RW116 - Tweaker Crimes

The week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to the kind of crimes that are thought out by tweakers who think they are master criminals when they have taken drugs.

Dan didn’t do anything for the 4th of July because it was pouring rain in Austin.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

Sorting his toolboxes on 4th of July (RW116)

On 4th of July 2018, John thought he needed to re-arrange his toolboxes. He has 3 toolboxes, but his tools were strewn all over the place, meaning that he needed to consolidate them to get them back in order. John spent the first part of the day sorting through stuff, like ”This screwdriver is hashed, it had a good run, but now it is going into the hopper”. It wasn’t his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather’s screwdriver that he hand-carved the handle to and forged the end to and John couldn’t possibly get rid of it because it came through the civil war and was passed down from generation to generation, because he would never get rid of those, partly because those tools aren’t hashed and still work great.

It is the ones that are from the crappy tool-kit he bought at the gas station when his car was broken down. He also had workmen come out to a variety of places, he built a couple of places and tools get left behind. John got a whole set of screwdrivers that he doesn’t remember where they came from. They were clearly somebody’s and they are still in good working order, but at some point along the way some workman left them in the barn or in the basement. All the cheap tools find their way in because so often you need to stop and get a wrench. John got rid of all of that!

Pretty soon it was 7pm and no plan was made. For years, John lived in Seattle without a car and what he did was dictated by where he could walk, which was great, because he lived in the center of town. For several years he had a Vespa which meant he could get right to the center of big events because people don’t see scooters. Their eyes are focused on other things and John would wheel right up to a blockade with 10 cops and road-closed-signs, he would walk his way right through the little barricades and if anybody even looked at him, they would just nod at him and off he went, right to the heart of anything.

At 7pm John decided he was going to town and watch the fireworks, partly because his daughter who normally shrugs her shoulders at stuff said that she wanted to see the fireworks. They went in and got to some police barricade where they wouldn’t let them go any further, but John called up something on his phone, some address at the other side of the barricade, he said he lived at this address and they moved the barricade for him. It is not cheating because it was actually where they were going. They saw lots of fireworks, they had some spaghetti and after his daughter went to bed they watched an episode of Black Mirror. All together it was a great event celebrating their nation’s birthday. It was a pretty mundane afternoon and John regrets not following through on his King Neptune lead.

King Neptune (RW116)

One of the funny things about being King Neptune was all the local Seattle holiday summer events that John would normally not want to go down to. He would avoid that big park in the hot sun with all those people, Cheetos and Mountain Dew, but last year he had to go there because he was the mascot, and he had a great time. John told himself to remember how fun it was and to go and do it again the next year. As the 4th of July came looming, he could probably have called up Seafair and get VIP treatment as the former king, but he didn’t do it.

If Seafair had asked him at the end of last summer if he would be King Neptune again next year, which they jokingly did several times, he would have said ”Yes, absolutely!” and yet by the time it got to spring, that feeling had faded. When they asked him to coronate the new king, his answer was ”You bet!” and he was happy to pass the crown on to the next deserving tenant. There is no precedent for somebody being the king two years in a row.

Seafair is a big operation. It is a summer-long festival with probably 200 events and John is not entirely sure how it functions as a business. It gets corporate sponsorships and they have a big office downtown with tens of employees, hundreds of contractors and volunteers, but the role of King Neptune was probably envisioned as somebody who quietly stood there wearing a crown. They wanted a local celebrity to give it a little bit of gloss, stand under the crown, wave, and at a certain point knight people. They didn’t want someone to really inhabit the role, because it is just not how grown-ups behave.

In that world there is certainly not a tradition of everybody having fun with cosplay, but it is the kind of fun that people in the straight world, the snorks, have. They are always kind of doing business, there is a big smile, and they are always ”loving it”, but there is not very much actual joshing or fun-having. At the core of those people it is always serious, because there is business and corporate sponsors and nobody wants to offend anybody. It is hard for John to put it exactly into words how that world thinks about itself. The real world is spending a lot of time getting drunk, but another side also spends a lot of time thinking about money and propriety.

A lot of the ”We love you to do this again next year”-stuff that John got last year was said with a tinge of irony. It was really them saying that in a different world the job you were doing would be the job that we asked you to do, but we actually kind of wanted you to do something less performative. Just show up and hit your marks. John’s attitude was that they are asking him to do this for free, so he is going to have fun. If they were paying him they could tell him what to do. It was just a vibe.

