The Downward Spiral: Drugs in the Occupy Movements

Occupy Wall Street may be getting the most coverage today, given Mayor Bloomberg’s overnight sweep of Zucotti Park, but those interested in the role of drugs in the Occupy movements may want to keep an eye on the West Coast, where media outlets are all getting “on message” about the “drug problems” in the Occupy encampments.

Memorial for an Overdose Victim, Occupy Vancouver

Our friends at The Fix asked  last week “‘Will Drugs Kill ‘Occupy LA’?”.  Their story may have been a bit breathless for high-minded readers of Points, but it posed key questions about public health and safety that seem to loom larger every day.  (An analogous issue was raised, with combined irony and pathos, in a post to online magazine n+1 about problems managing the Zuccotti Park drum circle— come to think of it, it may not be analogous, it may be the same issue.)  Yesterday, major Canadian news outlets confirmed that a woman found dead in an Occupy Vancouver tent was a victim of an overdose– the second in as many weeks.  Similar public health concerns have been raised about Occupy Portland.  Given that these stories are eerily coincident with police and government official crackdowns, any good social constructionist will be tempted to observe that “the scourge of drugs” is being mobilized as a frame to justify squashing the threatening politics of the movement.Read More »


Soivet-Era Temperance: Just Say “Nyet”

Editor’s Note: Today marks the second in a series of guest posts by art historian Tamás Sajo, designer at Studioloum Press.  Last week he led us through the Gorbrachev-era’s homage to the lubok, “With Joint Forces Against Drunkenness”; this week we take a slightly different turn, examining iconic anti-alcohol images from mid-century that have been re-purposed in a contemporary campaign against Coca-Cola, long known as the beverage of choice  for a new imperialism. 

Both mass alcoholism and the fight against it were integral parts of everyday life in the Soviet Union, from its formation until its dissolution. For much of the 19th century, Russians’ per-capita alcohol consumption was among the lowest in Europe, and even this consumption was strictly controlled by rural and urban communities as well as the intensively working temperance societies. After the beginning of the forced industrialization introduced by Communism, millions of villagers poured into the cities and, liberated from the control of the community and with access to various sources of cheap alcohol, quickly established a culture of permanent drunkenness–drinking that aimed at a rapid unconsciousness.

The Soviet state on the one hand supported this as an instrument for draining off social tensions: Stalin in 1930, at the beginning of monumental industrialization, wrote to President of the Council of People’s Commissars Molotov demanding “the greatest expansion of vodka production possible for the sake of a real and serious defense of our country.” On the other hand, the state clearly saw that this level of alcohol consumption would lead to a drastic reduction in lifetime (male life expectancy had fallen to 47 by the 1990s) and that, due to the early decomposition of families it would significantly stunt Russia’s birthrate.  Since both of these would reduce the Soviet Union’s competitiveness in the race between the two world systems, from time to time the government tried to roll consumption back with anti-alcohol campaigns. At the same time the government was all too aware that it  could not renounce the revenues from the alcohol monopoly:at the beginning of Communism alcohol taxes meant a whole quarter of the state budget; their falling during Gorbachev’s 1985 anti-alcohol campaign contributed significantly to the decline of Soviet economy.

In the coming weeks I will outline some important stages of this story on the basis of Russian and American literature in this series prepared for Points. From the temperance unions of Tsarist Russia to the alcohol ban of early Communism, through the campaign of 1929-30 and its periodical renewals after Stalin’s death in 1953 to Gorbachev’s “dry law”, we will examine each time a group of publications to see how they tried to curb the “green snake” of alcoholism.Read More »

Update: Occupy Wall Street’s Drug Problem(s)

Editor’s Note: Points is pleased to present today a cross-posting by freelance writer and addiction specialist Jed Bickman, a regular contributor to (among others) The Nation, The Huffington Post, and The Fix–an online magazine of addiction and recovery culture whose debut we discussed last spring.  While the Points staff likes to think that our provocative think piece on drugs in the Occupy movements blazed a trail on the topic, as desk jockeys whose duty is first and foremost to serve the citizen-students of Florida we are limited in our ability to follow up on developments on the ground.  Thus we’re especially grateful to on-the-scene reporters like Bickman, who can bring our readership incisive coverage like that in the post below.  Thanks to him and to The Fix for allowing us to re-publish.

