Monday, July 18, 2011

What’s your schema? America’s War On Drugs Series Part I

In a recent speech, Tulane Professor Melissa Harris-Perry used the word schema to identify the words, symbols, images, and feelings that come to mind when we visualize something. According to, “a schema is a mental structure that we use to organize and simplify our knowledge of the world around us”. We have schemas about ourselves, other people, mechanical devices, food, and in fact almost everything. For example, we all have a schema for apples. When we visualize an apple we may picture a certain size color, or texture. Our apple may or may not have a stem. The stem may have a small leaf at the tip. The apple itself may or may not have a little green worm living in a hole on the side.

An apple is an apple is an apple. Or is it?

So, what’s your apple schema? It may be influenced by your favorite kind of apple, a dessert containing apples that you like (or dislike), a green Jolly Rancher, a memory about the first time you ate a candy apple, or simply what types of apples are available to you. If you only had access to red apples you might be stunned to learn that green apples and yellow apples exist. Similarly, the color of your schema apple would most likely remain red even after you were exposed to green and yellow ones. Each of us develops a schema about apples based on our life experiences with apples. But the potential for your schema to evolve is always there.

Think of it this way: If red apples represented white males and green apples represented black males, when it comes to presidents we have had 43 red apples and have our first green one right now. So, what is your President schema? Chances are your President schema is not a green apple if you catch my meaning. Similarly, should you ever be offered a green apple again it would be nearly impossible for you not to compare it to the only green apple you’d ever had. And what about the Yellow apples, or the oranges for that matter?

The important thing is that your schema can often evolve in ways that may seem inconceivable to you now. For example, if your schema of an apple were a laptop computer it would not have been possible for you to have that schema 50 years ago. But it sure would make quibbling over apples and oranges seem pretty silly.

Time to change our Schema of the War on Drugs

The War On Drugs is a term that most of us have a schema for. We may associate certain symbols, political figures, celebrities, and slogans with it. No matter our schema, the War On Drugs impacts each of our daily lives in more ways than may at first seem apparent. It is time for us to change our schema about the War on Drugs. We must challenge our conceptions and eliminate our misconceptions about it. Only then will we develop a legal, economic, social, and cultural framework concerning drugs that has maximum utility for the people of the United States. Not only must we ask ourselves what our schema is for the War on Drugs, we must honestly ask ourselves why our schema is for the War on Drugs.

Keep Reading The Liberal Mob all week for parts II, III, and IV of the War on Drugs Series:

Part II - Why Just Say No is the Wrong Approach
Part III - The History of the War on Drugs
Part IV - The War on Drugs and its effect on the Administration of Justice
Part V - Economic Impact of Drug Decriminalization

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