If the mascot comes up into the president's box of the baseball team, goes ”Honk honk” and goofs at him while the TV-cameras are pointed at him, he is going to laugh and look like he is having fun, but as soon as the TV-cameras are off he is going to say ”Get this guy out of here!” There is a little bit of that. Seafair is full of clowns and pirates and all this stuff. John wanted to be up on the dais and give a speech everywhere they went, but he was never given the opportunity to give a speech because the speeches were reserved for business.

John has a whole speech he could give on the history of Seafair, how much it means to the community and how much it means that everybody is here today. Seafair did not see the opportunity to have John as an ambassador who was a little bit more comfortable ambassadoring. It is nice to pass the crown and John just has to remember that all these summertime Seattle events are not just things that other people do, because he really did enjoy going Downtown and going to the parades. It got him out of the house.

The straight world, not wearing mismatched socks (RW116)

John knows a lot of people who would not wear mismatched socks because they just think it is dumb. John Hodgman is not afraid of somebody saying he were confused because he couldn’t find matching socks, but he has a sense of himself and that is just not who he is. He does funny things with his clothes, though. Most of the people John knows would wear mismatched socks either intentionally or they wouldn’t do it at all because that is not the kind of flair they are trying to put on.

If somebody from the world of straight business people walked out of the house, looked down and had accidentally grabbed mismatched socks, they would be embarrassed and would spend the day trying to explain themselves awkwardly that it was not intentional, trying to make a joke out of it, but you could tell that it was a faux pas. This universe of country club faux pas and the things you don’t talk about that people just don’t do has always been a very uncomfortable place for John, because he doesn’t really understand why it is such a big deal. He spent a lot of time last summer around people who are comfortable living in that world and who are going to Rotary Club Meetings and Downtown hotels and so forth.

If you are in the Navy, you don’t ever put on mismatched socks, because you only have one kind of sock. Those people also tend to have a pretty good sense of humor. Who knows what they are really feeling inside, but if you squirt them in the face with a lapel flower that got water in it, they are going to laugh it off. A lot of fraternity hijinks is part of the game, but also if somebody insults you, teases you or pranks you while other people are watching, a military officer can’t overreact because they are constantly being assessed whether or not they have leadership capabilities. You can’t haul off and hit somebody, you can’t yell at them, you can’t freak out, but you have to keep your cool. It is not a pose, but they learn it.

John’s Keurig coffee maker (RW116)

John’s Keurig is malfunctioning. It is only making small shots and no big shots, no matter the setting. John had it for a while, but most of that time it has not been plugged in. He has maybe only made 50 cups of coffee with it.

The tweaker burglary at Dan’s friend’s house (RW116)

One of Dan's friends in Florida had his house broken into and his car stolen while they were on a trip to the beach. Those burglaries happen all the time, but the way the thieves behaved was very peculiar. They got around the security system and they took cash, an electric razor with its charging station, some purses, some random bags and they helped themselves to food, coffee and entertainment. They watched TV and they smoked some cigarettes before they left.

Instead of coming in through doors or windows, they just punched holes right through the wall: One hole to get in from the outside and another hole from the daughter’s room to the garage where the car was. The outside of most Florida houses is stucco or foe-stucco made from some kind of concrete. Some homes are concrete block, but a lot of them, like this particular one, have a wood frame. Punching holes into the wall isn’t something you do in a 2-minute operation, but it would take a long time. They kicked in the wall or hit it with a hammer and they went through the plaster that was laid on chicken wire on the outside of the walls. It is not that hard to break wallboard and come up with a clean edge like that.

John’s suspicion is that the thieves were tweakers, who famously do not have the best judgement. They have consumed meth and they came up with an amazing idea that would involve a caper of breaking into Dan’s friend’s house by kicking it and once they were in the house, they didn’t just rob it and get out, but they hung out, they watched TV, they made coffee, they ate food, they smoked cigarettes and at some point they decided they should leave. Punching a hole in the wall big enough to crawl through rather than going through a door or window does not say professional burglar or ”Well-thought-out plan”

Dan still wonders how they knew that no-one was there. If he were to plan a break-in, he would get in and get out fast, but Dan is applying reasonable logic to the situation. They cut through the wall into the garage because there is an alarm at the door to the garage. How did they know it was a wood-frame house that they could kick through so easily? There must be some kind of thinking process there. They are geniuses at this point in their life. The drug doesn’t turn them into dumb automatons, but it turns them into super-criminals in their mind.

