My review of Johann Hari’s book, Chasing the Scream

A Review of Johann Hari’s Book, Chasing the Scream

 The opposite of addiction is not sobriety–it is connection

~Johann Hari~

Chasing the Scream cover

I discovered the existence of this book several days after a certain president announced his opinion that drug dealers should be executed. He would have felt a kinship with Harry Anslinger, the chief architect and champion of the war on drugs which took root in the 1930’s. His opinion was that illegal drugs were evil and so were people who sold and used them. Both sets of people and drugs themselves became his targets for eradication.

Hari writes extensively about Anslinger and the army he headed as well as about Billie Holliday the renowned jazz singer who died of a heroin overdose and Arnold Rothstein, an early drugpin. During the course of the book, Hari also gives thorough coverage to drug users, drug dealers, police, people who work with drug users, and researchers. He also documents research findings, and alternatives to a war on drugs.

Hari admits that it was difficult for him to let go of the traditional wisdom regarding the evils of drugs and of those who use them. He also struggled with the idea that drug eradication is the only effective way to approach the problem. I must admit that it was initially also difficult for me as a reader to imagine viewing drugs in any but the traditional manner.

The author documents the burdens to society imposed by the war on drugs making the problem for society much worse than it was when drugs were legal. He points out clearly how little we learned from alcohol prohibition. Crime increased significantly with the advent of prohibition and decreased with the end of prohibition. Yet we saw the best way to deal with the problem of illegal drugs as following the same path we took with alcohol. Although the subtitle of Hari’s book is “The first and last days of the war on drugs,” it does not appear to me that the last days are in clear sight.

Yet research and social experiments suggest that there are rational alternatives. Research with animals and later with people discovered that addiction is not primarily due to the nature of the substances ingested. A much greater contribution to addiction is lack of a sense of worth, lack of social connection and the feeling of not being useful to society. As Gabor Maté puts it, “The core of addiction doesn’t lie in what you swallow or inject–it’s the pain you feel in your head.” Hari also brings in the effects of institutional racism leading to greater drug use by people of color.

The author also details the success of programs in countries such as Switzerland and Portugal and efforts in the states of Colorado and Washington to bring about legalization of drugs in various ways. Such approaches often involve supervised use of drugs paired with counseling to help users improve their sense of self, start to feel human again and find a way to contribute to society.

The book is presented in a narrative manner leaving you with a sense of knowing the individuals on all sides of this problem. It might be difficult for you to change your thinking about drugs, drug use and users after the extremely long tradition of seeing this as a problem to be eradicated. Approaching it this way has led to a drain on society socially as well as economically. I would suggest you give this book a try. You can always go back to your old way of thinking if you choose but if you have any humanitarian leanings, I have a feeling you will learn to think differently about this problem.




Sometimes, writing less leads to deeper, more creative thinking.

Have you ever wondered how some writers manage to write thousands of words every day — while you can barely squeeze out 500 words after an hour of trying (and failing) to focus? How do so many successful writers publish so much — even though one success could carry their careers for years?

These are the habits of writers who cannot stop, who refuse to stop, who somehow  do this writing thing and don’t suffer creative burnout in the process.

(Excerpt from Meg Dowell’s article in A Writer’s Path- read more)

America: Corporation or Society

another brick

Integrity is essential and irreplaceable. It is the most valuable asset
for a person, a company, or a society seeking to build and progress.

~Rex Tillerson~

For several centuries America has worked to become a society in the sense of being a community with common laws and customs. We have made progress toward this ideal over the years although we have always had more to do to “form a more perfect union.” This was our goal stated in the preamble to our constitution. Our country has always had more to offer to people of wealth and power than to those less fortunate. We have had times of progress toward meeting the needs of all or citizens and times when the needs and wishes of the few outweighed the needs of the many.

We find ourselves in a time when many of the safeguards to our well­being are being dismantled piece by piece on a daily basis. Those in power act in the interest of themselves and of their powerful allies. Protection of the environment, providing for our health, provision of the basic necessities including clean air and water are now being undermined or discarded outright. Years of work to develop positive relationships with other nations is being undermined or simply cast aside. The idea of cooperation with other countries is being discarded in the interest of America first. Efforts are underway to cleanse America from immigrants whose presence and contributions made us so successful in the first place.

