Daily Lobo: How did you decide on the black market as a topic for this book?
Eric Schlosser: You might think of a black market in New York City, but you wouldn't think of it in the heartland of America. So that started me thinking about the workings of the underground. Each part of the book looks at an aspect of the underground - marijuana as a black-market commodity, farm workers in California as black-market labor and the pornography industry as a case study on how the black market becomes a corporate mainstream market.
DL: If not marijuana, what do you think is the most devastating and detrimental drug in our society?
ES: If you were to pick a deadly toxic drug that really threatens the health of this country, it's alcohol. It's all about cultural taboos. Even though marijuana is much less toxic than alcohol, you can lose your student loans, you can lose your driver's license, your house, your federal benefits and go to prison, but we're advertising Budweiser on the Super Bowl. I can't accept that.
DL: Would the first step in lifting the taboo off of marijuana be to decriminalize it?
ES: Absolutely. I think the United States could decriminalize marijuana tomorrow and the only effect would be that the police would spend more of their time going after armed robbers and rapists and murderers, and not having to worry about busting someone for an ounce of pot. This country is taking massive amounts of drugs right now, except instead of the drugs being marijuana and ecstasy, those drugs are Paxil and alcohol. The notion of America being drug free is just absurd. Children are being given Paxil and Ritalin.
Not to mention Bob Dole, former Republican nominee for president, selling Viagra, and yet somehow we're supposed to be drug free? It's just a little hypocritical, don't you think?
DL: Why is the war on drugs such a failure?
ES: It is a failure in the sense of preventing people from smoking pot, but it is a success in terms of punishing people who are not conformists. You know if those people don't get busted, those people still cannot be hired by the mainstream corporations who do rigorous drug testing of their employees. So, it's a way of keeping out of influence and keeping out of power people who have alternative ways of living. To that degree, it is a success, but I think it is succeeding in doing something totally wrong. It's another war that we're fighting that doesn't look likely to be won.
DL: What was your reason for choosing the pornography industry as a facet of the black market to examine in your book?
ES: It is an interesting look at the huge triumph of the religious right in American society. It is far more powerful and prevalent than any other western industrialized nation, yet America also has the most hardcore porn. That is revealing of the huge contradiction in our culture that having this right-wing, Christian domination of so much of the culture breeds an obsession with sex in the most plastic and superficial way.
DL: What should the government's limit be on obscenity laws?
ES: I think we should get rid of the obscenity laws completely. Obscenity is a religious concept connected to notions of blasphemy, and I just don't know that it has any place in our laws.
DL: After writing about the ignorance, contractions and exploitations in this country, is it hard to keep your opinions out of your work?
ES: I must be really repressed. What I try to do in my work - and this is where the repression comes in - is to try and write about these things in a calm and non-judgmental way and allow the facts to speak for themselves because that speaks louder than any argument I could make. A lot of my work is taking people who don't have access to the mainstream media and allowing them to have a voice.
DL: Does the book you are working on connect with the themes or ideas in your previous books?
ES: This book is going to try to answer a simple question: How did the land of the free become the biggest prison nation in world history? We have more people in prison than any society, ever. The book is going to try to understand how that happened.
DL: Any guesses on how this happened?
ES: If the laws reflect what people feel, then people obey the laws. If there is a law against smoking a joint and yet millions of Americans do it every day, then the law is out of step with people. I think that increasingly on the left and the right you can find a real alienation in this society from the government and the laws.
DL: What changes would you like your work to ideally affect?
ES: I really wouldn't presume that anything I write is going to change the world, but what I would really love to think is that people who read my work will think. I'm not setting out to persuade them one way or another. People have to make up their own minds, but to not know, to live unaware of what's going on, is to me the saddest part of it. I'm angry about a lot of what is going on in America, but at the same time I really love this country. If I didn't feel like things could be changed or things could be different, I wouldn't bother writing any of these things at all. I still think if people know what is going on, things could be different.
DL: If there is one piece of advice you want readers to take away from your work, what is it?
ES: Open your eyes.
For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below
We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.