To the Editor,
In Ross Douthat’s article, “The Age of American Despair” from September 7th 2019, he discusses prioritizing the American drug-related-death crisis as the most pressing problem today. Even going as far as to jab CNN for running a program that educated Americans on the detriments and consequences of climate change, Douthat ponders throughout the article what the main cause to drug use is and what the best approach to stopping it is. He argues that the cause is simply a political, spiritual, or economic problem, or combination of all three, and that the problem will eventually solve itself with society evolving a new existential meaning of life.
However, while his argument is compelling and filled with support, I disagree with a few of his points. I have seen a person suffer from the effects of alcohol and drug related abuse, and sometimes the person will not allow you to open them up and examine what the problem is and where it came from, therefore, enabling people to try and care for them. Some do not want to divulge their reasoning for why they choose to do what they do. And sometimes, you may not even realize they are participating in the use of drugs. Some hide it so well, they cannot allow you to find out about their addiction in order to keep feeding it. So I ask Douthat, how do you treat an individual for a problem you don’t know they have?
In addition to my proposed question of how, I find it extremely bold to say to tell audiences and the country to ignore the safety of future generations and populations by saying the main focus should be the growing drug epidemic. While Douthat states that the epidemic is America’s greatest threat right now, the simple fact is, climate change is not only the entire world’s greatest enemy right now, but all of Humanity’s. Therefore, I believe that the epidemic should not be totally ignored, but for the moment, tabled. While it is very important and pressing, the safety of the world population is at stake, not just America’s own population. Tackling a disease with no exact cause, cure or treatment plan without proper financial funding is not going to benefit anyone, but a problem that threatens humanity with multiple clear cut causes and a plethora of cures, can be fixed.
There is hope that, one day, we can eradicate the growing disease that is addiction, however, we need the planet habitable to do it. And in order to keep the planet habitable, it is going to take humanity hand in hand changing their lifestyle, and perhaps even this will lead to a reduction in drug related deaths.
Sure thing, Wordsmith.
Let’s begin with an overview of your argument since it appears you won’t need a lot of help writing good sentences or organizing your thoughts.
P1. First, if you say Douthat “discusses” prioritizing drug deaths as the nation’s most pressing problem, you are dodging a clear claim. You don’t say he advocates for this priority structure. It’s not clear to me that he does. Some despair deaths are drug-related; others not so clearly.
I appreciate the observation about CNN, but I think it’s inaccurate to characterize it as a jab. Does he feel climate change is unworthy of seven hours of programming? It doesn’t sound so.
Agreed he ponders the causes of drug use, but more generally, his focus is on the wider topic of a despair so broad it encompasses more than drugs
How can a cause be “simple” when it could be political, spiritual, or economic, or a combination of all three?
In a way, he does suggest that the problem will solve itself, but it would be unfair to say he thinks it should therefore be ignored. He appears to advocate for MORE study, investigation, awareness, public discourse, and policies.
P2. Regarding structure, you’ve spent a paragraph summarizing Douthat without contradicting him. Now is the time—in the first sentence and no later—to express your own dissenting opinion. Otherwise, readers will tire of waiting for YOUR thesis. You do the opposite here, Wordsmith. “I disagree with a few points” does not substitute for “Douthat’s advice ignores the fact that drug abuse is often a hidden ailment that can’t be treated until it’s detected.”
On a broader note, I don’t quite see how that point you make in P2 actually contradicts Douthat, who doesn’t appear to suggest that sufferers are easy to spot or intervene with.
P3. You suggest that Douthat advocates for a “let’s just attack drug addiction and let the rest wait for cultural healing” approach. Is that accurate? He definitely asserts that the most likely approach for a new president would be to interdict illicit drug use, but does that qualify as support for such a policy?
You and I agree there’s no more pressing GLOBAL existential threat than climate change, Wordsmith. I think Douthat might sign on to that opinion too. What he does suggest is that a more immediate threat to Americans living today deserves 7 hours of programming too.
I won’t try to dissuade you from your central premise that we should turn our full and immediate attention to climate change; that’s a logical position that you can surely defend. But you do need to sharpen your contradiction to Douthat and do so fairly.
P4. Personally, I’m not a fan of the “we can only solve one problem at a time” approach, WS, but again, I won’t try to dissuade you. I’d like to see it well argued. But I will suggest that we’re not all going to die of global warming in the next 20 years, so it seems a little cavalier to write off the hundreds of thousands of Americans who will die from suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and depression.
What do you think, Wordsmith? Was that useful? Is it the sort of critique you expected, dreaded, were hoping for?
1. Please leave a Comment to indicate your reaction.
2. Feel free to follow the Feedback Please technique to request more interference after you’ve made significant revisions. I very quickly learn to ignore students who do not engage in the recursive feedback process.
I really appreciate the feedback! And yes I do agree with you points about not solving one problem at a time. I found that I was actually struggling with an article to disagree with and felt this was the article i most disagreed with.
I would love some feedback whenever you find time!