I read an article that critiques the capitalist and consumer undercurrents in the Harry Potter universe today that intrigued, incited, and amused me. Take a minute and read it (it is reproduced in the extended entry portion of this post in case the link decays).
Even though this essay was written by a Frenchman (or perhaps its a woman, I can't tell from the name), let's resist taking the piss out of it for that. I was put off by the assumption that Harry Potter has "underlying messages" and the author's presumption that they've uncovered some hidden truth. I've always been bothered by literature and its pompous claim to represent something more than just being a story. I'm not disturbed by author's who clearly intend to make comments (one that came through clearly to me was Sinclair Lewis's commie book The Jungle. It was more than just the meat), that's cool enough.
But its when people make interpretations and fail to understand that they are just interpretations that gets my goat. Texts don't have meaning, they provide fodder for constructing meaning on an individual level. But don't get caught up in claiming that you've found something in the text: you've found something in your head.
In this case, I think the author is back-asswards. Is it surprising that an author from a capitalist consumer society writing for an audience in a capitalist consumer society writes about a world that has a capitalist economy? Imagine the outcry if Rowling had written Harry's world with pure Socialist economics. Do you think people would accept the explanation of "I just wanted something different than we have at home"? This author accuses Rowling of polluting readers minds for a long time, if not their lives, and I shudder to think of what would have happened to her if she'd written a book with benign and intentional non-capitalistic (they'd be seen as anti-, for sure) tones.
All this complaining by me aside, I think its interesting analysis in many ways. I read two kinds of books, fiction for entertainment and non-fiction for education. I don't like to read books that are devoid of entertainment value because its a veiled ficitonal presentation of educational commentary.
Just the same, when someone comes up with some interesting commentary or interpretation of an entertainment novel such as this, I enjoy it. I think it is interesting to notice how many of our societies institutions and values are reflected in Harry Potter, as they weren't obvious to me at first. I like having the veil lifted from my eyes or the curtain pulled back. I do learn something about the book but I also learn about myself and my tendency to miss fnord many elements or aspects of life. So much of our interpretations/ perspectives/ meaning-making machinery in our skulls works so effortless and flawlessly that we generally don't realize what it is doing and that by its very act of doing, we are excluding alternative yet plausible and valid representations.
Anyway, I thought it was an interesting, amusing, and thought provoking. I hope you do too. Feel free to add your comments and commentary
Harry Potter, Market Wiz (French critique of Harry Potter)
New York Times ^ | July 18, 2004 | ILIAS YOCARIS
Posted on 07/19/2004 4:05:50 AM PDT by jalisco555
Editor's Note: The success of the Harry Potter series has provoked a lively discussion among French literary theorists about the novels' underlying message and the structure of Harry's school, Poudlard (Hogwarts). This article, which appeared last month in the French daily Le Monde, got particular attention, including an essay published in response arguing that Harry is an antiglobalist crusader.
NICE, France — With the Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling has enchanted the world: the reader is drawn into a magical universe of flying cars, spells that make its victims spew slugs, trees that give blows, books that bite, elf servants, portraits that argue and dragons with pointed tails.
On the face of it, the world of Harry Potter has nothing in common with our own. Nothing at all, except one detail: like ours, the fantastic universe of Harry Potter is a capitalist universe.
Hogwarts is a private sorcery school, and its director constantly has to battle against the state as represented, essentially, by the inept minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge; the ridiculous bureaucrat Percy Weasley; and the odious inspector Dolores Umbridge.
The apprentice sorcerers are also consumers who dream of acquiring all sorts of high-tech magical objects, like high performance wands or the latest brand-name flying brooms, manufactured by multinational corporations. Hogwarts, then, is not only a school, but also a market: subject to an incessant advertising onslaught, the students are never as happy as when they can spend their money in the boutiques near the school. There is all sorts of bartering between students, and the author heavily emphasizes the possibility of social success for young people who enrich themselves thanks to trade in magical products.
