I’m walking with Andy through my Riverwards neighborhood.

Andy’s been in Philadelphia for two years. He’s 26 years old but could easily pass as younger. He has a quiet and agreeable nature and seems more of a ‘60s stoner type than a typical K & A “slumped over” drug addict. Andy’s drug is fentanyl. He makes it clear to me that it is not meth. He would never use meth which often creates open sores and abscesses on the skin. 

We pass other lost souls on our way to Wendy’s where I’ll buy him a hamburger. They include a young man who steals beef jerky from Wawa and who can always be found flat on his back in the Rite Aid parking lot; the ginger-haired scrapper with brain cancer; a number of bulk shoplifters headed to the dollar stores with empty Santa Claus bags that will soon be filled with goodies stripped from the shelves. 

In many ways, the scene parallels the fall of the greater society. Why shouldn’t the homeless be getting worse when society itself seems to be splitting like cracks on an I-95 bridge? 

Demonic nihilism has infected the nation,” Jacob Howland recently declared in UnHerd. “America is now a zombie state.” 

America is on a different kind of fentanyl. 

Case study #1: The woke zombies at the Philadelphia Inquirer recently ran an investigatory piece detailing how many “unacceptable” political tweets Mark L. Tykocinski, president of Thomas Jefferson University, liked since being appointed president in July 2022. 

Those tweets included comments questioning the validity of Covid vaccines to condemnations of child sex change operations. The president also liked tweets expressing skepticism about certain radical equity issues. 

They investigated Tykocinski’s tweets as if they were digging for facts behind a major crime. Imagine paying reporters to investigate how many tweets someone liked just to ruin their life. And the story doesn’t end there. The Inquirer was first tipped off by a group of woke students at the university. The president then resigned under pressure but before that he apologized to the fascists in an attempt to save his job. 

As the upper reaches of society crumble over trivialities like this, it’s no wonder that people like Andy, who comes from a good but impoverished home in Delaware, decide to go full hog into the drug world. Turn on, tune in, and drop out is happening all over. 

When Andy first arrived in Philadelphia he didn’t know how to panhandle, so asked a street elder how to do it. The elder, a guy named Moose, has been homeless for years, traveling the nation like the hobos of old: riding boxcars, hitchhiking, and taking Greyhound buses when he could afford to. 

Moose spent some years on the streets of San Francisco, a city he calls the “most evil in the nation.” He was drawn to Philadelphia by the lure of cheap and plentiful drugs. There’s safety in numbers: just go to Kensington and Allegheny if you want proof of this. Hillary Clinton was right: “It takes a village.” 

Moose gave Andy a few pointers: make a sign; walk with the sign through traffic at intersections, then wait for people to hand you dollar bills, sometimes twenties, sometimes even larger. Or wait for the unexpected: a banana in your face, milk shakes, soda bottles, a big blast of pepper spray. You never know what’s going to come out of a car window — or who’s driving. 

Andy has a makeshift tent not far off Aramingo Avenue in a small wooded area that developers no doubt have their eyes on.

The developers have claimed a lot of Kensington as their own, building condo multiplexes for more exiled New Yorkers and millennials with dogs. With nowhere else to go, the Kensington homeless are now forced to travel  — book bags and syringes in tow  — into areas of Port Richmond like Campbell Park, long considered a family spot but quickly turning into Narcan Plaza.

Complaints from neighbors in the Port Richmond area are growing. What was a beautiful neighborhood with decent Polish residents going to Mass every Sunday is slowly turning into your typical Philly dung heap. 

Some of the homeless have Home Depot-style tents but Andy’s tent is his own rustic creation. Several feet away from him a fellow panhandler has pitched his own tent. They are not friends but acquaintances. Friends are hard to come by when you live on the street. It’s every man or woman for himself. 

Belongings — book bags, tents, bicycles, shoes and cell phones  — disappear, thanks mainly to “friends.” 

 “I came back from panhandling once and found a fat half-naked black man in my tent,” Andy told me. 

