Poles Apart

       OR

PEOPLE IN POLAND – AND THEIR DOGS

 

 Over the last few years I have been afflicted with a kind of wanderlust. Its impossible to really plot the origin of this need – the desire to experience, the desire to find oneself accompanied by an equal desire to lose oneself. One can endlessly speculate and never really come to a conclusion, but for one reaon and probably many others I found myself living and teaching in Poland for just under a year. And wherever I may roam, to crib a line from Metallica, there my dog comes with me. And Poland is a big country for dogs.  

doggypole

The sign reads, “Beware- Dangerous Dog”. It seems strange to say it considering the opening image alongside, but how dogs are loved here. Dogs of every breed and shape abound here. They walk day and night with owners of all ages – whether they be family members out on a Sunday afternoon get together or giant doggies strolling by distracted texting teenagers with cut off hipster jeans and piercings who have been ordered to sullenly take their family Doberman for its obligatory post prandial perambulation, or singletons out late at night with their one, two or sometimes three beautifully cared for special breeds paid for by fifty or sometimes sixty hours working in some office somewhere in Jelenia Gora.

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But not only are they loved but doggies are allowed in many places. They turn up at your beauty clinic, on buses (you can buy a ticket for your dog on all public transports in Poland), in bars or restaurants, concerts. Dogs sit underneath their owners in expensive restaurants as waiters zip by with full trays and bottles of expensive wine. Stray dogs lounge by doorways and around shops, utterly at home, appearing relaxed but actually on defence mode, continuously scanning for threats . Turn up at a coffee shop with your two giant Husky dogs and the waiter will smile, indicate a free seat and provide your pooches with a complimentary bowl of water. I once went out for dinner in a bar restaurant with my rather small sheepdog, only to find her playing tag with the biggest Alsatian dog I have ever seen. The landlord and landlady of the bed and breakfast I am staying in have three tiny aggressive Shih Tzu dogs.

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Kara waits impatiently for me to finish taking silly pictures so we can continue with walkies

Then there are pet shops. Along with the ubiquitous chemist shop (Polish TV is filled with endless ads about cold and flu remedies and vitamins to keep you healthy) and local shop selling beer, wine and rivers of spirits (the vodka is astonishingly good), one finds the giant and not so giant pet shop nestled in local areas or in big shopping malls, selling every conceivable amenity for your canine best friend.

Which makes me wonder why so many dogs, beautiful dogs, big dogs and small dogs, are just so damn mean – Alsations, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Bulldogs, Collies, Huskies. They attack our dog – for no reason. Its very strange. They bark all day and all night. They wake one up barking and keep one from sleeping at night. (I now wear ear plugs) And its not just my dog that gets attacked, by the way. Dogs attack other dogs, and yes, it happens all the time. One’s dog can be barked at snarled at or just bitten at any moment. Walk down our road here in Cieplice (a suburb of Jelena Gora, south of Poland) and yes, dear friends, you are no longer taking you beloved pet out for a charming and relaxing stroll. You are in a demilitarized zone. You are running a canine gauntlet. One takes ones dog’s life in ones hands allowing another dog to greet your hound. A seemingly innocent wag of the tail in greeting and a sniff of the collar can turn nasty and your little four-legged darling could be attacked. I have seen more unprovoked attacks by dogs here than one could shake a shaggy paw at. Again its somewhat at odds with the picture I painted in the first paragraph. Dogs are loved and needed. But then there’s the problem of how conditional is your love and the fact that your neighbour’s dog is viewed as ‘the enemy’. Dogs are used also for protection – against Everybody Else. Those Shih Tzu doggies I mentioned are little raving lunatics who attack our little collie at the drop of a paw. Then I remember something I heard on the TV program The Dog Whisperer – You can tell a lot about the owners of a dog by the dogs behaviour.

Like their pooches, folks here are, well, unpredictable. They love their own, but like their pets, they attack each other. This is partly due, I  have been told to political divides, but also a throwback to communist times. On the streets no one greets anyone. Gazes are judgemental or avoided. The human atmosphere here is frustrated, angry, depressed, hopeless. The economy is not in a good place. People work two jobs, sometimes more and live on credit. Buses run on time and the drivers are dreadful (discourteous, rude, aggressive). Wages here are outrageously low. Most of the teachers in the excellent school I teach in, work several teaching jobs to get by, and we are well paid and have great working conditions. Right now (late 2016)  one euro will fetch you four Polish Zlotys, give or take.