The tableau is completed by the ritual complaints about the rigidity and incompetence of bureaucrats. Their mediocrity is starkly contrasted with the inventiveness and audacity of some entrepreneurs, whom Ms. Rowling never ceases to praise. For example, Bill Weasley, who works for the goblin bank Gringotts, is presented as the opposite of his brother, Percy the bureaucrat. The first is young, dynamic and creative, and wears clothes that "would not have looked out of place at a rock concert"; the second is unintelligent, obtuse, limited and devoted to state regulation, his career's masterpiece being a report on the standards for the thicknesses of cauldrons.
We have, then, an invasion of neoliberal stereotypes in a fairy tale. The fictional universe of Harry Potter offers a caricature of the excesses of the Anglo-Saxon social model: under a veneer of regimentation and traditional rituals, Hogwarts is a pitiless jungle where competition, violence and the cult of winning run riot.
The psychological conditioning of the apprentice sorcerers is clearly based on a culture of confrontation: competition among students to be prefect; competition among Hogwarts "houses" to win points; competition among sorcery schools to win the Goblet of Fire; and, ultimately, the bloody competition between the forces of Good and Evil.
This permanent state of war ends up redefining the role of institutions: faced with ever-more violent conflicts, they are no longer able to protect individuals against the menaces that they face everywhere. The minister of magic fails pitifully in his combat against Evil, and the regulatory constraints of school life hinder Harry and his friends in defending themselves against the attacks and provocations that they constantly encounter. The apprentice sorcerers are thus alone in their struggle to survive in a hostile milieu, and the weakest, like Harry's schoolmate Cedric Diggory, are inexorably eliminated.
These circumstances influence the education given the young students of Hogwarts. The only disciplines that matter are those that can give students an immediately exploitable practical knowledge that can help them in their battle to survive.
That's not astonishing, considering how this prestigious school aims to form, above all, graduates who can compete in the job market and fight against Evil. Artistic subjects are thus absent from Hogwarts's curriculum, and the teaching of social sciences is considered of little value: the students have only some tedious courses of history. It's very revealing that Harry finds them "as boring as Percy's reports cauldron-bottom report." In other words, in the cultural universe of Harry Potter, social sciences are as useless and obsolete as state regulation.
Harry Potter, probably unintentionally, thus appears as a summary of the social and educational aims of neoliberal capitalism. Like Orwellian totalitarianism, this capitalism tries to fashion not only the real world, but also the imagination of consumer-citizens. The underlying message to young fans is this: You can imagine as many fictional worlds, parallel universes or educational systems as you want, they will still all be regulated by the laws of the market. Given the success of the Harry Potter series, several generations of young people will be indelibly marked by this lesson.
Ilias Yocaris is a professor of literary theory and French literature at the University Institute of Teacher Training in Nice. This article was translated by The Times from the French.
The author of the Anarchist Cookbook has had a change of heart and wishes that the book wasn't in print anymore. He wrote it when he was 19, in 1969 (Got my first real 6-string....), in the heat of the Vietnam Era. Now he's a parent and Christian and doesn't think that his contribution to society is a good one, at least not as far as his book goes.
The question is did his passion burn out and did he lose sight of the ideals that burned in his young and passionate mind or did he come to his senses and wisdom is prevailing over the fallacious impulsiveness of youth? Or is he just embarrassed that the Anarchists' Cookbook is really a bunch of shit that doesn't work (tennis ball bombs are functional but not really explosive. Go with dry ice, I say) and is actually more dangerous to would be anarchists than any target they may conjure.
I bought this book after reading a NYTimes article about it and the author. Evan Wright is a Rolling Stone journalist who was embedded with the Marine's First Reconnaissance Battalion in the invasion of Iraq. He wrote a highly regarded series in Rolling Stone following the invasion and then made this book.
I was impressed. The book is great on two points. First, it provides a fascinating account of the invasion as it follows First Recon from Camp Mathilda in Kuwait, into Iraq in a massive feint move that drew Republican Guards away from Baghdad, and then on into Baghdad proper. During most of the invasion, the battalion he rode with was the deepest advance unit in the war and the platoon he spent most of his time with ended up getting some of the highest honors awarded to combat troops.
This tale of the invasion isn't a god's eye view either. He presents the invasion as it unfolds and includes the constantly changing orders received by commanders and conveys the lack of understanding and awareness that played out in real time. It is a interesting story of warfare and military operation.
Then of course is the human tale. There are a dozen or so Marines that constitute the bulk of the tale. We learn how they think and act and get a deep view of life as a Recon Marine. We see them struggle with civilian killing and contemplate differences and similarities between Iraqis and themselves. They discuss the meaning and intent of the war and offer their opinions about the usefulness or futility of any particular action.
There are a few tragicomic commanders throughout that mystified me as to their continued existence as commanders. Undoubtedly Wright's perspective was colored by the opinions of the men but there are clear examples of major fuckups by Captain America and Casey Kasem, such as EPW (enemy prisoners of war) abuse and the time the failure to question (as in confirm) orders ended up maiming a landmine specialist after they were sent on a minefield mission after dark. Sad stories of personal tragedy throughout.
I've often thought about how the college years of a person's life are so amazing. I went through such a transformation in between age 18 and 23 from my experiences in college. I realize that it isn't college per se as much a it is the learning curve from transitioning from high school to the real world that follows. The experiences of some of these Marines provide the same sorts of experiences on a visceral level unimaginable on a college campus. It was fascinating to watch their transformation over the 2 months or so the book covers.
This book isn't an indictment of or platitude about war. It's more the story of warriors and soldiers with Iraq as a backdrop. The politics of the war aren't covered at all. It's all about the young men as they are used as bait, in the larger strategic as well as tactical sense (they are ordered to stop their convoys (often in doorless and roofless unarmored Humvees) in ambush kill zones specifically to draw enemy fire). They make mistakes and shit happens, with civilians paying the price. The book is graphic at times (I had a hard time with the story of the 4 year girl who's brains fell out) but it was powerful. It wasn't sensational or polemic. It was very very good.
I teach at a small private women's college in Japan. This school is a Christian school, but it isn't too heavy handed vis a vis religion. It doesn't proselytize to students and seeks to just offer opportunities for students to learn about Christianity. Every day there is a 20 minute Chapel Hour and Wednesday Chapel is led by one faculty member. Chapel Hour begins with a hymn, then a brief message (15 minutes or so) based on the hymn, and then a closing hymn.
I was nervous about this because I'm not a Christian. I've never been asked directly if I'm a Christian but I've been asked about my relationship with Christianity. As a child I went to a Lutheran church and was confirmed. I moved away soon after that and didn't go to church anymore. I'm not anti-religion as a rule but I do have problems with a lot of how religious belief is conducted.
But I wanted to do a good job and be sincere at Chapel Hour. I did want to take advantage of the opportunity to talk to students and get them to think about something. I finally settled on the following message. I think it was a good one and I got a number of compliments on it from many of the devout people from the school. They felt that I had dealt with an important and sensitive subject in a productive and needed way. I was satisfied with it.
Hymn: Onward Christian Soldiers
Leviticus 24: 17-20
17 " 'If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death. 18 Anyone who takes the life of someone's animal must make restitution-life for life. 19 If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured.
Matthe w 5: 38-42
38"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Good Morning. Thank you all for coming. Today's hymn and verse are a little bit at odds with each other and I want to talk about the role of violence in religion. We hear a lot about religious violence these days and it is an important issue to think about. I know that most of you are not Christians and I want to show you how Christianity still has important lessons for you that can help you learn and live.
Onward Christian Soldiers contains a strong sentiment. Most people in America know at least the first two lines of this song: Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to war. It seems very militant and violent. Is this Christianity?
I'd like to read another verse to you, from the old testament:
If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death. If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured.
Here again we see a strong sentiment coming from the Bible: If someone hurts you, hurt them back. Is this really the word of God?
Some people believe that Jesus came to Earth to give us extra teachings, that people needed a little extra help at that time. He talked about many ideas and gave us many suggestions for living our lives, including today's verse:
You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
There is more, actually. Jesus goes on to say:
And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
So what is Jesus saying here? If someone needs help, give it to them, and give them everything they need and more. If someone is violent to you, it is clear that they need help. They are angry, desperate, in fear. We are told to love one another as ourselves. Love and caring for others is the real message here.
Taken out of context, without understanding the environment and background, some of the words of the Bible or the songs in the chapel or even the actions of people of faith can appear to be very negative or wrong. People who believe in God still make mistakes: it is called sin. Many times people do not realize that they are sinning and they often think they are doing the right thing. But people make mistakes.
The Bible is often said to be the word of God, but this is only partly correct. It is the word of god as spoken from the mouths of men, and we know that people make mistakes.
Hundreds of years ago, the Church did many bad things. Wars were started in the name of god and many people were killed and needlessly died. The Church killed many people by burning them to death because they seemed strange. But these actions weren't what God wanted or what God asks for. These were mistakes made by people in the name of god. They thought they were doing the right thing, but they were mistaken.
God has given us free will and reason, the power to think. These are powerful and precious gifts, and we must use them. If God communicates and speaks directly to people, it is a personal conversation. He expects us to think about what other people say on his behalf though, kind of like insurance. God gave us the ability to identify when people are making mistakes and expects us to do that.
Religions all over the world share a few basic ideas: Peace, love, respect. We are told that God is the final judge of our behavior and that we are not supposed to judge others. That is God's job. We are expected to think about God's teachings on our own, but it is not our duty to punish people who violate God's desires.
But we have seen in the past and see today many people who do just that. I think most people here have heard about jihad. Jihad is the Islamic belief that recognizes that being true to the faith is a difficult task, a struggle, a battle, even a war. People must fight that personal war to be good and true and pure and peaceful. Jihad isn't about war or terrorism or suicide bombing, not at all. Onward Christian Soldiers is a song about jihad, actually.
But many people are not following the truth path of God. We see many people who believe in God but who are full of hatred and anger, who are judging others. These people sometimes look to the Bible or other religious texts for support. They can find passages like the first verse I read to you about an eye for an eye and then feel that they can punish people on their own. But the full message has to be read, and we have to understand it. We have to recognize that religious texts are mixed with the mistakes that people make and we have to be careful not to mix these two.
An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind eventually. Problems are not solved by duplicating them. Doing something wrong to someone who did something wrong only ends up with 2 wrong actions instead of 1.
Whether you are Christian or not, Muslim or not, Jewish or not, Buddhist or not, the basic ideas of peace, love, and respect for each other are equally useful and appealing. All of these religions are based on these ideas. We have to remember that this is the true meaning and the true message of God. We cannot be distracted when people say they are acting in the name of God but then do bad things like the Crusades or suicide bombing. That is not religion, that is personal anger and hatred. These actions are failures to heed the teachings of the Almighty.
I realize that some of you may not understand this discussion today, but please understand this. All religions teach love and happiness and respect. Anyone who says otherwise isn't following God, they are following themselves. Do not judge everyone by the actions of a few who make mistakes.
Comments are always welcome.
I admit I haven't seen Fahrenheit 9/11 yet but it is well known to be a anti-war, anti-Bush, documentary cum propaganda film that is engaging the nation in dialogue about the war in Iraq, the course of our nation, and most importantly the leader who chose that course for us. It is also well known that the film is specifically crafted to bolster the effort to unelect the President and I feel safe in saying, even though I haven't seen it yet, that the film is less about the war in general than it is about the problems with the president. To those ends, the film deserves to be seen.
But Fog of War is a film that accomplishes so much more and stands on much firmer ground. Fog of War: 11 lessons from the life of Robert S. McNamara is a documentary in the true sense of the word: it documents McNamara's recollections of his life and perspectives following his involvement as Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies during the Vietnam War. McNamara has been demonized for his part in that saga but he surprised many by coming forward a few years back and "admitting" that Vietnam was a mistake.
Production on Fog of War began even before the attacks on 9/11 and the subsequent military excursions undertaken by the United States in the so-called War on Terror. It is not an anti-Bush or anti-American movie in any sense. But after watching it, it does have the effect of making the mistakes of the current U.S. administration stand out in glaring relief.
