Society’s Disenfranchised Counter-Cultures
The drug culture is defined as countercultures that are primarily defined by use. Drug subcultures are groups of people united by a common understanding of the meaning and value (good or otherwise) of the incorporation into one’s life of the drug in question. Such unity can take many forms, from friends who take the drug together, possibly obeying certain rules of etiquette, groups banding together to help each other obtain drugs and avoid arrest to full-scale political movements for the reform of drug laws.The sum of these parts can be considered an individual drug’s “culture”.
There are many sub-types of the drug culture, and each has its distinct character. Broadly categorized they include: The Alcohol (Heavy Drinker) Subculture; The Cannabis Subculture; The Multi-Drug Use Subculture; and the IV Heroin Subculture. Each is remarkable for what it provides through the psychoactive nature of the experience as well as the affiliation. But first consider that the precedent culture to which each has been exposed is the parent-culture. Assuming that the norms of the parent culture were conservatively rooted in the admonitions: don’t drink before the legal age; when of legal age drink in moderation; do not use illicit drugs; and don’t engage in pre-marital sex – then we have a context for the normative culture from which the counter culture secedes. Secession or rebellion is the rite of adolescent passage. So, it is through this natural order of human development that children of the parent culture form their own. And what emerges is a distinct and separate youth culture with its own codified set of rules. For most young men and women the direction taken and the destination reached seems random. It is governed more by chance than by rational planning. Without a map by which to navigate, a new and independent breed will set out to explore the world, and go where their curiosity takes them. Some seem preordained to enter universities, enroll in trade schools, join the military, or wander the back roads like nomads. All…seeking a place to belong among those who will accept them. And most importantly, receive unconditional social validation and be accepted by others like them. Motivated by either a thirst for knowledge, an appetite for adventure, or the rush of unbounded pleasures. Or, simply driven by the desperate desire to have their basic needs fulfilled by anyone – at all – willing to embrace them.
The question is: How do we achieve incorporation within a single group when there are so many to choose from? Not every adolescent or young adult will gravitate to a group which identifies itself as a drug sub-culture. Some will have fleeting involvement; a brief romance if you will. Flirting with the novelty of the experience until the novelty wears off. Either leaving it behind entirely or drifting elsewhere for some other kind of experience. As most of us – of a certain age – will tell you; the counter-culture group of the 60’s to which we belonged is in the rear view mirror. Even among contemporary youth, a significant number of those who participate in the drug culture ultimately return to a life closer to the parent culture they had left behind years before.
Where and When were the seeds of disaffiliation sown?
Persons close to the addict will often ask: What is broken in the person who uses? Where have I failed as a parent that could cause the boy or girl I raised to invite such ruin into their lives. Of course there are failures both deliberate and through benign neglect that might contribute to the extremes of adolescent rebellion. However, it is just as likely that the recklessness of youth and a proclivity for seeking excitement through high risk behavior paves the path. These are factors that we, in the treatment field, will explore. However, the family from which these problems arise, are embedded in a global society which sends the implicit invitation to participate in all sorts of dangerous past times. As a culture – and I mean the political-social-familial culture – we have gotten a lot worse at meeting the psychological needs of our families and the children they send out in the world. We need to talk less about parental failure, family dysfunction and chemical imbalances and talk more about power imbalances. Families struggle as it is just meeting the exigent needs – of providing food, clothing and shelter. Working long hours for a poor wage at a job we hate has become the norm. Single parents and children being raised by grandparents leaves little time for much else. There is strong evidence that we all have innate human needs which get neglected. These are: to feel like we belong; that our lives have meaning and purpose, that people see us, value us, and listen to us. It is these needs that most often go unmet. And it is national politics, economics, isolation and wage inequality that conspires to squeeze out every ounce of our energy; leaving nothing left for the work of human connection. This is not a revolutionary idea. It is the condition of our national identity. The American spirit is sadly dissipating. Listen to the media outlets whose message has become increasingly pessimistic concerning the health of the nation. So, I submit, that the youth culture may see little in the way of a bountiful future.
