Category Archives: wasted potential


Sometimes I think about all the young men and all the young women who get wasted by our culture. Sometimes I think how sad their moms and dads must be about what happens to their children, who may have been such sweet young boys and girls, but somehow went astray, made bad or terrible choices, as they turned into young men or women. I think about how they have just, pouf, disappeared from the lives they should have led; the lives of productive people who find something about life to enjoy and who get to pursue it.

Sometimes I remember that what these young men and women have become makes most of us fear them. We feel that they would not hesitate to do us harm if we were in their way or even in their vicinity at the wrong moment. Our fears somehow deepen their anger and their allegiance to ever more threatening behavior. Sadly their very bad behavior cuts them off from any affection and redemption we might want to offer them.

They have come to believe that staying alienated is their strongest protection against the injustices of a society that has not been kind. They decide to adopt the life of a thug, to be a tough guy, or some tough guy’s “shortie”, and then they offer their society of alienation to other young men and women as they reach maturity. They become an alternate culture, so to speak, and they serve each other as a surrogate family, however stern and demanding a family it might be. Perhaps some of this is stereotype, but the waste of young men, especially, and the women who love these bad men, is inescapably and statistically obvious.

What could we do just at that moment, that Middle School moment when boys begin to become men and girls become women? How could we prevent that shift to that lifestyle that requires that a protective and tough wall will need to be built around a man or women in order for him/her to proceed with life? There must be some way to intervene in this sad transformation that leads a young person to basically throw their life away to be spent in hate, or crime, or prison. These are men and women who could be heroes, but they choose the “dark side of the force” and we don’t know what to do about it.

Isn’t there any life we could offer that would turn them “towards the good side of the force, towards the light”? I am not trying to be glib about this; I am just trying to use terms that make sense in terms of our current experiences. Is it possible that these alienated young people are our adventurers? Perhaps they are the ones who would have led caravans and explored continents and gone where no man had gone before. Perhaps what we need to do is use them in ways that tap into this desire to be anything but ordinary; to do things that expand the limits of human experience. Maybe these teens ought to serve apprenticeships with anthropologists, or geologists. Maybe they should be trained to eventually lead us off into space. Maybe they could help in places where heroic personality traits are not superfluous. Do we have enough things like this for people to do? Could we catch young men or women at the moment when they are most impressionable and help direct them to a really satisfying task that would help society and offer a great life to each of them?

We could start with Computer Camps offered for free during summers in our cities. If theft and vandalism are obstacles we could put the computers on buses and drive them into the appropriate neighborhoods in the morning and drive them back out at night. A security guard might be provided if that ended up being necessary. In a TED talk I listened to last night a teacher talked about how far students fall back in their progress over the summer. This would help make that summer slump go away without requiring students to sit in traditional classrooms over the summer. Of course, there would have to be brilliant geeks manning these computers and showing these young people the ropes, the possibilities, and the opportunities, and letting them see how exciting technology can be.

Even I can see that this is overly simplistic. These young people who have chosen the “dark side” will still be out there smashing attempts of those who want a different life with bullying and fear. They will try to prevent the next generation from winning their way through to a future that does not lead to imprisonment because they can’t stand to see any one win, or they believe these young people are traitors to their particular corner of the culture, or we don’t even know why. I hope there are other ideas out there, ideas that will really succeed in turning life around for all the young men and young women we are wasting. If you have a great idea make sure someone hears about it. Writing an editorial for the newspaper is often a good way to get a great idea across. We’re losing people every day.

Afghanistan and Opium – How Can a Stoned Nation Survive

On Monday I went online to see how important opium production (poppy growing) is in Afghanistan. Sometime last week it suddenly dawned on me that Afghanistan is as much a drug-using and drug running country as Mexico ever was. Afghanistan has probably provided the surrounding countries with opium ever since the days of caravans and the Silk Road. We know the Chinese have a long history of opium use. It is very possible that silk was traded for opium. Wikipedia says that “Afghanistan has been the greatest illicit opium producer since 1992, excluding the year 2001. Afghanistan is the main producer of opium in the “Golden Crescent”. Opium production has been on the rise since U.S. occupation started in 2001. Based on UNODC data, there has been more opium poppy cultivation in each of the past four growing seasons (2004-2007) than in any one year under Taliban rule. Also, more land is now used for opium in Afghanistan than for coca cultivation in Latin America. In 2007, 92% of the non-pharmaceutical-grade opiates on the world market originated in Afghanistan.” “In addition to opiates, Afghanistan is also the largest producer of hashish in the world.”

There may be, among certain users and drug lords, a strong desire to see Afghanistan remain what it is, a supplier of opiates to a number of countries around the world.

This Wednesday, September 19, 2012, on CNN there was a story about opium and Afghanistan and it talked about the large numbers of Afghans who are addicted to opium. This is not only a terrible waste of human possibility but it also explains why Afghanistan might fight to remain an agrarian culture. There is a book Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords, and One Woman’s Journey Through Afghanistan by Fariba Nawa published in 2011 which talks about the toll opium use has taken on Afghan families. For a while, CNN said, methadone programs were made available to addicted Afghans, but, apparently, these programs have been discontinued.

I know the Taliban was atavistic and extreme but when the Taliban was in charge they did not allow farmers to grow opium poppies. Our American troops are not in Afghanistan to fight opium wars, and when we chased out the Taliban, opium production soared. When we leave opium will most likely continue to be the main product of the Afghanistan economy. 
Is opium production and use creating a prosperous society in Afghanistan? It doesn’t seem so. Is a nation of people addicted to opium use ever likely to reach its full potential? Probably not. Is it our responsibility to “save” the Afghans. I don’t think we can and I don’t think they would thank us for it. Will we be able to stand by and watch a once proud culture drug itself to death? We will probably have to but it will be a grievous thing to see. Hopefully the Afghan people will find a safer way to make a living, one that isn’t wrought with self-sabotage, but it is difficult to imagine what business would thrive in such a harsh environment and provide the kind of income that poppy growing seems to offer. If Afghan could use their talent with poppy growing to grow opiates for the pharmaceutical industry perhaps Afghanistan could thrive. However, they would have to stop using the opium they produce. It is also very possible that without all that opium the Afghan people could invent a prosperous economy and take their place among modern nations.