Category Archives: personal views of Roger W. Smith

J’accuse…!

 

 

A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.

 

— William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

 

 

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When most people get indignant about government policies and actions, it’s usually against a leader such as Trump or Nixon whom they hate, or perhaps Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War.

Or a present or past dictator or tyrant. Their regime or administration. Their policies.

But, as William Blake has shown. Epigrammatically, emphatically. What most offends the moral sense, what tears a fiber from the brain is not policy or programs. As much as to contemplate the suffering of INDIVIDUALS, inflicted upon them by the state. Meaning they can’t prevent it, and usually have no recourse.

This includes the prisoners in our inhumane, horrible prison system – most of them. Guantanamo detainees. Offenses against human decency and Christian norms observable in the USA today. And, similar horrors abroad or in the days of yore. Such as political prisoners being tortured in Syrian jails and held and perhaps tortured elsewhere. The Gulag. Internment and concentration camps. The Killing Fields. And ….

I can’t resist preaching. I feel that I am right. Be thou like Christ. Love man. Not like the Pharisees. Obsessed with finding rulebreakers.

People seem to have for the most part moved on to the next issue du jour. The Mueller probe and the misdeeds of the Trump administration. The latest developments and revelations.

Believe me, these issues pale by comparison and will seem a lot less important at a future date.

What about the roughly 700 children who were separated from their parents at the border and have still not been reunified with those parents by the administration, according to a CNN report from five days ago (this figure includes more than 40 children who are 4 years old and younger)? And, the children who have suffered psychological harm from being torn from their parents and detained?

The separation of migrant families — of parents from children, and children from parents — under the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy towards migrants is a crime against humanity. Or, to use another generic term, a human rights abuse. Pure and simple.

 

— Roger W. Smith

  August 29, 2018

immigration policy, Walt Whitman, and Donald Trump’s wall; or, the Berlin Wall redux

 

 

 

“Immigrants are some of the most courageous and industrious people humanity has to offer.”

— Chardo Richardson, House of Representatives candidate in Florida

 

“[W]hen New York was being abandoned in the 1960s and 1970s, a flood tide of immigrants reached the city. They helped to save it, to expand it by more than 1.5 million people, and to make it into one of the country’s most powerful economic engines. …

More than 3.2 million people born in other countries live in New York, and nearly half the labor force is immigrants. … Immigrants are no more an existential threat to New York than bicycle paths.”

— “Immigrants Are Not the Enemy, They Are Us,” by Jim Dwyer, The New York Times, November 2, 2017

 

“ICE operates through the tactics of fear, violence and intimidation, with questionable legality, and tears families apart. We applaud the growing number of progressives who are calling for an end to this terror.”

— Stephanie Taylor, founder of Progressive Change Campaign Committee

 

 

And once again the scene was changed,
New earth there seemed to be.
I saw the Holy City
Beside the tideless sea.
The light of God was on its streets,
The gates were open wide,
And all who would might enter,
And no one was denied.

 

— “The Holy City,” music by Stephen Adams; words by Frederick E. Weatherly

 

 

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For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They have allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans. Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives. …

Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country. We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws, and support our ICE and Border Patrol Agents, so that this cannot ever happen again.

The United States is a compassionate nation. We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling, and the underprivileged all over the world. But as President of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers, and America’s forgotten communities. … My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too. …

Here are the four pillars of our plan: … The second pillar fully secures the border. That means building a wall on the Southern border, and it means hiring more heroes … to keep our communities safe. Crucially, our plan closes the terrible loopholes exploited by criminals and terrorists to enter our country — and it finally ends the dangerous practice of “catch and release.”

— Donald Trump, State of the Union Address, January 30, 2018

 

 

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In response to:

“Supreme Court Tie Blocks Obama Immigration Plan,” The New York Times, June 23, 2016

 

 

I offer the following brief comments of my own as well as pertinent quotations from Walt Whitman and about him.

The controversy over immigration has been going on for a long time.

 

— Roger W. Smith

 

 

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In response to great waves of immigration that occurred between 1880 and 1920, the so-called Brahmins had become ever more insistent about a particular perspective on American culture, asserting that the real, pure, or true Americans were Anglo-Saxons. The great migrations coincided with the founding of such groups as the Society of Mayflower Descendants and the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution. The migrations also coincided with the efforts of publishers who commissioned numerous professors (almost all from New England) to write literary histories for high school and college use with the hope of unifying the heterogeneous American people under the “aegis of New England” by fashioning a national history anchored in that region. Nina Baym has noted that “conservative New England leaders knew all too well that the nation was an artifice and that no single national character undergirded it. And they insisted passionately . . . [on] instilling in all citizens those traits that they thought necessary for the future: self-reliance, self-control, and acceptance of hierarchy.

