Do you have morals? Are you a controversy? There’s a bomb on a bus – once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed; if it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do?
You may have noticed that in the past few decades, the unnecessary fraternising between morality and politics has caused issues such as gay marriage, drug use and abortion to be increasingly politically divisive; wedge issues which serve to create solid voting blocs and neatly carve up the electorate. A functional democracy requires three fundamental imperatives: the basic security of the State, and the preservation of both liberty and individualism. The purpose of this series will be to explore the ways in which moral politics and majority rule contradict these fundamental necessities of the State, restricting liberty, causing harm or marginalisation to minorities, and in some cases increasing societal instability. What follows is a call for the reassertion of amoral politics. With morality and personal opinion removed from the equation, such issues may be considered based on rational consideration of objective data, leading to policies which are truly made in the best interest of the State, and with respect for the individual.
We begin with the War on Drugs. The aim here is not to endorse or denounce drug-users; rather, it is to consider whether drugs are a significant enough societal harm to warrant the interference of the State, to examine the dangers the War on Drugs poses to the security and stability of the State, and to argue that if a drug constitutes no significant danger to others, it is not within the State’s domain to interfere with, and is in fact anti-democratic to do so.
The Fundamental Imperatives of a Democracy
Before we look at the War on Drugs, we need to understand the basic imperatives and justifications for the State. Don’t get bored, it will be very important later.
Thomas Hobbes was among the last philosophers to defend the absolute right of the sovereign and the requirement of obedience to it in almost all cases. Hobbes’ supposition is that humans are fundamentally incapable of maintaining any kind of order or security without a supreme controlling force. In Leviathan (1651), Hobbes goes as far as to posit that without a commanding and absolute sovereign, humans would be in a perpetual state of war with one another, where the life of man would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. The State is therefore justified to act however it wishes in order to maintain its basic imperative of security.
Against this, John Locke assumed the better of human nature and was among the first to cleave personal morality from the business of the State. In The Second Treatise of Civil Government (1689) Locke identifies the right of liberty as intrinsic and inalienable. As a result, humans are naturally in a state of peace and it is only when the State attempts to infringe on these rights that humans are placed in a state of war – not with each other, but with the State itself. If Locke’s views sound familiar, it is because they were pivotal in inspiring the Declaration of Independence of the United States, as well as its constitution, and its genetics can be found in basically all functional modern democracies. “Give me liberty, or give me death!” derives from Locke’s argument that any who would deprive one of liberty would have one within his power, and thus be able to take away all else; for liberty is the highest right.
This is a basic and necessary property of democracy. As a government justified by the consent of the people, the State cannot thus infringe on the liberties of the people without their consent; to do so would be paradoxical.
As Locke declares, liberty entails that the State does not have justification to use its powers to compel a person into any particular action simply because it may be “better for him … because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others to do so would be wise, or even right.” To prevent harm to others is the sole reason the State may infringe on liberty.
State preservation of liberty alone is not a sufficient guarantee for the people in a democracy however. While it may seem natural to associate democracy with the principle of “majority rule”, such a system leads to what John Stuart Mill describes in On Liberty (1859) as the “Tyranny of the Majority.” This refers to two crucial problems which will occur when a democracy operates according to the dictates of its majority.
Firstly, majority opinion is largely a reflection of mere preference and does not necessarily reflect what may be right or wrong, or empirical fact. We can all think of public opinions or laws which may seem unjust or irrational, either in the present or in hindsight. That the majority of Americans had a favourable opinion of slavery at one point says nothing of its ethical status or political, psychological and social impact – let alone its infringement on the liberty of those enslaved.
Secondly, it follows from this that, as public opinion and moral convictions inevitably shift, the previously dominant majority will suddenly find itself in the minority. This can foster dissent, rebellion, and in some cases outright civil war, which is obviously itself destabilising and destructive to society.
Both of these problems reflect what the “Tyranny of the Majority” is; when society operates according to the whims of a majority, intentionally or not, it will oppress its minorities and cannot logically be described as a government by the people, for the people.
