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#583#584#585#586 Episode #587 - Engineering The Stench of Urban Decay
(Inner Cities, Addiction, Olfaction)



Sat 21 January 2012  Steve Macek, Gabor Maté, Ivan Illich, David Graeber (reading)
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Download Hour1 Download Hour2The show this week spins a wide range of voices into an exposé of the myth of urban decay. We begin with Steve Macek, then hear Dr. Gabor Maté on his experiences of 'drug addicts' in an inner city neighborhood. Our longest piece is Ivan Illich speaking about water and the sense of smell.
This week, we hear three soundtracks of talking heads which focus on contrasting aspects of life in cities, concluded by a few minutes of David Graeber.

Our first half hour is a talk by Steve Macek, author of Urban Nightmares. While maintaining a focus on contemporary USA and commercially controlled media, he debunks some of the myths surrounding the lives and morals of inner city slum dwellers. He notes a history of politically motivated slander of the urban poor since Victorian times. This demonization, he argues, is used to bridge the embarrassing gap between the rhetoric of universal prosperity and the reality of urban poverty which is directly created by the capitalist system.

Next it's an interview with Gabor Maté, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction, whose work draws on decades of experience as a doctor in Vancouver's East Side, notorious as being North America's most concentrated area of intravenous drug use. He speaks with great compassion and understanding about the lives of his patients. He directly challenges traditional understandings of drug addiction which emphasize the importance of drugs at the expense of the social circumstances of the users, and which tend to demonize users of illegal drugs. He looks at drug addicts as victims rather than criminals, challenging not only the 'war on drugs' but wider understandings, suggesting a parallel between drug addiction, in which users often knowingly continue to gradually kill themselves and the social plague of consumerism in which whole populations continue with behavior which they know is killing the planet.

After a music break from Clayton Blizzard, our second hour starts with a 1984 recording of Ivan Illich speaking on 'Water and The History of The Senses'. Illich's main focus is the hygiene arrangements of modern cities and the concomitant degradation of the concept of water, which was stripped of its cultural significance and became merely H2O, a cleaning fluid for removal of bodily waste. The human sense of smell, he explains was profoundly transformed in the middle of the 18th century. His talk is followed by Q & A in which he clarifies that he is encouraging the audience to question the naturalness of modern hygiene arrangements, which use the majority of a household's water to remove a relatively tiny volume of human waste. Will future generations, he muses, wonder as much about the modern day conception of smell and hygiene as much as we wonder about the attention given in the 12th century to 'odors of sanctity' - the sacred smells attributed to the bones of saints?

We conclude the show with another short reading from Chapter 7 of David Graeber Debt, The First 5000 Years, up to the point at which a government first decided it was its duty to intervene in social relations between citizens.
Music: God's Country by Clayton Blizzard
Thanks to Labor Beat for the Steve Macek speech and to Mike McCormick for the Gabor Maté interview
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