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6 The Subterranean World of Play PDF Print E-mail
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Books - The Drugtakers
Written by Jock Young   
Sunday, 05 September 2010 00:00

6 The Subterranean World of Play

It is necessary, in order to explain the phenomenon.of drug-taking, to relate it to factors existing in the wider society. It is simply not sufficient to state that drug use is a behaviour associated with certain disturbed personalities — to talk as the absolutist does of a monolithic body of 'normal' people contrasted with a few deviants condemned to the fringes of society because of their abnormal psyches or genetic makeups. For this does not cast any light on why whole categories of people — ghetto Negroes, middle-class youth, merchant seamen, Puerto Ricans and doctors for instance — have peculiarly high propensities to take drugs. Rather, one must explain such behaviour in terms of the particular subcultures to which each of these groups belong. The meaning of drugtaking has to be sought in the context of the group's values and world view. For an item of behaviour cannot be understood in isolation from its social milieu: man is the only animal that gives meaning to his actions and it is his system of values which provides these meanings.
Furthermore, we must relate subcultures to the total society: for they do not exist in a vacuum, they are a product of or a reaction to social forces existing in the world outside. Drugtaking is almost ubiquitous in our society — the totally temperate individual is statistically the deviant; it is only the type and quantity of psychotropic drugs used which varies. There must be fundamental connections between drugtaking and the configuration of values, ways of life and world views prevalent throughout our society. It is with this in mind that I wish to examine the nature of work and leisure in advanced industrial societies and the position that drugs play in the modern world.

The Theory of Subterranean Values
In 1961 Matza and Sykes evolved a critique of a central part of absolutist theory. First they noted that it was preposterous to assume that everyone within society adhered to middle-class standards of behaviour and attitudes. But this was, by that time, a commonplace criticism of sociological theory. More significantly, they went on to argue that this revised picture of society as being composed of a heterogeneous collection of strata each with different values did not go far enough. If the divisions between social groups were important, so also were the inconsistencies within the values of specific groups themselves. Society was not only split horizontally into strata, it was divided vertically within each group. For there was, they suggested, a fundamental contradiction running through the value systems of all members of society. Coexisting alongside the overt or official values of society are a series of subterranean values. One of these, for example, is the search for excitement: for new 'kicks'. Society, they argue, tends to provide institutionalized periods in which these subterranean values are allowed to emerge and take precedence. Thus we have the world of leisure: of holidays, festivals and sport in which subterranean values are expressed rather than the rules of workaday existence. A particularly apposite example is the saturnalia of the ancient world, which involved behaviour the very opposite of that allowed normally. The West Indian carnival is a modern illustration of this. Thus they write: 'the search for adventure, excitement and thrill is a subterranean value that . often exists side by side with the values of security, routinization and ale rest. It is not a deviant value, in any full sense, but must be held in abeyance until the proper moment and circumstances for its expression arrive.1 The juvenile delinquent then, in this light, is seen as: 'not an alien in the body of society but representing instead a disturbing reflection or caricature'. He takes up the subterranean values of society: hedonism, disdain for work, aggressive and violent notions of masculinity, and accentuates them to the exclusion of the formal or official values. Moreover, he is encouraged in this process by the fictional portrayals in the mass media (for example, Westerns, crime stories, war adventures) of heroes who epitomize precisely these values.

All members of society hold these subterranean values; certain groups, however, accentuate these values and disdain the workaday norms of formal society.

What is the precise nature of the subterranean values? This is perhaps best brought out by constructing a table in which one can contrast subterranean values with the formal, official values of the workaday world:
Now the formal values are consistent with the structure of modern industry. They are concomitant with the emergence of large-scale bureaucracies embodying a system of economic rationality, high division of labour, and finely woven, formalized rules of behaviour. These values are functional for the maintenance of diligent, consistent work and the realization of long-term productive goals. They are not, however, identical with the Protestant ethic. For whilst the latter dictated that a man realized his true nature and position in the world through hard work and painstaking application to duty, the formal values insist that work is merely instrumental. You work hard in order to earn money, which you spend in the pursuit of leisure, and it is in his 'free' time that a man really develops his sense of identity and purpose.

