119: Heroin and the Environment (transcript)

January 16, 2019 by Dani Mihaleva
in Podcast

Joshua Spodek

I have a friend whose business is to find people on heroin and other opiates and bring them into treatment. He goes to hotels where they live or whatever they do. And it’s based on government money because apparently his interventions work. He tells me that when he goes to visit these hotels where they live it’s squalor, filth. There’s blood and urine and feces. These rooms are really dark but they don’t see it. They’re thinking of their next hit which is a euphoric feeling. They don’t see the filth that they live in. And if you tell them, “You’re living in filth.” that “Your life is ruined.” they compare what you say to the feelings of their next hit and that’s euphoria. And so when you say that they’re living in squalor but they’re feeling euphoria and they’re looking forward to euphoria, you lose credibility. If you say that that feeling isn’t real, it’s real to them. They feel it as much as you feel anything yourself. The cause for the feeling may be different than your life experience because they just take a pill or inject something but that doesn’t make the feeling any less. You lose credibility. If you want to help them, you have to go where they are, to see the world and to feel the world that they do.

My friend tells me these people that they used to be kids running around, maybe productive citizens and community members. Personally, I only know one person as far as I know who is addicted. I don’t know whether to believe him but he tells me that a doctor prescribed him painkillers. He was in a motor vehicle accident. He finished out that bottle. It felt really good. He told the doctor he still felt pain so the doctor gave him another prescription. When he couldn’t refill that prescription, he found a friend who could sell him pills and he bought pills from the friend and after a while heroin ended up being cheaper so he moved to heroin and next thing you know he couldn’t stop. The story sounds so much like everybody else’s story. I don’t know if he copied it or if it’s really that common. I hear from reading the paper that the Sackler family and the whole drug industry has pushed drugs for a long time with a standard practice of the first one being free and then you get addicted.

Anyway, I could go on about how much more valuable exercise, diet and developing social and emotional skills are compared to taking drugs at least as far as I know. But that’s a whole other episode. Anyway, my friend who works with addicts every day says that that story is very common. The people end up living this way but they didn’t start that way but once they’re there that old life that feels so normal to me and probably to you is gone. Also quoting my friend now all they think of is their next hit, stealing. Getting on this hook that doesn’t register to them is a problem, just as a means for their next hit. He says it’s much easier for women because they can sell their bodies which they feel as a path to their next hit.

It sounds to me like they’ve lost their humanity. But for all I know they’re happier or get more euphoria than I do. In any case, I would never want to be like that and I’m confident that if they got out of it, they preferred being out of it too and they wouldn’t want to go back. But that world, this world of mine is not their world. They value as far as I know their next hit more than my expectation of emotional reward from things like lifting heavier weights or writing a book or developing relationships with people and the things that I find wholesome and rewarding. And as far as I know these more complex rewards that I live for they don’t measure up to their next hits guaranteed intense euphoria. Mine understanding is that if they don’t consider their situation a problem, they’re not going to change no matter how much you or I expect and know that if they change, they prefer living what I call a more wholesome lifestyle. But that’s not what they want. They want their next hit.

The longer that I go without packaged food and without flying, the more people talking about mainstream food and flying sounds like people talking about heroin. I expect that people who fly thinking only of their pleasure which I’m sure they call culture exchange or some other euphemism without thinking of how they pollute the world of nearly 8 billion others. And the squalor and the filth that they create that they would react to what I just said the way an opiate addict would react to someone suggesting that their next hit is not the boon to their life that they think it is. Don’t get me wrong, I see a lot more value in traveling than and taking opiates but most people, most Americans, most people listen to this podcast are so far over the IPCC recommendations of what people can emit to stay below few degrees Celsius that we’re talking a whole other level. Most people who live that way that is flying without thinking about the consequences, eating packaged food without thinking where the plastic is going to go, if that’s you, you probably think, “Josh, you just don’t understand. You don’t get it.” They think that I’m extreme. And yet I am more extreme about not using heroin than I am about not traveling with fossil fuel vehicles since I’ll take trains and buses but I don’t take heroin at all. But why don’t people call me extreme and not balanced about using zero heroin? They don’t realize the squalor that they live in that they are contributing to. They somehow don’t see the garbage in the streets, their homes, their bodies, their bloodstreams, their brains, crossing the placenta into their children, the oceans, the rivers that we share, the air that we breathe. They don’t see the greenhouse gases causing sea levels to rise or the toxic fumes or the army subduing populations where they get their oil for their jet fuels and the plastics with that comes from. They don’t see the economic disparities their lifestyles create.

