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The national heroin epidemic has reached Maryland, where last year there were over 500 overdose-related deaths. Gov. Larry Hogan, who has already declared a state of emergency over this issue, recently announced the creation of a task force to combat the problem:

Heroin use has risen dramatically across the United States, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Maryland, a task force is looking at ways to tackle the problem.

Governor Larry Hogan placed Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford in charge of the state’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force.

Last week, the group concluded a series of six meetings held all around the state.

“The next step is we have an interim report that is due in mid August, and then a final report and recommendations to the Governor in December,” Rutherford tells WTOP.

He says the state wants to take a multifaceted approach: “You have to look at prevention as one of the elements, treatment for those who have become addicted, as well as recovery efforts.”

After half a century of propaganda promoting the Drug War, Americans have been conditioned to fear pleasure-inducing drugs in a manner akin to how people used to fear demons. Drugs like heroin (and methamphetamine, cocaine, etc.) are viewed as quasi-magical substances that rob us of our self-control and sound judgment — and have the potential to transform us into addicts, in spite of ourselves. In short: heroin is said to rob people of their free will. It is of course imperative that Americans address the heroin epidemic before it worsens. But we cannot begin to overcome it until we break open the long-petrified conversation about drugs and addiction. What does it mean to be addicted? Why do some people become addicted where others don’t?

The first — and perhaps the most difficult — step toward healing is to stop blaming the heroin. It is actually possible to use any drug recreationally without becoming an ‘addict’ — even powerful ones like opiates. Anyone who has ever gotten regularly drunk, yet still fulfilled their obligations, knows this — and so do the millions of people who have taken prescription opiates for pain and then successfully tapered off of them under the supervision of a doctor. If opiates were inherently addictive and robbed us of our self-control, it should not be possible to use them for an extended period of time for medical purposes without forcing the patient into addiction. But this isn’t what happens.

The difficult truth that addicts and their loved ones often don’t want to face is that it is not all that difficult to taper off of opiates: it takes weeks — not months, not years. The difference between long-standing addicts and those who taper off of them after using them for pain is that the latter group actually wants to be off of them — because they want to resume their daily lives. Contrary to what they will tell you, many long-time ‘addicts’ are not actually interested in getting clean. Once a person really wants to get clean, it doesn’t take very long — and with the proliferation of methadone and suboxone treatment centers and professional rehab programs, it is easier and safer than ever to get off of opiates. But many, if not most, people who pursue this line of treatment are those who have been caught using by horrified friends and family — or the cops — and so they need to make it look like they are making an effort to get clean — even if, secretly, they really just want to get their tolerance down so they can get high again — or perhaps they just want to keep others from getting angry at them. This is an all-too-common scenario, and it is a recipe for relapse after relapse. I know more than one person who has been to rehab more than once — and in each case, the reason for their failure is obvious: they went to rehab for others, not for themselves.

The only way to truly convince someone to get clean and stay clean is to demonstrate to them that there is something waiting for them beyond opiate use that will be better than the high. This is far easier said than done: many addicts turn to constant opiate use because they feel trapped by their circumstances and see no viable way forward in their lives. The heroin epidemic, in this sense, is really an epidemic of meaninglessness and brokenness. We’ll never begin to tackle the problem until we wake up to the fact that heroin itself is not the root of the problem — and resolve to do the difficult work of trying to mend lives that have wandered off-course.

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I am proud to announce that my Master’s Essay (thesis equivalent) for my graduate work at St. John’s College is complete. It is called “How Ought We to Live?: Philosophy and Its Challengers In Book I of Plato’s Republic.” I wrote it not only with an academic audience in mind, but with friends, family, and a general educated audience, too, for whom I hope I can make Plato appear as he is: permanently relevant and always exciting. Hopefully, this essay, the longest I have written, will demonstrate why I have been so intoxicated by Socrates over the past year!

Read the full essay by clicking here; I have chosen to host the paper at academia.edu.

Here is an excerpt:

Thrasymachus continues with his display and says that he has a definition of justice that is not any of the answers he prohibited – but he before telling the group what it is, he revives the question of that which is ‘owed and fitting’; particularly, he wants to know what penalty Socrates will suffer upon having his ignorance exposed.


Socrates matter-of-factly claims the suffering that is fitting for an ignorant man is simply to learn from one who knows. Thrasymachus feigns amusement, but states bluntly that what he really wants is a physical token representing his intellectual superiority: money. Socrates nonchalantly promises to pay him when he gets any, but Glaucon, ready for the conversation to move past Thrasymachus’ theatrics, tells him that he and Socrates’ other friends will pay on his behalf.


