Aug. 23, 2023 – Quick Fixes is organized into brief essays, each nominally about a specific drug—alcohol, cocaine, meth—and its social significance. Fong dwells little on the pharmacological effects of these substances, and only some on the experience thereof. Rather, he prosecutes his case that drugs are primarily tools, either of social control or, on occasion, of personal liberation.

To his credit, this approach produces an admirable skepticism of drugs. Fong is willing, for example, to skewer the over-prescription of amphetamine for ADHD, despite the fact that many of his Jacobin-subscribing readers are probably on it. He seems less taken in than some by the psychoactive revolution. And while Fong insists, against medical consensus, that marijuana is not addictive, he at least glances at the idea that corporate marijuana production might be a problem.

At the same time, avoiding discussion of the substances themselves produces some absurdities. Writing about nicotine, Fong suggests that “it is this straightforwardly destructive element of cigarette smoking that is ultimately the source of its appea …. Every cigarette puff is a daring ‘F**k you’ to the neoliberal ethic of self-care, deadening relief from a deadened society.” I would suggest, to the contrary, that the appeal of nicotine is that it is a stimulant, and also eventually that it is addictive. Similarly, responding to anthracite miners’ habit of “tak[ing] a day’s supply of whiskey down into the mines at the start of each shift,” Fong writes that “needless to say, such practices chafed against the capitalist sensibility.” Perhaps I am a victim of such “capitalist sensibility,” but being drunk in a mine seems intrinsically hazardous.

Once you disconnect your history of drugs from the drugs themselves, in fact, you can talk about almost anything you want. Fong hits the usual notes: pioneering drug warrior Harry Anslinger makes many appearances, with the usual embarrassing quotes rolled out. (I assure you, I can find embarrassing quotes from 1930s lefties, too.) So do CIA crack-dealing and MK-ULTRA experiments. But free-floating social analysis also lets Fong make strange assertions, such as his claim that the crack cocaine markets of the late 1980s served to “fill part of the void left in the wake of deindustrialization,” and that many people opted to work on the street rather than at McDonalds because of the low wages paid by the latter—ignoring the evidence that crack-dealing, in particular, was not wage-maximizing behavior.