Monday, November 22, 2004

Name that War

Words shape ideas and ideas have consequences. I've thus long taken care to use terms and phrases that make it easier for me to express my political views clearly and convincingly. Since they might interest fellow friends of liberty, I'll describe my rules of usage in a series of posts. I'll start here with one of my favorites: Always use "Drug War" rather than "War on Drugs."

The former name has one indisputable virtue: brevity. Even if it differed from "War on Drugs" in no other regard, "Drug War" would win on grounds of efficiency. As it turns out, though, "Drug War" proves better than its alternative in other, more substantive ways.

"War on Drugs" wrongly implies that statists (a term that reflects yet another rule of usage) aim to prosecute chemicals rather than people. But chemicals do not suffer imprisonment, forfeiture of assets, or fatal no-knock raids at the wrong address. Although "War on People Who Choose to Create, Distribute, or Consume Certain Chemicals" would prove more accurate, "Drug War" at least does not mislead.

Policymakers who crafted the phrase, "War on Drugs," probably aimed to evoke the relatively benign War on Poverty. "Drug War" evokes a different war from the same era, the Vietnam War. Given that the Vietnam War wasted American lives and liberties in a futile and ultimately failed conflict, "Drug War" proves far more fitting than "War on Drugs."

Lastly, "Drug War" simply sounds better—more brutal and, thus, accurate. Say it a few times to yourself and notice how tough it feels compared to the soft and squishy "War on Drugs." Next, try "Drug War" in conversation. Your listeners probably won't comment. They may not even consciously notice your usage. But your words will, in one very small but potentially powerful way, help liberty to achieve victory in the Drug War.

4 comments:

Saxdrop said...

Ever since I heard you make this point at an IHS conference, where you implied that "War on Drugs" sounded like government agents beating up on a joint, I thought that "Drug War" had the same problems.

For instance, it conjures the notion of (to me atleast, once placed in this context by you) of humanoid blunts hunkered in opposing trenches, throwing opiate grenades at each other. Or as the convention of traditional war-naming goes, it may imply some place "Drug" ravaged by war.

Notwithstanding my smart-alecky rejoinder, I agree with your take.

Anonymous said...

I have personal experiences with the drug war. Whenever the government prohibits the sale or manufacture of a particular substance, this does not necessarily reduce the demand, but it reduces the supply. As a result, selling controlled substances is fairly lucrative since the "cost"--including jail time and heavy fines--are factored into the cost of selling the product. At my parents home in Hollywood, there is an owner who tends to rent the house to shady people who are probably drug dealers (there are eight to nine different cars with different people going in and out of the house at all times of the day, suggesting some sort of business operations). This has resulted in a huge nuisance to my parents. The main reason these drug dealers are able to afford to rent the house and pay for all the expensive cars they drive is because the tight supply and high demand allows them to charge artifically high rates. The only way to put the drug dealers out of business is to legalize drugs.

Michael Gordon

Chris said...

Tom, anything you can do about the title of the DEA? 'Drug Enforcement Agency' is strictly meaningless, since you can only enforce laws, rules, perhaps behaviour, and so on - but the name irresistibly suggests 'Agency to Force Drugs on People'.

Gene Callahan said...

"At my parents home in Hollywood, there is an owner who tends to rent the house to shady people who are probably drug dealers (there are eight to nine different cars with different people going in and out of the house at all times of the day, suggesting some sort of business operations)."

Part of your parents' house has a differennt owner who rents a section of it to drug dealers?