The movie is educational in exploring what was going on during the Vietnam War with McNamara and the presidents. I learned a lot about that chapter in our country. The main message of the film transcends Vietnam and seeks to redeem the mistakes made there by highlighting the educational opportunities provided by them. I've often mentioned that I don't have many regrets in life even though I've done my fair share of boneheaded maneuvers because some of the most important lessons I've learned and knowledge I've acquired came about as part of the mistake-making and recovery process.
Making mistakes gives us the experience of crossing the line and dealing with the pain of the aftermath; explicit knowledge of where those lines are, what the consequences of transgression are, and real world experience in charting a path to the edge and beyond (and thus knowledge about where not to go in the future) is priceless. Without such experiential reference, all we have are hypothetical arguments and thought experiments. These are useful and important, to be sure, but they are subject to subversion to our own self-interests; we tend to believe that the most likely outcomes are those that coincide with our desired course of action. Ultimately, it can prove worthless and obscures quality grounded decision making.
The lessons discussed by McNamara (the movie is primarily him, 85 years old at the time, talking, overlaid with film of the era) are so incredibly relevant that I was continually amazed at how elegantly they highlighted problems in the campaign in Iraq. It is tragic at the same time, since the whole purpose of McNamara's coming forward and of the film is to make those lesson explicit and help us to avoid making the same mistakes made during that debacle. Yet the points made by in the film were multiply violated in Iraq.
This is not a partisan film or partisan argument. I challenge anyone to dispute the lessons put forward by McNamara and the flim makers in general. Just try to argue that those are not accurate or suggest why they ought not be followed. I cannot imagine anyone would dissent with the message before 9/11 at all, which leads me to conclude that anyone who would do so now is more a victim of their desire to maintain their position in support of the President or in opposition to terrorists, as if avoiding the mistakes of the past would somehow make us more susceptible to destruction by terrorists.
See this movie. It is very very good. It is visually very beautiful as well, cinematically orchestrated with a haunting soundtrack that reminisces the Qatsi films in their unspoken commentary on the human condition. Highly recommended, as it is uncontroversial, relevant, and educational.
Feel free to comment on this post.
I read this article at salon.com and it piqued my interest. Nothing particular shattering here but I am interested in how parents deal with the issue. Essentially I want to be honest but at the same time kids aren't really capable of dealing with information until they are a certain age. Does anyone have any experience with this, or any plans for dealing with it?
I remember asking my mom about it when I was in High School and she ducked the question in a rather adroit way. She said if she told me she didn't do anything when she was younger I wouldn't believe her but if she told me that she did i wouldn't be able to deal with it and likely misinterpret it. She did say that if I could find someone who didn't experiment with something here or there in the early 70s she only believe that I'd found someone who didn't actually live during that time. This answer wouldn't have the same effect on everyone that it did on me, of course, but it communicated to me that she had experimented but that she didn't want to get into specifics. This felt like an honest answer to me (I wouldn't have wanted to talk specifics with her either, even though I wasn't even drinking much less getting high at that time).
It seems that the trick is to be honest and open without revealing too much too early. The way I'll have to deal with this is going to depend a lot on where I'm living. If we are in Japan, she'll grow up thinking that drugs are entirely evil and only degenerates do them and that to even consider it is tantamount to cognitive suicide. This idiotic approach is almost more difficult to deal with because I run the risk of seeming like a drug advocate (they really aren't that bad....) if I try to circumvent the lack of thought invovled therein. On the other hand, if I live in the States, I'll likely have to impress the dangers upon her more than trying to convince her that they aren't as bad as the uneducated say.
Time will tell, I suppose...
The article in in the extended entry and comments are welcome in the forum
uly 13, 2004 _|_ Twelve years ago, back when you could put things in the mail without a return address, my old college buddy Jim sent me a package. Opening the plain, brown box, I was surprised at its contents: the small purple bong he and I had put to very good use in the late '80s and early '90s. Along with this stained relic he had scribbled a note of explanation: "Getting married and planning to have children, so I guess I won't be needing this anymore." I wasn't sure what unnerved me more: his decision that "growing up" meant giving up something that he enjoyed without incident, or the implied idea that I was stuck in a hazy past while he moved on to an appropriate, adult future.