And then there’s the question of the EU. Europe is almost like a bad word here. Poles who have gotten out to find better jobs have done so and many loath to return. Poland’s government is obsessed with recovering its “national pride” and seem to resent defining themselves in terms of a larger European Union. Actually it is almost as if Poland never joined the European Union. The euro is not a currency one can use here. Those who criticize Poland are deemed as dishonourable, national traitors. Those who leave Poland to improve their lot are also deemed to be traitors to the cause and resented after coming back. Poland has elected a conservative regressive government with deep ties to the Catholic Church, so conservative in its views it makes the Council of Trent seem like a hippie love in. Catholicism deeply dominates and pierces the cultural worldview here, whether or not one attends Mass or even believes.  The aforementioned Government is in the process of introducing regressive social policies that are in many ways, openly anti woman and pretty undemocratic. The EU have written to the Polish Government criticising their policies and pointing out their legislation are against EU norms.

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THE VIEW FOR MILES AND MILES

And then there’s the fear people feel and the pressure for conformity. People feel afraid, afraid of the future, afraid of each other, afraid of taking risks, afraid of new ideas, afraid of public shaming and embarrassment. People are also unfriendly to each other. Many of my Polish friends here, want more than anything else, to leave Poland. And I understand. You know you are not living in a democracy. If  peoples’ minds are controlled, it is very difficult for them to freely vote and express themselves. People fear judgement, the judgement of God, but mainly the judgement of each other. I asked some of my friends here what are people afraid of and I was told “People are afraid to really live”. They fear being watched and being judged. They dress conservatively and excessively neat and clean. One cannot be openly gay or openly different or openly open-minded. Like John Cooper Clarke in his poem Evidently Chickentown “The bloody view is bloody vile for bloody miles and bloody miles”.

I see a lot of addiction all around me. As I go to work every day I pass my pals, the local alcoholics, who wave and greet me as they’re having their liquid breakfast. The amount of alcohol in shops here is simply astonishing. Tiny bottles of vodka are littered everywhere. But its not simply the consumption of alcohol. Its what’s happening to the people that arrests me. People don’t see a future. They want to escape and they can’t. They have debts, debts incurred to simply get by as wages are so low. Cars drive at insane speeds, driven by angry and dangerous drivers. People ignore each other in queues on buses and walk in or rather through each other in shopping malls. At night the streets are deathly quiet except for the dread sounds of cars speeding past. I walk my dog late at night in the dead silence only to be passed by  nervous people staring angrily and sullenly ahead. Ghosts.

More than anything Poland wrestles with its past and constant oppression. You can’t mention the war. Actually WW2 is never mentioned. Taboo. The Camps. Stalin. Death in the forest. Solidarity. Actually a new law has been enacted recently forbidding Polish Historians from implicating Poles in Hitler’s death camps here in Poland on pain of a prison sentence. So there are many things that can’t be freely discussed. The media have been effectively shut down (all dissenting voices dismissed or demoted from effective positions of expression) and Polish television is, shall we say, a little tedious. The word taboo is used often. People are polite, friendly, and superficial -when they are not ignoring each other. I have often speculated and discussed with my Polish friends, that this inner mistrust that neighbour has for the neighbour emanates from communist times when one was obliged to report on others anti party activities, thus sowing the seeds of a fundamental mistrust between the people, a kind of divide and conquer technique.

So it all looks shiny and modern in the cities and outside the cities, but down deep it is not like that, not really. The forces of conservatism are busily putting ideology and obsession above the lives and well being of the people. Education, health care and jobs are all suffering. And the people are in trouble. The fact that this present government even got into power shows how troubled the people are here. They felt bitterly let down by the so called progressives so they elected the conservatives in. And, oh boy was that a disaster.

One party seems to embody a kind of openness and reason (aside from the Greens who nobody cares about) called Razem (Together). I hope they, or someone like them, gets in sometime soon. Poland, beautiful Poland, needs a change.

Acknowledgement:

  • With thanks to Ishka for her many editorial suggestions and corrections.

Hitman

SCIARIO

(Or ‘Hitman’)

Director:

Denis Villeneuve

Writer:

Taylor Sheridan

Plot:
An idealistic FBI agent (Blunt) is enlisted by an elected government task force (Brolin, Del Toro) to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.

