The Discourse of Crack

In his visit to Brazil, neuroscientist Carl Hart was asked what he thought about the word “Cracolandia,” used to describe the location where crack addicts gather in several cities in the country. Hart replied, “With that name we are … showing to society how to vilify specific groups of people.” Which is obviously true. When we talk about “Cracolandia,” we divorce the issue from our reality. Cracolandia becomes a separate world in which rules are different from our ordinary lives.

The distinctive feature of this place becomes the fact that crack users live there. And their profile is well known: the poor, the black, the favela dwellers. However, the narrative created by the label “Cracolandia” is not that those are people in need, that they’re surrounded by evil incentives, or that they’re pawns in the crossfire between the Military Police and the drug dealers — the narrative says only that they are people who should be eliminated.

The name “Cracolandia” also excludes from the collective thinking the fact that, as Hart says, people who go to these places are, essentially, normal. Sure, they’re often dependent on drugs (and for that we should be compassionate towards them rather than despise them), but their actions, wishes and relationships are essentially common, very little out of the ordinary.

Politics can be described from several angles, but it seems useful to think about it as a clash of discourses. And discourses are not only advertising formalities of a given mode of thought. They aren’t the way my thought arranges itself in this article to get you to understand what I’m saying. Discourses, as Michel Foucault claims, are institutionalized patterns of knowledge; they’re always related to historically established modes of thinking about the world.

When we talk about Cracolandia, we frame one aspect of reality and elect the opposing discourse. We reproduce and stigmatize people who are in these spaces, for one reason or the other. We cease to deal with individuals and start thinking in terms of power, in terms of what the government should do with people who are in Cracolandia, as if there was anything particularly different between people who are there and the extremely poor in other places. Or, as Hart says, as if crack were somehow different from cocaine, but not the same drug branded for the poor.

Cracolandia, then, is just the natural end result of a drug war whose discourse intends to label every drug user as an “addict” or a “junkie” and justify their marginalization. When society notices that its attempt actually works in creating marginalized people, everyone throws their hands in the air horrified and ask themselves, “What went wrong?” as if it wasn’t predictable.

The discourse on crack is specifically designed to create a caste of undesired people, of individuals who shouldn’t be subjected to rational political discussion. Thus, it’s a discourse to rationalize the use of force.

This week, classical liberal and libertarian groups in Brazil started to share the name of candidate Paulo Batista for the Sao Paulo State Assembly. Billed as the liberal alternative for the state, one of Batista’s main proposals is a “zero tolerance” policy against both crack consumers and crack dealers.

Many classical liberals and libertarians defended the candidate, stating that, outside this small deviation of libertarian principles, he’s a very good alternative in our political scenario.

It’s a shame political positions are not all weighed equally, and that to defend the employment of extreme violence and incarceration of certain people as well as the cleansing of specific locations in the city is a despicable idea, it doesn’t matter if you really want taxes on building materials to be lower.

Paulo Batista and the libertarians who dismiss concerns about his ideas on crack cocaine think they’re being effective opposition, without utopia or daydreaming. They’re, however, only parroting the discourse of power.

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