How the Cato Institute is Bamboozled by Drug War Propaganda
A philosophical review of The Fire Next Door by Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute
September 26, 2023 Brian may have been a tad harsh on Libertarians in what follows. This was before he learned from Chomsky that the movement has a "left" and a "right." So the reader should perhaps construe the following less as an indictment of Libertarianism than as an indictment of Ted Carpenter -- and not for what Ted says, mind, but rather for what he does NOT say viz. the many good things that can be (but never are) said about "drugs." Brian does feel, however, (bless him) that the Cato Institute downplays the positive sides of drug use, hence the admonitory nature of his essay title.
Fair enough? All rightie then.
Although I welcome Ted Carpenter's call for an end to the Drug War, the author cherishes some of the usual Libertarian misunderstandings about that war that I feel called upon to point out. First, he calls for the "legalization" of Mother Nature's bounty, when in fact he should be calling for its re-legalization, in recognition of the fact that denizens of Planet Earth have had free access to that extant pharmacopoeia for thousands of years, until America of all countries (a country founded on inalienable rights) determined that Americans, and indeed the world, had no natural right to the plant medicines that grow at their very feet. His silence about this fact suggests that he is not arguing against the Drug War on principle, but rather on practical grounds only, as who should say, "The Drug War would be fine if it actually stopped folks from using drugs."
To which I say, really?
If Ted truly supports that latter statement, then he is unaware of the role that such plant medicines have played in establishing entire religions, as the Vedic religion was founded to worship the psychedelic soma or as the Mayans and Inca venerated shrooms and coca respectively. With such a back story in mind, there would be nothing fine at all about a Drug War which actually succeeded in ending drug use in America and the world: to the contrary, that would represent the suppression not merely of a single religion, but of the religious impulse itself. In order to succeed, the Drug War would have to turn the entire world into one single political unit governed by a strict Christian Science sharia-- for the notion that we should abjure drugs comes not from science, but rather from Christian Science, the religion of Mary Baker Eddy, who tells us that we have a moral duty to "just say no" to drugs. And why is this a duty? Because, according to Mary, we are to receive help here-below exclusively from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Indeed, viewed in this light, the Drug War can be seen as an attempt to give Christianity (and its drugs of choice) a monopoly on providing self-transcendence in this life. That is not a consummation devoutly to be wished nor a public policy tamely to be tolerated. It is rather a call to arms for freedom-loving people around the globe.
Like most libertarians, Ted also gives the impression that drug users are basically hedonists but "what are you gonna do? Americans will have their drugs, will we or no?!"
It's little wonder that Ted has this attitude since he lives in a country (indeed a world) where it has been almost illegal to show any positive uses for the various substances that have been demonized and outlawed by botanically clueless politicians. When was the last time that Ted saw or read about a successful author like HG Wells empowering his writing with liberal swigs of Coca Wine? When did he see a TV show or movie in which a young person like Paul Stamets was cured of his childhood stuttering in one afternoon of "mushroom use"? . The fact is that Ted is under the illusion that he lives in a free country and that therefore he can judge drugs from the reality that he sees around him. But that reality has been ruthlessly purged of all mention of positive drug uses. Meanwhile, if truth be told, the drugs that we demonize today show great promise in treating Alzheimer's and soothing hotheads who might otherwise shoot up schools. But Ted, having been taught from grade school to "just say no" to mother nature's godsend medicines, takes the world around him as it is today (opioid crisis and all) as a natural baseline. He sees reports of only thugs and bums using and selling drugs and he lowers his views of those substances accordingly, failing to see that he is observing only what his drug-hating government wants him to observe: the dangerous and bad use of drugs that the Drug War itself has facilitated thanks to prohibition.
He also uncritically uses the term "hard drugs," as if it were a scientific category rather than the political pejorative that it is, based on the prejudices of botanically clueless politicians. He fails to realize that real danger, real "hardness," lies not in the drugs themselves but in our failure to educate folks as to safe use practices. Cocaine would not be a hard or dangerous drug if education was our goal, not incarceration. Even crack cocaine can be used on a non-addictive basis, but that's a fact that the Drug Warrior wants to shield us from, since their goal has never been to educate but rather to instill mindless fear. The coca leaf has been chewed by the long-lived Peruvians for hundreds of years. Yet to this very day, I know full-tenured professors who actually believe that the political category of substances known as "drugs" will fry your brain, when to the contrary the majority of them actually conduce to greater mental clarity when used wisely -- wise use, however, being something that the Drug Warrior makes a living out of trying to prevent.
Ted also uncritically quotes the DEA, the organization that lost its credibility decades ago when it knowingly poisoned pot smokers with paraquat, a weed killer that causes Parkinson's disease, and then went on to criminalize MDMA against the advice of its own legal counsel, thereby denying American soldiers a godsend treatment for PTSD. He quotes this corrupt self-serving organization as saying that legalization increases use.
To which I say, So what? The DEA never had the right to outlaw Mother Nature in the first place. That's a violation of the Natural Law upon which America was founded, as John Locke clearly states in his Second Treatise on Government.
But even if we renounce our American legacy by consigning natural law to the trash bin of history (as Reagan sought to do in 1987 when he ordered the DEA to raid Monticello to confiscate... wait for it, folks... poppy plants!) the following question still remains:
Will "drug" re-legalization kill more people, destroy more societies, censor more scientists, throw more people in jail and militarize more police forces than does substance prohibition?
Of course not. It's not even close.
Surely no American truly believes that legalization will kill more people than does the ongoing prohibition, thanks to which entire wars are afoot around the globe even as we speak. Therefore we have to conclude that their support of continuing the Drug War is based on racism and xenophobia, the hysterical fear that a policy change will put "our little Johnny" at risk, instead of the hundreds of thousands of little Pedros south of the border who have historically been counted on to pay the price for the Drug War's ruinous status quo.
Finally, I'm glad that Ted is writing books against the Drug War, but there are better motives for doing so than the selfish fear that deadly Mexican battles will someday come north to shoot up American cities. Given all the principled reasons why we should have ended the Drug War years ago, it's embarrassing that the Drug War's ultimate demise may be brought about by our rank fear of the Frankenstein that we ourselves created here in America over 100 years ago now, when, based on racist hysteria, we established the deadly precedent of outlawing the psychoactive bounty of Mother Nature.
5% of proceeds from the sale of the above product will go toward getting Brian a decent haircut for once. Honestly. 9% will go toward shoes. 50% will go toward miscellaneous. 9% of the remainder will go toward relaxation, which could encompass anything from a spin around town to an outdoor barbecue at Brian's brother's house in Stanardsville (both gas and the ice-cream cake that Brian usually supplies).
You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at abolishthedea.com. Brian is the founder of The Drug War Gift Shop, where artists can feature and sell their protest artwork online. He has also written for Sociodelic and is the author of The Drug War Comic Book, which contains 150 political cartoons illustrating some of the seemingly endless problems with the war on drugs -- many of which only Brian seems to have noticed, by the way, judging by the recycled pieties that pass for analysis these days when it comes to "drugs." That's not surprising, considering the fact that the category of "drugs" is a political category, not a medical or scientific one.
A "drug," as the world defines the term today, is "a substance that has no good uses for anyone, ever, at any time, under any circumstances" -- and, of course, there are no substances of that kind: even cyanide and the deadly botox toxin have positive uses: a war on drugs is therefore unscientific at heart, to the point that it truly qualifies as a superstition, one in which we turn inanimate substances into boogie-men and scapegoats for all our social problems.
The Drug War is, in fact, the philosophical problem par excellence of our time, premised as it is on a raft of faulty assumptions (notwithstanding the fact that most philosophers today pretend as if the drug war does not exist). It is a war against the poor, against minorities, against religion, against science, against the elderly, against the depressed, against those in pain, against children in hospice care, and against philosophy itself. It outlaws substances that have inspired entire religions, Nazifies the English language and militarizes police forces nationwide.
It bans the substances that inspired William James' ideas about human consciousness and the nature of ultimate reality. In short, it causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, meanwhile violating the Natural Law upon which Thomas Jefferson founded America. (Surely, Jefferson was rolling over in his grave when Ronald Reagan's DEA stomped onto Monticello in 1987 and confiscated the founding father's poppy plants.)
If you believe in freedom and democracy, in America and around the world, please stay tuned for more philosophically oriented broadsides against the outrageous war on godsend medicines, AKA the war on drugs.
PS The drug war has not failed: to the contrary, it has succeeded, insofar as its ultimate goal was to militarize police forces around the world and help authorities to ruthlessly eliminate those who stand in the way of global capitalism. For more, see Drug War Capitalism by Dawn Paley. Oh, and did I mention that most Drug Warriors these days would never get elected were it not for the Drug War itself, which threw hundreds of thousands of their political opposition in jail? Trump was right for the wrong reasons: elections are being stolen in America, but the number-one example of that fact is his own narrow victory in 2016, which could never have happened without the existence of laws that were specifically written to keep Blacks and minorities from voting. The Drug War, in short, is a cancer on the body politic.
Rather than apologetically decriminalizing selected plants, we should be demanding the immediate restoration of Natural Law, according to which "The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being." (John Locke)
Andrew, Christopher "The Secret World: A History of Intelligence" 2019 Yale University Press
Aurelius, Marcus "Meditations" 2021 East India Publishing Company