It is therefore necessary for a third condition, individualism, to be preserved in order to maintain a just democratic State. By declaring that the State shall have no mandate to interfere with the liberties of any individual where they present no threat to the security of the State, individualism protects both the freedom of minorities and insulates the majority from undue interference or retributive action when demographics and opinions shift and they themselves find that they are a minority.
We now have three basic necessities for a functional democratic State: security, liberty and individualism; imperatives which intrinsically require the State to operate without regard to morality and majority opinion. Speaking of which, we now finally come to the War on Drugs.
The War on Drugs: Operation Stop and Bore
While drugs have played a role in virtually all societies, it was at the dawn of the 20th century that Western democracies began the modern effort to control them. In the United States, 1914 saw the regulation of opium for the first time, followed by prohibition of alcohol in 1919. Regulation of cannabis began in 1925, and although 1933 saw the repeal of alcohol prohibition, public opinion started to shift and between 1951-56 the regulations and penalties related to marijuana use increased exponentially. The Nixon Administration saw drugs, particularly psychedelics, as contributing to anti-Vietnam War sentiment and the rise of anti-establishment counter-culture. In response, the Controlled Substances Act (1970) was passed and Nixon coined the phrase “War on Drugs”. Though criminalised, usage continued to escalate sharply throughout the 70’s and 80’s.
While enforcement escalated, in 2001, the National Research Council published a report admonishing the government for not sufficiently studying its own drug policies. In 2008 the Obama Administration ceased usage of the term “War on Drugs”, claiming to favour treatment above punishment. Marijuana sale was legalised in Colorado and Washington State by popular vote in 2012.
Though it appears opinion may be starting to shift in the other direction, we still have several problems. Firstly, the State should not legalise drugs merely as a result of public opinion. Secondly, the objective and measurable components of the drug debate still need to be resolved. With an amoral political framework in place we can proceed to analyse the War on Drugs rationally. So let’s do just that.
There are two main potential justifications for opposition to drugs; one is an ethical claim and one is political.
For the ethical argument, as demonstrated, the State should not be in the business of legislating morality. Moral values are subjective and given the State’s mandate of preserving liberty and individualism this is not a sufficient cause to warrant interference with drug users. But what about the political argument?
The political aspect all hinges on whether drugs are a significant threat to others, to the stability or security of society – so, is this true?
Whenever one discusses the potential harm of a given drug, the issue of addiction is inevitably factored in. If a drug is addictive, this is a bad property for it to have, no? Well, it is a little more complex than that. On the one hand there is the principle of cognitive liberty; that I shall do with my mind as I please. If I choose to use such a drug, that is my choice to make. However, addiction also paradoxically appears to be the antithesis of liberty; in becoming dependent on a substance you are thus subservient to it, and you surrender your liberty to choose. Ultimately, the State must consider whether the addiction is harmful, purely from a standpoint of societal stability. If the majority become addicted to a particular drug which causes them to destabilise society or randomly explode in fits of violence, or should their addiction force them to pursue theft in order to facilitate their dependency, the State has domain to regulate the behaviour, and potentially the drug. On the other hand, if the majority of the populace were suddenly addicted to, say, celery, there would be no issue over which the State has legitimate authority.
With regards to drugs which are highly addictive but pose no threat to others, it is to the individual to do what they will. Even if such a drug may be highly damaging to the self, again we find the State has no right to interfere with such a liberty. To repeat Locke, the State must not interfere merely because it believes it can make the individual happier, or because others believe it would be wise or right. This is crucial to maintaining individualism against majority oppression.
All this is not to say that the government, social groups and individuals should not be allowed to take a proactive approach to education, in order to ensure that people are aware of the risks. A well-educated populace is better equipped to make rational decisions, and the State can help facilitate that; it is not however the right of the State to make those decisions for us. Whether addiction takes away a person’s cognitive liberty or not, it is his or her own liberty to surrender privately.
The Effects of Drug Usage on Societal Security and Stability
Not All Drugs are Created Equal
It seems worth stating the obvious: “drug” is a suitcase term which encapsulates a large variety of different chemicals and compounds with vastly different effects. Some drugs undoubtedly provoke violent behaviour and result in domestic violence and assault (ironically, scaled proportionately, alcohol is the chief offender here). Some drugs cause little-to-no negative effects. Some drugs may cause harm based on context; the hypnotic sedative rohypnol when used as a date-rape drug, or basically any psychoactive chemical which impairs vision, alertness or motor function while operating a vehicle. Given the threats to the individual liberty and security of others that these contexts present, it is well within the right of the State to prevent such drugs from being used in these circumstances, and to punish transgressors accordingly. What about outside these contexts, though?
Recreational Drug Usage
How much societal harm do various recreational drugs actually cause? According to a 2010 report by the UK Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs this is how they break down:
The above chart makes it immediately apparent that most narcotics, including LSD, Ecstasy, mushrooms, and whatever the hell Khat is, have no significant social costs. On the contrary, alcohol leads the pack by far, and tobacco is outdone only by crack cocaine and heroin in terms of social harm (this study was scaled proportionately to account for the legality and abundance of alcohol and tobacco).
What exactly are the social harms which arise from these drugs? The following chart outlines the criteria, and specifics for each drug:
Environmental impact is a factor in basically anything human beings do, so that point is relatively moot. With regards to economic cost, again we find alcohol and tobacco being the outliers with most others being insignificant. In terms of community disruption, with the exceptions of tobacco, alcohol, crack cocaine and methamphetamine, the costs are negligible.
In terms of the health of others, the intravenous usage of drugs and HIV transmission is a significant one. Numerous treatment programs could be enacted to counter this (whether the drugs most commonly used intravenously are legalised or not), including education and programs to provide clean needles, as has been done in numerous countries, including Australia; such programs provide a tangible prevention of loss of life. Incidentally, the US did have such a program but it was discarded in 2011 as part of a budget cut. Priorities, right?
But what about crime? This issue seems to be at the forefront of conversations about narcotics, yet almost all of the surveyed drugs have relatively insignificant effects, with the exception of alcohol, heroin and crack cocaine. With these particular drugs, given the significance of their correlation with crime, it may be worth maintaining regulation until further research can be done to potentially refute causality, particularly given the vulnerability of front-line medical staff and law enforcement officers to users who exhibit violence while on these drugs.
For the rest of the list, even though the harm is minimal, it is still worth exploring crime further.
Establishing a causal relationship between any individual factor and crime is difficult to do, in light of the multitude of biological, psychological and social influences on behaviour. Additionally, it is difficult to find data which is unbiased either by the agenda of soulless lying authoritarian government suits or filthy unemployed hippy pro-drug advocates (and bias is a horrible thing). A report by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research however states that there are “several convergent lines of evidence suggesting that alcohol consumption, at least in certain circumstances, directly increases the risk of criminal violence.” With narcotics, the report notes that while drug use attracts increased media coverage, the issue is far more intricate. Among the issues cited, “many people who commit crime also consume illicit drugs”.
This is an extremely significant point; correlation does not equal causation, and it may be that drugs cause criminal behaviour, it may be that criminals have a propensity towards and easy access to drugs, or it could be the result of a completely external factor, or some combination of factors. Hell, it could be that a lot of people who commit crime are unemployed and unemployment is boring, so they take drugs. I’m basically unemployed, and you know what I do? I watch day-time television. And I understand why people do drugs.
At any rate, ironically, the fact that these drugs are illegal severely limits the extent to which research can be done on their behaviour-altering properties and so we have little data to demonstrate causality. My TV inference may well be valid, for all we know.
The report goes on to note:
“Unlike alcohol … there is little evidence that drugs such as heroin, cocaine and marijuana exert any direct pharmacological effect on an individual’s propensity to engage in crime [and] the onset of involvement in crime usually precedes illicit drug consumption. This has led some to argue that illicit drug taking and crime are just different manifestations of deviant behaviour rather than being causally related. The fact that many early family precursors to involvement in crime are identical with those which precede illicit drug use lends credence to this view.
