Government shoots celebrity, society blames the gun

Peaches Geldof had heroin in her system when she died. Who’s really to blame for accidental overdoses… hmm… Do you often find yourself accidentally overdosing when you take prescription medication? Oh, man. That Lipitor, it was way stronger this time. No. You accidentally overdose on street drugs that vary in purity. Why do they vary in purity? Because they are made in underground labs by amateur chemists with no potency controls and then sold on to people who cut them depending on their whim. Why is heroin made in underground labs? Because of prohibition.

When a celebrity dies of a drug overdose, prohibition must be defended. Like peachessuperstitious, ignorant shamans warding off evil spirits, society blames the drug itself when it can’t bring itself to blame the victim. If all else fails, they toss out the the devil’s messenger trope, and blame the poor sap who delivered the drug to the willing recipient. But if you died, assuming you’re not a celebrity, they’d just blame you.

If you want to blame someone for the absurd, pointless deaths of those you love and admire, blame your government for caring so little about your lives that they refuse to end a war against their own people. Do they need to be taught this lesson repeatedly? Alcohol prohibition, anyone? Black markets grew, gangsters took over, cartels formed, violence spread, and people died trying to enjoy a cocktail. The prohibitionists know their history. They just don’t care, because it’s not their loved ones who are dying.

Coroner Roger Hatch says the post mortem shows Geldof used heroin shortly before she died … and that the drug is “likely to have played a role in her death.”

Prohibition and Prejudice: Demonization of the Drug User

After I quit methadone, people began to treat me like a different person. I unwittingly transcended the untouchable caste of the junky and became accepted as a normal member of this society that so conveniently allows for reinvention. I might as well have been a black man who turned white overnight.

Anti-Mexican racism contributed to the criminalization of cannabis

Anti-Mexican racism contributed to the criminalization of cannabis

Drug users are among the untouchables of the American class system, the melting pot’s social cousins of the Dalit of India, the Romani of Europe and the Burakumin of Japan. In America, like most places, you are treated more or less like a pariah for being on methadone maintenance. Years of negative drug tests will only make you seem to most people a somewhat more trustworthy and less repulsive specimen of your untouchable caste. Get your methadone prescription from a doctor, take the medication for pain (instead of requiring it to be able to function), and miraculously you are considered a normal human being.

Anti-Chinese racism was largely responsible for the criminalization of opiates.

Anti-Chinese racism was largely responsible for the criminalization of opiates.

I quit methadone a long time ago because I was sick of the discriminatory regulations and travel restrictions. I developed medical problems soon after–problems unrelated to methadone or withdrawal. I didn’t know it at the time, but methadone had alleviated the symptoms and functioned as a therapeutic treatment. Now I have to suffer the irony of doctors forever congratulating me for discontinuing the only medication that relieved symptoms they are trying, with little success, to address with drugs and surgeries that are objectively no better, and often worse than being on methadone.

Not many people are aware that opiates treat conditions other than pain, but as late as the 19th century opium was as widely used as aspirin is today. The public today is encouraged to believe the 19th century opium cure-all was quackery. This is a convenient lie that even most doctors believe. Of course, most doctors alive today have very little understanding of opiates. Like most people, they are prejudiced against their use.

Drug prohibition was founded on prejudice. San Francisco enacted the first U.S. opium ban in 1875, motivated by anti-Chinese xenophobia and racism. Similar laws were passed around the world for similar reasons, often by governments and groups with ulterior motives. Before Harry Anslinger demonized cannabis in Hearst newspapers with scare stories about African Americans raping white women, southwestern states were targeting “marihuana” smoking Mexican immigrants. Japan’s right wing government outlawed the same drug when confronted by a red scare and widespread left wing student protests. Many of the students used marijuana, which became a convenient cause for their arrests.

Naturally, these prejudices against targeted groups expanded to include drug users in general. The use of prohibited drugs became synonymous with belonging to a despised race or subculture. Soon, the idea of drugs—the excuse to demonize—became entangled with the act of using the drug, and thus began the demonization of the drug user in general.

Silk Road Online Drug Bazaar was a Libertarian “Economic Simulation”

FBI claims Dread Pirate Roberts is actually a libertarian economic theorist

The FBI claims this pirate is actually a libertarian economic theorist

The FBI claims Ross William Ulbricht, 29, of Austin, Texas, ran an online drug market called the Silk Road using the alias Dread Pirate Roberts. Ross Ulbricht had this to say about his economic philosophy:

“I want to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and agression amongst mankind… I believe violence, coercion and all forms of force by one person over another can come to an end. The most widespread and systemic use of force is amongst institutions and governments, so this is my current point of effort. The best way to change a government is to change the minds of the governed, however. To that end, I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force.”

Dread Pirate Roberts, by the way, is a character in the film The Princess Bride, who is not just one man, but a series of individuals who periodically pass the name and occupation of pirate captain to a chosen successor. The world seems to contain more than one radical libertarian willing to dress up their greed as a political ideology, so, you never know—maybe Ulbricht is just the latest captain of the Silk Road. Life imitates art.

Ulbricht hails from Texas, home of lots of other radical right wing libertarians, like perennial presidential contender Ron Paul. Cody Wilson deserves a mention, even if he considers himself an anarchist. Wilson is using 3-D printers to make assault rifles and isn’t breaking any laws. Regardless, libertarians want to give you some serious freedom. Or, at least, sell it to you.

Now, you may not be willing to view the Silk Road as anything but a for-profit endeavor. I’m sure that’s what the FBI thinks, not that they care one way or the other. But let’s imagine it really was an attempt to change the world.

Ross Ulbricht is actually a libertarian economic theorist

The FBI claims this man is actually a pirate from a 1980’s adventure film

The problem specifically with Silk Road is that it will take more than a radical “economic simulation” to achieve freedom from the injustices of the War on Drugs (Albricht’s quote didn’t get this specific, but it stands to reason if you ask, “freedom from what?”) Not to mention the fact that improving drug consumers’ shopping experiences (in what still amounts to a black market) doesn’t significantly improve drug safety. Having a feedback system and a more normalised shopping experience may have ensured that bad sellers got fewer customers, but the black market of Prohibition still guarantees the existence of toxicity, additives, and the poor manufacture of substances designed for human consumption. Drugs require control, safety—regulation, perhaps; which is anathema to many libertarians. The main problem then is the law, not the economy.

Second are cultural perceptions of drug use, and here Silk Road might have had some impact. Anything that lessens the stigma and risk of the black market has the cultural potential to change people’s minds about what it means to use drugs. But power (law) usually trumps culture (attitudes toward drug use). It’s a two-way street, and culture can change law, but only when cultural forces reach a critical mass. Normally, power dominates culture. And Dread Pirate Roberts is up against one of the great empires of our times, which puts his ability to effect cultural change there at a significant disadvantage.

As for the notion that laissez-faire economics leads to a more free society, let’s take a case Ulbricht himself mentions in the same LinkedIn comment: slavery. Slavery in the United States was certainly first and foremost a financial institution, but it didn’t end because of market changes. In fact, global market changes and rules restricting the U.S. market did very little to force change. It took a civil war to eradicate the market, and the culture of racism slavery created in the U.S. only shifted gradually over the following one hundred years.

To change unjust laws that correspond to social norms, you must first change what people believe. A social movement, not an economic simulation, is required to end the Drug War.

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