The weather was 95 degrees, the overweight man was sweating profusely, and Andy wanted him out. The man refused. “This is my spot now,” the man said. Andy reached for his pen knife and threatened him: Soft spoken peace-loving Andy, the stoner. Once a Gandhi pacifist, life on the streets has him pulling out a knife.

The street will do that to you. 

The tent-crasher eventually left, but there was still Billy and Bob to worry about. 

Billy and Bob are much like the editors at the Inquirer, the same ones who ruined the life of Mark Tykocinski. They keep watch. They keep tabs. They live to cancel people. 

Billy and Bob live in a Home Depot tent with lots of perks. They steal from fellow homeless but do it in clever, manipulative ways. They are also a couple but not in the Ozzie and Harriet sense because they are open to interludes with strangers, especially new young homeless faces who might want to make a few bucks.

Because Billy is the younger and more attractive partner, overweight Bob does most of the (grueling) panhandling. It’s the price you sometimes have to pay when you have a trophy lover. 

Andy says Billy and Bob snowballed him when he needed to use their phone to access an app in order to get money his father sent him. Billy and Bob stole his money and then acted as if they had a right to do so, just as the Inquirer editors felt it was their right to cancel out Tykocinski. Billy and Bob have hit on other homeless people as well. 

Some history: The city’s drug-addicted homeless were different when heroin was the drug everyone was abusing. In those days, even the worst of addicts could hold a conversation, make eye contact, and act in normal ways. Today’s addicts are often the reverse of that. The effects of animal tranquilizer additives produce anti-social behavior, an inability to construct simple sentences, and spasmodic bodily movements on a par with the antics in The Exorcist. 

A thousand and one ways to make your way in a society on the decline: this might be a book title if Clint and May, a homeless couple from the Lancaster area, were to write a book. 

May’s daily beat includes holding a sign and walking in the middle of traffic at Aramingo and York Streets while waving at drivers like she’s in the Miss America Pageant. Last year she and Clint hosted a Thanksgiving dinner in the woods where they roasted a turkey near the Conrail tracks. Invited guests brought shoplifted items from Wawa and various dollar stores. “The turkey was good,” Andy recalls. 

Clint and May have been together forever, an unusual thing in homeless circles. 

Drug addicted homeless couples rarely go on to live happy lives together. Life on the street is not conducive to happy relationships. 

A mere ten years ago, most of the Riverwards homeless were single men. Women simply didn’t subject themselves to the dicey possibilities that living on the street entails. In today’s world, equality rules; homeless women prowl the streets late at night while well bred domestic women who live in houses express fear about going out late alone. 

Sometimes May will throw Andy a few extra bucks when she makes a lot of panhandling money. “She’s got a motherly instinct,” Andy says. She’s also an avid fighter: Clint and May’s fights are usually public spectacles. 

Getting arrested is always a possibility when you go “down the way” — an expression a lot of addicts use  — to acquire your daily allotment of drugs. The thing is, don’t be fooled by the apparent “freedom” and anarchy on the streets at K & A where zombies shoot up on the streets. There’s still vast undercover police sting operations away from K & A around the Huntingdon and Somerset El stations. Men and women in or out of uniform wait in unmarked police cars.

Andy tells me he was caught buying five dollars’ worth. 

Two men sprung out of a car and nabbed him near a boarded up storefront.

A legitimate arrest is one thing. After all, a law has been broken, but why the need to take Andy’s book bag, his only possession, and cut it in half after dumping the contents out in a dumpster? After this came taunting and a bit of bullying. No offers of a phone call at the police station. Andy was thrown in with a bunch of people who bragged about killing someone. 

Okay, cops are human and they have limits like everybody else. They’re sick of dealing with drug violations and the bizarre anti-social behavior produced by animal tranquilizers.

Everybody and everything is breaking down, even people who are supposed to be the “good guys.” 

In the meantime, the societal decline continues on its merry way. Andy is waiting for another arrest, which is sure to come, as the Inquirer, in its self-righteous blindness, prepares to take aim at another unsuspecting lover of freedom. 