The Protestant ethic has, outside the liberal professions, entered into a remarkable decline. Berger and Luckmann 2 have argued that the growth of bureaucracies in almost every sphere of social life have enmeshed the workaday world in a system of rules which have precluded to a large extent the possibility for the individual to express his identity through his job. The high division of labour and rationalization of occupational roles have made them inadequate as vehicles of personal desires and expressivity. Work has come to be regarded instrumentally by nearly all sections of society, middle class as much as working class.3 Thus Bennet Berger writes: 'whether it is the relatively simple alienation so characteristic of assembly-line work in factories, or the highly sophisticated kind of alienation we find in the folk ways of higher occupations, one thing is clear: the disengagement of self from occupational role not only is more common than it once was but is also increasingly regarded as "proper" '.4 It is during leisure and through the expression of subterranean values that modern man seeks his identity, whether it is in a 'home-centred' family or an adolescent peer group. For leisure is, at least, purportedly non-alienated activity.

It must not be thought, however, that contemporary man's work and leisure form watertight compartments. The factory-belt worker experiencing boredom and alienation does not come home in the evening to a life of undiluted hedonism and expressivityl The world of leisure and of work are intimately related. The money earned by work is spent in one's leisure time. It is through the various life styles which are evolved that men confirm their occupational status. Leisure is concerned with consumption and work with production; a keynote of our bifurcated society, therefore, is that individuals within it must constantly consume in order to keep pace with the productive capacity of the economy. They must produce in order to consume, and consume in order to produce. The interrelationship between formal and subterranean values is therefore seen in a new light: hedonism, for instance, is closely tied to productivity. Matza and Sykes have oversimplified our picture of the value systems of modern industrial societies: true, there is a bifurcation between formal and subterranean values, but they are not isolated moral regions; subterranean values are subsumed under the ethos of productivity. This states that a man is justified in expressing subterranean values if, and only if, he has earned the right to do so by working hard and being productive. Pleasure can only be legitimately purchased by the credit card of work. For example, unlike the 'leisure classes' depicted by Veblen, modern captains of industry feel duty bound to explain how the richness of their leisure is a legitimate reward for the dedication of their labour.

The ethos of productivity, then, attempts to legitimize and encompass the world of subterranean values. But there are cracks and strains in this moral code. People doubt both the sanity of alienated work and the validity of their leisure. For they cannot compartmentalize their life in a satisfactory manner: their socialization for work inhibits their leisure, and their utopias of leisure belittle their work. William Whyte caught this dilemma well when he noted:

'Hard work?' What price capitalism, the question is now so frequently asked, unless we turn our productivity into more leisure, more of the good life? To the organization man this makes abundant sense; and he is as sensitive to the bogy of overwork and ulcers as his forebears were to the bogy of slothfulness. But he is split. He believes in leisure, but so does he also believe in the Puritan insistence on hard, self-denying work — and there are, alas, only twenty-four hours a day. How, then, to be 'broad gauge'? The 'broad gauge' model we hear so much about these days is the man who keeps his work separate from leisure and the rest of his life. Any organization man who managed to accomplish this feat wouldn't get very far. He still works hard, in short, but now he has to feel somewhat guilty about it.5

Both the values of work and those of leisure are thus viewed ambivalently. For the socialization necessary to ensure incessant consumption conflicts with that necessary to maintain efficient production. The hedonistic goals conjured up in the media are sufficient as a carrot but contain no mention of the stick. 'Through television we are encouraging, on the consumption side, things which are entirely inconsistent with the disciplines necessary for our production side. Look at what television advertising encourages: immediate gratification, do it now, buy it now, pay later, leisure time, hedonism.'6

Play and Subterranean Values
The subterranean values of expressivity, hedonism, excitement, new experience and non-alienated activity are identical with the customary definition of play. Thus A. Giddens7 defines play as the aspect of leisure which is:
(i) self-contained, non-instrumental: it is an end-in-itself;
(ii) cathartic;
(iii) ego-expressive.
Similarly, Huizinga 8 in Homo Ludens defines play as
(i) voluntary activity;
(ii) it is not ordinary or real life, 'It is rather a stepping out of "real" life into a temporary sphere of activity with a disposition all of its own';
(iii) play is distinct from ordinary life both as to locality and duration and it contains its own course and meaning.

Now as to the status of play, various authorities vary in their assessment of its importance. For some it is a mere recreation from work, whilst for others, 'man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man,--and he is only completely a man when he plays'.9' It is such a world of play that Marx envisages in his future utopia where it will 'be possible for me to do this today and that tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, to raise cattle in the evening, to be a critic after dinner, just as I feel at the moment: without ever being a hunter, fisherman, herdsman, or critic'.10 This is a world without alienation, a world where work itself is synonymous with leisure.

