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Offlineneuro
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A debate on the subject of the morality of drug use.
    #1313422 - 02/17/03 08:35 AM (13 years, 9 months ago)

This is rather long so if you don't like to read, have a short attention span, cannot follow argument structure, or are just lazy - then this isn't for you.
originally from here

xxxxxxx

Open Debate: The Morality of Drug Use
Paul MacDonald
My concern in this essay is with the moral status of drugs and drug use and not with the social-political issue of decriminalisation or legalisation of illicit drugs. However, on first glance it might seem that the issue of morality is congruent in some way with, or at least directly supported by, the issue of legality. The fact that certain drugs are declared illegal and their use a crime seems to some to entail the claim that the use of drugs is immoral. But morality and legality are separate dimensions, though they sometimes overlap; we could say that they overlap or cover the same domain of rules and actions insofar as the domain of illegal practices is assumed to be excluded by conventional morality from the notion of the good. However, it is clearly the case that some actions, such as breaking a promise to a friend when there is no overriding moral reason to do so, would usually be considered to be immoral, though not illegal. In any case, there doesn't seem to be anything contentious in claiming that morality and legality are separate dimensions of the human social world. In that respect, it is a strange feature of the debate about drug use that this careful separation of the legal and moral domains is usually obscured or even deliberately occluded. It is even stranger that the alleged immoral status of drugs could somehow reinforce the perception of their illegal status and inculpate drug users as criminals.

The 'reasons' given by authority figures in the contemporary debate for why drugs are illegal and drug users criminals are not the same as the 'reasons' for how drugs and drug users came to be seen in this way. One good place to begin to address the latter issue is to consider the possible psychological motives for drug use, an approach which the latest survey by the British Medical Association recommends as under-explored. Aside from youthful curiosity about 'forbidden fruit', the most obvious motive for taking drugs would seem to be the pursuit of pleasure. One does not ordinarily associate immorality with the mere practice of something which brings about pleasure in the user; rather, this is associated with other concomitant or consequent actions, such as harm or theft or betrayal. What is it about drugs that seems to carry with it this intrinsic feature of being evil or bad, irrespective of the person's character or the circumstances in which he or she uses it? It's most common to hear someone say that drugs are bad for you, they poison your soul, that drugs are an infection or contagion which must be eradicated and so forth. This facile identification of drugs with toxins or poisons is a component of a particular paradigm of moral thinking, namely that morality is health and immorality is sickness. On this view, the ingestion of drugs makes a person morally sick in the same way that ingestion of (or contact with) a bacterial or viral infection makes one physically sick. Since drugs are identified with a source of sickness before any argument about whether the use of drugs is moral or immoral, it is a simple inference to conclude that a person who would deliberately consume something like this must be a bad (or at least a weak) person.

Before going any further, it should be pointed out that for a person to be unhealthy or for one's health to decline is not the same as being sick or having a sickness; for example, a middle-aged person who overeats and doesn't take exercise isn't said to have an illness on the basis of these conditions alone. In what follows, we will have to look carefully at three separate questions. The first is whether or not it's the case that the use of an illicit drug does indeed cause the user to have a physical illness. Second, whether the desire to use and/or the actual use of an illicit drug is a symptom of some other non-drug caused illness. And third, even if it could be shown that use of an illicit drug does cause the user to have an illness, or at least for his health to decline, whether the regular use of that drug is an immoral practice.

The over-arching metaphor of morality as health and immorality as sickness, as well as all the terms associated with this kind of moral thinking are so pervasive as to be almost unnoticeable. However, this therapeutic paradigm is only one among several dominant moral metaphors, which also include accounting, uprightness, obedience, lightness and others; an analysis documented very well by Mark Johnson. Each of these moral metaphors can be employed to relegate drug use to the negative end of the spectrum. It would be instructive to look more closely at the motives for taking drugs in light of this confabulation of moral and physical health. The first step might be to argue that someone could quite cogently claim to be sick without having a sickness. For example, if you have headache or stomach ache, this is not due to the fact that you have a sickness (or disease) of which the ache is a manifestation. In similar fashion, using a drug might cause you to feel sick (though it's more likely to cause you to feel unusually good - in some cases, especially before the advent of synthetic analgesics, the initial motive for the use of narcotics was to relieve pain; it was the attendant pleasurable effects which then became one of the motives for further drug use). There isn't any ground for someone to assert that you have a sickness or disease in light of the mere fact that you feel sick. Even on the 'morality is health' paradigm, this would still be a 'category' mistake.