[Walt] Whitman, less radical in the 1850s in the face of the slavery crisis than many Boston intellectuals, had become by the 1880s increasingly associated with the teeming masses, the immigrants, the downtrodden of all types. Meanwhile some of the same Boston intellectuals who had led the charge for the emancipation of blacks had come to be associated with propriety, exclusiveness, and backsliding on racial issues. [It seems my New England ancestors had such prejudices.]

 

— Kenneth M. Price, To Walt Whitman, America

 

 

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It is a shame that what I consider to be enlightened attitudes do not prevail today. We do not seem to have reached, or advanced beyond, the point reached by Whitman in the evolution of his views.

Whitman, who got his start as a journalist, editorialized against all immigration restriction, insisting that America must embrace immigrants of all backgrounds.

 

Roger W. Smith, June 2016

 

 

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The following are excerpts from Whitman’s poems and from remarks of Whitman that were recorded by his “Boswell,” Horace Traubel.

 

 

the perpetual coming of immigrants … the free commerce … the fluid movement of the population

— Walt Whitman, Preface to Leaves of Grass

 

 

‘’See, in my poems immigrants continually coming and landing,

— Walt Whitman, “Starting From Paumanok”; Leaves of Grass

 

 

The man’s body is sacred, and the woman’s body is sacred,
No matter who it is, it is sacred;
Is it a slave? Is it one of the dull-faced immigrants
just landed on the wharf?
Each belongs here or anywhere just as much as the well-off–just as much as you,
Each has his or her place in the procession.

— Walt Whitman, “I Sing the Body Electric”; Leaves of Grass

 

 

[Thomas B.] Harned broached the subject of the restriction of immigration, and happening to say, “most people believe in it—it’s very unpopular now-a-days not to believe in it,” W[hitman]. exclaimed contemptuously: “All, did you say, Tom—or almost all? Well, here’s one who spits it all out, contract labor, pauper labor, or anything else, notwithstanding.” Harned said: “I did not say I believe in restriction—I said most people do.” W. went on vehemently: “Well for you, Tom, that you do not say it. I have no fears of America—not the slightest. America is for one thing only–and if not for that for what? America must welcome all—Chinese, Irish, German, pauper or not, criminal or not—all, all, without exceptions: become an asylum for all who choose to come. We may have drifted away from this principle temporarily but time will bring us back. The tide may rise and rise again and still again and again after that, but at last there is an ebb–the low water comes at last. Think of it—think of it: how little of the land of the United States is cultivated–how much of it is still utterly untilled. When you go West you sometimes travel whole days at lightning speed across vast spaces where not an acre is plowed, not a tree is touched, not a sign of a house is anywhere detected. America is not for special types, for the caste, but for the great mass of people–the vast, surging, hopeful, army of workers. Dare we deny them a home—close the doors in their face–take possession of all and fence it in and then sit down satisfied with our system—convinced that we have solved our problem? I for my part refuse to connect America with such a failure—such a tragedy, for tragedy it would be.” W. spoke with the greatest energy. It is a subject that always warms him up. “You see,” he said finally, “that the immigrant, too, like the writer, comes up against the canons, and has to last them out.”

— Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, vol. II, pg. 34 (entry for Tuesday, July 24, 1888)

 

 

[Whitman] said: “I believe in the higher patriotism—not, my country whether or no, God bless it and damn the rest!—no, not that—but my country, to be kept big, to grow bigger, to lead the procession, not in conquest, however, but in inspiration. If the procession, not in conquest, however, but in inspiration.

— Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, vol. II, pg. 94 (entry for Sunday, August 5, 1888)

 

 

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For what it’s worth, I am thoroughly in agreement with Whitman.

We Americans, all of us, are the descendants of immigrants. They have brought so much in terms of cultural richness, ingenuity, initiative, and plain hard work to this nation. THEY are who and what make this country great.

I am completely opposed to Donald Trump’s Know Nothing stance. He wants to set us back a century in terms of attitudes towards immigrants. He wants to build a wall at the Mexican border! It’s the Berlin Wall redux.

Note — it’s ironic, is it not? — what Walt Whitman said emphatically (as quoted above) 128 years ago, when similar sentiments were being propagated: “Dare we … close the doors in their [immigrants’] face –take possession of all and fence it in [italics added]?”

In Berlin on June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan made the famous speech in which he said: “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The demolition of the wall began three years later.

