Wednesday, 6 July 2011
As I type, there is a blog debate between a Mr Tim Wilkinson of the Surely Some Mistake site, and Mr Peter Hitchens of the Mail on Sunday.
Peter Hitchens and Tim Wilkinson are going over the same points that usually crop up in the drugs debate, and a fine job is being made by the both of them. I will not address the specifics of Peter’s arguments, it’s of no point to this post. It is not my wish or intention to try and get in the middle of this interesting discussion, I would dearly like to point anyone who has not seen the exchange to go a view the ongoing discussion.
I am both lucky and humbled to receive a very good readership on my own blog. My viewing figures are not that of the Daily Mail, but, between appearing on the BBC, whoring myself out on social media, the diligent word of mouth of followers, internet forums and linked sites, I hold a privileged position; I am listened to. I thank all that do read. This alone is possibly enough to spark an interest within Peter Hitchens. He may be the full antipode to me, but knowing I hold a modest court may rouse a small curiosity.
I have tried to engage with Mr Hitchens a few times, I have left comments on his blog on numerous occasions. I may not have any formal education due to my long-term battle with illness, but I can vaguely string a sentence together, and readers of my work will hopefully know I raise decent enough points. It’s somewhat curious that my comments to Peter never make it through the moderation procedure. Like most blogs, my comment terms are a free for all. You are allowed any say, and you shall not be edited. Peter does not grant the same degree of clemency. I find this highly unfortunate.
However, this specific blog post of mine is not sour grapes, far from it. Although I would dearly like to engage with Peter Hitchens, and on occasion I have written him personal comments to that effect, I now feel it’s time that I can lay my personal Hitchens demon to rest.
Firstly, let me explain how distorted Peter Hitchens' view is of the drugs debate. He wilfully projects the image that those wishing for reform advocate a free market. Of course, this is nonsense. The point he never fails to brush under the carpet is that reformers wish for better control through some degree of state regulation. Mr Hitchens also takes the stunted position of 'legal and illegal' drugs. This is once more not how it works. We have controlled and non controlled substances, and a full oxymoron to that effect. Controlled substances have become feral through street control, and non controlled substances - such as alcohol - have been given free reign as the industry pleases. When addressed properly, you can soon see the pattern to why we have issues across the board. Dealing in lazy language such as Peter Hitchens' simply endorses false notions. All too often, the prohibitionist engages in a primary stream of discussion; 'Drugs are bad because.' - This does little to treat the symptoms of what is actually going on. Drugs should be in a place of better control owing to harms, not in spite of them as Peter will advocate. There is a somewhat stunted logic to the argument that something is bad, therefore perceived illegality is good. As ever, Peter addresses but a mere surface scratch of an argument.
One of the allies of drugs reform has is attrition. There is a certain shelf life to prohibition and prohibitionist arguments. With decades to account for this 'control' model, we can collate all the information we need to make a measured decision. Peter surely knows this, and this is why he has now gone down the somewhat curious path of declaring that “we’ve never had a ‘war on drugs‘” - and that it’s about time we had one. This indeed reeks of last ditch efforts on a par with the dusty generals at Flanders. Peter is now writing a book to this very notion proclaiming that we’ve never waged a war. Any other person, and this would be labelled conspiracy theory, Peter is now teetering on this knife edge.
I am left with no doubt Mr Hitchens is a moral man, he professes to be so on every occasion, and I have witnessed him is some truly poignant pieces of television over the years. There is a worrying part of any moral discussion though - (to which Peter basis most of his arguments on in the drugs debate) - morals are highly subjective. Morals do not fit well with the politics of past. Morals have been the catalyst of social fall outs and persecution for thousands of years. Recent history also will attest that one man’s morality is another’s tyranny. Politics, and especially the drugs debate, should be wary of pontificating that one knows better than the next. To deliberately reiterate, Mr Hitchens’ main thrust of his sword is based on morals.
