The Pharmacological Era

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a history PhD student at Southern Illinois University.

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Stanton Peele

Psychologist Stanton Peele refers to the time we’re living in as a “pharmacological era,” one where “drug use, both approved and unapproved, is widespread, almost universal.” Currently, it’s dealt with through regulation and prohibition. Dr. Peele argues: “Instead, we need to accept drug use as socially and psychologically regulatable behavior to be incorporated into modern life.”

In some ways, we’re already there. It’s near universal, just two-tiered. A Vice News headline summed it up perfectly: “America’s Rich and Powerful have permission slips to get high.” We don’t have to look far to see these inequities in action. Recently, Elon Musk—of Tesla fame—smoked a blunt on the Joe Rogan Experience. Had it been a Tesla employee, they would’ve been fired. Ivy League students swallow smart pills to study just like their future selves, the businessmen burning the midnight oil. And a white woman popping a Xanax found in the seabed of her Hermès bag, totally normal too. But a black man smoking a joint—whoa, wait a minute, that’s unacceptable. So, yeah, like I said universal but two-tiered—same dynamic in Washington. Recall Dr. Ronnie Jackson, Trump’s (failed) nominee for Veteran Affairs Secretary. Apart from his stunning lack of qualifications and experience, we learned during his time as Physician to the President he regularly doled out Schedule II drugs for recreational purposes. As Politico reported:

Nearly a dozen current and former officials — including some who were treated by Jackson while working in the Obama White House — say Jackson is being unfairly labeled as a “candy man” and that casual use of some prescription drugs is an established fact of life at the highest echelons of government. “Not everyone wants it. But anyone who does gets it,” said a former Trump administration official who traveled extensively with Jackson and the president.

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Bad History, Bad Policy: Maybe Historians Should Be Ostracized from Society

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a history PhD student at Southern Illinois University. Enjoy!

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Historians aren’t the first people national publications go for hot-takes. That may be a good thing. But I’ve always been in the camp that says historians should be more active outside of academia. So, I’ve been encouraged by publications like The New York Times and Washington Post reaching out to historians, asking them to analyze the opioid epidemic in its historical context. On the other hand, it’s been frustrating to see those opportunities squandered. An example that caught my eye was Clinton Lawson’s op-ed for the Times, published in May. It’s well-written and pleasant enough to read, but his interpretation of effective policies, then and now, resembles a DEA spokesperson more than a member of the public. Overall, his argument is aesthetic, encouraging us to avoid bad things, like racism or overhyping stories in the news, while at the same time offering the conventional wisdom: penalties and prison.

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Language: Abandoning “Addiction”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University. Brooks is joining Points as a contributing editor for the 2018-2019 year, so look for more posts from him to come. Enjoy!

Historians change their language for all sorts of reasons, specifically when it dehumanizes other people. The humanities have abandoned pejorative and race-based terms, whether it’s “negro,” “colored,” or “oriental.” We understand these terms are powerful and demean others. Similarly, individuals with disabilities no longer face the indignity of having their medical condition be synonymous with who they are as people. Within the last century, we discarded “mentally retarded,” “lunatic,” “imbecile” and “feeble-minded.” Now, we use first-person language, for example, “a person with a mental or physical disability.” Within my lifetime, it’s gone from acceptable to unacceptable to use homophobic language to paint the LGBTQ community as “deviant” or prone to “unnatural desires.” Only in the last five years have mental health professionals acknowledged this mistake and declared that transgender individuals do not suffer from mental illness (“gender identity disorder”). This revision is from the updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Progress has stalled when it comes to another health issue, however: “drug addiction.” Interestingly, another revision in the DSM-5 was taking out “addiction”—partially because of its “uncertain definition”—and replacing it with substance use disorder. Adoption of this change is underway, but not too many historians are breaking down barricades to enter the debate.

There are a thousand reason to reject “addiction.” It is imprecise. It is laden with value judgements. It is embedded in a history of religious rhetoric. It cannot be separated from largely fact-free government propaganda campaigns, not to mention the newspapers archives that are filled with word, usually within graphic and hysterical accounts that have little basis in reality.

Few have adequately addressed this issue. Fewer have proposed ways to resolve it. Arguably, the closest attempt might be Bruce Alexander’s Globalization of Addiction. In it, he dedicates an entire chapter to disentangling the various meanings of the word, marking distinct usage by subscript—admittedly, a distracting strategy, though one that reduces misinterpretation.

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