So how much of a drug problem is there at Zuccotti Park? That may depend on which side of the park you happen to be in.

Zucotti Park: Two Sides to Every Story

According to police and organizers, there are “two sides of town” in Zuccotti Park…and at night the differences become vividly apparent. The side of the park adjacent to Broadway, where the main protests are held and where the media center and library are, forms the clean, public face of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Long after midnight, a frenetic burst of activity continues under the bright lights.  By contrast, the other side of the square, adjacent to Trinity Place, has become an unlit camping area for overnight protestors, where sleeping bodies occupy pretty much every available space. Anyone who wants to spend the night can do so… and the lack of oversight has allowed less savory elements to set up shop among the mostly law-abiding protestors.

Street medic Paul Kostry, a 27-year-old volunteer from New Mexico, told The Fix that several drug dealers had taken over a few of the sleeping tents on the dark side of the park, selling drugs from cocaine to heroin to marijuana. “We’ve got our own set of drug lords here, unfortunately,” Kostry says. “We know what tents they’re operating out of, and we’re doing our best to deal with them.” But Zuccotti Park, he adds, is a microcosm of New York City itself—including people with drug problems and those who prey on them. “Everyone recognizes that we cannot allow the drug dealing, and there are certainly steps being taken to deal with that,” Kostry says. “But we are here to help the victims of that. There’s a reason the medical tent is where it is.”Read More »

Points on Blogs: Reading *The Neuro Times*

“Points on Blogs” returns this week, with a visit to The Neuro Times, “an historical blog dedicated to neurology and neuroscience.”  The Neuro Times is the work of Dr. Stephen T. Casper, an Assistant Professor in the History of Science at Clarkson University, along with a small group of contributors.  Casper recevied his doctorate in the History of Medicine from University College London, where he studied the history of British neurology.  Here’s how he describes the blog:

The Dictionary of Neurology Project seeks to inform scholars, physicians, scientists and the wider public about trends in the history of neurology and neuroscience. While it is foremostly concerned with promoting history for the sake of history, the project also seeks to inform about and critique the growth of “neuroculture,” a trend that has emerged in various quarters in the last two decades to ascribe complex elements of culture and society to human neurobiology. 

Our contributors provide commentary, critique, and high quality content about the neurosciences, and we seek to establish and build a broad and global community that engages in historical and sociological studies devoted to the many sciences (clincial and basic) that primarily focus on the nervous system. This blog, in consequence, serves university and medical communities as well as wider publics.   

Should Points readers care?  Not long ago, David Courtwright urged fellow historians to

Poster for the film The Pusher
Holding a copy of Addiction Biology?

“take a hit” of neuroscience, adding in good pusher fashion, “just don’t get addicted.” David made it clear what he meant: “Suspicion of scientific arrogance and imperialism ought not to prevent anyone from the selective appropriation of research insights, especially those  that illuminate the common or synergistic features of drug action.” (1)  Meant as a provocation of sorts, David’s call for common ground between history and neuroscience certainly does not go so far as to suggest that historians drop their posture of suspicion (nor do posts like this one suggest any impending sense of mutuality between fields).  And that, it seems to me, is where The Neuro Times helps, by creating a space for well-informed suspicion.Read More »

Washington State’s Prop. 1183 Passes Easily

Voters in Washington approved I-1183 by a 59:41 margin – yes, 1,111,999; no, 779,455.  The measure will take effect June, 2012.  The margin was higher than recent polls had suggested, perhaps partly because of the state’s financial woes.  I’m inclined also to credit Ken Burns’ documentary series on Prohibition for part of the yes vote.  That series tended to mark Washington’s monopoly liquor sales system as archaic and unnecessary.  CostCo is said to have spent over 22 million dollars on TV ads favoring the measure; liquor distributors – wishing to retain the favorable economics of state control – ponied up about half that much for TV ads against.  It is said to have been the most expensive pre-election campaign in the state’s history.

