The Drug War as a Litmus Test for Philosophical Wisdom
At the risk of flattering myself, I have concluded that an American’s level of philosophical sophistication is in direct proportion to their ability to see through Drug War lies, for the Drug War is based on a variety of unspoken assumptions which do not stand up to logical scrutiny. That’s why I say that Thomas Fleming is a great historian but a lousy philosopher. That’s why I say that Francis Fukuyama is a great sociocultural critic but a lousy philosopher. That’s why I say that Michael Pollan is a great naturalist but a lousy philosopher. For each of these authors fails to see the Drug War for the vast system of lies and misrepresentations that it is.
Thomas Fleming, for instance, tells us how racial prejudice, witch hunting and McCarthyism are prime examples of “a disease in the public mind”, and yet the late historian ignored the fact that he himself was living and writing during the time of perhaps the greatest of all such diseases, namely the Drug War, which, like its fellows, gave Americans a disastrous lens through which to view the world around them — an ideologically blurred lens that blinded us to the thousands of deaths that the Drug War caused every year in inner cities, including 2,000 deaths in Chicago alone in 2021, thanks to the gun violence that was a direct result of prohibition.
Francis Fukuyama writes compellingly about the excesses of the left and right and how they are placing Liberalism in jeopardy, and yet he tells us that the push to defund the police is one of these excesses. Why? Because, he says, the police are needed in the inner cities to fight drug-related violence. To which the true philosopher responds, “Wait a minute, Francis: the police CAUSED that drug-related violence thanks to their enforcement of the new prohibition, which created gangs and cartels as surely as the old prohibition created the Mafia. To call on the police to help solve the problem of inner-city violence then is like calling on an arsonist to help battle the fire that he himself created.”
Michael Pollan is certainly receptive to the idea that Drug War ideology blinds us to certain truths, as for instance he acknowledged after criticism that the term “recreational drug use” is fraught at best, since one person’s recreational use could be another person’s therapy and/or spiritual experience. That said, Michael fails to realize that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Drug War linguistic misdirection. The very idea of “drugs” as defined today is a modern creation, designed to demonize politically despised psychoactive substances. “Drugs” is a political term, meaning “substances of which historically and pharmacologically clueless politicians disapprove.” To start discussing the topic of “drugs,” as Pollan does, without acknowledging this fact, is to render everything one says on this topic problematic at best.
In short, a modern Diogenes would not need a lantern to find a wise human being. He would simply need to ask the candidates what they thought about the “drug” problem. Any respondent who did not begin their answer by discoursing at length on the pejorative and hypocritical nature of the term “drug” itself could be quickly scratched off the list of potential know-it-alls.