Posts Tagged ‘ drugs

The Bikecast Episode #39: The War on Drugs and the “Winding Up of Violence”

The war on drugs, like all wars, is actually a war on people. It has an endless list of disastrous and tragic social consequences that reaches to the very heavens. In this episode of the bikecast, I focus on one of the most pernicious and long lasting effects of this type of psychotic state program–what I call the “winding up of violence”.

By applying ever-increasing levels of force in an attempt to control voluntary human interactions, international drug policy weeds out all but the most lunatic element of the black market. It then makes this element very, very, very rich and gives them monopoly on the use of violence over a geographical region (just like their larger counterpart, the state!). Even if the drug war were to end tomorrow, the violence in places like the U.S. – Mexico border will take decades of ongoing human misery to wind down.

Download this episode of the bikecast

Prohibiting commodities of any sort has two effects that I want to concentrate on. First, it tends to remove peaceful, honest business-people from the production and distribution processes. For obvious reasons, most farmers won’t grow that which is illegal and most distributors (pharmacists in many instances related to the drug war) won’t stock illegal products. The exceptions to this tendency are people who don’t have good prospects in the conduct of legal business. People who are already distrusted, who have a tendency toward violent dealings or who otherwise prefer not to rely on the legal market will fill the spots vacated in the newly criminalized market sector.

The greater the degree of prohibition, the more this tendency will increase. At the level of open warfare that exists between the drug cartels and the north and central american states[1], only the most desperate and brutal criminal elements are willing to risk traffic large amounts of product. All but the most casual growers and sellers face threats so large that any reasonable alternative source of income is preferable.

The second effect that I want to look at is that prohibition drives the price of the commodity artificially high because of the new overhead of avoiding or bribing law enforcement and the associated risk of imprisonment and death.

One result of the price increase is that it becomes profitable to grow the market for the illegal substance in a way that it previously was not. If a drug costs a few cents per dose, it’s not (very) profitable to try and get another customer interested in long term use of the drug.

Once the price goes up to dollars or tens of dollars per dose, the seller has a much greater motivation to seek out new customers. Thus the salesman, who formerly served existing customers becomes a “pusher” who gives away free samples and travels from schoolyard to schoolyard attempting to maximize his customer base.

The consequence of price increase that I want to focus on for this discussion is a far more primary effect. Whoever gains control over part of the market for an illegal substance has an artificially inflated source of wealth with which to grow and protect the operation. Again, the greater the effort put into prohibition, the greater the increase in price.

Over time, the interaction of these two factors leads to large, well armed, and ruthless organizations with a steady stream of tremendous wealth. This is what we see today on the us-mexican border, in columbia and afghanistan[2].

These changes have taken place over a period of decades and the misery will continue to escalate in response to further increases in the violence used for prohibition.

The aspect of this dynamic that I focus on in the bikecast is the hangover after the flow of energy to such a system is halted. If the war on drugs was to end tomorrow, the organizations that traffic drugs illegally aren’t going to go away. They will continue to search for ways to exploit their position as the best armed group of thugs in the region in ways that will plague the communities/regions they’ve claimed for years and decades to come.

The longer prohibition escalates, the more wealth and power accrue to the most ruthless of drug organizations, and the longer the period of “wind down” to normalcy will last.

This same phenomenon also occurs in foreign military occupations. In Vietnam, relatively diplomatic and scholarly nationalists seeking independence for French Indochina were imprisoned and suppressed. This left increasingly violent guerrilla leaders as the only opponents of western imperialism. After 30 years of continuous warfare, the peasant armies that carrying antiquated armaments in the 1940s were heavily armed, well trained, and lead by a ruthless political class.

What might have been a bloodless transfer of power to a nationalist government or a minor and short lived civil war in 1945 was instead a bloody internal conflict after the south fell. Violent, radical collectivization and centralized economic control in the hands of the revolutionary leadership lead to untold violence and generated millions of refugees. It’s remarkable, given the degree of brutality with which the vietnamese were treated that they recovered relative stability within a couple of decades.

Currently we’re watching a decade long windup in afghanistan and another in iraq, plus a 20 year windup in somalia and another underway in yemen. The flawed logic of increasing violence until stability is reached is killing not only the present well being, but the future chances of stability in the societies cursed by foreign occupation.

