Sometimes I have to pause and ponder the vast twisted evil genius that made the "War on Drugs" what it is today. It's got so many angles I doubt any one person could ever design such a thing. Maybe there's some kind of evolution going on here, some kind of social scientific principle I'm too ignorant to understand. Maybe it's something I'd study if I was a scientist.
Lots of people seem to think they understand exactly what's going on with the War on Drugs. Some have good points to make, but I never see any come close to explaining all the angles it has. I'm sure there's plenty more I don't see either. I'm not even going to try and cover them all here, just a couple nobody else seems to notice.
Almost everyone sees the connection between Prohibition and the War on Drugs, and they always point out Prohibition failed. That's why we repealed it, right? But it only failed if you assume its real goals were the same as its claimed goal. It only failed to stop people from drinking.
If you read up on the history of the Prohibition, you'll find out some stuff most people never talk about now. Like how the biggest driving force behind it was the women's movement. Back then, women's two hottest issues were: 1. get women the right to vote ("suffrage"), and 2. get men to stop going out to drink and leaving their women home alone all the time ("temperance"). But those weren't the only changes women wanted to see. Many of them were leaders of a campaign for a whole raft of social reforms. Sometimes historians lump all of it together and call it Progressivism. Whatever you call it, it was a major threat to the big shots. It won important battles in the early 20th century, like outlawing child labor. Then it fell apart before achieving its main goals.
Undermine the Opposition
So, what happened to Progressivism? Mainly Prohibition, that's what. Women got the right to vote, but first they got the anti-alcohol amendment they wanted. Huge amounts of money and manpower went into enforcing the Prohibition. The women's movement spent tons of political capital trying to support the thing. They got more and more divided as more people decided their temperance amendment wasn't working. When Prohibition finally collapsed, the women's movement was so discredited it never did get back the clout it had before. With the women's political power scattered, Progressivism was a lot easier to shut down.
Was this accidental or planned? Who knows? One thing is for sure. Prohibition was a big success for anyone who felt threatened by the women's movement. It weakened the power of women's new right to vote. They were no longer such a threat to the powers that be.
Prohibition succeeded at something else, too. It didn't stop people from drinking, but it did change how and where people drink. More drinking took place in the home, especially among men. More of them stayed home after the repeal, too. Drinking used to bring men out into the community together. Sometimes they'd talk to each other about issues of the day. After Prohibition, drinking kept them home more, isolated from each other.
The biggest increase in drinking happened among women. Maybe in some ways this was just an early move towards women's equality. All the same, it really cut down the base of their previous political power. Drinking made it so women didn't have a strong claim they were moral protectors of home and family anymore.
New Improved Prohibition
Now, maybe these results were unplanned when the Prohibition amendment passed. But I can't help thinking someone somewhere must've been aware of all this when the new War on Drugs was put together. These are people who have mastered the art of getting and keeping power in the system. They'd naturally love anything that might break up movements to change that system.
Let the Opposition Undermine Themselves
It seems to be working on almost every movement that wants to change the base of political power. Social-democracy left-wing to the ultra-capitalist right-wing. They've all got to deal with some kind of internal disagreement over exactly what their position about the War on Drugs should be. None of them can come up with anything a majority of voters seem to like.
Best of all for the drug warriors, this is working even better than it did with Prohibition. Eventually, the Prohibition had to end, so its defeat could be a final blow in discrediting the Progressive movement. But the drug war didn't come from any of the opposition movements. It came from the people who are running the show. There's no need to end it, not if it continues to be such a great success at keeping them in power.
Divide and Conquer
Keeping political alternatives tangled up on the fringes of the system is only one way the War on Drugs benefits the big shots. It makes sure everyone knows their proper place in the economy too. Maybe you've noticed how the War gets fought with different tactics on different battlefields. What happens to you when you get caught with drugs depends on who and what you are.
If you're poor or working class you go to jail. Anything you happen to own probably gets seized. Your labor for the next few years will pad the bottom line for whichever corporation runs the prisons in your part of the country. If you're the upper middle class professional type, like a doctor or a lawyer, you're not so likely to lose all your stuff. You might even be able to stay out of prison if you can convince a treatment program to believe they're curing you.
Bread and Circus
If you're wealthy or famous, you can get away with using drugs all you want. It doesn't even matter if everyone knows about it. You think the cops don't know about all those drugs in the dressing rooms and the limos and the hotel rooms?
Of course there's one big exception to this rule: don't make trouble. No matter how rich and famous you get, don't try to change the system. Go ahead and fill up your records and your movies with all the fake rebellion your adoring public can gulp down. Keep people believing freedom and individuality are things they can buy. Stay away from anything that might create real change.
All the hype about drugs succeeds in something else, too: it makes drugs cool, especially to kids. Rebellious kids see drugs as the best way to rebel. If the government and the cops hate it so much, it must be cool. So rebellious kids take drugs, and some percentage of them get addicted and ruin their lives. Along with any real potential for effective rebellion they might have had.
Even if they don't get addicted, plenty of drug users waste most of their time, energy and money on getting high. Which means all these resources don't pose any real threat to the establishment. Any drug users who manage to keep their lives together are easy to take down if they ever become a real threat. They're criminals according to the drug laws. If they make any trouble for the powers that be, it's off to jail with them.
The War on Drugs might be failing to cut down on drug use, but it's a great success at protecting the system. It separates the sheep from the goats. If you conform to the system, you won't use drugs, and you're safe from the War. (Mostly safe, anyway. Mistakes get made, innocent people go to jail, but you're still safer if you conform.) If you want to change the system, chances are you'll also use drugs. As soon as you combine those two traits, it'll be like you're painting a big target on yourself. The system has plenty of ways to make sure you never get very far.
Could anybody really plan all this? Maybe it's evolved mostly on its own, like some kind of bizarre immune system for the existing power structure. It's probably going to keep evolving, too. I can't even guess where it might end up, or what anyone can do about it. I only know a couple of things not to do.
Right now I know enough to be sure it won't help anything if I use drugs. A lot of people think using drugs makes them rebels against the War on Drugs, because they think its real goal is to stop people from using drugs. The war's only real goals now are to perpetuate itself and to protect the system that spawned it. It's adapted itself to make sure it actually gets stronger if more people use drugs.
But I'm sure it won't help anything if I go around and lecture people not to use drugs. That'll only piss people off. Most people want to have their own reasons for using or not using drugs. There's no reason for them to care what I think. Even if all I do is walk around with a T shirt that says "Drug Free and Proud" it will only make the drug war stronger.
Either way, the drug war gets stronger.