September 7, 2020
The Great Philosophical Problem of Our Timeby Ballard Quass
The following letter was sent on September 8 2020 to 100 American philosophers at Duke, Princeton, Harvard, USC, and NYU.
My name is Ballard Quass, and I am a 61-year-old philosophy major and a lifelong victim of America's drug war. I am writing to you today because I believe that the drug war is the great philosophical problem of our time, and that if philosophy wishes to demonstrate its continued relevance to the Stephen Hawkings of the world, it cannot do better than to identify and rebut the mendacious and otherwise misleading premises upon which the drug war is being waged. I therefore wish to solicit your help as a fellow philosopher in showing America how it has been bamboozled by drug war propaganda: bamboozled into thinking of Mother Nature as a drug kingpin rather than a healing goddess, bamboozled into thinking that common law must trump natural law when it comes to our access to psychoactive substances, bamboozled into adopting a Christian Science outlook toward drugs, bamboozled into thinking of psychoactive substances as scapegoats and boogiemen, as inherently evil, when substances are actually only good and bad with respect to the precise details of their use.
If, after reading this letter, you agree with me that the drug war is, indeed, the philosophical problem par excellence of our time, I urge you to link to my one-year-old website at abolishthedea.com, where I combat the drug war by uploading my weekly essays, designed to identify and pillory the absurd but hidden premises upon which that war is being waged. Your link to my site from "an institution of higher learning" will give my site some street cred on the worldwide web (at least in the "minds" of search engine algorithms), where I currently get (wait for it...) literally zero hits per day (that's right: zero hits per day) thanks to my refusal to "pay to play" and to feature ads on my site.
My site is totally non-profit, designed simply to bring the world's attention to the many unnoticed philosophical problems posed by America's drug war. I am not out for self-aggrandizement or money: I am out to make a difference: or at least to encourage philosophically savvy Americans to start pushing back against the absurd hidden premises and outright lies fostered by America's state religion: the drug war: aka, Christian Science Sharia. This task is crucial, especially now that we have a president who wants to start executing Americans for selling plant medicines of which politicians disapprove.
So thank you in advance for any links that you may be persuaded to supply in order to give me at least some voice in changing American attitudes for the better.
The remainder of this letter consists of my attempt to bring at least some of the above-mentioned philosophical problems to your attention, either for the first time or else to remind you of the way that muddle-headed drug-war "logic" is ruining our republic, by militarizing our police forces, turning inner cities into shooting galleries, causing civil wars abroad, and keeping Mother Nature's godsend plant medicines out of the hands of people who should have free access to them merely by virtue of having been born on Planet Earth.
BIG PHARMA'S ADDICTIVE MEDS
I say I am a victim of the drug war because since my teenage years, I have been shunted off onto highly addictive and ineffective Big Pharma meds, simply because the DEA has outlawed virtually all effective mood medicines that grow unbidden around me. I spent a full decade working to get off of the Valium that I was prescribed for my supposed anxiety. Then I was "turned on" to Effexor, for my supposed depression, an SNRI which turns out to be so addictive for long-term users that my own psychiatrist recently told me not to bother trying to get off it. A recent NIH study shows the drug to be every bit as addictive as heroin. Indeed, Julie Holland notes that modern Big Pharma pills are often MORE addictive than heroin since they muck about with brain chemistry that takes far longer than a few days of "cold turkey" in order to return to a biochemical baseline. (Please see the books of Robert Whitaker for an explanation about how Big Pharma "wonder drugs" may actually CAUSE the chemical imbalances that they purport to fix. )
Of course, psychiatry will object that Big Pharma meds cause chemical dependence rather than addiction, but this "difference" (or at least its alleged importance) does not stand up to philosophical scrutiny, as I show in my essay entitled "In the Realm of Hungry Drug Warriors" at my website abolishthedea.com (see the section headed "On the disingenuous distinction between addiction and chemical dependency"). "Addiction" is a political term, since we only apply it to the use of illegal medicines, whereas those who use Big Pharma antidepressants are somehow not addicted but merely taking "maintenance meds." Of course, the heroin addict is taking maintenance meds as well, yet he or she is demonized for that practice.
I believe that if Americans were sufficiently aware of this injustice - how the drug war results in a world where 1 in 4 women are addicted to Big Pharma "meds" (source: Julie Holland) - there would be a wave of protest by the depressed and anxious who would demand that the DEA and Congress re-legalize the thousands of psychoactive plant medicines that they started outlawing in 1914, all of which medicines are far less addictive in their natural state than the pills doled out daily by the psychiatric pill mill that the drug war is facilitating. Folks like myself would descend on Congress in indignant hordes to protest a psychiatric system that turns them into eternal patients, with all the stigma, expense, and waste of valuable time that such a system entails.
But Americans have become so bamboozled (not simply by drug war propaganda but by talking heads under the pay of Big Pharma who appear on talk shows like "Oprah") that these millions of "eternal patients" do not even see themselves as victims of the drug war (this despite the fact that America remains the most depressed country on Earth). Meanwhile, if a Big Pharma med causes horrible side effects, it is not a cause for outrage: instead, it is a market opportunity for yet more brand name drugs to be created that will "tamp down" the side effects of the offending substance. Advertisers for such "adjuncts" claim they are just helping the patient to continue "taking their meds," not - perish the thought - criticizing the original drug for having devastating side effects in the first place. Of course if the same devastating side effects were associated with a plant medicine, drug warriors would have a field day demonizing the plant in question, even calling for its burning - or its lacing with paraquat, the weed killer that DEA Chief John Lawn used to poison pot smokers in the 1980s, a weed killer that has subsequently been shown to cause Parkinson's Disease. (No one cares, though. The DEA still fetes John Lawn to this day as a distinguished alumnus. Apparently one can use chemical warfare against one's own people, provided that the cause is the American Drug War.)
DRUG WAR AS ANTI-RESEARCH
But the situation is even worse than this. The DEA effectively outlaws even mere research of plant medicines that could challenge the Big Pharma monopoly on creating psychoactive substances (or could infringe on Big Liquor's monopoly on drugs that provide transcendence - or, in liquor's case, at least a shabby form of self-forgetfulness). Any research that does take place is ridiculously underfunded, because of the drug-war-created stigma attached to the boogieman known as "drugs." The DEA, in fact, treats this boogieman like enriched uranium, forcing researchers to observe security protocols that would seem like overkill at Fort Knox. (Check out the expensive and over-the-top precautions that MAPS founder Rick Doblin was required to take to safeguard a small amount of MDMA that he was using for research purposes in the 1980s, after the DEA criminalized Ecstasy against the advice of its own legal counsel - in "Psychedelic Medicine" by Dr. Richard Louis Miller.) Why all these precautions? Because the DEA safeguards its own jobs by turning "drugs" into a dangerous boogieman that require government oversite merely to look at and touch. This is the superstitious drug-war tactic: to turn this thing called "drugs" into the universal cause of evil, to blame an amoral substance for drug misuse, in the same way that one might blame bikes for bike accidents, cars for car accidents, and gravity for falling out of a tree.
DRUGS AS EVIL
When Rustichello da Pisa wrote of the journeys of the opium-using Marco Polo, he mentioned drugs multiple times, but in so doing he was never describing substances that were somehow pure evil. That, however, is the uniquely modern and anti-scientific way of looking at psychoactive substances in the age of the drug war, as substances that are evil in and of themselves. That's the nature-hating viewpoint introduced to the world by racist politicians in 1914 (and reinforced by Nixon in the early '70s) in an effort, not to protect American health, but rather to marginalize and arrest minorities and remove them from the voting rolls, thus ensuring the election of more racist drug warriors in the future. That's why Nixon's crack down on drugs did not bother to educate drug users: education wasn't even on Nixon's radar: he sought rather to charge these custom-created "drug abusers" with felonies, thereby withdrawing their right to vote.
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE INDOCTRINATION
Of course, "drug education" itself is political and therefore problematic. Take the current legal situation in Portugal, for instance. Yes, "drugs" are decriminalized in Portugal, but you can still be forced to attend "counseling" should you be caught using, say, psilocybin mushrooms to expand your mind and get a new outlook on life. And such counseling is "re-education" in the worst (i.e., Stalinist) sense of that word. Why? Because its goal is nothing less tyrannical than to get the "drug abuser" to adopt the Christian Scientist's jaundiced view of Mother Nature's psychoactive pharmacy, while yet remaining open to the use of Big Pharma meds, no matter how addictive and mind-numbing they may prove to be. This is government, oddly enough, teaching the "drug abuser" that the "answer" to mental health issues is addiction (addiction to Big Pharma "meds").
