The fourth of the five essays on the War On Drugs covers the years from 1984 to 1998, the same years that I lost sight of what was important, due in part to, but mostly facilitated by the global drugs trade. To be entirely accurate it was probably more like 1985 to 1998, and rather than a block of lost years, it was more like a process of decreasing humility, compassion, honesty and respect, and increasing selfishness and arrogance. Either way, it took decades to get back from it, and is arguably something that I am still working on every day.
One of the reasons I originally started researching the global drugs trade was in order to better understand the disconnect I had personally felt between the legislative narrative and the normative narrative in relation to the culture surrounding the drugs. In it’s simplest terms, the establishment said that they were anti-drugs, but the evidence on the street suggested they didn’t actively try to stop it. On occasions hamper it, yes. Sometimes use it to criminalise certain sections of the community, most definitely. But actively try to stop it, not that I could see.
The reality was that most of the people in their twenties and thirties that I came across not only knew where the drugs were, but could get hold of them within a matter of hours if they really wanted to. Most of the bars and nearly all of the clubs in Central London that hosted that age group, had at least one person, if not openly dealing, ridiculously easy to locate by asking other customers. Moving between these two worlds, the one where drugs are easily available and hinted at by celebrities, and the other where the establishment makes a pantomime spectacle of chest-beating and finger wagging, was like being in on a massive secret. A secret that made it that much harder to come back from while wrestling with addiction.
This conflict of identities is intrinsic to the underground drugs scene and it’s counter-culture disguise. Even now, twenty years later, I still meet anti-trump protesting, plastic-ban campaigning, Sunday morning Observer readers that lose their shit if you ask them if their weed is fair-trade. Drugs have become a ‘no-questions-asked’ backstage pass to beatnik-bohemia. The fact that the global drugs trade has an extremely close and well-documented relationship with some of the most oppressive, despotic and imperialist regimes in the last century seems to be inconsequential to the cultural kudos it opens up to the free-thinking, free-spirited, free-market, liberal-lite capitalists.
I would go further by suggesting that the Clinton/ Blair era was the logical evolution of this form of right-wing conservatism disguised behind a mask of liberalism … they even gave it a name, the Third Way. Which is basically the first way, neo-liberal capitalism, pretending to look like the second way, or at least pretending to look like a watered down version of something that might once have looked a little socialist. Blair’s Labour party was very much like those professional types that I had come in contact with at that time, who insisted on fair trade coffee with organic milk to go with their death-squad cocaine and al-Qaeda hashish. The same level of scrutiny and morality that they apply to their plastic bags and food packaging, they seemed unable to apply to their role as financiers of the global drugs trade. And just like those selective-liberals, compare the rhetoric to the legislation of those politicians, it didn’t stop them from selling arms to despots as part of their ethical foreign policy, or initiating the process of de-funding and then privatising education education education.
One of the main problems, in terms of the dissonance between the behaviour and the presentation, is that it falls outside the scope of what the establishment approves of as acceptable topics for ‘liberal’ discussion. For instance, it’s OK to talk about the lack of rich white women running FTSE100 companies, but it is not OK to keep going on about the difference in wages between the CEOs and lowest paid workers in those same companies. It’s OK to talk about the gender disparity in the highest wage brackets of the BBC, but it is not OK to talk about the percentage of senior management at the BBC that attended fee-paying schools.
Just as narrowly defined liberalism effectively acts as a disguise beneath which the majority of exploitation and oppressions can continue, so to does revolutionary-chic cover for the crimes of the global drugs trade. It has nurtured a marketing image that presents itself as a signifier of an artistic, open-minded, bohemian and enlightened identity, while in reality it is quite the opposite. In terms of the actual day-to-day impact of the underground drugs scene, it is arguably a public-private-partnership that weakens and criminalises the societies where it is consumed, while funding counter-revolutionaries, death squads and despots in the regions where it is produced. It is the ultimate example of ‘greening’. For all the designer peace symbols and millionaires dancing barefoot through the night at festivals, the underground drugs scene can only function while its users deny that their pills, powder and puff are funding death-squads, despots and terrorists.
The reality is, any time there is a radical shift to the left, anywhere in the world, the neo-imperialist establishment, will use any and all means available to them, to discredit, dismantle, debauch and eventually destroy these movements. The global drugs trade has been one of those ‘means’ which certain sections of the establishment having consistently turned to for several centuries now.
This fourth essay in the five essay series covers the period from the role of crack cocaine in destabilising civil rights in the USA and nationalist liberation movements in South and Central America in 1984, all the way through to the role of opium and heroin in creating and establishing a self-sustaining global terrorist threat in 1998. This essay was published on Znet on 18th September 2017. To read it here or to download a .txt version of it please click through to the page.