Tuesday, April 26, 2016

War on Drugs is a sociopolitical masterstroke

The following paper is in reaction to the class discussion we had about mental health and substance abuse. I have chosen to write a brief reaction paper positing a plausible motive behind Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party’s mental health and drug policies, which led to the defunding and the eventual shut down of numerous mental health institutions and substance abuse treatment centers in the early 1980’s. 

In my opinion, The Reagan Administration and The Republican Party defunded and shut down mental health institutions and substance abuse treatment centers in the 1980’s not only because they wanted the private sector to take over the care and treatment of such individuals but also because they wanted/needed such people to be seen wandering the streets and committing crimes to give Americans the impression that the streets needed to be cleaned up.

Think about it: The Reagan Administration declares a so-called war on drugs, pointing to images of mentally-ill poor people on the streets doing drugs, while he implements policies which lead to the release of hundreds of thousands of such individuals on our nation’s streets. The Reagan Administration then grants amnesty to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, many of them said to be mentally ill cast outs from the island of Cuba. Then, at the very time that this war on drugs was declared, it seemed to many people who I have spoken to about this issue who lived in the inner-city during that time that there was an influx of cocaine in the city during those years, not a drop off as one would expect during a so-called war on drugs.

Having said all that, the war on drugs has obviously not been a failure. The Republican Party accomplished its goal of increasing the private sector’s role/responsibility in caring for mentally ill people and substance abusers, while also conducing to the probability that such people would invade the streets and scare the citizenry into supporting their policies, which ultimately involved transferring many of those mentally ill substance abusers out of one institution into another, with the added benefit of being able to criminalize and lock up the boogeymen who supplied them with the drugs.

The war on drugs is not a failure; it is a sociopolitical masterstroke.

In the 1980s the federal government and most of the states did not adequately fund the community mental health centers that were supposed to become the agents of delivery for mental health policies, including everything from prevention and community wellness to long-term residential care for people in each center’s catchment area. 

Your reaction treats the government and the Republican Party as if these institutions were persons with fairly simple motives and logical processes, but of course this is a necessary generalization or abstraction, since we know that policy-making processes and political parties and governments are all aggregations of hundreds and thousands of individuals, with each individual having a variety of mixed and sometimes contradictory motives and goals.

There are a variety of moral foundations that would inspire most people to be concerned about drug addiction.  For some people, the rule of obedience to legitimate authority makes them concerned about drugs since they believe God or the government forbids drug addiction and abuse. For others, the rule of purity informs their emotional rejection of drug use, since drugs or intoxication are unclean or impure.  Some are motivated by a sort of conservation ethic, seeing a waste of talent and potential when others abuse or become addicted to drugs.  For many people, a care ethic motivates them to oppose drug use, since persons who become addicted to drugs or abuse them are often hurt, or harm others.  With so many moral reasons why people might want to control or forbid how others alter their minds through alcohol and other chemicals, we tend to forget there could be other motives. 

When Marx said religion was the aspirin of the masses (he actually called it opium, but he meant it in the sense of a painkiller, not a drug of abuse) he was pointing out that powerful elites might prefer people to escape from harsh realities by turning to drugs.  This was a point in Huxley’s Brave New World in which all the people were constantly taking mood altering drugs to improve their feelings, or in Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep where people were turning a dial and pushing buttons on a machine to give them experiences of different moods and outlooks.  People who have a strong liberty ethic might also approve of allowing others to use all sorts of drugs, since the use does not directly cause harm to others.  

You are adding to this list of possible motives for allowing or encouraging drugs by suggesting that some people considered that if drugs were widely available, this would create fear and destruction, and in a climate of fear and destruction, people would turn to political parties that offered law-and-order policies.  This is exactly the strategy of some terrorist groups, who seek to create chaos with terrorism to undermine the authority of governments and make common people so desperate and hopeless about the government’s ability to protect them that they will turn to the terrorists as saviors who can put an end to the chaos. The question is, is it plausible that a significant number of Republicans could have had this sort of mentality, really plotting to use the tragic disaster of homelessness, persons with mental illnesses unable to get treatment or services, and an influx of cocaine into poor communities in order to turn people toward a more traditional value system and a political party that promised law and order?

My rule is to generally assume that when people follow courses of action that lead to terrible consequences, they are most likely to be motivated by ignorance, stupidity, or cognitive biases that prevented them from seeing the harm their actions would cause.  I think callousness and lack of empathy is the next most likely cause of evil policies, following ignorance and stupidity.  Malicious intent or long-range strategies to win personal gain are also possible, but I think they are rarely good explanations when simple ignorance, stupidity, cognitive biases, or indifference and contempt are more readily available as explanations.

Mental health clinics weren’t adequately supported because Republicans (and many Democrats) had other priorities that were more important, including lower taxes, economic growth, decreased government size, military spending, and so forth.  Persons with mental illness, who would benefit from well-funded community mental health services, just aren’t very important to the political parties, at least they are relatively unimportant compared to the needs of that military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about, or the goals of the wealthiest and most powerful people, who generally want lower taxes, a smaller government, and a growing economy, and consider these goals more urgent than public safety nets to provide a decent life for every person suffering from a mental illness or disability. 

Yes, there were some interesting connections between drug dealers and CIA informants back in the 1980s. Most famously, the president of Panama was both an informant for the CIA and a major drug trafficker.  But I think the Hitz report showed that the CIA was mostly guilty of not aggressively investigating the drug connections of some informants and local partners, but was probably not guilty of actually directly using the drug trade to raise money for their support of various thugs and terrorists in Central America. 

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