Apologies to Mexico

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<em>This post originally appeared on <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175566/tomgram%3A_rebecca_solnit%2C_one_big_continent_of_pain/”>Tom
Dispatch</a>. </em>
<p>Dear Mexico,</p>
<p>I apologize.
There are so many things I could apologize for, from the way the U.S. biotech
corporation <a href=”http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/4244″ target=”_blank”>Monsanto</a>
has <a href=”http://archive.truthout.org/121208D” target=”_blank”>contaminated</a>
your corn to the way <a href=”http://www.stanford.edu/group/progressive/cgi-bin/?p=983″ target=”_blank”>Arizona</a>
and <a href=”http://www.aclu.org/blog/immigrants-rights-racial-justice/aclu-tells-appeals-court-georgia-alabama-anti-immigrant-laws” target=”_blank”>Alabama</a> are persecuting your citizens, but right now I’d
like to apologize for the drug war, the 10,000 waking nightmares that make the
news and the rest that don’t.</p>
<p>You’ve heard
the stories about the <a href=”http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/05/31/100531fa_fact_finnegan” target=”_blank”>five severed heads</a> rolled onto the floor of a Michoacan
nightclub in 2006, the <a href=”http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/centralamericaandthecaribbean/mexico/4329841/Henchman-of-Mexican-drugs-lord-dissolved-300-bodies-in-acid.html” target=”_blank”>300 bodies</a> dissolved in acid by a servant of one drug lord,
the <a href=”http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/13/mexican-authorities-find-mutilated-bodies” target=”_blank”>49 mutilated bodies</a> found in plastic bags by the side of
the road in Monterrey in May, the <a href=”http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/05/bodies-bridge-23-mexico-drug” target=”_blank”>nine bodies</a> found hanging from an overpass in Nuevo Laredo
just last month, the Zeta Cartel’s <a href=”http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/drug-cartel-rivals-behead-zetas-camera/story?id=16670584#.T_XWHY7hVS8″ target=”_blank”>videotaped beheadings</a> just two weeks ago, the carnage that
has taken tens of thousands of Mexican lives in the last decade and has
terrorized a whole nation. I’ve read them and so many more. I am sorry <a href=”http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-01-13/news/30621243_1_drug-cartels-fight-drug-war-alejandro-poire” target=”_blank”>50,000 times</a> over.</p>
<p>The drug war is
fueled by many things, and maybe the worst drug of all is money, to which so
many are so addicted that they can never get enough. It’s a drug for which they
will kill, destroying communities and ecologies, even societies, whether for
the sake of making <a href=”http://www.republicreport.org/2012/gop-sen-rand-paul-warns-forprofit-drone-lobby-seducing-congress/” target=”_blank”>drones</a>, Wall Street profits, or <a href=”http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2012/06/afghan_opium.html” target=”_blank”>massive heroin sales</a>. Then there are the actual drugs, to
which so many others turn for numbness.</p>
<p>There is variety in the range of drugs. I know that marijuana mostly just
makes you like patio furniture, while heroin renders you ethereally indifferent
and a little reptilian, and cocaine pumps you up with your own imaginary
fabulousness before throwing you down into your own trashiness. And then
there’s meth, which seems to have the same general effect as rabies, except
that the victims crave it desperately.<strong>
<p>Whatever their
differences, these drugs, when used consistently, constantly, destructively,
are all anesthesia from pain. The Mexican drug cartels crave money, but they
make that money from the way Yankees across the border <a href=”http://www.unodc.org/unodc/secured/wdr/WDR12_Prevalence_maps.pdf” target=”_blank”>crave numbness</a>. They sell unfeeling. We buy it. We spend <a href=”http://www.boston.com/news/world/europe/articles/2005/06/30/un_report_puts_worlds_illicit_drug_trade_at_estimated_321b/” target=”_blank”>tens of billions</a> of dollars a year doing so, and by <a href=”http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=342471&CategoryId=14091″ target=”_blank”>some estimates</a> about a third to a half of that money <a href=”http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R41215.pdf” target=”_blank”>goes back</a>
to Mexico.</p>
Price of Numbness</strong>
<p>We want not to
feel what’s happening to us, and then we do stuff that makes worse things
happen — to us and others. We pay for it, too, in a million ways, from
outright drug-overdose deaths (which now <a href=”http://articles.latimes.com/2011/sep/17/local/la-me-drugs-epidemic-20110918″ target=”_blank”>exceed</a> traffic fatalities, and of which the United States
has the <a href=”http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/interactive/2012/jul/02/drug-use-map-world?newsfeed=true” target=”_blank”>highest rate</a> of any nation except tiny Iceland, amounting
to more than 37,000 deaths here in 2009 alone) to the violence of drug-dealing
on the street, the violence of people on some of those drugs, and the violence
inflicted on children who are neglected, abandoned, and abused because of them
— and that’s just for starters. The stuff people do for money when they’re <a href=”http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/07/local/la-me-banks-20100807″ target=”_blank”>desperate</a> for drugs generates more violence and more crazy
greed for the money to buy the next round. And drug use is connected to the
spread of HIV and various strains of hepatitis.</p>
<p>Then there’s
our futile “<a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/17/opinion/17carter.html” target=”_blank”>war on drugs</a>” that has created so much pain of its own.