Two comments on this: first, it strikes me as absurd that the motive for using a drug is to make yourself feel sick. More likely the motive is to make yourself feel really good, to get high or 'out of your head'. It is then an accidental or unforeseen consequence of your using this particular drug that it has caused you to feel sick. Second, it is intelligible (perhaps even plausible) to argue that someone who feels compelled to make himself sick by using the same drug over and over has a sickness. But this is not because of the drug he uses, rather it's because of a condition (which may indeed have a physical and moral dimension) which drives him to make himself feel sick. Third, I would contend that it's simply nonsense to think that, with all the legal sanctions removed, most people would want to spend most of their time 'out of their heads'. It appears that some people (a very small number) do indeed want to be 'wasted' most of the time, irrespective of whether drugs are legal or illegal; that some people (usually between the ages of 18 and 25) want to spend a fair amount of their time like this; but most people simply do not want to be stoned most of the time. This attitude of prudence (another virtue besides temperance) reflects the fact that most people have future goods which they hold in high esteem, goods whose achievement would be precluded by regular, heavy drug use - getting a university or higher education degree, a rewarding job, a partner and family, the respect of friends and colleagues, and so forth.

In addition, one might want to look more closely at the metaphorical aspect of the moral health paradigm. What kind of epistemic status is conferred on (or inferred from) a claim that a specific action or practice is immoral because it is unhealthy? In what way could anyone confirm or disconfirm this imputation? How could you go about looking for signs or symptoms of an immoral debility or dysfunction aside from the alleged physical harm (if any) that is associated with the practice of drug-taking? Perhaps the point of this question would be clearer, given the confused state of expert opinion about what constitutes physical health and well-being, if we examined another moral metaphor, 'purity and impurity', side by side with the intelligible use of a non-moral metaphor. When someone says, 'the teacher was so angry that he blew his top', we don't look around and try to find out whether his scalp is on the ceiling. In similar fashion, it would seem peculiar or wrong-headed if, when someone said, 'doing this kind of thing is a filthy, dirty habit', the speaker meant that someone who did this would make a stain on his soul, or had tainted himself in some way by doing this.

It is another issue whether taking drugs does indeed lead to a state of poor physical health. Let's even assume that, in the case of some drugs, their use leads to a momentary sickness; but there isn't some other dimension which 'parallels' the physical in terms of which the person is morally sick. To put this point another way, a person's scalp is not on the ceiling despite the fact that he's really angry, for the same reason that a person's soul is not sick or dirty, despite the fact that he's really 'stoned'. Perhaps the failure to differentiate a metaphorical from a literal moral assertion is the result of an unacknowledged materialist-reductive picture of the relation of mind and brain. If a person's mind is no more than the neurological apparatus which supports thought and action, then specific alterations in brain-state which can be directly traced to drug-taking are the same thing as the overt expression of these brain-states - the only salient difference is one between two descriptive perspectives. This identification of mental state and brain state is reinforced by the imagery in the single most common anti-drugs 'message' in the popular media - a picture of an egg in a hot frying-pan with the caption 'This is your brain on drugs'. This strikes me as an absurd analogy, for it leads to a picture of the human mind as a 'brain-in-a-vat', an image, let's remind ourselves, which Thomas Nagel proposed in order to then reject. He rejected both the presumption upon which it was introduced and the consequences for an understanding of human beliefs and actions, for reasons similar to Descartes' remark that, 'the mind is not in the body as a pilot is in a ship'.

