“The drug war is the international projection of a domestic American psychosis.”

The drug war is the international projection of a domestic American psychosis.

Focusing just on drug use and not on the causes for addiction, I was struck by this line from Ethan Nadelmann’s Ted Talk. It reminded me of arguments made by founding Queer Theorist Michel Foucault in his landmark book Discipline and Punish. Foucault talks about the way that the early pandemic response in urban European environments was built around building a line separating the clean from the unclean and punishing the unclean. He went on to give us the idea of cultural expectations as a panopticon or a prison of identity where we as prisoners enforce the rules on one another. He also talked about the modern punishment being indefinite examination rather than drawing and quartering as was the case in ancient times. In particular, Foucault explores the idea of pathologized categorizations of certain kinds of people who are bad or sick or unhealthy based on seemingly irrelevant behaviors. This is essentially identical to the discourses around addiction in America, as well as many other modern cultural issues.

Do you choose to use adderall and ritalin, or rather the less legal forms of amphetamines?

Do you choose to use vicodin and norco, or rather the less legal forms of heroin?

What factors contribute to the decision on which of these a given person may choose to use, and why is it the decision between which forms of each drug that means a person should be treated as “sick” and punished?

Many of the texts and videos we went through in this unit make the same argument; that underprivileged people are given pathologized identities based on which drugs they choose to use, and then marginalized on that basis. There are many queer arguments to make about drug use, but I think this is the core one; pathologizing a given behavior — only when certain kinds of people have that behavior, and not for other groups — is merely an extension of the systemic oppression of racism, classism, and other forms of bigotry and prejudice.