Friday, November 23, 2012

Drug Warriors and Their Prey

Drug Warriors and Their Prey From Police Power to Police State
by Richard Lawrence Miller
Book Review (read another review here)

"Everywhere in the world I dread that same self-deception which holds that "it can't happen here." It can happen anywhere. It becomes unlikely only where the mass of the population is aware of the threat, where there is accordingly no relapse into lethargy, where the character of "totalitarianism" is known and recognized from its very inception and in each of its aspects-as a Proteus which is constantly putting on new masks, which glides out of your grasp like an eel, which does the opposite of what it claims, which perverts the meaning of its words, which speaks, not to impart information, but to hypnotize, divert attention, insinuate, intimidate, dupe, which exploits and produces every type of fear, which promises security while destroying it completely."
—Karl Jaspers

Mr Miller's thesis is that the war on drugs is a war on ordinary citizens.  Starting from that premise Miller lays out the similarities between the portrayal of Jews in Nazi Germany and illicit drug users in the United States.  The book is divided into five main chapters, each one titled for a step in the chain of destruction, Identification, Ostracism, Confiscation, Concentration, and Annihilation.  The "chain of destruction" was derived from Raul Hilberg's study of the destruction process.

Identification
Identification is the first step, a group is identified as a threat to the well-being of the society.  In Nazi Germany the Jews were identified as the source of all the problems facing Germany after World War One.  Poverty, crime, inflation, unemployment, social dysfunction, these were all blamed on the insidious influences of the Jew.
.  Today in the United States, illicit drug users are blamed for many of the same problems.  Much like Jews, people who use drugs are just like everyone else.  There are some drug users that can be detected solely by their behavior, much like orthodox Jews who can be detected by their manner of dress and behavior like following Jewish customs, but there are many more drug users and Jews whose behavior and mannerisms are just like everyone else.  To detect the majority of people who use drugs, like the majority of Jews, other detection methods are necessary.  And so the Nazis had to resort to genealogical records and drug warriors resort to drug testing.  People who use drugs and people who have Jewish ancestry are both guilty of status crimes.  Crimes not based on behavior, but on the status of the individual.

Ostracism
    Ostracism is the second step of the destruction process.  Once hate propaganda has identified a particular group as being a problem, ostracism from the Government and society further marginalize the targeted group from society.  In Nazi Germany, Jews were systematically excluded from the workplace and those who owned their own businesses suddenly found themselves facing boycotts.  Legal protections (civil rights) are weakened or removed altogether.  Miller gives many examples of this within the United States showing how the drug warriors have slowly chipped away at the bill of rights until almost nothing is left, and what is left is just rhetoric, easily swept aside by the drug warriors in their persecution.
    Miller also examines how the function of the law shifts from protecting the individual to protecting and promoting the state, which he calls "civic duty."  Thus we have criminal statutes used to "send a message" and the incarceration of "addicts" without a criminal conviction in a process called "civil commitment."

Confiscation
    Confiscation of property is the next step in the destruction process.  In this section Miller notes not only the similarities between the Jews in Nazi Germany, but also Japanese-Americans living in the US during World War Two.  Much of this chapter examines civil forfeiture proceedings, and notes how the transfer of property enriches the drug warriors at cost to their victims, a similar situation to what happened to Jewish property forfeited in Nazi Germany.

Concentration
    "The Germans could not stand the idea of living in a world where one was not protected by law and order.  They would not believe that the prisoners in the camps had not committed outrageous crimes since the way they were punished permitted only this conclusion."
Bruno Bettelheim
    Miller opens the chapter on concentration with this quote, and I think it is apt.  The prison population in the United States has exploded, especially since 1980.  Today the US boasts housing 25% of the world's prison population, with only 5% of the world's population.  Much like the Nazi concentration camps, the general belief is that the victims must have done something to belong there, and like the concentration camps the victims are then used as a source of slave labor.  Companies that would scoff at the idea of hiring drug users are more than happy to hire prisoners once the matter of regular paychecks, safe working conditions, strikes and holidays off are done away with.

Annihilation
    Killing the the ultimate and final stage in the destruction process.  When thinking about the Holocaust, one is immediately reminded of the gas chambers used to exterminate people en mass.  Miller reminds us that the death camps were not the first methods used to achieve annihilation.  Death squads hunted victims, citizens brandished their own vigilante justice, disease was promoted while medical treatment was withheld, unemployment and discrimination encouraged suicide and families were broken up further encouraging dysfunction among the families of victims.  Victims were also sterilized thereby annihilating any future generations.
    The parallels are striking.  Drug prohibition itself maximizes harm.  Suspected drug users and dealers are often involved in extra-judicial killings, especially in "producer" countries.  To this day there are calls for the sterilization of people who use drugs (which I have written about here).  I recently learned that some doctors will not begin treatment for hepatitis or HIV infection unless the patient is at least three months "clean."  I guess people who are "dirty" (use drugs) are unworthy of medical care.  Laws against access to new syringes and against "Good Samaritan" statutes all maximize the probability that people who use drugs will get ill and die.  Pregnant mothers are less likely to seek prenatal care when they face the prospect of losing their child, thereby increasing the mortality of children born to mothers who use illicit drugs.  It should also be pointed out that most illicit drugs are less teratogenic than legal ones like alcohol and tobacco.

    Some will certainly dismiss Miller's analysis as hyperbole.  This reflects a certain amount of denial on the part of Americans, the war on illicit drug users just can't be the same as the Nazi war on Jews.  Others will scream Godwin's Law applies here because, unlike being Jewish, drug use is a choice.  The danger in Miller's approach is that he is preaching to the converted, supporters of the war on drug users are not likely to be impressed with miller's argument.  Those of us who have experienced this war personally are likely to agree with Miller.  Miller's work is also meticulously researched with over 50 pages of this 255 page book devoted to references.

    One final thought to conclude this review is to note how the early steps in the chain of destruction are used to justify further action.  Whether Jewish or an illicit drug user, if an individual is not permitted to live a "normal" life, if they are ostracized from society and have their property confiscated, if they are concentrated in ghettos or prisons, we should not be surprised by a great deal of social dysfunction in the population discriminated against.  The inability to live a "normal" life is then used as further justification for future action.  Whether a drug user or Jew, being forced to live in meager conditions rife with crime and disease is then used as evidence for the debased nature of the individual.  This continues the dehumanization and ensures that the chain of destruction continues.  It is quite obvious that the answer to the "Jewish problem" is the same as the answer to the "drug problem," namely call off the war and leave the people alone.

2 comments:

  1. After all of the lessons history should have taught us, collectively, I am puzzled as to why those in authority still pursue this method of "dealing" with drugs & drug users. I understand that they want to control people but, it seems to me that it is becoming increasingly difficult to control an angry people....and that is exactly what is happening in our societ, albeit, far too slowly for my personal liking. The state arrests, prosecutes, then imprisons drug users, thus, in many states, forcing them to go cold turkey in the worst possible places and ways. The state then has the misguided assumption that this will teach that dirty bastard a lesson and he won't do it again....assuming he makes it out of prison alive. Let's say he does, what's he got to look forward to? Freedom? In a manner of speaking, yes but, he still has to deal weekly then monthly with that pesky probation officer and follow the rules prescribed by the law. Now that our hero has a felony record, he is hard-pressed to find meaningful, gainful employment. He's all but predestined to a meager existence....not a "life". What's to be happy about that? Oh, I almost forgot....his freedom. Well, at least he is out of jail.....for now. Odds are good that, thanks to the oppressive conditions of his release, our hero will succomb to depression and seek relief from.....yep, you guessed it.....drugs: the very thing that landed him in jail in the first place. Oh, but the state says, "He made the choice to use drugs against the will of society. He brought this on himself and he deserves it." So, these well-intentioned (NOT!) folks reincarcerate our hero....at the taxpayer expense and, thus, take billions of dollars away from other, more needful, more useful, more productive entitied in society.

    I'm not sure where I officially stand on the whole addiction as a disease issue (another post). I reserve the right to waffle. Are we born predestined to end up with the life of a chronic user? No, but, I do think that some of us are genotypically/physiologically (think brain chemistry here, folks) and psycho-socially more likely to end up addicted to something. In that sense, I'm not sure if some of us.....many of us.....really could help it or not. Certainly, some develop a stronger "constitution" through life than others and can and do avoid addiction to ILLEGAL and/or prescription drugs. But of those who avoid that scenario, what's the percentage of those folks that have an addiction to alcohol or to sex or develop serious codependency issues or depression or a host of mental illnesses that require chemotherapy?

    I was a much happier, much kinder, much more productive human being before my choice of (and arguably, my need for....for physical pain....)drug was taken from me.

    We're told to seek help for our problems but, when we do, we end up in the meat grinder described in this post.


    -ThashMikki

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    Replies
    1. It is a vicious cycle, all the more so since drug users are very much normal people who happen to use drugs. Rhetoric aside, the United States has a very low tolerance for diversity. We are told diversity is people who look different but think and act the same.

      It doesn't matter if a person is dependant on drugs or not. If a person uses opiates daily, but works, raises a family and lives an otherwise normal life, what is the problem? That's the individual's personal life, not the responsibility of the state. Over time the drug war has become an eliminationist campaign to destroy the lives of people who use the "wrong" drugs. Miller's book details how these things come about. I highly recommend it.

      I don't think addiction is well represented as a disease. Using drugs is not a disease, at most it is a symptom. The addiction as a disease all too often is reductionist to the point of absurdity. Organizations like NIDA say that drugs hijack the brain, this is nonsense as most people who use drugs do not become addicted. This also implicitly supports drug prohibition, if addiction is merely a matter of drugs and not some underlying issues cutting off the supply of drugs makes sense. If addiction is the result of underlying psychological problems, or a response to feeling helpless and powerless in a cold and uncaring world (see the true church for more on this theme), dealing with addiction as simply a problem of drug taking is woefully inadequate. This is one reason drug treatment fails so spectacularly.

      If we extend addiction to other behaviors, it is probably common. I think we treat opiate addicts so poorly in part due to scapegoating. People recognize their own addictive tendencies in the addict, and project their own fears and insecurities onto the addict, which results in ostracism and marginalization. The beginnings of the chain of destruction.

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