This article was written for the Unz Review: http://www.unz.com/tsaker/musings-on-two-of-the-dumbest-wars-the-us-has-ever-fought/
No, this won’t be about Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan or any other US military war of choice which, while dumb, could at least result in some kind of appearance of victory, no matter how feeble (say, against a few Cuban engineers armed with AKs in Grenada). Today I want to share a few thoughts about the two wars the US has been engaged in for decades even though they never, ever had a chance to win: the war on drugs and the war on guns.
Shocked that I would put these two wars in the same category?
True, the war in drugs is something the (so-called) Right loves. The war in guns is the favorite of the (so-called) Left. Granted. That is one difference I won’t deny.
But the rest?
First, both wars are based on a logical fallacy: that an object, an item, is the source of evil. This is why politicians on both sides (let’s just pretend that there are, really, “sides” in the US official political spectrum, even if there are none) love them. Put yourselves in the shoes of a US politician and ask yourself what you would prefer: to deal with a complex problem (violence/addiction) which has its roots deep inside human nature and which is exacerbated by the very nature of our society, the society which has put you, the putative US politician, into a position of power and which now dangles the promise to let you join the select club of the ruling 1%ers or to simply ban an inanimate object by voting “yea” on a piece of legislature?
Think of all the risks a US politician would take if he/she wanted to deal with the real issues, especially those who are either rooted in, or the result of, our deeply dysfunctional social and political order. And think how smart, courageous, principled and even heroic you, the politician, would look if you took a “tough stance” against drugs/guns? All you really need to do is make sure first is whether your constituents suffer from drugs-phobia or gun-phobia and, voilà, you are a hero! Simple and very, very effective.
Second, both wars are easy to explain to the dumb and ignorant. Let’s be honest here, as a politician you need to mostly cater to the left side of the Bell Curve with some attention given to the center. Not only do smart folks tend to distrust politicians, but they also like to reach their own conclusions, often based on lengthy research and the analysis of complex arguments. To make things worse, smart people often tend to be anti-authoritarian – individualists who favor free choice over state enforced laws, rules and regulations.
Third, both wars are easily fueled by the fear factor: “drug warriors” have a phobia (in the sense of both hate and fear) of drugs just as “gun warriors” have a phobia of guns, which means that rather than rationally analyze the issue, their position will be emotionally driven, free from all the complexities of real life. A politician will always prefer an emotional argument over a rational one because only emotion generates the kind of unthinking loyalty a politician needs to secure his/her power base.
Fourth, both wars are a bureaucratic and financial bonanza. Why? Because these are wars which will never, ever, be “won” and that, in turn, guarantees not only a steady streams of dollars, but even the creation of specialized agencies such as the DEA or the ATF whose very existence will depend on never winning the war on drugs/guns. A bureaucrat’s dream come true!
Fifth, there is also a much more subtle but no less important aspect of the war on drugs/guns: they make it possible to easily detect potentially disloyal elements. Drugs users, especially, since they break the law to consume their drugs, have already crossed the psychological line of deliberately breaking the law and disobeying the doxa of the state and society and they are much more likely to engage in other forms of disloyalty (such as engaging in various forms of crimethink) than law abiding citizens. Legal gun owners in the USA are extremely law abiding (In Florida and Texas, permit holders are convicted of misdemeanors or felonies at one- sixth the rate that police officers; source), but a lot of them are also fiercely individualists who do not like to rely on the state for their defense and who often even believe that the 2nd Amendment was crafted with the specific intention to allow citizens to resist against a state turned authoritarian (of course, illegal gun owners are, by definition, felons and criminals who are extremely disloyal to anything but themselves). So, in a way, the use of drugs or the possession of weapons is a good way to, shall we say, “screen” for those elements who could turn out to be potential trouble makers.