Play, the demesne of subterranean values, occurs when man steps out of the workaday world, beyond the limitations of economic reality as we know it. The bifurcation between formal and subterranean values has a Freudian parallel in the distinction between pleasure and reality principles. Herbert Marcuse summed this up well when he wrote:

The change in the governing value system may be tentatively defined as follows:

The socialization of a child involves a transition from the pleasure principle to the reality principle, from a world of free expression and hedonism to one of deferred gratification and
productivity. Every man having tasted the paradise of play in his own childhood holds in his mind as an implicit utopia a world where economic necessity does not hold sway and where he is capable of free expression of his desires. This is the psychological basis of the subterranean values, and it is in one's leisure time that a watered-down expression of 'free time' and play holds sway. Marcuse would go on from this point and argue that the increased productivity of advanced technological societies has created the potentiality for the abolition of scarcity, of harsh economic necessity. Thus he writes:

No matter how justly and rationally the material production may be organized it can never be a realm of freedom and gratification; but it can release time and energy for the free play of human faculties outside the realm of alienated labor, the greater the potential of freedom: total automation would be the optimum12

Modern industrial society creates, then, the potentiality for the development of a leisure which would give full rein to the expression of subterranean values. But such a development would threaten vested interests. For:

The closer the real possibility of liberating the individual from the constraints once justified by scarcity and immaturity, the greater the need for maintaining and streamlining these constraints lest the established order of domination dissolve. Civilization has to defend itself against the specter of a world which could be free. If society cannot use its growing productivity for reducing repression (because such usage would upset the hierarchy of the status quo), productivity must be turned against the individuals, it becomes itself an instrument of universal control.13

Thus Marcuse, unlike Marx, sees the bifurcation between work and leisure as ineradicable. What is necessary is that productivity should be harnessed in order to provide a material basis for the realization of subterranean values. The ethos of hedonism must hold sway over the world of productivity: the present order must be reversed.

The Age of Leisure, often heralded as an imminent possibility by social commentators throughout the last decade, has instead involved Western man in an increasing spiral of consumption and production. Formal values — the ethos of productivity — still rule the roost over the subterranean values of freedom. Consumption has become, according to Marcuse, a sophisticated form of social control. Thus, in One-Dimensional Man, he writes:

We may distinguish both true and false needs. 'False' are those which are superimposed upon the individual by particular social interests in his repression: the needs which perpetuate toil, aggressiveness, misery and injustice. . . . Most of the prevailing needs to relax, to have fun, to behave and consume in accordance with the advertisements to love and hate what others love and hate, belong to this category of false needs.
The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fl set, split-level home, kitchen equipment. The very mechanism which ties the individual to his society has changed; and social control is anchored in the new needs which it has produced.14

Consumer needs, as Galbraith has so ably argued, do not spring directly out of some mysterious 'urge to consume' implicit in man's nature. They are created by the ethos of production, rather than the latter emerging to meet an innate demand. Advertising stimulates and creates desires in order to ensure a secure market for future production. And the ethos itself creates a calculus in which men are judged by their ability to possess:

Because the society sets great store by ability to produce a high living standard, it evaluates people by the products they possess. The urge to consume is fathered by the value system which emphasizes the ability of the society to produce. The more that is produced the more that must be owned in order to maintain the appropriate prestige.15

Our leisure, then, is closely geared to our work, it is not 'play' in the sense of a sharply contrasting realm of meaning to the workaday world. It is merely the arena where just rewards for conscientious labour are enacted, where occupational status is confirmed by appropriate consumption, and where the appetites which spur on productivity and aid social control are generated. Children from the age of about five are socialized by school and family to embrace the work ethic. For the young child play is possible, for the adolescent it is viewed ambivalently, but for the adult play metamorphoses into leisure. This process of socialization engenders in the adult a feeling of guilt concerning the uninhibited expression of subterranean values. He is unable to let himself go fully, release himself from the bondage of the performance ethic and enter unambivalently into the world of 'play'.

