Documents: “A Female Junkie Speaks”

Consciousness Raising Session, 1969
(Photo: Mary Ellen Mark)

Editor’s Note:  A few days ago I articulated my interest in uncovering the radical feminist position on drug use and abuse—or in figuring out why radical feminists didn’t have one.  Now in the document-gathering phase, I’ve come across one early statement on drugs that seems particularly noteworthy.  “A Female Junkie Speaks,” which appeared in the collection Notes from the Second Year, a volume that might well be subtitled “greatest hits of women’s liberation,” is also difficult to obtain.  Edited by Shulamith Firestone, Notes collects various writings by the group New York Radical Women; it appeared in limited numbers in early 1970 and has never been reprinted.  Key essays within it form the canon of the movement and are widely anthologized– Pat Mainardi’s “The Politics of Housework,” Anne Koedt’s “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,”  Carol Hanisch’s “The Personal is Political,” and Kathie Sarachild’s “A Program for Feminist ‘Consciousness-Raising,’” (a later version is available here) to name just a few. 

“A Female Junkie Speaks,” however, is not a canonical text, despite its subject’s facility with key concepts in women’s liberation.  In this short “interview” with feminist poet and NYRW member Lucille Iverson, she articulates white middle-class culture’s propensity for the symbolic annihilation of women, theorizes the normative female subject position as a form of prostitution, and endorses women’s consciousness-raising and female community as key antidotes to oppression– and addiction.  But late in the piece, “Susan” notes her consciousness-raising group’s negative response to her admission that she is a drug addict; the text is frustratingly silent on what prompts the members’ “resent[ment].”   It concludes with a hopeful call to radical feminists to actively engage with “female junkies.”  Exactly why that call was not heeded will, I hope, be the subject of future posts.

A Female Junkie Speaks
Interview by Lucille Iverson
Susan, the girl speaking here, has been a drug-user and junkie off and on for almost ten years; she has recently joined Women’s Liberation.

No one can be liberated alone….

To come home and be all alone, man, I can’t stand that.Continue reading “Documents: “A Female Junkie Speaks””

Weekend Reads: Rick Scott Edition

Rick Scott, Governor of Florida

As you may or may not know, Points’ HQ is nestled in the sticky, swampy collegiate backwater of Gainesville, Florida. Located just a few hours from the state capital of Tallahassee, we here at the University of Florida get a regular chance to see Governor Rick Scott at work. While Scott’s archconservative policies don’t tend to play well within Gainesville’s baby blue confines, even the Governor’s most ardent critics must acknowledge Scott’s chutzpa. The Governor is conservative in mindset, but certainly not in method, as to watch him work Congress is to watch a man very much on the vanguard of reactionary politics. Without sounding overly grandiloquent, I consider Mr. Scott nothing less than the Arnold Schoenberg of the Tea Party scene.

The first fortnight of March has seen Rick Scott pushing an agenda that, as is so often the case, finds Florida’s chief executive blazing a new trail for the right. Florida, like many other states, remains ensnared in recession and that has the head of the Sunshine State feverishly searching the 99% for scapegoats. Having already put in place drug and alcohol tests for welfare recipients, Mr. Scott just recently passed a measure instituting drug testing for the state’s public employees, a move that will, by no means, address the economic issues he claims are his top priority. The Florida legislature passed the measure on March 9 and, pending legal challenges, government agencies will soon have the power to, once every three months, randomly test up to 10% of their workforce for drugs (illegal and prescription) and alcohol.

Big Brother: The only known force - except for pizza - that can bring together unionists and libertarians.

Scott and his supporters claim that the measure is not politically driven, but is rather an earnest attempt to protect the public from impaired public employees. Moreover, it will provide an opportunity for – or, perhaps more accurately, will foist the opportunity upon – civil servants with drug problems to “get clean.” Despite the professed good intentions of the measures, the proposal has raised objections from both the right and left, bringing together an unlikely coalition of labour unionists, lawyers, and libertarians. While the groups do not necessarily share the same concerns – conservatives have more often expressed worry over the costs of the program; liberals frequently seem to see the central issue as being one of personal rights to privacy – the opposition is very real, though unlikely to derail Scott’s plans. At this point, the only real barrier to drug testing Florida’s public employees is the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear upcoming legal challenges on whether the program violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, specifically those measures barring illegal search and seizure.

Given that public drug testing is experiencing opposition from both sides of the aisle, and the program will be burdened with real challenges regarding both expense and legality, why is the Scott government so insistent on pursuing this policy? As Mr. Patrik Jonsson of The Christian Science Monitor points out, it’s not really about drugs. Rather, the Scott government is trying to make political hay out of insinuating that the economy is bad because of waste, inefficiency, and theft. Jonsson spoke to Colin Gordon, a labor historian at the University of Iowa, who notes that, “despite our constitutional legal traditions, there’s always a lot to be reaped from the argument that if you haven’t done anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about.” Gordon laments “how little weight the civil liberties argument has – an implication that has become exaggerated in the war-on-terror era, and which says we can and should suspend liberties for people who don’t deserve them.”Continue reading “Weekend Reads: Rick Scott Edition”

In Search of the Drunken Native

In a March 3, 2012 New York Times article, “At Tribe’s Door, a Hub of Beer and Heartache,” reporter Timothy Williams provides yet another account of the terrible consequences associated with alcohol consumption among native Americans.  This article, which of course joins many others on the same topic, touches on a number of familiar points, in particular the assumed collective susceptibility of Native Americans to alcohol and their vulnerability to the agents of capitalism.

