Catfishing Bots, Fentanyl, and Deeply Frayed Community

I’m simultaneously deeply annoyed and deeply saddened by the vast number of Bot-led catfishing proposals I get these days via social media.

It started out as just annoyance. And then, as a way of dealing with that annoyance, I decided to save a week’s worth…not to read them…just “screen shot and save”…then come back later.

What distance helps emerge for me now, and perhaps for you dear reader, is a sadness.

A sadness that this scam must work on *somebody,* or else you wouldn’t keep seeing it.

A sadness that it reveals a deep isolation and disconnectedness so many feel.

A sadness about how desperately we human beings need *real* human connection, and apparently how seldom we must be getting it.

Rattling in my brain alongside of these thoughts is the book “The Least of Us” by journalist Sam Quinones.

I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a follow up book to his decade-old work on the opioid crisis and families like the Sacklers. He’s back, and now he’s moved on to the next stage of America’s drug issues: The scourge of Meth, Fentanyl…on what’s been happening to us *since* we first paid noticed the prescription opioid crisis. And it’s incredibly disturbing.

I remember as early as the late 60s, and how people talked about how heroin was a drug that would almost certainly kill you.

Fentanyl is like 100 times stronger. A few *grains* too much, and it will kill you. P2P Meth appears to be messing with the wiring in brains of its users. There’s credible evidence to suggest it’s driving some of the homeless encampments we’re seeing.

Without getting into too many details, as someone who’s become quite familiar with many homeless camps in our city, I must say this last point rings very true to me.

Addiction to these powerful drugs, and the culture that is created to procure them, is a significant part of the camps I’m seeing. (In other words “housing” is just one small part of the issue. This is my view…and Quinones’)

But maybe even more compelling for us all, Quinones suggest that driving all of this is a lack of genuine human community.

Please understand: It’s not that we’re defective as humans. It’s that corporations now know, all too well, how to tailor the messages to “ping” those pleasure-centers in your brain. And they’re doing it with a chilling amount of precision and skill.

The line he speaks, several times in the book, that rings true to me is:

“Cartels are acting like corporations, and corporations are acting like cartels.”

Quinones sews a compelling thru-line that our additions to harder and harder drugs, social media, sugar and processed junk “food,” porn…ALL OF IT….can be traced to just how desperately isolated we are becoming.

It’s all a part of one addictive piece of one addictive society.
It’s all a part of the story of our desperate isolation.
Here’s some of an interview he did about the book:

“…we see a lot of very scary isolation…We built this intense isolation into our suburbs, so it’s very difficult to actually go outside and meet neighbors. A loaf of bread requires a two-mile drive. A good amount of it has to do with our urban planning stripping away anything that brought us together. Of course we are “connected” more than any humans have ever been connected, and yet it’s the most superficial kind of connectivity. We’re constantly connected on social media and we’re constantly misunderstanding each other. You don’t have the nuances of tone on Twitter or Facebook that you have when you’re speaking face-to-face with a person. Something that ought to bring us together actually has us tearing each other apart.”

But here is the part I hope you read, over and over:

“We have destroyed the very bulwark of defense that has allowed human beings to survive for eons now. What allowed us to survive was not that we viewed community as a nice thing to have around, but as something that was absolutely essential. Our brains evolved to require it. We die when we’re isolated far more quickly than when we’re with other people. Multiply that by an entire society and you get to a place where we are once again dying because we are isolated. In this case it’s drugs. As a society, we have stripped away all that stuff that brought us together.”

Again, read that last paragraph over and over. It feels deeply true to me.

During the pandemic, we endured an enforced isolation for the good of saving lives. But Quinones is correct: We are not meant to live as permanent desert hermits. We need community. We need connection.

And, it seems to me, we’ve forgotten how do it. But, as the book compellingly shows, we didn’t get here all at once. We were fraying the bonds of community long before the pandemic; for example, replacing Mom and Pop stores with Walmarts. Just that move, alone, has likely led to the street thefts…that leads to money to buy drugs…that leads to more addicts.

It’s complicated. You can’t just look at the addict. You can’t just look at the drug supply. You have to look at how we’re systematically disconnecting communities and doing it with skill. The social fabric of churches, community groups, PTAs, government funded parks and arts programs…all those have been in steep decline for decades now.

Brain science is showing us that the same brain receptors that light up when rats are on heroin *also* light up when you’re on SUGAR. We’re more sedentary than ever, most isolated than ever.


If we’re not addicted to Meth and Fentanyl, we’re addicted to alcohol.
If we’re not addicted to alcohol, we’re addicted to sugar and fat*.
If we’re not addicted to sugar and fat, we’re addicted to binge watching TV.
If we’re not addicted to binge watching TV, we’re addicted to social media.
If we’re not addicted to social media, we’re addicted to porn.

Some of us are addicted to all of these and more, and they all tend to drive into an isolation where we no longer seek “pleasure hits” from being with other humans, but instead from these inanimate objects…and in increasingly higher does, and more lethal forms.

Fentanyl feels like the inevitable last step, in some kind of macabre devolution of human community. After the fast food corporations, social media conglomerates, and drug cartels have all had their way…here come Fentanyl…a street level drug that apparently any lone individual can cut (not well) and sell on their own. Cheap to make. Distilled from 20-or-so perfectly legal chemicals, making it almost impossible to centrally shut down production or distribution. SO powerful that just a few grains too many can kill you.

I also like the book because Quinones doesn’t sugar coat the “cure.” He doesn’t blame average migrants crossing the border. he doesn’t blame the houseless around us.

He doesn’t suggest we can wave a few magic wands and make it all go away. On the supply side, he insists that these problems are now at *least* tri-national…involving the US, Mexico, and China. Unlike just banning Sudafed before, the chemicals used for these newer drugs are readily available, and come with many legitimate uses. Solutions, therefore, at the level of supply will be deeply challenging.

(As you might also imagine, he suggests this is urgent, and because of the complication, less likely too…)

On the demand-side, he highlights dozens of hyper-local treatment options, and ways in which communities are attempting to stitch themselves back together.

The more community we create —real, human community, not dominated by the online world or addictive substance behaviors— the more our brains can revert back to getting pleasure “hits” from….OTHER HUMANS.

Community, as he says in the quote above, isn’t just a nice thing. It’s essential to our survival.

Friends, I think he’s totally correct in his entire analysis. And I think he’s also correct that it’s gonna be a hard slog to heal. Fast foods and hard drugs give us those brain “hits” more powerfully and quickly than does human connection. So we shouldn’t kid ourselves. This will be hard work requiring much patience.

Last night, we had another great evening with “Wednesday Night Live” at Kessler Park UMC. This program gives me hope.

It’s basically neighborhood kids, coming together to play, eat a snack supper, and hear a short Bible story from Pastor Kay.

These kids are modeling what we adults need more of: Time in community. With other humans. Coming to church gatherings, reaching out in service to others, eating a local restaurants where we know the owners and the staff.

You can’t point to a one-to-one rote formula… “this much community will reduce that much addiction.” But, it’s a credible theory that the more we connect with real humans, the less that cartels, corporations and Bot-generated social media accounts can catfish us into their traps.

I have a feeling this will be the work of all of us, for the rest of our lives.


*That chicken nugget you love is not food. They are 60% fat and sugar and were created in a lab….the way Fentanyl was/is created in a lab. We eat it with a sugar sauce that combines three things our brain receptors crave: fat, salt, sugar. Again, the opioid receptors in our brains that light up when we’re on heroin, *also* light up when we’re on sugar.

This is an example of how “Cartels are acting like corporations, and corporations are acting like cartels.”

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