Chasing the Scream
The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs
“Almost everything we know about addiction is wrong,” says journalist Johann Hari. And in his New York Times bestselling book and viral TED Talk, he offers surprising and optimistic ways of dealing with one of the most controversial questions of our time. To Hari, the cure is in solving systemic problems of isolation and poverty—a shift from the War on Drugs to a campaign of connection.
“Superb journalism and thrilling story-telling.”— Naomi Klein, author of No Logo
Johann Hari is the author of The New York Times bestselling book Chasing the Scream, the product of his four-year, 12-country, 30,000-mile journey into the war on drugs. Called “breathtaking” by The Guardian, “gripping” by The Financial Times, and “riveting” by the San Francisco Chronicle, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs explores three startling truths: Drugs are not what we think they are. Addiction is not what we think it is. And the drug war has very different motives to the ones we have seen on our TV screens. Hari’s viral TED Talk, based on the book, is a funny, fascinating, and stirring look at the ways in which we turn to addiction as a response to conditions of isolation and disengagement in our lives.
“Wonderful … I couldn’t put it down.”— Noam Chomsky
Hari has written for many of the world’s leading newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, The Nation, Slate, El Mundo, and The Sydney Morning Herald. He was a lead op-ed columnist for The Independent, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, for nine years.
Johann was named ‘National Newspaper Journalist of the Year’ by Amnesty International twice. He was named ‘Environmental Commentator of the Year’ at the Editorial Intelligence awards, and ‘Gay Journalist of the Year’ at the Stonewall awards. He has also won the Martha Gellhorn Prize for political writing. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he has lived in London since he was a baby. He graduated from King’s College, Cambridge with a double first in Social and Political Sciences in 2001. He is currently working on his next book, and he is a Visiting Fellow with Purpose, the New York-based progressive campaigning group.
For Johann Hari, drugs have always been personal. One of his earliest memories is of being unable to wake a relative. Since then, he’s watched loved ones struggle with addiction, all the while believing in the basic story about drugs and dependency echoed by our teachers and governments. That is, until he set out to find his own answers. Embarking upon a 30,000-mile, 12-country journey to really understand the war on drugs, Hari uncovered a much different narrative—that everything we’ve been told about addiction for the past 100 years is wrong.
As Hari learned, emerging science proves that addiction isn’t actually caused by drugs, but by conditions of social isolation and pain. Addiction isn’t the result of a moral failing or depravity, or the inevitable result of a chemical dependency, but a product of our social environments. This means we need to pursue a radically different approach to addicts, abandoning conventional cycles of shame, stigma, and incarceration, and instead adopting greater capacities of compassion. “So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety,” Hari writes. “It is human connection.”
In this talk, Hari discusses the landmark studies that demonstrate the connections between addiction and environment. He investigates the countries that have witnessed incredible success by accepting these findings: plummeting rates of drug use, addiction, violent crime, overdoses, and more. And he issues a call to treat the addicts in our lives much differently, changing both our politics and our hearts. Combining the best social science with vividly human anecdotes, this is a transformative talk about what it means to be addicted, and what it means to recover.
Ninety percent of cannabis users are unharmed by the drug. So why is it still illegal in so many parts of the world? In this talk, Johann Hari unpacks the complicated issue of cannabis legalization, bringing to bear in-depth, on-the-ground research from 17 countries. He explains what a successful regulated trade looks like, and which arguments are most effective in bringing about lasting legislative change. He explores how, in uncertain political times, regulation might be rolled back — and how to assess the risk of new investments. And he also asks important questions every state, province, district, and voter needs to confront. How can supporting a legal trade help end the global war over drugs: an avoidable conflict that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands? How do illegal cannabis dealers operate? What are some fascinating potential uses for this oft-misrepresented substance, and how might more moderate strains gain popularity once the drug is made legal? And, finally, why are some people addicted — and what can we do about it? Employing striking evidence, cutting-edge science, and surprising facts, this keynote is a must for any group seeking more insight into how, and why, we can change the conversation around marijuana.
While writing the bestselling book Chasing the Scream, Johann Hari discovered that the drug war has very different motives and results than those described by our businesses and governments. Not only has strictly enforced prohibition claimed countless victims to incarceration, poverty, and murder around the world, but it’s actually led to more addicted users—the opposite of its touted purpose.
In this keynote, Hari traces the development of a global moral injustice, highlighting the previously untold story of how Billie Holiday was stalked and killed by the founder of the war—and what this tells us about what’s motivated it ever since. He relates the stirring testimonies of people whose lives have been transformed by ill-conceived policies, and the doctors and activists resolutely trying to change them. And he talks, with inspiring examples, on the alternative policies that show a clear way forward.
From the killing fields of northern Mexico, home of some of the world’s most dangerous cartels, to the teeming US prison system, to nations like Portugal that choose to pursue innovative solutions, this keynote condenses Hari’s years of deep reporting into a riveting talk on the war on drugs: its human and economic tolls, and its compassionate, economically sound solutions.