Sunday, November 11, 2007

Top cop criticises war on drugs

Sometimes I think the only people who support the War on Drugs must be on drugs themselves. Never have I seen such a long-lasting, counter-productive policy that is so much worse than the thing it is supposed to be curing.

The Agonist reports that UK Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom took a swipe at the drug war recently:

[Brunstrom says:]
Some say legalization is immoral. That’s nonsense, unless one believes there is some principled basis for discriminating against people based solely on what they put into their bodies, absent harm to others.

This phrasing presents as unpalatable the idea that taking some drugs is intrinsically immoral. However I think it is a moral position held, consciously or unconsciously, by a large fraction of people. Fundamental moral opposition to drug taking may underly some of the difference in the way society treats recreational drug use compared with other risky activities pursued purely for pleasure such as scuba diving or handgliding. Many factors contribute to peoples moral opposition to drug use, some well considered but also some which are ill thought through and have their roots in less salubrious areas of human nature and history.

It is important to examine the roots of commonly held moral beliefs surrounding drug taking because they form the social background to media and policy on the subject. The dramatic changes in policy towards homosexuality in Western democracies in the 20th century could not have occurred without corresponding shifts in moral beliefs in those societies. One key component in ensuring we have better drug laws in future is to raise the standard of the moral debate about drug use from its currently often infantile level.

One of the things that strikes me is the inconsistency in the conservative position on drugs compared to much of the rest of conservative policies.

The stereotypical conservative supports a hard-line prohibition on drugs -- at least, some drugs: I've written about the hypocrisy of anti-drug pundits like Rush Limbaugh and politicians like Jeb Bush before. One of the major arguments supporting that hard-line is the idea that people are weak-willed and easily manipulated into taking drugs against their better instinct. In the conservative mind-view, people are easily manipulated into acting against their own better interests and against their own wishes -- but only when it comes to drugs. When it comes to nearly everything else, the modern conservative position is that people are in full command of their actions: there's no suggestion that (e.g.) advertising might manipulate people into needless consumerism or eating unhealthy junk food.

While progressives like myself have a nuanced view of human nature, that our actions are caused by a mix of factors, some internal and some external, the typical conservative view is schizophrenic: it flip-flops between treating people as masters of their own destiny and slaves to temptation, depending on whom they wish to punish.

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