Dead End

Submitted by Reddebrek on November 1, 2017

PAUL GOODMAN, born in New York, 1911, is a novelist, poet, playwright, critic and psychologist. He is the author of Growing Up Absurd, which, with his other books was discussed in ANARCHY 11.

ALL THE WAY DOWN: The Violent Underworld of Street Gangs. By Vincent Riccio and Bill Slocum. (New York: Simon and Schuster. $3.95)

THIS IS THE REPORT of a spell with the Youth Board by an energetic and athletic man of average intelligence and sensibility, with a strong affection for kids, and for the kind of tough kids among whom he grew up in Brooklyn. It ends with his quitting street-work to become a high-school teacher and coach, largely because of disrespect for the bureaucracy of the Board and his judgment that the work does not offer enough advancement and money to support his growing family. His present feeling is regretful and despairing.
Vincent Riccio's work was important and exciting, but he accomplished little; the obstacles are overwhelming, and the conditions are deteriorating. He is concerned especially about the increase in drug-addiction, leading to ever longer prison terms and sudden death from overdose.

It is worthwhile to review the book because of the exemplary ordinariness of Riccio's values and motives and the journalistic reporting of the delicate texture of living (helped by Bill Slocum of The Daily Mirror). Riccio seems to be a good joe, unusually outspoken, fairly courageous and altogether unradical. In the upheaval of our urbanism, the baseness of our economy and politics, and the breakdown of conventional morals, we are in a more revolutionary situation than this kind of values and style can cope with: they are too unpolitical, too unphilosophical, the standard of excellence is too low.

Riccio's frankness is refreshing. He detests the New York police, who are no doubt a fine body of men but who, in his almost universal experience, are brutes and grafters. He has contempt for the Narcotics squad and for Harry Anslinger (recently retired): "Mr. Anslinger has been leading the war against addiction for over thirty years. Need I say more?" He is impatient with the Youth Board brass for endangering its workers and hurting kids just in order to allay public hysteria. (I do not follow Bill Slocum in The Mirror, but I wonder how he copes with the fact that his paper gleefully fans this hysteria. Why doesn't he explode and get fired?),

But Riccio's lack of perception of the big enemies of the kids and himself) is painful. He has an inkling that the disruption of neighbourhoods by our ghetto housing is a cause of bad trouble, but there is no anger against Webb & Knapp or Robert Moses; how does he think the buildings get there? In one passage he compares gang rumbles to wars and points out that "only the psychopaths and some of the generals want war," but he taught judo and combat hand-to-hand fighting in the Navy, and we do not read that he led his kids into the Worldwide General Strike for Peace. There is no criticism of the school system that has let his kids down. He is realistic in most sexual matters, but silent about the role of his church in giving the kids a bad conscience and taking the innocent joy out of their lives.

Even more painful than the book's lack of philosophy is that Riccio shares and reinforces many of the delinquent traits that stunt his kids' growth. He naively boasts of conning the kids (for example, on their boxing prowess), as if they could be cured without being taken seriously as persons. He encourages them to act for reputation rather than for the value of the activity itself. He even outdoes them in his contempt for eggheads. He rails at city urchins' fear of the dark and wild animals, but cannot make therapeutic use of the nerve of fright, hostility and instinct-anxiety that they have thereby exposed. Indeed, often the dramatic tone of his little scenes with them is of a contest of wills between stubborn siblings. Naturally, then, the kids like Rick, because he is useful and kindly; but they can hardly get out of themselves by means of him, for what he offers is no wiser or more interesting than what they are already.

Riccio's chief positive proposal in this book is the adoption of the English system of legalizing heroin under medical prescription and treatment — as he puts it, "I think we must give dope-addicts dope." His arguments for this are the standard ones of the social-scientists (though throughout he is disdainful of sociologists and psychologists) to destroy the economic motive of the pushers and to integrate the addict into a quiet and hopefully creative milieu. I wish he would learn to extrapolate the same attitude to the kids' other hang-ups. The cure for their violent sexuality is to allow them guiltless sex. The cure for their defiance is to teach them their real enemies to fight. The cure for their foolish activism is to provide them a world that his worthwhile tasks.