It’s done so by locking up mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and
children for insanely long prison sentences and offering no treatment. It does
so by costing so much it’s warping the economies of states that have huge
numbers of nonviolent offenders in prison and not enough money for education or
healthcare. It does so by <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175520/best_of_tomdispatch%3A_michelle_alexander,_the_age_of_obama_as_a_racial_nightmare/” target=”_blank”>branding</a> as felons and pariahs those who have done time in
the drug-war prison complex. It was always aimed most directly at
African-Americans, and the toll it’s taken would require a week of telling.</p>
<p>No border
divides the pain caused by drugs from the pain brought about in Latin America by the drug business and the <em>narcotraficantes</em>.
It’s one big continent of pain — and in the last several years the narcos have
begun selling drugs in earnest in their own countries, creating <a href=”http://mexidata.info/id2541.html” target=”_blank”>new cultures</a> of
addiction and misery. (And yes, Mexico, your extravagantly corrupt government,
military, and police have everything to do with the drug war now, but file that
under greed, as usual, about which your pretty new president is unlikely to do
anything much.)</p>
<p>Imagine that the demand ceased tomorrow; the profitable business of supply
would have to wither away as well. Many talk about legalizing drugs, and
there’s something to be said for changing the economic arrangements. But what
about reducing their use by developing and promoting more interesting and
productive ways of dealing with suffering? Or even getting directly at the
causes of that suffering?</p>
<p>Some drug use
is, of course, purely recreational, but even recreational drug use stimulates
these economies of carnage. And then there are the overdoses of the famous and
the unsung on prescription and illicit drugs. Tragic, but those dismembered and
mutilated bodies the drug gangs deposit around Mexico are not just tragic, they’re
Gross National Pain and the Pain Export Economy</strong>
<p>Mexico, my near neighbor, I have
been trying to imagine the export economy of pain. What does it look like? I
think it might look like air-conditioning. This is how an air conditioner
works: it sucks the heat out of the room and pumps it into the air outside. You
could say that air-conditioners don’t really cool things down so much as they
relocate the heat. The way the transnational drug economy works is a little
like that: people in the U.S.
