Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Book Review: Chasing The Scream

 

Johann Hari’s new book, Chasing The Scream,CTS provides a broad (but not deep) history of the War on Drugs. He offers not only a convincing case for why it is counterproductive and self-defeating (it’s been said before) but why everything we think we know about addiction is wrong and why — without addressing addiction and its causes — the the war is an exercise in futility.

The book engages with a variety of viewpoints from both sides: Not just the usual prohibitionist and harm reduction positions, but also the viewpoints of law enforcement officials as well as (unusually) those of a variety of drug users.

The book comes with endorsements (on the cover, no less) from Glenn Greenwald, Stephen Fry, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and — somewhat be musingly — Elton John. I know that one or more of these names is the mark of doom for many Ricochetti, but the book contains compelling arguments and statistics worth addressing nonetheless.

It’s worth further noting that Hari has previously been accused of plagiarism and making sloppy quotations. This book seems to be an attempt to redeem himself in this sphere: Not only is it copiously footnoted, it has referenced interviews — the original sources data, if you will — available for listening to on his website.

The book was given to me by a friend who was — and perhaps still is — a drug addict and who went to jail for it. So, it also comes with at least one real-life (thinking) addict’s endorsement of the insights it claims.

I know that some among us are legal, medical, and law enforcement professionals who regularly deal with the results of drug use and the War on Drugs. I’d be very interested if any of you have read the book and, if you have, what you think of its arguments.

With the Republican primaries switching into high-gear, public debate in America is being monopolized by some big items: the Iran deal, ISIS, the deficit, etc. What, if anything, is being said by any of the presidential hopefuls — Republican or Democrat — about the drug war at home? If not much, isn’t it an important enough subject to merit some serious analysis, discussion and airtime?

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  1. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    I’ve unfortunately not read it, because I’d gladly discuss it with you — I’ve heard it’s a good, thoughtful book. Perhaps I’ll order it.

    Or maybe I’ll never get around to it. It’s one of those books that’s always fallen just ever-s0-slightly-below my “I want to read this now no-you-can’t-that’s-an-impulse-purchase” barrier.

    Maybe I’ll find it on someone else’s bookshelf and read it, or maybe someone will give it to me as a gift. Then I’d love to talk about it.

    • #1
    • August 7, 2015, at 12:32 AM PDT
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  2. Sandy Member

    Zafar, Without summarizing the book, can you give us an idea of how he understands addiction differently from the rest of us poor slobs?

    • #2
    • August 7, 2015, at 6:29 AM PDT
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  3. Emerson Member

    Sandy:Zafar, Without summarizing the book, can you give us an idea of how he understands addiction differently from the rest of us poor slobs?

    Seconded. Ricochetti are generally not monolithic, and this question is no different – many of us seem to have varying ways of understanding addiction.

    -E

    • #3
    • August 7, 2015, at 6:53 AM PDT
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  4. Podkayne of Israel Member

    I heard this guy speak extensively on an extended podcast on, I think, “True Murder”. Thought-provoking.

    • #4
    • August 7, 2015, at 6:56 AM PDT
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  5. Profile Photo Member

    Zafar,

    What is new in this book? Please give us a quote. You hint but don’t tell us anything.

    • #5
    • August 7, 2015, at 7:11 AM PDT
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  6. Titus Techera Contributor

    He’s got an accomplice, too, Dime, & an abettor. All tease, no–well–whatever else there is…

    • #6
    • August 7, 2015, at 7:15 AM PDT
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  7. Charles Mark Member
    Charles Mark Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Endorsed by Chomsky? Count me out!

    • #7
    • August 7, 2015, at 7:26 AM PDT
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  8. Titus Techera Contributor

    Charles Mark:Endorsed by Chomsky? Count me out!

    It’s not the cooties, you know…

    • #8
    • August 7, 2015, at 7:37 AM PDT
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  9. Zafar Member
    Zafar

    From a TED talk:

    • #9
    • August 7, 2015, at 8:00 AM PDT
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  10. Zafar Member
    Zafar

    Basically – a punitive approach to drug use, iow inflicting some sort of punishment or pain on addicts, actually increases their desire to use, it kicks their drivers of addiction up a notch.

    Set out here in another (somewhat repetitive of the one above) youtube interview – but which is useful in that it sets out the connections clearly, and also places them in the context of Government spending.

    • #10
    • August 7, 2015, at 8:31 AM PDT
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  11. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Zafar: I’m particularly interested follow up to the statement that “everything we think we know about addiction is wrong.” Would you elaborate?

    • #11
    • August 7, 2015, at 8:40 AM PDT
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  12. Profile Photo Member

    Zafar:Basically – a punitive approach to drug use, iow inflicting some sort of punishment or pain on addicts, actually increases their desire to use, it kicks their drivers of addiction up a notch.