They show up, they case the joint for all of 15 minutes, they are looking for a house where there is no sign of activity, maybe there were newspapers piled up on the front porch, maybe the blinds were all drawn, there was no sign of life, they go around behind, and they peak in. There is a look to a house when someone needed some sugar and ran to the store and will be back in 5 minutes compared to one where the people are out of the country. You turn all the lights off and you don’t leave dishes in the sink.

Dan has lights come on on a slightly random timer schedule, but what Dan is thinking is that David Niven in 1963 was going to scale the outside wall of his house in a tuxedo, he would cut the glass and come in through a hole, and if the light would go on it would fool him. John also has timers on the lights in his house, but a tweaker is not sitting across the street casing your house for 3 weeks, trying to figure out your patterns. These are crimes of opportunity if you are prowling through a neighborhood.

Dan’s friend was out of the country, so they don’t know if these guys were creeping around at 11pm or at 1am. They could just sort of peer into the kitchen window or through the blinds in the bedroom and see that there is nobody in this house. If there is nobody in this house at 11pm, there is a possibility that the family will come home at 2am, but if there is evidence of kids at the house and there is nobody home at 11pm, there is a good chance that they are not coming home.

When they see an alarm, then they think about kicking a hole through the wall. They may have learned this technique from some other tweaker and they think it is fucking foolproof and they are geniuses and in this case they pulled it off. Once they are inside, they sit, smoke cigarettes and watch TV because they don’t have a place where they can go do that in the comfort of their own home. They recognize this house as a home just like the one they grew up in and they know that nobody is coming and why wouldn’t you sit down or go to sleep?

The cash they took is cash, but anything else they took directly to their dealer and asked how much meth they will get for this toaster. The dealer said: "None!" - "Come on, give me $5 worth!" and "What about this? What about that?" and then the dealer takes that stuff in trade and takes it somewhere, because the dealers are typically not also trying to be tweakers if they are halfway decent at their job. The fact that they found cash is a huge boon! That is your dream! What you want to find is cash and guns, because you can get top-dollar for guns.

For a laptop you will get pennies on the dollar, but you will always be able to get rid of a laptop or that type of high-end expensive shit like a TV. Imaging stealing one of those giant TVs! But in Dan’s friend’s case they had the car inside and could fill the car up. It is the perfect crime, but it is 100% a tweaker crime! Who wants this penny-any shit anyway? It is only people on drugs. Nobody is providing for their family with this kind of burglary. They are not robbing banks or jewelry stores. The stuff they took was weird, like an electric razor. What are you going to get for someone’s electric razor? Nothing! They are looking at that, asking themselves ”Is that expensive? It seems complicated!”

Tweaker culture (RW116)

Freebasing methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is a very powerful and concentrated drug that you smoke or shoot up to create an emphatic state. You really do feel like a super-hero and all your ideas are really smart and genius. On John's rapid descent he went through a phase when he had decided that just being an alcoholic drunk waster wasn’t enough and it was time to really hitch his wagon to a star where he would just follow any stranger to a third location if that stranger seemed to be operating in adventure mode. On one of those adventures, he followed a person to a fourth location and then a further location and that person taught John how to freebase, which is a process where you heat a powdered drug by applying a flame at the other side of a piece of tin foil and the drug will melt and turn into a kind of smoke that you inhale through some kind of tube. It is a way to take powdered drugs without injecting or snorting them.

Freebasing gets them into your blood stream a little faster. It is a powerful feeling and John knew that it was bad for him, but methamphetamine is inexpensive relative to cocaine and with the exception of crack it is very much more of an intense rush than most other drugs. It is addictive, but when John talks about addiction, people in the lay community think that you would do a drug 5 times until you are caught in its death grip and you can’t shake it, but addiction is a thing that lives inside of us. These drugs are powerfully addictive partly because they are powerful drugs and your initial experience informs a lot about whether or not you are going to try it again.

