Putting drugs in perspective
Taught for twelve years in a secondary school at Liege.Considerable work as leader of cultural activities in youth groups and youth centres.
Author: Jean-Marie ENGLEBERT
Pages: 17 to 30
Creation Date: 1974/01/01
Taught for twelve years in a secondary school at Liege. Considerable work as leader of cultural activities in youth groups and youth centres.
Abandoned teaching for several years to live with groups of "marginalized" young people given to running away, suicide attempts and drug taking.
During this period he founded and was one of the leaders of the Delta Groups, a project aimed at bringing such young people together in communities.
Was invited by UNESCO to participate in a Seminar on Youth and the Use of Drugs in Industrialized Countries and took part in the production of a film entitled "La drogue à sa place".
In order to achieve its ends, every system draws up its own scale of values, on the basis of which it imposes its conformity patterns and the behaviour it requires of its members. An important corollary of this is the production and inexorable casting aside either temporarily or definitively of human rejects. These rejects include not only those persons who are unwilling to conform to the imposed patterns but also those who are recognized - or recognize themselves-as being unable to conform to them, the number of the latter being in a temporal arithmetic progression. The new drug phenomenon is an occurrence which may be viewed in this context. The "drug scandal" is not the spread of drug-taking among the younger generation but rather the fact that the drug problem has been isolated from the other problems facing youth. The problem is not sui generis and cannot be analysed apart from other manifestations of deviancy or rather of marginality. It can be argued that the "drug addict" is primarily a solitary figure, but, since Durkheim60, any personalized interpretation of the phenomenon, or even a biological one, seems ruled out as insufficiently broad. The phenomenon is definitely a social one, not because our society alone is responsible, but because the phenomenon is primarily a matter for sociological analysis since any marginality is a failure of socialization.
A society is an entity with a durable structure that outlasts the life of any individual. The death or birth of an individual has never in any way modified the progress of the entity while, on the other hand, the individual born into it must take whatever place is available to him in the structure. Society - in this case our Western society - offers, not one single model, but a number of models, thus allowing the individual the possibility of making a choice. Furthermore, there is a fluid "zone" of society around a solid and stable nucleus and this implies that the rigour of the models is limited. At the same time, the personal needs and characteristics of the individual cannot be contained within the rigour of the system, since most of the social models are intended more for the satisfaction and perpetuation of the system proper than for those of the individual.
Deviancy is therefore defined in relation to the limits of what is tolerable for the efficient functioning of the society, the social norm representing a given statistical value related to a law, a "values-attitudes system", which unifies the various models.
Hence, the alternative is posed in these terms: to conform to the social norm or not to conform. It is obvious that the choice does not result solely from a deliberate decision taken at a given moment in the life of the individual but from a socialization process which begins in early childhood. Conformism is a success for socialization and deviancy a failure.
The socialization process is not a one-way street. Society is a system resistant to integration and has a very defensive or even aggressive attitude towards those attempting to enter it. Socialization is not a passive acceptance; the apprenticeship is an active one. An act of will is needed to enter the game, to endure the frustrations, to make the efforts and perform the duties required and to use one's energy in a specific way in order to become and remain integrated and to resist social traumas. Moreover, a very high degree of social sensitivity is needed. The individual must be able to see himself in a social context, master a system of unfathomed complexity (the detailed pattern of even an "evolved" society must always be a closed book to its participants) and place himself both in time and in terms of the future. As Muchielli puts it, "Social commitment is a way of life". Thus it is clear that the socialization process will break down (i.e. become marginal in its effect if social circumstances prove difficult to master, if the individual's character lacks the resources to respond to the circumstances in which he finds himself or if he has little incentive to respond to them.
Every social structure, whether it be called the family, class, club, political, social or cultural context or something else, tends to "produce some marginal element". Marginality can manifest itself in different ways according to the society, the period and the components mentioned above. In the West, marginality is developing with the passage of time and apparently growing, as a result of the increase in the first two factors (difficult social circumstances and poorly equipped individuals) although the third factor has remained more constant. This brings us to a potential distinction between two main categories of marginality: "marginal" persons and "marginalized" persons.
The marginal person is one who, though quite aware of the value of the system, voluntarily decides to abandon it because he views it as something with which he does not wish to be concerned. The system does not appeal to him, he wants to do something else. He has a plan which differs from that of the system and he is capable of carrying it out. He is "over-equipped". His approach is primarily individualistic (even if he subsequently joins other like-minded people) and, if there is any failure of socialization, this may perhaps be attributed to society rather than to the individual in question who, for his part, has succeeded in his plan. If he is rejected by society, the rejection is usually temporary, and there is every likelihood that, after some time, he will be "recognized" either by the dominant class (intelligentsia phenomenon) or by society in general (the contemporary "star" phenomenon). His over-equipment becomes effective once he has been recognized. It is potential at the time of the breakaway and consists essentially in a self-confidence sufficient for him to be able to dispense with the rewards of society and consequently, to refuse its trammels. The over-equipped marginal is an advanced, an avant-garde person, a Utopian.