I go into more detail about the winding up of violence (along with a pained analogy) vis à vis foreign wars in a supplementary bikecast that I didn’t like enough to put into the general stream. It’s here if you’d like to listen. This is the intro paragraph for the podcast:

I want to apologize in advance for the analogy in this episode of the bikecast. Every now and then I have to indulge my inner dork. I flesh out the concept of the “winding up of violence” that we talked about in the last bikecast. Much as heat will tend to “even out” throughout a closed system, violence tends to dissipate when the resources energizing it are removed. Violence is expensive and unsustainable and, left in isolation, violent situations quickly flame out as the particpants exhaust themselves and are compelled to seek compromise and reconciliation.

Unfortunately, this winding down cannot begin until the “energy sources” fueling the conflict are removed. Thus on the U.S.-Mexican border, as well as around the world where the United States (and to a far lesser degree other large nation-states) provide weapons, wealth and motivation to violent conflicts, the distance between the current situations and “normalcy” grows larger every day. The longer the winding up of violence, the longer and more painful the winding down.

Download this supplementary bikecast (attached to the above paragraph)

Other excellent resources for recovering drug warriors (there are roughly ∞ of these online, I picked a semi-random handful).
Drug War, What Is It Good For?
Timeline of the Drugwar
America Should Decriminalize Drugs
The Drug War vs. American Civilization (Drug war and civil liberties)
The Eternal Drug War

  1. [1] The United States, obviously, chief among them
  2. [2] And any number of other narco states whose products are shipped to the west.

The Bikecast Episode #5a: State Destruction of Social Organization

My latest ramble, starting on, 4/20 spilled over into two other bikecasts. In the first, I’m attempting to stake out a pattern I’ve been noticing alot lately: reliance on the state is back-firing in numerous ways.

Download this episode of the bikecast

Show notes Episode 5a:
Here are the stories behind my brief “today’s headlines” segment:
More raping catholics. This guy is a real gem:
More thieving liars from the financial sector (I’m not actually sure this is the story that inspired the comment, but close enough):

In Texas, California, and probably 48 other states, money is tight. Everywhere, programs are being defunded and are in danger of vanishing altogether. The people that depend on these services are/will be left in truly dire straights. Yet constant pressure exists for the various levels of government to move additional services out of the community and into the public sector.

When such a move happens, the organic institutions involved with the service vanish and dependence on the state becomes, over time, complete. When the state becomes incapable of continuing the delivery of the service, as we will see increasingly as the economy continues its collapse, the remnant institutions of civil, voluntary society will be hard pressed to resume their previous roles.

Organic societal structures, due to their voluntary nature and respect for the wishes of the people involved, take time and trust to develop and thrive. This gives them tremendous strength and resilience. When they atrophy or are actively dismantled, it takes time for them to develop again.

Parallel to this concern is the nature of state prohibition/permission. Here, the issue is the drain of time and resources involved in moving a political agenda in a given direction. “Winning” a political battle means that the resources of the advocate group will be entirely expended protecting against political reversal. Even then, the decision can always be overturned, returning the advocates to their previous state without the advantages of the voluntary structures that had aided them.

As an example, I talk about a fictionalized* version of the temperance movement. The social issue they sought to impact was alcoholism and the attending blights of spousal and child abuse and abandonment. For many decades, this various components considered part of this movement preached sobriety, made sobriety a pre-condition for mutual aid membership, lobbied schools to include alcohol awareness in the curriculum, and even physically protested the activities of bars by “entering saloons, singing, praying, and urging saloon keepers to stop selling alcohol.”

At some point, various groups began to depart from civil means of dissuading people from drinking and switched instead to the force of law. This activity culminated in the 18th amendment. We know now, of course, that all the millions of hours of lobbying, rallying, begging and pleading for this amendment was undone less than 15 years later.

Imagine if all those resources had been directed at getting to the root of alcoholism, alleviating the conditions that give rise to it and spreading the practice of rewarding sobriety in friendly societies, mutual aid organizations, trade unions other voluntary, community accountable organizations.

Of course, during the 100 years leading to prohibition, people had a very primitive understanding of the mind and the components of and influences upon human nature. It was a far easier task to rally support for the violent smashing of people and businesses trading in booze than it was to seek to understand the behavioral and societal factors involved in creating an alcoholic. Current efforts by whole hosts of advocates for or against this and that demonstrate that people’s understanding remains primitive. Although the science is there and well established to recommend a non-violent course, it remains simplest to advocate force as a means of solving social problems.

Besides the opportunity costs, there are also the side effects of using violence. The most obvious of these is the spawning of more violence in the form of modern crime syndicates. In addition, the victims of the outlawed substance are treated as less than human and become frequent victims of state violence. Federal enforcement techniques such as additon of poison to  commercial ethanol killed around 10,000 people by prohibition’s end.