By the time you are freebasing meth you have already made some choices in life. For most people it is probably not the first thing they try, but they will more likely start with a California Cooler or a Michelob Light, and by the time you are freebasing meth you have already decided that you are along for the ride. Tons of people will say that it is fucked up and intense and they don’t have to do that again! Others will say ”Why don’t we try that one more time?” and presumably a ton of people say ”That’s great! Where can I get more?”

Making up crazy scenarios

John typically didn’t like speedy drugs, but when he went with this person to this fourth location and tried it, it came at a weak point in his life and he did become someone who said ”Where can I get more of this?” It was about 6 months before he ended up getting sober and while he didn’t know he was going to get sober 6 months later, it was part of the reason why he did get sober. All bets were off! The first several times John was doing this drug in a social setting, he had ideas like ”We are going to build a tower and put a zip-line that is going to go to the bank and we will zip in and steal all the money from the bank and buy an army of robots that will do the crimes for us and we will just sit there, raking in the money from our robot criminals”

Those schemes are idiotic, but they feel very real when you are in that sate of mind. John once talked about a band they were going to put together and the drug provider kept coming into the room with more. In this culture you keep the blinds down because the day goes into night and into day again and you don’t want to know that. When they were talking about putting this band together, they probably talked for 11 hours, just sitting on the floor in a room, re-upping periodically until it was the next day. You can’t duplicate the headspace and John can’t tell you what they were talking about for 11 hours, both of them a mile a minute. If you think that drunk people are boring, their thoughts in that moment could not be connected and they were probably repeating themselves over and over.

Crack cocaine is a similar intense rush, but a little bit cleaner. You feel like you can win every Olympics, whereas with methamphetamine you are just a robot made out of lasers. When you are really tweaking on either drug, you will always do more of it. If someone comes in and offers you more, you will say "Yes!" You lose all ability to say that you had enough because you have to be at work tomorrow and good drug dealers know that once you have some folks on the line, you just keep giving them drugs until their money is gone. You don’t need sleep on these drugs either and you could go 48 hours while somebody is just shoveling drugs at you and taking your money for them. You don’t want any food or sleep, but cigarettes are the one thing that go with every drug.

Thinking you have lost some crack

A lot of times when you run out of crack, and it has definitely happened to John enough, you get it into your head that you have dropped some along the line. You have dropped some little crystals of crack and they are in the carpet or on the floor. You have the desire for there to be more crack so much so that you invent a scenario where you dropped some but you can’t find it. You end up on the floor, pawing through the carpet or through the dirt that is on the floor, looking for little rocks that look convincingly enough like crack that you put them in your pipe and smoke them.

The conviction is so strong that you are burning little white stones, which do not burn, but you are so messed up that you think it is crack. Once John was with a friend in Washington DC and because they didn’t have a glass pipe they used a wood pipe that was for marijuana. John's friend was so in his crack mind that he had burned the wood inside of his pipe, which is not meant to be burned, but he had scorched it and subjected it to so much flame that he was smoking embers of his wood pipe. Crack creates an intense-obsessive mentality that defeats logic.

You know you are high on drugs and you know that you are not normal, but especially if you have another person who can reinforce it in you, it can be a spiraling insanity. You are not interested in it not being true which is the funny thing about a lot of drugs, mental illnesses or in our culture even obsessive political believes and obsessive mentalities: Whether or not it is true doesn’t interest you, because you are convinced, and if somebody shows you a bunch of evidence that throws your conviction into question, you tune out the truth.

John going off on his own

John graduated from doing drugs socially to finding the meth dealers he knew even before he was a meth user. He went into a bar, went up to a guy, asked for meth and the guy said ”You? You are buying meth? Seems unlikely!” because they knew John as a person in town. As a meth dealer you know who does meth and who doesn’t and if you are hanging out in Rock clubs selling meth to people, you know the people in the bar and you know how to look through the room and know who is doing drugs. As John started to talk to them as a customer rather than just a guy standing around, they were ”Well, hello my friend!” Most of them knew that John didn’t have a lot of money, but he could find $15. Those drugs aren’t expensive, so John just started getting them on his own and doing them alone, which he liked pretty well, actually!

