The attention paid by Western governments to drug addiction is generally predicated on considerations of public health and social order. Yet, by focusing on consequences rather than causes, public authorities seem to neglect the source of the problem. In fact, the latter may have to do with, e.g., the withering away or even the extinction of the process of socialization through work in the more developed nations — something which can be correlated with the social impact of the deregulation of job markets, the ultraliberal bent of techno-economic development, and the domination of industrial by financial capital. When presented first and foremost as a social concern, does not drug abuse become an excuse to ignore reality? Treatment seeks to cure, but is it not also a diversion? By concentrating exclusively on the spectacular and morbid aspects of the problem is reality not obscured — according to the old Platonic formula that truth lies behind appearances? Does not immediacy only blur its origin by covering the phenomenon with a veil — a veil that allows humanist values to seem grounded, even though they are increasingly losing consistency and being cynically refuted?
The usual claim that “it is not drugs that create addicts” suggests another: “What if addiction were nothing but a symptom?” If it is not drags that create addicts, what does? Could it be something even worse? The following comments relate to what Baudrillard calls “the transparency of evil.” They approach drug addiction as part of a much more general spiritual crisis of the postmodern world.
A number of publications today describe, analyze and interpret the impact of a social mutation unprecedented in human history and perhaps as fundamental as the neolithic revolution. It is nothing less than a veritable anthropological transformation of Western humanity. Therefore, no slogan, no sociopolitical intervention, no socioeconomic adjustment, no social treatment can change its course. Its most spectacular manifestation is the accelerated decomposition of social bonds following the disappearance of the human role in productive labor. For several centuries, labor-whether in its archaic agrarian or its modem industrial form — determined the social and political organization of Western societies and, indeed, of the whole world. Today, the disappearance of the human role from productive labor means that it no longer acts as a means for the organization and representation of the socius.
This decomposition of social bonds can be seen in a series of instances of desocialization: the end of rural life; the end of artisanship; the end of neighborhoods and the corresponding unprecedented development of the megalopoles and their ghettos; the cities’ reversion to a third-world environment; and the end of social responsibility on the part of business (i.e., the end of that paternalism by employers and the welfare state meant to protect labor-management agreements won through long, hard battles -agreements fulfilling an integrating function for displaced rural people and artisans). Along with the generalization worldwide of labor’s precarious position and of industrial dislocation, an ever growing proportion of the Western population is being pauperized, especially young adults — college-educated or otherwise. Despite the prolonging of familial dependence, this pauperization engenders young adults’ “cocooning,” which amounts to total despair concerning the future. European unemployment consistently reaches such high rates that this quantitative measure indicates a qualitative change among the unemployed. They no longer expect to find any work. Instead, they feel excluded from and even rejected by society. All of this is taking place along with the weakening of the integrating roles of traditional institutions such as churches, unions, schools, the military, etc. Furthermore, it is happening at a time when the political entity meant to protect these institutions, the nation-state, is experiencing a major legitimation crisis.
Faced with ever more concentrated economic power, business atomizes production sites and corrupts political power to recreate community solidarities that are both archaic and contrary to the general will. These solidarities, however, do not constitute political power as such, but operate through lobbying — that legal, postmodern form of corruption whose real aim is to obtain privileges based on distinctive ethnic, religious or (more generally) cultural traits, thus placing even more domains under the control of a mercenary logic. This new form of communitarianism is a sham: the bulk of its modes of existence are unified under the influence of globalized information and of needs engendered by advertising for identical consumer products imposed by the very massification of production and consumption.
