Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Just Say Nothing

Just reading this account of five sheriff's deputies who were arrested for the horrific torture they used in a Tennessee drug raid.

"The police are attempting to get the illiterate man to sign an admission of guilt without telling him what it says. They beat him, over and over, hook electrodes up to testicles and shock him, threaten to kill him, and threaten to go after his family. Early news accounts reported that the torture continued well beyond the end of the recording. After the tape ran out, the same deputies apparently repeatedly submerged the guy's head in a fish tank and a bath tub, threatening to drown him unless he confessed."

So, you have this guy who, seemingly, is a nobody and they torture him for hours to prevent him from selling 'dope' to other adults? What exactly was the goal here? During the section of this grueling torture session that his wife secretly taped the officers talk about the fact that he sold dope in front of his child and how he's suffering because he's been "living wrong". But, why exactly is this sort of paramilitary response necessary in dealing with an insignificant drug dealer? And I guess the question is why are drugs illegal anyway?

I've never really thought much about it. The laws always seemed intrusive to me, and moreover seemed ridiculous after I actually had tried most drugs. Honestly, the official reasons seem rather unconvincing (you'll go crazy or die), but so do the pro-legalization conspiracy theories (the paper companies are in it with the government). But, why in the world is marijuana still illegal? Here are the reasons I've heard:

1) Public health. This one works in the case of cocaine, but not if we're considering marijuana, which seems by all accounts to have about the same health risks as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol. It does have a hallucinogenic quality, but I'm not convinced that controlled hallucinations pose a serious danger. Surely, these effects are more dangerous in clandestine backroom situations, no? Wouldn't a pot bar be safer?
Complicating things even more are the health benefits of pot smoking. It seems like it would be harder to keep hammering the "public health" nail when doctors start saying that marijuana is actually beneficial for some sick people.

2) The Paper Companies. Okay, I can believe that companies want to make money, and that they pull a lot of weight with the federal government. But, why aren't any corporations lobbying for drug legalization? Wouldn't they stand to make a fortune? And aren't hemp products legal anyway?

3) Politics. I do think part of this is the fact that the anti-dope paranoia was serious in the 1930s, and now it's hard for the government to "stand down", so to speak. What percentage of adults have smoked dope? By some accounts, there are as many as 17 million pot smokers in this country. I'm guessing the paranoias of the 1930s (Basically, that marijuana would cause negro jazz musicians to rape debutantes and strangle innocent bystanders) aren't taken seriously by anyone today. But, marijuana symbolizes something in the popular imagination that no politician wants to align themselves with. Drugs are subversive.

4) The Drug War justifies itself. Surely the drug war is big business in the sense that it's very hard to sieze property from drug dealers and there is money to be made in building prisons. I'm guessing that those sheriff's deputies are a-okay with an endless "war" against our own citizens. But, does anyone see any good results in this war? Isn't it so transparently irrational at this point that people would have to vote against it? How do we accept such excessive discipline?

5) Drug users are unproductive. Again, this seems like a product of the 1930s mentality- Taylorism run amok. But, how do I know things have changed since then? I'm in academia- notoriously a haven for the unproductive. And with corporations monitoring their workers' keystrokes, maybe there is still an emphasis on productivity in social engineering. But, surely lots of people are unproductive, right?

And, none of these explain why the corporations that have absorbed and exploited every other rebellious or subversive impulse in the culture haven't rallied around drug legalization. In fact, they seem to be anti-drug as well. Are drugs actually subversive of capital? It sounds corny, but I can't see any other reason they wouldn't be on the pot bandwagon. Again, we may be talking about 17 million consumers here.

Hakim Bey (yet again) argues Against Legalization. It's a hard essay, but here's a thought that is worth working through:

"The “Magic of the State” (as M. Taussig calls it), which is also the magic of Capital itself, consists of social control through the manipulation of symbols. This is attained through mediation, including the ultimate medium, money as hieroglyphic text, money as pure Imagination as “social fiction” or mass hallucination. This real illusion has taken the place of both religion and ideology as delusionary sources of social power. This power therefore possesses (or is possessed by) a secret goal; that all human relations be defined according to this hieroglyphic mediation, this “magic.” But neo-shamanism proposes with all seriousness that another magic may exist, an effective mode of consciousness that cannot be hexed by the sign of the commodity. If this were so, it would help explain why the Image appears unable or unwilling to deal “rationally” with the “issue of drugs.” In fact, a magical analysis of power might emerge from the observed fact of this radical incompatibility of the Global Imaginaire and shamanic consciousness."

Is that it? Is the sort of impenetrable "shamanic" consciousness of drug use the only bullwark left against the slow strip-mining of our mental territory? The idea is really terrifying actually. It suggests that drug use is so subversive because it reclaims a disciplined mind.


The Pagan Temple said...

Hell I wish I had a good joint right now, I'm having a bad case of Blogger Block. Marijuana always seemed to heighten my creativity, though I no longer use it, mainly due to the expense, and because of the people you are forced by the nature of it's illegality to associate with.

Rufus said...

Yeah, I think that's the main argument for legalization- it would be much easier to go to 7-11 and buy it. However, the cost would go through the roof and you'd get the marijuana equivalent of the 7-11 hot dog. So, that would stink.