Such socialization into the ethos of productivity does not suit our times: these values are not in tune with the possibilities of our technology. As Norman 0. Brown put it:

History is transforming the question of reorganizing human society and human nature in the spirit of play from a speculative possibility to a realistic necessity. The most realistic observers are emphasizing man's increasing alienation from his work; the mass unemployment — i.e., liberation from works — given by modern technology; and the utter incapacity of human nature as it is today to make genuinely free use of leisure — to play.'16

It is ironic that it was John Maynard Keynes whose innovations in economics provided the theoretical basis for the at least short-term stabilization of the economy in a spiral of unceasing consumption geared to productivity, who best saw the difficulties that abundant leisure would create. Thus he wrote:

We have been expressly evolved by nature with all our impulses and deepest instincts — for the purpose of solving the economic problem. If the economic problem is solved, mankind will be deprived of its traditional purpose.

Will this be a benefit? If one believes at all in the real value of life, the prospect at least opens up the possibility of benefit. Yet I think with dread of the readjustment of the habits and instincts of the ordinary man, bred into him for countless generations, which he may be asked to discard within a few decades.'17

In short, our socialization is only appropriate for leisure commensurate with the work ethic: it is inappropriate to a world of 'play'.

Drugs and Subterranean Values
In the last chapter I analysed the factors which determined the social valuation of a particular form of drugtaking. I concluded that it was not the drug per se, but the reason why the drug was taken that determined whether there would be an adverse social reaction to its consumption. The crucial yardstick in this respect is the ethos of productivity. If a drug either stepped up work efficiency or aided relaxation after work it was approved of; if it was used for purely hedonistic ends it was condemned. Thus:


For a moment let us focus on the legitimate psychotropic drugs, remembering that over I2 in the pound of British consumer spending is devoted to the purchase of alcohol and tobacco alone, not counting coffee, tea and prescribed barbiturates, amphetamines and tranquillizers.

Kessel and Walton see the function of drinking as a means of relieving the tensions created by the need in advanced industrial societies for conforming to an externally conceived system of rules.

In simple cultures, where literacy does not exist, everyone has his place, with an importance and a dignity that the group recognizes. As social differentiation increases in complex cultures more rules are required. Those individuals who find themselves hard pressed to fulfil the requirements imposed on them become anxious because they must suppress and inhibit some of their urges in order to conform.

Rules check individual behaviour. As a society's rules become more complex, and especially where their enforcement is harsh and punitive, the individual has to limit the extent to which he can act solely in accord with his own wishes. In practice, restrictions are most stringent where they relate to aggressive and sexual behaviour. The threat of retaliatory punishment evokes anxiety in a person, whenever sexual or hostile urges are aroused. Because these are vigorous urges, a powerful conflict situation is set up in the individual. From time to time recourse may be had to alcohol to facilitate release of these proscribed urges.'18

I would agree with the above authors up to a point. It is true that alcohol is used to break down the inhibitions inculcated by modern society, but it does not result in an asocial response consisting of indiscriminate aggressive and sexual urges. Rather, it leads to a social area where hedonistic and expressive values come to the fore, replacing the bureaucratic rules of the workplace. Alcohol, in short, is used as a vehicle which enhances the ease of transition from the world of formal values to the world of subterranean values. And the same is true for many of the myriad other psychotropic drugs used by humanity. As Aldous Huxley put it:

That humanity at large will ever be able to dispense with Artificial Paradises seems very unlikely. Most men and women lead lives at the worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor, and limited that the urge to escape, the longing to transcend themselves if only for a few moments, is and has always been one of the principal appetites of the soul. Art and religion, carnivals and saturnalia, dancing and listening to oratory — all these have served, in H. G. Wells's phrase, as Doors in the Wall. And for private, for everyday use, there have always been chemical intoxicants. All the vegetable sedatives and narcotics, all the euphorics that grow on trees, the hallucinogens that ripen in berries or can be squeezed from roots — all, without exception, have been known and systematically used by human beings from time immemorial. And to these natural modifiers of consciousness modern science has added its quota of synthetics — chloral, for example, and benzedrine, the bromides, and the barbiturates.

Most of these modifiers of consciousness cannot now be taken except under doctor's orders, or else illegally and at considerable risk. For unrestricted use the West has permitted only alcohol and tobacco. All the other chemical Doors in the Wall are labelled Dope, and their unauthorized takers are Fiends.'