*Please note: The storyline is discussed form here on in*

TERRIFYING, BRUTAL, AND THOUGHT PROVOKING - SCIARIO 2015

This movie is disturbing. Its incredibly visceral and describes the true nature of the war on drugs. It makes clear how there is absolutely no way the so called ‘War on Drugs’ can ever be won, namely it is too profitable . Theres that, and the fact that people take drugs, lots of drugs. Some become hopelessly addicted. Others do not. But people will never stop taking drugs. Josh Brolin’s rather unsavoury CIA character laments how one fifth of the US population at one time or another are consuming drugs, with no indication of ever stopping.

Its also a business. The drug business is a high yield low investment business with high mobility and an infinite demand. With such a unimaginable profit margins the providers of such illicit drugs as Heroin, Cocaine, Crystal Meth, and so on, can continue to operate no matter how many times the drug leaders get arrested or shot or disappeared. If you are a drug trader and you make a mistake, you are killed. Someone more skilled will replace you, until they are killed. And so on with a kind of Darwinian inevitability. Their already labyrinthine business operations are highly portable. And due to decades of experience and connections, they know how to shut down shop and start elsewhere very quickly indeed. They know how to hide in plain sight (and people will, for instance, hide their local dealer mainly because, well, they like drugs and they might be killed if they tell the police). So vast are drug operations they could be floated as a huge multinational Corporations on the Dow Jones or the NasDaq (An estimated 1% of total global trade is in illegal drugs).

The global reach of drug traders is legendary. The fight for global dominance in this trade is reminiscent of Game of Thrones. Shut one down and others will start up again with the full knowledge that they or others like them can at any time find willing accomplices with sufficiently highly developed skill sets to continue to operate a business that has always and forever and unto the end of time a viable highly motivated market, an unlimited number of recruits that will ones bidding to be paid such monies, and the possibility of unlimited expansion so long as you are willing to stop all opposition. In the movie one of the purposes of the ‘raid’ the CIA conducts into Mexico is to actually ensure that the is only one new drug lord in the area. To have more than one drug king is to risk a horrific cycle of slaughter. Its interesting that the notion of eliminating the drug trade in the poverty stricken areas they flourish in doesn’t even enter the picture.

So, in Sciario, a revenge raid is conducted by US authorities into Mexico in order to neutralize a brutal drug lord and stop all opposition and install a new Columbian based drug lord. I use the word ‘stop’ in the last sentence rather euphemistically. This means levels of violence and horror that would fill our nightmares forever. The drug business, since it is illegal and unmonitored and free of taxes and government control despite the best efforts of the most powerful intelligence agencies in the world, continually learns from its mistakes, refines its technologies, bribes the highest and most influential members of whatever governments they operate in, do deals with literally anyone, and continually find ways to launder their cash in ever more imaginative ways. As their market never goes away, they, like the proverbial Gorgon, keeps growing new heads. The sociology and economics of drug addiction, its areas of production and the socio-economic poverty visible in such regions, are all the subject of fierce debate. The history of prohibition shows how profitable for criminals and how disastrous the idea of making illegal drugs that are commonly consumed. Considering that alcohol-like cigarettes, are far more dangerous than many of the banned drugs, it all seems more and more peculiar, as if making either of those drugs illegal would stop us consuming them. One thing is clear. People take drugs and always will. Keeping it illegal lines the pockets of the worst people imaginable. Addiction can be treated, but not with prohibition, and far more lives are destroyed by incarceration than the drugs they are being incarcerated for.

