Police States of America
by Francois Tremblay (e-mail: FTremblay@liberator.net) [June 23rd, 2000]
After my article on the UK (see Britain No More), it seems that the United States is also not immune to the curtailing of basic human rights. The right I am talking about, of course, is the right of property (and privacy that is derived therefrom) and the right of free speech. What, that would never happen in the States you say? Why, you must not have heard of the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act.
The Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act is a nasty piece of legislation concocted and proposed by two Republicans [Senator Hatch and Representative Cannon] with the supposed goal of stopping manufacturing and abuse of methamphetamine. It is in fact a three-pronged attack on our rights by basically giving police the right to conduct secret searches, to shut down web sites without any warning, and create a new federal offense. Of course what's really putting the Internet on its royal rockers is the censorship part.
Basically the proposition forbids any communication about illegal or controlled substances concerning their making or use, or advertising of such information. This basically means that even linking to a web site on how to make such-and-such drug is passible of a prison sentence. This means that I will soon be a criminal because of this link: Patriot News. I'm fairly sure my girlfriend will be able to bail me out, however. Any web site, chat room, book, or other media treating the subject of illegal substances is liable to be prosecuted and destroyed. Not only would it be a crime but a federal crime, punishable by up to ten years (three years for Internet-related felonies). I'll let you figure out how many amendments are broken by this stratagem.
The fact that even linking would become illegal is a real problem for news agencies who link to sites on various subjects. This will also affect the advertising of the market that has been created around drugs -- mainly drug paraphernalia. But most importantly, it creates a problem for sick and dying people, and the compassionate people who try to work for their well-being. There has been a battle for the legal use of medical marijuana led for some years (not only in the United States), and this new bill destroys any hope of such a resolution. A doctor who would tell his patient how to cultivate marijuana or even where to buy an electronic vaporizer (a device that permits the patient to inhale the therapeutic chemicals without the bad effects of the smoke) would get ten years of prison.
It seems that this bill was inspired, believe it or not, by the United Nations. [I suppose militia leaders won't have any trouble believing me on this one.] They got around to addressing the "world drug problem," and it was established that there was such a thing as "illegal information." It seems that the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act is modeled after these resolutions, but takes them even further.
Such laws are not unprecedented. The Comstock Law did the same thing for condoms during a syphillis epidemic in 1873. Censorship is by no means a recent occurance. However we are not used to associate it with democracies, but more to dictatorships like Nazi Germany. Well, since one leads to another, I guess the distinction is not really all that appropriate. In the repeated attempts of the government to censor the Internet, despite utter failure, we see how the persistence of public opinion can and probably will make things difficult for free speech.
What will be the real net result of this bill, if it passes (and it certainly will, in one form or another)? It will not stop the consumption of drugs. It will only reduce the amount of information available on the drug market, on drug culture, and on drug consumption. It will promote ignorance over safety and destroy all hope for the ill of getting legal relief thru marijuana.
What is even more problematic is that we all think that there is some kind of "drug problem" in the first place. In fact it's rather distressing. I'm not trying to be the pragmatic one here, but drugs must have advantages or must fill some need since some of us take them. If we want to eradicate drugs in order to forget about them, what other voluntary activities are we going to want to forget? Should we forget about any self-defense activity, because they empower people? Should we forget about education or reading altogether? Saying that drugs are a grey area is unacceptable: if we accept the false principle that freedom of speech is not inalienable, then we have departed from reason and are not free to rationally contemplate the limits of repression.
Where does this obsession to censor come from, if not our hope that governmental control can solve all problems? This particular case seems similar to that of guns. Guns and drugs are both 'baaaaad things.' Therefore it seems we want, in both situations, to 'solve' the problem by erasing awareness of it. It's easier to forget than confront, as any psychologist knows. This flaw opens the door to over-reaching legislation by extending the fight against amphetamines to the 'war against drugs.' To make an analogy with my psychologist example, the public is much like a hysterical patient who just doesn't want to hear about anything bad. You get these various genetic, social and cultural factors, and from there the person is hysterical about what he or she is supposed to be prejudiced against. This may seem like a caricature, but it helps to understand the mindset that we are looking at here. There is something to be said for the influence of groupthink, but a lot of individuals share this trait. And of course there is no need for policing in a society which is accepting of differences, and not culturally tainted.