The other-negative-situation can be equated with deviancy as it is defined by Merton who regards as deviants the mentally ill, persons suffering from delusions, pariahs, exiles, itinerants, vagrants, tramps, chronic drunkards and drug addicts. To this list might be added old people and immigrant workers. The marginalized person too is outside the system, not through choice but because he is incapable and/or society deems
19 him incapable of carrying out its plans. The society in which we live tends to reduce individuals to their productivity value. For the system to survive, it must move faster and faster and, in order to do so, it is developing an ever more elaborate and specialized structure which is increasingly demanding in terms of the individual's equipment (equipment which may well be discredited later in some final and brutal but not unfore-seeable way). Thus the system combines a number of conditions that are conducive to the rejection of an increasingly large number of persons who are unable to keep up.
Two examples may be given. There is the case of the man in his forties who has to transfer to a new kind of work; when asked to take a retraining course for this, he is frequently not capable of doing so successfully. A second case is that of the elderly (who make up a very substantial proportion of the marginalized); they are virtually excluded from the system and are parked in old-peoples' homes and hospices for the dying.
Unlike the marginal individual, the marginalized person is one who is not able to cope with social conditions, which have become difficult (that this is so is fairly clear in view of the increasing number of marginalized people) because he is "under-equipped". The marginalized young person is under-equipped from the start and he knows it. He realizes that he is incapable of participating in the system. His marginalization can be attributed to the absence of any plan, although he was a priori perfectly willing to join the system. It will be obvious that, in our society, the conformist must not only observe the moral laws but must also take part in the "rat race", which is usually inconsistent with those laws. He is confronted with a choice between two fearful alternatives: being overwhelmed if he enters the arena and relapsing into uncomplaining hopelessness if he refuses to enter it. The marginalized person is looking for a solution without conflict. He refuses to fight for success in society, essentially out of weakness and, consequently, he takes to his heels. The marginalized person's behaviour is certainly escapist but it should be noted that this is always preceded by hostility towards, or even total rejection of, the society which excludes the weak by a phenomenon of "natural selection". We have only to observe the way in which marginalized persons perform one abortive action after another (e.g. the total lack of foresight and organization of the young marginalized person who was found to be carrying three passports, all invalid) to ask ourselves what it is they really want. Their paradoxical attitude can be compared with that of the child who, realizing that his mother has lost interest in him and longing to be loved by her, will attract her attention by means apparently inconsistent with his desire (tantrums and stupid behaviour). In the same way, one possible interpretation of the motivation of the marginalized person would be that he wants society to look after him to a degree that implies an attitude of refusal or challenge.
If there is refusal, however, it is a refusal at the level of relationships and it is not a question of opting out of society. The marginalized person is "perceptive and resigned". He is perceptive because he is capable of measuring the gulf that exists between himself and society. He is resigned because he is incapable of playing any part whatsoever in the system. There is no "leftist" marginalized person. The marginalized person accepts the existing system as it stands because he does not think that either he himself or anybody else can change it in any way. He notes the fact that there are "haves" and "have-nots"; since he is a have-not he is automatically rejected. To him the world appears to be governed by an inexorable fate. Everything is in the hands of the powers that be, which may or may not be well-meaning but are certainly very harsh.
It should be noted that the established social classes, though in constant opposition to one another, are singularly capable of reaching instant and lasting agreement - at his expense - when it comes to the rejection of a marginalized young person. The marginalized person who is conscious of his under-equipment will thus begin the process of breaking away by a series of refusals: refusal to accept social restraints, the moral code and social conventions and refusal to trust any individual who is socially defined.Thus, any person with a responsible position in our social structure is not only not to be trusted but is also felt to be an actual enemy. This is quite understandable if we look at the situation through the eyes of the marginalized person: society has dropped him, he is disappointed and when he finds himself face to face with any representative of society or "the establishment", such as a doctor or a social worker, he instinctively focuses on that representative all his hostility to society as a whole.
A further problem for the marginalized person is that of finding an identity. He is unable to identify with the conformist pattern, owing to his lack of any plan, and he will therefore identify with the marginal people, which results in even greater conflict,for he will be imitating and aping the behaviour of people who are temporarily in advance of the system - and often hyper-consumers - but who will in due course be retrieved by and incorporated into the establishment. The marginalized person can do whatever he pleases, but whatever he does will accentuate the marginalization process until it finally becomes irreversible and may take him as far as imprisonment or even death.
It is in this context that the problem of drugs, running away and suicide has to be considered. There is no special world of drug-users, runaways and the suicide-prone.Each of these categories belongs to the much larger group composed of the under-equipped marginalized. They are different forms of the drop-out phenomenon and the marginalized person frequently passes,from one to another. As far as drug abuse is concerned, all that can be said is that, if the marginalized young person is punished for practising it, his situation inevitably becomes worse. His manner of consuming (abusing) drugs is a very characteristic one which bears no relation to the cultural content or even the notion of pleasure attributed to them. Likewise, any approach to drug-taking solely by reference to the toxic or pharmacological aspects of these substances is bound to be ridiculously ineffective. Disintoxication as sole remedy has proved in practice to be ineffective in solving the real problem of the marginalized person, which is precisely his situation on the margin of society. Nor must the drug problem be treated simply as the resultant of a conflict between generations, notwithstanding the young peoples' false analogy: "What alcohol is for you, hash is for us". It is worth noting, incidentally, that while a great deal of fuss is currently being made about drugs (in the press, in books, in films and in scandals), the most common form of dropping out seems to be the practice of running away. It is not unusual nowadays to meet young people who have been running away since they were 12 or 13 years old and who have already run away a score of times.