The Corporation Project of the Frank Bold law firm describes the purpose of a corporation first stated in the 1970’s as being to maximize shareholder value. All other goals were seen as secondary to the extent that they were considered at all. I don’t mean to suggest that all corporations are so callous. There are quite a few which have served to enrich society as well as their financial holdings. Yet the corporate culture has focused largely on short term gains with all other considerations becoming secondary at best.

In my opinion, those leading our country at present show a clear corporate mentality about our country in the sense of putting money first. The welfare of our country, our planet, our environment and our global community have all been relegated to secondary consideration with financial gain as the chief focus. In the process, wealth, resources and power become concentrated in fewer hands as the process of corporatizing America continues.

History has shown repeatedly that a course of events such as the one we find propelling us now eventually leads to revolution and overthrow of the few left at the top. Those who are there now are betting that their course will be sustainable in the near future which is their chief frame of reference rather than the greater good of all the world’s citizens which requires a much broader outlook.

Those in power will be happy to continue on their merry way as long as they are allowed to do so. We are currently seeing rumblings of a groundswell of dissent questioning the status quo which I see as unsustainable. The options are evolution of thought and mutual cooperation toward a national and global society or revolution when dissent reaches the tipping point. The choice is ours. What do you choose?

Conference seeks to understand guns and their culture


Academics from UR and schools across the country talked guns and the cultural ideas around them last Thursday and Friday during the University’s “Social Life of Guns” conference.

“An object is never just an object,” said UR’s Kate Mariner, a professor of anthropology who played a key role in organizing the event.

Mariner hoped the conference would add more nuance to the conversation around guns in America and “deepen our understanding beyond right and left, white and black, innocent and guilty.”

(Excerpt from an article by Efua Aggare-Kumi in the University of Rochester Campus Times- read more)


Writing a lot and writing well at the same time? It’s not easy, but it’s possible.

I know of writers and overall content creators who publish a new piece of content every day — and their work is usually good. But not always great.

I also know of creators who publish new content less frequently — and it’s always phenomenal.

And then there are those people who can crank out new stuff every day and CRUSH IT (meaning dominate, succeed, do a really good job) every time.

How do those superhumans do it?

(Excerpt from Meg Dowell’s article in A Writer’s Path- read more)

Leslie Odom Jr. talks ‘flexing the storytelling muscle’ with debut book Failing Up

In Hamilton, as Aaron Burr, Leslie Odom Jr. asked Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton, “How do you write like you’re running out of time?”

Odom now has an answer to that question, having written his first book, Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning. The book is part auto-biography and part inspirational text, with Odom relaying stories of life lessons he’s learned from childhood, through his Broadway debut in Rent, and up to his Grammy- and Tony-winning work in Hamilton.

(Excerpt from Maureen Lenker’s interview with Leslie Odom- read more)

Review of Chris Hayes’ A Colony in a Nation

I was not looking for this book but a review caught my attention. I thought it might be an okay book but as I read it, I realized it was one of the best books I have read lately. It begins by describing what it is like to live as a full citizen in a nation. Then it contrasts this with what it is like to live in a colony controlled from a distance and where you do not have citizen rights but rather become a commodity to be used as seen fit by the nation doing the colonizing.

Hayes describes life in colonized places around the world and concludes that there are also colonies in America where residents do not have citizen privileges or at least have them minimized as much as possible. Undue burdens are placed on them to benefit those living in the nation but not the colony. The police are seen as a colonizing force.

People living in these colonies are marginalized, seen as a burden rather than an asset to the larger society and oppressed. They are compressed into what we have called ghettos and pockets of poverty. As much as possible they are hidden from public view and herded into substandard living conditions.

Programs known as war on crime have not produced any substantial decrease in crime, but if anything have increased crime, police violence and a punishment system unmatched elsewhere in the civilized world.

His suggested solution is to help those living in our colonies find a way to develop their skills and make a contribution to society. We need to learn how to listen to them, accept them and help them become part of our nation and become full fledged citizens.

This book is a challenge to all of us to remake our society into one which respects and cares for all its citizens. It will not be easy to undo the damage we have done but it is never too late to start.