Bolivian Drug Prisons & The Dull Sterility Of Modern Politics

(Another quasi-introspective post. But not particularly whiny this time, so an improvement from previous ones!)

I finally started reading Marching Powder yesterday, a fantastical account of life in Bolivia’s San Pedro prison. I do not know how much of this book is fact, and how much is fiction, but such things matter little to me – either way it really, really is interesting, and that’s far more important than ‘truth’. It must be said, life in San Pedro prison is certainly unique – from having to buy your own cell in one of the various sections of the prison – organized by star-ranking, to the network of shops and services set up inside (food is not provided – either cook in your cell, or go to a restaurant. Inside the prison), to how luxury “cells” are multi-story apartments, where the families of inmates stay with them, and as they conduct business through their ‘home’ offices, to the one star area where drug labs are set up (the chap in question makes his money by conducting tours of the prison to tourists). Am currently up to his romance with the Israeli backpacker who he met when he was out clubbing on a day-pass, and how she moved into the prison for weeks with him. Quite romantic really. All in all, so far, quite a captivating book.

But that is not the point of this post. Rather, it’s about the subsequent thoughts it triggered in me about the sterility of experiences that youth politics breeds, and how bereft many of us are of many of the guilty little pleasures that transform existence into life – to the overall detriment of the Australian political sphere.

After all, all those of us involved in politics in Australia come from similar mediocre backgrounds, have similar interests, similar tastes. And then, on top of this, the one standard rule for most people in politics is: never do anything controversial because it may come back to bite you. So you firstly have self-selection regarding who goes into politics, and secondly, once you’re in, you’re even more constrained.

The problem with this, of course, is that it leads to a situation that is all so staid, so dull. There are only so many times you can have the same conversation with people about party policy, there are only so many times you can agree with each other about ‘first principles’, there are only so many times you can talk to different people before realizing that they are all the same, and then – what? The fundamental problem I think is that everyone in politics is too nice. I honestly mean this. Nice people are nice enough, but I would take a crazy sadist over a nice person to hang around any day. Because they are generally more fun! And you get real experiences out of such people.

I have always felt it is necessary in life to collect experiences. They are, after all, a rather vital step in the creation of projected personality. And I worry that our political system considerably stymies our ability to do this because it places limits on the people you know, and the experiences you can entertain (after all, when the best story I can come up with of youthful tomfoolery involves corflutes and *ahem* freak weather patterns, it really is quite a sad indictment)! Some of us might protest that they have non-political friends, but think about them and their backgrounds – most other people I know socially are still from the same background, both in how they think, as well as in their life history- private/selective school followed by university etc. The same pattern replicates. Few of us have many friends who are high-school drop out drug dealers for instance. I suspect few of us want friends who are high-school drop out drug dealers. And I actually find this a shame. Not because there is something inherently good in being an uneducated drug-dealer (the whole almost neo-Rousseauian argument about how uneducated people might actually be inherently better than educated people is a tad silly), but because knowing such things provides interesting experiences we would not otherwise be exposed to. And having diverse experiences matters.

People at home know full well how I kept some of George Street’s seediest bars in business singlehandedly through my patronage there (it is no coincidence that Bar Ace shut down the week I left for the US…). But I think what people failed to grasp was that I never went out drinking alone to drink alone – to the contrary, I did it with the aim of having fascinating conversations with people I would have never otherwise met. And was at least sometimes successful in that aim, at other times it was fun just observing people. (Although random side note: if you want to go out drinking with a recently-paroled bikie called “Snake” it is generally a good idea to make your exit before he thinks it amusing to put you in a headlock..)

Anyway, doing interesting things is certainly something I’m going to have to try to do more in the future. The question is what? What experiences ought one try?

Most things people suggest are (by definition of being suggested I suppose) rather clichéd – backpacking would be the prime example of this. Apparently it used to be done for a thrill, but now travel has become so safe, so tame. You generally always know you’ll be fine in case of emergency, that someone can bail you out, there’s that safety net there. Where’s the fun in that? (Actually, I do have a few ideas about how to make travel more fun, but that’s for another post). Despite my romantic fondness for 1890’s opium dens, trying illicit substances is also rather passé (although, considering much of what I consider my better writing was done on a cocktail of alcohol and caffeine, writing on cocaine might be interesting, and I suppose they can lead to other interesting experiences :-p). So I’m not looking for ideas like that. Of course, having fun spontaneous experiences are the antithesis of planning, so I can hardly plan anything but still.

I suppose I’ll just start by finding some new and obscure interests and go from there. If you have any suggestions for that, please do let me know however. I certainly need something new and interesting to become interested in, as havn’t really acquired any new interests in quite some time (and I do need to be able to talk about something other than politics or why you’re all going to hell for eternity). So, oh brilliantly mad and crazy people out there online, what should my next interest be?

Hmm. What I intended as a political post has become a somewhat self-indulgent introspective one (something I really thought I’d stop doing. Gah). And now I have absolutely no idea how to finish it off, or where I am etc. So I’ll just give up now.



5 Responses to “Bolivian Drug Prisons & The Dull Sterility Of Modern Politics”

  1. motion29 Says:

    My best advice if you’re looking for something interesting but not booze or drug related would be to find an attractive lesbian couple in DC and try to convert them, at the same time 😛 That would be living!

  2. John Humphreys Says:

    Sailing across an open ocean. Much safer than it used to be… but by definition one of those activities that requires skill, constant vigilance and involves unavoidable risk.

    There are plenty of places to backpack which are much harder to do. Or better yet… just take a backpack and a bit of money and try to hitch or work your way from DC to Patagonia while living with strangers, parks and squat houses.

  3. martin Says:

    Slightly more practical… Get a Harley and join the local Owners Group. Disparate range of people, from tradies to professionals, travel, food and drink etc. All conducive to new experiences.

  4. Tim Andrews Says:

    Motion29 – been there, done that 🙂
    John – Agreed re both points
    Martin – interesting. Will look into it (although I really am not sure how suited it is to me). Thanks 🙂

  5. Jake the Muss Says:

    Why don’t you ask a bunch of the people you spent the first half of this blog post decrying for ideas as to what to do.


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