Thom Nickels is a Philadelphia-based journalist/columnist and the 2005 recipient of the AIA Lewis Mumford Award for Architectural Journalism. He writes for City Journal, New York, and Frontpage Magazine. He is the author of fifteen books, including “Literary Philadelphia” and ”From Mother Divine to the Corner Swami: Religious Cults in Philadelphia.” His latest, “Death in Philadelphia: The Murder of Kimberly Ernest” was released in May 2023.

11 thoughts on “Thom Nickels: Demonic nihilism? It’s not just on the streets.”

  1. Sorry, Thom. The “woke tweets” and the homeless have zip to do with each other and this column doesn’t connect them at all. Though I appreciate the portrayal of people like Andy. I could have inserted basically ant issue on the right (cough cough Hunter Biden cough cough book banning) OR left and made the same “argument” that people should care more about the human suffering you illustrated

  2. Yes, the Philadelphia Inquirer recently ran an “investigatory” piece detailing the number of political tweets Mark L. Tykocinski, former president of Thomas Jefferson University, liked (not even posted – but just simply liked.) Are you surprised? Some people wouldn’t recognize tyranny if it slapped a mask on their child’s face, made them stand 6′ apart (arbitrarily), and tried to force – or even did order them – to take an experimental mRNA vaccine for a virus with a 99.8% survival rate to keep their jobs.
    Yes, the Philadelphia Inquirer seems not to care whatsoever about the rise in crime causing good-credit retail business to flee the city, the horrible education situation, or the rampant open drug use and homelessness in Philadelphia. Solution: stop paying money and attention, or even reading the Philadelphia Inquirer. Stop being nice to these far-Left bullies. Philadelphia is getting what it voted for and the local politicians and especially their donners want the chaos and as much tax money as possible. Let Philadelphia collapse on itself so we can start a rebuild. Instead of supporting entities like the Philadelphia Inquirer there are other local news sites (Broad & Liberty) that deserve respect and support. Or you can go to “Real Clear Politics” which provide articles for readers on both sides of the aisle. For example, they have a good one today detailing 7 Revelations from Ex-Capitol Police Chief That Explode Democrats’ Jan. 6 Narrative. Quite a read.

    1. But still – the idea that people are literally becoming homeless drug addicts because they’re turned off by woke politics is not only completely made up but also absurd. Paragraph 10 makes this nonsensical argument

      1. It strikes me how the author seems to have spent a long time with his subjects, but doesn’t include why THEY think they’re in this situation. Probably because the answer isn’t “I voluntarily dropped out of society because of cancel culture and the Inquirer being too woke”

        1. Jenn,
          In a sincere effort not to be nasty let me suggest that Thom nailed it by describing it as demonic nihilism. Don’t believe it? Google the below direct quote from another article:
          ““I didn’t have my folks (in my life),” said L.A. “My pop is doing 22 years in jail. My mom was on drugs; both my grandmoms was on drugs. As a very young child, L.A. even “slept on the streets” with his mother; when he turned eight, “friends started dying,” he said. The streets offer little protection, and even less opportunity for escape, said the teens. Neighborhood businesses are reluctant to hire local youth, fearful their presence will make stores targets of gun violence, they said. Asked if there were any places in which they felt safe, the teens shook their heads.
          “Nowhere,” said L.A. “Or being locked up.”
          Asked if they had any dreams, the teens shook their heads again.
          “Where I come from, we don’t even think like that,” said L.A. “We hope we make it till tomorrow.
          No easy solutions, but clues in the cries.
          The teens were adamant that while ending gun violence was an essentially impossible task – “it’s not gonna happen,” said Omar – curative responses to the crisis should not come from “outsiders.”
          “They don’t even live here, and they telling us what should be done,” Omar said. Many proposals are simply naïve and unrealistic, especially as gun violence increasingly breaks out in more neighborhoods at all hours of the day and night, added L.A.
          “People thinking they just gonna make boys and girls clubs, and get the YMCAs popping – that’s not working,” he said.
          He pointed to the March 2021 murder of 21-year-old Dominic Billa, stepson of a Philadelphia County detective in the District Attorney’s office, who was shot while eating dinner in the food court at Philadelphia Mills Mall. Gregory Smith, then 21, was charged in the killing, which took place after a fight among the tables.
          “If you could die in a mall, what makes you think you can’t die in that boys and girls club in the ‘hood?” asked L.A. “What makes you think I’m going to stop my mission to kill you because you in the boys and girls club playing basketball? That don’t matter to me.” But while gun violence seems inexorable, both teens said they and their peers ultimately know firearms can’t fill their deepest needs – and those cries of the heart provide clues as to what actually might help stop the bullets.
          “I wish I had my dad in my life,” said L.A.
          “I want to be happy with my family, ‘cause my mom died and I got nobody; I’m just here,” said Omar. “I just want to know what my life would be like if my mom was still here. That’s all I want to know.”

