Methland and the Rise of an American Peasantry

Imagine a world in which workers are not paid enough to live but are given narcotics sufficient to stoke abnormal energy which they can use to work themselves literally to death. Distant overlords profit from the trade in these drugs. The workers are left to rot and die in hidden places, well away from profit centers and real life chances.

Imagine such a world and consider the town of Oelwein, Iowa, population 6,126. As rendered by Nick Redding's stunning report, Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town (Bloomsbury, New York: 2009) the world of hollowed out worker and zombies ground to dust by industrial overlords is not the stuff of fiction. It is small-town America in the here and now.

I live in Southern New England, and I am a criminal defense lawyer. From what I can see, crystal methamphetamine has not flourished here. Perhaps Connecticut is simply too affluent to have given over to despair. Perhaps our time is yet to come. Today's New York Times reports that millions of Americans have given up hope of ever finding decent work again. Meth seems to move into communities just awakening to despair: the drug thrills the senses while dulling the pain. Taken long enough, the drug also drives folks quite literally out of their minds.

Redding's reporting is chilling. He asserts that no matter what the government initiative to try to curb the importation and distribution of meth, it seeps across borders and into our communities. Redding sheds light on Mexican drug cartels and their reliance illegal immigrants to move product North.

I was reminded, sadly, in this book of arguments that Dominic Crossan made in several of his books on the historical Jesus. There are cultural conditions in which a peasantry is kept just at the cusp of survival. The affluence of some comes by exploiting the laboring class: giving them just enough to work but not enough to thrive. Crystal meth lowers the cost of keeping a transitory work force alive. Redding tells of workers forced to work double shifts to replace wages from good jobs gone overseas. Meth helped produce a superhuman sense of strength: call it soma for the dispossessed.

Methland scared me. Redding doesn't fall into an easy sort of pop-Marxism. The material conditions of the working class throughout middle America are deteriorating. But revolution is not in the air. No, rather extinction looms, extinction by means of self-destructing. The horror of narcotics is that use dulls awareness of systemic issues. It is the perfect means of treating people as little more than animals. Few of us have the ability to peer far and deep into the future, or to discern the distant causes and effects that yield the daily rhythm of our lives. What we do is shuffle, hoping always to keep ahead of the day's sorrows. Methland reports that there is a broad spectrum of American society in which people are responding to economic change by means of self-destruction. It is terrifying.
Comments (1)
Posted on September 7, 2009 at 6:05 pm by Anonymous
Oelwein is less than an hour from here. It should...
Oelwein is less than an hour from here. It should scare you. It certainly scares me.

Wish we talked more, Norm.


Jim Moriarty
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About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis


Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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