The second time I experienced In Loco Bongus I thought: This is getting weird (and also: What am I going to do with two bongs?). This time my co-worker walked into my office, closed the door, and sheepishly explained that while he and his glass two-footer had had some great times together, his son was getting older, he had a second on the way, and he didn't want anyone under 4 feet to stumble across it accidentally. "I don't want my boy to think it's OK to be a pothead," he explained. "Well, that's not true, I don't want him to think it's OK to be a full-blown hazed-out pothead." Which is why he switched to a much smaller, more easily stashed pipe.
According to the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than a third of Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at some point in their life -- that's 80 million people who actually admit it, and I suspect there are a couple more who don't. Many of these millions can look at their offspring with a straight face and explain that while they once experimented with drugs during the folly of their youth, now they don't -- and neither should you, little man.
That must be nice for them. I don't know many of these people.
The people I have spent the last decade working and playing with have inhaled more than a few puffs and taken a variety of trips down Alice's rabbit hole. Yet some way, somehow they have turned into able and impressive members of the republic. These are people with good jobs, who engage in charitable pursuits and who rarely cut in line at Whole Foods. We've taken some of our old vices with us into adulthood without burning down the house or checking into rehab. We've done a good job prolonging our adolescence, but now we're facing adulthood's ultimate gut check: children. And when it comes to kids, we have a drug problem.
What to tell the children about past -- and, in many cases, current -- drug use ain't easy. Should we practice what we preach? Should we lie? Where do you draw the line between being a hypocrite and protecting your kids? Are we worse parents if we get high in front of our kids than if we have a couple of stiff drinks? How do we reconcile our own experiences with drugs -- ones that have been overwhelmingly positive -- with the very real possibility that our kids could run into trouble with what are in fact potent substances?
Before you write nasty letters to the editor denouncing my friends and me for advocating drug use, let's be clear: Scores of people have had their lives and the lives of those around them destroyed by drugs. No one I know believes that all drugs are good nor wishes a nation of junkies on anyone. Drugs are not for all people, all drugs are not for all drug users, and no illicit drugs are good for children. Among my close friends, there's a general feeling that there are "good" drugs and "bad" drugs. The good ones are empathetic and eye-opening (MDMA, marijuana, hallucinogens). The bad ones are ego-driven and destructive (coke, speed, heroin). Both types can destroy you -- it's just that they haven't in our case. In a topic that doesn't deal much in grays, this is a nuanced and certainly unpopular point of view. So it's no surprise, if a bit disappointing, that most of the people I talked to asked to have their names changed.
"I'm not nervous at all about talking to my sons about sex," says my friend Rob, a 32-year-old writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his wife and two small boys, aged 1 and 5. "But I'm scared shitless to talk to them about drugs." Rob smokes as much as two to three times a week, but never when his children are awake. He thinks the worst thing for him to have heard when he was a kid would have been that smoking pot is acceptable. "I would have been off to the races," he says. That's why Rob is hesitant to be completely honest with his own children about his drug use. "I probably won't be fully open about my drug use until my sons are in their 20s, post-college maybe. I feel like I have to give him guidance before that, but I'm not going to tell him about the time I dropped two hits of E and two tabs of acid and had my brain melt while I watched the Breeders and the Beastie Boys at Lollapalooza. I can't say, 'Make sure you don't melt your brain like daddy!'"
"My push for parents is always to be open and honest," says Marsha Rosenbaum, who leads workshops for parents on how to handle drug use among their kids as director of the Safety First project of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Kids have amazing bullshit detectors and are probably going to know that we aren't telling the truth. To the parents who stopped using drugs, I say tell them your story and tell them the real story."
Drug story hour's a tough one, but many of my friends want to tell their children about all of their experiences -- the good and the bad and the hazy in betweens -- eventually. Knowing whom to tell what when is the hard part. Rob says he knows exactly what he'll say to his kids when they're 25; he just has no idea what to tell them when they're 10.
