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Even Howard Zinn Reckons without the Drug War

a philosophical review of 'A People's History of the United States'

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

April 17, 2023

merican authors are in denial about the Drug War. If anyone doubts this, they should check out the populist classic by historian Howard Zinn entitled "A People's History of the United States." If any book might be expected to pan the war on drugs, it should be this one, since that anti-scientific campaign against psychoactive medicine has militarized police forces around the world, caused civil wars in Latin America, destroyed the rule of law in Mexico, and killed and disenfranchised so many American blacks that racist fascists are now able to win presidential elections in the United States. And yet Howard Zinn, that dauntless unmasker of systemic wrongs, has absolutely nothing to say about the war on drugs. Not a thing. True, he mentions "drugs" a handful of times in his lengthy tome, but only in an off-hand way which implies that the author shares the mendacious prejudices of our times according to which "drugs" are substances which have no valid uses for anyone, anywhere, at any time, for any reason, ever.

He writes of inner-city violence, of course, but only to link it to uncaring politicians who withhold money on social problems while beefing up the military to dangerous and unwieldy proportions. This is all too true, of course, but he misses the main point when it comes to inner-city violence: namely that it was first introduced into the 'hood by substance prohibition which gave massive financial incentives for the poor to start selling desired substances. Of course, the drug gangs thus created soon had to arm themselves to the teeth against both the police and their own inner-city turf rivals. That's why, as Heather Ann Thompson wrote in The Atlantic in 2014:

"Without the War on Drugs, the level of gun violence that plagues so many poor inner-city neighborhoods today simply would not exist."

And yet the Drug War is off the radar of Howard Zinn. Like Lisa Ling, who produced an hour-long documentary on Chicago gun violence without even mentioning the war on drugs, Howard seems to think that city violence arose ex nihilo as a kind of passive-aggressive response to bad social policy in general, when the real villains of the piece were the huge financial incentives provided by substance prohibition.

I might have expected such blindness from other authors.

Science writers, for instance, have been ignoring the Drug War for many years now, giving us the latest materialist advice on fighting depression, anxiety and PTSD, but never pointing out the inconvenient truth (even via a footnoted disclaimer) that the government has outlawed almost all the psychoactive medicine with which one might have easily triumphed over these conditions in the past, or at least rendered their symptoms far less pernicious. In academia, in fact, it's commonplace to completely ignore the possibility that drugs can have good uses. Nor is the historian in a hurry to tell kids that Benjamin Franklin was a big fan of opium or that Thomas Jefferson grew poppies on his estate - or that he rolled over in his grave the day that the DEA stomped onto Monticello and confiscated those plants in violation of the natural law upon which Jefferson had founded America.

But Howard Zinn has no excuse for ignoring the Drug War. The fact that he does so makes me wonder if he ever bothered to read his own book. His entire thesis, after all, is that rich power brokers will go to great lengths to keep the lower classes fighting amongst themselves for what he calls the "leftovers" of exploitative capitalism. In chapter 23, for instance, he quotes HL Mencken as saying:

The whole aim of popular politics is to keep the public alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

Surely "drugs" is the hobgoblin par excellence of American politics, and Howard, of all writers, should have recognized that fact.

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The book "Plants of the Gods" is full of plants and fungi that could help addicts and alcoholics, sometimes in the plant's existing form, sometimes in combinations, sometimes via extracting alkaloids, etc. But drug warriors need addiction to sell their prohibition ideology.

If NIDA covered all drugs (not just politically ostracized drugs), they'd produce articles like this: "Aspirin continues to kill hundreds." "Penicillin misuse approaching crisis levels." "More bad news about Tylenol and liver damage." "Study revives cancer fears from caffeine."
Right. In fact, the drug war can be seen as a way for conservatives to keep America's eyes OFF the prize. The right-wing motto is, "Billions for law enforcement, but not one cent for social programs."
"When two men who have been in an aggressive mood toward each other take part in the ritual, one is able to say to the other, 'Come, let us drink, for there is something between us.' " re: the Mayan use of the balche drink in Encyc of Psych Plants, by Ratsch & Hofmann
Prohibitionists having nothing to say about all other dangerous activities: nothing about hunting, free climbing, hang-gliding, sword swallowing, free diving, skateboarding, sky-diving, chug-a-lug competitions, chain-smoking. Their "logic" is incoherent.

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You have been reading an article entitled, Even Howard Zinn Reckons without the Drug War: a philosophical review of 'A People's History of the United States', published on April 17, 2023 on 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 (philosopher's bio; go to top of this page)