It seems that most young drug-takers are under-equipped marginalized persons. The marginalized young person, realizing that he has been denied any possibility of integration into society and, consequently, any chance of the good life, will seek his happiness - or more exactly his pleasure - elsewhere and this "elsewhere" will derive from a system of values that differs completely from ours. What seems to be most important in the case of the young drug-user is his relationship to pleasure.This relationship might initially be interpreted as a regression to the oral stage: everything is argued in terms of "outside me" and "inside me" but there is in fact a genital or organic dimension to the drug addict's pleasure, as is revealed, for instance, by his talk: "To be ripped", "to be turned on" are expressions directly connected with genital sexual pleasure. The connexion would seem to be even more obvious in the case of the consumption of hard drugs (heroine or morphine) where there is both the phallic symbol of the syringe and also an analogy between the "flash" and the orgasm, considered as a release of the tension caused by deprivation. At the same time, however, there is an essential difference between the pleasure of the flash and that of the orgasm. The orgasm is a suspension, the reduction of existence to a constant, as well as a reference to its continuity, i.e. deprivation and tension. The flash is not the consummation of enjoyment as in the case of sexual pleasure but the beginning of enjoyment, an opening on a world different from that on which we live or, to use the language of drug addicts, the star, which is a distortion of time and space, a long drawn-out pleasure. The state of the drug addict thus appears to be governed by a refusal to accept the law that there must be a limit to pleasure. A further transgression he commits in his search for pleasure is his readiness to treat as real or experienced an imaginary world which has nothing in common with our "fantasy". After the initial pleasure, he drifts into a phantasmagorical maze, an experience corresponding to what we term madness, in as much as it partakes of the ineffable. Very soon, however, the pleasure-seeking aspect disappears, to be replaced by a need to blot out the withdrawal symptoms which have become the major factor. This is the beginning of a process of repetition which is also to be found, incidentally, in other forms of marginalization such as the consumption of soft drugs (where the withdrawal syndrome is far less painful) or the running away phenomenon. If we analyse the addict's approach to pleasure in greater depth, we may conclude that there is something mystical about it, a relationship with the divine rather than a relationship with death in that the approach is always a solitary one and is aimed at a discovery of self in a phantasmal universe of enjoyment stretched out to infinity.
The problem is that the drug addict has virtually no possibility of communicating with our reality, because either he is in a state of delirium on a "trip", and at that stage our language is completely inadequate to transcribe this delirium and we are thus unable to communicate with him, or he is in a state of withdrawal and we are unable to stand the introjection of his sufferings. This phenomenon can be likened to our attitude towards insanity. Drug users and lunatics are put out of harm's way and shut up in asylums because we cannot tolerate the addict any more than we can the lunatic and for the same two reasons: on the one hand we feel panic-stricken or even anguished when faced with a lunatic or an addict, a reaction to the irrationality of their speech (the same is true to a lesser extent in the case of other forms of marginalization; owing to the language gap or inadequacy, we experience an emotional reaction when, for example, we encounter a runaway) while, on the other hand, we are only too well aware that neither we ourselves nor anyone is safe from drugs or insanity. In the search for solutions. we thus come up against both a problem of language and a problem of territory. When opposition is verbalized a conflict is possible because both sides are on the same plane (e.g. in the case of a political opposition), but the marginalized person is not "against" society; it is his marginality itself which is a challenge to the established system, just as the felicity experienced by the drug-user calls into question the very concept of pleasure and the existence of mental illness the integrity of the human personality. The break is never a sudden and final one but rather a slow and continuous process. The normal and the abnormal are not separated by a clear and fixed barrier but are constantly overlapping in a highly mobile fashion.
There are of course solutions, at both the official and private levels, to the problems of drugs, running away and other forms of severance from society, but we know from experience that these solutions very often come too late. Just as cancer does not manifest itself until it is well advanced, the marginalization process is already well under way before there is any possibility of recognizing the symptoms. The social apparatus, both in its preventive and repressive manifestations and in its attempts at social rehabilitation, is somewhat loath to tackle a certain kind of destitution involving only human failures we really do not know what to do with any more.
The experience of the Delta Groups is parallelled by many other private and even semi-official initiatives. Such projects have often been started by private individuals, sometimes marginal persons or even anti-conformists, and they often come into existence, develop and then fade away without much notice being taken. It is only later, when the official bodies bestir themselves that the realization dawns that these projects had intuitively discovered some novel solutions, although they had not had sufficient resources to survive. Moreover, for many and obvious reasons, it frequently happens that such projects do not have the advantages of appealing to the social fabric in which they develop.