Stigma on Alcoholism: A Modest Proposal

Erving Goffman: "Spoiled Identity"

It seems to me — and, incidentally, it has seemed to me for a long time — that a key shortcoming in much of the prevailing research and thought surrounding the subject of the stigma on alcoholism stems from a failure to distinguish clearly between the moral and social definition placed upon, on the one hand, the “active alcoholic” and, on the other, that placed upon the successfully abstaining or “recovering alcoholic.”

What I have to offer about this shortcoming and its implications, below, will I’m sure strike more than a few readers as restating the obvious.  Yet, and surprisingly, sometimes even obvious-seeming propositions, when some of their implications are extracted, can generate new conclusions and a counterintuitive perspective on an old topic.  That’s what I have in mind for this post on stigma.  Let’s see how it works out.Read More »

Late Soviet-era Temperance: “With Joint Forces Against Drunkenness”

Editor’s Note: In our quest to bring the international dimensions of temperance and prohibition sentiment into view (a job that, as we have noted, Ken Burns’s recent documentary failed to do), Points this week presents the first in a series of guest posts from Tamás Sajó– art historian, translator, and co-founder (with John Cull [College of the Holy Cross, USA] and Antonio Bernat Vistarini [Universidad de las Islas Baleares, Spain]) of Budapest’s Studiolum Press, which specializes in the electronic publishing of 15th-19th century rare prints and emblem books (a few examples can be found here).  Sajó is also the curator/author of the astonishingly beautiful blog “Poemas del Río Wang,” which focuses on 20th-century European visual propaganda.   It’s his expertise in this latter area that allows him to bring us a series of posts on Russian anti-alcohol propaganda.  Today’s post is devoted almost entirely to representative images from the Gorbachev-era publication “With Joint Forces Against Drunkenness,” which appears in full on the Poemas blog.  Stay tuned over the course of the next few weeks, as Points time-travels to some different moments in the history of “Just Say ‘Nyet.'”

Late 19th-century France and Hungary fought against alcoholism with the rational and visual weapons of the Enlightenment and modern science:

“Here’s the enemy: the alcohol!” (1898, Musee Pedagogique de l'Etat)

By contrast, a hundred years later the Soviet Union–which had already had ample time and opportunity to get disenchanted with the efficiency of these tools–turned back to several centuries old practices: the arguments of proverbs and the visual world of naive folk graphics, the lubok.

Cover: "With Joint Forces." The four corner tondos, clockwise from upper left: Scholars, Technical Development, Rationalization, the Arts

The picture book With Joint Forces against Drunkenness opens with an epigraph from Leo Tolstoy: “It is hard to imagine what a fortunate turn it would be for our life if people finally gave up dazing and poisoning themselves with vodka, wine, tobacco and opium.” Its introduction notes that it was published with the purpose of agitation for Gorbachev’s alcohol ban in 1989.  The twenty-five illustrations were signed by the members of the art school “Soviet Lubok,” established in 1982: V. V. Kondratev (plates 2, 15, 21, 22), I. O. Puhovskaya (3, 6, 7, 9), O. A. Keleinikova (4, 12, 14, 23), V. I. Lenchin (5, 8, 24), G. M. Eskin (10, 16, 19), L. V. Podkorytova (11, 25), Yu. G. Movchin (13), V. P. Lenzin (17, 18) and S. V. Kuznetsov (20).

In the “red tail” of the book, still necessary at that time to clear the authors of any ideological deviation, the artists explain their choice of genre by saying that they wanted to reach back to “the soul of the people.” Read More »

Freaky Friday: Gloria Anzaldúa’s Alien Nation: Queering Altered States

Editor’s note: Today’s Freaky Friday brings us again to the psychedelic borderlands, where University of Florida Professor of Women’s Studies and English Tace Hedrick talks about the mushroom trips of Gloria Anzaldúa– and their connections to her queer mestiza cosmology.