are not reducing the amount of pain in the world; they’re exporting it to Mexico and the rest of Latin
America as surely as those places are exporting drugs to us.</p>
<p>In economics,
we talk about “externalized costs”: this means the way that you and I pick up
the real cost of <a href=”http://www.energyandcapital.com/articles/oil-gas-crude/461″ target=”_blank”>oil production</a> with local and global ecological degradation
or wars fought on behalf of the oil corporations. Or the way <a href=”http://www.greenamerica.org/about/newsroom/editorials/costofwalmart.cfm” target=”_blank”>Walmart</a> turns its employees into paupers, and we pick up
the tab for their food stamps and medical care.</p>
<p>With the drug
economy, there are externalized traumas. I imagine them moving in a huge
circulatory system, like the Gulf Stream, or
old trade routes. We give you money and <a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/mexico-guns-arturo-sarukhan-us-weapons-mexico-violence-gun-rights_n_1563250.html” target=”_blank”>guns</a>, lots and lots of money. You give us drugs. The guns
destroy. The money destroys. The drugs destroy. The pain migrates, a phantom
presence crossing the border the other way from the crossings we hear so much
<p>The drugs are
supposed to numb people out, but that momentary numbing effect causes so much
pain elsewhere. There’s a pain economy, a suffering economy, a fear economy,
and drugs fuel all of them rather than making them go away. Think of it as
another kind of GNP — gross national pain — though I don’t know how you’d
quantify it.</p>
<p>A friend of
mine who’s lived in Latin America for large
parts of the last decade says that she’s appalled to see people doing cocaine
at parties she goes to in this country. I mentioned that to an anthropologist
who was even bleaker in describing the <a href=”http://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/coca-and-cocaine-bolivia-death-lies-between” target=”_blank”>cocaine migration routes</a> out of the Andes
and all the dead babies and exploited women she’d seen along the way.</p>
<p>We’ve had
movements to get people to stop buying clothes and shoes made in sweatshops,
grapes picked by exploited farmworkers, fish species that are endangered, but
no one’s thought to start a similar movement to get people to stop consuming
the drugs that cause so much destruction abroad. </p>
middle-class people here stuffing the blood of <em>campesinos</em> up their
noses. Picture poor people injecting the tears of other poor people into their
veins. Picture them all smoking children’s anguish. And imagine if we called it
by name. </p>
<strong>, #1 in Pain</strong>
<p>I don’t know
why my country seems to produce so much misery and so much desire to cover it
up under a haze of drugs, but I can imagine a million reasons. A lot of us just
never put down roots or adapted to a society that’s changing fast under us or
got downsized or evicted or foreclosed or rejected or just move around a lot.
This country is a place where so many people don’t have a place, literally or
psychologically. When you don’t have anywhere to go with your troubles, you can
conveniently go nowhere — into, that is, the limbo of drugs and the dead-end
that represents.</p>
<p>But there’s
something else front and center to our particular brand of misery. We are a
nation of miserable optimists. We believe everything is possible and if you
don’t have it all, from the perfect body to profound wealth, the fault is
yours. When people suffer in this country — from, say, foreclosures and
bankruptcies due to the destruction of our economy by the forces of greed —
the shame is overwhelming. It’s seen as a personal failure, not the failure of
our institutions. Taking drugs to numb your shame also keeps you from
connecting the dots and opposing what’s taken you down. </p>
<p>So when you’re
miserable here, you’re miserable twice: once because you actually lost your
home/job/savings/spouse/girlish figure and all over again because it’s not
supposed to be like that (and maybe thrice because our mainstream society
doesn’t suggest any possibility of changing the circumstances that produced your
misery or even how arbitrary those circumstances are). I suspect that all those
drugs are particularly about numbing a deep American sense of failure or of
smashed expectations.</p>
<p>Really, when
you think of the rise of crack cocaine during the Reagan era, wasn’t it an
exact corollary to the fall of African-American opportunity and the
disintegration of the social safety net? The government produced failure and
insecurity, and crack buffered the results (and proved a boon to a burgeoning
prison-industrial complex). Likewise, the drug-taking that exploded in the
1960s helped undermine the radical movements of that era. Drugs aren’t a goad
to action, but a deadening alternative to it. Maybe all those zombies
everywhere in popular culture nowadays are trying to say something about that.</p>
<p>Here in the United States,
there’s no room for sadness, but there are plenty of drugs for it, and now when
people feel sad, even many doctors think they should take drugs. We undergo
losses and ordeals and live in circumstances that would make any sane person
sad, and then we say: the fault was yours and if you feel sad, you’re crazy or
sick and should be medicated. Of course, now ever more Americans are addicted
to prescription drugs, and there’s always the old anesthetic of choice, alcohol,