Of course, at this point in time gun owners have it much, much, better than drug users. Alas, there never was a constitutional amendment protecting the right of each citizen to ingest, smoke, inject or otherwise consume any substance he/she wants simply because at the time of the drafting of the Constitution that freedom was an self-evident truth (wars on booze and drugs happened much later). In fact, the list of right specifically granted to the state was assumed exhaustive and the state could not engage in any legistlation not specifically authorized, while today we see the exact opposite of that: whatever freedom is not expressly protected is fair game for the millionaire lawyers sitting in Congress. But considering the very real risk of a Hillary Presidency soon, the 2nd Amendement might well be soon eroded to such a degree as to become unrecognizable. Even the Republicans have an ugly record, especially at a local level, for passing all sorts of petty and dumb regulations which gradually but constantly limit the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. In some jurisdictions the mere possession of a firearm is already considered a felony while others try hard to make self-defense a crime in almost all circumstances. So yes, the 2nd Amendement is still there, but barely, and if Hillary gets to nominate the next Supreme Court Justice it might be gone soon. Besides, what the gun-haters failed to achieve in the courts, they have already achieved in a cultural sense where, for example, a revolver is seen by many as an “instrument of murder” rather than a home-defense tool, a hunting tool, a sports tool or just a harmless symbol of freedom (historically, free men were allowed to carry weapons, slaves were not).
I want to make it clear that I am not comparing guns and drugs by themselves. I am only comparing the rationale and methods used by the regime in Washington to wage a war on these otherwise completely different things.
Now let’s engage in a little thought experiment.
Let’s imagine that Congress decides to legalize all drugs and guns overnight: all drugs, medical or recreational, would be come available over-the-counter in any store willing to sell them and the right to bear arms would be completely protected under “Constitutional carry” guarantees. What would happen next?
Some will say that the US would turn into a gigantic war zone where millions of citizens sky-high on PCP and crack cocaine would begin shooting each other with assault rifles and that all those not busy murdering each other would be lying around terminally stoned. Do you believe that too?
For one thing I believe that the number of people using drugs or owning guns would change very little. Sure, there would be a short-term novelty effect, but soon the numbers would stabilize. Shootings and overdoses would also remain pretty much at the same level as today. What would drop dramatically and immediately would be crime rate, not so much because of the deterrent effect of an armed citizenry (just like today, most folks do not go around carrying a firearm) as due to the fantastic effect of a complete collapse of the illegal drug market following a legalization of drugs.
[Sidebar: A friend of mine is a detective in the Daytona Police Department. He used to be in Narcotics for years. I recently asked him what percentage of crime in Daytona is drug-related. He said “almost all of it”. It turns out that not only does the trafficking in drugs result in a huge share of the violent crime in Daytona, but that most burglaries, thefts, break-ins, etc. are also committed by drug addicts. And even though drug traffickers and users cannot legally obtain a gun (convicted felons don’t have that right in Florida), drug dealers all pack firearms (even if most of their guns are in very poor condition or even broken, and the felons themselves very bad marksmen). The truth is that if drugs were made legal the size of US police departments could rapidly and dramatically be reduced and that the remaining small force could go back to “normal”, civilized, police functions rather than fight the kind of military war in drugs with APCs, helicopters and SWAT teams they are engaged in every day.]
Simple: mainly to show to that those who want legalize drugs (the so-called “Liberals”) have much more in common with the defenders of the 2nd Amendement (the so-called “Conservatives”) than they think, and to show to those cherish their right to keep and bear arms that they, in turn, have a lot in common with the “potheads” they are so-willing to condemn and put in jail. At the end of the day, it makes absolutely no more sense to authorize drugs/guns and ban guns/drugs than it makes to oppose abortions and support the death penalty. Just as life is either a sacred value or not, so is the freedom of each person to decide for himself/herself how he/she chooses to live. It all boils down to a few simple questions: do we feel that it is our right to curtail the freedoms of our fellow citizens because we do not approve of their choices? Do we believe that inanimate objects can, by themselves, cause such evils as violence or addiction? Do we believe that it will ever become possible to eliminate weapons or mind-altering substances from our societies? And, most importantly, do we believe that each individual ought to have the right to answer these questions for himself or herself, or do we believe that the state ought to enforce its choices on the rest of us?