Posts Tagged ‘War On Drugs’

Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front cover

by Chaz Bufe, author of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?

There are direct connections between the beliefs underlying Alcoholic Anonymous and those underlying the “war on drugs.” The most fundamental is that alcohol and other drugs are “cunning, baffling, powerful!” (to quote AA’s  “Big Book”) This belief is reflected in the common “drug war” term “dangerous drugs” in reference to illegal drugs, which combined, until recently, to kill about 5% of the roughly half-million Americans killed annually by tobacco and alcohol; today, about 50,000 are killed annually by overdoses, the vast majority by opioid overdoses. In other words, alcohol (roughly 100,000 deaths) and tobacco (roughly 400,000 deaths) kill ten times as many Americans as all illegal (and misdirected pharmaceutical) drugs combined.

To put this in further perspective, “drug warriors” almost never refer to alcohol and tobacco as “dangerous drugs,” while they do routinely refer to marijuana, which has never killed a soul, as a “dangerous drug.” Some of them might actually believe that it is.

The concomitant belief, that human beings are “powerless” over “cunning, baffling, powerful!” drugs, is shared by both AA and drug prohibitionists. In AA and its clones (NA, CA, etc.) that belief is enshrined in the first of the 12 steps. It’s also part of the bedrock of the “drug war”: if people are powerless and drugs are powerful, the only way to stop the harm of drug addiction is to cut off the supply of drugs.

The other underlying “drug war” belief is based in punitive Christian morality: the belief that the only way to deal with prohibited (sinful) behavior is through punitive measures–in the case of drugs, that it’s necessary to lock people in cages for using drugs and for making drugs available to others.

Another aspect of this belief system, common to both AA and the “drug war,”  is the belief that drug use and abuse are an individual matter, that individual drug users and abusers are either victims of a “disease” (according to AA — never mind the absurdity of labeling behaviors as “diseases”) or are criminals (according to “drug warriors”). What ties these two seemingly disparate beliefs together is that they both divorce drug use and abuse from their social and economic contexts.

A moment’s reflection shows that this is an absurd approach. If drug use and abuse were entirely the result of individual immorality or individual powerlessness over drugs,  the rates of drug use and abuse would not vary drastically (if at all) from one nation to another, nor would the rates vary wildly within nations over the years. But they do. Neither “disease” advocates nor “drug warriors” can explain these variances. To explain them, you need to consider social and economic contexts.

A case in point is a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Princeton researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton on the increased mortality rate among middle-aged white, especially male, Americans aged 45 to 54 from 1998 to 2015, with the increase being .5% per year. During the previous two decades, 1978 to 1998, the mortality in that age range had been decreasing by about 2% per year–as indeed it’s continued to do so in all of the other developed countries since 1998. Why? The researchers posit that, while there’s no definitive proof, these increases are likely due to an increased suicide rate and increased drug and alcohol abuse triggered at least in part by increased financial stress.

If 12-step advocates and drug prohibitionists were correct that the use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs is a result only of individual “disease” or inherent “criminal” (sinful) tendencies, this increase in drug and alcohol abuse would not have happened. But it did. The solution advanced by 12-step advocates is treatment, and by “drug warriors” is a combination of imprisonment and treatment. In both cases, the treatment offered is almost exclusively 12-step treatment, which does not consider social or economic contexts nor social or economic solutions, but rather focuses exclusively on individual “wrongs,” “shortcomings,” and “defects of character” (respectively, steps  5, 7, and 6), with the solution to alcohol/drug abuse being “prayer” (step 11), taking a “moral inventory” (step 4), and “turn[ing] our will and our lives over to the care of God” (step 3).

As one would expect, the 12-step religious program does not work very well. As covered in  a previous post, Alcoholics Anonymous is not effective, both AA’s own statistics (“Comments on AA’s Triennial Surveys”) and controlled studies report that the recovery rate in AA is no better than the rate of spontaneous remission, about 5% annually. Controlled studies of formal 12-step treatment have been even more dismal, with some components used in such treatment, e.g. confrontational “counseling,” having negative outcomes.

So, what do AA advocates and “drug warriors” lean on for scientific support?

One of the standard studies cited — quite possibly the most commonly cited — by 12-step advocates and prohibitionists was conducted in the 1960s. It involved placing rats in Skinner boxes (small boxes with no toys or other amenities–essentially solitary confinement for rats in an ultra-deprived environment) and then giving the rats the choice of either plain water to drink or water laced with morphine. Surprise, surprise — the rats chose the water with morphine. This study was widely cited by both drug prohibitionists and the mass media as “proof” that rats, and by extension people, are powerless over irresistible drugs.

