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How the "Wars" on Terror and Drugs Distract the Public from the Bigger Motives Behind Them

Massive surveillance of citizens has emerged from the “war on terror,” and a prison-industrial complex and money-laundering banks have profited from the “war on drugs.”

When trying to understand current events in their fuller context, it’s often more useful to look at the policies and interests that are influencing these events rather than individual cases (although the individual cases often make up “the news”). That is because there is often a gaping chasm between the formally stated goals of a policy and its actual effects.

Think of the “wars” on various nouns such as “terror” or “drugs.” Though framed in simplistic P.R. terms, these “wars” justify a variety of other actions and serve many additional interests. Massive surveillance of citizens has emerged from the “war on terror,” and a prison-industrial complex and money-laundering banks have profited from the “war on drugs.”

Despite this reality, discussions about and opposition to these “wars” are often argued from the rather fictional standpoint that the stated goals are the actual goals. In the mainstream news media and conventional political circles, that’s often the case even if it is patently obvious that the policy in question does not further the supposed goal and that everybody smart enough to have some influence is aware of this.

Opposition against misguided or destructive policies thus allows the parameters of the debate to be fenced-in by its proponents. It’s pretty hard to win any debate if the other party can define (and re-define) the terms of the debate, moving the goal-posts without a need for any evidence that these goal-posts were reasonably placed to begin with.

When a pharmaceutical company wants to bring a new pill to market they need to show, in a series of transparently documented clinical trials, that the pill does what it is supposed to do and does not have (too many) negative side-effects. Evidence-based decision making is the norm and — while far from perfect — this standard prevents useless or downright dangerous pharmaceuticals from entering the market and thus the bodies of humans.

So when governments develop policies it is reasonable to ask: what problem does this solve? What new problems does it create? What proof do you have that your claims about these problems and their solutions are actually true? So let’s just assume for a moment that the people keeping these policies going have roughly the same IQ and information as you and I. They can understand the effects of policies even if these are completely different from officially stated objectives.

It is believable (depending on your gullibility) that a policy that turns out to have the opposite effect that it was meant to have will be kept going for a little while through administrative inertia. But at some point this stops being a credible explanation. There is a limit to what we can explain by sheer stupidity of policy-makers – really there is!

You can believe some of the policy-makers are stupid some of the time but it is not reasonable that all of them are completely insane all of the time for decades. So when policies seem to have clear effects that structurally differ from the officially stated goals, I would suggest that the policy is working just fine; its goal is just not what the stated goal is.

To understand what the real goal of a system of policy is we can simply look at its most obvious beneficial effects. What’s it for? What’s it good at? Let’s look at the example of the clearly failed policy of “The War on Drugs.”

Since that paragon or trustworthiness Dick Nixon “launched” it two generations ago, the global market in illicit drugs has exploded to a $500 billion enterprise, all of it outside any form of government oversight or control. Amid a plentiful supply, price has dropped almost constantly over this time across the entire Western World while potency has increased.

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