Burning the Wrong Effigy in Mexico

Mexican authorities recently burned 134 tons of marijuana in a display of Drug War success. The flames of the burning goods were a visible statist spectacle casting marijuana and the people who use it as villains, while the smoke from state propaganda conceals the real villain, which is authority.

The authoritarian nature of governments that prohibit access to a plant, even making a mockery of their own claims of legitimacy in doing so, is clear. Federalism and the will of the people go out the window when there is money to be made and bureaucratic advancement to achieve by getting tough on drugs regardless of what voters say. United States federal authorities disregard state ballot initiatives, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff has promised to ignore a pending California ballot measure that would legalize marijuana.

But even if the hypocrisy wasn’t there, the authoritarianism is on full display when governments claim the right to regulate peoples’ body chemistry. And the authoritarianism of cartels who struggle for monopolies in drug commerce should be equally clear. Monopoly can only be maintained by force, and that is how cartels attempt to establish control.

Of course the state is not blameless in drug cartel violence. When a ban on certain activity is enforced by state violence, those engaged in the activity must operate in a violent environment, and they are likely to become more violent in response. Since illegal drugs are in high demand and there are big profits to be made from them, people will continue to attempt to satisfy demand and adapt their business to the violence of the circumstances. This does not absolve anyone from the responsibility for unjustly hurting others, but it does point to incentives that encourage more bad behavior.

The conflict between drug cartels and government agents is a conflict of rival gangs struggling for territory. It is not a War on Drugs. It is a Drug War, a war over control of substances and trade. And this power struggle kills people.

Of course state authority and cartel authority can be linked when agents of both groups work together for control and profit — or when they are the same people. The United States government, often through the CIA, has been involved in drug distribution, and Mexican government forces have been accused of widespread corruption.

Sometimes the gangs cooperate. The cops get something to show for their funding and drug gangs get to do their thing as long as it doesn’t disrupt important business too much. Perhaps a tacit understanding is behind the story in a New York Times article (“Marijuana Bonfire Celebrates a Fragile Calm,” October 21, 2010) that describes how just a few miles from a city center made safe for Al Gore and corporate leaders, bodies of slain individuals are found and areas not populated by the elite still suffer from rampant violence.

The big shows of success the state puts on hide its failures or inabilities in attempts to boost perceptions of legitimacy. Drug War lulls are at best examples of temporary or local stability made by conquering rivals or making deals to keep them from upsetting the status quo.

But what is the alternative to authority? Wouldn’t anarchy just require the same cycle of conquest for temporary order? Not necessarily. Anarchy is a situation of no rulers. While this may be impeded or disrupted by struggles for rulership, the desired state of affairs in anarchy rests on consent and cooperation, not the subjugation of the less powerful and submission to the more powerful that state “order” rests on. While there would be conflict and occasional struggles against power to maintain anarchy, the social environment would not be based on foundations of domination and obedience maintained by the threat of force. And as anarchy does not create hierarchies of rulers and ruled, people are viewed more as equals than is the case in statist society. Therefore there is no inferior person who deserves to be brutalized if he steps out of line, and no person in a superior position who must be unseated. That is a society incentivized toward peace.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory