August 21, 2020
Heroin versus Alcoholby Ballard Quass
an open letter to Professor Steven Gimbel of Gettysburg College
Dear Professor Gimbel,
I'm enjoying your course on Formal Logic. I graduated as a philosophy major back in 1989, so the beginning lectures have been a nice refresher and I'm looking forward to improving my analytic skills as the course continues.
I did want to say something, however, regarding your criticism of the argument that compared alcohol to heroin.
I believe that, in analyzing the reasonableness of premises, we have to be mindful not only of our personal prejudices but of the mindset of our culture. We live in a drug-war culture in which we suppress all talk of positive effects of illegal substances. Thus we have rewritten history so that there's no mention of Benjamin Franklin using opium, or Sigmund Freud using cocaine, or Francis Crick using psychedelics. In our cop shows and movies, all such drugs are used only by "scumbags." Meanwhile, a drug like alcohol is advertised 24 hours a day in positive images spread by TV, radio, print and the Internet. So personally, I do not think that Americans are in a position to objectively compare alcohol, say, to heroin (or to any other illegal substance), without first investigating how the culture has shaped their views of the substances in question.
Should we fail to do so (should we place a naïve trust in our own socially-determined viewpoints on these issues) we run the risk of accepting drug-related premises on the basis of a fallacy: namely, the fallacy that "Everyone knows that..." (for instance, "Everyone knows that alcohol isn't THAT bad...") when what "everyone knows" has been determined by Big Liquor marketing combined with a century-old anti-drug campaign full of lies (such as "drugs fry the brain") and rewritten history, in which the positive use of currently criminalized substances disappears from religions, cults and cultures of the past.
Even the safety of coffee, which we take for granted in the US (and which I'm drinking right now, in a way because I'm literally ADDICTED to my "morning cup"), was a view inculcated in us through an intense lobbying and PR campaign by the coffee industry, which was determined not to have its coffee beans outlawed as drug war hysteria reached a fever pitch in the 1980s (the decade in which the DEA marched onto Monticello and confiscated Thomas Jefferson's poppy plants - thus, in my view, violating the natural law upon which Jefferson founded this country). And so advertisements turned coffee into an innocent non-drug in the minds of Americans and the west in general.
Meanwhile Americans of all social classes and education levels take the "frying pan" ad as gospel truth. That's the infamous 1980s ad from the Partnership for a Drug Free America which claims that substances fry the brain once they have been criminalized by politicians. The facts, however, are almost the opposite: say what you will about drugs like cocaine, opium, and morphine, but they don't fry the brain. Freud used cocaine to increase his mental power and endurance, not to fry his brain. Benjamin Franklin certainly wasn't frying his brain by using opium. Morphine can produce an almost surreal mental clarity (as can be seen by Edgar Allan Poe's descriptions of the drug's effect in "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains"). Indeed, one of the founders of the Johns Hopkins medical school, Dr. William Stewart Halsted, was a lifelong user of morphine. Amphetamines are so far from frying the brain that the Air Force has required pilots to use them prior to vital missions.
What Americans "know" about drugs is a very fraught topic. Psychiatrist Julie Holland has found that many SSRIs are harder to quit than heroin for long-term users (because the former drugs muck about with brain chemistry, such that it may take months or years - if ever - for a former user to regain a pre-drug neurochemical baseline). My own psychiatrist told me not to bother trying to get off Effexor since a recent study by the NIH shows it has a 95% recidivism rate after three years of non-use. Meanwhile, one in four American women are currently addicted to Big Pharma meds - one in four -- and yet America does not even consider this to be a problem. To the contrary, influential doctors still appear on shows like Oprah (under the pay of Big Pharma) to remind Americans to "take their meds" (and now Big Pharma is even going after the toddler market under the guise of "nipping ADHD in the bud"). So even the seemingly knock-out argument against heroin - that it is addictive - is a shortcoming that can only be hypocritically urged against that drug, at least in a drug-war culture.
For these reasons, I would personally suggest that you avoid using drug-related premises in your examples of argumentation, unless your purpose in doing so is to highlight the role of culture and propaganda in biasing us as to what is reasonable to believe when it comes to "drugs."
PS I personally believe that the drug war is the philosophical problem par excellence. That's why I created my website (abolishthedea.com) a year ago to start publishing my own essays on this topic. I do this in part because I consider myself to be a victim of the drug war, since its criminalization of therapeutic godsends from Mother Nature has shunted me off onto the highly addictive nostrums of Big Pharma.
The Drug War Comic Book
On Sale here January 2021