All of this can be captured under the following title: “Toward the End of the Political,” or, “The Absolute Domination of Economics.” Indeed, in becoming globalized, economics and its corollary, techno-science, have gained an autonomy that the political and social spheres are no longer able to brake, temper, moderate or redirect. In all its embodiments, economics presides over everyone’s fate; this domination affects the very definition of human beings, which are now evaluated only in terms of utilitarianism and profit, i.e., as simple objects or raw material. Thus, employees have now become “human resources,” on a similar footing as energy, mineral, agricultural and other resources. At the same time, due to the techno-scientific revolution, particularly computers, human labor counts less and less in the added value of manufactured objects. For example, when the French government wished to sell the Thompson Corporation to the South Korean consortium Daewoo, the government was happy to simply give it away in exchange for the franc symbolique. The implication is obvious: if machines have no value, neither do eighteen thousand employees. This is the true measure of the value of”human resources”: in point of fact, a negative value. While classical capitalism exploited workers, the need for manual labor at least conferred on the labor force a sociopolitical value beyond economics. Exploitation was confined to a dialectic of conflict where those who had only the ability to work regained, in and through straggle, a social and political dignity the alienation of productive labor tended to strip from them. This was the period during which the proletariat was defined as a dangerous class. There lay, in various forms of political mobilization, the classical destiny of capitalist societies, as well as one of the sources of WWI and, last but not least, of the two great messianic totalitarianisms which in the 20th century overwhelmed Europe and the world with their danses macabres.
Today, workers are excluded from productive labor and its integrating straggles in favor of an economic recuperation that, even beyond the social atomization it engenders, is part of a unifying totality that seems abstract to those uneducated in the tactical and strategic reasoning of macroeconomics. Henceforth integration, which takes place through consumption, expands until, thanks to a well-conceived credit system, it can extract the utmost from those least privileged. In their squalor, the poor remain a source of potential profit in the globalizing sphere of consumption. It is a novelty of the postmodern age that the poor are called to consume or, at the very least, to wallow in contemplation of advertising, which transforms what one does not have into a dream of attainable abundance. When Nietzsche first proclaimed “God is dead,” he meant that “men no longer needed Him,” that the world no longer behaved according to divine law. Today, this proclamation is realized in all its dazzling truth, in that commodities have replaced the divine even if, as Jean-Christopherphe Bailly writes, the latter lingers as a specter haunting mankind. Transcendence is therefore finished, or almost dying, despite a few outbursts of bigotry and the proliferation of theosophical sects. The divine no longer creates the world or organizes Weltanschauungen.
When the Iliad ceased to be the expression of an intangible truth (the mythos), man lost direct contact with the gods. By becoming singular and later tripartite, the divine slowly became more distant, to the point of metamorphosing into an utterly cold and lifeless abstraction (such as Kant’s divine providence or Hegel’s god). Finally, after a long agony, it disappeared altogether. The world became secular, the political replaced the divine, which in turn gave way to the economic. This dynamic was interpreted as “the disenchantment of the world.” The quest for salvation was no longer a search for eternal life. Rather, by theologizing the political and by means of a new piety whose transcendence was eminently fragile (a sign of the death of the divine), man sought an earthly embodiment of heaven, to be attained within a lifetime.
Was this not a reenchantment of the world by the political, whose ephemeral trajectory is all too familiar? It was a time when the telos was identified with the nation, the fatherland, the state, the people, or the proletariat, and justified faith in techno-scientific progress. Ever greater human masses were mobilized, and killed on an unprecedented scale in pursuit of this progress. This culminated with what Lyotard calls “the end of great discourses.” This does not mean, as various ideologues have claimed, the victory of ethics after the “totalitarian sickness” (the themes of the later Habermas on communicative transcendence or Rawls’ idealized ethical reconstructions). Rather, it sanctions the triumph of the economic, for which the political is no longer the guarantor of a contract but the tool for maintaining economic order. When production becomes confused with consumption, when it enters the eternal business present of the circulation of currency and objects, it amounts to an absolute, uncontested victory for immanence. The quest for being is terminated by the quest for the most immediate material well-being.
What can be said about this change? What is this new revolution which has drastically disrupted life, and seemingly obliterated future possibilities? The reenchantment of the world by the political –accomplished through bloody wars and concentration-camps — was worn down, cracked, and finally destroyed by the phenomenon it had helped to radicalize and even criminalize: the inexorable march of techno-science as the motor of the economic, with all its social consequences. The autonomy of the political succumbed to the dominance of what could be called the techno-economy. It is the latter which finally caused the implosion of the Soviet system — a system where the political sought to master the techno-economic sphere.  Today, Russia is paying the steep price of this implosion.