Have you seen pictures of beaches completely covered in plastic? I don’t mean the Pacific gyre that everyone is used to that’s the size of Texas or something like that. That’s nothing in comparison. That’s pretty low density. I’m talking about beaches completely covered in plastic and waterfronts completely covered in plastic or Third World paradises or remote islands thousands of miles from cities covered in plastic and fast fashion and garbage or somehow while seeing it they somehow are able to divorce their contribution to it their responsibility for it. Even while holding a plastic cup in their hand, even while buying a ticket they think, “Someone else is doing this. It’s not me doing it. I can’t imagine how this is happening. It’s certainly not my lifestyle. There’s nothing I can do about it.” And yet the filth remains. I suspect that there’s litter on your property now, in your home now that you have to step over and ignore the same way the junkies don’t see the filth that they live in. These travel and industrial food consumers don’t see the waste they live in.

To anyone who sees it it’s disgusting. I don’t have to cross the street to find garbage that’s covering the streets of New York City or any city in the world but the people who are creating that pollution or for that matter the dinging in the air making it hard to see. Think of New Delhi or pictures of Beijing or the city that you live in. It’s disgusting but the people creating it are thinking about their next hit meaning their next flight or their next frozen pizza. Our modern world has made their travel hit or their food indulgence hit much more potent today as heroin is compared to a long time ago. They’ve lost the concept of living in harmony with nature, of civilization allowing nature to regenerate as fast as we pave it over, of how much sweeter a leaf of cabbage can taste than a Ben and Jerry’s when you’ve allowed your taste buds to recover from that onslaught of sugar. Sugar, a refined addictive white powder that creates euphoria and pleasure that makes pain go away. It comes from a plant after you’ve moved any nutritional value. Sound familiar? Cabbage can also taste as spicy and tangy as Doritos after you recover from the onslaught of salt and fat, also removing the nutritional part of a food. There’s more variety in kinds of plants and mushrooms than packaged food but addicts see more difference between Fruit Loops and Count Chocula than between varieties of apples, froot, spelled f r o o t probably by law because probably there’s no fruit in it. They don’t see that they sacrifice their lives to pay for their hit. They ignore that they can improve their lives as much by exploring the local world, cooking on their own, meeting people in their communities, spending time with their family not just some little five-minute visit, “So good to see you. See you again next year.” like a Facebook-kind-of-visit to their family, or sailing or biking or so on. They can do these things instead they only think of their next hit, of seeing Machu Picchu. They’re compelled, they ignore the squalor, they don’t register whom they’re hurting. People have to breathe in their waste. They don’t care as long as they get that hit.

There’s no denying that these travelers and these packaged food eaters that they get pleasure. Of course, they do. As surely as an opiate addict gets theirs just as an opiate addict dismisses getting a more complex subtle nuanced experience from getting fit, eating delicious, learning, developing relationships. The travel and packaged food addict dismisses alternatives practiced by ancestors for hundreds of thousands of years specifically people who didn’t take opiates and other drugs to make them feel better. They see travel as so essential that they call people who don’t fly privileged. Same with people who eat food from farms. People who don’t eat that food somehow call people who do eat that food privileged. These people who eat the packaged stuff they don’t see how they’re hurting the people that they’re saying aren’t privileged. They’re littering and you look at the communities that have the most litter. Where’s that pollution coming from? It’s coming from the people who travel, it’s coming from the people who eat that packaged food.

