Links: Writing days, solar power, mattresses, university students infantilize themselves, and drugs

* “My writing day: Hilary Mantel.”

* How cheap does solar power need to get before it takes over the world?

* The Wirecutter tests the (many) online mattress companies and likes Leesa the best.

* How university students infantilise themselves.

* “So You’re Getting a Ph.D.: Welcome to the worst job market in America.” Which readers of this blog should already know.

* More than 1,000 world leaders say the obvious: the drug “war” has been a disaster. Daniel Okrent’s Last Call is good on this.

* “The alt-right is more than warmed-over white supremacy. It’s that, but way way weirder.” A much better and weirder piece than you’re expecting.

Drugs Unlimited: The Web Revolution That’s Changing How the World Gets High — Mike Power

Drugs Unlimited is an excellent companion to Daniel Okrent’s Last Call, since both are about the madness of the laws that forbid or restrict mind-altering substances. But Drugs Unlimited shares a flaw and strength with Last Call, too: both books are repetitive, with tons of minute historical detail that feels easy to skip. Unless you wish to become an expert in the subject both are better checked out of libraries than bought.

Drugs Unlimited follows a pattern and cites many, many examples of that pattern: Chemist or enthusiast comes up with a novel drug or drug variation; people try and like it; governments eventually ban it (there are chapters devoted to “LSD in the 1960s, heroin in the 1980s and Ecstasy in the 1980s and 1990s”). The process then repeats, though we’re now in a stage in which it’s difficult for governments to ban or regulate every conceivable substance, leading to an online free-for-all.

Drugs_unlimitedShould you wish to enter the free-for-all Drugs Unlimited provides an introduction and useful guidance. Drugs have become more widely available than ever in the last ten years, and perhaps the most interesting thing about their availability has been their lack of impact on society, which continues to function. Nonetheless we get a chronicle of the new drug world: “Widely available and hugely popular, mephedrone was the first mass-market ‘downloadable’ drug, in the sense that it was, uniquely for the mass market, originally only available online.” That I’ve never heard of mephedrone makes me feel uncool.

It’s appropriate that I’m discussing this book on a blog, since Power writes:

Conventional academic research and government-sponsored investigations into attitudes and use patterns are being supplanted in their authority by the unmediated voices of users themselves, as social networks become central to the daily experience of a new generation of drug users.

He doesn’t cite Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It’s Becoming, and Why It Matters but he might as well: one could take out the word “drug” and replace it with “readers” or “listeners” or any number of other verbs. Still, there is a persistent feeling that “the unmediated voices of users” are better informed than the highly mediated voices of the media, or of academics.

Drugs Unlimited is also a media critique: “Saunders also detailed [Ecstasy’s] darker, more negative sides in an honest appraisal that was sorely lacking in mainstream coverage.” Or: “My responses to [Ecstasy] and its surrounding culture, and those of everyone I knew, were markedly different from the media’s representation of them.” Or: “hysterical media coverage of the perceive threats of new drugs and corresponding knee-jerk government action seem to be [. . .] guaranteed.”

Power likes drugs: he’s taken them, and he writes sensuously of the way “drugs can send users into bizarre internal spaces, imaginary realms where mind and body are dissociated from each other, and where the only limits to the experience are those of the imagination.” He should perhaps more strongly emphasize the dangers of mixing different drugs, since that along with poorly manufactured drugs is how people die. The extent to which schools, the “responsible” media, and other authority figures systematically lie about drugs is shocking. Although “Most People With Addiction Simply Grow Out of It. Why Is This Widely Denied?” came out after Drugs Unlimited, it would fit into Power’s narrative.

Drugs Unlimited is lightly technical, and you’ll find sentences like these: “PIHKAL reveals in practical detail the chemical synthesis and human dosage of hundreds of psychoactive substances, each of which are in the phenethylamine class.” The book is neither well nor poorly written. It would not surprise me, however, were copies to travel to many unexpected places and inspired many unexpected people. Perhaps you’re one.

Links: Goodbye theory, the artists’s lives, coffee, Dr. Strangelove, Divorce Corp., molly, and more

* “David Winters on Elegy for Theory: Bye, Bye, Theory, Goodbye.” Except that undergrad and grad classes on theory are still mandatory in many places and much dubious “theory” still gets cited in conferences or by editors and peer reviewers. Actual death would be an improvement.

* Most writers of books don’t make enough money to live from their writing; notice this: “Together, what these patterns suggest is that few authors are getting rich off of their writing or even earning enough from their writing to quit their day jobs.”

* In keeping with the above: “Entrepreneurs of the spirit;” I’d add that the number of people who write a blog, continuously, for at least a couple years is very small.

* In keeping with a theme: Barry Eisler and Robert Gottlieb debate the future of publishing; in the short term I buy Gottlieb and in the long term I buy Eisler. The challenge is defining the terms.

* “Almost Everything in ‘Dr. Strangelove’ Was True,” which you should remember anytime you see someone working for any branch of government move their lips.

* Divorce Corp: A Movie Review, which is really a society review that should scare you.

* Why is coffee in France so bad?

* “‘I say, Charles, don’t you ever crave…’“, or, the 1200th anniversary of Charlemagne’s death.

* Politicians and cops are essentially indifferent to many people’s deaths, although the story is titled very differently; see also Daniel Okrent’s Last Call.

Bad academic writing: Rebecca Biron and the Mexican drug war in PMLA

In “It’s a Living: Hit Men in the Mexican Narco War,” Rebecca E. Biron writes:

Hit men in the twenty-first-century Mexican drug war engage in paid labor at the extreme end of capitalist exploitation. By “extreme end,” I mean the period of late hyper- capitalism in which transnational profit seeking trumps national as well as international regulatory systems designed to serve broad social stability. I also mean the outer limits of how capitalist interests use (up) human beings [. . .]

But “the twenty-first-century Mexican drug war” isn’t a good example of capitalism at work: to the extent that capitalism is about selling people things they actually want, with a (relatively) limited amount of state control, drugs should be legal: there’s a willing buyer, a willing seller, and no intermediary who gets hurt. Yet the state—which is conventionally associated with communism / socialism—prohibits drug use, using the logic of “serv[ing] broad social stability” and similarly bogus euphemisms.

If anything, the hit men should be considered exploited by state policies around prohibition, rather than capitalism or capitalists.

Plus, if exploitation is inherent capitalism, what kind of economic or political system doesn’t or hasn’t involved exploitation? And I’m not talking about a theoretical one: I’m talking about a real example in the real world. I don’t think any exist, at least in any meaningful sense. Although the U.S. and Western Europe certainly aren’t without warts and blemishes, both historical and contemporary, it’s notable that the Soviet Union exterminated millions of its own citizens in a calculated, industrialized fashion. The Soviet Union also engaged in foreign conquest and terror to a vastly greater extent than the U.S. did or, today, could even aspire to.

%d bloggers like this: