A Reply to Sean Gabb on Drugs
One of the fine things about being an accredited author here is that, when I make a self-contained comment that seems to go beyond the essay I’m commenting on, I’m able to put it up as a separate post. Just that happened when I went to comment on Sean’s post about drugs from yesterday; and here’s what I wrote.
Far be it from me to play devil’s advocate against Sean; but I think the view he expresses in this (long ago) essay is too simplistic.
If an individual takes drugs, and that harms that individual per se, then surely, that’s his or her own look out. However, as Tom Rogers among others has noted, it may cause knock-on effects for other individuals. If a pilot is under the influence of cannabis when he gets in his plane, the passengers (if they get to know) may feel they are being put at unnecessary risk. If a father gets drunk every night, he will at the least put his wife under stress, and may soon default on his duty to bring up and educate his children. Even an accountant or computer programmer, who turns up intoxicated to his work more than very occasionally, is in danger of failing to earn what he is paid.
But all these supposed counter-examples to Sean’s thesis have one thing in common. They require that the individual has a contract they have committed to fulfil. And that that contract, not unreasonably, requires them to be compos mentis whilst doing what they have agreed to do.
But what of those who have no such contract? Unmarried writers or composers? Actors, singers, entrepreneurs, or consultants who aren’t currently doing paid work? Young people starting out to explore the world? Those unemployable through illness, accident or disability that is no fault of their own? Those taking a sabbatical? Lovers on their honeymoon? People whose work is in the “black” or “grey” economy? Why should these people worry about what drugs they take – as long as they don’t force unreasonable risks on to others, for example by driving under the influence of too much crack? And why should anyone else worry?
Smoking is a slightly different issue. I don’t doubt that people have died of lung cancer caused by smoking – in 1968, my best friend’s father was one such. But, as far as I’m aware, it hasn’t been proved beyond reasonable doubt that “passive” smoking has caused any significant damage to anyone. So, a political ban on smoking amounts to criminal punishment of people who haven’t been found guilty on any charge.
Ostensibly, the state’s case against drug use seems to be that it harms “society.” Sean makes that point in this essay; but I put it to the company here that Sean has understated his case. I put it to you that the prime issue in the “war on drugs” is that the political state is trying to impose on people a one sided “social contract” they have never signed, and would never sign voluntarily if they knew what it entailed.
And it does this, not for any reasons of benevolence, but to advance its own powers. Oh, and to make rip-off profits for its cronies, too – on both the “legal” and “illegal” sides.