It occurred to me the other day (not for the first time) that western society has a very confused and schizophrenic attitude towards drugs. I was listening to a talk show on the radio where they were discussing what young people get up to on their gap year travels around the world. The participants in the discussion were decidedly middle aged and middle class;- this is not a criticism but an important observation because they all spoke about drug taking as if it was a normal part of young people’s adventures, and some of the speakers even implied that they had all indulged themselves at various times. They were the respectable type of intelligencia that make up the bulk of BBC Radio 4’s audience. “Yes, most of their travel tales include frequent misadventures with sex and drugs, but they always survive and are able to laugh about it later. You are left with an overwhelming sense of young people’s resilience; and confidence that they will make a better job of running the world than we have…”
But I am pretty sure that those same sort of people will be the voices on the radio, on TV, and in government grandstanding about how evil drugs are and arguing against any attempt to relax or change the laws pertaining to them. I have even had friends and acquaintances who are doctors, lawyers or police officers who take drugs in private (or accept other people doing so) and yet take a tough and unforgiving line with drug users they meet in the course of their jobs.
Why this schizophrenic attitude and what does it achieve? I think it makes people have less respect for authority and the comfortable classes because they seem so hypocritical. More importantly people are likely to pay less attention to educators and information concerning the real dangers that can genuinely be associated with drug use. Meanwhile people continue to take drugs. Legitimate authorities have less and less control or responsibility concerning drugs and the economy around them, and the worst kind of organised crime syndicates go from strength to strength. In addition to all that, ordinary people like myself can be intimidated into not discussing the issue realistically and intelligently because to do so might leave you open to accusations of law breaking.
Well I guess I have broken the law in the past (along with almost every person I know or know of) because I have taken drugs. The fact that I rarely if ever take any illegal substances now has nothing to do with the fact that they are illegal; it is simply that I have learn’t from experience how various substances affect me and have made adult decisions about pleasures versus health risks. I seriously doubt that many people are influenced much in their lifestyle choices by whether an activity is legal or not. I am not an anarchist or a hippie, I do think that law and order has an important place in society; I just don’t think the way it is currently applied to drugs has any beneficial effects at all. Furthermore, respect for the law as a whole diminishes when it is seen to be stupid and hypercritical.
Mexico and much of South America seem to be dominated by huge, international and illegal drug cartels who appear to be totally above and beyond the law. Extreme violence and murder is part of their way of doing business and they have total contempt for the governments and authorities of the states they operate in. The local economies in many of these places are totally controlled by gangsters and thugs and the peasant farmers are totally at the mercy of these bloodthirsty criminals. There is no quality control over the final product and, because they are deemed to be criminal themselves just for buying the product, the end-users have no say, control or consumer rights concerning the thing they choose to buy. And unlike alcoholics, drug addicts are treated primarily as criminals rather than sick people. How does any of this help anybody except the criminal fraternity?
Does the fact that I may have smoked marijuana and experimented with a few other things make me a bad person? Does it mean my behaviour is somehow akin to being a mugger, a bank robber or some other sort of criminal? To me these ideas are ridiculous… And apparently in a cosy radio studio when the theme is not specifically “the evils of drugs”, it is okay to talk politely and intellectually about the fun and hilarity we can have as a result of using drugs.
So why isn’t it okay to talk and act intelligently and realistically regarding drugs the rest of the time?