    Set out here in another (somewhat repetitive of the one above) youtube interview – but which is useful in that it sets out the connections clearly, and also places them in the context of Government spending.

    I agree I think. Often times people use “things” to escape problems so increasing problems encourage them to continue down the wrong path. The positive needs to displace the negative. Healthy “food” will quench the hunger. No “food” will not.

    • #12
    • August 7, 2015, at 9:01 AM PDT
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  13. I Walton Member

    If it adds light to the issue; good. We talk about the drug war the way Obama talks about the Iran deal, “Capitulate on everything or go to war.” “Legalize or continue the war we’ve been unsuccessfully fighting for nearly 50 years.” These are false choices. The war on drugs is a total failure because it focuses on supply. That is a hopeless war, an impossible goal, and a war that maximizes the damage drugs do. The war, if it is to be fought, must focus on demand, including addiction, but addiction doesn’t drive the business, the flabby nihilism of our youth and culture drive this business. We won’t get serious because they are our kids while those who pay the horrendous costs of the war on supply are mostly foreigners or folks in the ghetto.

    • #13
    • August 7, 2015, at 10:55 AM PDT
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  14. Zafar Member
    Zafar

    Arizona Patriot:… “everything we think we know about addiction is wrong.” Would you elaborate?

    For about 100 years we have dealt with addiction as something whose causes are primarily physical (eg heroin is highly addictive, if we get rid of heroin we get rid of the problem) when really what drives addiction is psychological issues and environment (so when there’s a “heroin drought” addicts don’t stop using, they just use meth instead).

    People with full, balanced lives can (and do) use drugs without becoming addicts – people with empty, painful lives are vulnerable. It is not a matter of money/things but of meaning. In common parlance people use drugs to “get out of it”. But if your life is meaningful (to you) you don’t want to be time or focus wise “out of it more than you are in it” (which imho is a good working description of addiction).

    In short: if we want less addiction we need to address its actual drivers – damaged, hurting people. This is something we utterly fail to do when we focus on restricting supply and criminalising use – with what should be unsurprising results, despite the undoubted good intentions of many front line soldiers in the war.

    The book also looks at the mechanics/underpinnings of the drug war – and how these actually increase addiction, criminality and violence.

    And importantly it asks: what has driven us (as individuals and as societies) to prosecute this war the way we have?

    • #14
    • August 7, 2015, at 11:35 PM PDT
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  15. Titus Techera Contributor

    You imply that there are deep mysteries & a deep lack of self-knowledge. I’m not sure that’s so, or at least in any relevant way.

    Do you think there’s great doubt as to why new, dangerous substances would be banned? Government & society at some point catch up to these things, although at least some of them had their salad days…

    Do you think there’s great doubt as to why we have recourse to laws instead of religion? Who can give meaning to the lives of the vulnerable? I’m not sure it’s even possible to have a country where a significant minority of people would not run the risk of ruining their lives because of drugs unless they live lives hemmed in by necessity.

    • #15
    • August 8, 2015, at 1:25 AM PDT
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  16. Zafar Member
    Zafar

    Titus Techera:You imply that there are deep mysteries & a deep lack of self-knowledge. I’m not sure that’s so, or at least in any relevant way.

    I don’t mean to imply anything mysterious, Titus. The thing is, we’re a smart species – but we seem to be invested in prosecuting this war with a focus that consistently fails. It seems like a subject worth of inquiry. And if we’re responsible for failure, and have the undoubted agency to be responsible for success, then looking at ourselves and why we do what we do seems like a good basic step.

    Do you think there’s great doubt as to why new, dangerous substances would be banned? Government & society at some point catch up to these things, although at least some of them had their salad days…

    I understand our motivation in banning them, but is it logical that we keep on doing the same thing (banning substances) and expecting a different outcome this time. What makes us do that?

    Why aren’t we more open to approaches which seem to offer better results? I’m thinking of Portugal. Not perfect, by any means, but worth a look.

    • #16
    • August 8, 2015, at 6:29 AM PDT
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  17. Titus Techera Contributor

    I’ll have to look at this business with Portugal.

    I do not see why the failure of the war on drugs requires decriminalization.

    It is neither obvious that making drugs illegal is the problem nor that the laws as they are could not work much better.

    What is obvious is that massive quantities of drugs are smuggled into or produced in America & consumed. I am given to understand that libertarians–many of them or all–are for drug legalization either on grounds humane (marketed drugs would be of higher quality at lower prices while attended by easier access to medicine or counseling) or inhumane (let the people so weak as to become addicted ruin themselves & anyone weak enough to go near them). I do not know how to go from today to that future–the humane version of which has at least some attractions.

    Then there is something else: Drugs are fueling terrifying corruption & civil wars in several Latin American & Asian countries.