It's due to the overwhelming success of the literalization of the moral health metaphor and the presumptive validity of the brain-in-a-vat picture that other arguments against any proposed legalization of drugs acquire their rhetorical force. Granted the highly dubious equation of physical disease and moral depravity, it seems like a strong case against the morality of drug use that it could lead to even greater 'sickness' through recourse to even more 'tainted' drugs. It's difficult to get a clear picture of the unconstrained escalation from 'soft' to 'hard' drugs outside of an environment where drug use of any kind already has severe sanctions. If the imposition of strong anti-drug laws is thought to inhibit or otherwise act as a 'brake' on the temptation to search for ever greater drug 'highs', it would be very helpful to know whether this scenario actually plays out. The BMA reports that the government has argued that decriminalizing cannabis would attract those who experiment with it to use more 'dangerous' drugs. However, the decriminalization of cannabis in the Netherlands seems to have been followed by a clear decrease over the ten years between 1976 and 1985 in the prevalence of its use amongst young persons. The egregious assertion that removal of legal sanctions against cannabis could lead to increased use of 'hard' drugs has been refuted by a recent Dutch study which found that since 'cannabis has been tolerated in special "coffee shops", the majority of cannabis smokers have distanced themselves further from heroin, cocaine and also alcohol. Most cannabis smokers in the study saw themselves as participating in socially acceptable behavior, putting even greater distance between themselves and the users of "harder" drugs.' Elizabeth Young [1997] has recently reported on a similar trial in Switzerland which confirmed the findings of the Dutch authorities and seriously challenges the 'seduction of greater danger' scenario laid claim to by those who campaign against the legalization of drugs.

Here it seems that we have a fairly convenient means for discriminating between 'soft' drugs (such as cannabis) and 'hard' drugs (such as heroin). The regular use of hard drugs diminishes a person's capacity to resist the temptation to use these drugs; whereas the regular use of soft drugs can be suspended or postponed, specifically where another motive takes precedence. On first glance it might seem to be an inference from this postulate that the compulsion to carry on using 'hard' drugs is an illness, in the sense that it indicates a psycho-physical condition which persists through time, whose source is 'within' the person (in contrast to external agents), and is dependent on a specific dysfunctional state of the person's neuro-chemical make-up. However, if it is an illness, it is a strange kind of illness, in the sense that removal of the external source (heroin) which supports the habitual condition itself eventually removes the condition - something not true of other diseases, such as hepatitis or jaundice. Nevertheless, we should take note of the fact that criticisms of the moral health thinking behind the prohibition of soft drugs such as cannabis have a narrower scope than criticisms of the thinking behind prohibition of hard drugs such as heroin. The moral 'intuition' which supports such a distinction is that it doesn't seem to be the case that the (regular) use of cannabis has any greater risk than the (regular) use of other things which we don't consider to be immoral, whereas the (regular) use of heroin entails a decidedly greater risk to health. It's another issue whether or not a competent adult, knowing the greater risk attached to heroin use, has the right to indulge in a 'risky habit'.

The assertion that use of 'soft' drugs leads to use of 'hard' drugs is a rhetorical move in the routine of pro and con debate and is little more than an unwarranted extrapolation of the moral-health and immoral-sickness paradigm. Three comments are called for: first, it is a matter of empirical investigation to determine whether in fact use of 'soft' drugs leads to use of 'hard' drugs; second, it presumes that use of any kind of drug is already condemned as immoral and 'hard' drugs are simply a worse case; third, that it's obvious that a person does not have the right to consume something which causes him to become addicted. Thomas Szasz, the controversial American psychiatrist, after thirty years experience of the medical and political consequences of drug use and anti-drug laws, says that this is a very dubious notion. 'There is evidence, however, that the drug-law-abuser's addiction [to enforcement of prohibition] spreads from using the coercive apparatus of the state to control recreational drugs, to using it to control recreational foods, and much else besides.' David Wagner (1997) has offered an ingenious explanation for the kind of thinking which goes on behind the overt claims by supporters of anti-drugs laws that drugs are dangerous and 'bad for you' and that adult persons should be denied the right to use drugs. He characterizes this sort of thinking as 'dry logic', which catastrophizes the worst-case scenario, highlights statistically insignificant exceptions, and forms the basis for paternalistic and authoritarian counter-measures against drug-users.

