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Disease Mongering in the age of the drug war

a philosophical review of Stanley Krippner's essay on drug-inspired bliss

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher




August 20, 2023

This is a review of Addicted to Bliss: Looking for Ecstasy in All the Wrong Places, 2011, by Stanley Krippner, on Academia.edu

One of the many reasons that it's frustrating to argue for the re-legalization of drugs is that even one's allies in the task are often in the thrall of a variety of Drug Warrior prejudices themselves, albeit without their having recognized the fact. Some, in fact, are so duped by Drug War lies that one ends up saying of them, "With friends like these, who needs enemies?" In this latter group, I include those who say that the Drug War has failed. The problem with this statement, of course, is that it seems to imply that the Drug War would have been fine had it only succeeded. But this is not exactly a self-evident proposition. Why precisely is it good to limit the search for self-transcendence? Had drug prohibition succeeded in 1500 BC, there would be no Vedic-Hindu religion today. Had drug prohibition succeeded in the 19th century, William James could not have written "The Varieties of Religious Experience." Moreover, drug prohibition puts government in charge of what (and how much) we are allowed to think and feel in this life, and even what plants and fungi we are allowed to access. By investing such enormous powers in the state, we make a mockery of Jefferson's natural law, which gives us both sovereignty over self and full ownership of mother nature's bounty. That's why the ghost of Jefferson was rolling in his grave when the DEA stomped onto Monticello in 1987 to confiscate the founding father's poppy plants, a raid that made a mockery of the signs around the Albemarle County estate reading "hallowed ground."

Professor Stanley Krippner would seem to understand these basic ideas. He was, after all, the Alan Watts Professor of Psychology at Saybrook University. But the title of his 2011 paper, "Addicted to Bliss: Looking for ecstasy in all the wrong places," made me fear that he had been bamboozled by Drug War dogma. The title gave me the impression that Krippner's goal in writing was to point out that drugs like ecstasy represent a wrong way of achieving bliss. "Oh, really?" I thought to myself. "And why is that, exactly?"

For a moment, though, the essay title looked to me like a red herring. That was because Krippner begins his essay by favorably quoting Thomas Szasz to the effect that "addiction" is a social construct. Unfortunately, the professor then goes on to qualify this viewpoint by adducing arguments that show that he really does not believe it. He seems to approve instead of the WHO definition of "addiction" suggesting that an addict is "out of control." "And what's wrong with that definition?" you might ask. The problem is that the addict is out of control precisely BECAUSE of prohibition. The "addicts" are out robbing pharmacies in order to pay extortionate dealers and sweating because they've missed a dose of a dependence-causing drug. Such problems should be blamed on prohibition, not pathology. Sure, we could no doubt find a chemical or and/or genetic correlate to such behavior -- as you could, no doubt, of any behavior whatsoever -- but to even discuss such pedantic considerations is to blame the victim while giving a giant Mulligan to prohibition for the many problems that prohibition creates. The homebound opium user was a mere habitue in 1913 but became an "addict" in 1914, not because their brain chemistry or genetics had changed, but rather because the Harrison Narcotics Act suddenly made it difficult for them to obtain and use their drug of choice, thus compromising their health and forcing them to appear "out of control" in their effort to maintain the status quo. We have no business pathologizing those problems and identifying them as symptoms of a disease in our Diagnostic Statistics Manual. That reeks of a dystopian science-fiction, in which the government declares that there are no real enemies of the state, only those who are sick and need to be medically treated by that state in order to make them "good citizens" according to the state's definition of that term.

