What’s Easy

I was at a friend’s house the other night and we were talking about small things, making jokes, and catching up a bit. We were standing out on his porch huddled around a little campfire and the sun had been down for a few hours.

We look out and see a girl, probably around 18-19, rambling to herself. She looked at us and, still rambling, made her way to the fire. We let her stay, offered her some water and a granola bar, and kept our conversation going. She never really engaged with us in conversation, but stood on the side energetically rambling on about serpents and black triangles and other things we had no way of comprehending any meaning of. She was wearing tattered clothes, and looked very unkempt for someone walking around the streets.

Two things were clear to us: 1) this girl was tripping on some sort of stimulant and 2) she has a hard life. The second might seem a little presumptuous of us, but in her current state she looked hungry, scared, and sad.

A few minutes later she put down her cup of water and left the porch to meet an older woman out on the street. Both of them walked away down the street until we couldn’t see them anymore. My friend turned to me and asked “Why do you think hard drugs are such a problem in poor neighborhoods?” I just sort of looked at the fire and thought for a while. The neighborhood we were in is by all accounts low-income, and fairly often we see people in that neighborhood obviously high on some sort of hard drug. Drugs that are more intense than alcohol or marijuana, and leave the users rambling and wandering in the streets.

I’ve seen evidence of this in other impoverished neighborhoods across the country in news stories or articles I’ve read. I’m not foolish enough to believe that all low-income neighborhoods have a drug problem, but my friend’s question still lingered in my mind:

“Why do some poor people use hard drugs?”

I started to think of Rational Choice Theorists George Homan and James Coleman. While having differing opinions on RCT, the two Sociologists maintain that individuals make choices based on weighing their options, finding paths to desired outcomes, and make decisions based on the given social context. The option that produces the most desired outcome with the least cost or resistance is more likely the option that the individual chooses.

Here is a quick example: I want a hamburger, but I don’t have any ingredients for making one. I have two options, A) I go to a grocery store and buy buns, meat, lettuce, a tomato, ketchup and mustard which I then take home and use to prepare and then eat a hamburger. Or B) I go my closest fast-food joint, buy a hamburger and eat it. Let’s see what I’m weighing in here; in option A I’d be spending about $20 and 1 hour for one hamburger, in option B I’d spend about $4 and 10 minutes for one hamburger. The social context that I live in has created a marketplace that offers these two options, and while option A is most likely healthier, considering efficiency I’m going to choose option B.

What does this have to do with hard drugs and low-income users? I believe that poor people who use hard drugs do so for one simple reason, and the same reason why I chose option B: it’s easy. If you are in a social context that has given you a low quality of life then you generally have two options: improve that life for a better one or make yourself feel okay about the life you have now. Improving your life when you have low-income in our current social context is difficult, specifically because you have less access to resources that can improve your situation compared to people with higher-income. If you are unsatisfied with your quality of life, finding ways to feel good about it can be equally difficult. But our society has created a third and much easier option for those in this specific situation, which is to self-medicate with hard drugs. Hard drugs can be much more accessible than life-improving resources, and certain drugs (while they tend to be more dangerous) are inexpensive. Self-medicating with these drugs is a rational choice, then, which is made by people weighing the options given to them in their social context, finding a desired outcome, and choosing the most efficient path to it.

It is my suggestion that we as a society recognize the efficiency of hard drugs as compared to other options in the low-income community, and create safer options that are more efficient and accessible.

If you have any other thoughts on the matter or would like to share your point of view, I encourage you to comment! All discussion is welcome.

On Youth Culture 

Youth live in a different world than adults, a world that is defined by their own culture. Culture consists of the beliefs, behaviors, objects, and other characteristics common to the members of a particular group or society. When children interact, they fulfill this definition and create their own culture. We can think of several examples for each of these aspects of culture, a few being: belief in Santa Claus, playing during recess as behavior, toys as objects etc.  