Socrates’ linking learning and suffering might first be taken to be ironic, but the image of education presented in the
Republic reflects a grueling, often tortuous process. Philosophic education demands that we radically and unsparingly examine and re-examine our most cherished beliefs – even, perhaps especially, those ones we have learned to love most, and which constitute the most fundamental principles that guide our daily lives. In the Allegory of the Cave, those who leave the shadows behind do not do so with joy; they are “dragged there by force.” (516A) The man confronted with his ignorance “suffers pain” from being freed from his former captivity. (515D) Education requires us to recognize that we cannot necessarily trust tradition, the law, our parents, the poets, or even our own common sense to discern the truth about the most important questions. It is doubtful that anyone could recognize this without suffering.

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From a Facebook post…

Last week, infantile protesters invaded the Senate to shout at Henry Kissinger that he is a war criminal, which spurred me to think about Kissinger and his influence.

He seems to me to have been a uniquely malignant force on US foreign policy in the 20th century. Kissinger popularized a strain of thought that had usually been subterranean among American statesmen: the etymologically self-congratulating ‘realist’ ideology, which sanctifies the idol Stability in an attempt to freeze any aspect of the status quo that is not immediately threatening to the nation’s material interests — a goal neither possible nor desirable, and which takes a base approach to what constitutes the national interest.

In practice, realism does not and cannot distinguish between the legitimacy of the leader of a republic and the tyrant of a slave nation, so long as their order is ‘stable’ and so long as they have obtained a monopoly on force — which is only a parlor trick: monopolies on force can be broken.

Realism’s attractiveness is found in its recognition of the stubbornly persistent primacy of power politics on the international stage; it is under none of the foolish liberal-internationalist illusions about the possibility of substituting process for power. But it is morally blind: It tells us to look at men like Saddam Hussein or Bashar al-Assad and pine for their continued rule, rather than for their replacement with something better. Worst of all, it subtly conditions people to plan for the short-term by seducing them with the notion that an order that is stable today will still necessarily be stable ten years from now, if only we don’t do anything to break it. Why else would people earnestly believe that Saddam Hussein, whose regime most of all in the Middle East mirrored Bashar al-Assad’s, would have somehow been a bulwark against the rise of ISIS?

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I posted this as a Facebook note the other day; I thought it was interesting and worth preserving here.

I strongly doubt that the advent of same-sex marriage or near-universal social tolerance of gays and lesbians will prompt straight people to seriously examine the experience of being gay any more than racial integration spurred white people to seriously investigate the experience of being black. Although the importance of equality under the law and widespread social tolerance can hardly be overstated, I am concerned that liberalism (in the broad sense) is going to rush to do to homosexuality what it has done to race relations: cover up the continuing tensions, complexities, and difficulties under a gloss of high-sounding rhetoric.

I think gay people’s lives are probably destined to be different — and more difficult — than straight people’s lives, and that there is little that politics can do to change this. Getting the politics right can make our lives a lot less difficult by protecting us from persecution, but the threat of persecution is not and has never been the only difference between being straight and being gay.

At its core, homosexuality seems to me to be a quintessential ‘outsider’ identity trait, by its nature. It is not comparable to race, class, gender, or religion: people who grow up as minorities in those categories are usually surrounded by their own. Black people grow up around black people, Jews grow up around Jews — but gay people usually have to wait until early adulthood to meet more than a couple of other people like them. Moreover, we are not simply informed from birth that we are gay; even in the best-case scenario, it is a years-long process of discovery that involves a lot of serious self-questioning and self-analysis — and this process comes to a head during the already-difficult adolescent years. Moreover, nature, not culture, determines how many of us there are: being a racial or religious minority is relative to where you live, but in every nation on Earth, only about 2-3% of the population is GLBT. So, no matter what, gay people experience at least some sense of isolation while growing up.

In my experience, gay people, considered as a whole, relative to straight people, seem to have a distinct sense of humor — with a greater emphasis on wit and snark — are more world-weary, more aesthetically androgynous, more sexually adventurous, more theatrical, less surprised by people’s idiosyncrasies, more skeptical of convention, and have a deep longing for some ‘je ne sais quoi’ that will make them feel more at home in the world. I do not believe that homosexuality is just a ‘gay version of being straight,’ to put it a certain way — the way liberalism seems to be encouraging people to think of homosexuality: ‘They’re really no different.’ But I think we are different. And I want people to investigate and appreciate those differences — not pretend, in the name of sociopolitical ideology, that they don’t exist.

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As I was browsing the Bible this afternoon, this passage, from the famed Sermon on the Mount, particularly resonated with me:

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.” – Matthew 6:19-24

What does this mean? Jesus asserts, in so many words, that the pleasures produced by money, material goods, social status, fame, etc., always decay, are always at risk of vanishing, and are always dependent on chance and circumstance. Those who treasure these pleasures above love, wisdom, and beauty will live in fear of losing them, and cannot delight in them in like manner as the tranquil soul delights in its tranquility. Love, wisdom, compassion, patience, and beauty transcend these limitations; they are gifts that you do not lose when you give them away, and once acquired, they cannot easily be lost — and only one who honestly seeks them can enjoy earthly pleasures as they ought to be enjoyed: as fortunate products of circumstance that do not truly belong to us and may be taken away by fate at any moment.