EMILY BLUNT ENTERS THE HELL OF SCIARIO
EMILY BLUNT ENTERS THE HELL OF SCIARIO

Speaking of truly bad people, in  Sciario, Benedicio Del Toro plays probably the worst person imaginable. The worst person imaginable is the man (in this case, a man- named Alejandro played by Del Toro) who has had everything taken from him and has become poisoned by hatred and the desire for revenge. He becomes as evil as those who has hurt him. He is entirely washed of all humanity, and while he remains intelligent and perceptive and knowledgeable and able to operate seemingly normally, there is literally nothing of which he is incapable. Del Toro’s character, Alejandro, is a drug cartel operator whose wife was decapitated and daughter was thrown into an acid bath by a rival cartel members gang, is taken on by the CIA to be the hit man for an operation into Mexico in order to send an unforgettable message of revenge to the Mexican Drug Cartel who had recently kidnapped and horribly murdered twenty people and blew up two police officers. They go into Mexico and as Josh Brolin’s character says, they ‘wildly overreact’. They also murder and torture with impunity, use police officers as live bait for corrupt cops, beat corrupt police officer to a pulp for information, execute other corrupt cops without trial, kill just about anyone who gets in their way with ruthless highly skilled efficiency, murder unarmed civilians including women and children, and break so many international laws one simply loses count. Naturally about half way through this lengthy and breathtakingly paced thriller, its impossible to tell who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. Like all good revenge stories, the futility of revenge and the endlessly upward mobility of degrees of horror is ably demonstrated in a movie that’s brilliantly and horrifyingly written and paced, that’s beautifully and rawly shot, and wonderfully and convincingly acted, and a message that’s by no means forced down the throat of the viewer. Some who watch this no doubt would see the cops as the good guys and the criminals as bad and that sometimes one has to do terrible things to do good. The film, being an excellent one, takes a sympathetic approach to both sides.

But Sciario is not just about drugs. Its about death. About how war breeds killers and killers breed death, and death breeds more death and the cycle of horror, the horror of war, goes on through the cycle of hatred and revenge and atrocity. Dead bodies hang everywhere, torture is everywhere. Emily Blunts character, with young swan like frail innocent idealism, is horribly violated and we see the death of innocence at the hands of the monstrous Alejandro, for whom in true Shakespearean fashion, we feel a level of sympathy for despite his crimes, and we realize somewhere along the line the madness began when this insane war on drugs was first declared.

*Sorry about the over-dramatised footage above. It was the only one I could find with Nixon’s famous Declaration of war on Drugs.*

 

 

Drugs Are Bad

I am a rather hairy chap. I have big head, a big nose and have worn a beard all my life now. I also have long hair and, yes, I should take greater care of my appearance. But then I don’t think too often about how I look. I also have something of a sleepy look in my eyes, something I have noticed on looking at photographs of myself. To the untrained eye I would look like a regular drug user, which I was – but all of them prescribed by a trained medical practitioner until I stopped using them and consequently felt immensely better – but more of that later.

So when I use the phrase ‘regular drug user’, I am of course referring to non pharmaceutical drugs, drugs supplied by criminals, which I never use and know nothing whatever about. I do know a bit about the other kinds of drugs, drugs we all use:- cigarettes, tobacco, alcohol, aspirin, paracetamol, caffeine, chocolate, coca cola, and the hundreds of other mind altering substances we consume casually every day.

Coca Cola, used to clean blood off crime scenes, with a billion cans  day consumed, is really, really bad for you. (I succumb to a can or two when I get Chinese take out)

Check this out:

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Coca Cola – open happiness….
sorry I couldn’t properly source above – apologies to the creator/s of very interesting meme poster*

Ok, forget about Coca Cola and paracetamol and such like. Try chocolate. I like Chocolate. Chocolate is sold to billions of children and adults all day every day worldwide. Chocolate contains small amounts of anandamide. Anandamide is an endogenous cannabanoid receptor in the brain. It gets you a tad high.That’s what gives one that happy sleepy gentle euphoric feeling that chocolate effects on the brain and body. So we get just a little stoned every time we have a Milk Tray or a Snickers. Chocolate also contains a substance called Phenylethylamine. This releases dopamine in the mesolimbic pleasure-centres. Phenylethylamine peaks during orgasm. So we are giving our kids a cannabis activating aphrodisiac for good behaviour, or as a treat.I know it sounds a little odd the way I have just written that, but not untrue. Shouldn’t chocolate bars carry a warning of sorts?

I remember a disturbing experience coming through customs in JFK airport around 2009 or so. I remember being stopped by two incredibly obnoxious NY cops and being questioned as to who I was and what my business was coming upon the virgin soil of the USA. I said I was a writer flying over to do readings and launch a book. Again they looked at me, looked at each other and, using their height and their voices (I am 5 foot 8 inches) made it unequivocally clear that they didn’t believe me. Trapped as I was in the devils bind of trying to prove a negative – i.e. that I was not whatever they thought I was, I became somewhat stroppy and told them to go Google me. They did, and thankfully there were a few photos of me online, as well as the very odd biography. So they let me through. I even remember they yelled at me to ‘keep moving buddy’ after I stopped to laugh nervously and breathe a sigh of relief after they did let me through. Perhaps they were annoyed that someone who looked like me would not be arrestable material. Prejudice is an odd thing.

