An answer prompted by Mike Power‘s article in Vice about the way drugs cause environmental damage, but mostly because of prohibition.
It is no surprise that illegal drug production causes environmental problems. Prohibition is an act of alienation, a policy that only makes sense when seen as justification for ever more intrusive policing strategy.
I would argue that prohibition has corrupted our relationship with drugs. Think about that for a moment. Every culture has a sacred substance, a drug that offers users a state of grace. How different is dropping a pill and dancing all night, from smoking peyote by the indigenous peoples of south America. I would say the only difference is location. When someone says they’re high, what do they mean? I’d say they’re referring to the heightened sate of being they’re experiencing. They’re seeing and feeling things at a heightened level. If you were being unkind, you’d call it escaping, otherwise you might think of it as seeking.
Prohibiting needs to be stopped because we need to reestablish a healthy, considered, relationship with drugs. One that sees drugs in context both socially and environmentally.
Recently I plotted Carrion using a variation of “The Board” described by Blake Snyder in his book Save the Cat.
Working the board has thrown up several issues relating to Adam’s opponents. One of the key problems I realise needs pinning down is Adam’s conflict with prohibition, how does a prohibitionist find himself on the wrong side of prohibition?
To understand this more fully I find myself going back to reaffirm what I think Carrion is about. I take the view, expressed by John Truby in his book Anatomy of Story, that a story is a moral argument. “Whenever you present a character using means to reach an end, you are presenting a moral predicament, exploring the question of right action, and making a moral argument about how best to live.” To make this argument the hero needs a collection of opponents (and allies) who force him to deal with the central moral problem.
To find the best opponents for Adam I first need to recognise the question at the heart of Carrion, why are drugs prohibited? The usual reason given for drug prohibition is public health. Drugs are dangerous, they cause harm, so should be banned. For me this throws up at least one glaring hypocrisy, why aren’t drugs like cigarettes and alcohol subject to the same prohibitions as MDMA? Both cigarettes and alcohol have significant health risks associated with their use, yet they are both freely available.
For me the distinction between drugs that are banned and those that are not is arbitrary, and because it arbitrary, it’s inevitably motivated by something else, something entirely political. Prohibition isn’t about public health, it’s about public control. Boiled down to its essence, prohibition is a form of oppression. An oppression that is inherently cruel, and demands the destruction of anyone who opposes it.
Faced with this insight it seems to me Adam’s only moral action in the story is to resist prohibition. This leads him to become an insurgent in ensuing civil war. For his arc to be fulfilled his opponents need to articulate the conflicting points of view present in the war on drugs.
Adam’s opponent is prohibition, but prohibition is too nebulous a concept on its own. We need to see it as something concrete, both as an institution and as a character. Actually it needs to be seen through a number of characters on all sides of the issue.
Prohibition organises society against those who take drugs. It’s the laws prohibiting use. The “Code 10” laws that stop convicted users from getting the medical attention. Sanctions imposed on those who help users. Social pressure best described by the maxim, if you’re not with us you’re against us.
The institution of prohibition are only the backdrop to Carrion, what Truby describes as the story world. Its unrelenting cruelty is personified by the drug eating insects that attack users. They are the ever-present sanction prohibition imposes on the citizenry, they can’t be argued with, articulating prohibitions intransigence, you take drugs you die.
As an opponent, the insects attack Adam indirectly through Christine. While they force him to take specific actions that contributes to the moral argument of Carrion, Adam’s real opponent, the opponent who challenges him directly, is Reiner. He’s the “character who wants to keep the hero from achieving his desire”. He’s the one who tries to stop Adam saving Christine. As Truby points out “a true opponent not only wants to prevent the hero from achieving his desire but is competing with the hero for the same goal”.
This point throws up a question, what are Adam and Reiner really competing over? Adam’s desire is to save Christine, Reiner wants to see Christine dead, but he knows the insects will do that for him, he could just wait, let them do their job.
If Adam and Reiner aren’t competing for Christine’s life, what are they fighting over? Adam’s desire represents a threat to Reiner, it confirms his fear, there’s someone out there willing to challenge prohibition. At the core of the conflict is a fight over the the kind of world they live in. They’re fighting to have either a free society or a secure society.
One of the primary arguments for prohibition is that drugs represent a threat, not just to public health but to our security. Users are dangerous, dealers are criminals, drugs tear at the very fabric of society, and prohibition is the tool that keeps us safe.
The irony is, prohibition is more of a threat to our public safety than drug use.
What if prohibition doesn’t protect public health, what if it’s a form of oppression? The choice to take drugs amounts to demand for freedom over security. Deep down they’re fighting for a world of freedom or oppression.
