03 May 2012

Nuking our Drug Delusion?

In a thoughtful comment to the post of 1 May 2012, friend and brother Pastor Josh Patty raised a couple of interesting wrinkles regarding consideration of the national/global drug infestation problem.

First, he mentions the common attraction of “nuclear options,” such as bombing Columbia back into the Stone Age, and correctly points out that we’re already using fairly extreme options with long prison sentences.

Second, Josh accurately points out that history is not exactly full of examples where any society has eliminated or even significantly reduced drug use unless that reduction was in favor of yet another intoxicant.

Nuclear options:

Extreme reactions, even beyond those currently in play, are popular subjects of political planning, public discussion and even popular fiction.

In the past year or so, there was a proposal to release a genetically altered biological agent (I’m not sure if the sponsors were talking bacteria, virus or fungus) into cocaine producing areas. The plan was that such an agent would be lethal to the coca plant or at least alter that species to the extent that it would no longer produce cocaine. Thankfully, saner minds prevailed. There are something on the order of 330,000 known plant species, 60,000 vertebrate species, 1.2 million invertebrate species.  It would be pretty cheeky to “guarantee” that a genetically altered biological agent would be limited in effect to a single species.

There are lots of species that are some what useful. Indeed, cocaine itself has some minor medical applications which pale, of course, when compared to the effects of its abuses as a recreational drug.

Other species are critical: Imagine turning something loose that would accidentally kill off the corn crops or wheat crops. While that might be improbable, it’s not very bright to do something that has a low but existing probability of causing catastrophic harm.

The Tom Clancy novel Clear and Present Danger was based upon a plot where American special forces are inserted into cocaine growing regions in South America to destroy processing facilities and kill drug dealers. It’s fiction, but it still has some delicious attraction if you forget things like national sovereignty and the fact (see below) that drug gangs are, by and large, not a bunch of sissies and are indeed both violent and capable.

Other proposals in both the real world and fiction have been made to “tighten the borders” because a significant portion of illegal drugs are from plants which cannot be grown in the continental United States. The proposals are usually of the “think once, shoot twice” variety. And, indeed, there are certain “tells” which make it more probable that any given aircraft or ocean vessel are carrying narcotics. Shooting them down, blowing them up, certainly would have the obvious boost to an effective border control.

Of course, you were also up the “oopsie” factor a mite.  Two years ago, a joint American CIA/Peruvian military drug interdiction operation intercepted what they considered to be a suspicious aircraft over the Amazon.  Controllers directed that the plane be shot down, and it was – killing two of the four members of a missionary family aboard.  They had nothing to do with anything illegal.

It’s pretty standard that when you apply one or more remedies, you look to see if they are working and how well they’re working. If they’re not working or not working well enough, it may be you have the wrong remedy. It may be the remedy you have is being applied with insufficient (or even excessive) force. At some point, overwhelming force will become effective regarding a single problem, but seldom does that happen without adverse consequences.

Posit for example that we decide to summarily execute drug dealers. Someone holding a brick of heroin (that’s 50 little 10 mg packages), shoot his ass. It’s simple. It’s effective. But you know and I know were not going to do it. It violates the Eighth Amendment bar against cruel and unusual punishment. [Actually, while the Eighth Amendment says that it bars “cruel and unusual” punishments, it really bars “cruel or unusual” punishments.] But we don’t those punishments because the Eighth Amendment says so. The Eighth Amendment says so because shooting people out of hand, torturing them and so forth offends our fundamental values.

The “oopsie” factor already is bad enough as it is. Not a month goes by that we don’t see someone being released from a long term imprisonment because new technical evidence, usually DNA testing, as shown that they are actually innocent of that for which they were convicted. And I understand the argument about needing to break eggs to make an omelette, but if you or someone in your family is one of the eggs that just got broken, you’re going to have a different view.

And yet when considering extreme or “nuclear” options, we need to recall that this whole “war on drugs” thing is not just some campaign against human nature or human failings. Goodness knows, that’s hard enough.

The drug war is a real war against real, determined, motivated and organized forces. These forces also, by and large, are ruthless and barbaric.

The motivation part is simple to understand. There’s money, there’s power, and there is a peculiar respect that getting those things gives you.

The ruthlessness and barbarism are much less easily understood. It is certainly more pleasant to pretend that they don’t exist or minimize them.

Traditional Mafia-type organized crime and traditional criminal gangs do illegal, violent and immoral things. However, they will tell you that they do have a strong sense of personal honor. Many people disagree, but those folks by and large follow some rules. For example, if they’re going to attack or punish someone, family usually is off limits.

Not so the drug gangs. Any active drug agent will tell you that a huge problem in dealing with the Mexican, Central American and South American drug gangs is that they operate on the principle of terror. Those guys can teach terrorists what terror really is. If someone crosses them, they’ll kill everybody in that person’s family out to the second thousands. These drug gangs (and others the world over) use violence of the most gruesome nature.

Here, I have the choice between glossing over or giving detailed – and accurate – descriptions of how bad it gets. I have a tough time just passing over the details, because the kinds of brutality we’re talking is WAY beyond stuff you see in the movies. On the other hand, including accurate descriptions would look like an appeal to some violent salaciousness.

What to do?

Honestly, you cannot believe the degree of sickness, brutality and depravity in these people’s minds.  Maybe down deep somewhere they have a few threads of humanity, but I can’t prove that. But this terror is useful. Even law-abiding citizens stand clear of this degree of evil. Many police agencies in the host countries back off work or conveniently find other “more important” things to do.

Communities join in the almost as common conspiracy of silence. Many members of the communities substantially cooperate with these gangs. They become some sort of sick folk heroes, and they go to the extent of making up ballads about their little adventures.  For some reason, we keep seeing this strange predilection to hang around or suck up to “exciting” people.

For that matter, these criminal organizations note provide some benefit to the people where they operate. That’s one of the storylines in HBO’s “Sons of Anarchy,” a sappy and lurid depiction of a 1%  motorcycle club. The storyline is that they keep the violence out of their fictional town in return for being protected here.

So, nuclear options? I just don’t know.

I do know that turning the other cheek to some sorts of genuine evil is really, really stupid.

Historical reductions of drug dependence:

Josh is right, examples of societies cleaning up their act are extremely rare.

The failure of alcohol prohibition United States is a common icon the resistance of people (particularly Americans) to interference with their pleasurable sins. Voluntary behavior modification away from pleasure just doesn’t seem to happen.

In fact, I can only think of one example out of American history where a widespread culture has gone away from drug use, and that is not even a very strong example. In the early 19th century, the Shawnee chief Tecumseh toured the eastern United States putting together a confederation aimed at driving the Europeans off the continent. He was an extremely charismatic leader, very moral by his culture’s rules, and had at least extraordinary luck which coincided with various natural occurrences such as meteors and earthquakes.

The American Indians made largely ceremonial use of smoking pipe’s for tobacco and other herbs including the herb which “took away the will.”  Tecumseh exhorted his followers to knock off the marijuana, and as long as the federation hung together, they followed that advice.

But other than that, I just can’t come up with other significant examples. Can anyone out there?

That’s not even particularly surprising. Let’s face it, addictive behaviors of all sorts are doing for damage to everyone. Everyone. Me? Food, Obesity. Addictive as hell. Others? Maybe booze. Video games. Women/men. Porno.

And again, I hate to talk problems without talking solutions. On these issues, solutions really are escaping me.

And it seems that we all are too lazy, too distracted and too scared to talk seriously and really go looking for the solutions.

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