seldom try to refute critics in long-form because they're usually so wrongheaded that I feel a single reply tweet of mine can demolish their feeble pretentions to truth, at least when the subject is drug prohibition and its endless downsides. But occasionally I get some pushback that calls for a little more effort on my part.
Take Frank S., for instance. I maintain that "addiction" is a problematic and political diagnosis because it ignores the fact that prohibition helps cause addiction. But Frank S. demurs. He tells me that we often make diagnoses without regard for one's personal life, their lack of education, lack of food, etc. So why should we not label a problem user as an "addict" without regard for the existence of a Drug War?
My answer is as follows:
The fact that we fail to highlight things such as poor diet and poor education in our diagnoses should be seen as a shortcoming of the whole categorization system of the west, rather than an excuse to add drug prohibition to the list of causes that we already ignore. If huge problems are being caused, say, by poor diet, it would be misleading to diagnose the starving with all sorts of maladies attendant upon malnutrition -- depression, fatigue, and so forth - without simultaneously stressing the outsize role that malnutrition played in causing those subsequent disorders. If we simply label all victims of a lack of food as depressed and anxious, etc. - however true those diagnoses may be "in and of themselves" -- we are helping to divert attention from tragically bad social policies. This is the whole thesis of Ivan Illich's book "Medical Nemesis," in which he shows how medical diagnoses help to justify and normalize bad social policies and, indeed, the failures of the capitalist system as a whole.
But diagnosing someone as an "addict" without referencing prohibition is especially problematic. This is so because "addict" is a wildly subjective term as used in Drug War America. As Richard L. Miller writes in Drug Warriors and Their Prey:
'As used by politicians and law-enforcement agencies today, the term "addict" often becomes synonymous with... a person who has had only one or two contacts with the substance.'
In fact, the term "addiction" is subjective, even as it is defined in Webster's Dictionary:
addiction: "The quality or state of being addicted -- specifically : the compulsive uncontrolled use of habit-forming drugs beyond the period of medical need or under conditions harmful to society."
Here are at least four problems with that definition:
It's a little "rich" to pathologize the "compulsive uncontrolled use" of drugs with the pejorative label of "addiction," given that we live in a world where multibillion-dollar agencies are tasked with the job of making drug use as unsafe as possible. If, on the other hand, drugs were re-legalized and users had a smorgasbord of psychoactive options from which they could choose freely and were taught to use them safely, this "compulsive uncontrolled use" would arguably not exist. A drug that caused undue compulsion would be replaced by other less compulsion-causing drugs. (Obsessive use of a contaminated Fentanyl supply could be replaced, for instance, with a relaxing nightly session of uncontaminated opium smoking.) But this is something that the Drug Warrior cannot imagine, of course, because their puritanical presumptions make it unthinkable to fight drugs with drugs.
"beyond the period of medical need." This qualification ignores the whole reason for USING psychoactive drugs in the first place: they are not used for medical purposes but rather for the very human purpose of attaining self-transcendence in life. By defining addiction in terms of "medical need," we put scientists and doctors in judgment of a decision about drug use that only the user is competent to make. Only the user can decide if use of a certain psychoactive drug can be justified by a cost-benefit analysis given the user's own priorities in life, given what they personally consider to be the "summum bonum," a good life. The scientists and researchers may advise the would-be user about physical risks of a given drug, but they cannot decide whether that risk is worth taking because they do not know what the user most values in life. (Perhaps the user is like the opium-loving Avicenna, who was said to have valued "a short life with width to a narrow one with length.") Sure, the scientists and doctors can say that such illegal use would be wrong, morally speaking, as most would probably do these days, but that is not medical advice, that is legal and/or religious advice.
"under conditions harmful to society"? Who decides what is harmful to society? This is a subjective judgment. The Christian Scientist believes that any drug use is harmful to society, as do most politicians. The typical politician will also point to open-air drug markets and the miss-called "opioid crisis" as signs of harm, but this is a mere political charge in a world in which the harms of prohibition are never acknowledged, let alone discussed. The Drug Warriors use the downsides of prohibition as a scapegoat and a red herring to divert attention from the real culprit: prohibition itself, which limits choices, contaminates the drug supply, and refuses to even speak about safe use.
The definition implies that there's something wrong with habit-forming drugs. But this is not an obvious truth. Coffee is habit-forming and use is encouraged. Alcohol is habit-forming, cigarettes are habit-forming. 1 in 4 American women use SSRIs every day of their life. Of course, we don't call that a habit, we call that "taking care of one's mental health!"
