Thursday, 19 August 2010

The War on "X"

In "Twilight of the Idols" Nietzsche outlines The Four Great Errors, one of which is mistaking cause for effect. An example he gives is the opinion that a political party were bound to fall following a terrible policy decision. Nietzsche says that rather the party had already fallen by the time they had become such that they were capable of making bad policy. The thrust behind this idea is that the decision was based on a flawed character - they had to make the policy themselves didn't they? It was no influence from without which had corrupted them, it came from within them.

Consider that the same error is made when creating drug policy - driving the so called "war on drugs". The reason given to the masses is that drugs harm society, by causing addiction, health problems, thievery, violence, vandalism and so on. Quite aside from the fact that alcohol and nicotine, causes of addiction, health problems, thievery, violence, vandalism and so on, are legal and advertised drugs (a fact which seems to need constant reiteration) there is yet another more original error lying at the heart of the war on drugs.

It's said that for every one person chopping at the root of evil, there are a hundred more merely chopping at the branches (I'm uncomfortable using the term "evil" - it's inclusion here is merely colloquial). It often strikes me how much the media and government are keen to chop at the branches, the derivative phenomena of much deeper problems, without ever getting to the core. The bottom line is, millions of people the world over use drugs recreationally and only some of these people go on to form addictions. What gives?

It's common knowledge that morphine is used in hospitals to provide relief for patients suffering in pain. If the addict had not some wound of their own to nurse, what need would they have for the release of heroin? Just as the political party who are already finished by the time they are in a position to generate bad policy, so too is it that drugs do not cause addiction, but rather that people have pre-existent pains and that drugs are how they go about responding to them.

It might be objected that were it not for drugs, the troubled would not become addicts and would therefore not have need for recourse to theft or violence in order to acquire a fix. The thought is somewhat similar to the causal elements acting upon a stationary object involving two equal and opposing forces, bringing it to a spatial "stalemate". By analogy, the psychological damage is one force and the availability of drugs is the other - both acting upon the agent in order to create their addictive condition.

However, the "forces analogy" does not share the same character as drug addiction. If we are to explain a phenomenon by its anterior causes, then it must be remembered that the psychological damage is the most original cause. It is possible to casually use drugs and not become addicted, therefore we must think of what other factors are causing addiction if drug use alone does not lead inexorably towards it. The addictive state is the manifestation of already present psychological damage, which is present in many people with or without the use of drugs. Granted it would not be possible to become addicted to heroin without access to it, but will prohibiting substances wholesale lead to a solution for the original problem? Not even close.

Instead of waging war on drugs, or on terrorism, or any of the other distracting phantoms created by media and government (which have resulted in the undue prosecution of recreational drug users, the deaths of innocent terror suspects, and many more) should we not rather focus on the original conditions which cause and thereby explain these phenomena?

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