I am viscerally opposed to this kind of anti-nature "logic," because I hold it responsible for the fact that my 92-year-old mother is suffering from anxiety, depression and fear in a nursing home. Why? Because such thinking deprives my mother of all naturally occurring substances that (in a sane society) could be used responsibly, with the help of a pharmacologically savvy shaman (for want of a better term), to treat dementia victims in helping them see beyond their fears, all without leading to addiction. Sure, we could insist that some doctor give my mother "something for her anxiety," (some drug of which politicians approve) but the drugs so provided are sure to be addictive and eventually cause huge mood swings as she is weaned off of them after lengthy use or else begins to receive them intermittently and unreliably. Moreover, unlike psychedelics and related plant medicines, the Big Pharma drugs for anxiety cloud the mind and provide the user with zero insight about themselves and the world around them, insight that Mother Nature's mood medicines have been repeatedly shown to provide under appropriate circumstances.
But drug warriors are not just sadistic in denying plant medicine to myself and my mother. They are masochistic too, because their very own "logic" leads them to pooh-pooh natural medicines that could bring about world peace and end Alzheimer's Disease, as in the case of Ecstasy and psychedelics respectively.
JUST SAYING NO TO WORLD PEACE
England had several Summers of Love in the 1980s thanks to the use of the drug "E" (Ecstasy, or MDMA) on the rave dance floor. Check out the testimony of these DJs given in Terry Stone's documentary "One Nation":
"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.
Unfortunately, the British government not only took this "peace, love and understanding" for granted, but they actively sought to bring it to an end with a so-called Criminal Justice Bill, drafted for that very purpose. Why? Because Parliament had the drug warrior habit of judging people, not by how they actually behaved, but rather by what substances they had in their digestive system. And since "E" was illegal (thanks to American influence), the Parliament could easily do without all that "peace, love and understanding." The goal of "fighting drugs" took precedence over such trifles as "peace, love and understanding."
And so "E" disappeared from the rave dance floor, to be replaced with crack and fentanyl, thanks to which the dance floors turned into shooting galleries. Score one for the drug war!
But another drug war fallacy helped speed up the disappearance of E from the dance floor: that is the absurd drug war notion that an illegal medicine can and must be demonized the moment that it results in (or is merely associated with) one single solitary fatality (never minding the daily death toll that the drug war racks up in inner cities and in countries torn by civil wars that the drug war itself brought about through its creation of a black market for a highly coveted product).
So when teenager Leah Betts died in 1995 from hydration-related issues after taking a single "E" tablet, the mere fact of this death was taken as slam-dunk evidence that "E" was a devil drug and needed to be criminalized at once (or rather that the existing laws against it now needed to be harshly enforced). And so billboards sprang up around England, featuring the giant word "Sorted," alongside a black-and-white photograph of Leah as a smiling youngster, above a tiny caption reading: "Just one Ecstasy tablet took Leah Betts."
But that conclusion is absurd, of course, philosophically speaking. By that logic, we can picture a billboard featuring the young victim of a biking accident with the caption: "Just one bicycle took John Doe."
As philosophers should have been pointing out at the time, Ecstasy was merely the efficient (or proximate) cause of Leah's death. The final cause (that for the sake of which something happened) was the lack of understanding of the drug Ecstasy. And who was responsible for that? The drug warrior, who actively impedes impartial research about psychoactive substances in order to bolster the superstitious argument that illegal drugs are bad in and of themselves, without respect for the way that they are used.
In short, the drug war itself killed Leah Betts, by preventing the acquisition and dissemination of safe guidelines for the use of "E."
JUST SAYING YES TO ALZHEIMER'S
You'd think that the fight against Alzheimer's Disease would be one area in which Americans would gladly put the drug war on the back burner if necessary to obtain results. But you'd be wrong. Researcher Amanda Feilding has shown how psychedelics such as ayahuasca give birth to new brain cells (see Psychedelic Medicine by Dr. Richard Louis Miller - "Birthing Brain Cells with Ayahuasca," on page 36 of the paperback edition) and yet ayahuasca remains a schedule 1 drug in America, which the DEA stubbornly and mendaciously insists has no potential therapeutic uses. This makes it very difficult to study ayahuasca in America or even to raise money for that purpose.
The research of Feilding (along with that of Charles Grob, Dennis McKenna, Rick Doblin, Roland Griffiths, and many others) demonstrates clearly that psychedelic plant medicines could reverse Alzheimer's and possibly even cure it. But despite even Obama's official prioritization of brain research, America would rather wage a drug war against psychoactive plants than to learn from them. And so the mendacious DEA stubbornly maintains the fiction that thousands of godsend plants have no therapeutic value, thus keeping America in the dark ages with respect to cures for Alzheimer's, in the exact same way that the Church strove to keep Galileo and his contemporaries in the dark about the true nature of the universe.