Another moment of prejudice happened just yesterday. I have a rather sensitive constitution and have to be careful what I eat and drink. I abstain from beers and spirits and prefer usually to drink one type of wine. Having drunk one, I know- just one glass of wine from a brand away from my usual drink – a smooth cherry blend of Cabernet called Cotes du Rousillion de Villages, I woke up yesterday morning with a bad hangover, one that grew steadily worse. Aside from a blinding headache and the feeling of sawdust in my tummy, my muscles ached. I decided radical action was necessary. I went to the chemist and asked for some – yes – you guessed it – Solpadeine.

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Exhibit A

And I was subjected to an interrogation by the post pubescent assistant behind the counter. She maintained a steady friendly gaze, as she was trained to do and didn’t raise her voice as she was trained to do. But she had a job to do –  and she had the steely determination of a DEA agent as she persevered in her line of questioning. She wanted to know what I wanted it for. The drugs. I said I was hung over  Very ill. Rarely take the stuff. I was of a sensitive constitution.

She suggested Paracetemol. Dioralite. Or Panadol Actifast?

Or plain old Aspirin?

No I said. I wanted the good stuff. I wanted Solpadeine. I was quite ill and it was getting worse. I was badly hung over on one glass of wine. I was too ill to even sleep off the hangover. This drug would work. Now I was told I was only allowed take it for three days. For the tenth time I was told that Solpadeine contained codeine. That was addictive. Did I know codeine was addictive? I nodded sagely. I said I had a hangover I was only going to take two. Maybe four in any twenty four hour period. This didn’t satisfy my politically correct chemist’s assistant. She again pressed me to try anything except Solpadeine. I mentioned that I had gone into a chemist, not gone to some street corner looking for codeine, and by the beard of Odin, I had a mighty hangover. That was all. I must confess being furious as well as being hung over after I left that chemist, swearing never to return.

 

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Wine on the left (made me ill) Wine on the right (no ill effects)

Caffeine, which is the worlds most commonly consumed psychoactive compound, is also in sweets, soft drinks, pills, and in Solpadeine, which by the way worked wonders on my horrible hangover. Along with a few of those wonderful soluble analgesics, I had a few cups of black coffee. Coffee contains Caffeine. Caffeine stops the uptake of a substance called Adenosine. Adenosine is that molecule which binds to Adenosine receptors in the neurons which slows down the brains signalling facility. Actually caffeine and Adenosine kinda look like each other. Caffeine binds to Adenosine and is known in the trade as an Adenosine antagonist. It keeps you from getting drowsy and is probably the reason why its always available in offices as it keeps people pepped up. The problem is that this is not a good idea for the body. If you keep caffeinating (as we all to a greater or lesser degree do) it causes another important organ in the body to kick in, the Adrenal Gland – which releases adrenaline, which puts the body in a fight or flight mode. One begins to live on ones nerves, food isn’t properly digested, one feels tired quickly after consuming coffee, which leads one to drink more of the stuff, which causes improper sleep, digestion issues, mood disorders, poor sleep, poor levels of concentration, and something of a breakdown in general health and well being over a longer term. And yet coffee does not come with a warning either, does it? Its a completely unregulated psychoactive drug consumed by billions.

And then there are, well, drugs. The drugs you take every day, drugs I take every day. Drugs we really need. I mean we all would have died probably without really important drugs that have at one time or another saved our lives. No question. But then the drug industry is a multi billion multinational worldwide concern. These are the other drugs I am talking about. Drugs with labels and lists and lists of side effects. We are being massively over-prescribed. Look at the labels. May cause drowsiness. May cause memory loss. May cause osteoporosis, heart attack, chronic fatigue. Its actually scary to read the fine print. I can go a little further on this whole issue around prescribed medication. You have a one in five chance of getting seriously ill from any new drug that comes online. It’s far, far better to wait five years before trying out a new drug. Why? Because it hasn’t really been tried out on humans. They test them out on animals. But then, non human animals just aren’t like human animals. At all.