In fact illicit drug consumption almost certainly does cause crime but not by driving large numbers of otherwise law-abiding people into crime. The influence of illicit drug consumption stems from two sources. Firstly, many individuals already involved in crime commit far more offences once they become drug-dependent. This is because offenders addicted to expensive illicit drugs usually commit higher rates of property crime to fund their addiction. Secondly, there is some evidence that competition among drug suppliers for control of illicit drug markets occasionally prompts them to engage in violence toward each other.”
While it may be hard to parse out what causes criminality, evidence does exist demonstrating crime resulting from the illegality of drugs. In other words, for a drug user who has a criminal record unable to find employment, theft is the only way to pay for drugs which are expensive as a function of being criminalised. Further, the existence of structured criminal organisations which operate in the black market leads to competitive crime. Note that such criminal organisations would lose their main source of power if the need for a black market was removed.
Crime aside, there are inherent contradictions in how we regulate certain drugs. In the United State, the prohibition of alcohol required a constitutional amendment where the Controlled Substances Act (1970) did not. Additionally, federal law grants exemption to the consumption of peyote by the Native American Church when used for religious purposes. Restricting the rights of one group and not another violates the equal liberty guaranteed by the 5th and 14th Amendments . As the exemption is contained within a law designed to favour a particular religious institution, it is also a violation of the Separation of Church and State contained in the First Amendment. This liberty is being infringed upon not because of social harm, but opinion and moral values. An amoral political approach would determine that, insofar as peyote is not harmful to others, all individuals should have the equal liberty to use it or not.
Further contradictions arise when considering the legal status of alcohol and tobacco, substances which are demonstrably far more harmful and costly in comparison to many narcotics. Much soul-searching may be required on the issue of alcohol. As a causal link has been demonstrated between the drug and its massive propensity to incite violence, crime and incidental death, it is within the domain of the State to control, if not criminalise it. However, given that this has already been tried and failed fucking miserably, a more pragmatic approach may be to increase efforts towards education and provide access to alternatives which are far less harmful, as has been done with methadone for heroin. Legalising MDMA, LSD and mushrooms would give individuals the liberty to engage in euphoric or consciousness-altering states, without the social costs associated with alcohol. At the end of the day, if you are drunk, there’s a good chance you may well punch someone in the head; if you are on Ecstasy, there’s only a slim chance you might possibly hug someone to the point of asphyxiation.
Medical Drug Usage
The control of drugs for therapeutic purposes is no more coherent or rational than that of recreational usage. It is worth exploring this, as pharmaceuticals are the most widely used drugs, as several narcotics have legitimate therapeutic value, and as psychopharmaceuticals are prescribed for people with mental conditions who require drugs that address the subjective distress they may experience as well as a rational basis for any particular drug-therapy.
As far as any drug goes, the analgesic acetaminophen (paracetamol) is available off-the-shelf and unregulated in convenience stores and supermarkets, and yet it is the foremost cause of liver failure in the Western world, and accounts for the highest amount of overdoses of any drug in Australia, the United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand. Additionally, up to 48% of these overdoses are unintentional. 27% of acetaminophen poisoning incidents result in death. To make matters worse, many Western nations do not allow the sale of the more effective analgesic codeine phosphate – an addictive drug but relatively non-toxic – in its pure form, but require it to be combined with drugs such as acetaminophen – which is non-addictive. To quote the US National Institute of Health: “Fatal intoxications resulting solely from ingestion of codeine are rare. Fatalities & poisonings occur after ingestion of preparations combining codeine with the pharmacological activity of analgesics [such as] aspirin, phenacetin, acetaminophen”. The State’s decision to combine a highly addictive and yet relatively non-toxic drug with a non-addictive but highly toxic drug reflects the kind of irrational approach we take even to basic medicine.
