07/15/20 Sanho Tree

Century of Lies
Sanho Tree
Drug War Facts

This week on Century: Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, talks about “COVID, Modernity, Lifeways & Drug Use.” His talk was part of an IPS webinar series entitled “Progressive Politics and the Time of Pandemic" and comes to us courtesy of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Audio file


The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization. The end of prohibition led us to investigate a century of lies.
Hello, welcome to century of lies. I'm your host. Doug McVay SanJo tree is the director of the drug policy project at the Institute for policy studies. He gave a presentation recently on COVID modernity Lifeways and drug use as part of an IPS webinars series entitled progressive politics in the time of pandemic. We're going to hear portions of that on today's show.
Uh, there's nothing quite like, uh, having your, your life and your world come to a crashing halt for several months to really ponder, um, the meanings of, of, of Lifeways and maternity and how we got to be here and what is normal. And, uh, so I want to talk about drugs from that perspective, uh, and I'm going to do so by, uh, talking about a number of, of different stories then yes, that will, uh, at the very end I will tie together and if I fail to do so, please remind me. But, uh, one of the reasons front policy's been so baffling, uh, and so difficult to reform and, and to, to fix, um, is that we don't really, uh, situate the problem, uh, properly historically, but also, uh, it is one of the most interdisciplinary problems I've ever studIED. And I used it world war two historian.
Right. And what were two was pretty interesting interdisciplinary. It was very complicated. Uh, but it, there was a lot of clarity in terms of who the good guys and bad guys quote unquote were. Uh, and, uh, so when you talking about drugs, however, you're talking about an incredible supply chain that affects millions of people around the world from, uh, peasant farmers to, uh, noodles, to the traffickers, to dealers, to money launderers, uh, to, uh, all these different, uh, people. And, uh, and so you have to know a little bit about each of these things to get the big picture. And the big picture is, is hard to explain to policy makers because, um, our bloodborne establishment, both in terms of the bureaucracies involved, but also the congressional committees that do oversight and appropriations for these things, as well as the universities that train, uh, these bureaucrats, uh, and other academics are, are very much, uh, as well as the, you know, the, the journalist who covers they're also, you know, beat journalists or they specialize in certain aspects of this.
Uh, but there are so many different silos that it's difficult to, uh, get a top down overview. And when you begin to do that, but the whole thing starts to look quite insane. Right. And so, uh, what I want to do is try to break down some of those silos and, and talk about, uh, how we got here. Um, and as historian, I'm going to talk about the past first, before I talk about the present. Uh, and so, you know, whose job is it to, to make sense of all these different things? Stop the drugs, ours job, because we put that office in the white house and we politicized the, uh, uh, the, the national, uh, office of drug policy control. It's situated in the white house. So it's become a partisan issue as well. But let me start by telling you a story about, uh, how we got here in this hemisphere.
Let's start with the basics, um, out, uh, 15 years ago, or so I was asked to give a talk at a Boulder high school. Um, and it's a kind of an alternative high school in a sense that the students looked at your bio and, uh, they looked at the different things you've done. And then they come up with a title for your talk that you have to speak to it. Uh, and so these high school students being teenagers, uh, came up with a rather unique title for me to speak to. It was about sex drugs and international relations. And I thought, Oh Lord, how am I going to tie all of these things together? Um, and it, of course, Don, I made the last minute how to bring it together. And if you ask the question, well, how did we end up here in this hemisphere, the Western hemisphere, most of us store non-indigenous, um, and it actually has to do with, uh, how's back to drugs.
Um, when Columbus went sailing across the ocean, uh, what was, what was his purpose? What was his objective? Why, why they do that take undertaking this very risky voyage? Um, it wasn't, uh, gold and the search for lands and, and, you know, uh, you know, Christian crusaders, primarily, it was for spices, right? And so why spices, why were spices so valuable back then? Uh, it wasn't just because the food in Europe was bland and boring, which it was pretty much at the time. Uh, but, uh, each of these new spices, um, whether it's cinnamon or clove or nutmeg or any of these things, whatever it's new and exotic came from somewhere else. And this is how we think about drugs in our society, right? Drugs are what other cultures do. They're foreign they're alien. And, and we imbue these substances, uh, with offensive alien properties.