At any rate, even if the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act is not passed, its particular rules will. One of the tactics that politicians use to ensure laws will be enacted is to break them down and dilute them in other propositions where they will be more accepted, thereby ensuing their success -- so that when we talk about legislation, we must talk about individual memes or provisions, rather than bills. The same provisions that are made in the Act are reported to be present in the Bankruptcy Reform Bill. Although, I don't really see what drugs have to do with bankruptcy, except "moral bankruptcy." This may only be a rumor, however.
I foresee more of this kind of legislation in the future. As the government has failed miserably in trying to censor the Internet as a whole, it attempts to go at it piecemeal. In fact that's one of the main Libertarian complaints: that is, that we are getting our rights stolen bit by bit. To be sure, even the Internet is fair game now, and the death kneel of the first amendment seems to be on its way. One interesting thing to see is the reaction to the Internet community in the face of censorship. Internet denizens have never hesitated to defy the law en masse before, and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so.
Traditional religious sado-masochism still exists today and it seems that the call for more stringent child-raising methods, the deification of Mother Theresa and the fight against pain-killing drugs are manifestations of this sado-masochism. This is also present in many religious rejections of new technologies, like cloning. However it does not seem likely that this is the reason why drugs in general are being fought against. Ostensibly, the reason is supposed to be protection of the children, as it usually goes. Amphetamines, a category which includes methamphetamines, were used during World War II to help keep soldiers alert. It makes one feel super-energized and the stream of thoughts seem a lot clearer, although it is usually not so. More importantly, it is a popular drug amongst teenagers, and therefore in the minds of politicians seen as a danger. As I said earlier, this is a stratagem and, considering the meager mental power of politicians, I suppose it could be seen as somewhat clever. I suppose it was only a matter of time before somebody added compassion towards children and over-reaching fear and made something like this.
It seems inherently absurd that certain kinds of information should be illegal -- why should we seek to destroy something that has no effect on its own? Of course, the real goal is to strike at the drug market by proxy, by getting a chokehold on its means to disseminate information and access. I already described the process of attacking the proxy in Taking a Napster. The basic idea is to attack the flow of products or information at its most vulnerable point.
Here the most vulnerable point on the chain is the flow of information, since it requires a media and propagation. Cultures of drugs are also somewhat vulnerable because of the space they occupy, but they are already prosecuted under our current laws, not to much effect. The notion of "illegal information" is simply another way to make this weak link seem less respectful.
I have had discussions about the notion of what a police state is. Some people have questioned my use of this label. What exactly makes a state a police state? For example, American policemen have guns, while British policemen usually don't. Does that make the United States a more policed state? The answer is no.
What matters is the total power yielded by authorities, whenever material or legal, in terms of encroachment on individual rights. That is the factor that is the most politically relevant. Whenever a policeman is armed with a stick or a bazooka is not very politically relevant unless he has the power to use it. Otherwise it is little more than a menacing decoration. As such, the difference between a policed state and a free state is that the laws of a police state are made in order to repress (potentially or otherwise) individual rights to a considerable degree. It is possible to have a police state without necessarily having a great degree of socialism (which would more or less equate to conservatism), although police power is an essential component of controlled systems. The question of sidearms or equipment -- the material -- is mostly immaterial, so to speak.
Sometimes the most important is not visible to the naked eye, but it's still there for everyone to see.
(Note: this article may soon become illegal because of the drug-related link. Print it for your own convenience)
Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act: Senator John Ashcroft The Comstock Law: Zap The Comstock Law Before It Becomes A Computer Virus On The Internet! About.com: Bankruptcy Reform High Times
[Visit Francois Tremblay's personal pages at http://www.objectivethought.com.]
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