For the treatment of mental disorders, things are no better. Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines, including diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax) are extremely heavily regulated, sometimes to the point of causing direct distress to the patient, though they are potent and profoundly effective. While they are addictive, the negative side-effects of these drugs are negligible, even with long-term use. Additionally, there have since been calls for renewed re-evaluation of benzodiazepines in light of studies affirming their favourably low side-effect profile and unique efficacy. Instead, antidepressants, and increasingly antipsychotics, are used as drug-therapy for anxiety.
There are two problems associated with this. Firstly, if the anxiety is brought on by momentary stressors, the typical time to optimal action of antidepressants and antipsychotics is up to 6-8 weeks – meaning the patient may not receive any actual benefit from the drugs until after the distress has passed, rendering the therapy pointless. This is like applying a cast to a broken leg after it has already healed. Secondly, even if someone does suffer a long-term anxiety disorder, side-effects of antidepressants and antipsychotics are far more severe and common. The former can develop suicidal ideation and permanent sexual dysfunction among other things, the latter can cause severe emotional instability, a permanent and serious neurological movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia, and, paradoxically, anxiety. The side-effects for antipsychotics can be so severe, around two-thirds of patients will stop taking them. On the other hand, benzodiazepines have rapid-onset and are far more suitable and effective, with no significant side-effects, yet general practitioners are far less likely to prescribe them. This is largely driven by over-exaggerated negative attention in the media, not necessarily accurate health concerns, as demonstrated by the low mental health literacy of general practitioners whose treatments are frequently at odds with the psychological and psychiatric communities.
Even in cases where anti-depressants may be warranted (i.e. the treatment of chronic depressive disorders), current antidepressant medications are extremely blunt instruments. The quarter of users who do not have a favourable response experience more severe depression than those who have no treatment. Further, any beneficial effects come at the cost of the previously mentioned side-effects, which can outweigh the benefits, and attempting to cease medication can cause a long-lasting withdrawal syndrome. By contrast, MDMA has been demonstrated to cure 83% of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferers, and analogues which do not have the mild neurotoxic properties of MDMA have been developed with promising potential for the management of depressive disorders as well as treatment of Burkitt’s lymphoma.
Further problems arise as the inavailability of effective treatments causes more to turn to alcohol – a potent analgesic, sedative and depressant – in order to self medicate, creating greater costs to the healthcare system due to liver failure, increasing crime and incidental damage and requiring more expensive interventions.
Marijuana also has legitimate therapeutic value in the treatment or pain-management of “AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, seizure-disorders, chronic pain and other maladies”, yet remains largely criminalised even for medicinal use throughout the Western world for reasons which I can only assume come from Reefer Madness.
Additionally, while in America the debate over government mandated healthcare is controversial in itself, the major point of contention specifically revolves around the coverage of female contraceptives – which are also used therapeutically for menstrual regulation and management of associated pain, as well as treating or preventing functional ovarian cysts. This is a controversy not of efficacy or safety, but one of moral judgement.
All in all, our priorities for drug-therapy are completely fucked. Patients suffering pain and distress are forced to take inappropriate medications which may provoke even more pain and distress. This is a cruel and irrational practice to force on those already vulnerable, given that superior alternatives which may alleviate suffering or offer more effective treatment remain illegal, or tightly restricted, based on moral judgements. Clearly, the way the State approaches the therapeutic use of drugs is incompatible with any form of respect for liberty of patient-choice at best, and forcing very real harm on both the individual and society at worst.
I would like to make it clear that I am not claiming that any of the drugs described within this piece are perfectly safe – virtually any substance has the potential for abuse and self-harm. But the way we dictate the usage of some drugs as opposed to others all too often reflects moral judgements and opinion, rather than what is actually best-practice or within the State’s domain; for it is to the liberty of the individual as to what levels of risk to themselves they are willing to tolerate.
The Effects of the War on Drugs on Societal Security and Stability
With the effects of most narcotics on societal security being minimal, what are the social impacts of the war against them?
