Friday, June 02, 2006

How Negative is Too Negative?

At the time, in the early 1990s, I didn’t realize just how unique was the Zurich heroin scene I witnessed close-up. In the mid-eighties, Zurich, in Switzerland, more or less legalized heroin in a downtown park. The idea was to control the spread of addictions and overdoses, as well as control HIV infections. In most respects it was a disaster.

Heroin users flocked to the park from around Europe, and the overall levels of human misery went through the roof. Ultimately, the city closed the park, although it has meanwhile been restored as a real urban gem and reopened.

Meanwhile, the short-lived heroin scene at Platzspitz Park, or Needle Park in Zurich, is seared into the memory of everyone who saw it, including me. Heroin addiction truly is hell. It turns people into the living dead.

With my first draft of the book, my editors very rightly pointed out that I was too negative about lots of things, and that I used too many superlatives. They are entirely right. Nobody wants to read a sequence of rants. Nobody wants to read a series of grumpy entries.

Usually, I discovered, it’s easy to fix negative language: merely state the opposite in positive terms – instead of “this is bad,” you say “here’s what could be.” It’s a good practice in life, not just when writing.

But with heroin in general, and with Needle Park in particular, it was pretty hard to reign myself in. Heroin is a quiet drug, in comparison to crack or even alcohol. Users are rarely out to pick a fight. Accordingly, most people have way too benign opinions about heroin.

I don’t know where I’ll land in the long term, but my emotions are much stronger about heroin, and about the legalization of drugs, than about most social policy issues. Posted by Picasa


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