When you are trying to understand youth-adult interactions, you must think of adults as ambassadors to a different culture. Adults are outsiders to the culture of children and the more you know about youth culture, the more you are able to communicate with and understand youth. Treat a child as you would treat a member of an unknown/different culture with separate symbols and language. If you step onto the the playground of a school during recess, you will hear and see things that seem foreign to you. Symbolic gestures like “the dab” and special language like “trill” can be seen and heard, and you will be immersed in a culture you don’t fully understand.

We like to think of children as an extension of our own culture and they are,  to an extent, but not exclusively. They are a different group because they relate to eachother in a way adults cannot: they are new to this world. Youth culture is based on the unique perspective of children (which separates it from adult culture), and this perspective is heavily influenced by their reaction to the adult world. Youth culture is a expression of this. 

The most interesting thing about youth culture is that it’s contingent not only on location, but on age. Most cultures are tied to a location (when migrants travel, it is tied to their heritage) which is still the case for youth. However, an individual will lose youth culture after a certain age. This is due to the fact that youth are in a socialization process, and are assimilating to the culture of adulthood.

Youth culture is a reaction to the world that children are born into, and is a common ground for children to relate to each other and interact while in the process of socialization/assimilation. Once an individual is fully assimilated, they no longer need youth culture and identify with other adults in their culture. Youth culture is then left to the new youth of society, to adapt and change it to meet new needs and reactions to the world.

On Bruce Alexander and Social Fulfillment 

Bruce alexander created an experiment in the 70s that explained the effect of environment on delinquent social behaviors; primarily addiction. What he found is that rats are social beings, in much the same way humans are social beings. When a rat is taken out of a constructive and positive social environment, it will resort to unhealthy addiction behaviors. When a rat is in a fulfilling social environment, however, the rat interacts positively with others and its general well being increases. 

What does this mean for socialization theory? 

Bruce Alexander equates this rat behavior with human behavior and explains that in a similar experiment using humans, the absence of a fulfilling social environment would cause an addiction to take its place. In sociological terms, this means that when humans have a social fulfillment deficit it creates a void in their life. Humans need social fulfillment to feel content with their place in society and need a community presence. If a human is without social fulfillment, he/she is in a deficit and needs to fill the void. What Dr. Alexander found is that this void is filled by the first and most efficient form of pleasure and satisfaction. The void can be filled with anything from smoking to exercise, and its repeated use leads to addiction. If illicit drugs are available, this is what fills the void; drug use is efficient in satisfaction, so addiction is common among drug users.

If humans have a social deficit in unfulfilling environments, that means humans have a social budget. This social budget is determined by the amount of social fulfillment a human is or is not receiving in daily life. When a human is well connected with his/her community and/or family they gain fulfillment and achieve social satisfaction. This is maintained by daily social connection. When a human isn’t connected, and has little to no social fulfillment, he/she will sink into a deficit and satisfaction becomes more and more out of reach. This lack of connection can be caused by several things surrounding an unfulfilling environment, including: a dysfunctional family, limited social ties, difficulties in communication, etc. The most significant cause of a social deficit, though, is the inability to learn and use social skills.

This is where socialization comes in. Socialization is the process of an individual understanding the culture/society around them, and developing social skills to thrive in it. Most humans enter this process during brain and body development during childhood, and this is when they learn language, social cues, morals, and social norms. It is crucial to develop social skills in this stage, and learn how to use them to engage with their society later in life. If a person fails to build social skills during the socialization process, achieving social satisfaction as an adult becomes increasingly difficult.

The findings of Dr. Alexander’s experiment show us that a healthy social environment is crucial to social fulfillment,  and social deficit can lead to substance addiction or worse. If humans never learn to gain fulfillment through social skills during socialization, they are doomed to a social deficit. We must understand the importance of social well-being and understand that creating a fulfilling social environment requires not only a community, but also social skills to connect with that community.