Now Trump wants to build one of his own.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

    June 2016; updated June 2018

 

 

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Addendum:

 

I recently came across a brief but very persuasive — and I feel important — article in The Wall Street Journal:

 

“Immigration Is Practically a Free Lunch for America; Tax cuts are well and good, but the surest way to spur economic growth is to let in more people.”

By Neel Kashkari

The Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2018

As Congress and the Trump administration debate immigration reforms with important legal and social implications, they must not lose sight of an overarching truth: Robust immigration levels are vital to growing the American economy.

Legislators of both parties, policy makers and families all want faster economic growth because it produces more resources to fund national priorities and raise living standards. But growth since the end of the Great Recession has been frustratingly slow, averaging only 2.2% net of inflation, down from 3.6% on average from 1960 to 2000.

Republicans hope the new tax cuts will lead the economy to grow faster. But while stimulus plans can indeed produce growth at least temporarily, they usually do so by increasing the deficit. Can’t policy makers achieve faster growth without further ballooning our national debt? Yes–and increasing immigration levels is the most reliable way to do so.

Long-term economic growth comes from two sources: productivity growth and population growth. Productivity growth means the same number of workers are able to produce more goods and services. Increased productivity comes from better education (equipping workers with better skills) and technology development (giving workers more sophisticated tools). Productivity growth has been very low during this recovery, averaging only 1.1% per year, down from 2.1% from 1960 to 2000.

We can’t predict whether productivity growth is going to return to prior levels on its own. Congress could decide to spend more on education or basic research to boost productivity, but it takes years for such investments to translate into a more productive economy. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth making, but the payoffs are highly uncertain.

Population growth drives economic growth because a larger population means more workers to produce things and more consumers to buy things. But as is true in most other advanced economies, Americans are having fewer children. The U.S. working-age population has stagnated over the past decade.

Using public policy to increase the nation’s fertility rate is not easy. Congress could try to create economic incentives for families to have more children by offering tax credits and free child care, but both would be expensive and take years to move the needle on population growth. The surest way to increase the working-age population is through immigration.

 

The article demonstrates conclusively — in a few words — what I have always felt intuitively: that immigration is not only good policy from a social/cultural, sociological, and humanitarian point of view — or what have you — but that it also makes sense economically. It is desirable both morally, so to speak and practically. I can feel this in my own bustling city.

 

— Roger W. Smith

    June 2018

 

 

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See also:

 

“President Trump, How Is This Man a Danger?”

Op-Ed

By Nicholas Kristof

The New York Times

February 10, 2018

 

 

 

“Up Against the Wall” (editorial)

The New York Times

April 8, 2017

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/04/08/opinion/up-against-the-wall.html

A very penetrating analysis of what’s wrong with Trump’s proposal to build a wall at our Southern border.

 

 

“Queens man, a father of two, facing deportation to China after arrest at immigration interview”

By Erin Durkin

New York Daily News

June 15, 2018

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/queens/ny-pol-deport-immigrant-ice-20180614-story.html

 

 

 

Plus:

 

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/scotus-immigration-ruling-puts-millions-deportation-limbo-article-1.2685908

 

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/06/24/us/immigration-obama-supreme-court.html

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/06/24/how-the-supreme-courts-deadlock-will-change-immigration-politics/

“expressing outrage” … admirable or to be frowned upon?

 

 

I received an email from a relative last week. It was, on the surface at least, well meaning, but it could also be construed as condescending.

Re your email expressing outrage with Trump and incarcerated kids, at least he caved (although harm already done can’t be undone).

Without crawling under a rock, I try to avoid at least some of this aggravation. …

No doubt your frequent visits to Carnegie Hall and related forays into classical music (not to mention long walks) are therapeutic. You, like me, might try to avoid or at least minimize all the stuff that aggravates.

 

 

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I replied to my relative as follows.

I am mostly apolitical and have tried over the past couple of years not to be consumed with hatred of Trump.

The news about the incarceration of immigrant kids has really gotten to me, however. I can’t bear to contemplate it.

Also, immigration has long been an issue I have cared about and blogged about.

I won’t change.

You are right that “harm already done can’t be undone.” I read that the administration has said nothing about the children who have already been separated from their parents and that no steps are underway to reunite them.

I feel that this is an egregious violation of human rights that will not be forgotten and can’t be remedied, it seems. I mean the whole anti-immigrant policy, the characterization and treatment of immigrants as vermin, and worst of all, the separation of parents and children.

 

 

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Some people profess hatred and scorn for Donald Trump and his supporters, the “deplorables.” They are in the liberal vanguard and can be counted upon to support left of center politicians. When those politicians support policies merely for political expediency — such as Hillary Clinton (one of their favorites, arch enemy of the “deplorables”) voting for the Iraq War — they look the other way. Doctrinaire liberalism and political orthodoxy trump independent thinking, which might, they fear, make them appear ideologically “incorrect” and cause them to lose friends or to be looked down upon by them.