After these few reflections on the type of problems with which such projects have had to deal-drug problems and the broader problem of marginality, it may be worth describing and dismantling as it were for inspection a mechanism of this sort namely, the Delta Groups.
By a happy coincidence, the Delta Groups carried out their experiment in Liege, Belgium, a city which offers a useful example of the subject of the present study. A city of medium size, it has inherited from its past human and geographical dimensions such that a tour of the urban area can rapidly be made and a shrewd and careful observer can learn all that goes on there without too much difficulty. On the other hand, Liege is large enough for it to be possible, for some time at any rate, to adopt a marginal attitude and encourage unconventional initiatives without attracting too much attention. Furthermore, a glance at a map of Europe will show that Liege is particularly well situated at a major crossroads only a few hours distant from Amsterdam, Paris and Cologne and less than a day's journey from Copenhagen and London. The motorways surrounding the city are ideal for hitch-hikers with their eyes on distant horizons. There are also the railways. The Amsterdam-Basle express, which has long been known as the hippy train, stops at Liege. The boat-trains for London also stop there. Liege is said to be an important crossroads for the international drug traffic. Since, however, we have no special information in this field we can only accept the statements made to this effect in the local press and by the city's drug squad. According to the latter, if they had the necessary staff and resources, the police would very often be able to catch the big dealers in narcotics. This is of no concern to us, however, our interest being confined to petty traffic and consumption, in short to the world of the young drug-user. The crossroads location of Liege brings out an interesting point, namely, that about half of the young people there who are minor drug-users are of local origin, the other half being on their way through the city to some other place. Thus, a considerable proportion of the drugs consumed at Liege come from the nearest foreign cities. All it needs is for some hitch-hiker to pass through fairly regularly for a sales point to be supplied. Similarly, a young Liégeois has only to go to Amsterdam, London or Paris to bring back, in almost complete safety, some "acid" or hashish or a few bags of heroin. The first astonishing discovery which the Delta Groups were to make was that the young people who came to them were from all parts and that the majority were not natives of the city.
The Delta Groups began in a very simple way. For years there had been talk about the drug problem in all walks of society, in the press and in educational circles. It was spoken of as a pernicious phenomenon that was spreading throughout the world, especially among young people. There was some vague knowledge of the existence of drugs in Liege itself, but it was throught that the situation would never be as bad as in some of the large cities. About 1968, the subject began to come up more and more frequently and reports began to appear in the newspapers of many arrests and inquiries and the discovery of drug-taking communities and young traffickers. The phenomenon appeared to be reaching Liege. A few well-meaning adults and some rather nonconformist young people who were prepared to tackle almost anything decided to make contact with this special world of young drug-users. These people had no pre-conceived ideas or special competence, but a determination, not to solve, but to gain an understanding of this notorious problem.
The approach adopted by this small group was at three levels. It involved, first of all, achievement of complete solidarity with the so-called drug addicts by infiltration into the groups in which drugs were suspected to exist and frequently the places where these young people lived or met, in other words by sharing their way of life. Next came a systematic "welcome and assistance" policy consisting mainly in making them feel at home and listening to their problems (which incidentally they were anxious to talk about once they trusted their listener) and, starting from there, a joint search for a solution, if there was one. This welcome also included sheltering and helping out, but always on a provisional basis in order to avoid any sponging, which has been and always will be the perennial problem for those assisting young down-and-outs. Lastly, for several years, this welcoming and solidarity approach led the group to set up wider and wider circles of both adults and young people who had become concerned about drugs and who took an active part in the work of the original group. Very rapidly, as a result of passionate involvement and emotional reactions when brought face to face with young drug addicts, this second group, which had been expanding, began in fact to decline and confined its participation to what its members could or perhaps dared do, i.e. supply funds and equip houses or apartments as shelters. People who, at the outset, had agreed to lend a hand and take part in an "effort to overcome the drug problem" became more and more frightened, not at the size of the problem, but at the possibility that too solidary and welcoming an approach on their part might arouse some reaction against them in Liege society. Furthermore, the original group's direct and permanent contacts with the young drug-users meant that it had less and less time to explain what it was attempting to do and elicit the interest of local public opinion. Furthermore, because of diverse but mainly negative reactions, revealing silences and a generalized although not very obvious or repressive hostility, the initial group very soon decided to limit itself to befriending the young addicts as mentioned above and doing more to assist them, even though it exposed itself to the inevitable sponging. Because of the geographical situation of the city of Liege, these direct contacts were, within a few months, to entail numerous obligations for this group of leaders and many contacts with persons abroad and with other groups adopting the same solidarity approach. As a result of all these factors, the original group gradually developed a critical insight into the drug problem, a certain philosophy and views as to possible solutions.
For reasons which the original group has not yet managed to clarify completely, it was soon readily admitted into the circles in which drugs were consumed. This may have been due to the fact that it had given sufficient evidence of its complete solidarity with the young people of whom we are speaking. Hindsight, after about five years, indicates that the group's attitude was clearly paternalistic. No matter-this is simply how things were; the members of this original group initiated a plan of action to come to the help of these young people. Once the plan got under way those who had wished only to obtain some knowledge and experience of the drug problem backed out. Others, however, came forward to join the project. These were, for the most part, students, social workers and in particular (at the end there were only these) young people who had themselves suffered from a drug problem. The Delta Groups were born.
