One of the central ideas of Carrion is that the war on drugs escalates into a civil war. I don’t think it’s enough to simply say the two sides of prohibition start fighting. I need to understand the mechanism that might push prohibition that far.
First things first. What is civil war? I have seen it described variously as “armed conflict between sovereign and/or nonsovereign combatants within a single sovereign territory” or as a “sustained military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at least 1000 battle-field deaths per year”. The Romans gave civil war its name. Bellum civile, a war against cives, or fellow-citizens, fought within the city, or civitas. Interestingly the Geneva Conventions do not specifically define civil war, instead describing a criteria for acts qualifying as “armed conflict not of an international character”. Their criteria includes.
1. The party in revolt must be in possession of a part of the national territory.
2. The insurgent civil authority must exercise de facto authority over the population within the determinate portion of the national territory.
3. The insurgents must have some amount of recognition as a belligerent.
4. The legal Government is “obliged to have recourse to the regular military forces against insurgents organized as military.”
While these criteria might describe the conflict currently raging between the drug cartels and government forces in regions of south America. It doesn’t describe the situation here in the United Kingdom. Here in the United Kingdom, the war on drugs is a one sided conflict, that amounts to a campaign of suppression, allowing the government to police its citizens.
For the war on drugs to become a civil war, those on the wrong side of prohibition would have to fight back, and be recognised as a belligerent. That is, engaged in a legally recognised war. Which prompts the question, what would it take for drug users to take up arms against the government?
Putting that question to one side for a moment, I have to ask, why hasn’t this already happened? Why don’t drug users fight back? The flippant answer is, they’re too stoned to care. That adheres to a stereotype of drug users as feckless ne’er-do-wells who care for nothing but the drugs they take. I don’t think that shoe fits.
In my experience that the majority of individuals who use drugs recreationally are otherwise law abiding productive members of society. They get married, have children, hold down jobs, just like those in the sober world.
Could it be drug users just don’t see the oppression of the war on drugs. They live their lives, take their drugs, unaware of the acute oppression of prohibition. For them to start fighting back, they would have to feel that oppression more acutely than they currently do.
I also think it could be that drug culture is an illicit culture, that is defined as outside “normal” society. Those who take drugs do so in defiance of social norms, and by doing so, feel they’re already fighting prohibition. Could it be taking drugs means users are disengaged from society, and therefore have no interest in fighting it? For them to engage, the normal terrain of their lives would have to be changed, radicalised, before they would react with any kind of violence.
It could be that those who take drugs just aren’t aggressive enough. It is my experience that the majority of illicit drugs do not actually elicit violence in their users. Quite the opposite. MDMA is not called ecstasy because in makes people angry. The violence associated with the drug world comes primarily from the supply/distribution side of drug culture. Either between government agents and those supplying/distributing drugs, or between rival groups seeking to control the supply/distribution of drugs.
None of this answers the question, why don’t drug users fight back? In his book Drug Warriors and Their Prey, Richard Lawrence Miller “explores the process by which society can destroy an ordinary group of people.” His book describes the war on drugs as a process that seeks to systematically destroy drug users. The process he describes follows a series of distinct phases.
As I understand it, the war on drugs has already advanced significantly through the first three phases. Without a radical response from drug users, for civil war to happen in Carrion, the two remaining phases must elicit a violent reaction. That suggests a scenario in which this significant minority are forcibly removed from society, and concentrated in a specific place, but this still might not be enough to push drug users to take up arms.
Jews who suffered at the hands of the Nazis did not rise up when they found themselves corralled into places like the Warsaw ghetto. It was only at the point of annihilation, when the Nazis started to clear the ghetto, that they started to offer the kind of resistance you might categorised as civil war.
I am not trying to diminish what the Nazis did, or the Jewish reaction to their persecution. I’m only trying to reflect on how far a minority like drug users must be pushed before they react. I think it is only at the point of annihilation that drug users will fight back. They’ll be offered a choice, either fight, or die.
This suggests a scenario in which drug users are being systematically killed. How might prohibitionist do this? While the hard-liners might just say “line ’em up and shoot ’em” I imagine a more surreptitious approach. I envision a plague of drug eating insects attacking drug users, using them as part of their reproductive cycle.
In a previous post. Drugs as a tool I described these insects as “physical manifestation of prohibition. A tool that takes the ruthless unrelenting enforcement of prohibition to its merciless conclusion. The physical destruction of anyone who takes drugs”. Attacks by drug eating insects benefits from being a localised attack, specifically and exclusively directed at drug users. It also offers the government plausible deniability. They could argue, quite believably, they had nothing to do with what is happening to the drug users. Users brought this calamity on themselves. Again I return to the question, how would this escalate into civil war?
I think it will take a combination of two thing. First, the government denies drug users medical attention. They pass laws that stop those with a history of drug use getting access to the NHS. Second, drug users discover the plague of insects was initiated by the government. It is only at this point, at the point of death, when users understand specifically who their persecutors are, will they take up arms against the government.
Only at this point will the war on drugs escalate into civil war.