It seems certain that Andrew Chan and Myu Sukumaran will be executed over the next few days, and there’s no question that executing them is a greater crime than importing all the heroin in the entire golden triangle.
It’s a simple equation to my way of thinking: the state can’t take away what it doesn’t provide and the state doesn’t provide life. That’s something bigger than sovereignty. The state will often say it’s there to protect life. This is itself a fallacy, as any good anarchist knows, the state is a self-supporting syndicate that goes through ritual electoral motions to provide implied consent for its activities: tax, defence, airports, welfare, health services and so on. The consent is little more than a comforter, elections simply due process for dummies. Governments do as they do, whatever the laudable statements enshrined in constitutions, or bills of rights, these are mere fig leaves to cover the operations of power.
Protecting life is usually about law and order. Certainly I can’t recall a New South Wales election where law and order haven’t been first and foremost in the carrot and stick machinations of mass campaigning. Law and order campaigns almost always end with the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens being incarcerated. A brief look at Indigenous incarceration in Australia and elsewhere makes this abundantly clear. A bit of statistical jiggery-pokery would also make the poverty-prison nexus so obvious as to be old news. The conclusions we can draw from this are straightforward. Relatively rich people, especially relatively rich white people do not go to prison as much as poor and black people do. Law and order is a barely concealed racist apparatus designed to offer a sense of security to those with something to lose, privilege mostly.
It’s pretty obvious that Andrew Chan and Myu Sukumaran weren’t rubbing their hands together in anticipation of hundreds of millions of dollars coming their way or how they’d now be able to top up the paltry superannuation casual workers receive. They may have had a larger margin but they were just as big a pair of patsies as the other seven. They were better paid mules. It appears likely that they invested a few tens of thousands in the dope deal that brought them down. Tens of thousands of aussie dollars is not global capital at work. The best that they could probably hope for was a return on those few tens of thousands that might enable a taste of the conspicuous consumption they saw all around them in post-Olympics Sydney. Chan and Sukumaran weren’t even going to make enough money between them to buy one of Harry Triguboff’s endless apartments into which the beautiful young people of Sydney sunk their investment dreams throughout the early 2000s. Chan and Sukumaran weren’t, and aren’t, the forces of capital. They were just some guys who saw money as being the key to a good time they weren’t having. They weren’t after a criminal empire, they just wanted a nice second hand BMW. Envy is the moral engine of capitalism.
Capital draws its strength not from the vagaries of supply and supply chain management, but from the revenue derived from demand. It is demand that produces profit, demand that provokes supply*, and demand that coughs up the cash for reinvestment and the capacity to meet even greater demand. And demand, well that’s me and you. I’ve sat in cars, in dodgy pubs, in various McDonalds and food courts, in malls and service stations sweaty-palmed with cash and demand, sometimes overwhelmingly urgent demand, to buy the products that are deemed detrimental to the protection of life by the State.
Mostly this kind of behavior is framed in two ways. Firstly, as a kind of freedom-loving, mind-expanding, fun-seeking surfeit of liveliness that is ultimately harmless (or at least would be if the products weren’t illegal and required me to sit down with persons who can be a bit overzealous regarding their personal safety and the safety of their illegal inventories), or likely no more harmful than a big night with Margaritas or endless jugs of beer. Secondly, as a kind of self-medicating practice whereby the illicit product provides the means by which some kind of life can be maintained: overcoming pain, or depression, or anxiety, or grief, or addictions arising from use to manage any of the former, or myriad undiagnosed psychological, social, familial and personal dysfunctions. Drug use is never cleanly one or the other; sometimes it is neither in particular but whatever the prompt the result is demand.
On the demand side, at the point of sale, supply is about the man with the baggies, the ounce or so divvied up to dole out as the customers lay their perspiration-slippery notes on the kitchen table. Sometimes it is women who manage the retail end, very successfully. I have heard it argued that women are better at managing the dealing/using conundrum, and are less likely to consume their inventory or provide credit to those whose need exceeds their means. Similarly I’ve heard that women are less likely to be raided as law enforcement shies away from going into homes with kids for the obvious reason that kids and lethal force don’t go well together, especially in news reports. I’m not personally very confident about this but it is a persistent bit of drug lore. The baggies themselves are neat and domesticated often featuring cartoon characters or scenes from nursery rhymes, reduced to value by weight, and not too different from buying some other homemade, home-sold artisanal product: pickles, sourdough bread, coconut ice, orchids, or dollies. It’s easy to see the pot seller who provides RSO and medicinal strains as being in roughly the same movie as the neighborly compost fetishist selling their worm farm juice, or the old guy down the street who sells his tomatoes and aubergines from his veggie patch. But nobody swallowed a condom full of aubergine and went through customs, knowing that aubergines could lead to a date with a firing squad. And sometimes, especially in Australia and New Zealand, that is exactly how the product in the baggie got to the point of sale.