The members of these Groups decided that it might be better, instead of spending hours in the city's nightclubs and elsewhere or travelling from town to town making a systematic but disorganized search for "marginal" young people, to settle in the house of one of their own people and to use it as a reception centre. They did so, however, without giving much thought to the consequences of all kinds that this would necessarily entail. The door of this house was opened and very rapidly the reverse movement took place. It was no longer a question of going out to look for young people with problems for, in greater and greater numbers, such young people invaded the house. As one of the members put it: "It was then that we began to organize ourselves and encountered the first difficulties. We were all volunteers but it was of course difficult to find people who had the time and the money, as well as the understanding, patience and suitability, for the work we were doing. It was decided therefore to meet at regular intervals once a week initially and an active cell composed of 10 'permanents' was set up. Most of the members of this cell were former drug-users. Every day, the essential work-cooking, cleaning, etc. was divided among the members of this new community. We attempted to cope with all requests for assistance on a day-to-day basis. It became necessary in fact, to operate round the clock and all kinds of problems soon had to be faced." The frontier between the Delta Groups and the "outside" world began to make itself felt. A young person in prison had to be visited; efforts were made to find another who had left for Amsterdam or Marseilles; discussion groups were set up and held long debates on everybody's problems. "We tried to provide them with an answer through a type of semi-community life based on group dynamics and the recognition of others. We attempted to offer them a positive environment in which they would meet young people who had experienced problems similar to their own and in which these problems could be jointly discussed. Nobody in the Delta Groups was dealing with these matters professionally. We were amateurs in the true sense of the word: we loved the work, were interested in the subject and were ready for everything and willing to do anything to understand and help these young people. Our resources consisted of various amounts of intuition, commonsense, inventiveness, desire to help and, gradually, experience. We did not always succeed but we did not always fail either."
A certain sense of humour is required to picture what the Delta Groups' shelter meant in the context of the city of Liège. A sort of transhumance was gradually to be observed in the city. On the day when the weekly meeting took place, an attentive observer could see, through the city, many young people heading purposefully for the same address. Watching from in front of the house, the same observer must necessarily have wondered on hearing floods of pop music coming through the windows, as well as shouts and laughter, and on seeing the same "fauna" entering and leaving and moving about in the area. If he followed any of them into the house, he would not have been able to say that anything terribly reprehensible was happening there, although everything would no doubt have seemed doubtful and ambiguous. There was much talk of "dope", prison, escapes, running away, suicide attempts, the price of drugs and the problems of such and such with the police. A deserter who was due to pass through in a few hours might have been mentioned or a collection made to help some other young person. All the young people who were free to visit the house knew that they had to accept two conditions. The first was that they had to help in some way or another with the housekeeping (by washing dishes, making coffee, etc., or, of course, better still, by being willing to commit themselves a little further by joining the active cell or making contact with another group). In short, they had to lend a hand in some way. The second condition, as simple as the first, was that they could not consume drugs on the premises. Obviously, if the attentive observer just referred to had gone through the pockets of these young people he would have found evidence for quite a number of prosecutions and, had he verified the identity of some of those present, he would have learned enough to have had the house closed within the hour
The members of the active cell were not unaware of this; they were simply over-whelmed and overtaken by the movement which they had launched and which they could no longer control. This was not to them a cause for pessimism but rather the contrary, for the assortment of young people arriving was constantly growing. This was always a source of joy and gratification for the Delta Groups. In this connexion, it may be worth quoting a passage from a short article written at the time by one of the first members of the cell, a passage which provides a revealing picture of this original group: "Our objective was, as we mentioned earlier, a certain approach to the youth drug problem. By degrees we came into contact, not only with the young drug-user, but also with the young person in a state of crisis who reacts to the crisis by running away, taking drugs or attempting suicide. But the broadening of the spectrum did not stop there. Against our will-or rather contrary to our desire to confine our attention to these specific categories, our groups encountered the phenomenon which the communes, for example, also encountered: the mutual attraction of marginal people, a phenomenon that is now well known. Our gatherings might have seemed contradictory or incomprehensible to anyone who has not lived in close contact with marginality. There was, for instance (the list is far from exhaustive) the woman of about 40 who was quite incapable of dealing with the slightest difficulty and who always avoided any problem by taking tranquillisers; she said she came to us only because 'things were not too bad'; she was a vocal member of a working group. The younger people were silent with astonishment at seeing an adult drug-user. There was the lovesick lesbian; she liked the atmosphere of the house, not because she was in any way encouraged in her behaviour there, but because she said she found there people who did not condemn her but tried to understand; there was the small consumer of hashish- 'never to excess'-whose only topic of conversation was the legalization of 'hash'. He thought he could find in the house new converts to the cause which he preached probably because he had nothing else to do, use of the 'joint' having only accentuated a quite exceptional degree of laziness. He also had cosmic visions, which he described. He often talked to himself, thinking that others were