*I realize my example has more than a few holes in it. For example: it’s not like there aren’t people running around preaching sobriety, maybe more now than ever–I’m not a meticulous fact checker, it ain’t that kind of bikecast. My point is that the resources interested in controlling the public ills related to alcoholism were strong enough to manage a constitutional amendment–I can’t even imagine what topic would garner that kind of support now. It could have been turned to a million different compassionate, human respecting means of providing help and care for alcoholics and their victims.


Die Grosse Luege (The Big Lie)

… in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; Even though the facts . . . may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world . . .

—Adolf Hitler , Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X[1]

The big lie may be the most successful stand-alone propaganda technique in history.  We swim everyday in a sea of such lies and yet we rarely, if ever, notice them.  Like an optical illusion, we focus our entire attention on it while it jumps and squirms and evades our ability to bring it fully before our senses.  And so we must bring reason to bear in addition to our senses to detect the big lie.  What to do with one once we’ve found it, we’ll leave for another time.

Protection from Islamo-facism

Since the big lie is as difficult to pin down in the abstract as it is to detect in reality, let’s start with an example.  I choose this example because it’s the easiest for us anti-imperialists to grasp.  The lie is that we need a large and powerful globe-spanning military to protect us from rabid, suicidal foes who want nothing more than to kill us and take our stuff.  We’re told that our freedom will end the minute we stop razing villages, imprisoning farmers and shepherds, overthrowing democratically elected foreign governments, and supplying firepower to brutal dictators.  Reality, in this case, is available to anyone with a few hours of research and some very basic critical thinking skills.  In reality, the U.S. military has spent the last 100 years, conservatively, creating an army of rabid, suicidal foes bent on revenge.  It has swelled the number of those willing to fight by starving, torturing and killing legions of mothers, sons, brothers, daughters, sisters, fathers, and friends.

As we see from the above example, the big lie is not simply not true.  It is the opposite of the truth made difficult to detect by its over-the-top audacity.  Even now, having stated what is real, my mind wanders in search of scenarios in which an Army-less America is overrun by . . . somebody from somewhere.  These are the ‘traces’ of the big lie, the result of imperfect deprogramming after dozens of years of propaganda.

Just Say “No”

Let’s look at the big lie around drug prohibition–anti-imperialists are also frequently opposed to jailing people who’ve committed no crime.  The big lie is that the war on drugs exists to decrease drug dependency, drug related crimes and the violence of the drug trade.  The staying power of the big lie is illustrated by the drug war.  Even with a prison system overflowing with non-violent drug users, hundreds of thousands of bodies littering Central and South America and billions of dollars “up in smoke,” this choice piece of propaganda persists.  Even those who would legalize marijuana can’t understand that society would not erupt into madness if “hard” drugs were legalized.  The primary effect, guaranteed by iron-clad laws of economics, would be to radically decrease the price of drugs.  The 99% markup that allows for the marketing of drugs to kids, the arming of the most violent criminals, and the need to steal and trick to get a fix would vanish.  And with it, the distinction between legal and illegal drugs–so crystal clear to the propagandized mind–would dissolve  away.

Compulsory Schooling

Here’s a hard one we might not have noticed.  We who believe that human beings are all valuable understand that denying someone an education is the surest way to limit their potential for self-fulfillment.  Literacy is key to economic freedom and human progress, and we look back with shame at the times when society attempted to deny this ability to women, slaves, and various immigrant groups.

Our genuine and honorable feelings about the value of education pave the way for a big lie: without public education, the poor would be uneducated.  Non-labor jobs would be the domain of the males of the dominant ethnic group.  Illiteracy and the resulting stratification of society would lead to massive injustice as the poor languished, the rich thrived and the middle class desperately sought some way to scrimp and save in order to educate their kids.

Of course, government schools do not educate the poor.  They do guarantee that white men dominate the non-labor workforce.  They result it the highest illiteracy rates in the history of this continent.  The rich thrive in carefully gerrymandered school districts or private schools.  The poor endure 12+ years of boring, degrading and brutal  “child” care, and the middle class scramble to locate themselves in the districts of the wealthy or budget for private school.

The very circumstances we fear above all others–those we are told to fear by “experts”–are precisely the outcomes of the government remedies we are told we must accept.  Financial chaos, lack of  healthcare, oppressed minorities, suffering of the elderly; whenever we’re told to be afraid and that only the coercive might of the state can protect us from a dismal outcome, we must attempt to escape our programming and look for the big lie.