Getting greedy and covetous with each other

John started buying his drugs himself, because there is another very bad vibe in a group of people doing meth: When you first get a bunch of drugs and there are a bunch of people sitting around, everybody is feeling very generous and it gets shared around, but as the quantity remaining gets smaller and smaller, the circle starts to close and the people who weren’t that good friends with you to begin with start to be eyed with suspicion. Pretty soon you look at your best friend in the world like they cut that line a little fatter for themselves than they did for you and as it gets really down in there it gets dangerously negative, because these drugs bring out the worst kind of greed and covetousness. People are searching shagged carpets for dropped crack rocks and you can imagine 5 people sitting around a table where the drugs are gone, eyeing each other for who stole some and who still has some that they are not sharing. It is in their pocket! Who took an extra line?

Somewhere along the line you are pretty sure that guy took an extra one and that energy is terrifying, particularly if you are with people who are bandits and who have already crossed the line into being drug-scourge people where violence isn’t out of the question and where crime isn’t alien. There have been several of those kitchen tables where John was just like ”Wow, I really want out of here, but I also don’t want to leave, because this guy stole some of the meth and as soon as I go they are all going to bring it out” Those are real death-spirals, especially when everybody has been awake all night and all day and into the following night.

Drawing a self-portrait while on drugs

One time John was sitting down with a pencil and he was going to draw a picture of himself freebasing meth, like an art. He drew the smoke, the tin foil and the little ceramic tube that he used to inhale the smoke, his face and his hand and all this. He was going to make a big exploded pop-art picture of his experience, because as someone who was high on meth, he was also convinced that this was some heavy truth about humanity that he needed to document in the form of a drawing.

For hours and hours he worked on this drawing and when he looked at it later, he realized that he had gotten so focused on representing his hand holding the apparatus in an authentic way that he was drawing the setting, his face, and the smoke in a reasonable sketch, but his hand was grotesquely detailed with every single hair follicle, every wrinkle on the knuckles and every frayed cuticle. It looked like a plucked chicken! John was so intent on this and from the perspective of him as the artist he was getting closer and closer to the truth. He lost sight of what he was trying to do and couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Tweakers vs Junkies

All you have to do is google before/after tweaker photos and you will see the horrifying plummet of people who became addicted to meth. Meth is different from Oxycontin, which is the other plague of the mountain states. Oxycontin is not an amphetamine drug, but it is a downer, an opiate, and it creates an opiate dependency which is not based on a frantic racing mind, but the opposite: It takes your pain away and it is a slower drug experience, but it is addictive nonetheless, because it takes your pain away and when the pain starts to come back you really want it to go away again, which leads to all kind of junkie crimes. Those aren’t tweakers, but those are junkies. In the drug-world, the line between tweakers and junkies is pretty bold. You can do both together to let them both work their own magic and a speed ball for example is what killed John Belushi. You are looking for some kind of balance when you are really far out on drugs.

If you have been tweaking for too long, you will start to feel the lack of sleep, the jitter and the hurt of what you are doing to yourself and yet: You can’t stop doing it. You will get to a point where you just want to come off of it, but if all you have is more meth, you are going to take it. If you are able to have some downer, some heroin or something to take at that point to soften the landing and to mellow you out and get you down, that is a much better route. After a while you do a little bit of this and a little pinch of that, because a lot of drugs work very well in concert with one another. You will do a little Percocet. There are people who abuse muscle relaxants, which don’t really have a psycho-active effect, but they relax your muscles so they don’t work very well. John got some one time, but he didn’t get high. He went to sleep, woke up the next day, wanted to get out of bed and flopped on the floor like a fish because his muscles wouldn’t support his weight, they were so relaxed. That is an interesting drug to abuse.

The burglary (RW116)

When John's house was robbed, the guy came through the window. He probably knew John was home. He had staged a bunch of stuff by the back door to take and whether he heard John rustle or he spooked himself, he left a lot of the stuff that he had staged, but he also took a lot of stuff and must have done multiple trips in and out of the house to his stolen car.

Different definitions of "homeless" (RW116)

In America, the definition of a homeless person has changed over time. Today we use ”homeless” much more inclusive than it was before. When John was young, somebody who was living in their car, someone who was crashing with friends, or someone who was pulling it off wouldn’t have used the term homeless to describe themselves. You are between places and you are sleeping at Denny’s in such a way that you are sitting upright at your table and you nod off so that the employees don’t feel 100% comfortable kicking you out, but they might come over and ask if you like more coffee. John doesn’t think a person in 1994 would have described themselves as homeless or that we as a culture would have described them as homeless. They were in between jobs or in between places and there were a lot of euphemisms for it. A homeless person was someone who lived in a refrigerator box under an overpass.