listening to him. There was the ex-militant of the Secours Rouge; the quite remarkable sample of marginal people assembled in one place caused him to spit out more and more acid remarks about our 'phoney society' he dreamed aloud about protest operations, each of them weirder than the last; he was great fun to listen to but totally ineffective-incapable even of cleaning the ashtrays. There was the pop-music lover whose record collection was only slightly less extensive than his piously memorized discography; he was always just back from a festival and already had a ticket for the next one to sell; for him dope was perfectly normal when you were at a festival or even listening to a record; noise and being stoned went together. There was the genuine hippy who had dropped out completely and had gone everywhere that hippies go. Drugs? No, he did not want to become a moron; all angelic kindness, he was full of plans, predicted in detail the future of the Delta Groups and would promise anything but was never there when he was wanted. He was probably playing the flute the evening that he promised to be on duty. There was the professional conscientious objector who was present at every 'demo'. He could tolerate anything except the slightest requirement to be on time or the slightest constraint. He knew many writers and his efforts to win recruits to his cause were facilitated by the fact that the marginal types to whom he addressed himself saw him as the prophet of a new form of non-commitment. There was the boy with a serious attack of 'copitis'-house word meaning a psychotic fear of the police-who sowed panic among all the potential delinquents around him; he could always hear someone breathing on the telephone, said he saw a cop spying in a public lavatory for three hours and thought that half the people around were police informers. There was the girl studying sociology who was looking in the Delta Groups for original material for her thesis. She was often in conversation with the eternal sixth form student who had to give an account of 'the drug problem' in the classroom for his French teacher or, more usually, his religious knowledge teacher. This student was a little worried because he did not see any drugs and was unable, owing to the freedom of language of those present, to distinguish between those who used drugs and those who did not. There was the young teen-ager who for the eighth time in the week-it was Tuesday-had had a row with his father. He sported a black eye and all he remembered of his father's shouts was 'I don't want to see you here again!'. He too was a little frightened to be among really inveterate runaways. There was also the university student, a former scout-master who wished to continue doing good deeds; he felt that 'helping the drug addicts' was a wonderful opportunity; he was often useful in that he had a car and free time but, apart from that, he was not much good. Lastly, as inevitable as the tide, there was the tramp who never got picked up and who had been on the road for the last five years. He sometimes told tales which were so obviously untrue that nobody believed them. He was always just back from Copenhagen or Marseilles; all he really wanted was a bath and a bowl of soup; he did not want any money but said he could use an old pullover or a shirt. He often had trailing with him a girl he had picked up along the way; she never said much, she was probably a runaway."
This little description dates from a few years ago and would now greatly amuse those who launched the Delta Group. While it brings back a flood of more or less amusing memories, it is also a reminder of the impossibility of long survival of groups of this kind in the same place. It also shows the impossibility of any kind of selectivity of approach and, consequently, of applying any system if one is to be of practical help to young people. Seen from the outside, the Delta Groups were undoubtedly acquiring certain aspects that could rightly be criticized. But it is easy to criticize something if you are not, are no longer or are not yet involved in it. Why-the critic will ask-was a selective approach not adopted? Why did the groups not deliberately limit the scope of this action? It is necessary to have actually worked with the Delta Groups to know that that was impossible. How could any selectivity have been applied, what should have been the criteria and who could have done the selecting? Practice and experience showed in fact that it was only after a slow and patient co-existence that any valid choice could be made. Of course, at a later stage, when the Delta Group became the "Delta Communities", which were marginalized, concealed, clandestine and outside the city centre, the problem was quite different and the selection virtually automatic. By this time it had become obvious that the open-house approach was gradually preventing us from giving any genuine assistance and that the inevitable sponging was preventing a real approach to the genuine drug addicts or runaways. It had become more and more urgent to decide whether or not the door should be kept wide open. A number of small occurrences and many suspicions that were at least partly justified showed the leaders that it was high time to close shop and even to announce, by a wide distribution of posters and circulars, that the Delta Groups were suspending their activities for the time being. This action was decided on because until such time as public opinion is better informed, a drug addict is viewed as a delinquent, and a runaway, particularly when he is a minor, cannot be sheltered with impunity. Furthermore, a young person who has been involved with the police or the courts will obviously be picked up more readily than another. Of the young people frequenting the Group, those who were in these categories constituted a clear majority. In addition, the appearance and behaviour of these young people could only cause the overly inquisitive to become even more so.
The name of the Delta Groups and the names of the young people frequenting them inevitably came up with increasing frequency in police enquiries, searches and reports. It may have been a mistaken impression (?) but it gradually began to seem that some of the young people who regularly attended the meetings were not entirely unconnected with those charged by society with the prosecution of drug offenders. Allegations began to be made concerning certain individuals and some significant happenings made us realize that, by playing on grounds reserved for other teams, we were condemning ourselves to trouble.
The Delta Groups ceased activity and announced the fact as publicly as possible. The doors were dosed to anyone in any way suspect and thus began the existence of the new and completely marginalized "Delta Communities".
