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In Praise of Thomas Szasz

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

February 2, 2019

o one has lopped more heads off of the hydra-headed beast of drug-related misunderstanding than Hungarian-American psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, and one of his greatest insights had to do with doctors. Ever since they were empowered with the privilege of writing (or withholding) prescriptions, Szasz tells us, the sick or troubled amongst us have been encouraged to think of themselves as babies when it comes to medications. We know nothing about medicine and our medical instincts, experiences, and pharmacological desires count for little. The big question is: "What does a board-certified doctor think that we need?" Even if we are visiting the eminent physician for a simple cold (something that our great grandparents might have laughed off with a little tincture of opium), we still must appeal to the brow-wrinkling doctor if we hope to access anything more powerful than acetaminophen and cough drops.

I am not reminding the reader of this lost Eden in order to promote the dangerous solitary use of psychedelics and other substances, but rather to remind us that our caution on these topics is caused in part by our knee-jerk obedience to a healthcare paradigm that infantilizes us as patients and urges us to discount our medical instincts and experiences. We have been trained to distrust ourselves when it comes to drugs, to the point that the term "self-medicating" has become the taboo par excellence in the modern age. But let's remember that the disdain that modern doctors hold for "self-medicating" can be explained by more than just their concerns about patient health: after all, a doctor's bottom line is impacted precisely to the extent that their potential patients choose to "self-medicate." Little wonder then that doctors seek to characterize such patient initiative as medical heresy.

The inconvenient truth is that the non-medical world, with its many psychoactive substances, has far more effective cures for my depression than does the medical world with its beard-stroking doctors and outrageously limited pharmacopeia (especially if I have at least one botanically minded spiritual guide to aid me in my quest for self-improvement). I therefore would consider self-medication to be the rational choice for treating what ails me, were it not for the fact that the DEA is waiting to arrest me should I have the gall to improve my life outside the healthcare system with the mere help of Mother Nature. But let's remember that, in arresting me, the DEA is just following the medical profession's taboo to its logical conclusion: they are essentially arresting me for self-medicating. In this way the DEA is really just the enforcement arm of the American medical establishment. The two are in cahoots. They are both working to disempower the American people when it comes to healthcare.

{^One in four American women are hooked on Big Pharma anti-depressants, many of which are more addictive than heroin. That's a nice tidy annuity for pharmaceutical executives, especially when you add in the one in eight males who are likewise addicted. No wonder there are so many lobbyists in DC asking Congress to "double down" on the Drug War. The Drug War is the goose that lays the golden egg, not just for Big Pharma but for psychiatrists, law enforcement and the corrections industry as well.}{

July 10, 2022

This was written three years ago, when Brian was still basically a kid (couldn't have been more than 62 years old). He's since realized that Szasz fell short in a few ways, which, however, does not in any way diminish his accomplishments when it comes to pushing back against the willfully ignorant Drug War.

What Szasz failed to notice

1) Szasz seems to have erred on the side of Libertarians in assuming that "drug use" was, indeed, by and large unnecessary, but that prohibition was still a flawed response to such use. He seems to pay short shrift to the fact that psychoactive drugs inspired the Vedic religion, the mushroom cults, and the Eleusinian Mysteries, from which Plato got his ideas about the afterlife. When it comes to drugs, the Libertarian wants to let people "go to the devil in their own way." But this attitude yields far too much ground to the Drug Warrior, by agreeing with their false proposition that hypocritically defined "drug use" is stupid at some level, but must be tolerated. Wrong. Drug use is the fountainhead of the religious impulse and the source of most historic prophesying. To consider "drug use" as merely a dubious pastime of hippies is to make the Drug Warrior mistake of considering such use only in the context of 1960's America. Of course, the Drug War as Nixon defined it was a war against such youths and their pacifist and potentially communistic ideology, but in the larger picture, "drugs" have been used by Marco Polo, Marcus Aurelius, Benjamin Franklin, Richard Feynman, HG Wells, Jules Verne, Henrik Ibsen, etc. etc. etc. Drug use in general has nothing to do with American hippies, except "accidentally," as a philosopher would use that term.

2) In connection with the above remark, Szasz gives short shrift to the potential positive uses for drugs which the Drug War requires us to ignore entirely: teaching music appreciation, teaching compassion, providing concentration on tasks requiring "attention to detail," learning new approaches to life, seeing the world outside of the prison of one's default mode network, thanks to which one is blind to useful alternatives to non-constructive behavioral patterns instilled by nature and/or nurture.

3) He also fails to fully point out the link between materialism, reductionism and the Drug War -- though this is partly due to the fact that he lived during the "growth spurt" of the psychiatric pill mill, which had yet to render 1 in 4 American women dependent on Big Pharma meds for life, thereby creating a world that is eerily like "The Stepford Wives," complete with a bell sounding at regular intervals (helpfully provided by Siri) to remind the female to "take her meds." Speaking of which, I keep waiting in vain for Margaret Atwood to denounce this real-life dystopia, but such drug use appears to be a new religion. For the field of psychiatry is taking full advantage of Drug War prohibition to hook Americans on Big Pharma drugs under the pretense of "scientifically curing sadness." So I guess Margaret knows that to push back against the trend would make her stand out as a reactionary against American "progress," even though the status quo is the incarnation of the anti-female dystopias that she (and novelist Ira Levin) would otherwise revile as a matter of course.

Next essay: Why American Drug Policy is Insane
Previous essay: The real reason for depression in America

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You have been reading an article entitled, In Praise of Thomas Szasz published on February 2, 2019 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)