Monday, January 12, 2009

Standing your ground

Libertarians enjoy challenging others' assumptions, and it's invigorating. But it's also time to challenge the assumptions of libertarians: freedom-lovers, make your case.

Here's a couple of shots between the redoubtable Devils' Kitchen and myself, from a couple of posts back. To me, this isn't about drugs, essentially; it's about whether we are, or can be, free.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Sackerson, "How is it reactionary to wish to protect young people from habits that impoverish and enslave them (and this is what black communities object to)? I think perhaps some libertarians haven't really defined what they mean by liberty."

I am all for proper drugs education; however, it is worth noting that I had a considerable amount of it, and it hasn't stopped me from taking just about every drug on the planet*.

And do you know what? I have never had to have any kind of hospital or other treatment; I have never lost a job; I have never even been late for work, after having taken drugs.

I have never assaulted anyone (most drugs, other than alcohol, put you in a frame of mind in which violence is the last thing you want to indulge in), nor hurt anyone, nor even caused a public nuisance whilst on drugs either.

I am not addicted to drugs either, despite heavy usage of a few of them (most are self-limiting, in that the effects begin to wane after a period heavy usage).

I have, on the other hand, laughed like a demon, make some excellent friends, danced, thrilled, been immersed in music in a way that's not possible sober, and had many fantastic times whilst on drugs.

You see, what I chose was to take the education that I was given, and the advice of friends, and my own experience, and indulge in a free and informed choice.

That is libertarianism, and it is still no business of yours what I put into my body, as long as I am willing to pay the consequences. And I am: that's why I am privately insured up to the hilt.


Sackerson said...

DK: thanks for visiting, I'd have drawn a chalk circle if I'd known you were coming.

I agree that alcohol is pernicious and have argued that rather than attempt to ban it, we should reduce its availability a bit - currently you can get it from the supermarket, post office, petrol station etc. And it does make many people horribly aggressive, so there is an incentive for others to band together and act in this way.

I do understand that there are many functioning drug users (as indeed there are functioning alcoholics), and the question of product purity is certainly one of the arguments propounded for legalisation and regulation. Set against that is what might then happen. If the research referred to by Paddington above is correct, the tendency to addiction is genetic, so the principal factor is opportunity. If only 5% have the fatal flaw, and these products become as available as a six-pack of wife-beater from Tesco Express, we could go from thousands of addicts to millions.

So one issue is how do you weigh your wish for a certain kind of pleasure, against the awful suffering of some other people? Is this corner of libertarianism less a struggle to be free of oppression than it is callous selfishness?

And there is a deeper question of the founding assumptions of libertarians: are we really free and rational in any case? If half our behaviour is genetically determined, and much of the rest conditioned by social expectations, drug-taking is not the blow for liberty that it was represented to be from the 1960s onwards. You yourself say "...I chose was to take the education that I was given, and the advice of friends, and my own experience...", which makes me think that your "free and informed choice" was conditioned by the example and advice of your friends, and the opportunity to take part yourself. Indeed, this is how I started on cigarettes and it took me a decade to get back off them, so I have some idea how unfree we really are. You'll see from my next post that I query whether public schools such as Eton had a drug problem as early as the 1960s, and "as the twig is bent, so the tree will grow".

I think we are in an age where the Enlightenment philosophy is as under threat from geneticism (and determinism generally), as Creationism was when evolutionary theory was formulated. Sartre refused to accept Freud's theory of the unconscious, because it fatally undermined his own position on existentialist free will.

So I think libertarians should move from questions of law, taxation, social liberty etc to re-examine the ground they are standing on.


Anonymous said...

If we are creatures with no free-will then it doesn't seem to matter much what we do. If we take drugs and kill ourselves in the process, then so what?

But I think we probably are creatures with a modicum of free will. We demonstrated that the forst time we decided to stop axcting like monkeys and paint drawings on caves. We then went on to build great monuments. For us, every day is different, whereas for the other monkeys, every day is much the same. That is what makes humans "special" but not necessarily better. Free will. If you use the law to limit peoples free-will, you take away some of their humanity. The more you limit them, the less human they become.

So if you limjit people's free-will you must have a very good reason why. The damage that exercise of that free-will might do to others is one good reason. Mozst drug taking does not fit in that catagory, whilst alcohol abuse does. So with that in mind I would in principle back drastic limits on alcohol consumption but legalise drug use.

Of my own free will I chose not to take drugs after some mild experimentation in my youth, and of my own free will I gave up drinking alcohol two years ago. I hope I am a good role model for my children through the choices I have made, but they have their own lives to lead and will no doubt make their own mistakes. Perhaps those mistakes will be bad ones, but that is a fear that every parent just has to live with.