Another of Adam’s opponents is his sister Christine. If Reiner articulates the voice of prohibition Christine gives us the users point of view. Her strength in the story is her ability to attack Adam’s prejudices. Without her Adam would not begin to see the dangers of prohibition, he would not see the oppression. His desire to save his sister is his call to arms. Whatever he may think of drugs and those who take them, Christine makes him see prohibition as something that need to be challenged.
The final opponent to challenge Adam is Sexton, prohibition as seen by the dealer. In an earlier post “Adam’s immoral action” I contemplated another of Truby’s tenants. “In the early part of the story the hero is losing to the opponent. He becomes desperate. As a result he starts taking immoral actions to win.”
In trying to answer this problem I asked myself the question, what kind of immoral actions does Adam take? The answer can best be summed up as “not fighting back”. Only through his conflicts with Sexton does Adam start to behave in a moral way. Structurally Sexton enters the story half way through. Adam has gone as far as he can with his initial course of action, and has failed to save Christine. Then he meets Sexton, an unrepentant drug dealer who is willing to challenge prohibition by taking the fight to them. Sexton’s actions challenge Adam’s immoral action, forces him to realise the only moral action to take against prohibition is to fight it.
Structurally this collection of characters is what Truby calls a four cornered opposition. The system not only allows the moral argument to be fully explored, each character articulating a different set of values, attacking Adam’s great weakness in a different way. By pushing each of their values to the extremities of the four cornered opposition they all become as different as possible from the others.
As I work though the ideas for a redraft of Carrion, it has become necessary to consolidate my understanding of the drug eating insect that are such an important part of the story.
One of the first ideas I had for Carrion was the image of insects eating drugs. Initially I though it would be enough to have a species just feed on drugs. I thought these insects could be either a naturally occurring or genetically engineered blight, eating their way through the stockpile of illicit drugs. I envisioned a plethora of subspecies, one for each substance, migrating from stash to stash, decimating the supply. I quickly realised this would probably end the war on drugs, and my story with it.
Then I read about cocaethylene. Cocaethylene is the drug formed in vivo when cocaine and ethyl alcohol are ingested simultaneously. Studies suggest that it may be more cardiotoxic, and possess a longer duration of action than cocaine taken in isolation. The thing I find most interesting about cocaethylene, is that it is only produced in vivo, in the body. From this small revelation, I quickly got to the image of insects feeding on drug users.
I had the notion that a species engineered to feed on drugs in vivo would plague drug users. Logic dictates that this strategy would limit attacks to those under the influence. Once they stop producing the drug, the insects would migrate to another user. While this provides more story, there still isn’t enough drama.
So while looking for a more dynamic scenario, I started to research the various insect species that might be spliced together. While I have been unable to find any species of insect that targets drugs in their refined state, I was able to find several species that attack drug precursors like coca, the source of cocaine.
Aegoidus pacificus lays it’s eggs in the plant bark. The beetle’s larvae then burrows into the stem, irrevocably damaging the plant.
The larvae of Eloria noyesi feeds on coca leaves. Capable of eating fifty leaves in it’s lifetime, an infestation eventually destroys the plant.
As my research progressed I started to understand more clearly the role the insects would play within Carrion. In a previous post, Drugs as a tool, I described the insects as the “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.”
For the insect to have this quality, I realised they needed to be more aggressive. So I started to look for insects that might attack humans, insects that are carnivorous. The insects I found most intriguing are those species attracted to humans post mortem.
From the moment of death legions of insects start to feed on human remains. Calliphoridae (blowflies) lay their eggs around wounds and natural openings in the body. Their eggs hatch, and maggots move into the body secreting digestive enzymes, and tearing tissue with their mouth hooks.
As the rate of decay increases, the smell attracts more blowflies, and species of Coleoptera, including Staphylinidae (rove beetles), silphidae (carrion beetles), and Cleridae (checkered beetles). These late-arriving insects are predators, feeding on the abundant supply of maggots as well as the decaying flesh.
They’re joined by parasitoid wasps such as Brachymeria calliphorae, that lay their eggs inside the maggots, injecting venom into the host along with the egg. This venom is a highly complex mixture of chemicals, that not only paralyse the host, but also modifies the host’s tissue, making it more nutritious for the developing larva.
As the decaying body passes through the stage known a black putrefaction, the predatory insects become more abundant, until the body enters butyric fermentation, when the remaining flesh is removed, and the body dries out.