It can be comforting for the drug user to think of the product as being something siphoned off from the vast scale of global industrial production and distribution, a sideline to the main business of Mexican drug lords and Russian gangsters: just another offshore profit centre, a minor export market for a multi-billion dollar industry that is almost exclusively focused on North America and Western Europe. They’d be doing it anyway, so why shouldn’t a bit come our way? It’s not like we don’t pay for transport costs. At any rate it’s easier to think of the shipping container coming through Port Botany, with tonnes of methamphetamine squeezed inside Bratz dolls because who got hurt there? There may also be some comfort in the Burroughesque interzone anonymity of an online marketplace. In which case it’ll be the postie or some courier who brings the gear, or a faceless nobody who puts it in your dead drop or PO box for you to oh-so-casually collect when the coast is clear. We don’t worry about the provenance of books and dvds and shoes that we buy online, why would anyone worry about something so anodyne that it can be delivered by StarTrack Express?
These comforts might be slightly shaken by the idea that ultimately Mr & Ms Bourgeois are actually handing over a portion of their disposable income to organized crime, since it is they who move the tonnes, but mostly this is not thought about. It can be put aside, very easily ignored, because, chances are, you’re still probably buying drugs from someone you know, went to school with, work with, or a neighbour. Communities are what communities do. It’s not like you’re buying an eightball from Tony Soprano or Nicky Barnes. You’re buying it from Mike, or Mal, or Bianca, or Lorraine, or Geoff, or DeliveryGodz, or CanadianPharma. And once that baggie is in hand nobody cares about the journey to that point. For the consumer, it is the journey ahead, the overpriced forthcoming internal transformation that matters. Besides, thanks to possession laws the user is instantly very conscious that it is not the dealer or deliverer who is at risk at that moment but the user who carries the risk in their pocket. Better to get that shit done, or at least out of public space, where, thanks to the privileges of private property, Mr & Ms Bourgeois can be reasonably sure they won’t get a knock on their door from the boys in blue.
If there is a dramatic moment it is more likely to involve the shipping container being delivered to some warehouse in Smithfield or the bust of Simon Bolivar constructed from cocaine shipped via FedEx intercepted at Kingsford-Smith. So even if this happens and Customs display those Bratz dolls on Seven News, or the FBI do their thing to shutdown sites like Silk Road or RedBook, then, as with all industrial scale scenarios, one can assume that the movement of tonnes of such valuable product is insured, legally or otherwise. Organized crime would have a pretty solid risk management framework, given the pulsing red intensity of the likelihood-consequence intersection on the international narcotics smuggling risk map. Further ease is probably derived from the thought that if the police are chasing down organized crime importing of tonnes and tonnes of product, or criminally masterminded IT guys selling it, then it’d seem a safe bet that no-one is really going to worry about a couple of grams here or there, which might remain in the sneaky spot until the next music festival.
But it doesn’t take much to figure out that if you’re buying a product traditionally associated with South Asia or South America then chances are mules carried your shit. They strapped it on, or swallowed it, or shoved it up their arse, or concealed it in their luggage, or stuck it in a used diaper stuffed into a nappy bag ostentatiously paraded through airport checkpoints. Small loads mean small risks. Businesses, especially ones that involve possible firing squads, prefer small risks and, with the returns that a rich country like Australia can offer, even small risks mean ginormous rewards. The gear that ends the journey up someone’s nose, started that journey up someone else’s arse. But none of this is given much thought once the baggies are paid for and safely stowed, and is probably given no thought at all once the requisite routes of administration have been followed. And most of us know that the next thought after following those paths is about heading back to the baggie man for an extra little bit to tide us over or to put aside for some special occasion (like a Tuesday).
Demand for drugs, as with all capitalism’s products, is a collective matter. We are the marketplace, we are the revenue, we are the profit. So when we’re watching the news tonight and there’s more bad news from Indonesia let’s remember that those nine young Australians were there at the behest of demands made by hundreds of thousands of other Australians. Very indirect for sure, but those two young men will be shot because of what me, and people like me, want and wanted. We can say it was all about how great that party was, or how awesome that Festival was, or how it was an extraordinarily blissful self-revelatory experience, or how trippy Game of Thrones is with a good blotter of 25I-NBOMe, or how much that powder was needed, but all of that is covering for the fact that some other poor sap, who almost certainly had bugger-all choice in the matter, put their already fragile lives at risk to walk through airports with your Saturday night special treat stuffed up their jacksie.
So it’s not just about the baggie. It’s about the fact we outsourced our risk to those least able to manage those risks: those with no choice, those who were already fucked over by the State or other shonky types with guns, and those who never got an opportunity to know better.
And yeah, we should feel shit.
*You can make an argument here about the Opium Wars if you like but given that China is going to be shortly top of the pops when it comes to executing drug offenders, if it isn’t already [smuggling, dealing, transporting or manufacturing drugs are all capital offences], the argument seems moot.