"If you sell drugs, we are going to kill you."
By Claude Tower, Prisoner of War in America
President Clinton recently signed accords with the president of Mexico explaining what each of them intended to accomplish in the drug war. Mexico was committed to expunging corruption from their corps of dope cops. The U.S., Clinton promised, will drastically reduce the demand for drugs. This community of interest was described in the press as "symbolic." Neither president let out a peep about how he intended to accomplish his purposes. Clinton moved on to Costa Rica.
Still, he called attention to the craving for psychoactive experiences in our culture. With barely five per cent of the world's population the United States ingests, by informed estimates, about fifty per cent of the world's supply of controlled substances. What could be such a hunger? Does Clinton think he knows? Can the government do anything constructive about it, or have they lost the capacity to relate to their distressed citizens as anything but spies, jailers, and hypocrites?
What is feeding our obsession with getting high? Sure, it's natural to unwind with a little partying. People have always done it. Many pot growers know that animals aren't above it, either. Beer companies, for example, know that 10% of the beer drinkers drink 85% of the beer. (Thus the predictable sameness of beer ads.) Those 10% aren't having a good time. They're trying to get something from alcohol that it can't give them. From what I've seen of life, other drugs have varying distributions of innocuous partyers and hard core obsessives among their consumers. The latter drive the demand for drugs and cause the social damage. The government has refused to distinguish responsible and socially neutral (or constructive) use from self-destructive compulsion. What useful input can they have toward lessening demand?
The situation is this. When we discuss reducing the demand for drugs we are talking about happiness, what it is and how to attain it. In the U.S. our reliance on reason and knowledge has made us able to manipulate our environment and granted us a garden of delights. As Sartre said, everything has been figured out, except how to live.
Our "pursuit of happiness" has brought us to a deep malaise. Twenty-some percent of Americans grind their teeth at night, prey to generalized hostility and frustration. We have every kind of communication - E-mail, cellular phones, pagers - but family members and neighbors don't talk to each other. There is a vacuum inside us which we attempt to fill by smoking, drinking, working, eating, watching TV, having sex - and doping.
We don't hog down booze because we are thirsty. We don't become porkers because we are hungry. We do these things because we have a hole in our spirit and we are trying to fill it with something.
We have granted ourselves the right to pursue happiness, but is that the way to obtain it? As my son's girlfriend from Mexico City observed, "There is so much wealth here, and so little joy." The way many Americans go after it, wanting "it all." They get carried away. Grimly fixated and fanatical, unable to stop or reflect, they always purport to be just about to attain happiness. Yet the sages all say that you never find it until you stop striving for it.
The task of alleviating drug demand goes to the core of our assumptions about living and what is worthwhile. It will take great wisdom to even make a beginning. So who weighs in with a plan a week after the Mexican accords? Newt Gingrich does. Our misanthropic and vindictive "problem solver" is out and in the media advocating the death penalty for dealers. "If you sell drugs, we're going to kill you," he said to the Christian broadcasters. He says this will guarantee a completely drug free America by 2002.
What we could actually expect from such a "program" would be:
Heroin would become much more popular. Dealers would want its high profits to correlate with their high risks.
More violence. People facing the death penalty won't accept an arrest. They'll fight.
Vastly more corruption. With policing becoming much more dangerous the option of going on the take would be increasingly attractive, and accepted. Isn't this what has already happened in Mexico?
So the other shoe has dropped. Brilliant, Newt, brilliant.
I can't help thinking of all those trillions and trillions of dollars we were told the Defense Department needed to prevent a police state here. Having supposedly won the struggle with tyranny, we're now being told that China's the model for dealing with our citizens. The People's Republic of China summarily executes heroin entrepreneurs with a bullet to the back of the head.
It seems one can't become cynical fast enough to keep up with the circumstances.