“Few know that systematic reviews of hospital charts found that even properly prescribed drugs (aside from misprescribing, overdosing, or self-prescribing) cause about 1.9 million hospitalizations a year. Another 840,000 hospitalized patients are given drugs that cause serious adverse reactions for a total of 2.74 million serious adverse drug reactions. About 128,000 people die from drugs prescribed to them. ” ( June 27, 2014 by Donald W. Light Edmund J Safra Centre for ethics seehttp://ethics.harvard.edu/blog/new-prescription-drugs-major-health-risk-few-offsetting-advantages )

But illegal drugs don’t have these kinds of adverse reactions. 28,000 die per anum from drug related deaths in the USA for instance. In ireland last year (2014) 4,600 died from drug overdoses. And yet nobody ever mentions the 1.9 million hospitalizations and the 128,000 deaths from drugs prescribed to people by medical professionals. The CDC estimates 88,000 deaths from alcohol and a staggering 2.5 million years taken off peoples lives as a result of alcohol consumption. In ireland we lose about 88 people per month from alcohol. Again alcohol is pretty freely available.

And then there is Professor David Nutt. Sad rain-coated hairy nerds like me have heard of him, which may or may not be a good thing. But he is a truly interesting thoughtful chap who did a lot of work on the psycho-pharmacology of drugs, their effects on the brain, the dynamics of neurotransmitters, and the dangers of drug use. In 2007 he published a rather controversial study on the harms of drug use in The Lancet.[12] This led to his dismissal from his position in the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). Subsequently, Nutt and a number of his colleagues who had subsequently resigned from the ACMD founded the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. (see wiki Article on David Nutt)

So, anyway, about this article on the levels of dangers and ill effects of drug use published in the Lancet in 2007. The weighting of each drug’s dangers is an important consideration before I actually give the results. If a drug, call it drug A – has a weighing of 10, it is therefore half as dangerous as, say Drug B, which has a weighing of 20, and so on. The maximum weighing is 100 and the minimum is 0, which means no ill effects at all.

“Overall, MCDA modelling showed alcohol was the most harmful drug (overall harm score 72), with heroin (55) and crack (54) in second and third places. Heroin, crack, and crystal meth were the most harmful drugs to the individual, whereas alcohol, heroin, and crack were the most harmful to others. The other drugs assessed followed in this order in terms of overall harm: Crystal meth (33), cocaine (27), tobacco (26), amphetamine/speed (23), cannabis (20), GHB (18), benzodiazepines (eg valium) (15), ketamine (also 15), methadone (14), mephedrone (13), butane (10), khat (9), ecstacy (9), anabolic steroids (9), LSD (7), buprenorphine (6), mushrooms (5).”

Taken from http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_1-11-2010-15-43-18

And this cost Dr. Nutt his job. He got a phone call saying he was no longer on the Blair Government Advisory Board. And the rest is history. I would imagine that someone in the position Nutt held back in 2007, publishing a report saying alcohol is more dangerous than heroin or crack cocaine, would cause something of a ripple amidst industry professionals.

Lets just say that our views on drugs their uses and misuses are somewhat driven by a cocktail of propaganda, hard information, misperception, ill informed discussion, and most of all, television. We see drugs as that thing taken by our kids who have disappointed us, or died from overdoses, drugs peddled by the Pablo Escobars of this world, the types of people hunted down by trusty DEA agents. We don’t see them as pushed by massive corporations on to doctors and hospitals and psychiatrists, drugs taken by mom and pop just to get through another suburban day, prescribed by their GP, and slowly ruining their livers and their mental acuity. It just couldn’t be like that. The reality of things are rarely simple, straightforward, and rarely have the kinds of answers that give us comfort. But then, who wants to live that comfortably?

There’s something terribly wrong with Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is a television show that has won basically every award worth winning and every accolade worth giving and been subject to the most minute scrutiny by television critics, writers, psychologists, addiction experts, and dramatists ever since the show first aired back in 2008. It has more than simply caused a sensation. It is actually regarded as probably one of the greatest shows ever to air on television.Its premise is beyond horrible. It charts the demise of its main character, Walter White, an overqualified and deeply frustrated high school chemistry teacher, into one of the kingpins of the Crystal Meth drug distribution networks around Albuquerque New Mexico, home of the vicious brutal cartels that supply the USA. Walter White aka ‘Heisenberg’ is what’s known as a ‘cook’. In other words he turns his skills as an exceptionally gifted chemist into making the finest Crystal Meth either a pusher or a user can buy.