Domestically, on average around 1.5 million Americans are arrested per year for non-violent drug related offences, with half a million of those imprisoned, representing 50% of the US prison population. In Australia, the figure is significantly lower, with 10% (2175 individuals) of the sentenced population incarcerated due to drug-related offences, though the figure is rapidly growing despite the use of illicit substances in Australia remaining static. This system of penalisation is costly past the expense of incarceration. Criminal penalties can also result in the loss of opportunities for education, employment, housing, remove voting rights and cause the revocation of driver’s licences. The effect of this is to create a permanent underclass who, in addition to losing fundamental opportunities in society and unable to secure employment, will be forced into the welfare system; ironically, the most stable and attainable job for someone in this position may be as a drug dealer.
The prosecution of the War on Drugs also disproportionately affects African-Americans (a dual disadvantage applied to a minority within a minority); between 1990 and 2000, 27% of the growth of black inmates was due to non-violent drug offences, versus 15% of the white prison population. A black drug user is on average 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white user despite similar rates of consumption; given the wide berth given to the individual states in enforcing drug laws this varies with Iowa showing a disturbing arrest discrepancy against black users 8.4 times higher than for whites. The infamous disparity between penalties on crack and powder cocaine (a ration of 100:1 in 1986, reduced by the Obama Administration to 18:1) further disadvantages lower socio-economic black communities in the favour of wealthy white users. While data relating to ethnicity in Australia is harder to come by, it is clear the inverse is true with regards to Indigenous-Australians, with two-and-a-half times the amount of the non-Indigenous population incarcerated on drug charges, while double the amount of the Indigenous-Australians use drugs compared to non-Indigenous. No matter which group is being targeted, it is clear that our current drug policies discriminate against a variety of different population groups.
The overall costs of the War on Drugs is an estimated $51 billion dollars per year, for the United States. Australia spends $4.7 billion AUD per year, and £16 billion for the UK. For all this, do we get our money’s worth? Firstly, even if enforcement was effective, restricting supply without reducing demand simply raises prices (increasing criminal acts to obtain drugs and the profit of those who sell them) and does not address drug-seeking behaviour.
Currently, Australia’s position is somewhat more rational than the United States; Australia spends around twice the amount on reducing the demand for narcotics as it does enforcing. Meanwhile, the US only spends 1.5 times the amount on controlling supply as opposed to reducing demand. But the money spent on reducing availability is still a shitload of tax dollars either way; so, are they well spent?
Despite criminalisation, no less than 82% of high school seniors have consistently reported it easy to obtain marijuana since 1975 and drug rates have overall either remained stagnant or increased in the past decade depending on source. It would appear that efforts to restrict purchase domestically have not been a resounding success.
This reflects a further failure in the inability of the United States to prevent drug trafficking. A 1988 study commissioned by the US Department of Defense concluded that the intervention of armed forces would have little impact in curbing the import of drugs across the border. Recent statements by US officials have confirmed the current failed status of this operation, despite the money dedicated to it, and a recent study concluded the same for Australia and Europe.
The power afforded to dangerous foreign organisations by a retaining a monopoly on the drug trade also has drastic implications for national security. The Taliban’s profit due to opium production and export is estimated at no less than 300 million dollars per year. Drug cartels routinely maintain power in Mexico, Central and South America due to the profits raised by exporting their produce – Mexican cartels alone are estimated to generate around 64 billion dollars per year from drug exports to the US. The stranglehold these cartels have is damaging both to the host nation and to others; 60,000 Mexicans were killed by the drug trade in a six year period, and violence results in a larger flow of uncontrolled immigration into countries such as the United States, including the recent influx from Central America.
If the we drop the moral pretence for our restriction of drugs and approach it from a view of security, we see not only the destructive results of the criminalisation, but also the potential benefits in removing these restrictions. Legalising certain drugs would not only save the US 41.3 billion dollars per year but also generate an additional 46.7 billion in tax revenue. Perhaps it could put that money to use fixing some of the 63000 “structurally deficient” bridges its populace uses every day; seems like a pretty big threat of harm there. For Australia, the 4.7 billion might help with the debt crisis we apparently have.