but there is one difference: the economics of those substances are not causing
mass decapitations in Mexico.</p>
to Destruction and the Palace of the Dead</strong>
<p>When I think
about the drug wars and the drug culture here, I think about a young man I knew
long ago. He was gay, from Texas,
disconnected from his family, talented but not so good at finding a place in
the world for that talent or for himself. He was also a fan of the beat
novelist and intermittent junkie William Burroughs, and he believed that line
about how “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” Maybe it was fine
when William Blake said it in the 1790s, since Blake wasn’t a crackhead. But my
friend got from Burroughs — a man with family money and apparently an iron
constitution — the idea that derangement of the senses was a great creative
strategy. </p>
<p>This was all
part of our youth in a culture that constantly reinforced how cool drugs were,
though back then another beat writer, the poet David Meltzer, told me
methamphetamine was a form of demonic possession. The young man became
possessed in this way and lost his mind. He became homeless and deranged, gone
to someplace he couldn’t find his way back from, and I would see him walking
our boulevards barefoot and filthy, ranting to himself.</p>
<p>Then I heard he
had jumped off the Golden Gate
Bridge. He wasn’t yet 30;
he was just a sweet boy. I could tell four or five more stories like his about
people I knew who died young of drugs. The meth that helped him down his road
of no return was probably a domestic product then, but now vast quantities of
it are made in Mexico for us
— <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/10/world/americas/mexico-seizes-15-tons-of-methamphetamine.html” target=”_blank”>15 tons</a> of it were found earlier this year in Guadalajara, enough for
13 million doses, worth about $4 billion retail.</p>
<p>When I think
about the drug wars, I also think about my visit to <a href=”http://observers.france24.com/content/20100210-mexico-newest-saint-not-calendar-santa-muerte-death-skull-religion” target=”_blank”>Santa Muerte</a> (Saint Death) in Mexico City in 2007. A young friend with me
there insisted on going. It was perilous for outsiders like us even to travel
through Tepito, the black-marketeers’ barrio, let alone go to the shrine where
imposing, somber men were praying and lighting candles to the skeleton goddess
who is the <em>narcotraficantes</em>’ patron saint. They worship death; they’re
intimate with her; they tattoo her on their flesh, and there she was in person
— in bones without flesh, surrounded by candles, by gifts, by cigarettes and
gold, an Aztec goddess gone commercial.</p>
<p>My companion
wanted to take pictures. I wanted to live and managed to convince him that
thugs’ devotional moments were not for our cameras. When it came time to leave,
the warm patroness of the shrine locked up the stand in which she sold votive
candles and medallions, took each of us by an arm — as if nothing less than
bodily contact with death’s caretaker would keep us safe — and walked us to
the subway. We survived that little moment of direct contact with the drug war.
So many others have not.</p>
<p>Mexico, I am sorry. I want to see
it all change, for your sake and ours. I want to call pain by name and numbness
by name and fear by name. I want people to connect the dots from the junk in
their brain to the bullet holes in others’ heads. I want people to find better
strategies for responding to pain and sadness. I want them to rebel against
those parts of their unhappiness that are political, not metaphysical, and not
run in fear from the metaphysical parts either.</p>
<p>I want the <em>narcotraficantes</em>
to repent and give their billions to the poor. I want the fear to end. A
hundred years ago, your dictatorial president Porfiro Díaz supposedly remarked,
“Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United
States,” which nowadays could be revised to, “Painful
Mexico, so far from peace and so close to the numbness of the United States.”
Solnit lived through the inner-city crack wars in the 1980s and tried most
drugs a very long time ago. A </em>
<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175536/rebecca_solnit_welcome_to_the_2012_hunger_games” target=”_blank”>
<em>TomDispatch regular</em>
<em>, she is the author of
thirteen books, including, most recently, </em>
<a href=”http://www.amazon.com/dp/0520262506/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20″ target=”_blank”>
<em>Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas</em>
<em>, which
maps, among other things, the 99 murders in her city in 2008, most of them of
poor young men caught up in the usual, and the lives of undocumented laborers
in San Francisco.</em>
TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on <a href=”http://www.facebook.com/tomdispatch” target=”_blank”>Facebook</a>, and
check out the latest TD book, <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0086EF89K/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=tomdispatch-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0086EF89K” target=”_blank”>
<em>Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare,
<p>Copyright 2012
Rebecca Solnit</p>
<em>Image by <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/rickynorris/2179679971/”>Ricky Norris</a>,
licensed under <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en”>Creative
Commons</a>. </em>

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