For some time now the US has been waging a war. We have fought long and hard. It has always been a war without a real strategic purpose or goal. And, it is a war we have lost. Get a grip on this: The time has come for a real change. Reality demands the US admit defeat.
No. The Geek isn't talking about Afghanistan, let alone Iraq.
Nor is he referring to one of those metaphorical wars like the War on Poverty.
The Geek is favoring an admission of defeat in a real war. A war where guns are shot. Lives are lost. Landscape is devastated. He is referring to the longest war in American history. One of the most expensive, perhaps even the most expensive ever. It has been a pointless war. An unnecessary war. A war which was lost on the day it was declared.
The "War on Drugs, of course. Declared by President Richard Nixon with the wide support of Congress and We the People some thirty-nine years ago, this particular war has been waged globally from the streets of American cities, towns and rural counties to countries as far from us as Afghanistan, Thailand and Burma and as close to us as Columbia, Bolivia and Mexico.
The Nixon war was embraced eagerly by each and every one of his successors. Congress after congress has appropriated dollars in numbers so large as to be appreciated only by those of a Carl Sagan orientation. POW camps on the order of that at Gitmo have been built by the score. Lives have been left blasted ruins along with entire communities. The take-no-prisoners mentality of the anti-drug warriors and their political enablers have ripped the guts out of more than a few American civil liberties.
Beyond that, and arguably (at least from the Geek's perspective) the ever-distorting monster of the "War on Drugs" has warped American foreign relations, alienated foreign governments, harmed core US national and strategic interests, and fostered insurgent and pseudo-insurgent combat in various countries. The "War on Drugs" has fed our enemies and is currently prolonging and complicating our nasty little war in Afghanistan.
So what have we won for nearly two generations of waging war on the desire of people, American people in particular, to alter their state of consciousness?
Nada. Nothing. Zip. The big zero. Using a combination of purity and price in constant dollars, drugs ranging from pot to smack are cheaper per effective dose today than they were at the Nixon giddy-up. While the number of people arrested for pot possession has climbed to nearly one hundred per hour, the potency of marijuana has increased while its constant dollar price has dropped. The same sort of dreary numbers can be offered with respect to other drugs.
According to free market theory--and, make no mistake about it, black markets are free markets where supply, demand and risk set the price--the enormous effort by the US police forces and military services should have raised the effective price. Even after well neigh onto forty years of trying, perfecting technology, arresting, convicting, imprisoning, propagandizing, limiting freedoms, disrupting foreign governments and societies, the US has failed. Miserably failed.
All we have succeeded in doing is ending a lot of lives, ruining a lot more, and making the controllers of the drug trade both more wealthy and powerful. That, my friends, is a hell of a piss poor way to fight, let alone win, a war.
The next question is why are we fighting this counterproductive war, this exercise in recurrent and recurrently obvious failure?
A number of reasons for keeping Americans drug-free whether they want to be or not have been advanced. Not surprisingly one of the favorites is the health consequences of usage.
There are two objections to this.
The first is the historical record of drug usage both here and in other countries. With the exception of a few drugs of recent vintage such as injectable methamphetamine, PCP and crack cocaine, the impact of drugs upon the human mind and body is not dramatic in its ill-effects. This is not to imply that drug usage is without negative effects but rather to assert that the record over time suggests powerfully that they are neither more dramatic nor greater in morbidity than exposure to a multitude of environmental risks.
The second objection zeros in on the impact of drug use on the collective health care costs of a community. The health care cost containment argument overlooks the reason that we live in communities or obtain health insurance. Communal life, like the purchasing of insurance is a means of reducing risk to the individual by distributing it widely. To single out drugs as a target for cost containment is no more legitimate than singling out any other behavior, or all behaviors for that matter.
The second popular argument supporting the continuation of the lost war is a false equation: drugs equal crime. The equation is correct only so far as the illegality of drugs raises costs far above those of normal supply and distribution costs. Beyond that, the equation does not apply as any crime committed in whole or in part because of drug use is a crime whether any demon drug runs through the veins of the criminal. You shoot someone while stoned thinking that someone is the devil or Dick Nixon reincarnate, you get tried for homicide with the drug use being either an aggravating or mitigating factor.
Get a grip on it. A crime is a crime is a crime with or without a chemical presence. And, drug caused crime per se is the result of the market distorting effects of illegality.
The Geek's favorite justification for continuing the shock-and-awe, give-no-quarter war is the fiction of "lost productivity." Whenever some crusader is pushed hard on why keep on keeping on in the endless war, the crusader will more often than not fall back on some enormous dollar figure caused by "lost productivity," which somehow translates into an American economic death through some sort of production anemia.
"Lost productivity" is even more of a fiction than Marx's notion of "surplus value." It is apparently based on the curious concept that we owe the national economy a set amount of labor value per day. As far as the Geek sees the matter, that odd idea transforms each and every one of us into slaves of, if not the state, then the economy. Bah. Humbug!
In any event the concept of lost productivity is not borne out historically. In the Very Bad Old Days when heroin was available over-the-counter and Coca-Cola was well and truly the "pause that refreshes," there were no outcries that drugs were making American workers less productive or somehow inefficient on the job. The complaint was made about drinking booze with some very real justification, but never about drug use.
While hard data do not exist so it is impossible to say with certainty what percentage of Americans used drugs historically, the highest order probability puts the percentage larger, perhaps much larger than is the case today. Ironically, way back then, in the last quarter of the 19th Century, in a time when Americans were stoned a good percentage of the time, drunk almost all the time, our economy cruised by those of England and Germany, becoming in 1885 the world's largest. We've only been threatened in that position as we became a nation of pure-in-mind-and-body health Nazis.
But, the Geek digresses
There is and always has been only one authentic, accept-no-substitutes reason for the "War on Drugs." That reason is morality. Drug use is seen as immoral. Period.
That posture is recent in its origin. Go back to the famed seaport of Nantucket in the early and mid portions of the 19th Century. It was a time and place where most men spent most of their time at sea. The ladies of the town ran the businesses, took care of the families, handled financial matters. The town also imported truly awesome numbers of one kilogram "chests" of opium. The records show the opium arrived but never left for destinations further afield. The Ladies of Nantucket smoked a heck of a lot of opium but no one ever accused these fine descendants of the Puritans of lacking morals.
Not until drug use was tied to non-Caucasian races in the opening days of the 20th Century was a linkage made between drug use and the absence of a stern, Christian morality. The linkage was strengthened by Nixon and his famed "Silent Majority," as they looked disdainfully at the anti-war protesters, the hippies, and similar outrageous totems of an eventful decade.
More recently the statist oriented members of both parties, but particularly the Republican social conservatives, have dilated at length about the immoral roots of drug usage. Since the counter-drug war aggregates power to the government and no government has ever discovered an increase in its authority not to its liking, governing elites and statist politics have stroked each other for mutual benefit.
Since Nixon declared war on drugs (which, when you think of it is as out-to-lunch as the much more recent declaration of a war on terrorism) combating drugs has become a major industry in the US. Not just the cops, the judges, the prison guards, but the therapists, the educators and the researchers have found long-term, very remunerative employment. The line from Blazing Saddles comes to mind. Mel Brooks gave it in his role as governor.
"You realise, this could mean our phony baloney jobs!"
It sure could. The Geek hopes it does. He wants to declare defeat in the preposterous "War on Drugs." The foreign policy benefits alone will be well worth capitulating to reality.
It's time for a change.