DRUG WAR LIES
But there is yet another reason why philosophers must speak out against the illogical mindset of the drug war. That is because drug warriors play dirty. Consider the infamous "frying pan" ad by the Partnership for a Drug Free America, a so-called "public service announcement" which claims that "drugs" somehow fry the brain the moment that they are criminalized by politicians, an ad that both laypeople and academics seem to have taken as gospel truth, thus giving the drug war new talons with which it has grasped the American psyche ever since. That ad is not only misleading, but it is almost the opposite of the actual truth. Cocaine helped Sigmund Freud to focus on his work. Opium increased Benjamin Franklin's creativity. Francis Crick envisioned the DNA helix with the help of liberal doses of psychedelics. Meanwhile, amphetamines are so far from frying the brain that the Air Force once required pilots to use them before taking their multi-million-dollar jets on crucial missions.
It's bad enough when drug warriors are misguided by faulty reasoning, but when politically motivated leaders purposefully encourage such misunderstanding, it is incumbent upon philosophers to speak up and "call them" on it. Unfortunately, philosophers have largely failed to do so so far, even though they alone possess the training that should make them experts in first recognizing and then "outing" such mendacious propaganda. But then they know that the drug war is an intolerant religion against which one speaks at their own vocational and economic peril. The irony is that, should they speak up, they'll probably be looked at with suspicion for "making such a big thing" about drugs (what are they, a DRUG user?!) when the whole problem with the drug war is that it does precisely that: it makes a huge thing about drugs: it turns them into universal scapegoats for all social injustices. Until the Drug War came along, a substance-related death was always the result of poor education: in the superstitious present, such a death is the result of an evil substance known as a "drug."
THE MODERN INVENTION OF THE "DRUG PROBLEM"
Here I am, halfway through my letter, and I haven't come close to even mentioning all of the evil and hypocrisy that the drug war brings about. I hope I am convincing you that it's time for philosophers to speak up and denounce the manifold and manifest inanity of our drug-centric way of thinking about the world. There was, after all, no drug problem in Ancient Egypt. There was no drug problem in Ancient Mesopotamia. There was no drug problem in Ancient Greece. There was no drug problem in the Persian Empire. There was no drug problem in Ancient Rome. There was no drug problem in the Mongol Empire. There was no drug problem in the Viking Age.
Why not? First, because these cultures still judged people by how they behaved, not by the substances that they had in their digestive systems. Second, because they knew that any substance - salt included - could be useful or deadly, and that no substance was bad in and of itself.
HOW DRUG WAR PROPAGANDA WORKS
But how is drug war propaganda so effective: so effective that we now consider the DEA to be the good guys in movies where they torture "drug suspects" and shoot them at point-blank range - as in the 2019 movie "Running with the Devil"? so effective that we speak of drug suspects in dehumanized language not heard since the Nazi era, where drug suspects are "scumbags" and "vermin"? so effective that we shrug when the DEA stomps onto Monticello and confiscates Thomas Jefferson's poppy plants, which, besides being daylight robbery, was an ungrateful coup against the natural law upon which Jefferson founded this country? so effective that we would follow our presidents' instructions and turn in our own parents for using substances of which our politicians disapprove, believing in the patriotic necessity of so acting? so effective, in short, that we would gladly give up our right to the plants and fungi that grow at our very feet?
Drug war propaganda is so effective because we see it every day of our lives on the TV screen and in movies. It is the propaganda of omission, whereby the viewer never ever sees the rational and productive use of a substance that has been criminalized by politicians. Thus, instead of the prim and proper Freud using cocaine to increase his work output, we see a dumpy-looking scumbag noisily "snorting a line" in a windowless room lit by a single undecorated overhead lightbulb, on a table covered with blood-stained money haphazardly piled up beside a razor blade. Indeed, the whole cop show TV genre could scarcely exist without the drug war, because script writers would have to limit their bad guys to actually doing bad things rather than simply having commerce with natural substances of which politicians disapprove.
Nor do we see visionaries such as Poe and Lovecraft imagining whole new worlds of aesthetic beauty and grandeur under the creative influence of maligned substances. Meanwhile biographies ignore Freud's use of cocaine, Benjamin Franklin's use of opium, and JFK's use of amphetamines (this latter use at a time when mere mortal Americans would have been arrested and sent for "counseling" - i.e. Christian Science re-education -- should they have dared to partake).
