Posts Tagged ‘Portugal’

‘The opposite of addiction is connection’

July 21, 2015

A controversial British journalist named Johann Hari has written a book, Chasing the Scream, (which I haven’t read) , arguing that drug addiction is not caused by the body’s response to the drugs themselves.

He said addiction is caused by people being so disconnected from society and so lacking in life’s normal satisfactions that the pleasure of taking drugs is life’s best alternatives.

Hari based his conclusion on two experiments.  One involved rats.  The other involved the people of Portugal.

Experimenters in the 1950s and 1960s found that caged rats, when offered the option of self-administering heroin, would take the heroin in preference to food and water.

But another scientist, Bruce Alexander, noted that rats are social, active and sexual creatures.  A rat in a cage is equivalent to a human being in solitary confinement.  He wondered what normal rats would do if exposed to heroin.

Starting in 1977, he created a “rat park”—a kind of paradise for rats—in which there was plenty of cheese, and brightly-colored objects, tunnels to hide in, plus other rats to hang out with, including sexy members of the opposite sex.

These rats had no interest in morphine-laced water, even when mixed with sugar to make it more attractive.

Furthermore rats that had been turned into heroin addicts in cages lost interest in drugs when released into the rat park.

Portugal’s experiment began in 2001.  The country had a serious drug addiction problem, and arresting and punishing drug addicts was as ineffective there as it was elsewhere.

So the government tried a different approach.  They reduced the penalty for possession of small amounts of illegal drugs—a supply of less than 10 days—to a minor offense, equivalent to a traffic ticket.

But instead of just leaving it at that, the Portuguese government put the resources that formally went into drug enforcement to helping drug addicts lead a normal life—for example, by subsidizing salaries so they could get jobs.

There is something about this that doesn’t sit quite well with me.  Why should an addict get help from the government that is not available to someone who keeps free of addiction?  It is like Jesus’s parable of the Prodigal Son.  Why should the son who goes away and wastes his life be treated better than the faithful son who stayed at home and did his duty?

But this is not rational thinking.  The fact is that the Portuguese solution worked.  Drug addiction didn’t vanish, but Portugal has one of the lowest addiction rates in Europe.   Mercy, forgiveness and human kindness work (in this case) better than a narrow idea of justice.


A world of book stores

June 30, 2015

editores lello irmao porto photographs

I spent a good bit of my adult life hanging out in bookstores, but never one as impressive as the Livaria Lello and Irmão in Porto, Portugal, shown above, which I have never visited and never expect to visit, but I’m glad to know exists.

When I was younger, I would always look for bookstores when I was in a strange city.  I thought I got an idea of a city’s nature from its bookstores, and the selection of books on offer.

I no longer do much traveling, and none as a tourist, and I no longer buy books with the idea that I will read them someday in the future.  Instead I’m reading the books I bought in the past with that idea in mind.

But if I were a world traveler, I would be sure to visit places mentioned in the links below.


Seven Bookstores Too Beautiful for Words by Jake Rossen for Mental Floss.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack)

Weird and wonderful bookshops worldwide – in pictures by Marta Bausells for The Guardian.

10 independent bookstores you should visit worldwide – our readers recommend by Marta Bausells for The Guardian.

A novel oasis: Why Argentina is the bookshop capital of the world by Uki Goñi for The Guardian.

The opposite of what America does

February 19, 2014


We Americans have a lot of things to be proud of, but we hurt ourselves when our national pride prevents us from learning from the best practices of other nations.

Hat tip to Hullabaloo.