Drug Users as Secular Scapegoats

Thomas SzaszThere is probably one thing, and one thing only, on which the leaders of all modern states agree; on which Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Mohammedans, and atheists agree; on which Democrats, Republicans, Socialists, Communists, Liberals, and Conservatives agree; on which medical and scientific authorities throughout the world agree; and on which the views, as expressed through opinion polls and voting records, of the large majority of individuals in all civilized countries agree. That thing is the “scientific fact” that certain substances which people like to ingest or inject are “dangerous” both to those who use them and to others; and that the use of such substances constitutes “drug abuse” or “drug addiction” — a disease whose control and eradication are the duty of the combined forces of the medical profession and the state. However, there is little agreement — from people to people, country to country, even decade to decade — on which substances are acceptable and their use therefore considered a popular pastime, and which substances are unacceptable and their use therefore considered “drug abuse” and “drug addiction.”

My aim in this book is at once simple and sweeping. First, I wish to identify the actual occurrences that constitute our so-called drug problem. I shall show that these phenomena in fact consist of the passionate promotion and panicky prohibition of various substances; the habitual use and the dreaded avoidance of certain drugs; and, most generally, the regulation — by language, law, custom, religion, and every other conceivable means of social and symbolic control — of certain kinds of ceremonial and sumptuary behaviors.

Second, I wish to identify the conceptual realm and logical class into which these phenomena belong. I shall show that they belong in the realm of religion and politics; that “dangerous drugs,” addicts, and pushers are the scapegoats of our modern, secular, therapeutically imbued societies; and that the ritual persecution of these pharmacological and human agents must be seen against the historical backdrop of the ritual persecution of other scapegoats, such as witches, Jews, and madmen.

And third, I wish to identify the moral and legal implications of the view that using and avoiding drugs are not matters of health and disease but matters of good and evil; that, in other words, drug abuse is not a regrettable medical disease but a repudiated religious observance. Accordingly, our options with respect to the “problem” of drugs are the same as our options with respect to the “problem” of religions: that is, we can practice various degrees of tolerance and intolerance toward those whose religions — whether theocratic or therapeutic — differ from our own.

For the past half-century the American people have engaged in one of the most ruthless wars — fought under the colors of drugs and doctors, diseases and treatments — that the world has ever seen. If a hundred years ago the American government had tried to regulate what substances its citizens could or could not ingest, the effort would have been ridiculed as absurd and rejected as unconstitutional. If fifty years ago the American government had tried to regulate what crops farmers in foreign countries could or could not cultivate, the effort would have been criticized as meddling and rejected as colonialism. Yet now the American government is deeply committed to imposing precisely such regulations — on its own citizens by means of criminal and mental health laws, and on those of other countries by means of economic threats and incentives; and these regulations — called “drug controls” or “narcotic controls” — are hailed and supported by countless individuals and institutions, both at home and abroad.

We have thus managed to replace racial, religious, and military coercions and and colonialisms, which now seem to us dishonorable, with medical and therapeutic coercions and colonialisms, which now seem to us honorable. Because these latter controls are ostensibly based on Science and aim to secure only Health, and because those who are so coerced and colonized often worship the idols of medical and therapeutic scientism as ardently as do the coercers and colonizers, the victims cannot even articulate their predicament and are therefore quite powerless to resist their victimizers. Perhaps such preying of people upon people — such symbolic cannibalism, providing meaning for one life by depriving another of meaning — is an inexorable part of the human condition and is therefore inevitable. But it is surely not inevitable for any one person to deceive himself or herself into believing that the ritual persecutions of scapegoats — in Crusades, Inquisitions, Final Socutions, or Wars on Drug Abuse — actually propitiate deities or prevent diseases.

—Thomas Szasz (1 September 1973)
Preface to Ceremonial Chemistry

Cons on Constitution Are Wrong and Dangerous

Wrong and Dangerous - Garrett EppsI recently read Garrett Epps’ fantastic, Wrong and Dangerous: Ten Right-Wing Myths About Our Constitution. I consider myself pretty well read on this stuff, but I learned a great deal from this little book. But by far I learned the most about the Tenth Amendment.

It is probably because I spent so much time as a libertarian that I got so confused about this amendment. It’s interesting how intellectually inbred one can become in a situation like that. The amendment reads, in it entirety, “The powers not delegated to the Unite States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” But that’s not what I thought it said. Actually, that’s not what I knew it said. I was quite certain that it read, “The powers not expressly delegated to the United States…” This is a huge difference. Because the insertion of that word would make implied power unconstitutional.