I believe that there is double jeopardy awaiting those who leave the parental home in what used to be the promise of prosperity commanding the coming-of- age to “ go out and seek their fortune.” Where, sadly, no prosperous future will be waiting for the masses. Those entitled through family name and fortune will inherit the wealth. The rest will scratch for loose change. As our intuitions fail us, so will we fail. Hard work and perseverance will be replaced by lassitude born of frustration. Our silent grief over the collapse of community still pains us. It is the most tragic loss of the 21stcentury. The community comprised of churches, neighborhood schools, neighbors whom we knew, and extended families, raised us and kept us civilized. Parents are now on their own, and so are the kids.
A young man or woman has in him an innate craving for inclusion, for connection, and for industry. When opportunities for satisfying these needs are scarce – as they are beyond our social networking – a human social network will form out of the raw materials of, random encounters, synthetic avatars, and serendipity.
Drug Culture Groups Are the Approximation of a Society – With idiosyncratic Norms.
Drug sub-cultures have their own, unique constitutions: Shifting alliances among subcultural groups is relatively common and they change over time. The boundaries separating them can be very fluid and imprecise. It isn’t uncommon for individuals to merge with other sub culture groups or just share their company. Regardless, each subculture has its established role relationships, values, codes of conduct, rituals, and jargon.
“The norms of the parent culture and various subcultures of unconventionality are frequently in opposition.”
Or are they? Fundamentally they are more alike than different. The exception is the central organizing factor – Drugs. A drug has the power to alter perception and to unite its users. It is a bond that becomes stronger with each shared experience of getting high. Similarity lies in the shallow foundations of both systems (the Parent Culture and the Youth/Drug Cultures) which are weak and corrosive.
The United States is much less united than it was 75 years ago. Major factors include wealth concentration and commensurate disproportionate wealth distribution, identity politics, partisanship and evolving tribalism. With States’ Rights having further fragmented into ethnocentric, racial and religious factions – each with established role relationships, values, codes or conduct, rituals, language and exclusion of others not like them.
With a vanishing moral foundation (from Foundations Theory), the sentiments upon which humanitarian systems are built begins a devolution of the principles which informs all moral reasoning. According to Moral Foundation Theory, there a six (6) elements vital to the execution of the guarantees penned in the Bill of Rights. These are: care; fairness; liberty; loyalty; authority and sanctity. A nation, a people divided, without moral leadership will lead us nowhere good.
So…it would seem that the Parent Culture may offer as little security as the Drug Culture through mutual entropy.
When the moral backbone of a system is outstripped by forces it is powerless to resist, the natural result is corruption. Corruption isn’t to be confused with misdemeanant crimes (although there is plenty of that kind in the political news), but rather its meaning in its original sense. Corruption in this context refers to rotting away, putrefaction. In essence, nature taking back what’s hers. Example: iron turns to rust through oxidation, and rust returns iron to the soil from which it came. This is the course of our nation. A decadence accelerated by the extinction of its venerable institutions. Where capitalism is failing the low level worker (the 99%). Where the practice we’ve learned to perform as second nature is “Sheltering in Place,” a response to mass shootings and a broader metaphor for “Circling the Wagons.” Is this how we will survive?
The initially health promoting value of Drug-Culture membership, yields to the same entropic rotting away as the adult- governed culture embodied in federal and state government institutions and local municipalities. Cultural Groups governed by children are certainly doomed to fail. Adolescent and young adult sub-cultural entities lack a coherent system of organization. Absent is the wisdom born of age and experience. Wisdom being the distillation of the successes and failures of men and women whose collective life experiences have produced understanding and compassion for all others.
Adolescent and young adult drug use produces at best diminishing returns on the initial benefits achieved. At worse, it results in sickness or premature death. Every drug epidemic has a 10-year life- cycle. In the first few years of use, everyone seems to be having a good time. They look healthy, and they are living poster adds for how to have a blast. As the years wear on, so do those who have abused them. In the final few years, users have witnessed the over-dose deaths of their peers, and the physical ravages of a sick body looking back at them in the mirror.
The organization of a Drug Sub-culture is comparable to William Goldings Characters’ attempt to organize ship-wrecked boys in Lord of the Flies.