A lot of the homeless communities in Seattle today are tent communities, because somewhere along the line people figured out that you can go to a thrift store and buy a tent for not that much money and erect a little domicile. As that thought technology spreads you will pretty soon have whole tent cities, but the idea is as old as Hoover Town or as old as time. In the why that some people now describe themselves as homeless, John was a homeless person several times during his teens and twenties, but he would never thought of himself as homeless and he would never have used that term. He was just couch-surfing for months and months on people’s couches who didn’t know him and didn’t want him there.

John would go to a party and when everybody else was leaving, he would just ask if he could crash here because it is long to his place, and they will sigh and let him do it. He was crashing in lobbies and he was learning to sleep sitting upright. John didn’t have a car and he would have envied somebody who was living in their car if it had even occurred to him. He lived in other people’s cars! He lived in a Ford Aerostar and in a VW Bus for a while that didn’t belong to him and that were parked in other people’s carports. They were tired of him sleeping on their couch and they would tell him that he can sleep in their Aerostar. Great! Thank you! John was grateful, because he had a place that he knew he could go to and it wasn’t that kind of stress every night where he was going to sleep. Still, he never would have said ”homeless"!

Living outside the system (RW116)

Tweakers will not describe themselves as homeless, except if they are feeling persecuted and want to talk to a social service person about their benefits. They are thinking that they are master criminals who are living outside the system because they don’t buy into the bullshit of the man. John knows 1000 people who have been in that situation including himself. How a person regards themselves and how they communicate themselves to others changes situationally, sometimes 30 times a second. Anyone rooting themselves in one idea of themselves is not as common as having a very malleable sense of yourself, depending on your audience.

Even Dan and John think about themselves either as victims or as in control of the situation, depending on the situation, and if you are living on the fringe of society, there are a lot more of those doorways you can walk through. For Dan as a home-owner in a caul-de-sack in Austin it is a lot harder to think of himself as a master criminal who is faking out the world of all of its bullshit. If you are living on the fringe of society, depending on who you are talking to from moment to moment, you can truly believe that by living outside of the system you are a freedom fighter or the last person who isn’t bamboozled by the thought-control machine. Then you turn around immediately and believe that you are a hapless victim of a system that powers itself on human blood, or a victim of your parents or of an abusive time, but at the same time you are the hero of your people.

This is not even coming from a position of mental illness, but from the position of a person on the fringe. So many times John would sit with a group of people who were more or less pan-handling from passers by, passing the bottle around. John was not a pan-handler, but if somebody sticks their hand out and asks for spare change, John didn't have enough pride that he would get up and say that he doesn’t drink with pan-handlers. You give soft eyes to somebody as they walk past in high heels and as that person walks 15 feet away, your eyes harden and you go ”Stupid fucking zombie! Slave of the man!”

You oscillate between those two things and part of it is defensive, because nobody wants to feel like a victim all the time. You want to have power and that way you can give yourself power. There are also a lot of people, and John was one, who believed that the system was so corrupt that any participation in it was complicity in the worst of its crimes. The only just thing to do was to live completely outside of it, but then you have to fully commit and it is uncomfortable all the time. It is awful because the system doesn’t want you living outside it. What the system sees is that you are against it and the system has processes in place to put you in jail to coerce you into a place within citizenship, either as a person in jail or a person who wants to stay out of jail enough that they will get a driver’s license, a car insurance, a job and an apartment.

This burden is super-hard for people of a certain type to overcome, either because they are on drugs, because they are mentally ill or because they are adamantly ill-suited to it. John was like that for a long time and he was constantly ashamed of the fact that he could not break every tie. It is the McCandless Problem, the Into-the-wild problem, where he was adamant of wanting no complicity in the crimes of the West and he wanted to be completely free of systemic encroachment. He wanted to be a man in the wild, get some supplies and move out in the middle of Alaska, but even he moved into a school bus.

The number of people who can successfully go out into the woods, build a cabin with stone tools and live completely off the land is effectively zero, but the myth of it persists, because you don’t recognize how complete the web is and how desperately we depend on it, even at its simplest! If you are standing outside a 7-Eleven bumming smokes and pan-handling a six-pack of beer, you are not living outside the system, but you are just hanging onto the fringe of it, sponging off of it. That seems more noble to a lot of people than submitting to the expectations of it and buying that six-pack of beer with the money you made at your job. You can flatter yourself by standing out front of the 7-Eleven and feel like you are not handcuffed.

