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May 30, 2007

The Ultimate Whistle Blower (personal/political)

Rachel Carson was born 100 years ago last Sunday and lived only 56 years before dying of breast cancer, but her relatively short life consistently exemplified the best human qualities; not the least of which were her courage and intellectual honesty. As a solitary biologist with no political backing or experience, a book she wrote in longhand so effectively called attention to a destructive government policy, that not only did it force that policy to stop, it  gave birth to the Environmental Movement.

By the time Silent Spring  was published in 1962, the vested interests it quietly exposed were campaigning stridently against it and subjecting her to the usual unwarranted criticism; all to no avail. The book was published and became an overnight success, which tragically, Carson did not get to savor for very long before succumbing to the breast cancer that was diagnosed long before she could finish writing it.

While there is a clear parallel between the mindless ‘war’ the Department of Agriculture was waging on insects in the Fifties and the equally mindless drug war our federal government has been pursuing since the First Nixon Administration took office in 1969, it’s not that simple. One significant difference was that as soon as Carson exposed the environmental damage from indiscrimnate use of pesticides it stopped because the American public was largely unaware of what had been happening and was shocked by Carson’s objective account. Even so, as Elizabeth Kolbert points out in this week’s New Yorker, the proponents of environmental exploitation have not gone away and the Bush Administrtation has been quietly and effectively eroding those protections for the past six years.

A comparison with the drug war requires some additional insights: although the American public has been well aware of the failure of our drug policy since at least 1997, it seems to have accepted it as a necessary evil; probably because support for it is so deeply entrenched at the federal level. It should also be clear by now that our drug policy won’t be changed by simply pointing out its failures again and again; what’s needed is a realistic account of just how much it is costing our distracted and self-absorbed American society. Just consider another shocking incongruity: we are arguably in the midst of an even more urgent environmental crisis in the form of global temperature change, yet I don’t recall any questions being raised about our national enthusiasm for auto racing over the past week-end.

Another discouraging example is the folly in Iraq, from which the now ascendant Democrats have been unable to force a withdrawal. If a majority in Congress can’t force change in a such a blatantly failing war, what does that auger for political change in the war on drugs?

The last time I looked, drug policy ‘reform’ wasn’t even on Congressional radar— let alone supported by a majority.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at May 30, 2007 05:53 PM