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The War on Drugs

"I think it's irresponsible to let . . . a chemical dream for you." -- Ursula K. Le Guin, in her Afterword for the book The Farthest Shore​

"The War on Drugs" was and is stupid.

First, one cannot have a war against an inanimate object. It's like declaring a war on chairs or a war on rocks.

The real war is the one within people's minds and hearts, in this case against addiction, and more to the point, against the causes that lead them to addiction. Here, the addiction is to things, namely drugs and nicotine and alcohol, that are harmful and detrimental, especially the more one consumes both in terms of volume and in length of time.

When we're young, we are generally strong and resilient and can withstand or absorb the effects of drugs and alcohol, just as we can do the same after bumps and bruises and the common cold. So it's easy to get started on these substances, to get that buzz or to get that high. We get fooled that we can do it again and again. But if we were to get bumps and bruises over and over and over again, over time as we get older, the effects would eventually begin to take hold. It's the same with drugs and nicotine and alcohol.

At a legal clinic where I sometimes volunteer, I recently sat down with a woman who was clearly losing the so-called 'war on drugs': it's hard to put into words, and I won't do so out of dignity for the woman, but it was easy to observe. Sitting there with her, and hearing her legal problems, which were part of a much broader array of problems, the point of this essay was evident: this woman was losing the battle within herself: temptation and weakness had the upper-hand over the impulse to do right.

I prayed there with her at the end of our meeting. I also prayed for her several times in the days that followed. And obviously by writing about her here, she comes to mind when I think about addiction. What is very saddening is that there are so many others like her in our communities. It's an epidemic that reflects a sickness in our society, and one that seems to be continuing to spread.

That leads to my other problem with the idea of a so-called 'war on drugs': no one should ever have a war against something or someone. Declaring a war against something is creating an 'other,' the act of which creates and further deepens divisions. And in fact, that's a mistake that's being made at much broader levels, such as in American politics and in global conflict.

The correct and mature approach, in any situation, is to fight for ideals. In this sense, we should declare a War For a Meaningful Life and For Quality Healthcare. These two things, in an idealistic sense, are the keys to winning any so-called 'war on drugs': meaningful life -- which should consist of a full-time, productive job at a living wage, alongside healthy relationships with family and friends -- and quality healthcare -- which consists of the affordable access to medical care and attention for those who need to get well.

I believe that, in our post-agrarian and post-industrial world, the disappearance of full-time, productive work at a living wage has driven some people to a lack of purpose and a low self-esteem, which sometimes leads to drug and alcohol abuse.

I believe that healthy relationships with family and friends are also diminishing. Facebook and other social media have paradoxically taken away the incentive and curiosity to stay in touch with people. I see it in my own life, when I don't hear from people all year until I send them a text message for their birthday, and then a whole year goes by in which I don't hear anything from them until I do the same next year. This diminishment of authentic socialization isolates people, which is the last thing we need in moments of low self-esteem, and thus sometimes leads to drug and alcohol abuse. I believe this also begins to explain the number of shooting incidents such as we've seen in Orlando, Las Vegas, and elsewhere.

Finally, I believe that the fight we now see for healthcare comes from an instinctive place where we know that we need better and more affordable access to quality healthcare, in response to and to address the effects of very reasons noted above. We need to connect people to the medical help that they need. We need our country to be well.

Please say a prayer for the woman I met. Even though you'll never know who she is, think of her as a symbol of those who are addicted. Pray that they, and we, win those battles in our hearts and minds to overcome temptations and find, or create, the meaningful life that we all deserve.

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