Mao Zedong, North Korea’s Kim dynasty, Hitler and Stalin attempted to control individual choices using the finest 20th Century techniques. Their ferocious efforts led to millions of deaths. They made every attempt to eradicate their enemies, all their enemies! And they failed. Attempting to eradicate drugs has also failed because the effort is predicated on controlling individual choices. Massive resources are devoted to the ‘war on drugs’ but not as many as the Chinese, the north Koreans, nazi Germany or the Soviets employed. Perhaps their stories could help to inform the current debate on the ‘ war on drugs’? For example, why does the British government believe that they can do better than fascist dictatorships in controlling individual choices?
Controlling individual choices implies monochrome societies relying on a single version of the good life. Political leaders generalise from their preferred social model to legislation, which resembles an intellectually bereft emotional spasm. Dictators are prone to emotional spasms because their sychophants support their every firmly held belief. Wielding enormous coercive power dictators expect successful conclusions to their wishes. That every expected conclusion doesn’t always happen is deeply troubling. For a dictator this is intolerable. Believing human nature to be tractable, if an only if, everyone tries harder drives repression forward to greater excesses. Repression increases and the seeds of the destruction of the system harden into subversive reality.
A few historical examples are helpful at this point. In slave-owning USA there were at least 250 slave rebellions: Nat Turner, Virginia 1831 is possibly the best known. Resistance to nazi Germany was classically seen in the Warsaw Ghetto, which resisted the German Army for two months, April- May 1943. Even more spectacular was the resistance in concentration camps especially Treblinka, August 1943. The Soviet Union used a system of GULAG prison camps in arbitrarily imprison their population as a policy of intimidation. This was arbitrary and it normalised fear for all levels of society resulting in trust disappearing. The higher reaches of the Soviet Union collapsed into gangsterism. The murder, by his politburo colleagues, in 1953 of Lavrentiy Beria (Marshall of the Soviet Union and deputy prime minister) exemplifies this gangsterism. The Soviet Union died from the head down.
Obviously my ultimate point is that all drug laws fail because of the intractability of human nature. There is very persuasive evidence for this from numerous different political environments. Attempting social control in a democracy is quixotic (in the sense of being utterly impractical even if idealistic). In UK prisons it is confidently estimated that 30,000 prisoners take hard drugs, this is 35% of the total prison population.* Bearing this in mind even the most evangelical bigot might ponder whether controlling access to hard drugs outside prison is mission impossible, regardless of the efforts employed. Intelligent pro- active decriminalising of drug- taking is the only solution to the abuse of drugs. Consumption of the hard drug ‘tobacco’ has been reduced by regulation and education. For example the thirty- eight years 1974- 2012 saw UK men using tobacco declining from 51% to 22%** and naturally the death rate fell as well.
In this post, my third on individual freedom in the UK, an extended historical review suggest that drug laws are futile. Much, much worse, they cause social harm and are corrosive of the society that they are allegedly trying to protect. Drug laws are crude ineffective weapons and there are demonstrable sophisticated alternative that work. The losses of freedom by the general population are so pervasive that they are not remotely compensated for by illusionary ‘victories’. Surveillance in the UK is currently at prison camp levels and is being driven by manufactured fear. Economic damage, families wrecked, escalating prison costs and palpable social destruction are the outcome of politicians unable to right a hundred year wrong by decriminalising class ‘A’ drugs.
* Guardian 19th Mar. 2010 Max Chambers The truth about drugs in prison
** Action on smoking and health sheet, Oct 2013