Whiteclay, Nebraska is a ramshackle hamlet on the border not only of South Dakota but of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation—which has banned alcohol since the 1970s. There, a small number of  white beer store owners sell annually almost five million cans of beer and malt liquor—almost all to members of the Oglala Sioux tribe.

Whiteclay, NE
Pop: 14; Annual revenues from alcohol sales: $3 million

These are the latest version of the unscrupulous white traders who have populated the narratives of Native American drinking since the seventeenth century.  In this case, they offer to cash income tax checks for a 3 percent commission and selling 30 packs of Bud for a price higher than that charged in New York City and more than twice the going price in most of the country.  In this account the ravages of alcohol consumption involve virtually every family.  “As an indication of the depth of the problem,” the Times notes that even a tribal vice president, a leader in the fight to restrict alcohol sales in Whiteclay, was recently arrested on alcohol-related charges.  In 2011 tribal police made 20,000 alcohol-related arrests in a reservation with an apparently undifferentiated population of 45,000.

The article reminds us that this is not just a problem for the Oglala Sioux, but for Native Americans generally.  Without an explanation for the leap to a national/racial scope, we’re reminded that about one third of U.S. reservations ban alcohol and that “excessive alcohol consumption is the leading cause of preventable death among American Indians.”  And in fact the threat of extinction lurks in this article as it has in accounts of native drinking for four centuries.  As one tribal police captain notes, “not to disrespect our elders and ancestors, but we’ve gone through several generations.”

When It's Time to Lose Command over Yourself

In his famous 1802 testimony to Thomas Jefferson, Chief Little Turtle told the President, “your children have not that command over themselves which you have, therefore, before anything can be done to advantage, this evil must be remedied.”And so the Oglala Sioux, implicitly recognizing that they “have not that command over themselves,” have gone to court to lay blame for their affliction not only on the beer stores in Whiteclay but  the Anheuser-Busch company that produces the high-alcohol Hurricane High Gravity Lager that is the current drink of choice in Pine Ridge. The purpose of this post is not to dismiss or intellectualize away the enormous problems linked to alcohol in many of the nation’s Native American communities, but to invite discussion about  the remarkably persistent and pervasive mythology of the drunken native and of the more general susceptibility of aboriginal (or “indigenous”) people to alcohol.  Continue reading “In Search of the Drunken Native”

Addiction, History and Historians: Ron Roizen’s Response to Courtwright’s Reply

Editor’s Note:  Let’s face it–there was an awful lot to chew on in the recent roundtable on David Courtwright’s essay.  A private exchange between Ron Roizen and David Courtwright has led, with David’s encouragement, to Ron organizing his thoughts as a follow up to David’s reply to our series of commenters.

Nothing Good on, Again.

In a series of recent papers historian David Courtwright has managed to put together some excellent sociology-of-drug-science analyses.(1)  For this he well deserves our congratulations and thanks. Yet, I have reservations about the reply David recently offered to his Points’ commenters.

There’s an echo of Kuhn’s concept of “normal science” in David’s reply – particularly in his optimistic view that future research focused by the “NIDA paradigm” will serve to invite new studies at increasingly complex and interesting levels of inquiry, thus giving rise to new knowledge that might not otherwise have seen the light of day.  The main thrust of David’s reply is that a happy co-existence is possible between NIDA’s reductionist paradigm and the anti-reductionist inclinations of many historians and social scientists.  We in the “softer sciences,” David suggests, should, where appropriate, make use of the brain disease paradigm’s benefits and then turn to our own disciplinary tool kits when our inquiries require them.

I balk at this position for a number of reasons.  First, there is the question of consistency in David’s argument.  I was so taken by the following passage in David’s Addiction article that I fired off the full quotation, via email, to Stanton Peele:Continue reading “Addiction, History and Historians: Ron Roizen’s Response to Courtwright’s Reply”

Lessons From the Narcotic Farm, Part Two

Editor’s Note: Today, Points continues a series of reflections on the Lexington Narcotic Hospital, from Luke Walden, JP Olsen, and Nancy Campbell.  You can read the first post in the series here.  Walden is a documentary filmmaker, Olsen a journalist (and documentarian), and Campbell a historian (and Contributing Editor to Points).  Olsen brought Walden into the development of his film, The Narcotic Farm, and along the way the two began collaborating with Campbell as well–ultimately producing not only the film, but an accompanying book.  We’re pleased to bring you the second post in this ongoing series:

Behind the Advertised Image of the American Dream

During the course of producing the film and book for “The Narcotic Farm” (with Luke Walden and Nancy Campbell), I interviewed nearly a dozen men who were involved in what could be described as a global teenage junkie epidemic. This was back in the early 1950s, when an estimated 5,000 teens in New York alone were hooked on heroin.

