I’ve analyzed the psychology of Prohibition before, concluding that the War on Drugs is a deceit maintained by the national ego. In this article I take a deeper look at how the desire for control affects our laws and language. This is a prelude to my six-part essay on language called Reclaiming the Prohibition Debate.
None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.
Humans like to feel in control. This is not always a bad thing, but it becomes problematic when we are so obsessed with the illusion of control that we forego the real thing.
The war on drugs is a lost war, and worse, a sham intended to placate us. This desperate bid to maintain the appearance of law and order does not benefit us; it benefits the prison-industrial complex (now a lucrative private business, about as anti-humanitarian as a business can get), police departments (who use the War on Drugs to seize property and justify their bloated budgets), pharmaceutical companies (who oppose public access to cheap, effective, and un-patentable chemicals), and of course drug cartels.
Prohibition is the opposite of control; it is the state’s complete abdication of responsibility over the drug trade.
These are the people and institutions profiting from the status quo. Not the average citizen, in whose interests all laws are supposed to be made. Are democratic ideals completely foreign in modern America? As a society we should take actions that actually empower us, the people, and not just entrenched institutions.
The drug war terminology demonstrates our cognitive dissonance. We call illicit drugs “controlled substances” when in reality they are the most wildly uncontrolled commodities around. Prohibition is the opposite of control; it is the state’s complete abdication of responsibility over the drug trade. From marketing and distribution to quality assurance and sales, we have handed full control of drugs over to international cartels and crime syndicates. They answer to no one.
Prohibition can never eliminate drug use; it can only eliminate safe drug use.
When were the harms associated with alcohol consumption the highest? During 1920s Prohibition, when America turned a legitimate business into a criminal enterprise. This didn’t eliminate drinking, but succeeded in making it much more dangerous while giving rise to the American Mafia. Gangsters like Al Capone quickly took over what had previously been a clean, regulated business. Prohibition can never eliminate drug use; it can only eliminate safe drug use.
The fact that we refer to drugs pushed to the black market as “controlled substances” reveals a deep-seated issue in our culture. Many of us desperately need to feel in control; this natural compulsion can be as strong as the fear of the unknown. Perhaps they are two sides of the same coin. It’s a deep and ancient fear; even people who are comfortable with death and public speaking may panic when they feel out of control.
Our bureaucratic doubletalk is just a large-scale defense mechanism, a lullaby of lies with which we console ourselves.
This natural fear becomes toxic when coupled with the desire to follow directions. This is the authoritarian impulse: a hunger not only for control, but to be controlled. Many of us are perfectly happy to fit into a system where we are told exactly what to do, and able to tell others what to do through legislation. We embrace the pecking order without question.
As individuals and as a nation, we want to feel in control of our problems, among them crime, poverty, unemployment, and public health. We dump money into drug prohibition in order to feel that we are combating all four. Drug users are a convenient scapegoat: If we could just keep those druggies in line we’d have a healthier, wealthier, more productive, safer country. I’m tempted to say the same thing about fear-mongering authoritarians and nanny-state supporters in Congress, the media, and the voting public.
We think we live in the land of the free, but really we restrict freedoms at the drop of a hat.
Could it be any more obvious that fear and insecurity are running the show here? Do our egos need to maintain the illusion of control so desperately that we must limit everyone to a handful of sanctioned mental states, criminalizing those who would dare explore the outer regions of consciousness? The answer from uncritical mainstream America seems to be yes.
We think we live in the land of the free, but that’s just another reassuring myth. The truth is that we will restrict freedoms at the drop of a hat. It is frighteningly easy to enact laws that limit civil liberties, as long as they only affect a minority of people–such as recreational drug users (or poor blacks, who are disproportionately targeted by the War on Drugs by a huge margin). But repealing restrictive laws in order to win freedom back takes great effort, time, and expense. In a nation truly focused on protecting human rights, the opposite would be true. The burden of proof ought to lie with those who would restrict our liberties, not those who seek to free us.
We are gluttons of control, abetting the criminals in our own imprisonment.
This obsession with control is not unique to our legislators, unfortunately. We are gluttons of control, abetting the criminals in our own imprisonment. A groundswell of support erupts for almost any authoritarian measure you can dream up. First cannabis, then the psychedelics, and now “synthetic drugs,” all banned in hysterical knee-jerk reactions. Alcohol remains the only substance whose national prohibition has ever been reversed. In spite of our lip service to freedom, we remain stuck under the thumb of fearful and neurotic powers.
Perhaps the real “Controlled Substance” is the grey matter in the heads of people who parrot the same bad party lines for the same bad reasons, year after year, decade after decade, in spite of all the evidence against them.
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