The Scarlet Letter
Volume III, Number 3 | June 1996
What Color is Your Pee When You’ve Swallowed Your Principles?
by O. Siren N.O.T
The drug user has the right to discover and express himself through the most severe self-degradation and impairment, even unto death (“when and how he will”). Therefore, “protection” of the individual from the dangers of drugs is as much an infraction of his liberty as is restricting his access to their, potential medical, educational, or recreational effects. By refusing to recognize the possibility of benign use of certain drugs which have that potential, the prohibition mentality increases the likelihood of drug abuse.
Drugs are one of many factors that can change a person's interaction with other individuals. The fact that drug use has social benefits as well as penalties is demonstrated by the abundant social use of both licit and illicit drugs. Demonizing certain drugs as guarantors of antisocial and pathological behaviors serves only to prevent more rational appraisals of their effects, which would permit people to use them in the most socially constructive circumstances.
A year or two ago, I was taking a pee at a restaurant in Austin, when I saw to my shock that the blue plastic grille in the urinal which served as my target was exhorting me to “Say No to Drugs!” Could the gods of plumbing be castigating me for the margarita that I had just drunk? This message was followed by a toll-free phone number. Mystified, I hurried to the nearest pay phone and dialed the number, only to get voice mail for the company selling the blue plastic grilles. Were they selling plumbing accessories or anti-drug propaganda?
Anti-drug propaganda is a very profitable commodity. The D.A.R.E. programs across the country have proven this fact by milking the public for huge amounts of money to fund programs which have now been empirically proven to slightly increase drug use among students. Actual examination of the closely guarded D.A.R.E. curriculum reveals that its object has been less the creation of a “drug-free” (the bitter irony of that term!) generation, than the creation of a generation of “narcs.”
Another lucrative subsidy of the drug war—besides propaganda, police, prisons, and organized crime—is the metabolite testing industry. At the Office Max® store in Austin, a red and yellow sign with 10 letters forcefully proclaims that all their employees are subject to pre-employment drug screening. I found this so irritating that I wrote a letter to the corporate goons of Office Max expressing my consumer's displeasure at the fact that they were wasting money on testing $5/hour register operators for smoking weed. God forbid that some pot-head should ring up my office supplies! He might be able to tolerate the boredom, and thus not earn his wage through the proper spiritual purgation demanded by the Great Spirit of Capital. But I digress.
I was recently treated to an experience of the pharmaceutical inquisition myself. Unlike Office Max, who probably offers no health benefits to their retail wage-slaves, my employer has no extra cost involved with drug testing, since it is able to balance the expense against reduced insurance premiums. And now my employer gets to look like a “good corporate citizen” for violating the rights of its employees.
Ordinarily I would fail such a test. But I have long been in the habit of fasting from my preferred intoxicants for a week or two every few months, and I was able to merely prolong one such fast for a few days, and pass (pun intended) with confidence. Despite my severe philosophical opposition to the test, I went along with it, driven by two principal motives:
1) Curiosity. I really wondered how these tests were conducted.
2) The motive they count on. I actually wanted a job with an adequate paycheck and paid benefits. In addition, I armed myself with a couple of rationalizations:
3) I would be observing the Rosicrucian Rule, and assuming the garb of the country in which I traveled. I'm still not sure if that garb was abstinence from illicit drugs or if it was hypocrisy.
4) There seemed to be a certain aptness in complying with such a distasteful agenda through micturition.
The procedure was interesting. I was sent to a third party for testing with a fist full of paperwork. I read it carefully before arriving, although it was clearly not addressed to me, but rather to the person who would administer the test. Though the documents said I should be provided with a closet or locker in which to leave my belongings while pissing (can't take them in—they might conceal bootleg pee!), I was told to drop my briefcase and jacket next to a garbage can in the corner. As it turned out, I was supposed to sign the documents, attesting to the fact that proper procedures had been followed in collecting the sample. Consequently, I was required to stand and pay close attention to the details of measuring and packaging my piss, despite the fact that I would be totally ignorant of its processing thereafter.
I found myself wondering how much it would cost to buy off the nurse. I didn't have any reason to do it, but I was oh-so-curious. She wasn't a public official or anything, just a paid employee of an “industrial and sports medicine” clinic. I resisted the pointless temptation.
The documents referred to me as the “donor.” I told the nurse who took my specimen that I wasn't a donor, and that I was not making any gestures of urinary generosity. The only reason that this philosopher was making gold for the examiners was because of the expected compensation. I think that she misunderstood at first, and thought that I was asking her for payment. When I clarified that I would be compensated by my employer, she relaxed a little. But then she started to offer justifications for the practice of drug screening.
The justifications weren't very compelling. “Everybody does it,” was the first one, entertaining in that it was the same exact phrase which anti-drug crusaders cite as the inducting refrain of drug use. “The insurance companies require it,” was the next try. I was unsurprised that insurance companies would be in collusion with the testing industry, but having worked in the insurance business for a few months, I couldn't imagine that they would make it a strict prerequisite for group coverage. The more likely course would be to offer a premium discount to groups that do drug screening. (On the books, the “discount” would work out to be a surcharge to groups that don't drug screen, so that they would assume part of the costs for those that do-ah, the marvels of “actuarial science!”)
So I “sold out” in the moral economy of urinary inspection.
Friends of mine have lost their livelihoods because they tested positive for marijuana use. There is no doubt in my mind that employment drug screening is materially wasteful, intellectually empty, and morally wrong. In today's courts it may be legal, but I think it is against the Law. How can we end the persecution of autonomous drug use, by that means and many others?
Drug testing and the denial of various employment venues pale beside the sheer ruination of lives that the criminal “justice” system perpetrates. Mere suspicion of pharmaceutical wrongdoing is enough to have property confiscated, liberty abrogated, career terminated, and associates alienated. The protests of court judges, who are in a position to see the senselessness of the current system, have inspired no reform.
“Fear is failure, and the forerunner of failure,” and those who profit from the status quo—jailers, police, politicians, and many drug dealers—are banking on fear to keep it in place. They expect that those who don't use illicit drugs will fear those who do, and that those who do will fear the fear of those who don't. In the name of Ra-Hoor-Khuit the Crowned and Conquering Child, and in anticipation of his Perfect Kingdom, may we all be without fear.