Every once in a while a government functionary slips up and inadvertently lets out the truth about how things work, in tones so frank it leaves us shaking our heads and wondering if we really heard correctly. That’s what happened when Blake Ewing, an Austin area assistant DA, expressed his true feelings (“Breaking Bad Normalizes Meth Use, Argues Prosecutor,” Time, September 20) about the TV drama Breaking Bad. The problem, he says, is not that Breaking Bad glorifies or romanticizes meth use. It’s that — as his title suggests — it “does normalize meth for a broad segment of society that might otherwise have no knowledge of that dark and dangerous world.”
“Before Breaking Bad, relatively few people knew someone whose life had been touched by meth, but now millions more people have an intense emotional connection with at least two: Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. And suddenly, for those spellbound viewers, the idea of people using meth is a little less foreign, a little more familiar. And that false sense of familiarity is inherently dangerous.”
And this is dangerous, Ewing makes clear, mainly from the perspective of the Drug War and his friends in the law enforcement community who fight it: “Law-enforcement officers’ duties bring them into contact with the drug-addled on a daily basis, so the proliferation of dangerous drugs directly affects their lives and families more than it might affect yours or mine.”
So there you have it. The very fact that a broad segment of the public has greater knowledge of an aspect of life about which they were previously ignorant makes it harder for the state to carry out its functions. Before, when almost nobody had any direct emotional connection with anybody who used meth, they depended mainly on the state’s Drug War propaganda for whatever, ahem, “knowledge” of the subject they possessed. So long as people who used drugs were a vague, menacing Other whom they’d never met in person, it was easy to mold their view of the world with crude propaganda of the Reefer Madness type, or smarmy PSAs (“Did You Know …”) from the White House Office of Drug Control Policy. If the state thinks you need to know any more than that, in order to serve its own purposes, it will tell you what you need to know — when it gets good and ready.
So long as the public perception of the shadowy Drug War enemy was shaped by state propaganda — breathless local TV news reporters covering heroic meth lab busts, the “thin blue line,” etc. — it could scare the public into supporting police militarization and the erosion of civil liberties. After all, the police are our friends — all that military equipment, all those warrantless searches, are to be used against … THEM.
The last thing the state wants is for the enemy to have a human face. The Western Allies’ High Command had a similar reaction to the Christmas Truce of 1914, when French, British and German troops suspended hostilities in northern France entirely on their own intiative, visited each other’s campfires, exchanged gifts or bartered goods, and played football in No Man’s Land. The British and French leadership didn’t like their grunts finding out that those baby-killing Huns were just a bunch of dumb grunts like them who believed the crap their government told them and went where they were ordered — and vice versa.
The state’s power depends on keeping you ignorant, on controlling your perceptions of the world, on making you fear the enemies it wants you to fear. But it’s the state itself, and the classes that control it, that are your enemies. Free your mind!
Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory.