Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Note on Methland

Methland: The Death and Life of An American Small Town by Nick Redding

An excellent piece of book-length reporting--it combines small personal stories with a large historical narrative and big theories to explain it all. The pharmaceutical industry is one of the surprise villains here (because of their long and somewhat successful attempt to keep the U.S from regulating ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, two of the basic chemicals from which methamphetamine is manufactured), as are NARCS (the National Association of Retail Chain Stores), but the biggest villains are the big agribusinesses like Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra, Tyson, etc. Redding blames them for consolidating the ag industries and turning what had once been $18/hour meat processing jobs (for example) into minimum wage jobs held by illegal aliens (who were recruited by the ag giants). This devastated small town America and inadvertantly provided a distribution system (dealers were workers at the local meat processing plant). He doesn't blame illegal aliens in general for being here, as he writes at one point, "if you encourage people to come to your country, you cannot then hold it against them for showing up."

There are also stories--sometimes heartbreaking and often astonishing--of the tweakers, smurfs, beavis and butthead lab operators, etc. The notion that at one time, small-scale meth manufacturers were riding around cooking meth in 20 oz soda bottles strapped to the backs of their mountain bikes is amazing. But in one small Iowa town, this practice was so pervasive, they actually considered outlawing bikes! I am generally a libertarian about drugs, feeling that legalizing would end many of the most pernicious effects of the illicit drug trade. But this is the glib assessment of someone who is comfortably isolated from the worst effects. After reading a book like this, the thought of legalizing meth is utterly terrifying. But weirdly enough, meth isn't the problem--it just happens to be the horrific (yet perversely All-American) drug that rushed in to fill the void left when a way of life died. If it hadn't been meth, it would have been something else.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh, just curious. I more or less agree with much of your post, but I can't help but wonder. What do you think the "something else" would have been?

I was in there at what I believe was the beginnings of the speed - generation? Fascination? I don't know what you'd call it. In the late 60's, in small-town Arkansas, before it became illegal, doctors that would prescribe "diet pills" to any female were busy as any convenience store. People were waiting in line for their speed. My girlfriend and her friends would go back every couple of days for more.

Didn't take me long to abandon that drug. It's scary, unless there is some kind of biochemical attraction, which, for whatever reason, I did not have.


6:26 AM  
Blogger  Robert Boyd said...

It might have been crack or cocaine or some other kind of amphetamine. Or maybe some prescription drug. The point is that starting in the 1980s and continuing from there, rural farm communities all over the country were being devastated. As has happened many other times in American history, many of the smartest and most ambitious moved away, but those who were left saw their way of life and the ways that sustained their parents disappear. And speed is a very "American" drug in the sense that it makes you sharper and capable of working longer hours--so if you work at a chicken processing plant where the salaries have dropped from $15/hour to minimum wage after a buyout--working overtime on speed seems pretty appealing. And the next thing you know, you are hallucinating and blowing up your garage trying to make some more speed...

7:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know about that, Boyd. The guys that I knew back then, before the homemade meth thing got going good, the ones that really got into speed - they weren't so much working on speed. Those guys did it for a purpose, when the purpose was over, so was their speed usage.

The ones that really got into it, they got something out of speed that others did not. Something in their brain chemistry just HAD to have some more. Like some people just went crazy over coke. Crack.

Fortunately for me, I didn't derive that much pleasure from it. If I needed to pull an all-nighter for that Organic test, fine - but that was the extent of it, mostly.

I think trying to ascribe drug addiction to any logical reason is just wasting your time. It is an addiction because of the person. Not the circumstances the person is in. That can maybe be a trigger...


6:05 PM  

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