          1. I’m not saying it’s not nihilism. I am saying it does not make a bit of sense to tie it to “woke” tweets or anything he makes a weak attempt at best to connect it to. You just pulled a quote from another writer in another part of the country which does not mean a thing about this article. I found Thom’s portrayal of the homeless to be valuable. When he blames their plight on the Inquirer being woke it just simply doesn’t make sense, especially since The Inquirer HAS covered the rise of tranq, for example

  3. Regarding what happened to the ex-pres. of Jefferson. Newspapers like the Inquirer have as their Rason d’etre all of the left philosophies, the old-line left theories and the new, truly bizarre ones. To look at the world as say maybe we have a problem means they would lose everything that has kept them going over the years. Sort of an intellectual nuclear attack. They attack people like the ex-pres. because such people represent an existential threat. I think the point trying to be made in the post is that the “woke” philosophies and the believers who act as “woke” enforcers prevent drug problems and other social ills from being addressed, because the means to address the problems are not acceptable “woke” theories. Just look at the decriminalization of theft, great way to support getting rid of the “bad” justice system and, additionally, provide the happy result of a supply of funds to support drug habits.

  4. He literally tries to say in paragraph 10 that Andy “decided” to just drop out of society and become a drug addict (and I think “decided” is probably pretty inaccurate) immediately after this whole tweet scandal as though the two are connected. They are not.