"My husband and I won't hide our pot use from our daughter because it's just such a natural part of our lives," says Carla, a 35-year-old communications specialist in Oakland, Calif., and mother of an 8-month-old girl. "But while she's growing up will we tell her Mommy and Daddy loved having sex on coke in a hotel room when she was staying with Grandma? Will we tell a teenage girl that the occasional line of K [Ketamine] is a blast? Absolutely not. The important thing is to explain that drugs are for adults who are old enough to handle them, and that they will have a chance to experiment soon enough in life if that's what they want to do."
Allie, a 33-year-old legal aid attorney in Washington, D.C., who has been known to enjoy a large cocktail of substances over the years, is planning a family now and suspects she'll take a somewhat less tolerant -- perhaps hypocritical -- approach. "I won't tell them about my own use until they're old enough not to be influenced by it, which I think is 16 to 18 depending on the kid, because I won't tolerate any drug use from them," she says. "It just seems like they'll have so many sources in their lives justifying drug use -- from friends to hormones to boredom to the Internet -- that they will also need to have something on the other side balancing it."
I myself don't have kids. I may very well someday, and as I get older I can increasingly understand the temptation to just out and out lie to them about a variety of parts of my life, especially my drug use. I mean, do I really want to tell Larry Jr. that daddy had a mind-altering moment on mushrooms at Joshua Tree when he was 23, but my dear, my dear boy, if I ever find mushrooms in your backpack you'll be grounded from now until your freshman year in college?
"I would be much more concerned if my kids thought I was a hypocrite than if they thought I was a pothead," says my friend Alan, a professor of English at Indiana University and soon-to-be father of twins. Alan's been thinking a lot about what he's going to tell his children about his daily pot use, a habit he suspects won't be so compatible with the daily rigors of daddyhood. "I'll tell them that I smoke, I like it, but that it's not for everyone," he says. "I will tell them that I did certain drugs for adventure and exploration, but never to counter self-esteem and an inability to tolerate reality. I will tell them if they decide to try drugs, I hope they tell me and I'll demand that they be safe."
Safe is actually less subjective than it may sound. "Just as you can't use a chain saw or drive until you are a certain age, you shouldn't use drugs until you are old enough to be able to handle it," says Mitch Earleywine, a professor at the University of Southern California and author of "Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence." Earleywine says new studies reveal that cannabis can interfere with the brain's development before the age of 17. It stands to reason that a compelling case can be made for telling your kids to hold off until after high school graduation, even if you didn't.
A current Office of National Drug Control Policy anti-drug campaign seeks to help confused adults reconcile their past use with whatever version of "just say no" they're trying to work out as they raise kids. Called Hypocrite," it reads: "So you smoke pot. And now your kid's trying it and you feel like you can't say anything. Get over it. Smoking pot can affect the brain and lead to other risky behaviors. So you have to set the rules and expect your kid to live drug free no matter how hypocritical it makes you feel."
"In the focus groups we asked parents to identify some of the barriers that existed in talking to kids about drugs -- and their own experience with drugs came up as one of those barriers," says Jennifer DeVallance, a spokesperson for the ONDCP. "These ads are saying: You need to step up to the plate, regardless of what your experience was."
Unlike the folks in the government's focus group, most of my friends don't think their own past makes them hypocrites, but rather better informed parents. Jill, an interior designer who lives outside of Nashville, Tenn., with her teenage son, says that she's not so worried about her son's experimentation because she has so much experience with drugs herself. "If you never did drugs as a teen, or any other time in your life, I suspect all you can think about is your kid behaving like he or she is a character in 'Reefer Madness' or that he's going to become Robert Downey Jr.," she says. Jill has resigned herself to the fact that her son does drugs, but she is tough with him about his use. "We talked about what some people can handle and others can't." She explained to him that in her mind, pot is on par with alcohol: Both get you high, both should be taken in moderation and both can have devastating effects on your life if you overindulge. "Once I knew about his use, I told him what I had done," she says. "Not everything all at once. I didn't want my former experiments to encourage him, and it was more information than he needed at one sitting."
"If you didn't think your drug use was a big mistake, don't tell them that it was a big mistake, which is what the government wants you to say," says Rosenbaum. "Tell them that they were probably attracted to it for the same reasons that you were. And if you quit, tell them why."
