Essay date: June 17, 2023

Why Science is the Handmaiden of the Drug War

an open letter to physicist Carlo Rovelli

an open letter to physicist Carlo Rovelli

n his preface to "Reality Is Not What It Seems," Carlo Rovelli embraces the modern triumphalist myth about science, that it is leading us irreversibly onward to greater and greater truths.

"Scientific thinking," he says, "explores and redraws the world, gradually offering us better and better images of it, teaching us to think in ever more effective ways. Science is a continual exploration of ways of thinking."

In reality, such a statement makes sense only with some enormous qualifications. Science is not really an exploration of ways of thinking: it is an exploration of one particular way of thinking: namely, the rationalist reductionist way of thinking, in which we start with the unstated philosophical assumption that the whole can be understood by studying its parts, and that the smaller that these parts are, the closer we get to "reality" by studying them.

Not only are these premises highly debatable, but they have a body count. They have an impact in the real world.

The scientific reason why I am not allowed to use many godsend medicines is the fact that scientists (and the DEA) claim that no reductionist proof has been found that they "really" work. Sure, I may say that coca helps me feel better and have great endurance. I may point out that HG Wells and Jules Verne reported that Coca Wine helped them to write great stories. I may remind the scientist that the long-lived Peruvian Indians chewed the coca leaf on a daily basis for millennia and considered it divine. But reductionist science places no faith in anecdote and history. They want to know what is going on at the molecular level when a human being ingests coca. Does the drug clearly cause a series of molecular events that can be reliably documented to increase a user's levels of serotonin and other "feel-good hormones"?

In reality, modern scientists are even blinder than this account might imply. Not only do they insist on reductionist proof, but researchers generally write papers to document only abuse and misuse, seldom if ever to document the positive effects of "drugs." That's where the grant money lies after all, in demonizing outlawed substances. That's why we have a National Institute of Drug Abuse rather than a National Institute of Drug Use. The assumption is that psychoactive "drugs" are bad. The scientist's job is simply to prove that statement in a reductionist fashion, complete with PowerPoint presentations and public databases (and above all, a lot of impressive-looking footnotes!), that will convincingly demonstrate that the drug is evil from a scientific point of view as well as an emotional one.

I say that reductionist science places no faith in anecdote and history. But it also places no faith in common sense.

Consider the title of the 2019 article by Dr. Robert Glatter in Forbes magazine in which the reductionist author asks: "Can Laughing Gas Help People with Treatment-resistant Depression?"

What? The Reader's Digest has known for 100 years now that laughter is the best medicine. Laughter has to help the depressed, by definition. And, since we're required to state the obvious here, let me add that laughing helps in two ways, psychologically speaking: first there is the laughter itself, which decreases blood pressure and leads to bodily and psychical relaxation, and second there is the anticipation of upcoming laughter, which also conduces to a relaxed body, for it's a commonplace psychological fact that one's mood improves to the extent that they are "looking forward" to positive episodes in their life. I feel like I'm "talking down" to the reader by stating these obvious truths explicitly, but these are the common-sense facts that reductionists like Glatter completely ignore. Why? Because they are in thrall to the purblind outlook of reductionist science - and, of course, because they're scared to death of violating Drug War sensibilities in this supposedly "free" country of ours.

For this reason, science today is the handmaiden of Drug War ideology. It is not giving us "better and better images" of the world, it is not teaching us to think in more effective ways. It is teaching us rather to "shut up and take our meds." Why? Because our "meds" are created based on reductionist assumptions about human beings, namely that we are interchangeable widgets amenable to the same neurochemical interventions for our psychological complaints. It's not a coincidence of course that this way of thinking dovetails with the need of capitalism to crank out one-size-fits-all cures for things like depression and anxiety. In fact, the wheels of the Dr. Feel Good caravans of the 1800s never stopped rolling: it's just that today the caravans claim to be offering "scientific" cures, a label that awes the crowd and helps them swallow the bitter pill of prohibition.

As for the "scientifically created meds" that are now being doled out like candy, we all know how well they worked out. After 50 years of the psychiatric pill mill for SSRIs, America remains the most depressed nation on earth. The only change is that we are now also the most chemically dependent nation on earth, with 1 in 4 American women now obliged to take these mind-numbing SSRIs every day of their life - all while we outlaw naturally occurring medicines that have inspired entire religions in the past.

Typically when I publish letters like these, I have actually sent a copy of the missive to the party concerned. In some cases, however, the author to whom I'm writing is so firmly ensconced in the ethereal realms of fame that I feel no hope whatsoever in successfully reaching him or her via email, or even via snail mail. Rovelli is one such God. True, a letter of mine may "reach him," technically speaking, but the odds against the recipient (probably his agent) reading more than one line of my letter (and that very quickly) are slim to none. That's why I'm hoping to be famous someday myself so that I too can enjoy the privilege of hastily glancing at the first lines of hundreds of hopeful letters before rejecting them -- or better yet, to watch a good-looking secretary of mine do the same! (By the way, I'm joking here. I point that out for the benefit of the reductive materialists who, I find, sometimes need to be reminded of the obvious.)

Author's Follow-up: June 17, 2023

It's no surprise, of course, that scientists will find reasons why drugs are bad for you, since that's literally all that they are looking for. But even if we grant that a given potential problem exists for a given drug, reductive scientists are still lousy at statistics. They really do believe that one swallow makes a summer. So if they find that there's a potential for, say, about 100 people to misuse a drug, they will fight tooth and nail to keep that drug from hundreds of millions who could profit from it --- just as Michael Pollan wants psychedelics to remain outlawed because an unspecified number of kids might misuse them -- which is very likely, of course, when we teach them to fear drugs rather than to understand them. (Moreover, Michael fails to see that there are millions of other stakeholders in the drug legalization game than young suburban white kids. There are the kids in Mexico who have lost parents due to the anarchy unleashed by prohibition, for instance, the victims of drive-by shootings in the states, etc...)