    Sometimes it looks like the only way to get what Americans want out of the war on drugs is to wage wars to destroy drug production in Latin America. That would be regime chance all over again. Americans do not seem able to do that anymore–they can neither persuade their enemies to call it quits nor can they keep within their boundaries without incurring contempt & more enmity.

    • #17
    • August 8, 2015, at 9:10 AM PDT
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  18. Zafar Member
    Zafar

    Titus Techera:I do not see why the failure of the war on drugs requires decriminalization.

    Decriminalisation achieves better outcomes.

    Drugs are fueling terrifying corruption & civil wars…

    Q&A:

    Why does drug production fuel corruption and violence when producing legal commodities does not?

    Although the potential cost of producing drugs is similar to any other crop or pharmaceutical, drugs have an exponentially greater market value.

    If production costs can be low, why are prices so high?

    Because drugs are illegal the market is distorted by inefficient production, transport and vending mechanisms (garage labs, smuggling small amounts rather than shipping a carton, street dealers rather than a Walmart) and a risk mark-up.

    Have high prices significantly reduced drug use and addiction in the West?

    Probably not. Based on Portugal’s experience general drug use may be slightly lower than it otherwise would be, but drug addiction and its attendant problems is significantly higher. (The disturbingly named “drug library” makes a similar point about Prohibition.)

    So what have high retail prices achieved?

    An underground economy where criminals and terrorists are sustained by artificially inflated profits. (Terrorist groups like the PKK or the Tamil Tigers fund(ed) themselves from drug running.)

    If the drug war doesn’t reduce addiction, and actually empowers criminals, why do we keep fighting it this way?

    We prefer to believe that control and absolute safety are possible, and that what is bad is eradicatable. Our electorates respond better to unlikely promises of perfection than to realistic goals.

    • #18
    • August 8, 2015, at 7:31 PM PDT
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  19. Henry Castaigne Member

    Charles Mark: Endorsed by Chomsky? Count me out!

    A broken clock is right twice a day as they say. When I was reading Chomsky in class for two brief pages he sounded like Thomas Jefferson (without the French revolution baggage) when it came to free speech. He noted accurately that America has the best free speech in the world and we should hold on to that.

    One of my favorite books, A Fine Balance was endorsed by Oprah Winfrey. I know it stings but sometimes the crazies are right.

    • #19
    • August 8, 2015, at 9:07 PM PDT
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  20. Titus Techera Contributor

    Zafar: Decriminalisation achieves better outcomes.

    Oh, give me a break. Portugal proved that? Or do you know it without any proof? Or what’s the proof? I’m trying to take you seriously, but the leaps you make are just precious. You do not seem to understand you need to make a case. Add some examples. What’s the situation in the Netherlands?

    Why does drug production fuel corruption and violence when producing legal commodities does not?

    You’re talking about places that had both corruption & violence before drugs. How do you not see that?

    Although the potential cost of producing drugs is similar to any other crop or pharmaceutical, drugs have an exponentially greater market value.

    What do you mean, exponential?

    Have high prices significantly reduced drug use and addiction in the West?

    Probably not. Based on Portugal’s experience general drug use may be slightly lower than it otherwise would be, but drug addiction and its attendant problems is significantly higher.

    What’s the evidence Portugal = America? Does Portuguese drug use not empower Asian gangsters?

    If the drug war doesn’t reduce addiction, and actually empowers criminals, why do we keep fighting it this way?

    Habit?

    We prefer to believe that control and absolute safety are possible, and that what is bad is eradicatable.

    This is your fantasy. In reality, people just keep the system they’ve got because they’ve found no better. This does not mean better is unavailable, of course.

    • #20
    • August 9, 2015, at 2:58 AM PDT
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  21. Zafar Member
    Zafar

    Titus Techera:

    Zafar: Decriminalisation achieves better outcomes.

    Oh, give me a break. Portugal proved that?

    Well yes, it did. Their policy has been in place for fifteen years, and the numbers are in. They’re doing better than countries which started off with the same levels of addiction and drug related violence but which didn’t decriminalise. (Like next door Spain.)

    As for the drug war – I think you’re right and it might partly be habit, or at least bureaucratic inertia (we’ve ‘always’ done this so…’). But really – if you run across the book have a read, it’s thought provoking and I would be interested in your thoughts about it.

    • #21
    • August 9, 2015, at 5:25 AM PDT
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  22. Titus Techera Contributor

    The notion that all nations are the same & in the same circumstances seems to me silly. But I of course am no expert on drugs & their effects on people. Do you believe all nations or all vaguely democratic nations have the same stats on drugs? Except, of course, Portugal-

    • #22
    • August 9, 2015, at 5:42 AM PDT
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  23. Zafar Member
    Zafar

    Well which country’s fifteen year addiction levels and outcomes have trended better than Portugal’s? That seems like a pretty sound endorsement of an approach which afaik only Portugal has taken.