The only seemingly nonjudgmental view of drug use that we see in movies is during comedies, as when Neil Patrick Harris snorts cocaine off of the eagerly proffered "tush" of a pole dancer in "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle." Of course, the drug warrior can tolerate such depictions since they serve to associate drug use with irresponsibility. What the drug warrior never wants to see is a TV show or movie which depicts the rational and helpful use of a substance that politicians have gone to great trouble to demonize as a "drug." The drug warrior can relax in this connection, however, since such positive depictions of illegal drug use just don't happen on TV, and only very, very rarely in movies.
CRACKDOWN ON THOUGHT
There's yet another philosophical problem with the drug war of which one seldom if ever speaks: the fact that the drug war represents a crack down on a certain kind of thought, namely the generally left-leaning viewpoint often encouraged by the ingestion of psychoactive plant medicines, under whose influence the user sees the world as a unity in which it is incumbent upon people to get along and to feel for each other and to take a deep protective interest in the world around them. This, I maintain, is why many politicians fear psychoactive plant medicines, because their use conduces to the propagation of a world view to which they are opposed or of which they are afraid, or both. Seen in this light, the drug war represents a tyrannical and politically motivated limitation on the way that people are allowed to think about the world.
Indeed, if the drug war had been in effect 4,000 years ago, the Vedic religion would have been outlawed, inspired as it was by the insights furnished by a psychoactive plant medicine known as soma.
Consider the use of morphine as described below by Edgar Allan Poe in the educationally suppressed story entitled "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains." The "user" in Poe's fantasy (a morphine habitué by the name of Augustus Bedloe) does not use morphine in order to consort with pole dancers. Rather, he uses it (horror of horrors!) in order to better see and appreciate the wonders of Mother Nature on his daily morning rambles through the hilly forests west of Charlottesville.
"In the meantime the morphine had its customary effect- that of enduing all the external world with an intensity of interest. In the quivering of a leaf- in the hue of a blade of grass- in the shape of a trefoil- in the humming of a bee- in the gleaming of a dew-drop- in the breathing of the wind- in the faint odors that came from the forest- there came a whole universe of suggestion- a gay and motley train of rhapsodical and immethodical thought."
The drug warrior, of course, would hypocritically point to Bedloe's habituation (which they would derisively refer to as an addiction) as being a horrible non-starter, failing to realize that drug-war ideology is responsible for the greatest addiction crisis in American history, namely the above-mentioned addiction to Big Pharma meds that has resulted from the DEA's mindless criminalization of thousands of nature's therapeutic godsends. I don't mind saying that if I had my life to live over again, I would have definitely chosen an addiction to morphine in preference to the emotion-numbing addiction to Effexor (an addiction that psychiatry refuses to even recognize, let alone to apologize for). Effexor has never "fixed" my depression or conduced to the least bit of self-actualization: it merely keeps me from feeling emotions fully, in the same way that the Prozac-testing reporter (of whom Dr. Richard Louis Miller writes) was shocked to find that he was no longer moved to cry at family funerals when under the influence of that "miracle drug." In retrospect, the muting effect that Effexor has upon one's emotions is unsurprising given that psychiatry has a long history of coming out with "miracle cures" that achieve that status, not by helping patients, but rather by rendering them more docile and cooperative for the staff and family that have to deal with them. That's why the lobotomy procedure was praised to the skies and earned Walter Rudolph Hess a Nobel prize, not because it helped the severely depressed lead a fulfilling life, but because it made their behavior less objectionable to care givers.
When Sigmund Freud needed a cure for depression, he didn't put his faith in theoretical cures, not even in his own psychotherapeutic methods in which he otherwise professed so much unshakable faith. He went right for the real politik of cocaine, which he subsequently praised as a therapeutic godsend, providing him as it did with energy and a laser-like focus on the work at hand. Unfortunately, however, mere mortals like myself are forced to forgo this godsend in deference to merely theoretical cures, including talk therapy and the use of Big Pharma drugs that claim (falsely as it turns out) to correct a chemical imbalance that "causes" depression. (The mere search for a single cause for such a diversely expressed and experienced "illness" makes the search for a philosopher's stone seem like a realistic project by comparison. But psychiatry had to claim that such a reductionist "cure" existed in order to justify its pretensions for being a "hard science." Unfortunately, 1 in 8 American men and 1 in 4 American women had to be sacrificed on the altar of materialism by becoming Big Pharma addicts in o