Drugs and Politics

I once was doing some tourism in La Paz, Bolivia; that bizarre capital city, the highest in the world nestled in a crevice that falls from the ‘altiplano’ – a highland plane some believe is Atlantis and where the Quechua Indians and their Inca ancestors thought life originated. Titicaca, a lake perched atop the world – sunken Spanish galleons with gold preserved deep in the oxygen-less waters. Ruins of a mega-civilization rivaling the Egyptians and predating the Incas, sitting in silence unnoticed along the highway from lake to city. Bolivia is a weird place – and incidentally the home of the coca leaf; cocaine. There’s a ‘Coca Museum’ in the center of town – as the country’s indigenous government places that old shaman’s leaf at the center of their political project. As if the Spaniards didn’t use it to enslave the Indians centuries ago. As if cocaine wasn’t a new type of slavery for consumer and producer alike. The museum is interesting – and funny. Posters of Hollywood stars in the 20s raving about cocaine. Newspaper articles on Coca Cola’s cornering of the market (they claim there’s no longer coca leaves in coca cola – I believe them…) Doctors and drug companies lauding the health benefits of its use. Its eye-opening.

coca leaf

Because of course, then people realized the dangers – but it was too late. Leaving our politicians to grapple with a decades old struggle on that one, all-consuming American problem. Drugs.

Our two-party government isn’t working very well as a system for problem-solving these days though, is it? It’s a little frayed, which I suppose shouldn’t surprise us; the world has become complicated and our ‘administrative state’s’ reach has become too broad and too deep to nimbly swerve to avoid potholes product of human nature. We seek protection in a tribe, a membership organization we believe will shield us from the worst of our adversaries, not promote the best of our interests. That’s not really a recipe for successful policy-making though.

There’s a lot I like about all the parties. I appreciate the Democrats’ focus on issues of poverty and human suffering. To be sure, I have differences of opinion as to the policy prescriptions proposed to reduce these problems, but I’m immensely glad they continue to raise the issue to the top of the American people’s consciousness. I’ve spent my life among the poor and the destitute, to a certain extent their travails have become my travails – though I myself am not destitute, by the grace of God – and consequently businessmen flitting from Michelin restaurant to five star hotel without a thought to the poor confuse me. And I like the Republicans’ care for the family and the traditions of a great country; the focus on individual responsibility and discipline and character and faith – so missing these days. The Libertarians have the best economics, “Austrian” free market ideas that existed at the beginning before they were corrupted by redistribution; coming from Adam Smith and through Hayek and Mises and Mencken and Friedman all the way to modern day intellectuals like Pedro Schwartz. Even the Greens – reminding us that this planet is our home and we should care for it; that it should be at the forefront of our considerations, because without it we have nothing.

But drugs – the social issue of our times, the cancer that is eating away at the soul of America – on that issue I agree with no one. The Libertarians want to pretend that doing drugs is not wrong; a party built on the ‘absolutism’ of the free will of individuals, yet without a ‘natural law’ that guides decision-making? This baffles me – and it certainly isn’t a ‘winning’ recipe for civilizational renewal. This is why libertarianism descends so quickly to libertinism, isn’t it? Humanity free from supervision – state or divine – that’s the world they would give us. Scary. The Democrats want to pretend that drugs are yet another agent for the victimization of the ever-victims. As if the drug user or seller has no role or responsibility, made no decision to engage in that harmful activity – robbed as they are of free will by their genetics and their birthplace and their race or whatever – agents of oppression all. Of course the Republicans come the closest; at least they admit it’s wrong, that it’s a choice made – a bad one – and want to see it stopped. But policies that see ‘non-violent offenders’ perpetrating ‘victimless crimes’ sent to Sing-Sing to commune with rapists and murderers? Costing the taxpayers $19,000 per year in the perfect socialism of the prison system? Seeing the US prison population balloon to 2,200,000 – with 50% of Federal and 16% State prisoners on drug offenses? Robbing people of their lives and giving one in three Americans a criminal record, making it impossible for them to get a job – even if there were jobs? Pushing them back to a life lived outside the law?

We often joke about the “sausage-making process” in Washington; of the ways which our laws get crafted by a strange cabal of lobbyists and think tanks and elected leaders and celebrities and charities. But on this issue, which is so prescient for America’s future, we are letting people down. Sure, drug use is a failure of individual people – but isn’t its perpetuation a failure of our system as well? Isn’t that what representative government means?

Food for thought.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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