Some nights ago I sat in an emergency room while a 19-year-old heroin addict was brought in. It was after midnight, the witching hour, on a weekend when the zombies and ghosts of the city's party circuit begin drifting in dressed in their best clothes, escorted by police officers, clutching bloodied rags to their faces or lying on stretchers and always at their articulate best.
Anyone who hasn't worked with addicts doesn't know how charming and persuasive they can be. The addict is the distilled ego focused on a single burning need. All the cleverness and intelligence of the human being, the attributes that we would ordinarily use to work, create, befriend and empathize, become tools for protecting the addiction and the supply.
Addicts are intense because they are among the few people in this world who know exactly what they want. They can be charming, but their routines are mechanical. They retain only enough of their humanity to charm us into giving them more of what they want. It is their only reason for interacting with us. The addict is pure ego and the drug is the only focus of their ego. The addict needs so badly that he or she becomes an incarnation of need. Their humanity is slowly or rapidly burned away leaving behind nothing but the animal need, their outer characteristics consumed by their ego and then their ego consumed by the id.
The girl was no friend or family member of mine. I had seen many like her and as our civilization unwinds into its own night of the soul, there will be many more like her. Having all the advantages of life, she was desperately unhappy and like so much of the modern world that tunes in to Oprah for tips on how to be happy, that browses self-help sections on a desperate quest for happiness, she was still trying to be happy. Her cry was the cry of a country addicted to emptiness and losing its soul.
I do not come to judge or to moralize about how people live their lives. Even the best of us are flawed and even the worst of us have their moments of redemption. Many are addicts of one kind or another, becoming tethered to the thing that assures us happiness, even as it seems to drain us of something vital. Many such addictions can be harmless, but when an addiction becomes unsustainable, then it becomes a death sentence. A death of the soul followed by the death of the body.
While I sat there, trying to ignore the noises, the shrieks of pain, the pleas for help and the mumbles, the Republican Convention was beginning to recede. My fingers tapped out the essay on a 3'5 inch screen that would become, "How to Write About the Republican Convention." Ahead of me lay the Democratic Convention, the addicts convention, the festival of that corner of America that was not so slowly losing its soul.
I did not, I could not anticipate the full insane spectacle of it at the time. No one could have. But I sensed that it would sound a lot like the heroin addict in the bed, shrieking at her parents, changing emotional pitches in a moment from hysteria to sweetness, turning on the momentary charm with the nurses, innocently assuring the staff that she was not a user. And it did. It was a lunatic addict festival with designs by LSD and math by cocaine addicts fresh from Wall Street and social programs from potheads.
All that outrage over Mitt Romney's 47 percent hits home because we are all users. Some of that usage is more legitimate. Some of us are using money that we put in there as insurance and some of us are using money that we didn't. But that's not the real story. The real story is that our social safety net was supposed to be like one of those, "Take a Penny, Leave a Penny" tills that depend on the honor and neighborliness of a community. And we don't have that community. What we have is a fragmented mess of givers and takers who are not the same people.
This isn't about wealth or class. Some of the wealthiest men in this country, like Warren Buffett, are parasites who feed off taxpayer money. Some of the poorest men and women work hard for a living and put back more than they take out.
It's about community. It's about who we are as a country. It's about the America of the people who feel ashamed when they aren't doing their best to work and the America of the people who feel ashamed when they don't take the system for every penny they can. It's about who feels that they owe and who feels that they are owed.
The left talks about community a great deal, but their vision of community is a giant till where everyone is forced to put their money and their bureaucracy decides how many people get to keep what percent of their money and how many get to keep other people's money. There is none of the individual responsibility that makes a community work, only the obligation to follow orders all the time for the greater good. There is no community, only ranks of addicts waiting to be taken care of.
The essence of a community is that its individual members feel a sense of responsibility toward one another. Without that sense of responsibility, we all become takers, tuning in to listen to the latest government announcement to learn how much we can expert to make and how much we will lose. We become experts at wheedling government officials, we all become lobbyists and a lobbyist is a paid representative for someone else's addiction.
It is the ego that defines the addict, that terrible sense of need that becomes the mirror of the self, and for all the talk of community, it is that need and that accompanying fear that the need will be cut off, that defined the Democratic National Convention, with its special pitches to the most addicted groups, promising that unlike the Republicans, we will never cut off your supply. At least not until we start running low and all the apartments of the people with money are broken into and then we'll have to start deciding who gets the good stuff and who gets a death panel.
Liberalism has defined entire groups by their need, their addiction to the supply of government, and taught them to feel an angry entitlement to their welfare checks. It has taught them that they are good people for wanting to take other people's money and that anyone who doesn't want to give them what they want is a bad person. This is addict moralizing, the spectrum of moral behavior in which the only thing that exists is the need and the barriers to meeting that need.
Addiction goes by different names now. Racism is one of them, but there are many names and they all mean the same thing. "I want," the koan of addiction, the incantation that becomes the identity of the addict as the one who needs. "I scream, you scream, we all scream for more, more and more." The rhetoric, the talk of privilege, the academic papers, are only the complex rationalizations of addicts, their mechanical arguments for doing what they want and taking what they want.
This kind of addiction is unsustainable. It is personally unsustainable, it is communally unsustainable and it is nationally unsustainable. A nation where takers begin to outnumber givers cannot endure. It has no future and barely has a present. A nation run by a 'former' cocaine user who is forever tossing out schemes for fixing everything that have all the substance of an addicts' plans to get clean is in deep trouble.
Addicts do not get by on results, they get by on personal charm and schemes. They get by on tricking people into meeting their needs. And that convinces them that, like all criminals, they are very clever. The more suckers they lure in, the more convinced they become that they are unstoppable, that they will go on flying forever beyond the sunset on their drug of choice.
Money is our current drug of choice and like all drugs it appears infinite. We are buying our own debt and selling it back to ourselves and lending ourselves the money to buy our own debt in a spiral that seems beautiful and sensible to an addict, but is a complete disaster to anyone still functioning in the real world.
Obama's solution to all problems is to shoot up more money. Billions, trillions, it doesn't matter because the money is unreal and therefore infinite. It works because we believe in it and he's in office because he convinced people to believe in him. To him, money, like his persona, is an act of faith and all he has to do is convince everyone to go on believing. And if we ever stop believing, then like a certain coyote with his own improbable schemes, we will crash down to the ground.
The addict seeks the unreal state because it makes him happy. It is the real world that depresses him. Enough Americans chose to shoot up Obama and a smaller number are still committed to their hope drug because he makes them happy. And fooling them makes Obama happy. All the money is just a counter that everyone trades back and forth in exchange for happiness. Trillion dollar deficits are how we know we're getting high.
America can have a social safety net, but it has to be one based on the responsibility that we all feel toward one another, not on empty cynical rhetoric about "giving back" to people who feel no sense of responsibility for anyone outside their own group. That's just a nation of enablers propping up a nation of addicts until the addicts outnumber them and the country collapses into one big Detroit. It cannot be based on the empty promises and lies, that sound no different whether they are coming from Obama or a 19-year-old heroin addict. It cannot be based on charm or ignorance of the truth.
Whatever social safety net we have must be communal, it must be open and transparent, and it can only be maintained by a nation of honorable people, by people who feel guilty about taking a penny and feel good about leaving a penny. Anything else is just one more hit.