Security theater: The practice of investing in countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to actually achieve it.
I have been using “Bandaid on a gaping wound” for years, to describe how I feel about a myriad of issues from bullying to equal rights to drug use and beyond. It seems all we do, as a culture, is pretend to fix things. Maybe I’m late to the game, but thanks to Adam Ruins Everything, I’ve learned a term that better describes what I think, and gives the issue itself a somber yet satirical air. Security theater. Exactly.
Here’s where I start pissing people off–when I read in the local paper about all the strides being taken to combat drugs in this town, I scoffed. I’ve seen the signs up all over the place, “Talk to your kids about heroin before it talks to them!” “Parents who host lose the most!” Yes, good messages and something all parents should know without signs all over town. Then how about stepping up the D.A.R.E. program–again. Teach kids from an even earlier age that pot and heroin are equally awful, and be sure to include the hypocrisy that alcohol is okay once you’re a certain age because the government says so. Strike fear into the hearts of kids everywhere with drug-sniffing dogs and mandatory open door policy in bathrooms. Even arresting and prosecuting those who sell drugs, the “little guys” the authorities used to have no interest in, is security theater. How is it no one seems to get that these things don’t stop anyone. Those who abide by these rules weren’t going to break them in any serious way to begin with. Those who don’t aren’t thwarted. By anything. It only makes the populace at large feel like something’s being done. It gives the desperate a straw to cling to. Are these bad things? Yes, because they create bubbles so fragile they will ultimately pop, and by then, the consequences are so much worse.
I’m not blindly raining on society’s “war against drugs” efforts. I was that desperate mother, buying into the security theater of AA and rehab*. Chris did both. Within weeks of getting out of a 30-day program, he was using again…in the parking lot of an AA meeting. I’m not saying these venues don’t work for some. Without going into the full
rant detail about statistics, even AA’s own studies show their success rate to be 1:3. That means of every three addicts, one finds recovery through AA**. There are many studies that show the ratio to be even lower. I know many who’ve found success through this method. Yet, I know many more who have spent hundreds of thousands on rehab stint after rehab stint, who attend meetings daily, and still can’t stay sober.
When AA and rehab didn’t work for Chris, we took the more scientific route. He stayed clean for three years. And yet, here we are.
Sometimes AA and rehab does work. Sometimes a more scientific approach works. Sometimes “toughing it out” works. There’s no saying what’s going to work for some and not others. So what do we do? Throw our hands in the air and whoever lives, lives, and whoever dies, dies? Early on, someone said that to me. “You’ll see. You don’t want to believe it now, but you will.”
After Chris died, I’ll be honest. I did feel that way. It feels true. But that optimist in me that cannot buy into all this security theater believes 100% that there is an answer. We just don’t have it yet. We need to stop treating the symptom (drug abuse) as if it were the cause. It’s not the cause. I repeat–It is not the cause. It’s a symptom, and until we root out the real cause, we’re going to keep losing our loved ones.
Smart as he was, Chris was still human. When he felt it all starting again, he tricked us all. He tricked himself, because he didn’t want to be “that person.” The drug addict. The criminal. The mental case. Getting rid of the stigma that goes with the mental issues often leading to drug use is the #1 thing we should be doing, because it’s something we actually can do.
Whatever would have helped Chris, really helped him, is still a mystery. We have an obligation, as a society, to uncover it. We simply don’t know enough. About anything. And we never will if we keep throwing money into the security theater we already know doesn’t work. Right now, the measures taken don’t work nearly as effectively as people want to believe.
*I am truly happy for those who do find peace through these venues. If it worked for you, wonderful. You’re one of the lucky ones. Stay strong! And if ever you find yourself faltering, ask for help.
**The ratio of success of those going it on their own is also 1:3. Just sayin’.