“One Nation, Indivisible” features excerpts from The Sun’s archives that speak to the current political moment.
Drug culture is American culture. The situation has changed dramatically over the past thirty years. The kids who were using heavy drugs like heroin back then — at least, in my community — were poor Mexicans: in other words, only the marginalized kids. Now it’s not just Mexicans. It’s middle-class white kids who are shooting up. . . .
Things are starting to fall apart all over. Even the people who really believe in capitalism, who benefit the most from it, are dying from it, too. Capitalism is killing middle-class white children as well as the poor. . . . You know which community has the highest number of heroin addicts per capita in the country? Plano, Texas — a gated community. What do you do when even living in a gated community isn’t going to save you? There’s a great street saying: What goes around comes around. You can’t kill off the Indians and rob them of their land and build an industrial society that steals the blood and soul of every immigrant and not pay a price for it. We’ve all paid a tremendous price for it, and we’ll continue to pay.
“Urban Renewal,” Luis Rodríguez, interviewed by Derrick Jensen, April 2000
Will D. Campbell: Our human notions of justice are badly flawed. By “justice,” we often mean getting even. Look at the current drug laws: almost 2 million people locked up, the vast majority on nonviolent offenses, and the vast majority of them black and Hispanic. We call that justice, locking up addicts. I was a drug addict for forty years, and I was never once arrested.
The Sun: Nicotine?
Campbell: Yeah. Everyone told me it was too late for me to quit, but I quit anyway. There’s a higher rate of recidivism for nicotine than for any other addiction. But it’s legal. We let the cigarette manufacturers get up on the stand and lie through their teeth, and we only got a mere pittance out of them.
“Radical Grace,” Will D. Campbell, interviewed by Jeremy Lloyd, May 2000
The levels of addiction in our society are off the charts, and I’m not just talking about alcohol and drugs; I’m talking about shopping, working, sex. Addictions are an attempt to cope with intolerable states. The meager lives we are asked to live, in which we are often reduced to “earning a living,” are themselves intolerable. . . .
For thousands of years we were nourished by being members of a community, gathering around the fire, hearing the stories of the elders, feeling supported during times of loss and grief, offering gratitude, singing together, sharing meals at night and our dreams in the morning. I call these activities “primary satisfactions.” We are hardwired to want them, but few of us receive them. In their absence we turn to secondary satisfactions: rank, privilege, wealth, status — or, on the shadow side, addictions. The problem with these secondary satisfactions is that we can never get enough of them. We always want more. But once we find our primary satisfactions, we don’t want much else.
“The Geography of Sorrow,” Francis Weller, interviewed by Tim McKee, October 2015
I think of all the ways in which my decisions go against my deepest desire to live in harmony with the planet. Right now, for instance, I’m craving a Diet Pepsi in a cold, sweating, aluminum (bad for the earth) can, with a straw. I allow myself one only once in a while. I’m not as bad as my friend S., who drinks a six-pack of the stuff a day and smokes.
That’s the thing about addiction — there’s some way in which what’s bad for us feels good. I remember smoking: the satisfying ache at the bottom of my lungs, the sting in my eyes, the burn of exhaling fumes through my nose. I wouldn’t think of doing it now, but I remember. And I remember angel-faced S. at twenty, smoking a pack of Marlboros a day, gesturing to her lush body in full bloom and saying, “I need something that destroys me a little, to make a balance.”
“Sources of Nourishment,” Alison Luterman, July 1997
Malidoma Somé: I learned from my grandfather that any person who sets out to hurt someone is actually more in need of attention than the person who is being hurt. So although the West was decimating my culture, the elders of my village recognized that the only way to address the issue was to understand the pain that was ailing the West. The desire to hurt someone or something comes from a kind of alienation from self and from nature and can often be attributed to the lack of initiation.
In Africa I have seen entire families and households destroyed by colonialism, and it starts with a forced turning away from the traditions of the ancestors and an embracing of a new culture in the name of “progress” or “development.” The West has been very successful at destroying a society that was once fine.