Gloria Anzaldúa,1942-2004

Chicana lesbian feminist writer Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2004) is best known for her 1987 Borderlands/ la frontera: Towards a New Mestiza Consciousness, a text combining diary entries, essays, and poetry. It is a sometimes bilingual meditation on how to survive being mestiza (mixed-race European and indigenous), queer, feminist and New Age in a white supremacist patriarchal world. The text is something of a bible for post-Second Wave feminists, yet as radical as it is, in her interviews Anzaldúa was even more open about how her sexuality and her New Age consciousness worked in concert with her indigenous heritage. Anzaldúa felt herself to be intensely “alien,” and that term was more than a metaphor for her, as she notes in Interviews/Entrevistas:

We only want to know the consciousness part of ourselves because we don’t want to think that there’s this alien being in the middle of our psyche….The movie Alien affected me greatly because I really identified with it….My sympathies were…with the alien. I think that’s how the soul is: it’s treated like an alien because we don’t know what it is (39-40).

In Borderlands and subsequent texts, Anzaldúa connected queers with indigenous souls and mestiza bodies—and linked all three to the figure of the alien and the metaphor of alienation. She gave a central place in this framework to the healing force of the (seemingly inherent) spirituality of indigenous peoples—a spirituality that she acknowledged was sometimes linked to the consumption of psychoactive plants.Read More »

Conference Announcement: Multidisciplinary Approaches to Plants and Religion

The Working Group on Plants and Religion at the University of Florida (UF) is hosting a symposium entitled “Multidisciplinary Approaches to Plants and Religion,” to be held 15-17 December 2011.  The symposium will explore human-plant relationships in the realm of the sacred.  Of special interest this year is the religious use of psychoactive plants, but there will be several sessions to encourage and welcome participants from a broad range of perspectives on the religious use of plants.

◊◊ Keynote Speakers ◊◊

Bia Labate

Bia Labate: Beatriz Caiuby Labate has a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brazil. Her main areas of interest are the study of psychoactive substances, drug policies, shamanism, ritual, and religion. Since 2009, she has been a Research Associate at the Institute of Medical Psychology, Heidelberg University. She is also researcher with the Nucleus for Interdisciplinary Studies of Psychoactives (NEIP), and editor of its website. She is author, co-author, and co-editor of eight books, two in English translation, and one journal special edition. Her book, A Reinvenção do Uso da Ayahuasca nos Centros Urbanos (The Reinvention of Ayahuasca Use in Urban Centers, Mercado de Letras, 2004), was derived from  her Master’s thesis, which received the prize for Best Thesis in Social Sciences from the National Association for Graduate Studies in Social Science (ANPOCS) in 2000. For more information, see her website.

Edward MacRae

Edward MacRae was born in Sao Paulo and raised in Great Britain, where he graduated in Social Psychology from the University of Sussex and received a master’s degree in Sociology of Latin America from the University of Essex. Back in Brazil, he studied anthropology at Unicamp and USP, completing his doctorate in 1986 with the dissertation “The militant homosexual in post-dictatorship Brazil.” Since then he has researched a range of drugs topics, initially at the Institute of Social Medicine and Criminology of the state of Sao Paulo–IMESC— and in the Program for Orientation and Attendance of Drug-dependencies– PROAD/EPM. A former member of the Sao Paulo State Narcotics Council, he currently teaches anthropology at the Federal University of Bahia, and works with the Center for Drug Abuse Studies and Therapy – CETAD/UFBA.  He is a representative of the Ministry of Culture on the National Anti-Drugs Council and a member of its Scientific-Technical Advisory Chamber. He has written books on sexuality, social movements, and the socially integrated use of psychoactive substances and harm reduction associated to the use of drugs.

◊◊ Outline of Sessions ◊◊Read More »

“Stars Don’t Fall”: Felicia G., Marty Mann, and Other Women of the Early Alcoholics Anonymous Movement, Part III

Editors’ note: Today we conclude Amanda Smith’s three-part series, “‘Stars Don’t Fall’: Felicia G., Marty Mann, and Other Women of the Early Alcoholics Anonymous Movement.”  If you’ve just picked up this series, please do go back and read Part I and Part II of the series.  For more on Amanda Smith, please check out the Contributing Editors page.

