The Pope’s recent address to a joint session of Congress was greeted ecstatically, though (or perhaps because) it was notable mainly for its secular rather than for its religious pieties. It was the speech of a politician seeking re-election rather than that of the spiritual leader of a considerable part of mankind; as such, it seemed like the work not of a man intent upon telling the truth, however painful or unpopular, but that of a committee of speech-writers who sifted every word for its likely effect upon a constituency or audience, appealing to some without being too alienating of others.
Passing a kiosk in France recently, I noticed a magazine on the rack that promised to reveal to the multitude the secrets of the One Percent. The One Percent in question was, of course, that small and now infamous proportion of humanity that is separated from the 99 Percent by its wealth and, presumably, happiness and all other desirable things.
I am obliged to Patrick Lynch for his thoughtful reply to my four posts concerning drug policy.
Mill’s “very simple principle” is important for two reasons. First: This harm principle is, at least in my experience, adduced quite often in some form or other by those who argue that drugs should be produced, sold, and consumed like any other commodity. In trying to reach this conclusion, advocates are right to quote it because of the second reason: Once the principle is breached, it has been admitted that public authorities, however they are constituted, may legitimately interfere in the matter. This having been conceded, it becomes a question of the best policy to follow, and not one of applying a simple, fundamental, and universal principle to the problem.
Nothing is more tempting, or intellectually hazardous, than to draw broad conclusions from a single isolated case. Indeed, whole clusters of unusual incidents may mislead people into thinking that they represent a serious trend, when in fact they represent nothing more than the operation of chance in human affairs. I was once asked to take part in an official inquiry into several untoward incidents (murders, actually) that took place in what seemed to be an unusually short period of time in an unusually small geographically area. A statistician subsequently proved that the assumption behind the inquiry, namely that there was an anomaly to be explained, was false.
Nevertheless, it is only natural that we should see signs of the times in very unusual incidents and try to derive wider meaning from them. So it is with the case of Vester Lee Flanagan, the former television journalist who broadcast under the name of Bryce Williams, and who shot two erstwhile colleagues dead and injured another while they were broadcasting, then committing suicide by shooting himself. We feel instinctively that such extraordinary conduct must be symbolic of somethings: not merely an event, but a signal.
A well-known religious figure is reported to have said: “For ye have the poor with you always.” This is even more the case if economic inequality persists (as the history of the world suggests it might) and poverty is defined in relative terms. The same well-known figure added, however, that “whensoever ye will, ye may do them good.”
A recent article in the French newspaper Le Monde drew attention to an important difference between the French and the Germans. The French, said the author, think that the government spends other people’s money; the Germans think that the government spends their own money. This, if true, is important because each attitude must affect the politics as well as the economic policy of its respective country.
It is generally assumed that the onus of justification is on those who would prohibit an item of consumption or a manner of behaving.
Continuing from my initial post, the second main argument in favor of the legalization of drugs whose consumption (or at least possession) is presently prohibited is that the harms associated with drug-taking are caused more by their illegality than by their pharmacological or other effects. Their illegality means that their production and distribution are necessarily criminal activities; while the artificial expense of obtaining supplies that results from criminalization leads consumers, particularly addicts, into criminality in order to obtain sufficient money to buy them.
There are two main arguments, one philosophical and the other practical, for the legalization of drugs whose consumption is currently prohibited. I will take up the former here, and the latter in a separate post.