It might be well here to mention some of the reactions of the social fabric of the City of Liège to the Delta Groups, as experienced by the latter during their "public" life. The manner in which the Groups worked and the "success" they rapidly achieved among marginal young people, both drug-takers and others, was due to their somewhat challenging approach. This undoubtedly explains the fierce public reaction to "these dirty and uncouth young people, who dress in an incredible way and do not even try to improve themselves". In this connexion, it is worth mentioning the significant reaction of a lawyer: "If you don't strike quickly and very hard, in five years' time we'll need a policeman for every five young people and the rule will be to shoot on sight". Another lawyer called for "all these young people to be put inside for a fortnight without any argument". The least that one can say is that the work of the Delta Groups does not seem to have aroused any great enthusiasm among the local officials and legal authorities. The small amount of information that it has been possible to obtain is nevertheless very revealing when it is borne in mind that all those questioned occupied positions in society where they were bound to come frequently into contact with "problem youth", yet they never directly contacted the leaders of the Delta Groups. The Groups never counted all the young people who passed through their centre but, without any exaggeration, they must have numbered in the hundreds. Even if there had been only five or ten, however, that would not have altered the reactions of Liège society in any way. There was, for example, the reaction of a juvenile court judge whose approach was on a completely different plane from that of the Delta Groups: "An educator cannot be improvised and experience with the Delta Groups shows that, in general, they consist of people who are undoubtedly dedicated but have no training, have not made a study of the problem before tackling it and have no idea of its complexity. There is also a real danger of causing harm to young people or becoming their accomplice by trying to gain their friendship. Besides, may not the existence of such a group be a factor that will make minors decide to run away when, without assistance or resources, they would soon be forced to return to their institutions". This is the typical attitude of the institutional man; he defends it through thick and thin and, a priori, he regards these young people as delinquents first and foremost - in his view with complete justification. He believes that they will eventually return to the fold, where there are ready-made solutions to their problems, but that it will first be necessary to get rid of certain cranks (amateurs in the worst sense of the term) who only increase delinquency when the primary objective is to reduce it. It should be noted, incidentally, that this judge reserves for himself the role of expert, denying anyone else the right or even the possibility of doing or saying anything about a problem that concerns society as a whole. Worth quoting also is the reaction of one of his colleagues who also had had no personal contacts with members of the Group, but in any case did not think that any co-operation between an official body and a private initiative was feasible, the difficulties being, in his view, of a practical nature. "How" - he asked - "is one to determine who is responsible on the private initiative side; how are the representatives of the different social welfare functions involved to be brought together; and how can account be taken of the rules by which governmental institutions are bound?". There is no obvious hostility here, but the speaker thinks that, while private initiative may be of some use, it is not possible to settle the problems in this way.
Needless to say, the Criminal Investigation Department was acquainted with the Delta Groups. It even met one of its leaders on several occasions. However, the Department considered that these contacts were too sporadic to lead to any genuine co-operation and it felt that a mutual distrust had developed. It said that the Delta Groups "flirted" far too much with young drug-takers, trusted them completely and, consequently, often had the wool pulled over their eyes. The police regretted that they had never had any genuine relationships with the Delta Groups. In view of the shortage of social workers, they felt that the Groups offered a sound basis "but an adequate and trained staff would have been needed, as well as physicians, psychologists etc." The police were of the opinion that "co-operation at all levels is vital if any similar experiment is to be attempted. One police official, moreover, declared one day that this co-operation would have to be collaboration and that in the general interest it would be useful if the leaders of the Delta Groups were to communicate regularly to the police the identity and background of the young people they received; in return, the Department should inform the leaders whether they could or should continue to receive particular individuals. The Department remains sceptical, however, concerning the possibility of continuing the project.
Lastly, we may note the interesting reaction of a social welfare officer attached to the Juvenile Court who has long been acquainted with one of the Group's counsellors. He does, however, admit that he has not put himself out to keep in touch with the experiment since, as he puts it, he believes that it is a dangerous one: "It is not enough to plunge into it with great enthusiasm. It is also necessary to be equipped to tackle such problems. This frightened me very much and I wondered what they would get into next... the whole thing has been very harshly judged here, too harshly I think. People have said to me: another lot of cranks; they are going to come up against a pile of difficulties that they do not and cannot suspect and once they understand the situation, they will disappear like all the others; I am simplifying, but that is more or less the attitude." This reaction is an interesting one since it leads us back to what we said above: certain initiatives for dealing with problems facing society are often considered valid but dangerous. One might even go so far as to say that those who are professionally concerned with the protection of social models still prefer to do nothing and let a problem become more acute rather than take remedial action outside the frameworks established by the system. Anyone who adopts an anti-conformist or marginal attitude will have a tough time of it. It is interesting to note also that the reactions we have just quoted boil down to this: a private initiative such as the Delta Groups is dangerous, not because it is tackling certain youth problems such as drug-taking, running away, etc., but because it is doing so outside the legal, social, preventive and enforcement framework which the social system has established.
