Essay date: October 17, 2022

Michael Pollan and the Drug War

ow can a great botanist like Michael Pollan agree with the Drug War proposition that folks should be arrested for accessing the bounty of Mother Nature?

It's very simple. Like the majority of academia these days, Michael recognizes only one stakeholder in the war on drugs: namely, the anxious American parents who don't want their Johnny to have a bad trip.

Of course, even if this were the only concern, it's not clear how the Drug War is going to help Johnny, since the policy of the Drug War is to demonize certain politically chosen substances, not to teach about them. That's why Leah Betts died after taking Ecstasy in 1995, not because Ecstasy was a horrible drug (in fact, it's one of the safest psychoactive substances on the planet) but because the Drug Warriors never told the 100-pound raver that she needed to stay hydrated while using it. Indeed, the original charter of Biden's Office of National Drug Control Policy tells members to avoid all mention of safe and beneficial uses of "drugs," for fear of "sending the wrong message," and so it's government policy itself which keeps folks like Leah in the dark.

But granting that Johnny would be harmed by re-legalizing all plant medicine, and granting that we don't have what Locke called a "natural right" to the use of the land "and all that lies therein," our hapless Johnny is not the only victim of the prohibition that Michael continues to champion (albeit reluctantly).

There are millions, if not billions, of silently suffering victims of the Drug War, who cannot reach down and use the medical bounty that grows at their feet, those "mass of men" who, according to Thoreau, "live lives of quiet desperation." But such stakeholders in the Drug War have no front page articles written about them, describing their desperation and desire for positive change. Their silent halfhearted wish to die is never chronicled on the evening news. Meanwhile, the Drug Warrior need dig up only one hapless, drug-addled ex-hippy to scream triumphantly in a front-page article in the New York Times that psychedelics are drugs from hell and that we must slow still further our glacial progress toward their re-legalization in America.

And yet these are not the only stakeholders that Michael and company overlook in advocating continued prohibition. Scientists are adversely affected stakeholders as well, since the Drug War forbids and otherwise discourages them from finding cures for Alzheimer's and autism. Yes, scientists are censored by the Drug War, though, unlike Galileo, they do not acknowledge such censorship, having been so thoroughly indoctrinated in the Drug War habit of demonizing medicines. There is, nonetheless, a prima facie case that psychedelics in particular, which can promote neuronal growth, could play a huge role in fighting conditions like Alzheimer's, and yet American scientists are afraid to go there -- or else they are daunted by the psychological and financial hurdles of pursuing such research, research that reputation-conscious funders are afraid to support.

There are still other stakeholders in the Drug War: the blacks who die yearly in inner cities from the gangs that were armed by prohibition. The kids who die in the civil wars in Mexico and Colombia, etc. The once law-abiding citizens who are denounced as "scumbags" for dealing in plant medicines that were considered divine by previous civilizations.

I could go on and on enumerating the unmentioned stakeholders in the Drug War whom Michael ignores. I might even mention the one in four American women who are chemically dependent on Big Pharma for life, since the Drug War gave a monopoly to the psychiatric pill mill.

But surely I've made my case already: that there are more stakeholders involved in drug-war prohibition than are dreamt of in Michael Pollan's philosophy.

Author's Follow-up: December 17, 2022

I've hitherto refrained from pointing this out, because Michael Pollan seems like a genuinely good guy, not to mention the fact that he is a writer who is many orders of magnitude in advance of my own feeble achievements. But the fact is that I find it irritating for any writer to use psychoactive substances themselves while yet telling us that we must keep these substances illegal for the masses. It smacks of hypocrisy and elitism, saying in effect, "I am, of course, intelligent enough to use these substances wisely, but the average Jane and Joe will never be able to do so." And this is, in fact, the pernicious party line of the Drug Warrior, who is constantly telling us by implication that the average human being will always be a baby when it comes to psychoactive medicine -- which, of course, is a self-fulfilling prophecy, since the government is officially pledged to the goal of scaring us about such medicines, not teaching us about them, let alone telling us how to use them as wisely as possible should we decided to partake.

Next essay: Majoring in Drug War Philosophy
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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.

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)
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