The men’s memories of that time were fascinating and instructive. One recalled with keen detail Lucky Luciano’s mafia takeover of the heroin trade; selling dope to Big Maybelle; and palling around with notorious addict Chet Baker while jailed at Rikers Island. Another described intricate scams he perpetrated around the country with his prostitute girlfriend in search of opiates. Still another recalled how, after being busted for needle possession, he discovered that Julius Rosenberg was in the same prison and often played chess between cell bars with another intellectual inmate (who later turned out to be an informant).

In their own ways, all the men I interviewed projected a sort of perverse pride in having been at the center of a criminal drug underworld and at The Narcotic Farm itself. These experiences gave them a front-row view of some of the major criminal and cultural stories of their day.

All the men with whom I spoke were frank about their involvement with heroin—no women addicts of this era agreed to participate in this project for reasons we’ll address in our next post. But most were less forthcoming about their earlier, pre-addiction childhoods. Why? One Narcotic Farm alumnus, David Deitch, who went on to co-found Daytop Village, put forward a reason: those who ended up junkies in the post-World War II era were all but locked out of the advertised image of the American dream. For them there was no shiny car, no new kitchen, no thick malts down at the town square. Those living outside this advertised image of America were, in fact, children coping with what psychologists today would call “psychic pain.”

In the 1940s and 1950s, to be a teen living on the dark side of the American Dream often meant you lived in the crap part of a city, negotiated violent street gangs on your way to school, dealt with alcoholism and violence in the home, and sometimes had to navigate corrupt and racist law enforcement. On this end, I’m reminded of a telephone interview with a former Federal Bureau of Narcotics agent—who I will not name but who worked for Harry Anslinger—who told me the reason for the explosion of drug use in post-World War II America had to do with the mixing of blacks and Jews. Remember, this is a federal agent in New York City we’re talking about, not some bailiff in a hamlet.

Continue reading “Lessons From the Narcotic Farm, Part Two”

Aesthetics and the Failure of the FDA’s Cigarette Warning Labels

Last year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a series of nine new warning labels for cigarettes. The labels were designed around a series of graphic images intended to highlight the dangers of smoking – a man exhaling smoke through a hole in his throat, a pair of diseased lungs next to a pair of healthy ones, a mouth covered with cancerous lesions, and so on.

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The images were surprisingly explicit, and prompted a storm of controversy. The FDA also instituted rules requiring that the labels cover one-half of the front side of all cigarette packages, that the images be rotated regularly, and other similar measures. Not surprisingly, the tobacco companies sued to stop the new rules from going into effect; not long after, a district court judge in Washington ruled that the new regulations were unconstitutional on free-speech grounds. The labels never went into effect, and the people of America continue to be free to buy cigarettes without having to confront images of diseased lips and people blowing smoke through holes in their necks. Continue reading “Aesthetics and the Failure of the FDA’s Cigarette Warning Labels”

Overnight Reading: The Future of Academic Publishing

Here’s some overnight food for thought from Michael P. Taylor, research associate in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol:

“By any objective standard, academic publishing is a very strange business indeed. It became established at a time when all publishing was on paper, when duplication and delivery were demanding problems, and when publishers provided an important service to researchers. Now, as the Internet is dramatically changing other forms of publishing, academic journals seem stuck in the 1980s, with results both comical and disastrous.”

Read Taylor’s thoughts in full at TheScientist.com.  An editorial hat tip to Ron Roizen for bringing this to our attention!

Qnexa in America: Thinner, Happier, and Less Reactive

Welcome to the first installment of guest blogger Brad Fidler’s new four-part series. Brad is a postdoc researcher at UCLA, where he is developing a new program on Internet history.  He studies the crossovers between information technologies and psychiatry. Over the coming weeks, Brad will discuss the increasing use of psychiatric drugs in the treatment of, and the expanding definitions of, mental illness.

A Big Bottle O' Qnexa

When mood stabilizers and stimulants fail to interest the American public– often because their use has been stigmatized– drug companies often look to rebrand them as diet pills.  That’s what the pharmaceutical firm Vivus, Inc. plans to do with their new drug Qnexa. Vivus is planning to mix a mood stabilizer from the 1970s with a stimulant from the 1950s and sell the new cross-breed medication as a weight loss drug.

The two drugs that make up Qnexa have been criticized as a part of the bad form of medicating society, emblematizing the habit of profit-hungry pharmaceutical firms to “disease monger” and “sell sickness.”  This backlash critique of psychiatry and psychiatric drugs has risen  dramatically in the last few decades as pharmaceutical solutions to behavioral and mood problems have become more popular and more visible.  It has remained relatively easy to critique the over-prescription of psychiatric drugs because the relatively private nature of the doctor-patient relationship has not been subject to scrutiny like public drug policy activities like community policing and foreign policy associated with the War On Drugs.

But the critique of pharmeceutical “disease mongering” is not just opportunistic; there are important historical reasons that we are suspicious of psychiatric treatments. Continue reading “Qnexa in America: Thinner, Happier, and Less Reactive”

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