Uh, we imagine they're associated with, and back in the day, when Columbus went looking for these splices, these drugs, these new drugs, uh, had a word of mouth reputation, they were thought of as drugs, uh, because, uh, all these exotic new spices were thought to, you know, um, how do I put this delicately put lead in your pencil? Right? Uh, it was the Viagra of the day, uh, and of course, uh, aphrodisiacs are mostly working the head anyway. Uh, and so people were willing to pay a lot of money for these things. And, uh, so I guess you could make the argument that half the world's got colonized, because a bunch of old white men in Europe, couldn't get it up. And thus kids, you have the linkage of sex, drugs, and international relations. Uh, I'm being facetious here, but, but, but you get my point that these things have a deep roots.
Speaker 3
And if you take a look at the past five years,
A hundred years of colonization and development in this Western hemisphere, uh, it becomes apparent just how profound, um, the role of drugs and, and what are thought to be perceived as drugs at the time, uh, what the role they played in the development of this hemisphere, fat for a good 400 years of that first period. Uh, they drove the development in many ways of this hemisphere when we're talking about crops like, uh, uh, you know, uh, sugar. Well, we get run from, uh, sugar was an incredibly valuable commodity and sugar is a drug. Um, if you don't believe me, try giving it up for two weeks. And at the time of the, uh, uh, American revolution, the Island of Barbados was worth more to the British empire from the 13 colonies in North America, simply because of the profitability of sugar. And of course, run that came along with it, but also things like coffee, uh, tea, tobacco, and spices, just take tobacco, right.
Uh, what would the United States look like today? Uh, what would Virginia or North Carolina or Kentucky look like today if we never had tobacco? Um, that was the backbone of, of, of, uh, much of the economy in nearly two years of these colonies, uh, and, uh, sugar, uh, you know, was a horrendous, uh, commodity. Um, if you look at what it took to produce that sugar, and by that, I mean, it took in slate in it. So that Europeans went to an entirely different continent to kidnap and enslaved Africans to come and work on plantations in the new world to generate these, these profits that make these European empires very, very wealthy and creating some of the banking fortunes, uh, that played a role later on in history. But, uh, the conditions in the, in the, uh, uh, certain plantations in the Caribbean, uh, were just off the charts horrific compared to, well, there's no point in comparing pain and suffering, but it was an order of magnitude different. And, and, uh, and so throughout this history, uh, drugs or things that were proceeding drugs, played a big role in how we got here and how we live our lives today, and who has power, who has land, um, and access to capital. Um, much of this has passed on generationally. Uh, so if you're, if you're talking about black lives matter today, a lot of that, uh, is, is, is generational wealth that was never passed along because it was stolen from, uh, people of color, particularly African Americans.
Speaker 3
Uh, and, uh, in, in all this,
It comes back later on in the drug policy. We'll get to that. Um, but so I just wanna give you a sense of, of, of some of the timescales we're talking about here. We'll talk a little bit about my own, uh, background. I'm a Chinese American. I was born in Taiwan and came to this country at the age of four, but my father, uh, and my mother were from mainland China. And, uh, they left and moved to Taiwan. I fled to Taiwan in 1949 during the revolution, but a few years ago, uh, about a dozen years or so, my father, uh, went back to our ancestral village in China, and he brought back a digital copy of our family's scrolls, the family tree, so to speak no pun intended. Uh, and I knew it went back a few generations. I had no idea I was not prepared for how far it went back.
Um, and we believe, uh, it's hard to beat them the old script, and they use a different calendar system, but we believe it goes back at least 26 generations approximately to the year six 37 the other day. Um, and when I think about all of those generations that came before me and the lives that they led, um, and I don't want to romanticize it because to be a, and there were some farmers in rural China, right. And to be a peasant farmer in rural China was not easy, especially if you're a woman in world, uh, as a peasant, but their Lifeways were very predictable and sustainable over many generations each, you know, and when I think about the last generation, my generation, um, I live a life that is completely alien to all of those, all of my ancestors that came before me, the energy resources I consume, uh, probably exceed all the energy resources my ancestors have ever used simply because I live a modern lifestyle.
I traveled a lot. Um, the food that I eat comes from halfway around the world very often. Uh, we have a very globalized world that my ancestors could never have envisioned much less learn to navigate. Um, and navigating this new reality is very, very, very important. Um, but in, in China, uh, and it's not unusual to have these long family trees because it's Confucian society, uh, and not the romanticized Confucius either, but it was Confucius lay down a formula for a super stable society to stable in many ways. And that's why China suffered for, for so long. Uh, but, uh, it was predictable and sustainable. Um, and we've since gotten rid of that, uh, particularly during the cultural revolution in China. And we haven't really replaced it with new values and new ways of living and being, and understanding our roles in this world. Right.
