How social physics teams up with the drug war to give a knock-out blow to human transcendence
s Shoshana Zuboff reveals in her 2019 book "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism," one of the biggest cheerleaders of that new data-based economic system is Professor Alex "Sandy" Pentland of MIT, an expert in the creation of creepy software designed to harvest data about a wired Netizen's feelings and intentions. But Pentland's goals are more ambitious than just enabling a new approach to economic control. He envisions a Skinnerian world run according to the mathematical principles of "social physics," a brave new world in which humans are controlled by the once-maligned processes of operant conditioning, with the behavior of formerly free citizens being nudged and corralled by data-controlled algorithms designed to steer their actions in "beneficial" directions, at least as the term "beneficial" is defined by Pentland's deep-pocketed clients.
"Such dehumanization sucks," you may say, "because it treats human beings as widgets. But what does it have to do with the Drug War and the DEA?"
When the Conquistadores arrived in South America, they immediately saw the ritual use of psychoactive plants as demonic. Why? Because their rational European mind was laden with a material bias that denied any special abilities to the conscious mind. The idea that psychoactive plant use could open up new useful visions was therefore entirely foreign to them. They therefore had no compunction in abolishing such plant-based rituals, often abolishing the tribes that practiced them, too, for good measure.
The Conquistadores' attack on the humanity of indigenous peoples can be seen as part one of a two-part process of social control spanning half a millennium. The Conquistadores stole the soul from the indigenous people in the 1600s by denying them one customary means of self-transcendence. Now, hundreds of years later, Social Physics has come along to tell us how the social reality of the dispossessed can be re-created, not through transcendent experiences with plants, of course (since the materialist Conquistador mentality maintains its grasp on the western mind, even in post-colonial times), but through the robotization of humankind.
Viewed in this light, all Americans (and the world, for that matter) face the plight of those indigenous people, for we have all been barred from accessing transcendence through plants, thanks to the Drug War. And now, to add insult to this unconstitutional injury, materialists like Pentland come along to quantify the soulless residuum of our lives with algorithmic formulas to ensure that our stymied ambitions for transcendence become acceptable to us as the new status quo. If we're unhappy about being transformed into Pentland's predictable data-making robots, not to worry: algorithms will be written that will sense our distress and take appropriate action, adding a smiley face to our online calendar, perhaps, along with a link to a feel-good article about puppies that were recently rescued from a puppy mill.
Pentland's ideal world seems to be one in which the richest capitalists are happy and the rest of us are pacified. This is a world that uses the average person as a widget to ensure the happiness of the top 1%. It is a despotic project that sees efficiency as the ultimate good, while viewing personal transcendence as the enemy. Why? Because transcendence can result in behavioral changes that cannot be predicted by data-crunching algorithms, changes that may even predispose some to overthrow the whole Big Brother project of social control entailed by social physics.
When it comes to humanity's desire for personal transcendence, the Drug War has already knocked us down "for the count." Now Pentland's "social physics" wants to come along and deliver the coup de grâce to our aspirations, by using data-based algorithms to construct a reality in which humanity will be taught to make its peace with a strictly material and economically focused world.
Conclusion: It's time to just say no to surveillance capitalism.
Author's Follow-up: August 19, 2022
Some may say that I'm paranoid for suggesting that the Pentlandian computer nerds want to pacify the hoi polloi to make them good consumers, to which I say: Wakey-wakey. The nerds have already done it. One in four American women take Big Pharma meds every day of their life, including anti-depressants whose chief acknowledged benefit is to keep folks satisfied with the status quo (as opposed to vouchsafing them even the slightest hint of self-transcendence, that is). We live in an age of Stepford Wives -- and Stepford Husbands and even Stepford Toddlers -- since Big Pharma is always out to find new markets, even if it means talking up the merits of prophylactic drugs for kids, ostensibly to nip conditions like OCDC and borderline personality in the juvenile bud. Paging Margaret Atwood! She's great at pointing out the tyrannies that could be -- but blind to the tyrannies that ARE.
Indeed, consider the notion that all chronic sadness should be recognized and treated as depression. That assumption gives a free pass to government to be as non-responsive and heartless as it wishes, since no one thinks to trace the causes of their unhappiness to a corrupt system -- like, say, one that has the unparalleled gall to outlaw the medicines of mother nature. This is why I say that the Drug War causes depression, and the psychiatric industry benefits from this fact by medicalizing that depression, thus ensuring that the unhappy person blames their situation on brain chemicals rather than on the powers that be. So rather than fighting against the real problem -- the government usurpation of natural rights -- the bamboozled depressed turn themselves over to psychiatry, saying, "do with me as you scientifically will." And what does psychiatry do? Give them pills that will help them eke out a life in the midst of tyrannical laws, and therefore keep them from recognizing and confronting the true enemy of the "patient's" happiness: namely rich lawmakers who are doing everything they can to keep the number of trouble makers to a minimum. And so the advice "Take your pills" now takes the place of the old-school advice to "fight for your rights."
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