    I agree (if I understand your issue) that different countries have different social paradigms, and this makes the application of one approach across the board potentially problematic.

    Otoh, addiction seems to be a humanity wide issue ( the mechanics don’t seem that different from place to place, or at least I’ve never seen anybody argue that) and you can even compare Portugal with right next door, culturally and linguistically similar, Spain.

    • #23
    • August 9, 2015, at 6:06 AM PDT
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  24. I Walton Member

    Decriminalization raises demand without reducing supply so it increases the profits of the drug business. This creates incentives to hook new users, expanding demand still further. It is probably the only policy I can think of that would be worse than our current policy of erecting non tariff barriers so that the biggest profits move from outside our borders to inside our border.

    • #24
    • August 9, 2015, at 6:32 AM PDT
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  25. Zafar Member
    Zafar

    John, decriminalisation had reduced rates of addiction in Portugal.

    • #25
    • August 9, 2015, at 6:35 AM PDT
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  26. Sandy Member

    Do children try drugs because they feel that their lives are without meaning? Doubtful.

    But more to your point, Zafar, how do you propose that we address the problem of meaningful lives? Are you joining the social conservative side? If so, yay!

    Meanwhile, though I’m sure you won’t agree, I like the Singapore model better than the Amsterdam model.

    • #26
    • August 9, 2015, at 6:40 AM PDT
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  27. I Walton Member

    Zafar:John, decriminalisation had reduced rates of addiction in Portugal.

    So nothing else is going on in Portugal so this correlation is proof of causation? Were the numbers at least run in large multiple regressions and in cross country comparisons? What is the theory that is being tested when you say addiction went down after it was decriminalized. I’m suggesting a hypothesis that by decriminalizing the sale we reduce the cost of internal pushing without eliminating the non tariff barriers of interdiction that drive profits and creates incentives to hook new users. But these things are really difficult to test, as there are always a million other things going on. I think basic economics probably gives us more insights into the supply and demand, but what drives people to use this stuff and leads some to addiction is not part of that analysis, but it seems pretty stable across regimes and nations.

    • #27
    • August 9, 2015, at 6:56 AM PDT
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  28. Zafar Member
    Zafar

    Sandy:Do children try drugs because they feel that their lives are without meaning? Doubtful.

    Oh I agree. But do people (including children) become addicted to drugs when their lives are meaningful? Also doubtful, right?

    But more to your point, Zafar, how do you propose that we address the problem of meaningful lives? Are you joining the social conservative side? If so, yay!

    Sandy, if I knew that I’d be rich and sadly I’m not : – (

    But I do think focusing on that (including for recovering addicts) rather than on drug supply would be a good thing.

    Meanwhile, though I’m sure you won’t agree, I like the Singapore model better than the Amsterdam model.

    I don’t know what the Amsterdam model is, but why do you like the Singapore model? It sounds “tough on drugs” but – it doesn’t seem to be working. What’s so great about it?

    • #28
    • August 9, 2015, at 7:12 AM PDT
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  29. Zafar Member
    Zafar

    John Penfold:

    Zafar:John, decriminalisation had reduced rates of addiction in Portugal.

    So nothing else is going on in Portugal so this correlation is proof of causation? Were the numbers at least run in large multiple regressions and in cross country comparisons?

    “Rate of addiction” is a standard (cross country) comparison. So are things like overdose rates and rates of drug related criminal incidents, violence and homelessness.

    What is the theory that is being tested when you say addiction went down after it was decriminalized.

    The theory is that the pressures on drug users that are a result of criminalisation actually make them more vulnerable to addiction. (eg giving someone a criminal record means that you significantly reduce their chance of a meaningful and rewarding work life – and work is so important when it comes to a meaningful life.) Otoh treating drug use as a completely medical issue reduces those pressures, and thereby reduces rates of addiction and the associated crime and impact on surrounding society.

    I’m suggesting a hypothesis that by decriminalizing the sale we reduce the cost of internal pushing without eliminating the non tariff barriers of interdiction that drive profits and creates incentives to hook new users.

    Portugal has decriminalised the use of drugs. Selling drugs is still illegal. Maybe not consistent, but it seems to have worked.

    • #29
    • August 9, 2015, at 7:25 AM PDT
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  30. I Walton Member

    Last I looked the Singapore model worked very well, but what works for a tiny, tight homogenous little island can’t work for one of the largest most diverse nations on earth. Stopping supply cannot work. It is flatly impossible. So we must look elsewhere. As I say above we don’t like demand suppression because our kids are the problem. If we legalized it as if it were tooth paste or cigarrets it we’d have to crack down on users as drugs became traffic and jobs hazards. So test now, suppress use, take drivers licenses. But for god’s sake we must stop the insane war the result of which is to maximize the damage drugs do.

    • #30
    • August 9, 2015, at 7:26 AM PDT
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