Thursday, November 19, 2009

The global quest for an everything-is-gonna-be-all-right pill

You know what people would be willing to spend a bajillion dollars on? An everything-is-gonna-be-all-right pill.

Isn't that exactly what heroin is? And cocaine? And alcohol. And nicotine. Often people who use these drugs are portrayed as irresponsible hedonistic "pleasure seekers." And while that may be true in some cases, for the vast majority of people I don't think that's exactly what's going on. It seems to me that the reason that most people try these drugs in the first place, (in spite of the known dangers) and then go back again and again, is to try to feel the sensation that "everything is gonna be all right."

In fact, the reason that drugs lords control entire countries (Myanmar, Afghanistan) and huge swaths of many other countries (Mexico, Colombia, the United States) is because they control the supply of everything-is-gonna-be-all-right sensation-producing plants. Global illicit drugs sales are estimated at $320 billion a year. [$300 billion is a fascinating number too because it is roughly equal to the estimated cost to end world hunger and equal to about half the amount of the U.S. annual military budget].

Interested to horn in on a portion of this huge market, global pharmaceutical sales of antidepressants reached $11 billion in 2008. But it seems to me that Eli Lily and Pfizer are just selling an everything-is-gonna-be-all-right pill too, no more no less.

Furthermore, isn't that what every major religion, new age guru, self help book, and revolutionary movement is selling -- an everything-is-gonna-be-all-right pill or process or methodology? [I remember being in Nicaragua around the time of the 1990 elections and the Sandinista campaign slogan was, "Todo serĂ¡ mejor" everything will be better. On the one hand, anyone who came up with that slogan should be fired for political malpractice. But on the other hand, it is understandable why someone would be drawn to saying something like that in a political campaign in the midst of a war.]

People seem to like pleasure, but they would be willing to give anything for the feeling that everything-is-gonna-be-all right. In fact, isn't that how American Beauty ends, the main character is murdered but he dies happy because he has realized that everything-is-gonna-be-all-right. Isn't that the Christ story: one who loses his life but this ultimate loss has no sting because he is firm in the knowledge that everything-is-gonna-be-all-right?

I guess the reason I'm so interested to riff on this topic is that all of the above suggests that many many people, much of the time, apparently do NOT feel that everything is going to be all right. Which if true, would be a fascinating statement on the human condition. Great literature and film sometimes portrays this feeling, this absence of everything-is-gonna-be-all-right. But it seems to me that the news media usually stays away from talking about this, even though the attempt to escape this feeling appears to be the motivating factor behind many of our daily decisions, and many, perhaps most, of our problems as a society (and internationally).

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