My blogging holiday was lovely, thanks for asking. I spent a good portion of it trying to figure out how to use a remote Oracle database in a Microsoft .NET application, no easy trick because Microsoft’s support for Oracle is largely theoretical. They don’t really want you to use Oracle at all when you can use SQL Server, their wretched excuse for a production database, instead. Which is all neither here nor there. And now, drugs, which I assure you I was thinking about even before embarking on this excellent adventure.
Full Disclosure: I have a good bit of personal, if not professional, experience with drug use. Several of my friends were heavy users of alcohol, crack, and heroin at various times. I have myself indulged in — “experimented with,” if I were running for office — all of the major food groups at least a couple times. (Q: Mr. Haspel, how many times have you experimented with marijuana? A: Several thousand times, sir. Science requires replicable results.)
Theodore Dalrymple points out, by way of prologue, that heroin withdrawal isn’t all it’s, er, cracked up to be:
I cant tell you how many people Ive withdrawn from heroin. You never get any problems with it. Its not like withdrawal from serious drinking which can be, and often is, a medical emergency. From a medical point of view, Im much more worried in the prison when someone tells me hes an alcoholic. Im much more worried about the physical consequences of his withdrawal because they are really serious, and he can die from them. But nobody ever dies from heroin withdrawal. With the vast majority of them, you just take them aside and say: “Im not prescribing anything for you, I will prescribe symptomatic relief if I see you have symptoms, but what you tell me has nothing to do with it, Im not going to be moved by any of your screaming.” One chap came in and said “What are you prescribing me?” and I said “Nothing”, and he screamed at me, “Youre a butcher! Youre a f***ing butcher”, and he screamed and shouted and eventually I said “Take him away.”
In their more honest moments my drug-using friends have all acknowledged that Dalrymple is right: quitting, alcohol excepted, just isn’t all that tough. Most junkies have quit and returned several times when physical dependence was no longer an issue. I’ve quit smoking twice myself, suffering nothing more than low-level irritability probably indiscernible from my usual demeanor. The inner emptiness where nicotine once was never quite disappears, but whether that is physical or psychological who can say? So to me Jacob Sullum’s tale of the 44-year-old big-shot ad executive/weekend smack dabbler sounds utterly plausible.
Then why do so many people let drugs consume their lives, if it isn’t to avoid a couple days of the flu? Boredom, mostly. Human beings are goal-directed to such a degree that they will substitute a destructive goal if nothing constructive presents itself. Drugs fit the bill admirably. You think you need more, you want more, you have nothing better to do, and you go out and get more. Now you have a goal. Now your life has meaning.
This pseudo-meaning is enhanced by ceremony and ritual, a vastly underrated aspect of drug culture. Paraphernalia assume a mystical significance. Many cigarette smokers worship at the Shrine of Zippo. Some potheads of my acquaintance used to insist on using a particular double album, usually by Genesis, to clean weed. Cokeheads like to snort through $100 bills. Heroin users have the spoon, the tie, and the needle; crack users the pipe and the Chore-Boy (you trap the fumes and get a second hit by lighting it — less powerful, but included in the price). Psychedelics failed to achieve the popularity they deserved in large part because they have no paraphernalia; in cultures that supply a substitute, like peyote-based religious rituals, they are popular.
All-consuming drug use travesties purposeful behavior, the way the Mafia travesties legitimate business. And drug users testify, strangely, to the Misesian proposition that man is a being who acts toward ends.
Post scripta: Drug names are an excellent illustration of Hayek’s thesis about the collective wisdom of the marketplace that may not have occurred to Hayek himself. The market produces crack, smack, crank, ice, pot, blow, and X; committees produce — you can choose your own, but some of my recent favorites are Intuition (a razor for women), Deja Blue (bottled water), and Teen Spirit (a deodorant, God help us).
(Update: Eve Tushnet comments very nicely, but says I lack permalinks. It’s that little chain icon on the right. This from a Blogspot blogger, no less; ah, the irony.)