Contemporary Life: LongReads

There are certain journals — Foreign Affairs and the Economist come to mind — that require time and attention and intellectual focus when you turn to an article. The content is long, dense, and requires a more advanced vocabulary, ability to reason, and level of critical thinking skills. The antithesis, I suppose, might be something like People magazine. You might pick up People in a doctor or dentist’s waiting room, because if you get interrupted it hardly matters. You got the gist in the first few sentences. Whatever you read is probably forgotten by the end of your appointment, and it’s nothing you are going to go back to because what you read is, well, little more than gossip.

Judgmental, I know. My apologies to fans and subscribers of People.

We’re all aware of the opioid crisis, at least on some level. We know that too many pills are floating around. We probably know that fentanyl is dangerous and can kill you. We know that opioids come in a medicine bottle, often with a doctor’s prescription, so middle class people can become addicted without feeling like junkies. We may know that opioid addiction seems worse in the Rust Belt, in coal country, in the hollowed out heartland where people in small, once-thriving communities are left with little to do.

But to really understand the opioid crisis, you need to do a long read — something like the journals I described in the first paragraph. New York magazine has just the right piece, by Andrew Sullivan. You can’t read this article quickly. You need to take time. Here’s a sample, to entice you:

“It is tempting to wonder if, in the future, today’s crisis will be seen as generated from the same kind of trauma, this time in reverse.
If industrialization caused an opium epidemic, deindustrialization is no small part of what’s fueling our opioid surge. It’s telling that the drug has not taken off as intensely among all Americans — especially not among the engaged, multiethnic, urban-dwelling, financially successful inhabitants of the coasts. The poppy has instead found a home in those places left behind — towns and small cities that owed their success to a particular industry, whose civic life was built around a factory or a mine. Unlike in Europe, where cities and towns existed long before industrialization, much of America’s heartland has no remaining preindustrial history, given the destruction of Native American societies. The gutting of that industrial backbone — especially as globalization intensified in a country where market forces are least restrained — has been not just an economic fact but a cultural, even spiritual devastation. The pain was exacerbated by the Great Recession and has barely receded in the years since. And to meet that pain, America’s uniquely market-driven health-care system was more than ready.”

Even the quote is long, longer than I usually include.

Take time to read this article. It puts the opioid crisis in a wider context that we all need to know.

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