a philosophical review of the academic paper by Russell Newcombe
Note: My criticism regarding what I see as the insufficiency of Newcombe's argument for drug legalization (beginning in paragraph six) is nothing personal. In fact, I know of no one in the Drug War debates who has addressed this issue entirely to my satisfaction.
"Intoxiphobia" is a depressing read because it confirms how drug users have become the punching bag of modern societies, the one group toward whom intolerance and the denial of basic human rights is still considered acceptable around the globe. In England, drug users can be detained without charge for twice as long as murderers and rapists. In China, they are subject to mass incarceration, police abuse and execution. In Thailand, the police "force false confessions from people detained for drug use." In Kazakhstan, the authorities beat drug users with fists and clubs. Meanwhile many countries (including the US) deny public housing to users, deny them welfare payments, and threaten to take their children from them. Through pre-employment drug testing, they can even be denied the opportunity for gainful employment in their country of residence.
In 2008, Uruguay attempted to improve this bleak status quo at the 51st Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. They made the apparently novel proposal that international drug control activities should henceforth be conducted in conformity with human rights law. (Gee, ya think?) Naturally, China and most other Asian countries demurred. That was perhaps to be expected from countries that have historically put little stock in the rights of the individual. But the United States also protested. The US delegates did not want their police forces to be hindered by respect for something so mundane as human rights.
One might have expected better from a country founded on Jeffersonian principles, but then our supposedly independent media has been cranking out Drug War agitprop for decades now. In "Running with the Devil," 2019, the DEA agent shoots an unarmed drug suspect in cold blood and at point-blank range. In "Crisis," also from 2019, a DEA agent plants evidence to cover up his girlfriend's vigilante murder of a drug suspect. And in "The Runner," 2021, a SWAT team riddles the chest of an unarmed black teenage drug suspect with bullets in an outrageously irresponsible sting operation on a high-school dance party, for which the white good guy, Detective Wall, nevertheless receives an award.
These movies are not mentioned in Russell Newcombe's paper: I cite them here to help account for America's reluctance to respect human rights while fighting the war on drugs. For if the anti-democratic plots of these movies say anything about the American mindset of our times, it's no wonder that our stateside bureaucrats are unwilling to fight fair in their unprecedented war on the psychoactive bounty of mother nature.
In short, it's open season on drug users around the world, and Newcombe's paper corroborates the fact.
Unfortunately, however, the author's defense of drug use is weak. He cites the utilitarian philosophy of John Stuart Mill in affirming our right to sovereignty over our own body, with the usual proviso that we hurt no one else with our actions. But drug use is far more than just a victimless crime. Drug use has inspired religions and philosophies around the world. The Vedic-Hindu religion was inspired by the consumption of the psychedelic soma concoction; the Peruvian Indians considered the coca plant to be divine; the Maya used psychoactive mushrooms in religious rites. Many western greats considered the psychedelic-fueled Eleusinian mysteries to be the most enlightening experience of their life. William James' entire philosophy was inspired by the use of nitrous oxide.
Considering this backstory, the outlawing of drug use is not merely bad social policy: it is the outlawing of religion - indeed the outlawing of the religious impulse. The outlawing of drug use is also the outlawing of philosophy, insofar as it criminalizes the attainment of those altered states that American philosopher William James told us that we must investigate to understand reality. "No account of the universe in its totality," wrote James, "can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded." Yet disregard them we must if Drug Warriors have their way.
Speaking of religions, Newcombe also fails to recognize that the Drug War itself is a religion, namely, the religion of Christian Science. For there is no rational imperative that tells us to say no to drugs; it's certainly not an idea that would occur to anyone who had grown up in a rainforest. No, the idea that we should say no to drugs was first codified into a moral position by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science religion. And so the Drug War is basically the enforcement of Christian Science as a world religion.
Instead of arguing on the back foot, so to speak, by assuring our opponents that our drug use is not going to hurt anybody (an assertion that the Drug Warrior is going to attempt to refute at any rate with the usual litany of highly tendentious arguments) we must insist on the right to drug use as a prerequisite for the very existence of religious and philosophical freedom. That statement, along with a reference to the aforementioned psychopharmacological history of the world, is all we should need as drug users to restore our humanity in the eyes of our opponents.
This is no time to be talking about John Stuart Mill and victimless crime. We need to come together as unapologetic drug users and start "outing" the Drug Warriors for their attack on religious and philosophical liberty. We need to point out, loudly and clearly, that the Drug War, with its seemingly endless menu of over-the-top punishments, is nothing less than the worldwide enforcement of what can justly be called a kind of Christian Science Sharia, a wholesale fanatical crackdown on those who would dare seek self-transcendence with the help of natural and nature-inspired substances.
