A world of sorrows 

In the early '90s, when it was trendy to take the tranquilizer Xanex, people I knew took it. Later it was Prozac. Now it's Paxil. It might seem like I drive people to pills, but really, they come to it on their own.

If it works for them, they can bob for Ecstasy in a barrel filled with methadone for all I care, but I've shied away from regular tranquilizer use because (A) if I had nothing to bitch about I'd have to find a new job, and (B) everything being OK with me is not OK with me.

But because sometimes it seems like a nice idea to just sit there and grin when life is throwing shit at you like a zoo monkey, recently I seriously considered medication after a bout of depression, which I'm convinced was brought on by the Orlando Sentinel. Nothing personal. It could have been any daily newspaper. I haven't subscribed to a paper in years, preferring to get my news from Jon Stewart, like most people. But around the time of the inauguration I thought maybe I should start being more informed, the better to pass it on to my loyal and probably attractive readers.

That's the last time I ever think that. Reading the paper every day is like listening to the news read by Eeyore. I was so informed I could not get off the couch. The world, it turned out, is a horrible place filled with evil pinheads; I knew this from TV news, but TV is infused with loud, colorful ads that distract you the way a squeak toy distracts a tearful infant. You can hear about international terrorism only to be singing the Kit Kat jingle two minutes later. When you read the news, you sit quietly with it and let it weigh on you like an anvil.

Oppression depression

What really got to me was reading about a faith-based organization, the Taliban. When I read that the Taliban had started destroying 1,500-year-old Buddha statues, it was like reading that we had decided to fill in the Grand Canyon. Even more depressing is that the destruction brought forth the world's moral outrage, even though Afghanistan, where the Taliban reigns, has been destroying women for years.

The Taliban has banned music, movies, art, kite-flying, picnics, parakeets, toys and almost all reading material. They jailed a barber for giving Leonardo DiCaprio haircuts to men because the style interfered with the head-bowing required for prayer. They publicly amputate the hands of thieves, but that's nothing compared to their public executions, which make Vlad the Impaler look positively New Age.

Afghani females are not allowed to be educated or to hold a job. They're almost not allowed in public at all, and if they are, they have to wear a head-to-toe veil, which costs so much that women have to share one between them, so their turn to leave the house may not come for days. The costume permits no peripheral vision, and sometimes women are run over by cars or tanks. Many windows in Afghan homes have been painted black so the women can't be seen. To be seen with a man who is not a relative is considered adultery, for which a woman can be stoned to death. Author Jan Goodwin quoted an unnamed Taliban leader as saying, "There are only two places for Afghan women -- in her husband's house, and in the graveyard."

Severe reaction

The Taliban is a Sunni Muslim government, although its practices are not, it has been repeatedly stressed, exemplary of Islam at all. To think Afghanistan represents Islam would be to think the Salem witch hunts represented Christianity. But this is what seems to happen every time people take religion to an extreme. They end up with what looks like a case of spiritual obsessive-compulsive disorder. Just as OCD victims fall into rituals (endless hand-washing and lock-checking) to safeguard their life only to eventually find themselves not living, spiritual OCD seems to lock its practitioner into a set of rules that become delusional and eventually dangerous, until they're as far from spirituality as heaven would be from hell. They become almost like obsessed fans, stalkers of God, who will remove any obstacle they see as getting in between them and their object of fascination, as if John Hinckley shot Jim Bakker to win Jody Foster's affection.

What I conclude is that it isn't me who needs to be on medication, it's other people, and I've been wondering if it would be considered chemical warfare to slip it into the dwindling water supply over there. If I ever do open up a newspaper again, I'd like to see a story about how Afghani soldiers have become too nonchalant to butt women with rifles anymore and have taken to lying around reading "Codependent No More" instead.

If there's any light to be found in all this, it's that the Taliban makes the American religious right look like the crowd at Warhol's Factory parties. Sometimes seeing where life could have landed you, and didn't, is the best tranquilizer you could ever ask for.

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