While complex in the details of its forward-looking calculations, the economic can nevertheless be reduced to this cycle: investment (capital) arrow right technical innovation arrow right production (capital and labor) arrow right commodities (concrete labor transformed into abstract labor) arrow right consumption (abstract labor transformed into currency) arrow right profitable returns (initial capital + added value) arrow right investment, etc. So it continues aaeternam. In a Marxist interpretation, never disproven even by the champions of liberal economics who studied it very carefully, profits realized in a given area of production tend to fall and, after a time, can no longer be sustained. Profitability requires that new productions replace the old. For this reason, capitalism is essentially a constantly expanding production system requiring the gradual annexation of all spheres of human activity, transforming everything — every anguish, every necessity, even the most elementary needs (which change with technical progress) — into commodities. Furthermore, the system engenders new needs in order to create the permanent possibility of renewed commodities and profits. Thus, from the viewpoint of techno-economics, the socius is divided into two groups: on the one hand, the sum of all producers; on the other, the sum of all consumers — with the sum of the unemployed, who also cannot escape the law of profit, left over. The results of this double sum must be an exponential growth of profit and a continuing reduction in the costs of manufacturing processes, along with the constant, relentless search for cheap labor. This is the source of unemployment and of general job precariousness.
This cycle engenders a “commodification” of human beings — a phenomenon described by Debord as an integrated system of commodities.[ 11]
To be sure, the spectacle as a political tool is not a new phenomenon. In the past, political power represented itself as a spectacle to the people or to itself, under the aegis of divine transcendence or, later, of its own political messianism. Nevertheless, it was just as much a simulacrum as every other spectacle. Today the simulacrum engendered by the spectacularization of commodities claims no transcendence. Rather, it seeks to make believe that something is lacking by concealing its real nature — profit in the guise of aesthetic values. In so doing, the simulacrum invests all commodities with the ideal values of wealth, beauty and good.
Here it is obvious why advertising plays such a key role in the dynamic of commodities. Extending its creative power to politics, it transforms politicians themselves into commodities. Thus spectacularized democratic politics has become a commodity like sport, and political stars are no different than any other stars: they must earn their keep. Thus the recent American elections cost over $1.6 billion. Yet, while the President makes promises, the decisions determining his policies are made by Wall Street and the Federal Reserve Bank. Independently of elections and their ever growing costs, media interests are not prepared to absorb the inevitable fall of profits. Everything is bought and sold, including the political programs of candidates for the highest positions. Aristotle’s man, the zoonpolitikon, has himself become a commodity: human value is now indistinguishable from exchange value. Politicians, as well as wage laborers and the unemployed are now products subject to the laws of the market. Commodities and profit, however, are but another form of their equivalent: money. Whatever his activity or status, man has become a real or potential monetary mass, even if in the case of the least privileged and the excluded this is only a negative potential. From the individual’s viewpoint, this means that without money one is excluded from participation in the world of commodities as the embodiment of beauty, wealth and good. All that remains is the resentful contemplation of images on television and in the advertisements decorating the subways.
According to Aristotle, tragedy provided a cure for human hubris through catharsis. The spectacle of commodities also triggers psychosociological mechanisms that modify people’s attitudes. These mechanisms can be reduced to the intensification of greed, which individualistic ideology, presented as the only guarantee of liberty, transforms into a bellum omnium contra omnes constituting Hobbes’ negative foundation of the social contract — the homo homini lupus. How is greed satisfied in the world of commodities (i.e., that of permanent need and the sense of lacking something), if not with money? The problem of drug abuse among adolescents and young adults should be analyzed in this context. For them, the fact that they have no future is neither a casual slogan nor a cynical posture but the most pressing existential truth.