Epps gives an example of how ridiculous the misreading is:

If “implied powers” still sounds like tricky lawyer talk, ask yourself the following question: is the American flag unconstitutional? The Constitution doesn’t make any reference to a national flag. By the “express” argument, states and only states would retain what we might call “the flag power.” The US Army would have to march under the fifty state flags, depending on the origin of each unit. That would be cumbersome, confusing, and dangerous — and more to the point, stupid. Congress can “raise and support armies.” Armies have to have flags — they are required under international law and necessary for military discipline and cohesion. A country that has an explicit power to raise an army has the implied power to designate a flag. Nobody seriously reads a constitution any other way.

In my defense, I made the “express” mistake because I wanted to have legal access to the drugs I most loved. But that isn’t true for the vast majority of those Epps refers to as “Tenthers.” He isn’t blunt about it, so let me be: they are bigots. He points out that nullification — the idea that the states can nullify laws that they consider unconstitutional — was originally proposed by John Calhoun: “the greatest defender American slavery every had.” And the idea went away with slavery. But it came back in — What a surprise! — the 1950s when the south was trying to hang onto segregation.

What’s so interesting about this is that the word “expressly” does come from somewhere: The Articles of Confederation. The Second Article reads, “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.” This, of course, was the original idea for the United States: that they would just be a confederation of independent nations. The problem was that it didn’t work.

What’s more, the absolute worst aspect of the Constitution, the acceptance of slavery and the the three-fifths compromise, shows that what was really stopping the United States from being a true nation was the south’s “peculiar institution.” And in a fundamental way, the United States wasn’t really born until the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment — which greatly strengthened the federal government and limited the power of the states.

And if you want to know more about that, you really should check out Epps’ book. But it is important to remember the title of this book. Many of these right wing myths are incredibly dangerous for the nation. It seems that today, what conservatives most want is The Articles of Confederation. As much as they may say that they love the Constitution, what they say shows something else. As Rick Perry has explained, “Federalism enables us to live united as a nation… while we live in states with like-minded people who share our values and beliefs… If you don’t support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don’t come to Texas. If you don’t like medicinal marijuana or gay marriage, don’t move to California.” You could substitute “slavery” for the “death penalty” and his argument would make as much sense. Apparently, like most conservatives, he’s never read the Constitution.

The Difference Between Respectable and Unrespectable Conservatives

John CochraneI’ve always said that that there really is no such thing as a Reasonable Republican anymore. When it comes to modern American conservatism, the most respectable people in the world spout the same nonsense that the wingnuts do. This is what John Cochrane said last week about the African American community:

America has a real problem on the lower income end, epitomized by Charles Murray’s “Fishtown.” A segment of America is stuck in widespread single motherhood, leading to terrible early-child experiences, awful education, substance abuse, and criminality. 70% of male black high school dropouts will end up in prison, hence essentially unemployable and poor marriage prospects. Less than half are even looking for legal work.

Cat Scratch FeverThis is what Ted Nugent said yesterday about the African American community:

Based on crime stats in Ferguson and elsewhere, it would be a safe bet to assume the two thugs the police are looking for are black males between the age of 15 and 25.

It would also be a safe bet the two thugs being searched for were raised by a single parent, have criminal records, are high school dropouts, don’t have jobs and are very likely to be members of a gang.

Basically, they are both based on the same aristocratic idea that the rich are deserving and the poor are not. The rich are just better. And just as always in this country, that largely depends upon carefully crafted racism, now most often pitched by Charles Murray.

Religious Discrimination in the NFL

Husain AbdullahWhat do you know? I have an opinion about football! When I was a kid watching the NFL (don’t faint), players would celebrate when they made a touchdown. And at some point, the NFL decided that it was out of hand. I can see what they meant. There was a lot of showboating and it could be a bit much. It also doesn’t show respect to the other team that, after all, must feel bad about allowing the touchdown. Indeed, when a player does such showboating, the penalty he gets is for “unsportsmanlike conduct.”

