Dignity For the Drug Fiend

Many who become addicted to drugs have underlying psychological cues, shall we say, which have made them susceptible to their addiction. The general term “hatred” might be appropriate: they were not loved and did not develop a self-image of lovability; perhaps they were, indeed, loved, but for some reason still did not develop a self-image of lovability.

What made Richard Pryor great wasn’t necessarily his comic timing or his funniness, but his expressiveness of self-hatred as well as his ability to mimic, in electrifying public performances, the addict, both himself and those whom he witnessed as a boy. It can be argued that his demand for dignity for black people was as much a demand for dignity for the drug fiend, and this he did with the F-bomb as an emotional bludgeon.

How does it go? Externally, if you are a drug-abuser, you are a bad person. Some may say that you need help, but what does even that communicate to you? Weakness, failure, incompleteness of person, etc. The drug, by stroking the endorphin-producing part of the brain, seduces the abuser by identifying itself as the only voice of love, “just the way you are.” However, the drug-abuser perceives the damage done by this false lover, which identifies a lie. Therefore, what hope does the seduced have except punishment?

These are not terribly original observations: the genius of the 12-step program is that it includes many external voices which are trained to express love for the abuser. It is the oldest compassion-based interventionist program for substance abusers, spawning many more programs and treatments born from the same compassionate desire for the rehabilitation of the person. The hope, of course, is that self-hatred can at least be mitigated enough with self-love so that biochemical forces can be overcome. How does the notion persist in the public mind, however, that a methamphetamine abuser will experience external love to build internal love by means of ever-increasing punishments, not the least of which is prison? The experience of recalcitrant self-hatred does not somehow nullify the patience and endurance of love.

Let’s say, for example, one of my three sons, in whom I strive to inculcate self-love and personal dignity, cannot love himself, either by my failing or his own, with the result that he is seduced by that voice. Will I really advocate a prison sentence and/or other social punishments as a mitigating force to recover a loved and lovable person? Why would I ever consider good for some other person what I would never consider good for my son?

Talk About The Passions

The Stoics give it a shot–at least Seneca the Younger does: talking about the passions. In defining anger, he plays the good Stoic, removing anger from man’s nature altogether; it is an alien characteristic.

Perhaps that isn’t fair: “Man’s nature,” he says, “is not desirous of inflicting punishment.” Inflicting punishment, you see, is the Aristotelian definition of anger with which he cites almost complete accord. Anger, therefore, is not in accordance with man’s nature. Is that fair to the Stoics? I think so.

Are the Stoics being fair to the human experience? I don’t know. I do know, however, that we at Sweet Talk talk an awful lot about virtue, about justice, about honor, and other abstractions. I mean, I’ve been pecking away at AG’s perfectly innocent little post on Justice for two days, now, and I realize that I’m just digging around for nothing, as I told him offline, maybe, finally, for some worthless crystal-nugget of enlightenment. Who knows? Indeed, mine is a pure intellectual pursuit. If I gain intellectually, what gain?

Philosophers seem readily able, armed with massive libraries, to speak with all due palaver on empty prayers and empty mouths, but I don’t know that we have much in the way of philosophical repositories to do the work of speaking about the entire human experience. It’s a tyranny, of sorts, to put the desires of the gut into the hegemony of the intellect. We have made an easy move relegating passions as primal responses to environmental stimuli, but the Stoics recognized that such a passion as anger is not found in the wild kingdom; it is unique to the human experience.

Likewise love. Come to think about it, so is justice, honor, virtue, etc.

“Easy,” as I write above, is a pejorative term, and I mean for it to be. I suppose the long and short of this post is somewhere in this question: Is it ideal that the intellect should rule passions? We certainly like it that way, but Plato’s Divine Maxim requires it not to be so.

Might I suggest, as my tantrum subsides, that newfangled category all the kids are dancing to these days: human dignity. Can we talk more about that?