Uh, and this is a theme I'll come back to over and over again. Um, and so that's kind of, uh, you know, my, my family background, um, but let's take a look at more recent history. Uh, let's look at some commodities, for instance, uh, corn, a simple commodity what's the spec what's porn got to do with drugs other than corn alcohol? Well, uh, back in the mid nineties, uh, there was a big, uh, debate over the North American free trade agreement. It was ultimately passed a lot of us mourn a lot of the downfalls, the pitfalls of that agreement, but it was passed and the technocrats, however, who engineered this free trade agreement in Mexico city and Ottawa in Washington, D C very often, they basically, uh, their shoes, uh, never got dirty, right? They, they, they, they live and work in marble buildings and these technocrats just thought, well, uh, let's talk about efficiency. We fetishized efficiency. And, uh, American said, look, we can produce corn on an industrial scale in the Midwest through mechanized, industrial agriculture, uh, big agribusiness. And we can ship that corn, uh, to Mexico, thereby freeing up your farmers, uh, and your cool in Mexico can then develop a, with a industrialization, et cetera, et cetera,
Speaker 4
These types of crafts. However, uh, I don't think really understood what they were capturing with, uh, the Lifeways they were tampering with. So if you look at just one commodity of corn, uh, and how that played a role in anchoring a world, Mexican agrarian life or so many generations, uh, and including pre-Colombian times, right, corn was so central to people's Lifeways, it was a gift from the gods. It was, uh, your, your, your, your songs, your rituals, your holidays, or festivals, your feasts all revolved around the planting cycle. And that kind of kept the community together. It gave them a purpose and understanding of their role in the world and how to navigate that. And suddenly, uh, we flood that society with cheap, uh, North American corn, uh, from the United States. And suddenly he's thinking about torn asunder from the land, uh, and the crop that kept them rooted and stable for so many generations.
And they were thrust into a and many of them. And I'm oversimplifying this argument, uh, for the sake of argument, just as an illustration. This is not a direct line, and I'm not saying everyone went through this experience, but many of those people was suddenly pointed thunder from the land that had given them, you know, stability for, for so long and progressed into a brand new reality of concrete steel petroleum Silicon, uh, into an urban Lifeway, uh, very often going to kill the doors, the, the sweat shops, the factories along the border areas, uh, and other sources of employment. But suddenly you have rural people migrating to urban areas, and the technocrats would never asked themselves, how are we going? Who's going to teach them how to raise children in this new environment. Who's going to teach the next generation, what kind of values, songs, traditions, uh, that would route the next generation.
Our, our Lifeways are evolving so quickly now that, um, one generation doesn't understand what the next generation is going through. And that's always been a complaint, right? You could go back to Socrates complaining about the young, but in these days, we, we, we we've moved that evolution of the warp speed. And it's, it's always been hard to raise children under any circumstances, but now, especially right, because parents really don't know what the new technologies and the new environments, uh, that, that young people are going through. And so suddenly you've got this migration of rural people into, uh, into an urban reality. They don't know how to navigate both parents. Uh, very often are working. Now, who's going to raise the children. What songs will they teach them values? What traditions, what, uh, you know, and, and, and, and with both parents working, what are the influences on this next generation?
And, and unfortunately, if you're at the bottom of the exclusionary society, uh, in the ways that, you know, urban folk have always kind of looked down on rural folk, um, you know, city, mouse, country mouse, you know, you've heard the fables forever, but suddenly these kids don't have, uh, a God a guide, uh, to teach them how to navigate this new reality. And they're often excluded from a lot of things, but who's offering them a ticket out. Uh, and here's where the drugs come in. A lot of times the gangs and the Narcos will offer them, um, instant respect. If you have a gun, uh, you've got social mobility, you got cash for the first time. Um, you can gate people, you can go out and you can do all these things, um, rather than work as your, uh, parents did in sweat shops. Uh, and, uh, and so, you know, we'd have this inexhaustible reservoir.
It seems of, of, of people who would rather live as a, as a, as a King for a couple of years, and as a popper for 70 years, um, and attention must be paid to such people, right? Um, so this is a, it boomerang that took a quarter century to come back and hit us, but Mexico, uh, since president Calderon waged and launched it as disastrous drug war back in 2006, uh, by, you know, taking the beginnings of a turf war and, uh, uh, and just beating the hornet's nest to the point where now there are hundreds of thousands of deaths as a result of that policy, uh, over 200,000, at least. And they stopped counting a long time ago because it's 200 dis-aggregate who was killed over common crime versus drug crime, versus all these other things, et cetera.
We're listening to Sanho tree director of the drug policy project at the Institute for policy studies, speaking on COVID modernity Lifeways and drug use. This is century of lies. I'm your host, Doug McVeigh. Now let's hear some more from San Jose tree.
