Daniel Boffey’s report for The Guardian exposes a couple of things. Not only are drugs being bought anonymously online, and shipped using the relative anonymity of the postal service, it also confirms what the authorities don’t want to admit, prohibition doesn’t work, never has, and most definitely never will!
Drugs is a public health issue
Interesting to see in Anthony Gunter’s article the argument that “serious violence is a public health issue”.
The same argument could be made against prohibition. The “war on drugs” should be seen not as a policing problem but instead framed as a public health issue. But harm reduction runs counter to the paternalistic tone that underscores the bias that blames degenerate youth.
Drug eating insects
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.
Stenocarus fuliginosus and Myzus persicae both feed on and destroy the opium poppy, the source of heroine.
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”.
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.
Adam Leigh is a character in Carrion. His forename comes from early research. Adam is a colloquialism for MDMA or ecstasy. In the early seventies scientists researching MDMA’s use in psychotherapy nicknamed the drug “Adam”, referring to the state of “primal innocence” induced by the drug.
Adam’s surname is a derivation of the name Lee. William Lee was a pseudonym used by William S. Burroughs. I’m interested in his work, and took some inspiration from his first book Junkie. Leigh is an oblique reference to drugs.
Born in 1980, when Carrion starts Adam Leigh is in his early thirties. He’s old enough to have some understanding of the world, made some mistakes in life, have a weariness about him, but still young enough to be engaged, see the world differently.
As a younger man, unwilling to saddle himself with the debts associated with obtaining a university education, he went out to work. He’s known first-hand the damage debt can cause. In the financial collapse of the 1980’s his father was made redundant. Out of work, and unable to pay the mortgage, on the council house they had bought in Thatcher’s right to buy scheme, the bank repossessed.
As they had technically made themselves homeless, by defaulting on the mortgage, the council refused to rehouse them. They ended up living in bed and breakfast, until his father was able to get a job in a local supermarket. Adam watched the experience take its toll on his parents, and vowed never to put himself in that same position.
In his late teens, when his contemporaries were starting university, Adam joined the army. He thought whatever skills he learned in the service, would stand him in good stead when he returned to civilian life.
Early in 2002 he saw combat in Afghanistan, where he was wounded. An improvised explosive device detonated in close proximity, killed one his comrades, and left Adam with shrapnel scars across his back.
During his recovery, he met and married a local teacher Joan. Their marriage only lasted a couple of years. She was unable to deal with the rigours of life as an army wife. A tour of duty took him away for several months soon after their wedding, and when he returned, carrying the weight of post-traumatic-stress-disorder, his emotional distance pushed a wedge between them.
The final straw came when Adam transferred into the military police, and they were forced to relocate. Joan refused to follow him. They finally divorced in 2005.
Adam dedicated himself to his work, until 2007, when his parents were killed in a car crash.
Their death forced him to take guardianship of his baby sister Christine. Born in 1995, she was two years old when Adam joined up. She knew him only as an occasional visitor, and saw him more as a distant uncle than a brother.
In the months that followed Adam bought himself out of the army, moved back into the family home with Christine, and joined the Metropolitan Police. He tried to offer her stability, but the grief of loosing her parents, the tribulations of adolescents, and his dedication to his work, meant Adam found her difficult to deal with.
A growing resentment developed between them. The older she got, the more defiant she became, until finally, in the summer of 2012, she moved in with her drug dealing boyfriend.
Angry, Adam was left with an unresolved sense of guilt that he didn’t do better by her. A year later, and they’re on opposite sides of the war on drugs, no closer to resolving their differences, until drug eating insects attack Christine’s boyfriend.
What is prohibition really about?
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.
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.