Sunday, March 02, 2008

Agendas of Addiction

Noel Pearson has an article in The Weekend Australian titled Agendas of Addiction

He is responding to a critic, Matt Gaughwin, who thought Pearson was being insensitive and cruel to ex AFL football star, Gary Ablett (senior), who suffers from drug addiction

Pearson criticised Ablett because Ablett advocates a social theory of self medication as the main cause of addiction. Ablett argued that:
... it's time we realised that drugs are not the problem but a symptom of far deeper issues, both in people's lives and our society
Pearson replies:
The symptom theory is a hideous idea that is deeply embedded in our society's consciousness about substance abuse ... It is hideous because it furnishes those who are engaged in substance abuse with a perfect justification for their indulgence ... it discourages a social response to addiction as the problem in it's own right, and deflects attention to a vast array of so-called underlying factors, most of which are beyond the reach of social policy. So we are left sitting on our hands while the addiction epidemics continue to grow
Pearson is criticising Ablett because symptom theory masks the true nature of the problem in aboriginal communities. Despite dispossession many aboriginal communities did remain relatively drug free until the following conditions came about:
  • Availability of the addictive substance
  • Money to acquire the substance
  • Time to use the substance
  • Example of use of the substance in the immediate environment
  • A permissive ideology in relation to the use of the substance
Pearson is arguing that we need to tackle drug addiction as a problem in aboriginal communities in its own right - independent of other complicating historical, social and genetic factors. That analysis provides a tangible basis for moving forward from where we are now.

Worth reading the whole article (page 26, The Weekend Australian, March 1-2, 2008 )

related: noel pearson


Anonymous said...

Since you brought up aborigines, it reminded me of discussions I've heard within non-aboriginal communities (whites, primarily) that focus on the idea that in aboriginal societies, like the Native Americans/Indians, some of the substances that are now abused were once used in a controlled manner, because they were part of spiritual practice. The holy man/shaman would posses these substances and use them in guided meditations to help open up new perceptions. They were used in a constructive way by people who understood their properties, and there was a sense of reverence and respect for them in the community. I think it's the ease of access and culture of permissiveness that leads to its abuse, because while you may have a few people who respect them enough to use them wisely, most people don't. Where these discussions go awry, IMO, is when they turn to criticism of our own culture, saying that "we've lost that", as in, "We've lost the cultural 'shaman' who would have traditionally been able to provide balance/control for the use of these substances." What they ignore is that it would be, I think, impossible to bring back a sense of shamanism to our culture. Shamanism is a product of the tribal culture, which we in the West have left behind. Some people seek to get back to that, believing in the "noble savage" theory, but by no means do most people seek to go back to that. The use of substances in our culture requires a different framework, which we call the "certified practitioner", and "medical ethics".

In a permissive environment the only real way of controlling the use of potentially dangerous substances is for people to exercise their own self control. In an environment where they experience problems that they feel are beyond their control, drugs provide a seemingly easy (but dangerous) escape. The way to avoid this problem is for the culture to enoble their people, to value themselves, and to hold up virtues like self control, strength, courage (even to the point of going against "what everyone else does"), and a sense of community support; and to allow the expression of grief and frustration in the midst of dialogue. IMO this will provide the "backbone" to resist the temptation of drugs even in the worst of times.

Whenever I hear someone saying that "our culture" has contributed to this, as some blanket statement on civilization, then I am skeptical. They try to make it about everyone else, which is unfair. What they're really doing is saying the wider culture has to solve their problem, rather than them looking inward to themselves and their own community and looking at what problems exist there.

There is this logic within political/cultural Leftism that says that if one group is weaker than another group, that the weaker group is ALWAYS at the affect of the stronger group. It's an ideological stance that I think is a cop-out, because it means anything that the weaker group does is excusable. They don't have to take responsibility for anything they do. The stronger group is always expected to take responsibility for actions they did not collaborate on, or coordinate. It's also a way of putting the stronger group continually on the defensive should it try to assert any sense of independence from the weaker group. The stronger group is expected to change its ways, in accordance with liberal doctrines, to somehow positively affect the weaker group. On the other hand, they continually promote the victimhood of the weaker group. If the weaker group buys into this sense of victimization, they develop a sense of powerlessness, that they can never achieve what they want on their own, because someone will always stop them. They become dependent on liberal political groups to provide for their needs, because they're always sold the idea that "we will fight for you", which implies, "We're stronger than you". So while they continually pressure the dominant culture to provide public resources to the weaker group, they convince the weaker group that they cannot make it without public assistance, which puts them in perpetual subservience to government programs. This also weakens whatever cultural center they have left, because it becomes irrelevant. The government becomes their benevolent "god", which provides them with the essentials of life.

Were they to instead learn to strengthen themselves in the context of the wider culture they live in, their culture would still weaken some (ie. change), but they could pour resources into keeping it alive, by their own initiative. There is a sense of pride and strength that develops in a community when people realize that they can provide for themselves in whatever ways they deem appropriate.

Unknown said...

"...Pearson is arguing that we need to tackle drug addiction as a problem in aboriginal communities in its own right - independent of other complicating historical, social and genetic factors. That analysis provides a tangible basis for moving forward from where we are now."

Why not add Bill that Aboriginal Australian's with a capital 'A' represent a grossly disproportionate statistic in incarcerated hellholes in fair-go Australia. Your 'tangible basis' negates countless decades of abuse, decadence and 'society' ill wills from philanthropic ignoramous's.

Anything to escape the culturally dispossesed seeking to shamanise an ethnographic genocide.

It's the demons in suits that we need to strip and chain in rows as uniform as steri-white vials in achemist dispensary.

No amount of theorising makes an Aboriginals skin the focus of the issue.

Bill Kerr said...

hi mark,

I pretty much agree with your comments here.

What is known as "the left" often has a correct analysis of structural inequalities in society but if that is then used to promote victim mentality (it's all too hard to fight) then that is not good for the disadvantaged

What is known as "the right" might turn a blind eye to structural inequalities in society but then promote a relatively healthy ethic of stop whining and get on and make something of your life

I think what is needed is to bring the positives from both these approaches together.

Bill Kerr said...

Alex, you're ranting. Suggest you read some Pearson and think.