In the 1970s, researchers at Simon Fraser University conducted a similar study, but with the rats in a much larger cage filled “with things that rats like, such as platforms for climbing, tin cans for hiding in, wood chips for strewing around, and running wheels for exercise. Naturally we included lots of rats of both sexes, and naturally the place soon was teeming with babies. The rats loved it and we loved it too, so we called it ‘Rat Park.'” The results? The Rat Park experiment showed that in this rich environment the rats ignored the morphine-laced water and drank plain water instead. The initial study was published in 1978 in the scientific  journal Psychophramacology. The mass media, government, and disease-concept advocates ignored it, and AA, 12-step treatment, and the “war on drugs” rolled on, leaving millions of ruined lives in their wake.

The lessons of all this are obvious: It’s time to stop blaming those who are self-medicating, and to stop looking at drug use, abuse, and addiction as the result of individual sinfulness or “disease.” It’s time to stop locking people in cages.

It is time to start looking at, and addressing, the environmental, economic, and social reasons why millions of people find life so intolerable that they — like rats in a deprived environment — feel the need to seek solace in drugs, alcohol, and illegal drugs. And it’s long past time to start doing something about the environmental, economic, and social reasons for drug use, abuse, and addiction.

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For more information on Rat Park, see lead researcher Bruce K. Alexander’s 2010 book, The Globalization of Addiction: A study in poverty of the spirit. 

Related Posts

We just put up our 1,000th post —  this  is number 1,002 –a few days ago. We’re now looking through everything we’ve posted, and are putting up “best of” lists in our most popular categories.

This is the second of our first-1,000 “best of” lists. We posted the science fiction “best of” list two days ago, and will shortly be putting up other “best ofs” in several other categories, including Anarchism, Atheism, Economics, Humor, Interviews, Music, Politics, Religion, Science, and Skepticism.

Best Addictions Posts

by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

(All of the things I refer to in the following post are matters of abundant public record. Doubt anything here?  — look it up.)

Let’s consider who would be worse in the following areas:

Civil Liberties & Open Government — Clinton has a decades-long penchant for secrecy (see the e-mail scandal and her botched early ’90s attempt at healthcare reform) and has called hero-whistleblower Edward Snowden a “traitor.” Trump wants to make it far easier to sue people for their comments, and has called for the murder of Snowden. Who’s probably worse? — Tossup

Supreme Court — Who would appoint the most anti-civil-liberties, pro-corporate nominees? Clinton would probably appoint middle-of-the-road types, and Trump would likely play to his base and appoint rightist authoritarians. Who’s probably worse? — Trump

Wall Street Reform —  Despite his common-man pretensions, Trump, who inherited at least tens of millions, is one of the insiders, and Clinton is seriously beholden to Wall Street. Would she do anything to financially threaten her backers? Highly doubtful. Who’s probably worse? — Tossup

Job Creation — A certain level of unemployment is helpful to employers in keeping wages down, so it’s virtually certain neither of these corporate tools would do anything meaningful in this area. Who’s probably worse? — Tossup

Cost of Education — Fewer and fewer American families can afford to send their children to college, and millions of those who do go come out of college burdened with crushing debt. Trump, who never had to worry about such things, would very likely do nothing about this. Clinton would likely initiate a few token reforms, in effect applying a band-aid to a gushing hemorrhage. Who’s probably worse? — Trump (barely)

Universal Healthcare  — Both Clinton and Trump oppose it. Clinton has taken tens of millions from the private healthcare industry, and has promised to “build on” Obamacare rather than expand Medicare or initiate some other single-payer program. Instead, she’ll propose incremental changes to Obamacare that will allow big pharma and the insurance industry to continue to gouge the public. Trump will likely leave Obamacare alone for the most part, as the idea of depriving millions of voters of health insurance is politically radioactive. Neither Trump nor Clinton will do anything to advance universal healthcare. Who’s probably worse? — Tossup

Income Inequality — Trump is spewing the standard GOP Horatio Alger b.s. about “opportunity,” utterly ignoring the fact that the economic system is rigged in favor of the rich, and Clinton is running a “no we can’t” campaign, saying in veiled words that there’s nothing to be done about the theft of massive amounts of wealth from poor and working people and its transfer to the top 1%. Who’s probably worse? — Tossup

