photo & text by nacrowe
there is evil and then there is SACKLER FAMILY evil.
EMPIRE OF PAIN: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE SACKLER DYNASTY (DOUBLEDAY, 2021) by PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE is a cautionary journey into the depraved depths of boundless GREED that marked the IMMORAL behavior of the SACKLER FAMILY and the pharmaceutical business, PURDUE PHARMA, that they owned and operated over three generations. this operation was so successful in its peddling of addictive opioids in part due to the BRAZEN nature of their incapacity to showcase HUMAN EMPATHY or any SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY to their fellow man, instead hiding behind a fig leaf of false LIBERTARIAN-inspired dogma that is all to apparent in similar MORALLY CORRUPT CAPITALIST ENTERPRISES (i.e. tobacco and firearms).
but the outrage i felt reading this book is not limited to the SACKLER FAMILY and their unethical marketing of OXYCONTIN (and VALIUM before it) for widespread, common use. its tentacles went much further into the the very heart of the CORRUPT INCENTIVE STRUCTURES that are the basis of our federal LEGAL, POLITICAL and MEDICAL systems. every system failed. multiple times. it seemed that the whole capitalist system enabled this company to reek PHYSICAL, MORAL and PSYCHIC DESTRUCTION on the most DESPERATE and VULNERABLE elements of our society and profited unimaginably. and its not even a DEMOCRAT or REPUBLICAN issue, since everyone has blood on their hands over multiple administrations of inactivity. that and members of each have taken money from them and/or worked on their behalf (MARY JO WHITE and ERIC HOLDER of the OBAMA ADMINISTRATION to name only two prominent PURDUE PHARMA attorneys).
what also made EMPIRE OF PAIN so compelling, aside from its flawless construction as it expertly unveiled layers of interweaving depths of CORRUPT BUSINESS PRACTICES and IMMORAL BEHAVIOR over generations and geography, is how it is just as much concerned with the appearance and presentation of POWER and INFLUENCE. these ill-gotten gains were seemingly symbolically laundered through the name rights of institutes and galleries associated with numerous prestigious museums (THE MET, LOUVRE, TATE MODERN, NATIONAL GALLERY in LONDON, BROOKLYN MUSEUM, SMITHSONIAN, GUGGENHEIM, BRITISH MUSEUM and the AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY) and universities (HARVARD, COLUMBIA, OXFORD, NYU, TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY, YALE, CORNELL and TUFTS). this "philanthropy" was a bid for immortality and a fraudulent display of MAGNANIMITY for cultural and educational concerns that was really based in basic, primordial instincts towards POWER and INFLUENCE. the fact that these institutions allowed such to happen just shows the vacuous nature of their INFLUENCE-PEDDLING to begin with. nobody is spared in this narrative.
well, actually there are a few heroes. namely the artist NAN GOLDIN who utilized her unfortunate experience with OXYCONTIN and its community of survivors to chasten and call out the SACKLER FAMILY and those institutions that enabled them. her leadership is one of COURAGE and DEFIANCE and all those enabled virtues devoid from any member of the SACKLER FAMILY. there is also MASSACHUSETTS ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY and her NEW YORK counterpart LETITIA JAMES, as well as attorneys from across the country who tirelessly went after the family members themselves, even after the shell-game involved with the BANKRUPTCY COURT shenanigans of PURDUE PHARMA. their efforts are honorable and well within the scope of the public trust that defines their position.
the sad part about EMPIRE OF PAIN is that you are hoping that this constant craven display of INHUMANITY over many generations in one family is an anomaly in our system, a blip, but deep down we all know that this isnt the case. in fact, PURDUE PHARMA and their EXPLOITATIVE shell-game of an operation is our system. their bending and subordination of our LEGAL, FINANCIAL, POLITICAL and JUDICIAL structures to seek their needs and not the publics is as AMERICAN as BASEBALL or JAZZ.
this book really made me reflect on my own individual responsibility in the enabling of these types of structures and practices. the clothes i wear, the car i drive and the food i consume are all made available through unsustainable and exploitative practices on my behalf. i dont know how we exit our COMPLICITY as passive consumers within this complex system which seeks to generate consumer and investor value at the expense of limited resources and undervalued labor.
it just feels like this level of EXPLOITATION is bound to happen again and again on repeat because the incentives are there at every level to perpetuate such. again, seemingly we are all COMPLICIT. i just dont see this changing. ever. it is like JELLO BIAFRA riff on the PATRICK HENRY slogan which sums up our collective ADDICTION to CONSUMER CULTURE, damn the consequences, "give me convenience or give me death."
this is an excellent book, probably the best thing ive read since starting this blog a few years back. absolutely highly recommended.