These people want nothing to do with the “deplorables” and isolate themselves in mostly white, upper middle class neighborhoods where they won’t have to rub elbows with the proletariat (George Orwell’s proles).

 

 

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When an outrage is seen such as the Trump administration’s hard line policies towards immigrants — PEOPLE like you and I (and we are descended, like all Americans, from immigrants) — Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson (a conservative) calls it, with dead on accuracy, “state-sponsored cruelty” — my relatives and their liberal friends are strangely silent.

They hate Donald Trump and Trump apologists such as Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway. They march in parades where placards with a crude caricature of Trump reading “The only asshole is in the White House” are held aloft.

Trump to them represents the antithesis of their enlightened beliefs and values. They are eager to make the distinction manifest — that they are exemplars of values that distinguish the “best people” from ignorant and unrefined people.

But concern for actual people, especially sweaty aliens from the impoverished lower classes arriving in rafts and/or on foot at the Texas border, does not engage their sympathies or excite their imagination. And, while religion may be given lip service, an impassioned appeal to fundamental Christian tenets such as charity also does not move them; it may more often than not be an embarrassment to them and perhaps remind my auditors (heaven forbid) of the religious right.

Hence the advice to me from a relative to not get too worked up over the separation of immigrant children from their parents.

What such people care about is being on the “correct” side of political debates. They are essentially cold-blooded conformists to liberal ideology. Card carrying liberals who can be counted upon for support of ordained policies and positions.

They don’t care all that much about living, breathing, suffering people. The plight of lower class immigrants does not engage them emotionally. Of course, they do care about the welfare of their own families (and the maintenance of their own public institutions and communities), but that’s another matter. As long as they are safe in their suburban enclaves, they are not going to lose that much sleep over a few thousand “losers” and their children locked up in cages.

Caring deeply about man’s inhumanity to certain groups and persons can actually embarrass them. They would prefer that their relatives don’t call attention to themselves by expressing moral outrage, without checking with them first.

A historical parallel comes to mind. Many people felt at the time that abolitionists in their strident denunciations of slavery and insistence on immediate abolition were fanatics who should have restrained themselves. The parallel may not be exact in the present instance, but why am I being advised to “get a grip” on myself and exercise “restraint” when it comes to my distress and anger, indeed horror, over the consequences of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies? This from Trump haters. Haters, but I question the depth and sincerity of their compassion.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  June 2018

parental love

 

 

Re the horrendous crime of separating the children of immigrants from their parents. (And it is a crime for which there are no moral or legal reasons, no justification, and no excuses. As the Archbishop of San Antonio, Gustavo Garcia-Siller, put it: “To steal children from their parents is a grave sin, immoral and evil.”)

I can’t help thinking about what parents must feel.

Becoming a parent is one of those human experiences that is the most important in a lifetime. That’s a clumsy way to put it, and it’s an understatement. But what else ranks with it? Birth? Death?

Shortly before my first child was born, my therapist asked me, “Do you feel ready to become a parent?”

I answered that I thought I was. “I’m as ready as I ever will be,” I said.

A friend of mine, a psychiatrist, and his wife, a clinical psychologist, had just had their first child. “Your life and your marriage will never be the same,” they told me. “Everything is different. You will never again have as much time for yourself or your spouse.”

A few days before our first child was born, my therapist said to me, in an admonitory fashion, “Do you realize that this new child will be a totally helpless creature? Totally dependent upon you for everything.”

I hadn’t really thought about it.

 

 

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When our son was born, I was a new person. The love was overwhelming and instantaneous. I was not the same person I had been the day before. I was a father. I was thrilled and terribly proud. But the outpouring of love I felt for our son was overwhelming. It was an emotion I had never experienced before. How could I have?

 

 

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A little while later, I had a conversation with a coworker of mine at The Wyatt Company. She was an attractive, personable woman.

She had just had her first child, a daughter. We were comparing notes about how it felt to be a first-time parent.

“You know,” I told her, “I never realized how powerful the emotion was and how immediate and total the feeling of parental love is. I thought that it was something that would develop or grow over time. Not that one wouldn’t be thrilled and proud to become a parent, but as you got to know the child your love would grow. I would sometimes hear stories about people losing a child in infancy or read about infant deaths in literature. I would always think it must have been hard, but at least the child was just an infant, so perhaps the parents didn’t know the child that well — perhaps it would make it easier to bear that.”

We both could see — and agree — that that was not at all the case. One’s love for a child is as strong and intense at the movement of birth as later, meaning at any stage of the child’s life. And, losing a child is the worst thing of all types of tragedies a parent can contemplate.

Not just losing, but having a child torn away from them without being told or knowing where they have been taken. Not being able to find them, or knowing if or when they will see their child again.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   June 2018

 

drugs

 

 

 

“We should treat with indulgence every human folly, failing, and vice, bearing in mind that what we have before us are simply our own failings, follies, and vices. For they are just the failings of mankind to which we also belong and accordingly we have all the same failings buried within ourselves. We should not be indignant with others for these vices simply because they do not appear in us at the moment.”

— Irvin D. Yalom, The Schopenhauer Cure

 

 

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I have hardly ever used drugs in my lifetime — with the exception of marijuana and hashish in earlier years, that is. I have no desire to. In fact, I am averse to drugs on principle. I don’t like putting foreign substances into my body, even aspirin. There are exceptions; I have complied occasionally when I was prescribed medications.

Nevertheless, I did — like, it seemed, practically every other youth and college student in the 1960’s — use marijuana off and on during that period of my life, specifically during my senior year in college (plus a few times right after graduating).

In other words, occasionally. I wasn’t a pothead. I believe there were a lot of people like me at the time who flirted with marijuana because everyone else was doing it.

I hope it’s okay to confess it. I inhaled. Presumably the statute of limitations will protect me from any consequences.

I remember that the first time I tried it, at the instigation of college roommates, it seemed like nothing was happening. “Don’t worry,” they said, “it’s always that way the first time.”

I remember some enjoyable experiences. Mostly, uncontrollable laughter. Sometimes in the presence of others who weren’t indulging and didn’t know what was going on. I almost never laughed so hard before or since.

Listening once to The Rolling Stones’ new song “She’s a Rainbow,” being mesmerized, and thinking it was the most beautiful song I had ever heard. (It’s not that good.)

Later, I some bad experiences with marijuana and, occasionally, hashish. Just the opposite. Lows instead of highs. Feeling bummed out instead of giddy. On such occasions, I felt profoundly alienated and isolated. Instead of giddiness, an unbearable sadness.

I never was involved in making a purchase. I had no idea where or how my friends made purchases, or how much they cost. It seems they got marijuana and hashish of widely varying quality. Some of it seemed to be laced with something, and very powerful. I saw the Beatles film Yellow Submarine while high. It seemed like I was hallucinating and the colors were flashing on the screen.

I never used marijuana after graduating from college except a couple of times, and that was in the period right after graduation, when I was still living near the campus and associating with some of my college friends — I have not used marijuana for over 45 years. For some reason, in those last few experiences, which were in the late 1960’s, I had extremely depressing “highs” — actually, lows. This led me to believe that one’s experience of being high depends a lot on one’s mood going into it. I was depressed in general at the time.

Another thing I found, from experience, was: don’t mix grass with alcohol. I had at least one experience I recall of getting drunk and high at the same time. It was horrible.

I never did any other drugs: no psychedelics. In hindsight, I am very glad that this was the case. For me, it was a good thing.

 

 

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My college friends progressed, in short order, to doing psychedelic drugs: LSD and mescaline. They wanted to try and experience everything.

I became aware of this during the summer of 1967 when a group of my closest college friends made a cross country trip, unbeknownst to me. I received a postcard from one of them from the West Coast, which was the first I had heard about the trip. I had always had a desire to do a cross country trip by car and probably would have gone with them, had I been asked. But one of them later told me that they had deliberately declined to invite me. The reason was that they thought I was a square when it came to drugs and that it wouldn’t have been fun to have me along because of this. They wanted to take a trip in the conventional sense of the word and also to be able to trip on psychedelic drugs.

I never shared their enthusiasm for drugs, although I did not then and never have tended to be the censorious type.

My friends were speaking with something bordering on rapture about the great trips they were having. But, something held me back, an instinctive caution. I didn’t like the idea of putting chemicals into my bloodstream, and I was afraid of bad trips. It was an intuitive, instinctive thing, a foreboding. I am certain that I would have had very bad experiences had I used psychedelic drugs.

I worked as a psychiatric aide for a couple of years shortly after graduating from college and observed patients whose use of hallucinogens had triggered psychotic episodes. All of them were young. (This was some time after I myself had used or even considered using any kind of drugs, so the fact that I observed this was not relevant to my own behavior. The caution and wariness I had about drug use predated my hospital experience.)

 

 

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Because I myself have practically never used drugs or craved them, I am not outraged or offended by drug users. Drug use seems to me to be a waste of time, energy, and resources, a depressing aspect of life for many. But, I am not horrified at the thought of drug abuse. I feel it is unfortunate, but, in my mind, it does not seem to be criminal.

Does this mean that I am a softhearted type? Perhaps. An ostrich with its head in the sand? I don’t think so.

Off and on throughout my life, I have experienced alcoholism second hand by observing it among relatives and friends. I have never had a severe drinking problem, so — somewhat as is the case with drugs — alcoholism never alarmed me. But, it did hit a bit closer to home, and so I was consternated when I observed close friends of mine dealing with a drinking problem. A couple of my friends announced out of the blue to me that they had joined AA. I was a bit alarmed, thinking to myself, initially, I didn’t realize the problem had gotten so bad. But, that was it. I never regarded alcoholism as criminal or whatever pejorative term one might care to use. Merely as a problem for some people. A problem that can have serious consequences for them and their families. But, not one that one should be penalized, ostracized, or shunned for.

Which brings me back to drug addiction. I feel that it is unfortunate, but I do not regard it as criminal. Obviously, treatment would be desirable in most cases. But, why are drug users subjected to draconian sentences? Why are they treated as monsters, as scourges of society?

The penalties are far too harsh. Lock ‘em up? For twenty or thirty years or more? How about saying, we require you to complete a mandatory drug treatment program.

Vague, all-encompassing charges (so designed, I would imagine, so that they can “fit” all kinds of offenses, like a one size fits all sock) — such as possession with the intent to distribute — for nonviolent drug offenses result in unbelievably harsh sentences. Such persons get treated like monsters — it seems at least sometimes worse than murderers. They are rent from loved ones and families and incarcerated for 20, 30, 40, or 50 years. For what? For harm done mostly to themselves.

If such people are to be treated as scourges of society and as menaces to the public good and wellbeing or safety, why aren’t such harsh penalties inflicted on offenders with other addictions: gambling, say, or drinking? The criminal “justice” system is inherently unjust — is not rational, reasonable, or fair. (Writers such as Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens figured this out a long time ago.)

 

 

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What is it that makes some types of substance abuse and victimless crimes so repugnant, so abominable, so shocking, so horrifying to most people, I wonder. (And, why is alcohol abuse penalized so harshly in Muslim countries while winked at, judicially speaking, here, whereas the situation is somewhat the reverse when it comes to drug abuse?)

It seems that a kind of psychodynamic is going on whereby the authorities, serving, as they see it, as the incarnation of public sentiment, as the standard bearers of virtue, denounce and prosecute activities that perhaps they themselves have been tempted to engage in, a repressed desire. So, that by wiping out the “scourge” — by trying to eradicate it through draconian penalties (which do not stop people from engaging in such behavior) — they are removing vermin from the face of the earth, and at the time removing temptation from the front view mirror.

I used to wonder, when A. M. Rosenthal was a columnist for The New York Times, what it was that made him so hysterical when writing about the topic of drugs. Or about the time when New York Post columnist Pete Hamill wrote an op-ed piece asserting that we should carpet bomb Turkish poppy fields.

People become enraged over miscreant behavior that doesn’t actually do harm, such as the case of nonviolent drug offenders. They become zealots in the manner of a Robespierre.

Take the example of former New York State governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 after it was publicly disclosed that he had been patronizing escorts. As state attorney general, Spitzer was known for going after prostitution rings. A few journalists noticed this and commented on Spritzer’s hypocrisy after his immoral behavior, for which he could have been prosecuted, came to light.

There have been countless examples over the years of public servants and civic officials who were caught engaging in the same type of activities that they had publicly denounced as immoral and criminal.

 

 

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If I may, I would like to conclude with a couple of additional comments based upon my own experience.

I do not myself find addictive behavior to be — a priori — pleasant to witness.

In 1970, I saw the film Trash, which got a lot of notoriety and which, it seemed, appealed to my generation. There was a scene where the actor Joe Dallesandro injects heroin into his veins. I almost fainted. Which I guess is my way of saying that the nuts and bolts of drug abuse are not something I like to contemplate.

At a later time, I saw a documentary film made in Amsterdam the title of which I do not recall. It seemed that the filmmakers intended to be objective, and to portray graphically what it was like to live in a country with lax laws regulating vice. I kind of expected to see that Amsterdam was a liberated, fun place. But, in the film, that did not seem to be the case. Indeed, it seemed depressing. There were interviews with prostitutes, all of them middle aged, who were matter of fact about their business. There was a scene of a sexual encounter between a stripper and a customer in a strip club that was dispiriting to observe. And, there were a lot of scenes shot in cafes where aging hippies with headbands were smoking pot. Everything seemed seedy and depressing.

