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July 04, 2006

Human Frailty

Working with chronic cannabis users has led me to believe the question we should really be asking about American drug policy is one often asked about Nazism shortly after World War Two: how could such an inhumane doctrine have become so credible? Its corollary was: how could an 'advanced' nation have fallen for such an obvious fraud?

The answer to both questions begins with the realization that such aberrations are enabled whenever a nation's supreme legal authority is either persuaded or forced to endorse egregious scientific error. Failure to recognize the critical difference between scientific and legal standards of 'truth’ not only allows the imposition of a ‘pet’ policy in a doctrinaire manner, it encourages it.

Nazism and the War on Drugs can thus be seen as extreme examples of the same phenomenon in two different settings. Hitler, who was chosen to lead the government of a demoralized nation in 1933, seized power immediately on the  promise of restoring self-respect to a dispirited, angry populace. He was then able to convert Germany into the strongest military power in Europe in six short years.

Our war on drugs represents similar doctrinaire thinking, but has been forced to proceed far more slowly; literally one institution at a time. The Drug War grew from a presidential directive which suddenly expanded an already erroneous policy; but the policy already included several key characteristics which facilitated its implementation as a 'war:'  it, too, was based on doctrinaire assumptions and control of 'narcotics' had long been usurped from Medicine before much was known about either 'addiction' or the relevant physiology.  Also, Harry Anslinger, the FBN's chief bureaucrat, had efficiently discouraged any interest from Psychiatry or the  Behavioral sciences in addiction or addicts for over thirty years.

Two distinct generic fears are important to public acceptance of  repressions like Nazism and the Drug War: one is fear of those accused of representing whatever new 'threat' they are focused on; the second, and more realistic for those not targeted, is the fear of ordinary citizens that they could find themselves on the wrong side of a fiercely enforced policy.

More than a bit disquieting is the realization that all such aberrations ultimately depend on the tolerance of the populace they are imposed upon; all that would have been required was the courage needed to overthrow them; a fact as true of Saddam as it was of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. Thus, the critical corollary is that outside  'help' from other nations or sources has nearly always been required to overthrow them; and there is always the risk a new repressive ideology may replace the first.

Our capacity for repeatedly experiencing such follies without ever seeming to learn from them is not very encouraging. The pointless circular debates over drug policy are shocking for their confused ‘science’ and stand in stark contrast to the remarkable ability of scientists in other disciplines to accurately study an unprecedented ‘natural’ disaster like the recent tsunami, in which human behavioral anomalies clearly weren’t causative. Lest we think there’s some IQ difference between them and ‘behavioral’ scientists, we should recall that they, too, have NEVER criticized the shockingly unscientific behavior of NIDA;  nor was any objection voiced when Alan Leshner, its former director, was chosen to head the prestigious AAAP.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at July 4, 2006 06:42 AM