Another problem with scientists who study drugs is that they're necessarily biased in favor of safety. They seem to be after the holy grail of a drug that cannot be misused by anybody at all -- at least when the drugs we're talking about are controversial and/or outlawed. This is why research on MDMA is so frustrating for them, for they really have to "reach" and conjure with shady one-off findings to badmouth Ecstasy and related empathogenic compounds, which seem to have almost no downsides at all, except those that you'd expect when a user has been taught to fear them rather than to use them safely.

But safety is NOT the primary goal of most people in any case -- unless we're talking about neurotics and compulsive-obsessive types. Self-actualization is the number-one goal of the sane human being in the modern world, becoming (as the old Army slogan had it) all that one can be in life. So the question is not, how "safe" is a drug in the abstract, as the scientist would ask; but rather, are the risks worth the potential benefits for a given unique individual -- and this is not a question that scientists are qualified to answer. They know nothing of the dreams and aspirations of the unique individual who may be using these substances, or of how important a given goal may be to them in the grand scheme of things.

Take me for instance: I feel it's my goal in life to understand as much about reality as I can, and I believe with William James that I have to study psychoactive states as well as normal states in order to advisedly speculate on these ultimate matters. Moreover, I know that the wise use of morphine can give me a surreal appreciation of Mother Nature. I know that opium can induce metaphorical dreams from which the properly predisposed user can benefit. If a scientist wants to opine about a cost/benefit analysis regarding use, he or she would have to know how I feel about life and what I value. That is not their forte and should not be their responsibility.

Of course the ultimate decision on criminalization is made by legislators, but doctors don't help things when they focus on downsides only, never even recognizing the godsend that such medicines would be for the millions upon millions who would be sure to use them wisely -- once we get over the absurd and irresponsible view of the Drug Warrior that it's wrong to tell them how to do precisely that. Only imagine, we scream about drug misuse, and yet it's national policy NOT to teach safe use! This is just more proof that America's (and alas the world's) whole approach to the scapegoat that we call "drugs" is completely incoherent. One can only conclude that this whole brouhaha is about something other than "drugs." Hmm, now what could that be? Maybe, just maybe, it's about controlling thought and suppressing a world view that prioritizes peace and understanding over the wants and needs of the military-industrial complex -- and, of course, ensuring the ongoing re-election of anti-democratic racists by imprisoning as many of their opponents as possible.

Related tweet: June 25, 2023

Doctors should not be regulating mind medicine. They have no training in evaluating the hopes and dreams of humankind. They can tell us about abstract risks, but they can't tell us how a cost/benefit analysis for any given drug should turn out for any particular human being.

The decision to "use" involves a host of presuppositions about: What is the good life? What is the point of life? What is my particular goal in life? Is Mother Nature a goddess or a drug kingpin? Does the government have the right to outlaw Mother Nature? Etc.

If psychoactive drugs had never been criminalized, science would never have had any reason or excuse for creating SSRIs that muck about unpredictably with brain chemistry. Chewing the coca leaf daily would be one of many readily available "miracle treatments" for depression.
That's why we damage the brains of the depressed with shock therapy rather than let them use coca or opium. That's why many regions allow folks to kill themselves but not to take drugs that would make them want to live. The Drug War is a perversion of social priorities.
Weaponizing science is a bigger problem. Even as we speak, Laura Sanders of Sciam is promoting Shock Therapy 2.0 for the depressed, this in a world wherein reductive scientists aren't even sure that laughing gas will help the depressed.
It's because of such reductive pseudoscience that America will allow us to shock the brains of the depressed but won't allow us to let them use the plant medicines that grow at their feet.
David Chalmers says almost everything in the world can be reductively explained. Maybe so. But science's mistake is to think that everything can therefore be reductively UNDERSTOOD. That kind of thinking blinds researchers to the positive effects of laughing gas and MDMA, etc.
"Can I use poppies, coca, laughing gas, MDMA?" "NO," says Jonathan Stea, "We must be SCIENTIFIC! We must fry your brain and give you a lobotomy and make you a patient for life with the psychiatric pill mill! That's true SCIENCE!"
In "The Book of the Damned," Charles Fort writes about the data that science has damned, by which he means "excluded." The fact that drugs can inspire and elate is one such fact, although when Fort wrote his anti-materialist broadside, drug prohibition was in its infancy.
In other words, materialist scientists are drug war collaborators. They are more than happy to have their fight against idealism rigged by drug law, which outlaws precisely those substances whose use serves to cast their materialism into question.
Drug warriors have harnessed the perfect storm. Prohibition caters to the interests of law enforcement, psychotherapy, Big Pharma, demagogues, puritans, and materialist scientists, who believe that consciousness is no big "whoop" and that spiritual states are just flukes.
Next essay: How the US Preventive Services Task Force Drums Up Business for Big Pharma
Previous essay: David Chalmers and the Drug War

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In 1987, the Monticello Foundation invited the DEA onto the property to confiscate Thomas Jeffersons poppy plants, in violation of the Natural Law upon which the gardening fan had founded America

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Drive the point home that the Drug War censors scientists -- by outlawing and otherwise discouraging research into the kinds of drugs that have inspired entire religions.

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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. 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)

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    • Zuboff , Shoshana "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power" 2019 Public Affairs
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