Discovering he has only two years to live with incurable lung cancer, stage 3A, which means it has moved to the lymph nodes, White turns to drug manufacture to ventilate his rage and frustration at his mediocre lot in life. He is 50, frustrated and underachieving in life. He has a surprise new baby on the way and has a son whom he loves deeply with Cerebral Palsy. White earns $46k  p.a. in his teaching job. He also has to supplement his income working at a car wash, run by Bogdon, a deeply unpleasant bullying boss.

As if things cant get worse, we have the question of Walters personality. Walt is not a wise humble balanced guy who, discovering his illness, realizes that despite the fact he is going to die that he has a loving wife and family. He is a bitter frustrated resentful man. He has wasted his mind. Moreover he feels cheated by his best friend, Eliot and Gretchen Schwartz. Decades before he and his friend Eliot Schwartz were once in a small chemical start up company called Gray Matter. Gretchen was Walt’s Girlfriend, but she left him for Eliot. Walt, devastated, sold his share in the company that he had contributed so brilliantly to for a pittance – $5k. (To get an idea of how brilliant Walter White is,on his wall approximately 5 minutes into Episode 1, Season 1, we see Walter White is a recipient of the Nobel prize). Twenty years later Eliot and Gretchen are married, and Gray Matter is worth $2 billion. Much of that had to do with Walters contributions and breakthroughs. White is bitterly resentful of this and checks how Gray matter is doing each week in the news business sections.

He refuses Eliot Schwartz’s offer of payment for chemotherapy and, along with a former high school pupil of his, the delinquent very unreliable addicted child of respectable middle class parents, Jesse Pinkman, begins to cook Meth. Soon because of his extraordinary talents as a chemist, he begins to make the finest Crystal Meth either the local DEA or indeed the local mehthead population has ever seen. Walter is also a gifted and ruthless businessman, dispatching opposition and killing those who threaten him with skill, and a cold remorselessness that grows increasingly disturbing as one watches. This of course is not the story of some everyman. Walter White is no everyman. He is brilliant, egotistical, ruthless, logical, and a killer right down to the soles of his shoes. And he makes the finest meth in New Mexico. Thought his might be an attempt to describe the capacities we all might have in us to be evil, and perhaps if we had Walt’s ego and abilities, had had been slighted and disappointed in life as Walter White had been, perhaps, just perhaps we might find ourselves in not dissimilar circumstances. For the most part though Breaking Bad is so far fetched to be surreal, and yet its surreality lends itself to the fascination of the story of the high school teacher who goes to the dark side. The sheer alien territory of the New Mexico landscapes also helps, the endless stretches of desert, the murderous drug gangs decimating one another for the easy hyper profits available for drugs that because they have been prohibited have become the purview of criminals. This, along with a slow steady build-up to one of the most anticipated and horrifying endings to a series ever, lends one to ask the question what is this show about?

Money? Well, in a word, no. Walter makes vast sums of money. But he enjoys the power and the challenge of eluding detection more than money. Breaking Bad is not about morality either. Its about amorality. Its about the lunacy of prohibition that has never worked and will never work. Its about vast sums of money, unbelievable amounts, that bring power into the hands of very very bad people. Its about the thin patina of civilization and conventionality that covers over our human capacity for greed, murder and revenge. It is a vicious satire of capitalism and market economy gone mad. Everyone is destroyed by Walter Whites monumental desire for power and revenge and in many ways he is part of another economy, the drug economy, with its supply chains and its accountants and economists and entrepreneurs. The problem with Walter is that he disrupts everything. He inevitably finds a way to completely wreck every well crafted operation he finds himself in because he is driven by this desire to get to the top. Planes Fall from the Sky. Children are poisoned. Lovers are allowed to choke to death. Prisoners are executed in their cells. Drug Bosses get their heads blown half off. He doesn’t care. After all he is going to be dead soon. All Walt wants is the ultimate revenge. He wants to be king. As Walter says to Skyler his wife: “I am not in danger. I am the danger.”

What is horrifying is not the carnage that goes on in the drug world. We are used to that. What’s horrible and funny and fascinating about Breaking Bad is how Walter White, apparently the nicest of men, could be so much worse than any of them.