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February 08, 2010

Getting it Wrong

Both the American drug war and Nazism under Hitler between 1933 and 1945 are extreme examples of anomalous human thinking. What they also have in common is that they demonstrate what can happen when circumstances combine to empower an entire government, or in the case of the drug war, a large branch of government, with a dangerous degree of autonomy and the freedom to pursue mistaken ideas. In essence, i just compared America's war on drugs, to Nazism, a universally despised system widely recognized as the ultimate of evil. That notion, at first glance, might seem shocking to some.

Actually, the combination of essential elements exhibited by both phenomena isn't all that rare. Once one is able to consider them as straightforward examples of human behavior, similar situations can be see toabound. A convenient one, also American, is the system of chattel slavery that ultimately evolved in the Antebellum South. Over less than 3 centuries, slavery had become an inhumane system that gave ignorant overseers and slave traders almost complete authority over a group of humans defined solely by the color of their skin. Slaves were not recognized by federal or state law as human; almost no legal penalties were imposed on an owner who allowed his slaves to be punished excessively; even murdered.

Another characteristic often shared by such repressive systems is tolerance by the rest of society, a process often facilitated by circumstances that keep victims out of sight within institutions such as prisons or mental hospitals where ordinary rules do not apply and budget constraints and overcrowding can encourage a degree of callousness in the staff. Again, the most convenient example I can think of is the systematized barbarity of the modern American Prison system.

As it happens, I think I’ve also discovered the “smoking gun” needed to convince a majority of rational people that the drug war is as big a mistake as I’m claiming. What gives me some hope is that there are numerous examples in human history of critical insights that, almost by themselves, made sense out of what had actually been a random hodgepodge of mistaken ideas. Darwin’s intuition of a rational order driving what we now call Evolution (he didn’t call it that immediately) remains the best example I can think of. A smaller one, but one leading to dramatic reversal in a destructive practice was Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.

I’m painfully aware of how much I’m asking of readers who haven’t been conditioned, as I have, by years of realizing just how insane our drug policy had become without being able to articulate that conviction convincingly. The missing element was a concrete example that could pull enough grotesque drug war elements together into a convincing package. I now think I have such an example which, like so many other such phenomena, has been hiding in plain sight all along. All that was required was a proper focus.

That's enough for one day; the unveiling will come later.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at February 8, 2010 03:46 PM