In order to grasp the extent of the phenomenon, a few details should be added to this description of the world economy. Today this economy is no longer comprehensible within the framework of the Marxist dichotomy between base and superstructure, where the latter splits from the former in order to gain its own autonomy. Economics has become totalizing and globalizing; it dominates everything, all discourses legitimate it –even cultural ones. Arguments for deregulation always seek to minimize state intervention, while arguments for relocation weaken a nation’s society and economy by means of an international division of labor that seeks cheap labor without social protection.  That one or the other argument is presented as a natural law that must simply be respected is one of many manifestations of the will of economic power to evade any constraints outside its own logic — all ethical imperatives, social contracts and the rules of any social agreement seeking to strike a balance in the division of created wealth between capital and labor. This constant outdoing itself by the economic takes place because expansion is the essence of its destiny. Such is the example provided by multinationals whose financial power surpasses that of many states Even the nine richest countries can no longer prevent financial speculation. In 1993, in one day of speculation against the franc, the Banque de France exhausted its reserves; only the power of the Bundesbank, acting according to Franco-German accords, saved the French currency. In 1995, Mexico was confronted with financial collapse when, in the course of a morning, private foreign investors (i.e., American and Japanese retirement funds) withdrew their stake in the Mexican stock market. With a loan unprecedented in G7 economic history ($50 billion), the richest nations barely avoided a flood of bankruptcies that would have led to a worldwide economic catastrophe. The Mexican economy was saved, but had to secure this loan by mortgaging all its oil resources, i.e., economic and, therefore, political independence. Since then, pauperization in Mexico has grown, illegal emigration to the US has increased, and American repression has intensified. This state of affairs can be traced directly to the free-trade agreement negotiated the year before (NAFTA) and presented by the defenders of ultraliberalism as the most perfect means for creating conditions more favorable to Mexican economic renewal. Pauperization and emigration in Mexico, loss of unskilled labor in the US: such a dynamic promises a bright future for the shantytowns and ghettos of the megalopolises both North and South of the Rio Grande.
The economic is globalizing because it is ever more financial and thus ready, ahead of its time, to use the computer revolution to support an immediate, planetary circulation of capital. It has made the earth a network of stock markets, the differential of whose monetary values engenders profits that no longer have any relation to real industrial wealth and productive labor. As such, the economic has been able to ensnare in its web what was traditionally called banditry or gangsterism — something hitherto relegated to the margins of legal society, of which it was the hideous underbelly. From the US, with ties between the Mafia, the political world, and the economic sphere, economic criminality has spread to other societies. As the economic became a system of worldwide interdependence, economic criminality also globalized. After the fall of Communism, the ex-Soviet Bloc nations became part of it as well: “In all, more than 1300 criminal organizations can be counted in the Russian Federation.” Today, the Mafia is an integral part of the world economy. A recent study by the UNCTED (United Nations Commission on Trade, Economy and Development) estimated the profits produced worldwide by the drug trade in 1995 at $500 billion, i.e., about $2 billion per day. A financial mass of this magnitude (to which another $500 billion should be added from weapons, nuclear materials, prostitution, gambling, etc.) implies certain economic investment strategies that implicate not only large-scale traffickers (who often disguise themselves as respectable “businessmen”) but also, and more importantly, the banks through which this money is laundered, then recycled, in the great carousel of capital.  This financial mass helps what remains of the political sphere maintain “law and order” worldwide — that “new international economic order” which keeps in their place wealth and poverty. One need only recall the role of drug money in financing the Contras in Nicaragua; in arming the anticommunist guerillas of the Thai high plateaus of the Golden Triangle, or the various Lebanese and Afghan militias, etc. It is this new world order, due to the adjustments imposed by the IMF, that also forced the pauperized peasants to replace their traditional mixed farms with the cultivation of poppies and coca.  It is well known how drug money contributes to development in countries that, without it, would sink into total destitution, as in the case of Colombia, Bolivia, or the ex-USSR. 