Newcombe also is arguing on the back foot when he discusses harm reduction without also discussing benefit maximization. Morphine can inspire an almost surreal appreciation of the world. Psychedelics can help us deeply appreciate music. MDMA can help us love our fellow human being. Coca can inspire and revivify. Opium can facilitate creative dreaming in the properly predisposed mind. These godsends will be ours again once Drug Warriors stop holding psychoactive drugs to a standard to which we hold no other risky activity in the world. 37,000 Americans are killed every year in car accidents, and yet we never even THINK about outlawing cars. Instead, we teach safe driving while attempting to create cars and roads that conduce to safety. With drugs, on the other hand, we refuse to teach safety while pursuing a policy of prohibition which ensures that drug use will be as dangerous as possible.
Nor is it just drug users who suffer. When the chronically depressed patient has his or her brain damaged by shock therapy, it is prohibition that is to blame: for it was prohibition that outlawed all the obvious treatments that would have made shock therapy unnecessary: laughing gas, MDMA, coca, opium, psychedelics, etc. etc. Talk about Christian Science fanaticism: the powers-that-be would rather fry the brain of the depressed than to let them use drugs. This reminds us that the endgame of pushback is not just achieving respect for drug users. The psychiatrists may respect the hell out of us, but prohibition is still going to force them to unnecessarily damage the brain of the chronically depressed - a crime for which prohibition has been getting off scot-free for decades now because no one seems to have noticed its culpability in this regard.
Take the Citizens Commission on Human Rights in the UK: despite their vehement opposition to shock therapy, they have made no connection between prohibition and this brain-damaging treatment. Either they are unaware of the potential enormous blessings of psychoactive substances that inspire (both the known drugs and the endless empathogens and entheogens that could be synthesized by the Andrew Shulgins of the world were they free to do so) or they have been programmed by Drug War propaganda to believe with Mary Baker Eddy that all drugs are bad, even the medicines that grow at our very feet and which God himself told us were good.
Speaking of which, there is another argument that drug users should be advancing before resorting to the tepid expedient of citing John Stuart Mill on behalf of our trampled rights, and that is the fact that it is a clear violation of natural law to outlaw plants and fungus. As John Locke tells us in his Second Treatise on Government, "The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being." To men, that is, not to government. In other words, America, the country that started the worldwide Drug War, did so in violation of the natural law upon which it was founded. This is why Thomas Jefferson rolled over in his grave when the DEA confiscated his poppy plants in 1987.
And I'm just getting warmed up. Prohibition has also led to unprecedented self-censorship on the part of authors, especially in academia. Almost all academic papers about "drugs" have to do with abuse and misuse, not beneficial use. This is because tenure-seeking academicians know better than to write papers about good uses for the modern scapegoat called drugs. And did I mention that the Drug War handed the 2016 election to Donald Trump? Drug laws have jailed the natural opponents of prohibition, thereby depriving them of the right to vote, thus handing America's typically close elections to fascists and insurrectionists (with a little help from state redistricting plans specifically designed to suppress minority voting, of course).
By publicizing such inconvenient home truths (of which the above are still just a subset), we can put the Drug Warriors on the defensive and, I trust, win over those of our opponents who have denied our humanity in the past because of the tepid nature of the arguments that we had been advancing. We are not calling for the right to "go to the devil in our own way," as some libertarians would have it; we are calling for the end of a century-old drug policy that outlaws free thought and blinds us to the godsends of mother nature.
We have nothing to apologize for. It is, in fact, the Drug Warriors who owe us an apology. You know, something short and sweet, like: "Sorry for censoring science, guys, and for riding roughshod over your religious liberty. Oh, and please forgive me for facilitating the election of Donald Trump in 2016 by sidelining millions of his opponents."
Author's Follow-up: August 27, 2023
Descendants of the South American Inca have been treated with double inhumanity by Drug Warriors: the western powers not only outlawed the coca medicine whose daily use helped define their society and culture, but they then arrested descendants who dared to deal in or use that substance.
Here's another knockdown argument against prohibition, one that's never mentioned, as far as I can tell: The Drug War tells us that substances can be judged up or down, as good or bad. That is clearly anti-scientific. All substances, even cyanide, have uses at some dose, in some circumstance, for some reason. It's only because we say otherwise that we are now denying morphine to cancer patients who are languishing painfully on their deathbeds. We do not need to end prohibition for the benefit of hedonists: we need to end it for the benefit of science and for those who suffer when the realm of science is invaded by fearmongering politicians.
5% of proceeds from the sale of the above product will go toward getting Brian a decent haircut for once. Honestly. 9% will go toward shoes. 50% will go toward miscellaneous. 9% of the remainder will go toward relaxation, which could encompass anything from a spin around town to an outdoor barbecue at Brian's brother's house in Stanardsville (both gas and the ice-cream cake that Brian usually supplies).
You have been reading essays by the Drug War Philosopher, Brian Quass, at abolishthedea.com. 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.
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)
Andrew, Christopher "The Secret World: A History of Intelligence" 2019 Yale University Press
Aurelius, Marcus "Meditations" 2021 East India Publishing Company