Little did I know that just like there is a delusion exception in psychiatry, there is a showboating exception in the NFL — for religion. Well, it isn’t really showboating. Players are allowed to kneel down on one knee or make the cross or whatever. It isn’t extravagant. Just the same, it does shove God in the face of the opposing team: God blessed me and made you look like a jerk! But that’s the way we are about religion — we make exceptions for it and I don’t especially care. The NFL says it is okay to thank God for a touchdown, as long as you aren’t too ostentation about it. Fine.

Well, Monday night’s game between the Chiefs and the Patriots had a bit of a dust-up. Husain Abdullah is a safety for the Chiefs and he is a devout Muslim. After intercepting a pass, he ran it back 40 yards for a touchdown. It’s only the second of his career and it is a very big deal. And as a religious man, Abdullah knows that God is never too busy to pick sides in a football game, so he kneeled down and touched his head to the ground. This is apparently a standard Muslim thing. I don’t really care. It doesn’t matter if he made the whole thing up.

There was no showboating here, in the traditional non-religious sense. He was very fast about it. I’ve timed it, and to two significant digits, it took 1.1 seconds. If Tim Tebow had ever been that efficient, the whole atheist community would have shouted with joy. But regardless of how ostentatious and annoying Tebow was, he never got a penalty. But Abdullah did. He got a 15 yard penalty for the aforementioned “unsportsmanlike conduct.” Not that it matters. The Chiefs crushed the Patriots. That’s what happens when God is on your side.

Clearly, this is wrong, however. And the NFL has said so and they are not going to fine Abdullah as they normally would. It is also very likely that the official who called the penalty didn’t know that Abdullah was doing his religion’s equivalent of making the cross. Or maybe he did and like most Americans, he just hates Muslims. I don’t know. It does seem a bit odd though. Click over to SB Nation, Husain Abdullah Was Penalized for… Praying? It’s kind of hard to miss that it is a “thing.” It isn’t just random celebration.

But it raises an interesting question. I’m not a religious person, but I hold certain ideas with just as much reverence as any religious person does. Why would I not be allowed to come up with my own ritual to express that? Why would I be dependent upon some official knowing and accepting what I had done? And for that matter, what is Rod Tidwell’s touchdown dance at the end of Jerry Maguire if not a religious expression? Why does the fact that it’s idiosyncratic make it unsportsmanlike?

The NFL has much bigger problems than this. But it does seem to me that they need to nail this down. The best thing is to get rid of the religious exception. The truth is that praising God for a touchdown is offensive to all gods — regardless of whether they exist or not. Or the NFL should allow any kind of celebration. They could put a time limit on it — five seconds perhaps. But the current situation is ridiculous and totally offensive to minority religions and non-religions.


H/T: Amanda Taub

The Lighter Side of King Richard III

King Richard IIIWhat a day! I really should pick Nat Turner or Groucho Marx or Graham Greene. But I’m in a bit of a rush. You see I will be away from home for a couple of days. So I’ve been writing like a maniac. And I don’t feel up to putting in the time that all of these men deserve. But you can read about them in last year’s birthday post. Today, I’m going to do someone we don’t know a great deal about. You’ll see.

On this day in 1452, King Richard III was born. He is generally thought to have been a terrible guy. He killed his way to the throne. The thing about him is that it isn’t at all clear that he was any different in this way from any of the others. He was basically the end of the House of York. After him came Henry VII and the rest of the Tudors. So they had every reason to vilify him. In addition, we now know that Richard had very bad curvature of the spine. Given that royalty were supposedly blessed by God, you can imagine, the quicker the “freak” was forgotten and the more the legitimacy of his reign was called into question, the better.

Richard has the distinction of being the last English king to die in battle. He apparently fought bravely at the Battle of Bosworth Field against Henry Tudor. He had the advantage in terms of forces, but it seems that some of his key allies turned against him. According to tradition, his last words were cries of, “Treason!” I’m not one to glorify warriors, but I have generally thought that if kings aren’t warriors, what good are they? If they aren’t out fighting wars, they are busy oppressing their people. The exception, of course, is in the United Kingdom where they are tourist attractions.

Again, it isn’t that I think Richard was a good guy. I just don’t think we have any reason to think he was any more of a complete bastard than Henry VII. Or for that matter Bush the Younger or President Obama. They act differently, because it is a different time. But there is something very wrong with any many who wants such great power. I’m sure if they had lived in the 15th century, they would have been killing their rivals. (Although in Bush’s case, I’m pretty sure Jeb would have won that conflict.)

Happy birthday Richard III!