By globalizing and integrating all possible sources of revenue, the economy has become criminalized while criminality has become globalized. Within the greedy Weltanschauungen peculiar to commodity fetishism, such sums can easily corrupt. A large-scale South American dealer admitted on television that any man can be bought: “it is only a question of price.” The bitterness of his stare, however, betrayed the great risks these people take. It is no longer possible to uphold Western nations as models, since they have also sunk into corruption, despite well-established parliamentary democracies. Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, France, Italy: none of these countries have been able to institute changes resulting in different modes of behavior– whether against crooked politicians (i.e., the tip of the iceberg), French manipulators of phonybills, Italians involved with P2 or in Tangentopoli, Belgian pedophiles. For this reason, no one pays much attention to the various scandals. The fatalistic character of economic discourse has only engendered resignation. At times, as in Belgium, in an emotional outburst, the anguished masses have peacefully occupied the streets of the capital. But the tension fades. Time goes by and nothing changes. No political group takes up the mantle of this anguish to attack evil at its roots. An evil presence — money — is at work. It is something more powerful than any threat of judicial sanctions.
Some black American militants have claimed there is a conspiracy of the rich against the poor, which results in the authorities condoning the drug trade in the ghettos. While authorities may have occasionally turned a blind eye to drugs, paying attention only when they spilled out to the rest of the community, such an analysis is too simplistic and overlooks how economic globalization operates around the world. There is no conspiracy against the poor. There are only profits and greed, independent of conspiracy, but dependent on an economic dynamic which has become universalized. Indeed, in the world of commodities money seems to be the only thing, both concrete and abstract, able to provide meaning to people reduced to “human resources.” Being excluded from money amounts to living as a castaway, in a state of permanent frustration. It further dehumanizes already atomized people who have lost all organic solidarity. What do they have left? Two alternatives still allow them to retain a positive image of themselves: the first is suicide, which would reaffirm their alienated freedom through an act of free choice; the second is to pretend. Drugs facilitate this pretense –this uprooting from the real which allows one to forget a banal and horrible reality. Here, pretending amounts to living on credit, drawing a draft on a radiant, hallucinated future where the wills of those who should be fighting injustice politically are never put to the test. By holding in reserve excuses for their delinquent behavior (something not entirely false), drug addicts turn themselves over to others. This is how they respond to the socioeconomic crisis. They psychologize it by psychologizing themselves. They interpret their sickness as the schizoid closure of their egos, unable to adapt to the new world of commodities.
By means of drugs, the world of commodities finally becomes available to the excluded. The emblematic figure of the addict is the negative confirmation of the joy of consumption, and therefore of the economic as the world’s only truth. Indeed, the addict also stays out of politics: he rejects it in order to participate, at the lowest point on the social ladder, in the domination of the economic and its criminalization of politics. Precisely because he justifies his misfortune in terms of hedonism, the addict is at the very heart of the world of commodities. Through this dodge, however, the addict does not escape the machinery of profit. Here the political no longer has a place, and another of the Ancients’ lessons has been forgotten: that struggle (polemos) always guarantees future harmony.
This is yet another instance of the formidable power of capitalism: its ability to co-opt the system’s castoffs and to delude them into believing that they might still attend the banquet of exchange values, if only to feed off the scraps left over, i.e., to confirm the neoliberal certainties of the defenders of the new world order. The rulers refuse to decriminalize drugs because those addicted to drugs are the perfect scapegoat — they can be repressed without opening up the economic machine to debate, while at the same time allaying the fears of the masses already made mindless by televised images and dazed by the lack of a future.
There is, however, another solution: riots, revolt, struggle and, yes, revolution. But in societies haunted by the fear of precariousness and, above all, societies where the idea of well-being has replaced that of being per se — these terms have become obscene. Hegel wrote that only those who have no fear of death are true aristocrats. Yet today, apart from automobile accidents, plane crashes and sickness, death no longer has a rendezvous with postmodern superheroes. They are only sinister figures embodying millions of dollars. The new era is not one of heroism but one of heroin — another modality of the simulacrum peculiar to the integrated spectacle of commodities.
* Translated by Joe Fiorill. This is the edited text of a lecture originally delivered at the “Journees de Reims pour une Clinique de Toxicomane,” December 8-9, 1996.
[Telos; Summer 96 Issue 108, p105, 12p]