Drugs as a tool

I’ve been reading John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the intricacies of giving meaning to their story.

For those who haven’t read the book, Mr. Truby approaches story as if it were a body, and dissects it as if her were doing an autopsy. He has a chapter on technology (tools). In it he observes that within a story “tools are an extension of the human form, taking a simple capability and magnifying its power”. Why do I mention this? Because while reading Truby’s book, I have also been working through some ideas for major redraft of Carrion.

One of the ideas at the centre of Carrion is that insects have been genetically engineered to eat drugs. Within my story they are 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. With that in mind, I started to think about drugs as a tool, and asked the question, what kind of tool are drugs?

This quickly becomes more complicated than you think. It’s all too easy to view drugs simply a tool to alter your mood. I’ve written before about the link I see between drugs and prohibition. In a previous post I outlined a paradigm that uses drug prohibition as a tool for social control.

Certainly that is one function drugs play within society, but it’s not the only one. I read a paper recently by Tammy L Anderson that points to A Cultural-Identity Theory Of Drug Abuse. The paper differentiates between drug use and abuse. “The theory proposes that drug abuse is an outcome of a drug-related identity change process featuring three micro-level (personal marginalization, ego identity discomfort, and lost control in defining an identity), two mesolevel (social marginalization and identification with a drug subcultural group), and three macro-level (economic opportunity, educational opportunity, and popular culture) concepts.”

Without getting into the intricacies of a theory that describes twelve hypothetical relationships that lead to drug abuse. It does point to another way drugs are used. As a tool of cultural identity. From my own experiences I can say there is certainly an identification between those have used drugs, and those who have not. You only have to look at the way those who drink alcohol view those who do not to see a shared identity works.

Conversely in this instance, because alcohol is a socially acceptable drug, those who do not drink are the ones viewed with hostility. This binary polarisation of “us” and “them” points to the dynamics at work when looking at the way illicit drugs are viewed. Cultural-identity theory argues that drug abuse is a consequence of a multitude of marginalizing experiences. “The greater the number of marginalizing experiences… the greater the risk for drug abuse.”

If that is the case, and drug abuse is a consequence of an accumulation of negative experiences both personal and social, drugs become a consequence of negative forces that define those who eventually abuse drugs, and not the other way round. This perhaps accounts for the vicious way in which the sober world treats drug users. There’s a sense of guilt felt by the sober world, a guilt that recognises drug use is not simply people being somehow weak willed, a guilt that can not be solved, and ultimately elicits hostility.

There is a scene in David Mamet’s film The Spanish Prisoner that explains the psychological origins of human cruelty.

Steve Martin explains the psychological origins of human cruelty in “The Spanish Prisoner”

The key line comes at the end of Steve Martin’s speech, when Campbell Scott asks him why his employers will start to act cruelly toward him, Martin replies. “To suppress their guilt.”

For me, and certainly within the context of Carrion, I’m starting to see drugs as a tool of guilt, and motivating forces for both protagonist and his antagonist.


Why they won’t stop the war on drugs

I read a headline in the Metro last week. “The war on drugs ‘just isn’t working’.” Apparently the Global Commission on Drug Policy has called for the legalisation of drugs. Noted elders argue that “the war on drugs has failed to cut drug usage”. Adding that it has filled jails, cost millions, fuelled organised crime, and caused thousands of deaths.

Despite evidence from Portugal, that problematic drug use and drug related deaths fall when drugs are decriminalise, they decriminalised drugs in 2001, a Home Office spokesman said they were going to ignore the report. “We have no intention of liberalising our drugs laws. Drugs are illegal because they are harmful. They destroy lives.”

I am not surprised by the Home Office’s attitude, it’s the patronising parental attitude always displayed, the blinkered vision that completely ignores the reality of drug use in the country.

DrugScope, the UK’s leading independent centre of expertise on drugs, “estimated that over 11 million people aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales have used illicit drugs in their lifetime”. That’s about 6% of the population. They estimate there 6408 drug related deaths between 2000 and 2004. In that same period there were anywhere between 25,000 and 200,000 alcohol related deaths.

The “drugs are harmful” mantra is repeated ad infinitum, as if repeating it makes it more true. It doesn’t, and not because drugs can’t cause harm, they plainly can, it’s because the “drugs are harmful” mantra masks the real reason drugs are illegal.

Drug prohibition isn’t about public health it’s about public control. I’ll say it again, it’s not about public health, it’s about public control. Think back to World War One, the government imposed closing times on the public houses, so munitions workers would go back to work in the afternoon. The government imposed limited prohibition to control its workers. Not because of fears for their health, but to get them back to work.

What’s the difference between that, and the laws that stop people dropping an “E” at the weekend? Ecstasy is a Class A drug because dropping an “E” at the weekend might interfere with your work on Monday.

If prohibition was about public health, they’d ban tobacco. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man. Its use causes no end of health problems, from heart disease, to strokes, lung cancer, to tumours. Ash, the anti-smoking charity, estimate there are 12 million smokers in the UK. That’s about 7% of the population. DrugScope estimate “that each year in the UK around 114,000 people die from tobacco-related diseases”. Yet you can walk into any corner shop, buy a packet, light up, and get high.

Cigarettes are proof, if proof were needed, that prohibition is not about public health, it’s about public control. Prohibition is a panacea of public control for governments around the world. It’s a device nations use to endo-colonize their population. Endo-colonization is a term coined by French cultural theorist Paul Virilio. In his text of Pure War he describes the general militarisation of society, in which economies, unable to expand by colonising other countries, start to colonise their own population. The state, in the form of a civilian military, that’s the police, have “come to settle among and establish political control over (the indigenous people of an area)”.

Drugs is not a public health issue, drugs is a civil liberties issue, and we should demand our freedom to take drugs if we so wish. I say legalise the lot. Regulate them the way we regulate cigarettes. From cocaine to tobacco, you should be able to walk into a chemist, order your desired brand, at your preferred strength, and go enjoy yourself for a few hours, without fear of retribution from the state.

The war on drugs is a war on freedom, and should be condemned as antithetical to an individual’s human rights.

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