Like so many topics (human consciousness, human perception, the nature of ultimate reality, etc.), our definition of "addiction" cannot be meaningfully discussed until we end the Drug War and the many anti-scientific premises upon which it is waged. It would be like trying to discuss the supposed intransigency of depression without mentioning the fact that we outlaw and/or marginalize drugs whose wise use could end most depression overnight: the coca leaf, laughing gas, and MDMA, for starters. American science journalists like Laura Sanders can pretend to write authoritatively about the supposed intransigence of depression only because they assume that the drugs that we outlaw today do not exist - and they expect that their readers will not even notice the omission, let alone care about it, because like the author, the readers too have been indoctrinated from childhood in the drug-hating ideology of the Drug War - thanks in part to the endless TV shows they watch in which Christian Science messages have been inserted into the action thanks to pressure from the White House.
The authors of the DSM may wish to rise above the fray of politics by being "totally scientific," but they cannot escape the political implications of their work.
Let's take a real-life example.
Several decades ago, I complained to my psychiatrists about the fact that they could not give me something more. I had read about shrooms, opium, coca, etc. etc. and felt that the meds I was receiving were shabby replacements for drugs that could REALLY help me.
I was warned that if I kept up such talk, I might be diagnosed as an "addictive personality."
But had they followed through with this threat - for "threat" it certainly was - that would have been a political diagnosis, not a medical one. Why? Because it would have been based on a variety of unspoken premises such as: "it is wrong to use Mother Nature's psychoactive substances; it is wrong to seek too keenly for self-transcendence and spiritual insight." In fact, such premises would typically include the Christian Science idea that Mother Nature's drugs can offer no spiritual insights in any case, a proposition with which I heartily disagree. (I guess I'm old school, but then I can cite God himself in support of my view, for He told us in the Book of Genesis that his creation was good. Now, you can tell me that God misspoke, but please don't try to convince me that it has been scientifically proven that God was in error on this point!)
This is why I can't back down on this subject with a clear conscience. It's 30 years since the shrinks threatened to diagnose me as an "addictive personality," and my subsequent reading about the tremendous untapped potential of criminalized medicines has only strengthened my belief that such a threat was based on politics, not science. Had I been diagnosed as an "addictive personality," it would have just been another attempt by society to blame the victim for the downsides of America's war on self-transcendence, AKA the war on drugs.
We should remember moreover that the DSM is basically written so that insurance companies and doctors can be "on the same page," both literally and figuratively speaking, when it comes to assigning costs for treatments. This has led to endless disease mongering since a condition cannot be treated in a remunerative manner unless it ticks some box in the paperwork of the insurance companies. But the DSM has political ramifications nonetheless, as its authors discovered in 1952 when they defined homosexuality as a disorder. In fact, one could almost say that, "those who define the illnesses control the society." That's what the above-referenced Ivan Illich says, in so many words, in "Medical Nemesis." And that is why I'm leery of diagnoses that help shield Drug Warriors from responsibility for the endless evils that they are inflicting upon society.
My suspicions of the diagnostic labeling systems are only heightened by the fact that scientists are almost universally silent about the Drug War. They pretend that it does not exist. Meanwhile, they write endless articles about abuse and misuse, but almost never about positive use: how the coca leaf can inspire and invigorate; how morphine can give one a supernatural appreciation of mother nature; how "mindful" opium smoking can re-cast one's problems as a metaphorical dream from which one can learn; how psychedelics can provide a new way of seeing one's world, etc. etc. And when I write to the authors and politely ask them to speak up, they almost never respond, because they are terrified by the Drug War and want to say nothing against it.
What's the answer?
In place of diagnoses like "substance misuse disorder" and "addictive personality," I propose that we use the diagnosis of "Prohibition Spectrum Disorder," which would include all of the mal-adaptive behaviors that prohibition helps bring about. The fact that scientists would never even consider this proposal is proof of my thesis that the labeling system today serves a political purpose: to normalize prohibition by pretending that it has no consequences in the real world. It's as if a country were to outlaw almost all food, only for its doctors to discover that the people were experiencing a raft of diet-related disorders. The scientists know that the ban on food is causing the problems, but they ignore that fact on the "scientific" ground that "dietary problems are dietary problems." Maybe so, but it's still cowardice on the part of those scientists when they fail to mention the gorilla in the room: namely, the fact that their government has caused these problems by outlawing almost all food.
Today's Washington Post reports that "opioid pills shipped" DROPPED 45% between 2011 and 2019..... while fatal overdoses ROSE TO RECORD LEVELS! Prohibition is PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE.
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