    1. Jenn,
      I thought you were a sincere person – my mistake. What’s your specific gripe with this article? That Thom wrote: “As the upper reaches of society crumble over trivialities like this, it’s no wonder that people like Andy, who comes from a good but impoverished home in Delaware, decide to go full hog into the drug world. Turn on, tune in, and drop out is happening all over.” Thom is noting that the upper reaches of society (the elite laptop tyrants with yard signs about “no hate but you better hug a man forcing others to participate in his fetish identifying as a drag queen) are caught up in stupid baloney problems and ridiculous matters such as bullying the President of Jefferson over social media likes – and the less educated, often from broken homes, people such as Andy, notice this ridiculous society the elites run, and they “turn on, tune in, and drop out” which is a phrase popularized by Timothy Leary in 1966. He pushed drugs. Communists love drugs.
      So… you actually were not interested in why homeless people suffer and do drugs? And you are correct – which is exactly what I wrote – that direct quote from actual children in Philadelphia, explaining in their own words, why they behave and suffer, was from another article.
      Among the goals of demonic nihilism (communism), according to “The Communist Manifesto,” is that it “abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality.” Nihilism: the rejection of all religious and moral principles. The family “will vanish as a matter of course.”
      Question: Why does The Philadelphia Inquirer want to destroy traditional values and traditions, particularly the family?
      Communism aims to subvert all institutions so as to seize control of them and gather all power to itself. When it comes to the family, communism aims to destroy it so as to seize control of the lowest level of social order. And destroying the family advances other objectives of communism: wiping out morality, traditions, and religious belief.
      After it has gained control of the government, communism wants to destroy the family in order to turn all allegiance toward the Communist Party. To do this, it creates various social movements that push for the destruction of marriage, thus inciting struggle between men and women, and inciting children to rebel against their parents.
      This heads in the opposite direction from traditional values, which encourage kindness and emphasize the importance of the family. Confucius taught that “all kindness starts with filial piety,” and once stated, “Aren’t filial piety and brotherly love the roots of benevolence?”
      In order to subvert the family, communism turns children against their mothers and fathers. It pushes to take children out from under the control of the family and places them under state-controlled education systems. Thus, the mother no longer has control over her children, no longer passes on the culture of the society to her children, and no longer teaches her children as has been done in society for thousands of years.
      Then communism also turns the mother against the father. By turning women against men, it is able to destroy the household. Once the household is destroyed, the family is broken. The child often loses a parent and begins to act out, and the communist system then has control.
      Communism has led women down this path of believing men are an evil force to struggle against. It has done this by framing traditional feminine virtues as being forced on women by men, and thus as things that should be opposed. In this way, feminism is very much an anti-women ideology. It argues that feminine virtues are evil and that the right path for women is to fight against men in order to seize for themselves the traditional domains of men.
      Meanwhile, the role women once played in society has largely been abandoned and replaced by state-run education, unhealthy diets, and disposable lifestyles.
      Feminism latches itself onto sometimes legitimate issues, like respecting women, but in reality, it practices the opposite of what it preaches. It opposes feminine virtues, the traditional roles of women, and the inner strength and gentle wisdom that women once possessed and knew how to wield.
      Men in the past used to respect women for their gentleness, beauty, purity, wisdom, and patience, in the same way that women respected men for their strength, solidity of character, decisiveness, and accomplishments in the broader society. Women in the past understood that helping their husbands succeed in the world would also enrich their own lives.
      In the ancient Chinese book “Instruction for Chinese Women and Girls,” Lady Tsao wrote that between a wife and her husband, “if he is rich, you are rich; if he is poor, you also are poor—in life, you are one.” She taught that men and women shared in the sorrows and joys of their households.
      And while women were respected for values including gentleness, beauty, and purity, feminism has taught them to be the opposite. It tells them that they should be impure, that they should not make themselves look nice, and that doing so would be going along with a male-driven archetype—that the “patriarchy” is making them be this way. It attempts to convince women mentally to rebel against their own inner natures.
      In traditional cultures, it was understood that men and women have different powers. Part of the concept of yin and yang is the division between gentleness and strength. A woman’s power is in gentleness, and a man’s power is in strength. Through the influences of communism, many women today have lost touch with the power of gentleness, and many men only understand strength on a shallow level.
      If we understand the nature of men and women from Western systems, the woman was considered the inner being and the man was considered the outer being. This is deeper than just the idea of women being inside the house and men being outside the house. The woman was the master of the inner world, while the man was the master of the outer world. From the standpoint of Daoism, both elements contain the other, but both have dominion within their respective realms.
      In the past, there was a sense of mystery and respect between men and women. Of course, there were always good people and bad people, and societies went through stages of rise and decline. Traditional morality upheld respect between men and women. This respect and harmony gave stability to the family structure, set a good example for children, laid a foundation for the respect of others, and helped solidify society in a greater respect for moral order.
      Communism has attempted to wipe out all of this and has manufactured social movements to deceive people into joining its entourage of inescapable victimhood and perpetual hatred. Its real goals are to destroy morals, religion, and the family. What it represents is the opposite of traditional, upright values that were based on forgiveness, love for each other, harmony between men and women, and lasting respect.

  5. I have been off social media, and consequently B&L, for a few days to clear my head, and I read this piece from Thom Nickels. It is a startling depiction of what our society is coming or has come to. It reminds me of the social commentaries you can read that were written about the state of the urban poor during the industrial revolution. What he writes about in Philadelphia exists in every city – this is a wake up call.

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