Foreign Policy — Clinton likes to kill people. She likes drones. She likes military intervention. She likes coups (e.g., the U.S.-approved coup in Honduras while she was Secretary of State). Trump, judging from his rhetoric, probably does too. But he hasn’t had the chance to fully demonstrate it. They’d both probably continue to support brutal, authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and elsewhere. But it’s certain that Clinton would do so; with Trump — given the incoherence of his statements and positions — it’s hard to tell.  They both want to prove how “tough” they are — in other words, how callous, brutal, and bloodthirsty they are. Mayhem will result no matter which of them is elected. Who’s probably worse? — Clinton

Israel/Palestine — Clinton is in the pocket of AIPAC and the Israeli extreme right, and her superpac has taken money from at least one extreme-right, extremely wealthy pro-Israel businessmen. She has pledged “unconditional support” for Israel, which if she actually means it (always an iffy proposition), means that she’ll place the welfare of the Israeli state above that of the United States. (The interests of the U.S. and Israel aren’t identical, and cannot be identical.) Trump probably is just as much a stooge for the Israeli extreme right, but he hasn’t  as abjectly demonstrated it. Who’s probably worse? — Clinton

Military Spending — Thanks to easily frightened idiot voters and vested corporate interests, the U.S. currently accounts for 43% of total worldwide military spending–more than the next eight nations combined.  Both Trump and Clinton worship at the altar of the military, and will almost certainly continue to do so. Who’s probably worse? — Tossup

Climate Change — Trump is (at least for primary-voter purposes) a climate change denier. Clinton seems to accept the science, but it’s doubtful how vigorously she’d address the problem. She opposes one of the most effective measures to reduce CO2 emissions, a carbon tax, and when Secretary of State she tried to push other countries into fracking. Who’s probably worse? — Trump

Immigration — Both Clinton and Trump would continue to back authoritarian governments and austerity programs overseas, governments and programs that drive people from their homes in droves creating the “immigration crisis.” However, Trump is overtly racist and has proposed horrendous measures at home. In contrast, Clinton would in all probability merely step into Obama’s shoes as “deporter in chief.” Who’s probably worse? — Trump

TTP and other Trade Deals — Hillary Clinton was in favor of TTP until she flip flopped on it last year. Previously, she spoke in favor of it more than 30 times and called it the “gold standard” of trade agreements. Make your own judgments about her sincerity. Trump is so incoherent on trade that it’s impossible to say what he’d do. Who’s probably worse? — Tossup

Reproductive Rights — Trump is openly pandering to his racist/misogynist/authoritarian base. Clinton, in turn, is pandering to those who are voting for her simply because she’s a woman (and who were presumably thrilled by the election of Margaret Thatcher 37 years ago). Nonetheless, one suspects that in this area Clinton actually has some principles and will act on them. In contrast, Trump, who previously publicly favored reproductive rights,  is now pandering to the religious right. Who’s probably worse? — Trump

LGBT Rights — Trump, who probably doesn’t care about this issue at all, is currently pandering to the religious right, endorsing its anti-transgender sideshow.  Clinton in contrast might actually care about this issue, and would likely deliver on LGBT rights should she be elected, because that would cost her corporate backers nothing. Who’s probably worse? — Trump

“War on Drugs” — Back in 1990, Trump said he was in favor of legalizing drugs to “win” the “war on drugs.” More recently, he’s flip flopped back and forth on the issue. Clinton, characteristically, has repeatedly refused to take a stand even on pot legalization. Given her “no we can’t” incrementalism, it’s highly unlikely she’d initiate any major reforms to scale back or eliminate the “war on drugs.” And she’d be wedged in by the authoritarian “drug warriors” in her own party and by the Republicans, who would very probably go nuts if she’d try to initiate any real reforms. Trump, in contrast, would be much freer to initiate real reforms. Who’s probably worse? — Clinton


Final Thoughts

One other consideration is that if Clinton is elected, and predictably does  nothing about economic inequality, there will very probably be an even more extreme far-right backlash than there is now,  as Fox “News” and the rest of the right-wing echo chamber present the authoritarian right-centrist Clinton as a “leftist” or even a “socialist.”  She’ll also almost certainly continue Obama’s war on whistleblowers and, under the guise of national security, will whittle away at what remains of our freedoms. And the Democrats will do nothing to oppose her. If Trump is elected, the Democrats will probably show what passes for spine, stand up to some extent to his authoritarianism (which they haven’t done against Obama), and there would likely be a relatively large leftist backlash against Trump and his inevitable failures.

In other words, Clinton’s election would likely lead to the growth of an outright fascist movement, while proto-fascist Trump’s election might lead to a significant antiauthoritarian leftist backlash. At the same time, Trump’s election might embolden his supporters and lead to an outright fascist movement that would attempt to crush leftist opposition. It’s an ugly, all-too-possible scenario.