But Krippner misses another elephant in the room: namely, the fact that 1 in 4 American women are dependent on Big Pharma meds for life. 1 in 4. It always astonishes me that folks feel free to talk authoritatively about addiction (what it is, how we can treat it, etc.) without even mentioning this unprecedented pharmacological dystopia. They no doubt feel that Big Pharma drugs are somehow scientific and so even massive chemical dependency can be accepted, perhaps even praised. (Indeed, some "scientists" now tell us that it's time to place young kids on such drugs.) This perverse conclusion is a result of America's blind faith in science. We're told Big Pharma pills "cure" depression, but depression is ultimately a subjective phenomenon - no matter how many chemical and genetic correlates that a materialist scienctist may "discover" for it - and scientists have zero expertise in defining either depression or what would constitute a "cure" for such a condition. I, for one, want to live large a la Jack Kerouac, and I can tell you from hard experience that this is not the kind of life that scientists had in mind for me when they created drugs like Prozac and Effexor. In fact, at the risk of advancing a conspiracy theory, my "takeaway" after 40 years on such drugs is that the drug makers were trying to make me a good consumer, not a happy one, and certainly not one who was self-fulfilled according to my own definition of that term.

Now for qualm number three. By the end of the essay, Krippner seems to have abandoned the idea that addiction is a social construct. Instead, he advances a kind a of medicalized morality by telling us that the use of "drugs" keeps a person "stuck in dysfunction." Hitting his pedantic stride in the final paragraph, he declares categorically that "The widespread use only delays the breakdown of the old mind structures and the emergence of higher consciousness." Talk about pathologizing drug use. This is especially egregious, since Krippner is not specifying any particular drug here, but talking (very unscientifically) about psychoactive "drugs," in general (drugs being a political category, not an objective one). What he's basically saying then is that a substance will "delay the breakdown of the old mind structures" (whatever that means) to the extent that the drug has been demonized and outlawed by pharmacologically clueless politicians - notwithstanding the fact that some of those drugs (like shrooms, coca and psychedelics) have inspired entire religions.

The essay ends with a pedantic and moralizing harangue against psychoactive drug use:

"While individual users may get some relief from the daily torture inflicted on them by their minds, they are prevented from generating enough conscious presence to rise above thought and so find true liberation."

What? Speaking personally, I can say unequivocally that illegal drugs are precisely the ones that have helped me to rise above the self-torturing mind. As for the Effexor that I'm on for life, it is the last drug in the world that I would accuse of generating consciousness, let alone liberation. To the contrary, it's most obvious effect for me is that it clouds my brain. But the above quotation shows that Krippner has fallen victim to yet another Drug Warrior lie, a lie that has been a mainstay of psychiatric dogma since Richard Nixon launched his Drug War in 1973: that is, the belief that there are two kinds of treatments: 1) fake cures, aka crutches (like using opium, MDMA, and laughing gas) and 2) REAL cures (like taking SSRIs and other Big Pharma Drugs). This is the drug apartheid of which Julian Buchanan writes: drugs bad, meds good. It is entirely a political distinction, but by the end of his essay, Krippner is suggesting that it represents an objective reality. (The racist politicians that outlawed these drugs will no doubt be happy to hear that their laws designed to remove minorities from the voting rolls were not only effective, but scientific as well!)

The meta problem with Kruppner's essay is that he takes "addiction" as a real phenomenon. The fact is, we will not know what addiction really is (or the extent to which it actually even exists) until we first have re-legalized all psychoactive substances and made them available on a regulated basis, along with the information to use them wisely. When literally every possible drug is available and understood (not just in terms of physical facts but also in terms of subjective user reports), the replacement of one drug with another will no longer require the wringing of hands and confessions of helplessness and invocations of a higher power. Rather we can use drugs to fight against drug problems, a therapy in which the goal is not a hypocritically defined sobriety, but rather the user's self-fulfillment as they themselves define that term. Even if they express the desire to be "drug free," there are endless reasons to believe that proper drug use could help them achieve even that goal, for there is vast evidence that psychedelics can be used purposefully to increase motivation toward specific goals.