Commercial production of drugs would also drastically cut the financial capital and hence power accrued by criminal organisations. In Mexico, the legalisation of marijuana in parts of the US has already contributed to a sharp decline in profit, and the cartels have now turned to cheap low-grade heroin exports to compensate. Cutting profits to the Taliban would severely impede their acquisition of weaponry, allowing for the security of the Afghan government and allowing US troops to finally get the hell out of there, and out of unnecessary harm’s way.
Additionally, treatment of substance abuse is substantially cheaper and more effective than enforcement and incarceration. On top of this, thousands of new jobs would be added to facilitate the industrial manufacture of these substances. Further still, the drugs produced by regulated businesses would be far safer than those produced by cartels or those with a home-made lab, resulting in fewer fatalities from poor quality or cut substances.
Again, all of these costs and benefits this should be of immediate concern to the fundamental imperatives of the State.
To be blunt (pun intended), the legalisation of marijuana may be a positive step towards increased liberty, but it is happening for the wrong reason: a simple reflection of shifting opinion polls. This reinforces the false idea that it is within the domain of the State to interfere with moral issues in the first place. The societal harm of most narcotics is minimal at best, where the War on Drugs costs enormous sums of money, results in mass-incarceration, claims massive amounts of life around the world, results in harmful pharmaceutical practices, empowers dangerous organisations, threatens national security and decreases social stability. The nuances between different drugs are ignored; we currently allow the free sale of some of the most harmful and dangerous substances on the block (alcohol, acetaminophen, etc.) and punish people who try to get safer alternatives. The war utilises costly and harmful policies which unnecessarily interfere with individual liberties. Whether drugs are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is immaterial – a subjective moral opinion the State has no right to meddle with. If one adopts a position of amoral politics, it becomes clear that the War on Drugs is an unjustifiable breach of the State’s mandate.
Should the State continue to fight the War on Drugs or concede defeat? Neither; it ought to vacate the battleground it had no right to enter immediately, and engage in surgical strikes only where significant social harm is present. Where such harm is present, it may proceed within its mandate, however it is demonstrably more effective and respectful to the individual to do so by providing treatment, safe utilities and education in order to prevent users, rather than punishing them or those who merely supply their demand.
You may not like this conclusion. You may consider drugs to be a moral evil, or maybe your favourite drug turns out to be more harmful to society than you hoped (I’m looking at you, alcohol). Perhaps, you have been personally affected by substance abuse, or that of a loved one. These are all good reasons to attempt to engage with the other side, to utilise discourse, offer support, and exercise your right to speak freely; but to use or allow the State to exert power to compel an individual and deny them their liberty is antithetical to democracy, however well-intentioned you may be. Further, it is to miss an opportunity; erecting legal and social barriers against the “other” not only shuts down conversation and alienates, it further empowers a ruling class to divide and conquer its populace, playing directly into the hands of any political party happy to espouse whatever the current moral trend is in order to get elected. Each and every individual has a responsibility to protect individual liberty, whether they morally agree with a particular issue or not.
The point of this series is to urge you to start thinking about the nature of the State in a different way. If we persist in engaging in moral politics, challenging only issues where we feel personally offended, we still cede our liberty and individuality to the State, merely begging for exemptions when they affect us.
After all, we are all beholden to shifting tides of opinions and norms. By integrating our opinions and morality into politics, we may not like it once the shoe is on the other foot. If we attempt to use our majority to rule over minorities, we may find ourselves at the mercy of an oppressor when demographics inevitably change. If you were to suddenly find yourself a minority within your society (or if you already are one) would you want your liberties denied to you simply based on the moral judgement of others?
Ultimately, in adopting amoral politics, we can be sure that not only is all of society protected from the Tyranny of the Majority, but that previously divisive issues have fair, clear and rational policy responses based on empirical and objective facts.