80’s college angst: cause or symptom of drug use?

So, I recently read Brett Easton Ellis' Rules of Attraction and Donna Tartt's Secret History, and one thing I was struck by was the incredible prevalence of drug use. Not just marijuana, but everything you could imagine, and being done by everyone in the school, from people who spent their days closeted in the library to star athletes.

And I was thinking, "This is bull". There is no way drugs were this prevalent on any college campus, even on small lib arts colleges in the 80s. It's some weird glamour thing that these brat-pack writers cultivated.

So I went looking for statistics and found this report (warning, 2 MB pdf), which indicates that drug usage was (if not quite up to Ellisean standards) at least extremely prevalent back then, in a way that I cannot imagine now.

The lifetime usage rate (measuring whether a college student had ever used the given drug) for nearly every drug was nearly twenty points higher in 1983 than in 2006 (when I was a sophomore/junior). 23% for cocaine then, 8% now, for instance.

What would it be like to be on a campus where 8% of the students have used cocaine in the last month (as opposed to1.8% in 2006). That's an incredible figure to me., when you add up all the other drugs, it's easy to paint a picture of a college environment incredibly different from the one I had. Stanford was filled with fairly stolid, hard-working (though still interesting people) who mostly seemed pretty content and steady.

But this theoretical 1983 campus seems like it would be a very different place. The various hangovers and clashing chemically induced mood swings alone would make it an incredibly strange place for interpersonal relations, even without chemical dependency problems and their resulting fallout.

I'm kind of glad I wasn't there for that, honestly.

Lord Nelson could beat up your dad

I was recently reading the first book in Naomi Novik's Temeraire series. I loved the book, and I will probably read the rest of the series. But it's clearly just Horatio Hornblower with dragons. In fact, almost all naval fiction is just Horatio Hornblower fanfiction.

Patrick O'Brien's Jack Aubrey - Horatio Hornblower with a loveable nerd sidekick.

Bill Baldwin's Helmsman - Horatio Hornblower in space

David Weber's Honor Harrington - Horatio Hornblower in Space, fighting communists.

David Feintuch's Seafort Saga - Horatio Hornblower in a theocratic future, fighting aliens

Honorable Mention: Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe - Horatio Hornblower on land.

And Horatio Hornblower itself is just Lord Nelson fanfiction. Horatio Nelson is clearly the pinnacle of all naval achievement, a figure so spectacular that he cannot even be surpassed even in fiction. We will never, ever again have a bad-ass admiral who personally leads boarding parties against the forces of an insane tyrant, single-handedly saves his nation from invasion, and then has the good sense to die at the pinnacle of his greatest triumph. It simply cannot be done. And the reason all these series keep rehashing Lord Nelson's life is because they love him so much that they're unwilling to take the final step that guaranteed his place in mythology, they're unwilling to kill their hero off.

That's why I'm going to write the book that will be the pinnacle of the entire naval fiction genre. It will feature a futuristic British navy composed entirely of Lord Nelsons. The hero will be the fresh-faced Ensign Nelson, who is serving under a brilliant Lieautenant Nelson, who is eager to prove himself to the bold tactician Captain Nelson, who has just been sent into exile due to his forbidden romance with the married Viscount Nelson, and they are all part of Commodore Nelson's battle-group, who wins the battle of Space Copenhagen by pretending not to see a space-flare.

But little do they know that they are all pawns in the grand strategies of Admiral Nelson, who is maneuvering the British Space Navy in a desperate battle against the French juggernaut (yes, in the future, the enemy will be, as it always was, the French).