At this point, perhaps we can return to a more informed understanding of the questions raised at the beginning about whether the use of illicit drugs causes physical illness and whether, even if they did, their use constituted an immoral practice. There is a great deal of controversy over the alleged consequences to a person's health of long-term use of cannabis, to take one of the best researched examples. There is a great deal of conflicting testimony from 'experts': drug-law reform groups, such as RELEASE claim that there are no long-term health risks, the latest BMA report is quite doubtful that there is any evidence that long-term use of cannabis leads to 'demotivational syndrome', other studies make a claim for significant memory loss, and so forth. Some rather superficial news reports conclude their review of these findings on a cautionary note - let's postpone any decision about the health effects of long-term use of cannabis until there is better evidence or a consensus amongst those who interpret the evidence. Frankly this 'let's-wait-and-see' attitude strikes me as irrelevant to the immediate problems at issue. How much do you need to know in order to engage in an action which has a risk factor? After decades of research into the effects of long-term use of cannabis, an informed decision can be made by a person who knows that there may be some risks that he will do himself harm in the long term. Or perhaps one might say -where there is some risk that in the long term harm to himself may occur as the result of his actions. Knowing that there is a high percentage of divorces at this time and knowing that there are great stresses and pressures experienced within a marriage, how much do you need to know about the other person in order to decide to marry that person?

Perhaps some light can be shed on another aspect of the issue by looking at what constitutes an action and a practice. In what sense can ingesting a drug be considered to be an immoral action and the routine of self-dosing with drugs be considered an evil practice? Consider this scenario about an individual practice: imagine a person who applies a cosmetic powder or lotion to his or her skin; unlike a drug which is taken on the 'inside', this is taken on the 'outside'. Let's continue to imagine that, although this powder or lotion has no mood-altering or pain-relieving effects, it does slightly increase the chances of the person getting sick. We will assume that this person is in full possession of his or her faculties, knows that using this stuff increases some risks to health, but makes a practice of using it anyway. We might think someone foolish or vain who carried on with the practice of using this cosmetic, but it would probably strike us as deeply mistaken or inappropriate to label this an immoral practice. In fact, some would even consider it morally wrong to institute prohibitions against the regular use of such a product. The analogy with a powder or liquid which is ingested seems to indicate that the real objection to drug taking is that drugs have mood-altering or pain-relieving properties. Aside from the very rare kinds of drugs, such as 'angel dust', which are known to cause violent behavior in their users, what is the moral objection to making yourself feel really good when you don't even feel sick? If a euphoric state could be induced through the practice of an intense meditative discipline, thus obviating the requirement for an artificial substance, would you object to this on the grounds that it was 'superfluous' to the person's physical needs? You might ask yourself by what right, except those one has surrendered to paternalistic agencies, does anyone have to intervene in the relation which you have with your own moods or your own pains? Unless the action of mood-alteration or pain-relief leads to an event which impinges on the rights of other persons to their own actions and practices, it does not seem to be the case that routine drug-taking actions constitute an immoral practice.

Now, if an anti-drug law supporter were to say to me, 'Look at the state of this particular neighbourhood - three times the national average of drug addiction, vandalized buildings, single-parent families, massive unemployment, random petty crime and many other social ills. How could you claim that this state of affairs is not deplorable and that these kinds of actions are not immoral?' My response would be, 'Of course, this is a deplorable, crime-ridden neighbourhood; it is not a good thing that these things are happening here. But all of these obvious examples of immoral (and illegal) behaviour are not the result of the fact that drug use is itself immoral and leads to criminal behavior. At least some significant part of these criminal activities, such as theft, burglary and assault, is the result of the legal sanctions against drug use.' The fact is that this picture, often utilized by the public media, points to some other condition(s) which account for the higher incidence of all the activities singled out by the objector. If you turned your attention to an affluent, middle-class neighborhood, you might find one-third of the national average of hard-drug addicts, one-third the number of unemployed, vandalized buildings and petty crimes. There is no two-minute or two-column news story which emphasizes the positive, successful, harmonious features of an affluent neighborhood as the result of its inhabitants not taking a lot of drugs. This many-faceted imbalance is indicative of social and economic condition whose expression is drug use, vandalism, petty crime and so forth. It's not at all far-fetched to conclude that in addition to seeking pleasure, satisfying curiosity, and succumbing to peer pressure, persons in the 'deprived area' have other motives for using 'hard' drugs - and these motives are not themselves immoral.

Let's grant that there are always some persons for whom transgressing legal sanctions would itself be a sufficient inducement to commit crimes. If drugs were legally available through a carefully controlled and sanctioned scheme, these intransigents would (perhaps) feel deprived of an income and prestige, and turn their attention to other criminal activities. From this perspective, it is the zealous maintenance of current anti-drug laws which provides the dedicated 'hard' drug user with additional incentives to support his habit and to convert others to 'hard' drug use. An immoral public policy is one which endorses prohibitive and punitive measures against a social group, the majority of which would not be engaged in any illegal or injurious activity if those measures were repealed. The economist Milton Friedman, in an international conference last year, raised this issue as a question: 'Can any policy, however high-minded, be moral if it leads to wide-spread corruption, imprisons so many, has so racist an effect that it destroys our inner cities, wreaks havoc on misguided and vulnerable individuals and brings death and destruction to foreign countries?' Although the answer which he expects from any well-informed, reasonable person is quite obviously 'not', the puzzle remains about how those who support anti-drugs policies can reconcile the overwhelming negative consequences of the prohibition against drug selling, buying and use with the moral imperative for justifying its enforcement as leading to a greater public good. The higher level or overriding ground upon which such a counter-intuitive standard of moral principles could make an appeal is that of a war against evil. The war rhetoric alone provides a supererogatory vantage from which a patently immoral policy could be justified against the rights of individuals to private property, risk-taking and making mistakes.



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Offlineneuro
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Re: A debate on the subject of the morality of drug use. [Re: neuro]
    #1316740 - 02/18/03 01:11 PM (13 years, 9 months ago)

i guess no one likes to read eh?


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Anonymous

Re: A debate on the subject of the morality of drug use. [Re: neuro]
    #1316806 - 02/18/03 01:49 PM (13 years, 9 months ago)

i read the first few paragraphs.


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Offline3eyedgod
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Re: A debate on the subject of the morality of drug use. [Re: neuro]
    #1316807 - 02/18/03 01:49 PM (13 years, 9 months ago)

There have been far too many of these so called debates already. Use the search option.


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Without everything wouldn't nothing be everything and without nothing wouldn't everything be nothing.I am the beginning and the end,the source and the void, the light and the darkness,i am but a small drop of the ocean yet i am an ocean unto myself


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OfflineGRTUD
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Re: A debate on the subject of the morality of drug use. [Re: neuro]
    #1320095 - 02/19/03 05:47 PM (13 years, 9 months ago)

Keep in mind that personally I feel that drugs are neither good nor bad and that their use is an attempt to feel either;
a) good b) better or c) different,
and that to have even a morsel of control over how we feel is an age old search of humankind. Also, I believe that physicians could do allot with many of the "illegal" drugs to help people, in many ways. In addition, many of these drugs could incorporate the patient themself into the theraputic, horticultural process which in and of itself may be an element of cure or abatement. With that said, one whom indulges such belief must be aware of the wholeness that accompanies the human conscienceness.
Look up these words:
Pathology,
Addiction,
Disease,
Physical Tolerance,
Overdose Threshold,
Toxicity.



--------------------
"New shit has come to light..."


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Offlineneuro
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Re: A debate on the subject of the morality of drug use. [Re: GRTUD]
    #1320134 - 02/19/03 06:03 PM (13 years, 9 months ago)

This long article wasn't written by me.

My intention was to post it and put it out for people to read.. i'm not looking to start a debate, just read it and perhaps you'll be bettered by reading it. That was all


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OfflineGRTUD
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Re: A debate on the subject of the morality of drug use. [Re: neuro]
    #1322468 - 02/20/03 03:22 PM (13 years, 9 months ago)

Quote:

My intention was to post it and put it out for people to read.. i'm not looking to start a debate, just read it and perhaps you'll be bettered by reading it.




I couldn't agree more with the core of this article nor could you ever find a person more against modern day laws regarding illegal drugs and those who attempt to enforce those laws, in general. However, there are legions of ill advised users/abusers/addicts that substantiate all the political fervor for such laws by their sub-human behavior. I don't believe we can change the system until we account for these realities.


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"New shit has come to light..."


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InvisibleSclorch
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Re: A debate on the subject of the morality of drug use. [Re: neuro]
    #1324008 - 02/21/03 07:10 AM (13 years, 9 months ago)

I thought it was a good essay.

I've just heard it all before... politicians (and the masses) don't listen to reason.


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Note: In desperate need of a cure...


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