think she uses drugs because she has a deep-rooted need to short circuit the barriers between people.

At the core of that need are the barriers she feels between herself and Adam. The flip-side of this need to connect is her great weakness, her rebelliousness, that impulse to resist authority, control or convention. All of which raises a question, what does her desire line look like?

Reiner and the totalitarian mindset

I’ve been thinking about Adam’s main opponent Anthony Reiner, specifically what makes him such a willing exponent of prohibition? As I pondered in the comments of my previous post, “I’m trying to figure out the mechanism of his adherence to the cause. Why does he react so violently to Adam’s need to save Christine?”

Reading back over it I realised, Reiner reacts to Adam’s decision to help Christine as a betrayal of the cause, a reaction rooted in Reiner’s totalitarian mindset, a mindset that has no tolerance for ambiguity.

When he encounters the kind of complexity offered by Adam’s willingness to help Christine, he tries to impose his pre-existing frames of reference on the decision, reducing it to an us or them ultimatum.

Going back to Alfonso Montuori paper “How to make enemies and influence people” it’s interesting to note the kind of personality the totalitarian mindset attracts. Consistent attempts to suppress “complexity through maladaptive simplicity is characteristic of the closed-mindedness of the authoritarian personality”.

Montuori’s characterisation of the totalitarian mindset, as an authoritarian personality, fits perfectly with description I have of Reiner. For Reiner ambiguous situations cause anxiety, a stress he copes with by adhering to “a clear set of rules and regulations… imposed by whoever is in charge”.

While this might be described by John Truby as his psychological weakness, a weakness hurting only himself, it doesn’t describe his moral weakness, the weakness that is hurting at least one other person. It is clear to me now that Reiner’s moral weakness is explicit in his framing of drug users as an external threat. As Montuori notes “the perception of an out-group as a threat and an enemy is the glue that holds this (totalitarian) mindset together”. A distinction that’s at the very core of Carrion.

In this fiction, as in reality, drug users are universally defined as a threat, blamed for everything from social unrest to criminality. The prohibitionist routinely reduces the drug issue to a simple black and white choice, “if we sort out the drug problem everything will be all-right”.

In Carrion the threat from users becomes even more acute when they are attacked by the insects. It’s no coincidence that the government are behind the release of the insects. It serves two functions, first it’s an attack on the drug using population, uniting people against an identifiable enemy. Second it creates a crisis that allows drug users to be targeted for persecution.

In Carrion users are not only a threat to public order, now they’re a threat to public health, a threat that needs to be dealt with in the expedient, harshest, terms possible. Although it’s interesting to remember that when Hitler was asked whether he thought Jews should be annihilated he replied no. If we didn’t have them “we should have to invent him. It is essential to have a tangible enemy, not merely an abstract one.”

In trying to answer the question, what makes Reiner such a willing exponent of prohibition, it’s become apparent that his willingness to persecute drug users is his moral weakness, a manifestation of the totalitarian mindset, embedded in the authoritarian personality, that is his psychological weakness.

Now all I have to do is work out his need, what he “must fulfil within himself in order to have a better life”.

Reiner and the totalitarian mindset

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Anthony Reiner, and struggling to understand what makes him such a willing exponent of prohibition?

Within Carrion prohibition is the product of a totalitarian regime. Totalitarianism is “a political system where the state holds total authority over the society and seeks to control all aspects of public and private life whenever necessary”.

The question I’m really asking is, what attracts a person to totalitarianism?

To answer that question we need to understand, what allows totalitarianism to flourish? The short answer is uncertainty. In his paper “How to make enemies and influence people” Alfonso Montuori characterises the “totalitarian mindset” as a response to the stress of contemporary pluralism.

Living in complex times full of ambiguity and uncertainty, we feel threatened, and when we’re backed into a corner we have a tendency to succumb to “simplistic, black-and-white solutions”. Montuori goes on to note that “individuals all over the world have sought relief from the uncertainty of a pluralistic world in the arms of absolute belief systems of a religious fundamentalist and/or political/nationalistic nature”.

Within the world of Carrion, the threat posed by drugs is lightning rod, a life-threatening danger, that allows the government to “drastically reduce ambiguity and complexity”. The forces of authority instinctively “fall back on a form of very simplistic… totalitarian thinking”.

Just as the Nazi’s persecuted the Jews, so the prohibitionist persecutes the drug user.

(I realise that this is only half finished but I’ve taken this idea as far as I can for today. My thoughts need further clarification so will have to wait for another post.)

Sugar is a drug

The other day I had another of those discussions that crop up periodically about drugs. In my experience people usually pool into two groups. The first, containing those who’ve done drugs, escalate into a series of anecdotes about their experiences. The second, filled with those who’ve never done drugs, descends into a lecture about how bad drugs are and the harm they cause. The exponents of this view always extol the party line. They’d never do drugs and invariably view those who have as if they’re sub-mental.

At some point in the conversation I always drop in the line. If they discovered sugar now, it would be banned, categorised as a Class A drug like Ecstasy. Most of the time I do it to agitate the argument, make people think differently about what a drug is. It’s fun to watch them try and dismiss the assertion as frivolous, but in the end it’s hard to refute the argument that sugar is a drug.

Last time I Google’d “sugar is a drug” I got about 139,000,000 results. High up on the search results was an interesting post by Robb Wolf. In “Sugar is a drug” Wolf outlines some interesting facts about the addictive nature of sugar. Basically “excessive amounts of sugar can lead to the release of increased amounts of dopamine“. For those who don’t know dopamine is the substance released when you take heroine.

The pathology goes something like this. When you take heroine the body releases dopamine and something called gamma-Aminobutyric acid or GABA to counteract it. The heroine stops the GABA from doing it’s job. The brain is flooded with an unchecked surge of dopamine. This is what leads to the feelings of euphoria. The crux of Wolf’s argument is that a high sugar foods are addictive.

Most people dismiss the impact of sugar on their system. You get the odd joke about experiencing a “sugar rush” but for the most part the narcotic effects of sugar are perceived as something relatively mild.

Now imagine experiencing sugar for the first time. Most people have been using sugar since they were children. Repeated use of any drug build a tolerance to that substance. I recently started drinking coffee again after a long period of abstinence. I now feel the effects of every cup on my system.

Viewing sugar as drug creates a seismic shift in the way we understand drugs. It throws up a whole bunch of questions about the role of drugs in society, or more specifically the role of prohibition. If sugar produces the same effect on the individual as heroine, why is one controlled and the other not?

The more I think about it the more arbitrary, and politically motivated, prohibition seems. I think the next time I have one of those discussions I’ll pose the question. If society can accept the routine use of sugar, why can’t they accept the routine use of Ecstasy?

Wonder what the answer will be?

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