James Higham said...

Following this one with interest.

Anonymous said...

In my experience as a counsellor drug use and abuse has much more to do with depression than genetics. Sure, genetics can play a part - it is always involved in peoples response to situations - but not such a big part.

Serious depression can cause people to do one of two things:-

1] realise that things will get better one day and aim for a more optmistic future, and face the current problems stoically.

2] run away

Now option [2] is a tempting option for many but extremely unhealthy. The "flight" response leads people to suicide, running away completely from the situation or escape into "drug abuse". I have put "drug abuse" in quotes because the drug in question could be very obscure. I know many whose drug of choice for coping with depression is posting on the internet!

There are 3 real problems with the "flight" response - [1] the person doesn't ever deal with their underlying emotional problem that caused them to try and escape [2] the person doesn't develop any tools to deal with subsequent causes of depression [3] the chosen method of "flight" creates new problems of its own. Physical running away deprives young people of reliable friends and family, for instance.

Drug abuse is simply a particular response to the "flight" instinct. The people that fall foul to it are people that haven't developed coping mechanisms for depression. As a society we should stop looking to "cure" drug abuse but instead consider it a particular symptom of the wider problem of depression - then look to find ways of curing depression. Suicide, running away, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, violence are all symptoms of one big problem in modern society - depression.

My own theory for why we have so much depression in modern society is three-fold:-

1] too little parental involvement with children that enables pass-on of coping mechanisms for bereavement and loss. Marital break-ups and parents working and dealing with problems of their own (often badly) leaves children unable to cope with loss and unable to see that things will get better one day.

2] too little death in modern society. People live longer and get sick less often. We don't get the chance to deal with death of someone close to us when we are kids. So we never learn to deal with serious loss whilst under the guidance of an adult that knows how to deal with it. Unprepared children grow up to be unprepared adults that can't cope with pressures in the modern world. Things do get better - but they just can't believe it.

3] too many people in dead-end situations. The government writing off unemployed people as "disabled" is bound to lead to depression.

As a first step I believe that young people need to be introduced to the tools given by CBT to coping with depression and other emotional problems whilst still at school, since many kids do not learn these basic tools for survival that are common-sense for the majority of us.

Given that drug abuse is, for me, merely a symptom of underlying serious problems I believe that criminalising drug use would be as effective as handing out aspirin as a "cure" for AIDs. One could argue that criminalising drug use is merely a cover-up by government to distract people away from the real failings of government and social policy over decades.

Sackerson said...

Thank you, Anons both, really useful contributions to the debate.

sobers said...

I come at the drugs issue from the conpletely different direction to Devil's Kitchen, but arrive at the same conclusion.

I have never taken illegal drugs, have never smoked tobacco, and the amount of alcohol I have drunk in my entire life would fit easily into a pint glass. I have had (thankfully brief) bouts of depression, which I have dealt with by putting one foot in front of the other and ploughing on regardless. I never considered drugs in any form the answer to those problems.

I have dealt with my problems in my way, which may not be the way for others. If someone wishes to blot out the pain of their own existance with drugs, that is their choice. Not mine. Not yours. Not the States either.

Part of the problem with drugs is that we insulate people from the consequences. Take an overdose of something, and with a bit of luck you'll get found in time, get a stomach pump, and survive. Take too many tabs in a club, or drink too much water, collapse. Ambulance called, NHS picks up the pieces. And so on and so forth. I say make drug users face the TRUE consequences of their addictions. No free NHS care for drug emergencies. Unless someone (family, friends) is prepared to pay for the care, let them die. Harsh in the extreme I know. But a few high profile deaths in every town would soon send a more effective message to young people as to the dangers of drugs than 30-40 years of 'youth workers' giving out 'drug education'.

The NHS was never meant to be a drug users safety net. Take away the net, and let them walk the wire unassisted. Then it will be a lot easier to educate young people as to the real risks involved.

Anonymous said...

Sackerson I'm sorry you're wrong - definitely with DK on this one.

Paddington said...

Anonymous - your claim is that depression matters more than genetics. The problem is that depression itself appears to be mostly genetic/chemical as well.

OldSouth said...

'That is libertarianism, and it is still no business of yours what I put into my body, as long as I am willing to pay the consequences.'

No, friends and neighbors, that is gross narcissistic selfishness, pure and simple.

Because, simply, we live in a world with other people, whose lives we affect in profound ways, for good or ill. Many are the lives of people we never meet. Everything we do impacts others, for good or ill, and often for years to come. The consequences never ever fall upon our heads alone.