The reduction in soft food makes the body less palatable to the mouth-hooks of maggots, and the amount of predatory insects declines. The remains become more suitable for the chewing mouthparts of beetles. As the body enters the final stages of decay, mites, tineid moths, and bacteria feed on the remaining tissue.
All insects progress through one of two main types of metamorphosis, complete and incomplete. Complete consists of egg, larva, pupa, adult. Incomplete, egg, nymph, adult.
I envision insects going though the complete metamorphosis. The genetically engineered adults feed on drugs, then much like the parasitoid wasps, lay their eggs in the users. Employing a strategy know as polyembryony, a single egg continues to divide, cloning itself into a mass of individual larvae. These larva then hatch, and start to move around the host, feeding on the non-essential parts of the body, until they are mature enough to pupate.
After complete metamorphosis, the adult insects must then escape the host. I imagine a swarm gnawing free of the host in a bloody explosion. This image is the origin of the name Carrion. Infested users are the living dead, walking through the stages of decomposition, treated as carrion, destroyed by insects. The “physical manifestation of prohibition”.
In my last post I finished with a quote from Richard Lawrence Miller’s book Drug Warriors and Their Prey. “People convinced of their superiority rescue a country threatened from within.”
This could be what John Truby calls the designing principle of Carrion, but what does Miller mean when he says “people convinced of their superiority?” Again I find myself going back to the dictionary. The word superiority, and its precursor superior. Superior means greater in quality, of high or extraordinary worth, higher in rank or status, displaying a conscious sense of being above or better than others.
For me Miller’s aphorism implies a small group of people, but this doesn’t explain the mandate asserted by the government. Could it be the attitudes of this small group are disseminated through, and followed by, the larger body of the population? If that is the case, democracy has been inverted. The government’s not representing the views of the majority, the majority re-presents the views of the government. Which leads me to the question, why are drug users singled out, why are they treated with such hostility, why are they vilified?
The conclusion I have come to is that drug users function as the other, the outsiders, the threat, the group over there to be feared. The irony is, the people convinced of their superiority need drug users. They can only maintain their position “inside” by identifying drug users position as “outside”. From their position inside, they’re able to blame drug users for all the ills of society.
If this is the case, the question for drug users is how do you fight them? Do you expose their hypocrisies, expose the machinery of prohibition, or do you match might with might, and fight back?
My feeling is these people are so entrenched in their opinions, so hardened in their position, so convinced of their superiority, nothing will shake them. They only respond to force, a force equal to the animosity they show towards drug users. The implication of this are horrifying, because the only way to stop them, is to destroy them.
As I am prone to do when I am trying to understand something, my first port of call is a dictionary. Prohibition is the act of prohibiting, or state of being prohibited. An order or decree that prohibits. To prohibit is to forbid an action or activity by authority or law. Essentially prohibition is control. Control means to exercise restraint or direction over, dominate, command, to hold in check, or curb.
I’d argue prohibitions function within our society is to control. On the face of it prohibition controls the manufacture, transportation, and sale of a prescribed set of substances, namely drugs. It also controls behaviour. Prohibition controls an individuals right to make a choice, good or bad, to take a certain action, that is take a specific drug.
A question comes to mind, why do they want to control what individuals do? At this point I think it is necessary to understand who I mean by “they”. They are the government, those people we elect to represent us. But if that is the case, why aren’t the views of the drug users represented? I presume the argument would come back that we live in a democracy, and the majority think drug taking is bad. But why? Why do we think drugs are bad, when every culture I can think of takes drugs in one form or another?
Putting that to one side, another question comes to mind. If these are the same people who allow individuals to choose to smoke and drink, why can’t that same people allow individuals to choose to take drugs. Rebuttals might sight the addictive nature of drugs. I don’t think the drugs that are currently prohibited are any more or less addictive than cigarettes or alcohol. Individuals get into just as much trouble with legal substances as they do with those prohibited. If the government can allow people to make a choice, take the risk of doing cigarettes or alcohol, why don’t they allow individuals to make the choice and take drugs? Logic dictates that they can, but they don’t, so why don’t they?
The answer I keep coming back to is that it is less about what people take, and more about the act of taking. Prohibition isn’t about the substance, prohibition is about controlling what people do. While I think this is an argument for the abolition of prohibition, it doesn’t answer the question, who actually controls the machine of prohibition?
A glimpse can perhaps be found in the preface of Richard Lawrence Miller’s Drug Warriors and Their Prey: From Police Power to Police State. “People convinced of their superiority (seek to) rescue a country threatened from within.”
What is prohibition really about? I think it’s about power. It’s a machine that allows the state to control its population.
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.