And so I think that the government of China has much to look forward to in terms of, um, uh, problems coming down, the line that traditional Lifeways had been severed, and we've all evolved new ones at Lightspeed, uh, without really giving thought to how they're going to fit in society and, and teach them how to, how could he be in this world? Uh, what is normal anymore, right? And this is what COVID, and this lockdown has got me thinking about is normal. And how do we find our place in society? How do we belong? Um, if, if, if, if four months in lockdown hasn't caused you to have some reflection about these things, I don't know what will, uh, maybe this thought what's, let's see, we look around the world. And again, when we see this world of, of concrete steel petroleum Silicon, uh, in my artificial background, this is a Stanley Kubrick.
The is my interior designer from 2001 space Odyssey. Anyway, this new mold of, of, of, of, uh, concrete steel, petroleum, Silicon, uh, that, uh, uh, and we think it's normal. We think it could only have been this way, right? This is how society was meant to evolve. Uh, but this wasn't inevitable. This was a result of choices that we made for failed to make asses in society, because we've privatized and deregulated all these, uh, sectors of our economy. So that the market now decides for us, what's going to, what's going to take place next rather than policy makers, uh, and the market doesn't really care about your, your children or grandchildren, uh, and, and their values and their, uh, the environment that are going to inherit. Um, put another way that the elders at the Iroquois Confederation had a saying, um, uh, we also stole, uh, in part our idea of a constitution, your voice, um, their elders were very wise and they would ask the study, simple question, how will the decisions we take today affect the seventh generation down the line?
That's I think good longterm thinking perhaps too long for a lot of people in the West these days. Uh, but, but I think it's a, it's a good way to approach the world, but whose job is it in our society to talk about, uh, these questions, right? Um, we are in fact, just making stuff as we go along, we're building new life ways without really much thought, put another way. Uh, I'm talking to you via an iPad. Uh, I'm very much addicted to my iPhone and my Twitter way too much, but 20 years ago, did anyone talk to Steve jobs? Did he ask anyone? It's just a good thing to unleash in the world? Um, I get a lot of benefit from it, but I also see a lot of problems as a result of this that we never thought through initially. Right. Uh, and I would, uh, I would even argue that Google and Facebook and Suscipe, and their subsidiary corporations have done more harm to this planet, um, than Goldman Sachs could ever dream of, um, simply because of, uh, what we're stuck with today in terms of Trump, in terms of Nazis, in terms of, uh, new realities that are being crafted with Q and on, on the internet, right?
People are going reality, shopping on the internet in ways that are their ancestors could never have dreamt off 50 years ago. If you were a, a Neo Nazi or a John Birch society member Navy, you got your, your monthly, uh, newspaper in the snail mail. Uh, but if you went down to your local bar, uh, and started, uh, you know, spout is validating your, your philosophy, you might get punched out fairly quickly, right? But today you can go online and find hundreds of thousands of people who will tell you that you're normal, that this is the right way to think that we've crafted new realities that are, and have nothing to do with reality anymore. And so, as a society, it becomes very difficult to have a rational discourse about public policy. If we can't agree on what constitutes a baseline for reality, that's a big problem now.
So we have not just Trumpism, but we have Bolsa narrow. We have Putin, we have all these things that a lot of this was done through social media, right. And it was a powerful tool, uh, that evolved probably from a lot of these technologies, like the iPhone, iPad and others. Uh, anyway, we didn't, we didn't really didn't think this through, right. And I'm not saying we shouldn't have these things. I'm just saying that, you know, it'd be nice if we had some room to think about these things. And so there's an old African proverb that says the last one to recognize the assistance of water is the fish because the fish is swimming through the water, right? And so we are the fish swimming through modernity, and we don't recognize that it's a fact that this is a reality that we created either intentionally or unintentionally, and we have the power and capacity to change the future trajectory of our society. Uh, but only if we take those decisions, that decision making back, uh, from, uh, the free market and from others who are unelected or who care only about short term, uh, objectives. Um,
If you look at our, how this intersects with our political system and solving complex problems, we have global warming be it drug policy. We have politicians that think in terms of two, four or six year election cycles, right? And once you're elected, your first concern is getting reelected. So you don't want to rock the boat too much. Um, so, uh, we can't look to them for longterm thinking and longterm solutions. Um, if you dare talk about, you know, planning even five years into the future, Fox news will call you a socialist, uh, our corporations think in terms of quarterly numbers, if you don't make your numbers or stock will tank, they'll be taken over your NOLA no longer be extent, and you'll be irrelevant, right? So who's job is it to look out for the interests of the seventh generation or even the next generation yet unborn.