Bottom line. I am not saying, am not advocating: let’s all have a good time and indulge in whatever activities or immoral behavior we feel like. It’s a personal matter, and also one that often has an impact on the quality of life, both on the personal and on the social, public levels, But, when people — out of curiosity, boredom, frustration, or despair; or perhaps because they harbor antisocial tendencies — do engage in behavior that is not pretty but does not directly harm others, I believe that the first thing we should try to do is to understand them and help them to perhaps see that there are alternatives.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 2017; updated June 2018

 

 

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Addendum:

 

 

According to an article in The New York Times:

“Attorney General Orders Tougher Sentences, Rolling Back Obama Policy”

The New York Times

May 12, 2017

 

 

 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest possible charges and sentences against crime suspects, he announced Friday, reversing Obama administration efforts to ease penalties for some nonviolent drug violations. ….

Mr. Sessions’s memo replaced the orders of former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who in 2013 took aim at drug sentencing rules. He encouraged prosecutors to consider the individual circumstances of a case and to exercise discretion in charging drug crimes. In cases of nonviolent defendants with insignificant criminal histories and no connections to criminal organizations, Mr. Holder instructed prosecutors to omit details about drug quantities from charging documents so as not to trigger automatically harsh penalties.

This is truly sad.

Dispiriting, depressing.

It is also sad to consider that this story and the attorney general’s cruel (sometimes the plainest word is the right one) directive will probably not get much attention, given that media attention and criticisms of the Trump administration are focused — to the exclusion of practically everything else, it would seem, at times — on President Trump’s firing of FBI director James B. Comey, which has just occurred and has dominated the news all week.

Slightly less than half, 50 percent, of the total of over 200,000 persons incarcerated in federal prisons have been convicted of drug offenses. Of course, the preponderance of them are minorities.

Of the total incarcerated in state prisons, almost a million and a half individuals — about one out of every six — had a drug crime as their most serious offense.

How many of these “criminals” do you think are violent offenders. Want to make a guess?

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 13, 2017

 

 

 

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See also:

“Unity Was Emerging on Sentencing. Then Came Jeff Sessions”

The New York Times

May 14, 2017

 

 

Note that the article states that “Mr. Sessions, … as a senator from Alabama supported legislation that would have made a second marijuana trafficking conviction a capital crime.”

Unbelievable.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 14, 2017

 

 

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See also:

She Went to Jail for a Drug Relapse. Tough Love or Too Harsh?

By Jan Hoffman

The New York Times

June 4, 2018

 

 

 

This article provides a textbook example of the absurdity and cruelty or our policy towards drug offenders.

Besides finding confirmation of my views, I was struck by a couple of paragraphs near the end of the story:

… recent studies show that replication efforts failed. They reduced neither rates of drug use nor crime.

Probation, writes Fiona Doherty, a clinical professor at Yale Law School, is “a hidden body of law” that needs scrutiny because judges and probation officers have wide latitude to define a defendant’s “good behavior.”

The [Julie] Eldred case [the focus of the Times article], which challenges that power, is, ironically, a continuation of the origins story for probation. In 1841, John Augustus, a teetotaling Boston bootmaker, described as the father of modern probation, posted bond for “a common drunkard.” By his death, he had supervised nearly 2,000 people, many arrested for intoxication, their records expunged in exchange for avowed sobriety.

Note how alcoholism was treated back then.

 

— Roger W. Smith

    June 5, 2018

the particular matters; quotes from famous authors

 

 

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”

— William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

 

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

— William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

 

“To Generalize is to be an Idiot. To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit — General Knowledges are those Knowledges that Idiots possess.”

— William Blake, Annotations to Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Discourses

 

“AND many conversèd on these things as they labour’d at the furrow, Saying: ‘It is better to prevent misery than to release from misery; It is better to prevent error than to forgive the criminal. Labour well the Minute Particulars: attend to the Little Ones; And those who are in misery cannot remain so long, If we do but our duty: labour well the teeming Earth.… He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer; For Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars, And not in generalizing Demonstrations of the Rational Power: The Infinite alone resides in Definite and Determinate Identity. Establishment of Truth depends on destruction of Falsehood continually, On Circumcision, not on Virginity, O Reasoners of Albion!”

