Over at the Orphans of
But now is not the time to get lost again in the wider debates around the war on drugs and surrounding issues such as legalisation of narcotics for adults. Rather, I wanted to dwell on this paragraph:
And now I must prepare to be verbally flayed by those who just know that they can handle it, and whose philosophy is atomised freedom: the solitary individual, totally disconnected from all others, making his choices in a moral and cultural vacuum and unaffected by his physiology or subconscious compulsions.Ignoring the pathetic opening that appears to acknowledge the controversy that this sort of post was always going to provoke in a sort of “pity poor me” kind of way, this paragraph seems to create an image of the libertarian that I cannot recognise – despite being a libertarian myself. Firstly, liberalisation of drug laws (including legalisation of narcotics) is not simply a hedonistic objective; it isn’t about what I – or anyone else – can handle. Not least because it would be a very naïve (or stupid, if you will) person who believes that they can handle repeated toots on the old crack pipe. Rather, the issue is one of freedom – of giving adults the right to choose for themselves what they put into their own bodies. And I have to say that any sort of liberal approach to this issue is going to favour less regulation rather than more – and will always turn its back on any rhetorical war on inanimate substances.
However it is the notion of “atomised freedom” and the subsequent portrait of someone with a liberal approach to drug use and regulation that bothers me the most. Here, the author of the post not only misses the point, but misses that point as it sails right in front of their eyes while singing “hello! Hello! I’m the point! Look at me!” Indeed, I am tempted to use this paragraph as the very definition of a straw man argument when I am next teaching first year undergraduates on how not to write a shit essay.
Put simply, I have never come across anyone who is “totally disconnected from all others” and existing in some sort of solipsistic vacuum. Not even those tedious Rand devotees completely remove themselves from engagement with others – even if that engagement is simply trying to best others. Nor have I come across anyone who truly believes that they are unaffected by their “physiology or subconscious compulsions”. Indeed, it is difficult to identify anyone other than a young child who might reflect this sort of description. Sure, this sort of straw man caricature may aid the author’s argument by painting the advocate of drug liberalisation as a sort of amoral creature centred only on the self, but in creating this tangibly false caricature the author severally damages their own argument.
Because you do not have to be an extreme individualist to oppose the war on drugs. Nor do you have to be terminally naïve about your own physical and mental limitations. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to look at the society around you and observe that, well, the war on drugs has not worked and has not achieved any of its objectives, really – and therefore some sort of alternative approach makes sense if one can step away from the “grrr drugs are evil” mindset for a couple of minutes. It is also perfectly possible to think that if cocaine was legal then I, as an individual, might be tempted to take more of it despite the effect it has on me physically* – and then choose not to do so for precisely this reason.
And that is at the very core of the argument for the legalisation of drugs – it is about giving individuals the choice about what they consume and how they act. It allows individuals to factor in a whole host of different interests and concerns, and then decide based on those concerns – which include those around them, wider society, and their own mental and physical limitations – what they choose to consume. It is basically giving adults the choice to decide on what they want to do; in short, treating adults like adults.
In the comments section of the same post the author makes this rather telling point:
And the challenge is with us, of course. But when temptation increases, so does the number of falls.Absolutely; the challenge does lie with us. That’s the point; to paraphrase a cliché, the more power we have, the more responsibility we have. Some people will be responsible, others less so, and some will fail outright. But that is what liberty inherently brings; the freedom to succeed, and the freedom to fail, based on what you choose as an individual. It is, of course, possible to make the case that some things are too much for the individual to cope with, and therefore they need to be restricted. However to make that case is not to advance the cause of liberty; rather, it is to fall into the trap of the sort of statist paternalism that has changed vast swathes of our population into bovine, infantile, thoughtless cretins who cannot make their own choices without the rubber stamp of the state verifying that their choices are a-ok.
*Personally I can’t stand cocaine – it makes tedious people even more tedious, but in a sort of manically tedious way. Besides, in my experience a lot of people take it to prevent themselves from getting wasted when drinking. Whereas I tend to drink precisely so I can get hammered.