Consider, too, these sayings of the sage Epictetus, the Greek Stoic whose philosophy greatly inspired Christian ethics: “In the case of particular things that delight you, or benefit you, or to which you have grown attached, remind yourself of what they are. Start with things of little value. If it is china you like, for instance, say, ‘I am fond of a piece of china.’ When it breaks, then you won’t be as disconcerted. When giving your wife or child a kiss, repeat to yourself, ‘I am kissing a mortal.’ Then you won’t be so distraught if they are taken from you” — and upon losing something, we must tell ourselves: “I have lost nothing that belongs to me; it was not something of mine that was torn from me, but something that was not in my power has left me.”

I do not believe that any of this implies that asceticism is necessary. It is possible to delight in earthly things without trading in our souls — but only if earthly things are not our masters. Our souls must be rightly ordered to properly delight in earthly things without abandoning the necessary quest for love, wisdom, and beauty. In other words, this matter is not as simple as a basic either/or proposition. As the preacher in Ecclesiastes notes, we can enjoy daily earthly pleasures — but we must never allow ourselves to mistake them for what they are not.

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My latest for Race42016.com

In his indispensable book The Case for Israel, Professor Alan Dershowitz posits that, besides being the Jewish state, Israel is also the “Jew among nations” — constantly held to higher moral standards than its peers, and consistently singled out for one-sided, disproportionate criticism. The United Nations’ Human Rights Council — whose members include human rights dignitaries like Cuba and Saudi Arabia – voted this week to investigate Israel for war crimes while shrugging its shoulders as Hamas uses young children as human shields for their weaponry — which, as all but the most willfully ignorant among us know by now, is frequently hidden in hospitals and schools. The United States cast the sole vote against coercing Israel into a show-trial, while Europe cowardly abstained from distinguishing between good and evil.

Instead of utilizing ordinary logic and blaming Hamas for setting up children to die and using their corpses as war propaganda, for perpetuating the violence that will lead to the deaths of countless more innocents, and for refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist, Israel-haters assert either that Israel has brought Islamist terror upon itself, or that it simply shouldn’t give in to Hamas’ provocations — since, after all, defending its citizens will only invite more hatred and blame. The former throw their lot in with Hamas by fundamentally denying Israel’s right to exist, but the latter, like teachers who tell bullied students that they ought to stop making themselves targets for their tormentors, are no less reprehensible. For these people, Israel has two choices: stand by idly in response to unprovoked terrorist attacks, and allow its civilians to die — or fight back, only to be informed that it is not allowed to fight back unless it is willing to bear responsibility for the outcome of Hamas’ disturbing tactics. The Jews, then, must either allow themselves to die, or they must accept responsibility for the fact that they are hated. Heads, Hamas wins; tails, Israel loses.

Israel exercises force against Hamas rather than attempting to negotiate with it because Hamas simply cannot be negotiated with. This is not an opinion: it is in the words of its charter, which begins by approvingly quoting Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.” The charter then declares that this interpretation of Islam is its worldview, and declares that “our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious.” Current Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal explicitly denies Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Peaceful coexistence is impossible with people who wish only for your extermination.

Virtually all of the criticisms of Israel that deny its right to self-defense rest upon standards to which no other nation would ever be held. We are told that Israel’s response to Hamas is ‘disproportionate,’ the evidence for which is usually presented in the form of a t-ledger comparing the two sides’ respective body counts — as if the fact that Hamas has killed few Israelis in recent years is due to a lack of effort, rather than Israel’s vigorous efforts to defend itself — or, even more nauseatingly, as if Israel has a moral duty to let more of its own die before fighting back. We are told that Israel cannot legitimately conduct military operations in which civilians are likely to die — as if Israel does not go above and beyond to minimize civilian casualties, or as if some number of civilian deaths are not a tragic — but unavoidable — part of any military operation, just or unjust. Countless innocent German civilians, including young children, died in World War II. Are we to condemn as unjust every war conducted in the history of the human race?

Ultimately, the debate over Israel figures so prominently and arouses such passion because it serves as a proxy argument about morality and legitimacy in international relations. The world has increasingly turned against Israel. Is morality a popularity contest? Civilians, including children, die both in terrorist attacks and in military operations conducted in response to them. Is there no moral difference between the two? Hamas has explicitly stated its desire to exterminate the Jewish people — and the people of Gaza voted them into office — while Israel is an outpost of liberal democracy and individual liberty in a region that is otherwise a political wasteland of chaos and oppression. Must we view Israel and Hamas simply as two bickering sides?

All states are imperfect, and it really ought to go without saying that there are countless legitimate criticisms that may be leveled at Israel, its government, and its military. But Israel-haters and their fellow travelers’ ignorant propaganda masquerading as concern for children is a thin veil for the ugly relativism — and sometimes worse — inherent in any ethical perspective that is so morally enervated that it cannot reason beyond emotionally evocative photographs of dead children and t-ledgers of body counts.

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