The upside to all this? If Clinton wins, the look on Trump’s, Mike Pence’s, Jabba the Ailes’,  and Trump’s smug, entitled kids’ faces. If Trump wins, the looks on Bill and Hillary Clinton’s, Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s, Diane Feinstein’s, and Rahm Emanuel’s faces. And, if Trump wins, the iron hold of the authoritarian neo-liberal corporatists on the Democratic Party might be broken, or at least loosened.

It’s cold comfort.

Clinton vs. Trump? It’s a nauseating choice. That one or the other of these deeply dishonest, opportunistic, power-mad authoritarians will take control of the vast American surveillance/coercive state is horrifying.

In Part I, we saw that the distribution of income and, especially, wealth in the U.S. is extremely inequitable, with the top 1% owning 42% of financial (nonhome) wealth, with the top .1% owning as much as the bottom 90% combined, and that the bottom 50% of the population owns essentially no wealth at all. As well, since total wealth in the U.S. is currently $81.5 trillion, average (not median–which is half above, half below) per capita wealth comes to over a quarter of a million dollars. Yet distribution of wealth is so lopsided that most people have almost no net worth.

We also saw that American workers–who have one of the highest average work weeks in the world, 47 hours–have seen their real wages decline nearly 10% since 1973, while productivity per hour worked increased by, on average, over 1.75% per year during the same period; compounded, that works out to an over 80% increase in productivity. So, American working people are producing far more than we did four decades ago, and are being paid less. To maintain the same average standard of living as in 1973, we should (assuming a 40-hour work week then) only be working 22 hours per week, had wage increases kept pace with productivity.

In Part II, we saw that working and “middle class” people (an increasingly quaint concept) pay higher taxes than the top 1%. There are two primary reasons for this: 1) Capital gains income is taxed at a far lower rate (15%)  than a good majority of earned (through work) income (with a rate of 28% starting at $37,000); and 2) Other taxes (sales, property, social security, gas, “sin”) hit average people, who spend almost all of their income, far harder than those in the top income brackets, who don’t. It works out that a single worker earning $10 an hour pays taxes amounting to roughly 40% of his or her income, while a nonworker in the top .1% only pays about 30%.

Eliminate that 10% difference in tax rates, and the average worker would have 10% more income–or could work 10% fewer hours to maintain his or her standard of living. Adding that to the 18 hours of work per week that should have been eliminated over the last four decades, and it means that the average work week should now only be 18 hours.

But the situation is even more extreme than that, for two reasons.

Wasted Taxes

The first is that a very large amount of tax money is either wasted or is spent on worse-than-useless things, things that increase human misery. Military spending is  at the forefront. U.S. military spending (not “defense spending”–the U.S. hasn’t fought a defensive war since World War II) came to approximately $600 billion in 2014. The next highest spender, China spent at most about one-third of that. (The estimate from the International Institute of Strategic Studies [IISS]; is $129 billion; the estimate of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute [SIPRI] is $210 billion.) So, the U.S. military budget, taking SIPRI’s and IISS’s respectively, is either more than the next eight or ten countries combined. Given that the U.S. is under no military threat, that’s clearly excessive, an indication that the nation is ruled by fear and is under the thrall of, as Dwight Eisenhower put it, the “military-industrial complex.”

If the U.S. were to reduce its level of spending to that of China (taking the high estimate of China’s military spending), it would result in a savings of $400 billion per year, that is a savings of approximately $1,200 for every man, woman, and child in the country, money we could spend on our own needs were taxes to be reduced accordingly.

Then there’s debt financing, which ran to $430 billion in 2014, with about half of that due to military and military-related spending. Add to that another $60 billion or so in veterans spending and roughly $50 billion black budget spending — documents released by Ed Snowden placed it at $52.8 billion in 2012 — and excessive military spending, past (debt interest) and present, came to over $700 billion in 2014.

Other federal, state, and local spending is also wasteful and often harmful. The most obvious example is the “war on drugs” (WOD). Over the last four decades the WOD has cost Americans over $1 trillion and currently costs between $50 and $70 billion per year.