Remember the question the first recorded murderer asked, when asked of the whereabouts of his freshly killed brother?

Are we free moral agents? Yes, and it is a profound responsibility.

Should we have a Nanny State overseeing every aspect of life? No, because the Nanny State does so much more harm than good, by negating the idea that we are free moral agents.

Does this give us license to do whatever pleases us, and let the world take the hindmost? No, because our freedoms have been bought for us at the greatest price, and our stewardship of them should always be with the aim of preserving them, and using them to affect the lives around us in the most beneficial ways.

We are free, but we do not belong to ourselves alone.

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, a moralist repressive old so-and-so, etc.; glad to have the label applied, as I drink my Friday night beer with a happy heart.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Sobers complains about 'free' NHS treatment for drug users. Hang about here, that's one of the argument for legalising, regulating and TAXING drugs. It minimises physical harm; hits criminals directly in the pocket and is a valuable source of revenue for, e.g. funding the NHS and drug treatment/education.

It is quite simple a fact that there used to be a few 1,000 heroin users when you could get it from the doctors and since it became illegal there are now a fairly stable number of addicts at 300,000 or something.

Similarly, most people don't smoke, drink a lot or like cannabis. They just don't. I doubt very much that the number of users has changed much with all the up and down classification. Some statistics say that usage when DOWN slightly when it went from Class B to Class C, the same happened in The Netherlands, went it was legalised, usage went DOWN.

Sure, drugs can (in some merginal circumstances) ruin lives, but so can an unhappy marriage or a horse riding accident. Are we also to ban marriage and horse riding?

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous - your claim is that depression matters more than genetics. The problem is that depression itself appears to be mostly genetic/chemical as well."

Well if addiction is caused by genetics then we must assume then that during the 40s when some 80% of the population were addicted to nicotine that the gene was much more prevalent then? Or that the gene is strongly associated with people in low incokme groups? Strong amongst accountants but weak amongst engineers?

The statistics rapidly betray the truth addiction is not caused by genetics (although the specific drug of choice is).

As for depression - well it is inherited., Bad parenting by depressive parnets tends to lead to depressive children. I see no real evidence that can satifactorily conclude from this that depression is definitely genetic.

By the way, my grandfather was both a gambling addict and an alcoholic - but not one of his eight children were so affected. So much for genetics. Don't dismiss your capability for free-will so readily. It should be something to be proud of.

sobers said...

Anonymous at 17:35: great typo (I assume) - "low incokme groups". I suppose they are mainly straight men?

Sackerson said...

Anon 14:25 - I'll take yours as a vote rather than a comment.

TBRRob said...

Sackerson -- It really depends how you view this subject.

I'm a paid up Libertarian, but I see it like this.

First I am a massive fan of Gray (See Black Mass) and Malthus. I am therefore essentially an anti-utopian. I don't believe you can create a perfect society. Or even one where everybody is ok.

I follow Libertarianism simply because I think it is the most reasonable way to live. It's not perfect. And it never will be. To believe it could be is a delusion.

But it's far less likely to result in people being marched to remote places, forced to dig a big pit and then stand in it before they are executed.

Sackerson said...

Hi Rob - nor can there be a society of completely free individuals - the powerful ones (and the ones that band together) will rule the others. Tyranny is often preceded by near-anarchy. Democracy, open debate and the use of moral suasion as a default mode seem to me the nearest we can get to the good society - I guess our positions aren't that different.

Except some libertarians want to do the 60s thing and openly break the rules, and expect charm to compensate for their defiance of the law. Very Tony Blair, really. Besides, what's the point of campaigning for a change in the law if you make it obvious that law makes not a scrap of difference to your behaviour? Haven't these cock-a-doodle-dos ever realized the value of discretion?

AntiCitizenOne said...

I reckon we should reduce the availability of nanny statists like sackerson.

Everything you enjoy is a drug. Maybe we should ban enjoyment because this is what it boils down to.

Mark Wadsworth said...

On the 'individual liberty' point, it is true to say that most addicts are not truly 'free'.

But they would be much more free if they could toddle down the doctor's once a fortnight for a prescription and pick up their heroin at the chemist's for a prescription charge (which = cost of a few pence plus tax thereon), rather than paying £50 a day to buy it on the black market.

It's all relative. More free is better than less free, even if neither is truly 'free'.

Sackerson said...

Ad hominem, ACO... is this a sign that you are slipping? I still say to do is one thing, to set an open example another. 18th and 19th century libertines generally knew how to play it.

Mark: Fair point re costs. Fundamental point re negotiated freedoms. Any thoughts of unintended consequences in this particular scenario?