Mead and Autism 

Mead is the man behind symbolic interactionism, which states that people connect through interaction guided by symbols. 
Children are in the process of learning how to recognize and react to symbols of situations. This is where children with autism experience difficulty. One of the main symptoms of autism in difficulty in social interactions, which implies that recognizing symbols in interaction would be deterred. 

The difficulty of social interaction with autistic children can be explained with Meadian theory. 

Autistic children and children of social disorders can’t recognize, or misinterpret, social situation symbols. One who spends time with autistic children may notice interesting conversation topics or interactions spring up out of nowhere. These are symbols that are created by the individual rather than agreed on by the group. Autistic children create these based on what they feel comfortable with to feel in control of the symbols and connect with others. They can’t recognize social symbols, so they create their own.

There are many theories as to what causes autism and therefore the failure to recognize symbols, and has been broken into subtypes. Today, scientists seem to agree one at least one thing: there are many different causes of autism. 

Whatever the cause is, it is important to remember that the social ailment is the inability or unwillingness to identify the symbols of a social situation. Treating autism should include this fact, and target it by teaching social skills carefully and patiently

A Prerequisite to Academic Learning 

When a child begins their life as a student he/she is met with many challenges. At this phase in a child’s life, the most pressing challenges include building developmental abilities and social skills; a child must learn social skills in order to be a successful student.

Let us be reminded that classroom education is a social interaction. A child can’t learn if they don’t understand communication, and attempting to teach a child without any social skills is extremely difficult. The role of the student is to participate in the interaction of the classroom: a passage of information where the teacher presents information and the student either absorbs it or asks for further explanation. The teacher and the student can both question and answer each other in this interaction. Classroom learning requires both of these roles to be filled. 

Children who have trouble learning in the classroom may simply lack social skills associated with learning. There are several reasons children may not have these skills, but whatever the case, they must learn social skills before they can learn in the classroom.

Learning the student role is essential and is the first task of a child in school. This is a large part of why students who didn’t go the preschool are so far behind in kindergarten. When children are first exposed to the student role, they begin socializing themselves into the role and understanding it’s expectations.

When a child understands the role of a student, they can embark on the social interaction of education. Social skills of the student role is a prerequisite to academic success.

Social Skills as Survival Techniques

What are social skills? Are they simply tools used for maintaining some sort of social status among our peers, or are they more? What do social skills mean in terms of animal survival?

If you look at the world of animal survival, you see a trend of biology-based success received from generations of evolutionary adaptations. Each species is born into the environment that its ancestors have adapted to, and its survival is contingent on its genetic biological traits; e.g. a chameleon’s ability to blend into avoid predators. 

But what type of environment is a human born into?

From birth, a child is cast into the world of a specific environment: the culture created by other human beings. Unlike a desert horned lizard, whose biological features are predetermined to understand the environment and desert “culture” it’s born into (ability to withstand hot temperatures, knowledge to prey on red harvester ants, etc.), the human child’s biological features are irrelevant to the demands of the culture it’s born into.

Survival techniques must  be learned, and surviving is no longer as simple as attaining (taking) shelter and food; human survival is about navigating the social waters of our world. Food and shelter are necessary, but attaining these and more rely on the social activity of the human.

The immediate survival technique is learning a common language. In order for initial survival to take place, the human being must communicate with others and understand the gains of interacting with other humans. Language is needed to begin education, where further skills are gained for future use. Then social survival skills develop into a more subjective and complex array of social roles, cues, morals, laws and activities that are necessary to compete and cooperate with other humans. This dance of social navigating leads to the eventual rewards of such skills, i.e., charisma and knowledge to get a job which leads to money, which leads to buying food and shelter.

These skills are not biological, and there must be a constant effort to maintain these skills in order to ensure further success/survival in the human social world. Along with maintaining these skills, a human must be ready to adapt social skills/knowledge because society is constantly changing; failure to adapt may lead to loss of survival in the social world.

The human social environment is a learned one, where biological traits become more and more irrelevant as society progresses. It is because of this culturally-created environment that we must treat social skills as survival techniques that are necessary for success among humans.