Let me restate the description of opiate addicts in the context of disposable garbage and flying addicts. So talking about opiate addicts, according to my friend, they live only thinking of their next hit, stealing or getting others hooked doesn’t register except as a means to their next hit. It sounds to me like they’ve lost their humanity. For all I know they’re happier or least feel more euphoria because they know what they’re getting that next big hit but their world is not about the subtle and complex nuanced rewards that they create themselves. They value their hit more than my expectation of emotional reward from things like lifting weights, writing a book, developing relationships with people and so on. My understanding is that they don’t consider their situation a problem. If they don’t, they won’t change no matter how much you or I expect and know that if they change, they prefer living what I would call a more wholesome lifestyle. And most of them would say you don’t understand and I would lose credibility if I said that there was a problem with how they lived.

 I don’t know what to say or do about the opioid mess. I don’t think many of those do either. I don’t think we should give up. I think we should reduce our production and regulate the producers from promoting it like they do. I’m glad my friend is doing what he does and I wouldn’t tell him to give up. Those partial solutions, however far from solving the problem, have their analogues in fossil fuel and plastic addictions. Regulating their production that is the production of fossil fuels and plastics and regulating companies hooking people with their addictive properties seems obvious to anyone who’s not addicted. That’s one of the main goals of government is to regulate when one person’s behavior hurts another person and people are suffering from the filth that the users who value their fleeting euphoria over seeing that filth regulate and that seems obvious.

Paying the full cost not externalizing the cost of cleaning up or the ecological disaster of say submerging most of Florida seems the point of standard business practices of accounting. That’s why we keep accounts of things is to make sure that we don’t overcharge and under charge the wrong people. But the challenge of people seeing their filth and seeing the suffering that they impose others, not just their euphoria. Yes, you get that euphoria when you see the Eiffel Tower you feel that euphoria but there’s jet fuel coming out of the back of the plane and getting people to see that and take responsibility for how their actions affect others seems the greatest challenge. For them to see the people live just as happy and fulfilled lives without, even more so subtle and nuanced, without that quick hit. Their flying to see family creates a cycle of seeing less time with family and saying their job requires flying justifies, sustaining coal to save jobs. The same argument has defeated nearly every environmental regulations ever been defeated to save jobs. When is other people’s jobs, everyone I know whose environmental says, “Well, it’s my job. I can’t do anything about that.” but when it’s other people’s jobs, they say, “Well, they should just change their jobs. We should make training programs for them. They just have to deal with that.” But they don’t deal with it themselves and that makes their political opponents see them as hypocritical, leading populists to get elected by saying, “Look at them. Look at those elites. They see not to pollute but they pollute more than you. Vote them out of power.”

And that’s what happens. Even if you don’t care about your filth, maybe you care about Supreme Court seats maybe pick care about other federal regulations and so on because telling others to clean up while you done motivates them to vote against you. Now that’s getting off track. But this is something that’s common to opiate addiction and to fossil fuel addiction is that people can’t see the filth that they’re creating when they feel the euphoria. They’re just thinking of their next hit, their next frozen pizza or their next trip to Acapulco. What would you tell an opiate addict who doesn’t see their filth or consider stealing from others acceptable? When they say they can’t change what do you say? Because I know you know that they can change and because you can say the same thing to yourself. So far, I haven’t found that the filth registers in the eyes of people who are creating it but the filth remains and people keep accepting plastic bags and packaged things and throw away everything and buying their plane tickets. How long can addicts say they can’t change? And the crazy thing is the flip side to all of this is that dropping that addiction leads to more joy, more delicious, saving money, more community, closer family connection, more personal growth. It’s not obviously getting something you’re addicted to would lead to something that you like more but that’s the case. I hope someday you’ll join us.

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