Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Speak truth to power

"Speak truth to power" was featured in the DrugSense Weekly, Dec. 8, 2006 #478. In debating the DEA about the drug war, I realized how much constitutionalism (ie., following the words in Article 1 of the US Constitution), had in common with the war on citizens who use illegal drugs. If a House of Representatives based on the constitutional representation ratio would vote to continue the drug war, then that vote would be constitutionally valid: until then, it is not. A review of the debate is at

~ Speak truth to power
As I prepared to debate a representative of the DEA about ending the drug war, a friend said I should speak truth to power. “The truth,” he said, “is a way among many. Power, on the other hand, is just used to getting its way.”

The friend was correct.

When speaking truth to power, the immediate effect is usually not noticed. In debating William Otis, JD, Counselor to the Administrator of the DEA, nothing really happened at all. We were at the University of Illinois College of Law auditorium in a debate sponsored by the UIUC Federalist Society and the Coalition of Student-Professionals for Social Change. We talked and discussed the drug war for two hours. We both provided lots of information. But afterwards, when the debate was over, I realized nothing had really happened: citizens would still be arrested for violating the Controlled Substances Act and prohibition would drone on.

Ah, but here is another way of looking at the debate. Great moments, like the ending of the drug war, will perhaps be inaudible to us. In other words, we often do not sense the meaning of moments as they happen. That being the case, when speaking truth to power, one should watch for when “the spell” begins to break.

The spell? The spell is the spell of power. It begins to break when the appearance of the reasons for believing become unbelievable. In the case of the drug war, the reasons for fighting it no longer produce fear. Without the fear of the illegal drug user – in oneself and in others – power has only one remaining effect, that of force.

Here is an example from the debate. The new science clearly states that smoking cannabis does not cause lung cancer. Most recently, in May 2006, researcher Donald Tashkin, MD, of UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, reported that even heavy cannabis smokers did not show an increased risk for lung cancer. But at the debate, Mr. Otis said, on several occasions, that smoking marijuana was considerably worse than smoking tobacco.

That is what power will do. Power will force its way. It is used to getting its way, so it first plays to our emotions and second to the use of force.

But truth, which generally works at a different pace, that is, slower, waits for the evidence to unfold. More importantly, as it concerns the ending of a war, the reasons for fighting the war (such as, smoking marijuana is considerably worse than smoking tobacco), no longer produce the intended effect.

Here is another example: illegal drugs and the people who use them were once the latest most-scary-thing facing our social order. President Nixon and our Congress responded to this supposed threat with a war on citizens who use illegal drugs. That war has failed. The truth is that a war on citizens who use illegal drugs causes more social disruption than illegal drug use.

The citizens of the United States were told we would win the drug war by fighting drugs at their source and by imprisoning drug traffickers. The truth is that staying the course in the drug war means accepting 1.5 million annual citizen casualties (or arrests) for drugs. That means we are willing to accept, as policy, 1.5 million annual drug violations. That also means, as policy, that we are willing to accept 1.5 million occurrences when a police officer could be spending his or her time improving other aspects of our social order.

Prohibition has proven to be an anti-liberty solution for a nation based on liberty. Nobel Prize recipient Friedrich Hayek, writing about true coercion in his book The Constitution of Liberty, did not advocate the power of government to coerce behavior (i.e., the drug war).

“True coercion,” Hayek wrote, “occurs when armed bands of conquerors make the subject people toil for them, when organized gangsters extort a levy for protection, when the knower of an evil secret blackmails his victim, and, of course when the state threatens to inflict punishment and employ physical force to make us obey its commands.” (1960:137)

Coercion is the truth of the war on illegal drug users – as punishment and force equal power.

When speaking truth to power, keep the focus on science and liberty – and look for when the spell begins to break.


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