We don't do anything about the mentally ill homeless (RW116)

The conservative narrative about the homeless is that they are all loafers and moochers. Within the culture of the fringe there is a real attitude about civilization that is like ”Fuck it! I’ll take what I can get off of it!” On the left, in order to combat the argument that the homeless just need to get up and get a job, there is a tremendous impulse to create a narrative where homeless people are more or less noble and have been ejected from the capitalist enterprise, because the capitalist enterprise is unfair. They are not homeless by choice and all of them are prepared to live comfortably and free of crime if we just gave them a place to live and 3 squares a day. Neither argument is complete. The fact that Seattle is ripe with homeless is complex. It is not only a very hard problem, but it is 50 hard problems. A mentally ill person who doesn’t have support from their family and who has burned every bridge is homeless in a different way than someone who did meth and burned every bridge.

The later is often suffering from a mental illness as well or their symptoms are indistinguishable from someone with a mental illness. Then there is the person who really was working 60 hours a week and then lost a job or lost an apartment because a developer came in and bought the building and tore it down to build million-dollar condos and they were just a regular working-class guy trying to support their family and now they are in a homeless-camp. These people exist, but that is not the majority story.

It is tempting to take the heartbreaking version that appeals most to a middle-class person, because a middle-class leftist in Seattle does not have as much sympathy for a drug addict or a mentally ill person as they do for the fantasy of a person who was working really hard and got screwed by capitalism. Nobody has any sympathy for somebody on drugs who is unapologetic and has an attitude about it. You can not politically go to a group of voters and say that we need to find housing for this person who is using drugs and appears to be enjoying it. This guy is a junkie, but when you talk to him about it, he doesn’t want to stop doing drugs and he also seems to think he is cooler than you, but we need to find free housing for him. Nobody is going to sign off on that.

Instead we find the stories where somebody just fell through the cracks. There are a lot of versions of it, like they are a veteran on disability, but their disability payments don’t cover the rent, etc. Not to say that those aren’t true, but they are not any more representative than anything else. A lot of the homeless problem is a mental illness problem. We don’t deal with mental illness in this country, but we pretend that a mentally ill person is fine and when they have an episode, we take them into a hospital and we give them a couple of days.

The doctors and the nurses know that it is not true, but they are powerless, because we are not able to commit people to institutions anymore. We decided that it was cruel and instead we patch them up and shoo them out the door, but as they walk out of the emergency room they are just as homeless as they were before and they are just as paranoid or schizophrenic or bipolar or 100 other things. We pretend that their 2 days in the hospital will put them back on the straightened arrow and now it is up to them. No! They are desperately ill! How do you have a national dialog or even a regional dialog that there are people who can not care for themselves? They will never be able to!

Counseling and coaching is 80% of our response to mental illness in this country. A large percentage of the mentally ill can not be counseled into health, but we have decided we don’t want to warehouse people because it is cruel, so what do you do? America is absolutely mute about it. John was walking through Downtown Seattle one time with a girl from Spain and she broke into tears seeing all these homeless people. How can there be so many homeless in the richest country in the world?

Those are mentally ill people who in Spain are being housed in catholic church-run institutions and you don’t know anything about them. You never see them and you are not monitoring how they are being treated. For all you know they are being whipped every night by nuns for having the devil in them, but they are not on the streets and that makes you feel that your system is more virtuous. Unfortunately we turn them out and we closed down the state-run institutions because they were awful! We didn’t replace them with anything. A lot of them are drunk and on drugs, because that is the only way they can manage the voices.

How do you adopt a perspective about this topic? A lot of the things that John just said would offend people who share his political proclivities, because it is just not helpful to them and to their narrative, but John does not believe that the homeless problem is a result of moochers. When addressing the entire question and when trying to appeal to 50% of the people in America who don’t share your political believe, you do at least have to address the concept of "Not moochers, nobody is loving it, nobody is mooching", but there are an awful lot of people who aren’t noble, too.

To put pastel paint on the whole issue and describe the whole homeless problem as one that can be reduced to the excesses of capitalism run wild is not really sufficient either and it won’t appeal to Joe Mainstreet, because it doesn’t comport with their first-hand experience of it, really!

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