Delia, a 47-year-old physical therapist in Manhattan with a 13-year-old daughter, agrees. "I will tell her drugs were fun and seductive," she says, "but ultimately they were a mistake." Knowing that Delia had a pretty wild ride in the late '60s and '70s, I ask her if she plans to tell her daughter the whole story. Her answer is an unflinching no. "I can't ever tell her everything I did, especially that I tried heroin," she says. "I tried it once and liked it so much that I knew it could destroy me. A survival instinct kicked in, one I don't know would kick in for her. But I can't tell her the entire truth of my use because I don't want to influence her."
And there's the riddle: There's no more influential person in a child's life than a parent. Therefore, in one way or another, every parent I talked to felt that to a certain degree they had to lie to their kids about drugs. Yet almost in the same breath, few want to mask what for at least a certain period in their life was a very real, important and joyful part of who they were and are as people.
"My goal as a parent," says Carla, "is to give her the tools to know what she can handle and what's too much. I don't want her to say no to drugs, because they can be freakin' fun. It's not a popular perspective, but it's true. Fun is a big part of my life, and drugs are a part of fun."
"But you know what?" she says with a pregnant pause, "my perspective today could change a lot in 10 years."
If so, I fear I'll be getting another bong in the mail.
"Anybody But Bush"
What a load of crap.
When I first heard of the Anybody But Bush bumper sticker, I smiled and thought it was pretty sharp as far as political commentary on a bumper sticker goes. But even at that time, I personally wasn't willing to adopt such a philosophy. Yeah, Bush is bad and needs to go, but let's not get carried away with it. Decisions made in the heat of passion can come back to bite us and basing our votes on a such a premise is highly dangerous and counterproductive at best.
President Bush is bad, yes, but he isn't a dictator. He has Congressional support, but he didn't always have it. And even in spite of that, opposition leaders could still have voiced said opposition even in the face of defeat. Instead we had a bunch of spineless chumps lacking in any sort of coherent believe system or ideological integrity at all. There were some, of course, like Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean.
But what about everyone else? And yes, I mean *everyone* else. President Bush got his blank check to go to war from a Senate that was not dominated by Republicans at the time. John Kerry, Vietnam vet and anti-war activist, Democratic presidential candidate currently campaigning on a platform against the war, voted for it!! Hilary Clinton, NY Senator who's name is bandied about as the potential first female president of the U.S. gave a doublethink speech right before she voted in support of the war where she essentially said "war is bad, we shouldn't go to war, it isn't the right thing to do, so I will vote for it." Whisky, Tango, Foxtrot!!!!
And then the democratic electorate failed us. Howard Dean was a man of principle and passion. He had his faults, as does every candidate and every platform. But voters got cold feet in the primaries and bought into the mass media sound bytes about some amorphous notion of "electability", whatever the hell that is. No one really knows, other than Howard Dean was judged not to have it and John Kerry had more of it than anyone else.
So in the end we rejected a man of ideological integrity and a consistent message that was highly popular and instead chose a man who was a supporter of Bush, who enabled the current President to operate unimpeded and recklessly. John Kerry is part of the problem we are enduring right now and I fail to see how he can thus be part of the solution. The only thing he has going for him is that he isn't George W. Bush.
So here we see what is wrong with Anybody But Bush thinking. We were so focused on the anti-Bush part that we really did base our entire selection criteria solely on the "electability" of the contender. If Mr. Ed the horse had enough charisma and a PR department that effectively convinced us of his electability, I'm sure we'd have voted for him too.
But what do we end up getting? All we get is exactly what we were looking for, anybody but Bush. Pay no mind to the quality of that anybody or the history of that anybody as being part of the problem that Bush represents.
I want to be able to vote for a candidate to replace President Bush, I really really do. Bush is a horrible man for the job and he is causing great damage to the world and civilization and my country. But I cannot vote for Anybody But Bush, I just can't. I need to vote for someone that is actually going to do something to make things better. John Kerry is nothing but a stopgap and is really part of the problem. It's too bad that we weren't able to produce a real alternative to Bush, someone Better Than Bush, rather than just Anyone But Bush.