— William Blake, “Jerusalem”

 

 

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”Dear Hugo, you must write to me often as you can, & not delay it, your letters are very dear to me. Did you see my newspaper letter in N Y Times of Sunday Oct 4? About my dear comrade Bloom, is he still out in Pleasant Valley? Does he meet you often? Do you & the fellows meet at Gray’s or any where? O Hugo, I wish I could hear with you the current opera – I saw Devereux in the N Y papers of Monday announced for that night, & I knew in all probability you would be there – tell me how it goes – only don’t run away with that theme & occupy too much of your letter with it – but tell me mainly about all my dear friends, & every little personal item, & what you all do, & say &c.”

— Walt Whitman, letter to Hugo Fritsch, dated Washington, DC, October 8, 1863; from Selected Letters of Walt Whitman

 

 

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“[I]n these lives of ours, tender little acts do more to bind hearts together than great deeds or heroic words. …”

— Louisa May Alcott, Work: A Story of Experience

 

 

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“… I particularly liked your manner of explanation when you lowered your voice and spoke quietly of the elements that interest us both, the humane particulars of realization and communication.”

— William Carlos Williams, letter to Kenneth Burke, November 10, 1945

 

 

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“The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnified world in itself.”

— Henry Miller, Plexus (New York: Grove Press, 1965, pg. 53)

 

 

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“In the ordinary is the extraordinary. In the particular is the universal.”

— Frank Delaney (1942–2017), Irish novelist, journalist and broadcaster; blog post re James Joyce’s Ulysses

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   December 2015; updated June 2018

 

 

 

 

 

some of my best friends …

 

 

 

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

“Don’t cry over spilt milk.”

“A watched pot never boils.”

“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

“A stitch in time saves nine.”

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

 

AND

“Some of my best friends …”

 

 

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I grew up with these sayings, all of them except the last one.

These commonplaces are not indicators of stupidity or poverty of thought. There is much wisdom in them. Many of them were used by my mother.

 

 

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What about some of my best friends …?

First of all, it’s not an adage. It’s a cliché.

In the online Urban Dictionary, some of my best friends are … is defined as follows:

Something prejudiced people say when they’re called out on their prejudice. Smacks of tokenism and hypocrisy.

Person A: You can’t trust those goddamn crackers.

Person B: Don’t be prejudiced against white people.

Person A: Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are crackers.

It’s an oft ridiculed line, perhaps justly so.

But I would be inclined to take — at least in my own case (from which I would be inclined to generalize) — a contrarian view.

I would not be inclined to trot out the phrase. But, like the adages I quoted above, the phrase seems to contain some truth in it as a reflection of the actual experience of many people.

Which is to say.

Everyone has prejudices; no one is perfect. One can still hold — buried within oneself — prejudices toward certain racial, ethnic, or religious groups. Anyone who is honest about human nature will admit that they are hard to overcome.

It is true in my case, though people would not call me prejudiced or racist.

What I have found is that if one is honest about self-examination and introspective, one can find prejudices that one harbors. That’s where one might find oneself having a “some of my best friends” experience, though, in my case, I would be embarrassed to use the term; not inclined to do so for fear of being ridiculed.

 

 

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You may have limited experience of certain religious or ethnic groups. I did. I grew up in New England. Practically everyone was Christian, Protestant or Catholic; there was one black student, as I recall, in my high school; I had one Jewish friend (not a close friend); and I probably did not even know what the term Hispanic meant, having never met as I recall someone whose ethnicity was so designated.

I live in New York City now. I went to a liberal college with a majority of Jewish students. I have experienced ethnic diversity in the workplace and my adopted city.

Still, I harbor prejudices. And, my experience of some religious and ethnic groups has been limited.

But then you or I meet someone from one of these groups and the two of you have immediate rapport. The buried prejudices, old thoughts that you never quite dealt with, don’t matter. Experience for the moment has trumped old animosities, fears, resentments buried within you and directed toward an amorphous group, not toward individuals.

 

 

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A final thought. It doesn’t involve friendships, but it seems pertinent.

I love the ethnic diversity of New York City: the mixture of races and creeds and of the native and foreign born.

I often experience positive interactions with strangers. I can’t get over how helpful and nice people are in this big, supposedly impersonal city, where everyone is supposed to have little time for one another.

I try to — and in fact do — respond in kind.

These positive experiences — most often with people who are not of the same race, class, religious or national origins, and so forth — are incredibly edifying. And, what’s most significant, from the point of view of this post, is that they trump any need to address prejudice issues on an abstract level.

Abstractions become irrelevant. It’s the personal interaction in the here and now that matters, and one experiences a wonderful feeling of common humanity.

A dimension of actual lived experience I love. Because, as William Blake said: “He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer. …”

Translation (or should I say extrapolation): You will never be able to overcome prejudice in the abstract; you will — society will, can — on the individual and personal level.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2018