In 1943, Countess Felicia Gizycka severed relations with her mother, the notorious Washington, DC, newspaper publisher and Chicago Tribune heiress, Cissy Patterson, in what would prove to be the last of the many vicious “drunken rows” they had engaged in over the previous twenty years.  Several months later, through her psychiatrist Dr. Florence Powerdermaker, Felicia was introduced to “Bill W.” and his small, but growing fellowship, Alcoholics Anonymous, in New York City.  For the first time in her life Felicia experienced a sense of community and belonging.  In her sponsor, Marty Mann, Felicia had found a stalwart lifelong friend.  By the end of the Second World War, Felicia had committed herself to a life in recovery.

After their mother-daughter “divorce,” there had been almost no communication between Felicia Gizycka and Cissy Patterson, a Chicago Tribune heiress and the publisher of Washington Times-Herald, the most widely read newspaper in the nation’s capital.  As a result, the telegram Cissy received from her estranged daughter in the spring of 1947 sparked more surprise—and suspicion—than it kindled any hope of reconciliation.  In light of Mrs. Marty Mann’s upcoming lecture engagements in Washington, Felicia wondered, could her close friend and A.A. sponsor stay at Cissy’s mansion on Dupont Circle?  “Marty Mann was for a time the head of the Women’s Division of Alcoholics Anonymous and the only person I ever knew who had great influence on Felicia,” Cissy explained shortly afterward in a letter to her reactionary cousin, Colonel Robert Rutherford McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune.  “Well, that would be all right, too,” she continued, betraying her anxiety as to the exact nature and extent of the proposed guest’s sway over her daughter, “if Marty were not a notorious lesbian, and that is rather hard to swallow.”

Perhaps honoring the many efforts that friends had made to reconcile mother and daughter over the years, perhaps for other reasons, Cissy Patterson did invite Marty Mann to stay at her home on Dupont Circle, graciously placing her household staff as well as her personal secretary at her guest’s disposal.  For reasons that go unrecorded, however, the hostess was absent while the friend and mentor who had so profoundly changed her daughter’s life was in town.

Patterson Home
Patterson Home, Dupont Circle

On her rigorous national lecture tours, Mrs. Marty Mann repeated what would become a familiar refrain: “We must overcome the stigma of sin that has been fastened upon the alcoholic if we are to get anywhere.” But while she and her colleagues made sweeping headway in dissociating alcoholism from venality in the popular mindset, Marty Mann was deeply aware that the blossoming organizations to which she had devoted her life stood to be irrevocably blighted by any taint of what was considered at the time to be “sexual deviance.”

As a result, already burdened with the public-relations encumbrances of being a recovering alcoholic and a woman, she took careful steps to prevent her sexual orientation from becoming known outside of her circle of close friends, or publicly associated either with her work for the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism or with the Alcoholics Anonymous movement generally. Indeed, as her biographers Sally and David R. Brown put it, in her distinguished professional life “Marty’s use of the title Mrs. served the purpose of blurring her real orientation.”   Within the necessarily insular gay and lesbian communities of Manhattan and Fire Island, Marty Mann and Priscilla Peck were known as a committed couple. To outsiders, they were “friends” and “roommates.”  They did nothing to hide the fact that they lived together; indeed, their unmarried, heterosexual counterparts did so customarily for the sake of economy and safety.  By the early 1950s the couple would sell the cottage at Cherry Grove where Felicia had been a constant presence over the preceding decade. As Fire Island developed a reputation as a gay and lesbian summer retreat during those same years, Marty arrived at the conclusion that she could not risk the exposure that her continued presence there might occasion. Such fears were legitimate inasmuch as she and her circle appear to have been threatened with exposure, directly or indirectly, during Felicia Gizycka’s internationally sensationalized efforts to break her mother’s will in the autumn and winter of 1948-49.Read More »