These Doors in the Wall open into the world of subterranean values. They allow us to step out into a world free of the norms of workaday life; not, let me repeat, to an asocial world. For there are norms of appropriate behaviour when drunk or 'stoned', just as there are norms of appropriate behaviour when sober. For, as outlined in the second chapter, the effects of drugs, although physiologically induced, are socially shaped. We have definite expectations or roles as to appropriate and reprehensible behaviour whilst 'under the influence'. It may be that some individuals imbibe so much that they completely lose control, but this merely underlines my argument in that loss of control is defined precisely in terms of deviation from the appropriate norms of drug-induced behaviour.

It is fallacious to think of these episodes as escapes from reality; rather we must view them as escapes into alternative forms of reality. For social reality is socially defined and constructed and the world of subterranean values, however ambivalently it is viewed by 'official' society, is as real as the world of factories, workbenches and conveyor-belts. In fact, many authors such as Huxley would argue that the world behind the Doors in the Wall is more substantial and realistic than that of the formal world.

Alcohol, then, is a common vehicle for undermining the inhibitions built up by our socialization into the work ethic. It is the key to an area of subterranean values which are, however, in our society tightly interrelated and subsumed by the work ethic. It is as if the Door in the Wall merely led on to an antechamber of the World of Work, a place to relax and refresh oneself before the inevitable return to 'reality'. But other drugs, in the hands of groups who disdain the ahic of productivity, are utilized as vehicles to more radical accentuations of subterranean reality. It is drug use of this kind that is most actively repressed by the forces of social order. For it is not drugtaking per se but the culture of drugtakers which is reacted against: not the notion of changing consciousness but the type of consciousness that is socially generated.

Groups that Exist beyond the Ethos of Productivity
Socialization into the work ethic is accomplished by inculcating into individuals the desirability of the various material rewards which the system offers, and the efficacy of work as a means of achieving them. There are two possible ways in which this process can break down and prove unsuccessful:
1. If the means of obtaining these goals are unobtainable: if work suitable to realize the material aspirations of certain groups is not forthcoming.
2. If the material rewards or goals are not valued by the individuals, sections of the community which are beyond the work ethos.

Two sections of the community are prominent examples of groups which are beyond the strict dictates of the work ethos: the ghetto Negro and the bohemian young. The former lack the means of achieving society's rewards, the latter disdain the rewards themselves. For different reasons, therefore, they share similar values and both are — very revealingly — particularly prone to illicit drug use. I want to examine, first, the general factors which precipitate the emergence of subcultures of youth in advanced industrial societies and then analyse the different styles of life which speciAc youth cultures have evolved as a solution to their problems. In particular I will focus on the various roles drugs play in the formulation of such solutions.

1 D. Matza and G. Sykes, 'Juvenile Delinquency and Subterranean Values', American Sociological Review, no. 26, p. 716.

2 P. Berger and T. Luckmann, 'Social Mobility and Personal Identity', European Journal of Sociology, no. 5, pp. 331 fr., 3964.

3 R. Dubin, 'Industrial Workers' Worlds', in Human Behaviour and Social Processes (ed.) A. Rose, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1962.

4 B. Berger, 'The Sociology of Leisure', in Work and Leisure (ed.) E. 0. Smigel, College and University Press, New Haven, Conn., 3963, P. 34.

5 W. H. Whyte, The Organitation Man, Penguin, London, 1960, pp. 21-2.

6 AntonyDowns, consultant to Lyndon Johnson's Riot Commission, quoted in Newsweek, 6 October 1969, pp. 31-2.

7 A. Giddens, 'Notes on the Concepts of Play and Leisure', Sociological Review, no. 12, pp. 73 ff.

8 J. Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, Paladin, London, 5969.

9 Schiller, Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man.

10 Marx, The German Ideology.

11 Herbert MarCivilizationnd Ciyiliration, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1956, p. 12.

12 Ibid., p. 156.

13 Ibid.) p. 93.

14 Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1964, PP. 5 and 9.

15 J. K. Galbraith, The Affluent Society, Penguin, London, 1962, p. 133.

16 N. 0. Brown, Life Against Death, Sphere, London, 1968, p. 41.

17 J. M. Keynes, Essays in Persuasion, 1930, pp. 366-7.

18 N. Kessel and H. Walton, Akoltolism, Penguin, London, 1965, pp. 43-4.

19 Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, Penguin, London, 1959, pp. 51-2.


Our valuable member Jock Young has been with us since Sunday, 02 January 2011.

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