But until we end prohibition and liberate ourselves from the many Drug War prejudices that we have imbibed since grade school from anti-scientific fearmongering groups such as DARE and the Partnership for a Drug Free America (whose "frying pan" ad of the 1980s was the most mendacious public service announcement in television history), let's resist the tendency to normalize prohibition by making pathologies out of the problems that it causes.

Finally, a no doubt overdue word of praise for the essay in question. Professor Krippner does clearly see one gorilla in the room that is usually invisible to anyone who writes or speaks about drug use, and that is the fact that sobriety in itself is not some state to be promoted or praised. The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, as Thoreau said, and this is clearly because of the negative thoughts that are coursing through their brain at any moment: "This will never work, I can't do this, I don't deserve success, I must look foolish," and perhaps most devilishly of all: "Why should I even bother?" Then there is the school shooter who is equally sober, but who blames others for his unhappiness with life, not himself, in his morbid inner dialogue. People naively say that we should never encourage kids to use drugs, but this is an idiotic sentiment, given that "drugs" represents so many disparate substances. If we valued our kids more than our Drug War dogma, we would be encouraging young haters to try empathogens such as MDMA, rather than sitting back and wondering if and when those kids were going to shoot up the local grade school.




Next essay: Time for News Outlets to stop promoting drug war lies
Previous essay: Funny Animated Gifs about America's imperialist and racist Drug War

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Some Tweets against the hateful war on drugs

Health is not a quality, it's a balance. To decide legality based on 'health' grounds thus opens a Pandora's box of different points of view.
In 1886, coca enthusiast JJ Tschudi referred to prohibitionists as 'kickers.' He wrote: "If we were to listen to these kickers, most of us would die of hunger, for the reason that nearly everything we eat or drink has fallen under their ban."
Musk vies with his fellow materialists in his attempt to diss humans as insignificant. But we are not insignificant. The very term "insignificant" is a human creation. Consciousness rules. Indeed, consciousness makes the rules. Without us, there would only be inchoate particles.
Materialists are always trying to outdo each other in describing the insignificance of humankind. Crick at least said we were "a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules." Musk downsizes us to one single microbe. He wins!
Prohibitionists have the same M O they've had for the last 100+ years: blame drugs for everything. Being a drug warrior is never having the decency to say you're sorry -- not to Mexicans, not to inner-city crime victims, not to patients who go without adequate pain relief...
I'm told antidepressant withdrawal is fine because it doesn't cause cravings. Why is it better to feel like hell than to have a craving? In any case, cravings are caused by prohibition. A sane world could also end cravings with the help of other drugs.
Drug Warriors never take responsibility for incentivizing poor kids throughout the west to sell drugs. It's not just in NYC and LA, it's in modest-sized towns in France. Find public housing, you find drug dealing. It's the prohibition, damn it!
Materialist puritans do not want to create any drug that elates. So they go on a fool's errand to find reductionist cures for "depression itself," as if the vast array of human sadness could (or should) be treated with a one-size-fits-all readjustment of brain chemicals.
The drug war tells us that certain drugs have no potential uses and then turns that into a self-fulfilling prophecy by outlawing these drugs. This is insanely anti-scientific and anti-progress. We should never give up on looking for positive uses for ANY substance.
The DEA outlawed MDMA in 1985, thereby depriving soldiers of a godsend treatment for PTSD. Apparently, the DEA staff slept well at night in the early 2000s as American soldiers were having their lives destroyed by IEDs.
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You have been reading an article entitled, Disease Mongering in the age of the drug war: a philosophical review of Stanley Krippner's essay on drug-inspired bliss, published on August 20, 2023 on AbolishTheDEA.com. For more information about America's disgraceful drug war, which is anti-patient, anti-minority, anti-scientific, anti-mother nature, imperialistic, the establishment of the Christian Science religion, a violation of the natural law upon which America was founded, and a childish and counterproductive way of looking at the world, one which causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, visit the drug war philosopher, at abolishTheDEA.com. (philosopher's bio; go to top of this page)