Uh, we don't have elders in our society the way our ancestors did. Um, they revered elders for good reason because they'd been on this planet for many, many decades. And they've seen me to hubris and the impact of, of, of change on their local communities and societies. And so they can see trouble coming from around the corner, a mile away, uh, in ways our, our young technocrats don't, and there's a lot of hubris involved and the grease trying to teach patients about that thousands of years ago, but the joke is on us, cause you don't really get it until you get it. And by the time you get it, it's too late. Put another way. There's an old saying that, um, good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment. In other words, uh, we learn from making mistakes and it's important to, uh, it's not wrong to make a mistake, but it's important to learn from them to acknowledge them and then to evolve.
And so, uh, at the intersections of, of all these problems, and I think you're beginning to see the complexity of, of, of, uh, uh, how drugs fit into this, right. Um, people either turn to these substances through, uh, in search of, of, of, of solutions or insight and drums, particularly, uh, hallucinogens or entheogens, uh, are very useful candy. They're useful for offering tremendous insight. And in many ways could help heal our society, but also people who use drugs to escape that reality because they don't feel like they fit into this modernity, this world, that they had no role in creating and don't know how to navigate no one ever bothered pitching them. And you're just thrown into this and we're making this up as we go along and we're doing a very bad job of it, I would argue. And so, uh, we do a lot of scapegoating now with the drugs and say, aha, this is the problem.
We're listening to Sanho tree director of the drug policy project at the Institute for policy studies, speaking on COVID maternity Lifeways and drug use. This is century of lies. I'm your host, Doug McVeigh. There was a Q and a at the end. I had the good fortune to get in the first question. So here it is.
So here's one from, uh, Doug Mick Bay. It was announced this week that the state of Oregon will be voting on a ballot measure this November to decriminalize simple possession of most illegal drugs. You support broad decriminalization generally. And do you think it's a measure that could have an impact on broader drug policy debate? Uh, great question. Uh, I absolutely support it. The idea that we would incarcerate people for these problems, um, really solves nothing. Uh, and that, uh, it's also, uh, you know, an individual Liberty cognitive Liberty aspect of this. Um, I'm not a, uh, economic libertarian, but I'm a civil libertarian. And in that sense, uh, we give too much power to the state that a level of control, right? If you look at the, uh, uh, the, the, the founding, uh, the founders of the nation and the constitution, where in the constitution, because to give the right the government to, uh, kick down your bedroom door, to arrest you and throw you into prison for something that you do be your body absent harm to others.
If there's no one else involved, if you grew your own drugs or whatever, and you're only doing it to yourself, where does the state get the right to, to intervene at such an intimate level, uh, and to destroy your life? Basically, if you're doing that, um, that, uh, if the state is allowed to do that, and we get the drug war through our mother's milk, right, we get it from birth in our society. Uh, and so we assume these are normal state powers. They're not because for the state can intervene in such an intimate level, um, into your own Corpus. Um, what is the stop, the state from intervening, uh, in terms of sexual freedoms, reproductive rights, um, you know, if, if we're in the constitution, does it give the right to state, but the state to decide what you do to your lungs, to your mouth, to your stomach, to your brain, to any of your orifices, absent and harm to others. Uh, and should they be able to destroy your life? Uh, as a result, if you don't have the sovereignty of your own Corpus, you really don't have anything at all, right? That's the most intimate and basic level.
You just heard Sanho tree director of the drug policy project at the Institute for policy studies, speaking on COVID maternity Lifeways and drug use. His talk was part of an IPS webinars series, entitled progressive politics, and the time of pandemic, other installments in that series. And the full video of this presentation are available through the IPS website@ips-dc.org and on their YouTube channel. And that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to century of lies where a production of the drug truth network for the Pacifica foundation radio network on the web of drug truth.net. I'm your host, Doug McVeigh editor of drug war facts.org. The executive producer of the drug truth network is Dean Becker. Be sure to check out Dean's new video project Becker's buds. You can find links@drugtruth.net. The drug truth network has a Facebook page. Please give it a like drug war faxes on Facebook to give its page a like, and share it with friends. Remember, knowledge is power. You can follow me on Twitter. I'm Mac Doug McVeigh. And of course also at drug policy facts, we'll be back in a week with 30 more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. This is Doug McVeigh saying so long, so long for the drug truth network. This is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition. The century of lies, drug truth network programs, our conduct, the James J. Baker third Institute for public policy.