The context of the film shows exactly how the battle plans to fight the war have been drawn up by the U.S. government, and generally how the two sides go about prosecuting the war. It is a lose-lose arms race of subterfuge in which each move provokes an unequal counter move -- with no winners and no improvements for U.S. culture in sight for the foreseeable future. Invariably, the only thing that seems to matter in this game of "good guys" versus "bad guys," is that the game must go on; and that it must always be resolved in favor of reinforcing the existing racist social order. IThe other unwritten imperative is that it must remain hidden from assualting the normal sensibilities of American social life.
Thus what we learn from the movie's context is how the history of the "casual use of drugs" got started, and how it then morphed into criminalized social behavior as well as into a blueprint for more easily privatized business enterprises, and then, how this process was inevitably enfolded almost invisibly into cultural "business as usual."
The Subtext of America's Drug War
The questions probed in the background or subtext of the movie are just as interesting and are much more important than the host of disturbing facts and scenes that have just been described and that appear in the foreground or context of the movie. The most important of them is this: Why is it that U.S. society is the carrier of a disease that requires constant anesthetization with drugs?
The general answer, which the movie delves into ever so gently (leaving full explication of its themes as an exercise for the viewer) is the callousness, amorality and mindless greed of our capitalist industrialists, which, among other things are seen as being primarily responsible for destroying a whole culture of people's humanity by alienating people from themselves and from each other.
But equally important is the fact that our capitalist industrialists also are seen as being responsible for creating a pool of discards in American society: those who have been robbed of their idenities and of their humanity by taking away their jobs and any opportunity for them to survive independetly. It is the jobless that are then treated as America's "disposable people." It is from this pool that a steady stream of "victims" from the war on drugs are recruited in a smoothly moving but cruel social process as fodder for American prisons.
When people get laid off, when their jobs are outsourced, when they are fired, whenever they lack the training or educational opportunities needed to compete for existing jobs, invariably they perceive themselves as having only a cruel choice: to either wallow in despair on the margins of society, to take whatever jobs are left on the margins of the economy, or, as a last resort, to struggle to survive within America's underground economy. Since getting retrained to re-qualify for the jobs that once provided them a meaningful life are well beyond their truncated and diminished mindset, despair and joining the underground economy seem like the only meaningful choices to them. All other options are off the table because, at a minimum they require money, energy, confidence, motivation, or all of the above. But as it turns out, these all are precisely the qualities that "not having a job" wrings out of one's humanity.
Drug use and alcoholism and joining the underground economy are the default options of those wallowing in despair. Together they constitute the cruel but smooth two-step slide into America's social abyss: First, alcohol and drug use becomes a way of life that temporarily restores one's self-image and ones humanity. It is no accident that in American culture, drugs and alcohol become the best friends of the "down-and-out." Temporarily they restore them to their former selves, returning their previous humanity by restoring their confidence, making them happy and gay and allowing them to forget their diminished predicament. But these mental crutches can only do this for a brief moment and then the process must be repeated again and again -- but at higher and higher doses and at steeper and steeper costs for the jobless.
Becoming an alcoholic or drug addicted are thus just an occupational hazard of being "down-and-out" in America. It is a hazard that without secure prospects for a job, will in the shortest span of time tend to completely take over one's life. Once snared, the jump from "user" to "pusher or dealer" depending on the drug of choice, is all but automatic. This is when things become very intteresting indeed, and the slide downhill deeper into the abyss, becomes proportionately faster.
Once "hooked" drug use is no longer a discretionary option. And being broke and addicted, makes dealing in drugs a survival imperative. This the reader will readily recognize as the familiar trap for our "disposable people" that fuels the drug war and snares so many young black inner city males -- those who make up the lion's share of America's "disposable people." In short, black inner city males constitute the fodder for America's war on drugs. And you can see them hanging out on any inner city street corner during working hours from Los Angeles and Detroit to Newark.
Put simply, the drug war is seen by Jarecki as a mere symptom of the larger "root causes" of corporate induced alienation and the stripping away of the identities and humanity of Americans into two groups: those who have jobs and those who do not. But even more importantly in defining and producing America's "disposable people," callous corporate policies such as "outsourcing" and globalization have also become a key component in keeping the drug war going.
By "outsourcing" and "off-shoring" jobs, scavenging the globe like vultures in a race to the bottom of the barrel of the international labor pool, shrinking the tax base, union-busting, corporate propaganda, lobbying and demagoguing for their own greedy causes, America's industrial class cease to honor the unwritten social contract between the needs of the corporations and the corresponding needs of the American people. In the process, the movie shows how our new globalized capitalist economy has entered a new much more dangerous phase, one in which industrialists wield a very wicked and disproportionate amount of power and control over our democratic institutions, our democratic process over the lives of individuals, and and over the state as a whole. They do this at the same time that they deny and take no responsibility for the wreckage and damage that their policies wreak on American society.
The Pretext of America's Drug War
If he is to retain even a modicum of an image of being a proud self-reliant American, a rugged individualist in America's capitalist economy can never have an excuse for his failure -- other than that is, not possessing the necessary internal drive and will power to stick to whatever winning strategy is required for success. If he should ever come up short, American masculine honor demands that we must take complete responsibility for our failures. And until recently this guiding social and moral ethos of American machismo may have been the only true compass a laid-off American worker needed.
However, now we have come to a fork in the road of American social policy and American corporate development, one that forces us to appreciate the fact that corporations do not just created the conditions that give rise to producing a whole class of disposable people, but that they also control all of the levers that would allow one to escape the newly created diminished conditions that corporations have created for them. By shrinking the tax base and buying up all political influence, corporate power, like a gargantuan Octopus, shapes every aspect of every American's life whether they want them to or not; and whether they are working people or not.
Thus those who are defined as "disposable" have nowhere to turn. Corporations block all paths to identity, to survival and to personal growth and fullfilment. Plus, they are alienated from themselves and from each other. Unless American workers are willing to work for a wage that represents the least common denominator of the international labor market, laid-off Americans have no good options. This means that the American narrative of the myth of the self-made man allows no escape hatches for America's disposable people.