Tuesday, November 18, 2003

I noticed an anti-drug billboard this week which simply said marijuana wasn't harmless and that children should report their pothead parents to the number provided on the sign. This, to me, was absolutely chilling and redolent of the atmosphere of revolutionary China or Orwell's 1984 in which children are commanded to be good little citizens and report their naughty parents. Since 9-11, there seem to have been an increasing number of "public interest" campaigns in which people are encouraged to report their friends, relatives and neighbors for everything from insurance fraud to those who "aid the purpose of terrorism" by using drugs. I think it is ideal if a child's home does not contain liquor or drugs of any kind, and I do think it is abusive for parents to be out of control and drunk or high in front of their children, but I also believe there are not enough foster homes in the world to host every American child who grows up seeing their parents plastered. In an increasingly paranoid age, people are free to anonymously point fingers and set afoot damaging or even ruinous investigations into the lives of private citizens, and I wonder how this serves us as a society? I am horrified that a child might innocently call that number in the interest of helping a parent, and start a chain of events which would deprive them of parental contact temporarily or permanently. I believe there are foster parents out there with sinister motivations who slip through the cracks of an already over-burdened child protective services-- bad people who feel free to abuse a foster child in a manner they wouldn't dare do to their own children. I don't feel that we should adopt a "why bother?" attitude about casual drug usage by parents--there are in fact cases in which parents clearly can not handle the responsibility of child rearing--but nor do I believe drunk and high parents have cornered the market on bad parenting. Nearer than I would like to admit I can cite relatives who sit stupefied before the television, being spoon-fed a steady diet of mind-numbing crap, or plop their children down to be pacified themselves by that visual sinkhole. The ancient greek word for "amuse" literally meant not to think, and I think the real problem in Western nations is that we are amusing ourselves to death. I think it would be great if people who have slipped into daily use of pot and booze would ask themselves what they are trying to escape, and possibly have the epiphany that they would deal better with the stresses of life if they were more present-of-mind to cope with situations, rather than chemically bludgeoned into a state of apathy. We are in a rush to prove the money-grubbing entertainment industry right in their gamble that we are more addicted to amusement than anything. It would be a brilliant idea to have just one day a year when no one turns on the tv, like the Great American Smoke-Out. There is a major flaw with this idea, though: people wouldn't know about it because tv and radio broadcasters would not allow advertising for this event. Call me starry-eyed, but I think it would be much more socially responsible for the Ad Council or whoever is responsible for those public-service billboards to say "read a book with your child today" or "No money to take your kids to the ballpark or movies? Libraries are free." or simply "Volunteer." If the people who sponsor those billboards want a better society for everyone (and I don't believe they do), then is not that ideal better served by citizenry who progress from a state of passive to active? In the USA, there are households considered below poverty level with cars, indoor plumbing, and a television in every room, while worldwide people huddled in tar-paper shacks are are glad of what little they get to eat. The intellectual laziness that is engendered in our society is obscene when compared to the real struggle for life that takes place everywhere else in the world. Let's try to be honest about the drug issue and about what qualifies as a drug. In my lifetime, the media have been saturated with anti-drug campaigns. The media are complicit in the obfuscation of the issue of ills in our society, and to blame everything on drugs is one of the most brilliant diversionary tactics ever and a clear-cut case of the pot calling the kettle black. And we go like lambs to the slaughter.

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