In the Policy Exchange debate on the 18th May, Peter came across on numerous occasions as quite bizarre. In many ways, and ironically, this is a disappointment. In this specific debate, his arguments were weak and out of place. It was tantamount to a great boxer that had gotten in the ring one too many times. As ever though, Peter based most of his rhetoric on morals. He actively goaded Tom Llyod, and Sir Ian Gilmore, saying (in essence) that their position of social eminence was being abused given that they were personally debasing their own, and social, morals. Indeed, as with any public figure that speaks out, Peter embarks on a similar tirade. I fully disagree of course, I believe that the doctors, health professionals and police personnel such as Sir Ian and Tom Lloyd hold a necessitous duty to think of the people that are mandated to protect. These eminent figures are bound by a code to think of the suffering of people, and to put politics secondary to the actuality of life’s trials. These front line people are here to hold council on policy, not justify existing legislation. On the swingometer of morals, I believe these professional figures to be acting in entirely the best interests by speaking out.
Perhaps the best part of this aspect of the drugs policy debate is the fact that rebuttal has a life span. Each passing month now, prolific figures speak out for the utter failure on the war on drugs. Peter Hitchens is charged with the task of shouting them down, and informing the public as to why they are wrong. Even the most dug in of intellects will see that a loud voice that damns discussion on alternatives to judicial control can’t shout the loudest forever. Peter will eventually realise that by telling an ever growing list of reformers that they are wrong for the umpteenth time may get tiresome and counter-productive to his own point.
Peter Hitchens is a highly intelligent man, no one can deny this. I do wonder though, given his intellect, why he is unable to see that the 'war on drugs' is purely conceptual and nonsense. I’m sure he can speak at length as to why the 'War on Terror' is of similar nonsensical tone. We can’t fight concepts, we can only distort the political rhetoric and make things sound good. Make no mistake, this moral man is trying to wage war on people; and this is something that he has personally opposed and found repugnant in many regions of the world.
To wear out the moral thread fully, let me conclude with two further points. I ask aloud; given Mr Hitchens wishes to turn the screw on the war on people; is it moral that we incarcerate those that we deem as having problems? That is of course if we conclude that worse case scenario is actually true; the other side of the coin is that the majority are non problematic drug users. This is highly taboo to mention. But, with my previous point in hand, Peter will probably be all too clear that we don’t imprison alcoholics, or threaten them with the proverbial stick approach, and yet he is a full advocate of hard line measures to those that have substance abuse issues. I once more fail to see the moral reasoning in this approach.
To stretch the theme of morals to breaking point, I ponder one final point: Given my personal circumstances and health - and why I’ve entered the drugs debate in the first place from a position akin to Peter's - I soon realised how out of step I was. I can possibly be forgiven for taking a dislike to Mr Hitchens, I’m sure many in similar position do so. I could possibly be forgiven in being allowed to hate Peter, and I deliberately use that word with some thought. But, I don’t. I actually strangely like the man. I could envisage a really good conversation with him about an array of subjects. I would even pencil him in at the famed who would you have at your dinner party game. I simply believe Peter Hitchens plays the pantomime dame very well. I have come to view him as an affable man with a devil’s advocates job. I do not look upon him as my oppressor, my persecutor, but I see him as one of the best tools to hand in the reform sector. If Peter’s arguments are running thin, then this speaks volumes.
Peter Hitchens is liberally mixing the arguments for reform up, he fails to speak on prohibition harms of substances, and never addresses pure sources and the merits of unadulterated substances. His generic address of drugs is probably deliberate, but it’s certainly not cricket. When we can grant emplacements that will ensure a full minimisation of harms through the regulation of substances, and even work within state control to lessen use - as we have with tobacco - Peter’s morals are simply perpetuating the very issues he fights to rescind. Morals are indeed subjective and should probably be removed from the drugs debate in favour of science and evidence.
All I have ever really wanted from Peter is to be looked in the eye (so to speak) and for him to tell me why I am not allowed my personal freedom, why he wishes me 5-14 years imprisonment, and why I am to be granted no clemency in using a substance that has preserved my organs, and that has given me a quality of life that has until now been missing. It would be a pleasure and thrill to engage with him, but I do not believe this will happen given previous excursions.
To fully conclude, please do keep it up Mr Hitchens, you’re now doing many favours for the case for reform.
Additional: Peter Hitchens was kind enough to reply, see here: