July 26, 2020
How the Drug War killed Leah Bettsby Ballard Quass
and ended the peaceful rave scene
In the late 20th century, young Brits of every race and social class came together on the dance floor to party, not like it was 1999, but like it was 2099 instead, a time in the distant future when guns and anger had been put aside and people of the world had finally decided to unite. It was the so-called rave scene and America's cousins were resurrecting the ethos of peace, love and understanding from the ashes of '60s idealism in the States, complete with a uniquely British 'summer of Love' in 1988.
The mood of the time is nicely captured by a handful of quotes from the documentary "United Nation" by promoter Terry Stone:
- "It was the first time that black-and-white people had integrated on a level... and everybody was one." -- DJ Ray Keith.
- "It was black and white, Asian, Chinese, all up in one building," -- MC GQ.
- "Everyone's loving each other, man, they're not hating." - DJ Mampi Swift.
In short, everybody just wanted to "cuddle," according to event security expert Adrian Saint.
What's not to like, right? Nonviolent concerts in which Brits come together in colorblind celebration of the drum-and-bass music genre.
You'd think that government would have been delighted to see the emergence of such a non-violent dance genre in our troubled world.
But to the contrary, they were appalled.
Because much of the camaraderie of the scene had been chemically encouraged with a little help of an illegal drug known as Ecstasy, E, or MDMA, which young people were "popping" at the scene. And this was a complete "non-starter" as far as government was concerned. Why? Because in the age of the drug war, we do not judge people by how they behave (be they never so law-abiding) but rather by what chemical substances they happen to have in their digestive systems.
Thus drug war ideology persuaded British parliamentarians to not simply take this new Camelot for granted, but to actively seek to shut it down, a goal that they nearly accomplished in 1994 with the passage of the so-called Criminal Justice Bill, which outlawed all non-licensed parties that featured repetitive dance music.
So far, so bad.
But the coup de grace to the peaceful rave scene was to come one year later, when, in 1995, teenage raver Leah Betts died after taking an E tablet at a rave party.
Of course, everyone immediately placed the blame for this death on E, since drug war superstition holds that substances are responsible for evil, not government policies that lead to their misuse.
The fact is that Leah's death could have been easily avoided had drug warriors legalized E and allowed it to be objectively studied by researchers (only imagine: freeing up scientists to actually do their job!). In that case, Leah could have been told how to avoid the rare side effects of ecstasy by maintaining proper hydration during use. But no. Drug warrior society is so obsessed with demonizing this thing called "drugs," that they do everything they can to make informed use impossible when it comes to criminalized substances, either by banning research on this topic entirely or by tarnishing the reputations of scientists who dare to pursue such information, thereby also ensuring that would-be funders think twice before throwing any money behind such research goals.
And so stark billboards with a black background appeared across Britain, featuring the huge word "Sorted" to the left of a large black-and-white head shot of a smiling Leah Betts, with the caption: "Just one Ecstasy tablet took Leah Betts."
This billboard perfectly illustrates the drug warrior habit of confusing what philosophers call efficient causes with final causes. To say that the drug Ecstasy killed Leah is like saying that driving a car killed the victim of a traffic accident. In some sense it is true, but it is also beside the point. The real question in the latter case is: "what happened that allowed the victim to be killed while driving in a car?" The question in Leah's case is: "what happened that allowed the victim to be killed by taking Ecstasy?"
But that's an inconvenient question for government because to answer it would be to point the finger of blame at drug policy itself. So politicians bypass the question entirely by scapegoating the drug Ecstasy and shaking their hypocritical beer-guzzling heads about the terrible problem of teenage drug abuse. "Tsk tsk tsk!"
What a joke. It would be funny except for the fact that the otherwise laughable drug war has been amassing a body count ever since the first outlawing of a plant medicine in 1914. The drug war has not just killed one single British teenager, either, but kills hundreds around the world every single day through inner city gang violence and civil wars around the globe that have been created out of whole cloth by substance prohibition in previously peaceful countries. Britain would soon run out of billboards if it tried to put a face on all of these victims with roadside signage.
Unfortunately, Leah Betts was not the only victim of the UK's demonization of Ecstasy. The entire peace-and-love ethos of the rave culture disappeared shortly after her death, to be replaced with the violent gangster ethos, as dutifully propagandized Brits renounced Ecstasy in favor of - wait for it - crack cocaine and fentanyl.
Needless to say, violence now spiked at rave parties, forcing promoters like Terry "Turbo" Smith of One Nation to hire whole teams of ex-special forces soldiers to keep the peace at concerts. But the government could apparently live with this new status quo, since the drugs being used now were far more susceptible to government demonization than the hapless E tablet, whose main effect when used wisely was to bring about peace and understanding and make people want to cuddle in colorblind harmony with their music-loving fellows.
And so government drug policy not only killed Leah Betts, but it shut down the new British Camelot as well, replacing it with a new Wild West in which machine guns and AK-47's took the place of six-shooters and Winchester rifles. Worse yet, British politicians soon began pointing to this violence that they themselves had created as "proof" that the drug war needs to continue.
If the British government wants to save the Leah Betts of the future, they will start "saying yes" to peace, love and understanding and applaud cultural phenomena such as the rave scene for facilitating that goal.
Until then, we have a new answer to the question posed by Rodney King, in the wake of the violent response to the mauling that he received from racist police officers in Los Angeles in 1991:
Q: Why can't we all just get along?
A: Because drug warriors won't allow us to.
AFTERTHOUGHTS: Growing up stateside, my school teachers would often favorably compare the education of British kids to that received by their American colleagues, and I was always tempted to believe them -- until, that is, the Drug War came along and showed me that the Brits will lap up drug war propaganda just as eagerly as everyone else in the world. Just imagine: the British people can demonize a love-promoting chemical substance because it "caused" one death -- one death -- meanwhile considering the violence-provoking alcohol to be a bargain when it only causes thousands of deaths each year. What's more, the Ecstasy that they demonize would not have even caused the death in question had the drug war not made it impossible to learn and spread accurate information about its use. The drug war thus ensures that criminalized substances will be given damning PR, thereby seeming to "prove" that the drug warrior's fetishization of chemical substances actually makes sense, when in reality it represents the triumph of a new modern superstition, a superstition which holds that substances can be sufficiently characterized without regard for the context and social environment that surrounds their use.