In the recent Google+ debate on ‘the war on drugs’ a right-wing tabloid writer named Peter Hitchens made some ill-received comments about drug-users, their supposed immorality, and their role in maintaining the ‘social problem’ of drug-use. Here’s a video:
Peter Hitchens makes a few claims, let’s discuss.
“Taking drugs is morally wrong”
It is unclear upon what grounds Hitchens makes this claim, but lets explore the potential reasons.
If taking drugs is unethical because they harm the individual user – is drinking alcohol morally wrong? Since many of the currently banned drugs are shown to be safer than alcohol, Hitchens would have to agree that moderate use of LSD, MDMA or Magic Mushrooms is ‘more ethical’ than abusing alcohol. Moreover, aren’t the risks to individuals only heightened by criminalising these substances- and therefore isn’t such a policy itself unethical?
Further, if risky behaviours are equivalent to immoral ones: Hitchens would need to explain why activities like mountain climbing or horse-riding are morally OK, without referring to an obvious double-standard. (I’d like to see him try)
Perhaps Hitchens is referring to the global costs of drugs like Cocaine and Heroin: the international conflicts that result from the demand for these drugs are surely responsible for many deaths. But isn’t the real cause for these tragedies that the demand exists within a framework of attempted prohibition? One need only look at attempts to prohibit alcohol for clear evidence that the easiest remedy to this problem is to end the war on drugs and to integrate drug-use safely into society.
If Hitchens is concerned with international conflicts- what about all those drugs for which this is not an issue? Cognitive Liberty UK is primarily concerned with psychedelics: a single lab can produce enough LSD for the entire world, magic mushrooms grow in the wild across the globe. Even in rainy old climate of England people could grow their own cannabis, if only they were allowed.
Then there’s the possibility that drug-taking is immoral because it is somehow fundamentally selfish or self-centered. Hitchen’s seems to allude to this point in the above video – but wait a minute! Surely a great deal of human behaviour is fundamentally selfish, why is Hitchen’s so hung up on drug use? Once we take away all our “selfish” behaviour, we’re pretty much all sat in monasteries doing very little with the Zen-monks. I wonder if Peter Hitchens ever does anything with his own self-interest at heart? Is Peter Hitchens so selfless and enlightened that he is in a position to ‘cast the first stone’ against others? At the very least, if he hopes for a nation of selfless individuals, he is surely being a little overly idealistic.
Psychedelics, once again, have been left out of the equation. Those who have used LSD and Magic Mushrooms often report that they are ego-dissolving drugs, which give them a greater sense of interconnectedness to society and the wider world. They are often filled with experiences of love, both earthly and divine. A recent study suggests that psychedelics can cause lasting positive personality claims: other research shows a host of applications in the world of psychotherapy.
In short: many people use psychedelics as a part of their spiritual lives, and many seem to be more loving and more moral because of it. How then is it a purely selfish and immoral activity?
Psychedelics stand apart from so many other drugs which cause addiction and all the associated misery of addiction in fact science shows us that LSD can be used to treat alcoholism.
If taking drugs to improve our conditions is immoral, then does Hitchens also think that the drugs currently used to treat mental health conditions are “evils” also? People take them out of self-interest, and many of them pose risks far greater than some of the psychedelics.
“Taking drugs muddles the brain”
Again with the alcohol! has Hitchens ever had a drink? Was this morally wrong? Alcohol is generally seen as “brain-muddling’.
If Hitchens would only care to look at the evidence he would find that psychedelic drugs have the potential to enhance the brain, to improve the human condition, to inspire creativity and to promote spiritual, religious and moral sentiment.
He complains about drugs sedating the minds of the population: but 1960s/70s America showed that psychedelic drugs fueled the revolutionary political fires of the era. If Hitchens has an argument here, it cannot be applied to LSD.
“If the law is the only thing that deters [one] from taking drugs, it needs to be maintained.”
Drug laws are not deterring any one. The only way to win the war is to create a brutal police state, even then people would still take the legal-risks needed to expand their consciousness.
NB. Hitchen’s argues that the war on drugs is “a war not fought” – tell that to the hundreds of thousands of people who have had their lives ruined by prison and their careers ruined by the criminal records bureau.
Peter Hitchens, earlier in the debate, argues the following:
What we see here is the age-old debate between free-will and determinism in new clothes. It’s age-old, by the way, because there really isn’t an easy solution to it – no matter how much Hitchens pretends that there is.
If individual responsibility is the only factor in drug use, and environmental factors have no influence: how can Hitchen’s account for the numerous socio-economic correlates to drug use? Surely he can’t deny that education is an important factor in influencing behaviour and life-choices? His very profession, as a tabloid-journalist, is an attempt to influence (determine) the actions, beliefs, and attitudes of others.
The fact is, Hitchens is where he is precisely because he is stuck on simplistic, emotive, narratives of blame and judgement: he is a columnist for a right-wing tabloid newspaper. Such reductionist, anger-fueled, judgemental spiel is how he helps his “hate-rag” to sell copies. It’s not about rational argument, it’s about clinging to his preferred moral ideals and disregarding the actual consequences of their application.
Peter Hitchens fails to see the war on drugs as a civil-liberty issue: the idea of cognitive liberty is wholly lost on him. I put it to you that Peter Hitchens has no concern for the freedoms of the individual: he is a fascist, pure and simple. But the people of Britain and the world are starting to wake up: people are starting to recognise that a small minority of individuals are telling them what they can and cannot do with their own bodies and minds, and they’re starting to get pretty angry about it! The chains of anti-psychedelic propaganda are being shaken off by the self-proving power of the psychedelic experience itself.
There’s a war going on Peter, and our side is not going to lose.