This in large part — along with sheer mean-spiritedness — results in the U.S. having by far the highest rate of incarceration in the world. There are approximately 2.2 million adults incarcerated in the U.S. (add in those under 18 and the figure is considerably higher), with the average cost of incarceration running to over $30,000 per year, for a total of approximately $65 billion annually. This works out to an incarceration rate of roughly 700 people out of every 100,000.  (This is somewhat misleading though, as this considers the number of adults incarcerated as a percentage of total population; considering only the adult population, the rate is just over 1,000 per 100,000.) In other words, the U.S. has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world. In comparison, Finland incarcerates 58 people per 100,000; Sweden 60 per 100,000; the UK 148 per 100,000; and even China only incarcerates 250 people per 100,000 population. If the U.S. reduced its incarceration rate to match that of the UK, it would save over $45 billion annually, money that could be spent on human needs rather than needlessly keeping people locked in cages.

Still, are mass incarceration and the “war on drugs” keeping us safe? Hardly. The U.S. has the highest murder rate of all of the industrialized countries. The U.S. also has the fourth highest rape rate.

Subsidies and Tax Breaks

Tax breaks (“tax expenditures” in bureaucratese), which go overwhelmingly to corporations and the wealthy, will be approximately $1.22 trillion in 2015. This exceeds the $1.11 trillion in federal “discretionary spending” (primarily military spending), and equates to nearly $4,000 per American–though average Americans receive a very small percentage of these breaks. Such tax breaks in part explain why, as we discussed in Part I,  low-income workers pay higher taxes (as a percent of income) than the very rich. And of corporate tax breaks 56% go to just four industries: agriculture, utilities, telecommunications, and fossil fuels.

Then there are direct subsidies. The Cato Institute estimates that the federal government provides $10 billion to $30 billion in direct payments to agribusinesses annually, and another $5 billion providing such things as crop insurance and “marketing support.” Taking the average of $20 billion in direct cash subsidies, it works out that the average citizen is subsidizing agribusiness to the tune of $65 annually in direct cash payments. Make it $75 if you add in subsidized crop insurance and “marketing support.” That’s relative chicken feed, but it’s grating to pay taxes to support profit-making businesses.

There are also massive direct subsidies to the energy industries. Cato reports a taxpayer-funded research program costing $646 million annually “into coal, oil, and natural gas technologies” and another $695 million spent annually on nuclear research. Then there are boondoggles such as the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, which was authorized in 1987, was supposed to go into operation in 1998, which thus far has cost taxpayers $10 billion — and which is still not storing a single ounce of nuclear waste.

There are other subsidies and other boondoggles, but why go on? This is a blog post, not a book.

Add all of the money wasted on unnecessary military spending, the war on drugs, unnecessary mass incarceration, and direct subsidies to industries — and there’s much other wasteful government spending — and on a per capita basis wasteful spending in these areas comes to over $1,500 annually. Add in tax subsidies to corporations and the wealthy, and the total rises to roughly $5,000 per capita (money that comes from excess taxation of low- and middle-income working people, and from government borrowing).

Then there are the great and inherent inefficiencies in capitalism, something we’ll consider in the concluding post of this series.






Front cover of Provocations:  Don't Call Them Libertarians, AA Lies, and Other Provocations, by Chaz Bufe


(This is a brief excerpt from the essay “A Future Worth Living” that will appear in Provocations: Don’t Call Them Libertarians, AA Lies, and Other Incitements, by Chaz Bufe, which is scheduled for October publication.)


The religious folk in large part responsible for the “war on drugs,” attempts to outlaw abortion,  anti-blasphemy laws, anti-sodomy laws, obscenity laws, attempts to outlaw contraception,  etc.,  justify their positions with perverse, often transparently faulty,  “moral” arguments. Why? To mask the fact that they simply enjoy inflicting pain upon the “immoral.”  (You might object that some of these repressive measures  no longer exist in the United States, but the point is that they’re gone despite religious conservatives, not because of them.)

Probably the clearest example of the religious tendency toward “moral” sadism is the support by religious conservatives of the death penalty. At this point, it’s beyond dispute that this penalty is applied very unequally, with its victims being primarily poor and nonwhite.

It’s also beyond dispute that many, many innocent people have been wrongfully executed, and that more are scheduled to be. A current estimate puts the percentage of the wrongfully executed at 4%. Frankly, this seems low, given widespread prosecutorial vindictiveness and misconduct (withholding exculpatory evidence, for instance), the routinely inadequate legal representation of poor defendants, and the notorious unreliability of eyewitness testimony.

All this matters not a whit to conservative religious folk. It doesn’t matter to these “freedom lovers” that handing the government the power to kill its citizens is the ultimate triumph of the state over the individual. Nor does it matter to these “conservatives” that they themselves routinely portray government as being unable to find its metaphorical butt with both hands.

No.  They support capital punishment for one overriding reason: they want blood. And it doesn’t matter to them that the blood of  innocents is mixed with the blood of the guilty.

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