Let us go back for a brief moment to see how the Delta Groups sought to assist young people. The groups' counsellors realized that most of the young people they were meeting were in fact conscious of their under-equipment and that as was stated earlier these young people are entirely incapable of integrating themselves into any community or rising above a parasitical behaviour. They refuse to accept any social constraint although they feel they may find an answer to their deficiency in community life. Inasmuch as these young people also regard all those appointed by society to deal with them (social workers, psychologists, etc.) as a further marginalization factor, the "anticonformism" approach of the Delta Groups was capable of meeting their needs, to some extent. The Delta Groups therefore always endeavoured to create, by every possible means, forms of environment which, while not promoting drug consumption would excite a new taste for living and a new motivation for these young people, so that they would react to their problems otherwise than by running away from them. The psychological environment is a factor of primary importance in the case, for example, of drug-taking. The potential drug-user will not become an active one regardless of circumstances. He will do so only if he frequents such and such a group or such and such an establishment or if he is faced with some difficulty that has to be overcome.
This will make it clear why effective solidarity with problem youth is necessary and why it is essential to live with them. Such problems cannot be solved from the heights of a public office or, at any rate, such solutions can only be partial and therefore derisory. "To be a permanent member of a group such as the Delta Groups, it is not enough to have a diploma, a salary and do one's eight hours per day. That's not worth a thing. And as for giving a hand now and then, that's not worth while either. You have to commit yourself to it completely with your back to the wall. Making a professional approach to these young people is viewed by them as rather like the action of a parish priest visiting his poor. The most important quality for the counsellor of such a group is an extreme patience, for the youngster must be approached very slowly. In the first place, you have to succeed in winning him over. To do so, you must not ask him any questions or make the first step. He must always begin to confide in you of his own volition: I ran away three weeks ago or I have some amphetamines in my bag."
As one of the counsellors of the Group put it: "The first day, when a youngster gets the idea of settling into the house, all we need to ask him was whether he was hungry. Some time later, he himself would ask for something to eat. After a while he would voluntarily give a hand with the washing up. What was most difficult for us was this seeming lack of any good will on their part, the 'letting things go' attitude typical of the marginalized person who does not believe in anything any longer and no longer can decide anything for himself." This same counsellor used to say that people's minds were not ready to accept reception centres of this kind. "There have been, for instance, some very difficult conversations with police officers: 'What? So-and-so visits your place ! Is he still taking drugs?' 'Oh yes !' - 'Well, why is he still coming to you? You cannot accept somebody like that !' - 'But if he comes, it is precisely because there is a problem and he knows people will listen to him'. It is only natural for an outside observer to be suspicious of the morality of the centre. He notes, for instance, that a youth who has 'rolled a joint' with some companions, then comes to pass the evening at our centre. The same person finds the boy in question in a bar in the city at 1 a.m. flying high. For my part, I think it marvellous that the boy has taken the trouble to come here and the fact that he states quite simply that, when he comes here, he no longer even wants to 'smoke'. The problem was that we did not give the impression of being a proper, serious enterprise. If I were Doctor So-and-So, I would have some standing ! If I opened a centre under some law or other, that would be accepted. But we have realized that, once any initiative of this kind becomes official, it is discredited with the young people."
The Delta Groups have always tried to maintain a certain distance from persons in official positions concerned with these questions, including drugs, because they think that most of the cases they have encountered involve first and foremost a problem of environment. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the officials move into action only in what we might call extreme cases, i.e. after an accident or an arrest. The "average drug-users", like the whole range of minor delinquents, runaways, etc., slip through the meshes of the law and constitute the great majority. Marginalized young people are very sensitive to this state of affairs and, over and above their well-known reactions as people living on the fringe of society, they regard prisons, clinics, social welfare workers and policemen as disagreeable realities that are to be avoided but are in fact fairly harmless and are anyway quite incapable of understanding their situation. The closure of the centres described earlier was the result, some will say, of a pessimistic analysis. The counsellors, on the other hand, say that their analysis is a realistic one. The Delta Groups have recognized the fact that, once a young person is unable, for a variety of reasons, to find his place in established society he will be increasingly excluded from that society. Now that the Delta Communities have replaced the group in Liege, they have had no more serious difficulties. They live a hidden form of community life out in the country and, recognizing the facts we have mentioned, know they are excluded and no longer attempt to maintain any contacts with the social system other than indispensable ones - purchase of food, transport, any contacts with the police etc. Having lived on "Skid-Row", they take it for granted. The lesson to be drawn from this experiment is that there are no miracle solutions. They recognize that they have found only a short - or medium-term response to the situation of marginalized youth. Their approach to the question shows that, in a social fabric such as our own, which is very demanding and has a rigid structure, what they call "free zones" are essential. Such zones, if tolerated or encouraged by the public authorities, can be organized on the following basis: recognition of the fact of marginalization (the marginalized young person is on the fringe... and nowhere else), solidarity (at the risk of finding themselves in difficulty, those responsible for the free zones must break through the barrier and live at the same rhythm as the marginalized). Finally, the free zones appear to be the last possible means of contact between the representatives of the social system and marginalized youth. The experiment suggests that what no other institution can do any longer can still be done through creation of a free zone having the characteristic of flexibility and capable of assuming many forms.