The Sun: If it’s any consolation, we did it to ourselves first. The West turned away from its own indigenous traditions.
Somé: That’s true. But the West’s problem is no longer the problem of a single culture; it is now a world issue. Left alone, the indigenous cultures that have been destroyed will not necessarily remember how to go back to their roots.
“Between Two Worlds,” Malidoma Somé, interviewed by Leslee Goodman, July 2010
I don’t personally think the government should care whether or not I experience euphoria. The euphoria-inducing chemicals released in my brain when I inject cocaine are pretty much the same ones I might get from skydiving. Why should one be illegal and the other legal? We need regulations on skydiving instructors to keep people safe, but making skydiving illegal would be absurd — as absurd as the idea that I’m breaking a law by sitting around my house, smoking weed, and not hurting anyone.
“Hooked,” Maia Szalavitz, interviewed by Arnie Cooper, June 2017
I work as a therapist at an inpatient drug-and-alcohol-treatment facility for homeless veterans. Almost half the patients are veterans of the Vietnam War. They all suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Their extreme anger and sadness result in a high rate of relapse to the addictions that have kept them on the streets and on the fringes of society. They have lost all faith in such institutions as voting, “family values,” and the American Dream.
This is a terribly tough group to work with on a daily basis. It is my job to try to ease the pain of a man who had to kill a fatally wounded buddy whose screams of agony threatened to give away the unit’s location; my job to reassure the former sergeant whose entire squad was wiped out while he was in surgery that the deaths were not his fault. . . .
I can’t work here forever. The hours are long and the pay extremely low. At times, memories of my own combat experiences in Vietnam are triggered by my work. Yet I feel that I can’t leave. If I don’t stay and do this work, who will?
“Vietnam” (Readers Write), Carl A. Anderson, October 1995
Most people drive their vehicles too often. They go shopping for things they do not need, and they don’t do research to see who and what is affected by their purchases. They waste water in showers, sinks, and toilets. One of the leading causes of death globally is the lack of access to clean water, yet many of us waste and pollute water every day. We use disposable products and then throw them away. We take resources from the earth and future generations. All of these behaviors are the behaviors of addicts. It is easier to focus on people with drug or alcohol addiction than it is to look at how almost everyone in industrialized society has become addicted to consumption.
“The Butterfly Effect,” Julia Butterfly Hill, interviewed by Leslee Goodman, April 2012
At church I met a handsome man with shining eyes. He was well dressed and enthusiastic, but the tattoo on his hand hinted that he had a past. Perhaps he was a recovering alcoholic, trying to make a new start.
We started dating around Thanksgiving, and by New Year’s, I had learned that he was not a recovering alcoholic, but an active heroin addict.
I am a small-town girl, a policeman’s daughter, now a single mother of four with a career. The idea of having a relationship — of any kind — with a heroin addict is absolutely unthinkable to me. Yet I have fallen in love with him.
We struggle. I have peeled off many layers of stereotypes and misunderstandings and judgments about addiction, about people, about life. I have come to understand that an addiction to heroin — as dramatic as it may sound — is a human weakness, just like any other.
Countless people have advised me to break off this relationship. I have tried. I have broken it off. He has moved away. But he always comes back. I continue to seek the human being behind the label “addict.” And, against all odds, I continue to find him.
“Against the Odds” (Readers Write), Name Withheld, December 2002
The city slips out of sight and the train rocks slowly through the deep industrial waste of northern New Jersey. Looking out the window, I see the devastation as a mirror of our inner world, and think that perhaps the only hope lies in a new politics — a politics of the heart, in which disciplined compassion would be the central value. We would recognize that it’s more important for beggars’ cups to overflow than for key stocks to advance on the big board. We would measure progress not in housing starts but in how many useless suburban malls have been reclaimed as farmland. I accept that these solutions are simplistic, naive, and utopian. I also suspect they would be effective.
“Global Depression,” Andy Yale, May 1995