Essay date: August 20, 2023

Disease Mongering in the age of the drug war

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

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

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 hose 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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Monticello Betrayed Thomas Jefferson

In 1987, the Monticello Foundation invited the DEA onto the property to confiscate Thomas Jeffersons poppy plants, in violation of the Natural Law upon which the gardening fan had founded America

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Drive the point home that the Drug War censors scientists -- by outlawing and otherwise discouraging research into the kinds of drugs that have inspired entire religions.

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old time radio playing Drug War comedy sketches

You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at 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.

Brian Quass
The Drug War Philosopher

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)

Selected Bibliography

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    • Blum, Richard "Society and Drugs" 1970 Jossey-Bass
  • Boullosa , Carmen "A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the 'Mexican Drug War'"2016 OR Books
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  • Filan, Kenaz "The Power of the Poppy: Harnessing Nature's Most Dangerous Plant Ally"2011 Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
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    • Miller, Richard Louis "Psychedelic Medicine: The Healing Powers of LSD, MDMA, Psilocybin, and Ayahuasca Kindle " 2017 Park Street Press
  • Mortimer MD, W. Golden "Coca: Divine Plant of the Incas"2017 Ronin Publishing
  • Newcombe, Russell "Intoxiphobia: discrimination toward people who use drugs"2014
    • Noe, Alvin "Out of our Heads" 2010 HiII&Wang,
    • Paley, Dawn "Drug War Capitalism" 2014 AK Press
  • Partridge, Chiristopher "Alistair Crowley on Drugs"2021 uploaded by Misael Hernandez
    • Pinchbeck, Daniel "When Plants Dream" 2019 Watkins Publishing
    • Poe, Edgar Allan "The Essential Poe" 2020 Warbler Classics
    • Pollan, Michael "How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence " 2018 Penguin Books
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    • Richards, William "Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences Hardcover" 2015 Columbia University Press
    • Rosenfeld, Harvey "Diary of a Dirty Little War: The Spanish-American War of 1898 " 2000 Praeger
  • Rudgley, Richard "The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances"2014 Macmillan Publishers
    • Russell, Kirk "Edmund Burke: A Genius Reconsidered" 1967 Arlington House
    • Schlosser, Erich "Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety" 2014 Penguin
    • Sewell, Kenneth Clint Richmond "Red Star Rogue: The Untold Story of a Soviet Submarine's Nuclear Strike Attempt on the U.S. " 2006 Pocket Star
    • Shirer, William "The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler" 2011 RosettaBooks
  • Shulgin, Alexander "PIHKAL: A Chemical Love Story"1991 Transform Press
  • Shulgin, Alexander "The Nature of Drugs Vol. 1: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact"2021 Transform Press
    • Slater, Lauren "Blue Dreams: The Science and the Story of the Drugs that Changed Our Minds" 2019 Boston
  • Smith, Wolfgang "Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief"0
  • Smith, Wolfgang "Physics: A Science in Quest of an Ontology"2022
  • St John, Graham "Mystery School in Hyperspace: A Cultural History of DMT"2021
    • Straussman, Rick "DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor's Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences " 2001 Park Street Press
    • Streatfield, Dominic "Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography" 2003 Picador USA
    • Swartzwelder, Scott "Buzzed: The Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy" 1998 W.W. Norton
    • Szasz, Thomas "Ceremonial Chemistry: the ritual persecution of drugs, addicts, and pushers" 1974 Anchor Press/Doubleday
  • Szasz, Thomas "Interview With Thomas Szasz: by Randall C. Wyatt"0
    • Szasz, Thomas "Our Right to Drugs: The case for a free market" 1992 Praeger
    • Tyler, George R. "Billionaire Democracy: The Hijacking of the American Political System" 2016 Pegasus Books
    • Watts, Alan "The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness" 1965 Vintage
  • Wedel, Janine "Unaccountable: How the Establishment Corrupted Our Finances, Freedom and Politics and Created an Outsider Class"2014 Pegasus Books
  • Weil, Andrew "From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs"2004 Open Road Integrated Media
    • Whitaker, Robert "Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America " 2010 Crown
    • Zinn, Howard "A People's History of the United States: 1492 - present" 2009
    • Zuboff , Shoshana "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power" 2019 Public Affairs
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