Set during World War II: The two main protagonists are the fair-haired Ralph, and the overweight, bespectacled boy, nicknamed, Piggy. Ralph is optimistic that the grown-ups will come to rescue them, but Piggy realizes the need to organize: “ put first things first and act proper.” Because Ralph has some authority over the boys, he is elected “chief.” He doesn’t receive votes from a group of choir boys shipwrecked with the others. He allows their leader, Jack, to establish a separate group of hunters. Ralph establishes three main policies: have fun; survive; and maintain a smoke signal. Eventually the order falls apart. Rivalry, leading to chaos and a regression into barbarism – led by Jack – results in the murder of Piggy. Jack orders his tribe to begin a hunt for Ralph. Jack’s savages set fire to the forest while Ralph desperately weighs his options for survival. Following a long chase, most of the island is consumed in flames. With the hunters closely behind him, Ralph trips and falls. He looks up at a uniformed adult—a British naval officer whose party has landed from a passing cruiser to investigate the fire. Ralph bursts into tears over the death of Piggy and the “end of innocence”. Jack and the other children, filthy and unkempt, also revert to their true ages and erupt into sobs. The officer expresses his disappointment at seeing British boys exhibiting such feral, warlike behavior before turning to stare awkwardly at his own warship.The savagery emerging from a lack of cohesion fueled by competition, immature leadership, superstition and testosterone tears apart the weak fabric of youthful reasoning.
Now, bring this scenario into the present. If, let’s say, that the naval commander stares awkwardly at his warship, and witnesses its crew foment mutiny. The mutinous group has taken control and has usurped the order of British Naval Command. To what hazards will he return, and will the boys civilized behavior be restored?
Can the Prodigal Son Come Home?
The Parable of the Prodigal Son (also known as the Two Brothers, Lost Son, Loving Father, or Lovesick Father) is one of the parables of Jesus and appears in Luke 15:11-32. Jesus Christ shares it with his disciples, the Pharisees and others. In the story, a father has two sons. The younger son asks for his inheritance and, after wasting his fortune (the word prodigal means “wastefully extravagant”), becomes destitute. He returns home with the intention of begging his father to be made one of his hired servants, expecting his relationship with his father is likely severed. The father welcomes him back and celebrates his return. The older son refuses to participate. The father reminds the older son that one day he will inherit everything, and that they should still celebrate the return of the younger son because he was lost and is now found.
From what you have read, how strong would be the pull toward home. You think it would be most attractive after having become wasted by drugs and disillusioned by a drug culture that has disintegrated. You would think it would be like finding shelter in a storm. But what fatted calf will be slaughtered and roasted to celebrate your home coming? Is this even possible given the privations endured by those in the parent culture. The family will lack resiliency; the result of having been exposed to prolonged stress without reprieve. They will be too fragile, too brittle to endure another crisis of the predictable relapse. You will not be welcomed home.
“You Can’t Go Home Again”
A Book by Thomas Wolfe, published posthumously in 1940
George Webber has written a successful novel about his family and hometown. When he returns to that town, he is shaken by the force of outrage and hatred that greets him. Family and lifelong friends feel naked and exposed by what they have seen in his books, and their fury drives him from his home.
The title is reinforced in the denouement of the novel in which Webber realizes: “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
Literally…You can’t go home again. How tragic. How sad. Until our nation wakes up from the bad dream that is the time in which we live, we will not be able to provide sanctuary for the refugees of the drug subcultures and the others that have deviated from the norm – the very definition of which has become impossible to define.
Let’s make an America that is led by honest men and women who champion caring, fairness; liberty; loyalty; moral authority; and sanctity. Lets rescue the lost tribes and restore the unity upon which the Republic depends. We have the historical memory necessary to reconstitute our foundation principles. A return to the past is not possible. However, we can realize the egalitarian ideal by building upon the precious elements of our Moral Foundation. I am hopeful that we can make our ‘world’ a better place – And one that shall endure.
Let us find our way home again…all of us.
Roland Verfaillie, Ph.D., LMHC