Thursday, June 11, 2009

Point of View

An odd thought occurred to me as I was strolling the beasts this morning. I was meant to be thinking about my latest WIP, but my initial enthusiasm for that has been somewhat dampened by events lately. It will come back, just as soon as my subconscious works its way through whatever knotty problem it's working on and presents the solution to me in a dream or something. But for now I'm letting my mind wander where it will, like a sheepdog in an empty field, and every so often it comes trotting back with something that doesn't go baa.

So I was wondering. I consider myself to be something of a libertarian in political outlook. I think we have far too much government, and far too many rules. As I was strolling, perhaps reflecting on something I'd heard on the news earlier (or even a week ago, my sheepdog mind is like that sometimes), I pondered the subjects of prostitution and illegal drugs.

Now both are things I've no great desire to make use of, but my practical nature can't help but think making them illegal only makes them worse. In an ideal world, men wouldn't need (or want) to pay for sex, and people would be so happy in themselves they'd have no need of a means of escape. But we can only strive for an ideal world; in the meantime we've got to live in the one we've got. So surely the next best thing is to assume that men (and women, let's not be sexist here) will want to pay for sex, and people will want to lose themselves in some form of chemical oblivion.

If we accept that much, then surely it makes more sense for the state to control the means and quality of supply rather than a criminal underclass that isn't answerable to the rule of law. To my simple way of thinking, licensing brothels and some form of outlet for recreational drugs, taxing the supply and using that revenue to help those who become addicted, give medical support to those who contract diseases, educate the population in safe consumption (or even in striving for abstinence) has got to be better than the current war on drugs and the trafficking in Eastern European children for prostitution.

Very few people would seem to agree with me, though. Not least the political classes, who run scared of the accusation of 'condoning' drug use or prostitution as soon as they even mention the possibility of thinking about reforming the laws. I've never quite understood that use of the word condone. My dictionary defines it as 'to pardon or overlook an offence,' but in modern media usage, particularly where politicians are concerned, it seems to mean wholeheartedly approve of, and indeed actively encourage an activity.

For my part, I've never taken any illegal drugs, and the closest I've knowingly been to a prostitute was as a tourist walking through Amsterdam's faux-red-light district. The rather sad glass-walled rooms where bored-looking, scantily clad and rather unattractive women posed for the passers-by struck me as pretty desperate. As my friend Mike said at the time, with a shudder: 'I couldn't even think about going with a prostitute. It'd be like stirring another man's porridge.'

Which sort of brings me to my point, in a rather roundabout way. I come from a background of rare privilege. I was privately educated at boarding schools from age seven to age eighteen, grew up in rural isolation and sheltered from the harsh underbelly of life. I have no experience of the kind of poverty that would drive a woman to sell herself for sex. I have no experience of the kind of life that makes a heroin fix so appealing. Nor do I have any direct experience of the fallout - no junky friends, no families torn apart. I call myself a writer, so I should be able to imagine my way towards those places, but truly I'm completely clueless. So is my libertarianism merely a product of innocent naivety?

Many of the loudest and most eloquent critics of liberalisation are those with direct experience of the things they are trying to ban, or keep banned. I can understand that - if you've lost a loved one to drug abuse, you're hardly likely to be first in line to make that drug more universally available. But your very closeness to the subject stops you from seeing the bigger picture - the thousands (or for ecstasy, millions) of casual users whose greatest danger is not from the drug but the rat poison it's been cut with. By your own admission you cannot be objective, so are you any more qualified to comment on the argument for liberalisation than I am?

I don't know the answer to either of these questions - my daily stroll is only three miles, after all.

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Blogger Peter said...

I would agree - not far from where I am here in New Zealand is a town notorious for it's gang culture, but if you are brought up there it is just part of daily life and like it or not you will be involved to some extent. Sometimes these things are just another lifestyle choice . . .

I think the governments money would certainly
be better spent on improving the things that lead to these choices than persecuting the poor victims.

I don't know if your wife was there on your return but I would have loved to see her face if she was . . .
her - " You are very thoughtful"
you - "yes, I am just thinking about prostitution and illegal drugs"

peter ;-)

June 12, 2009 8:32 am  
Anonymous Ellen said...

Your thoughts are ever so timely! I just read an article today about the possibilities of legalizing limited amounts of pot in California. I don't know where I stand on that particular issue. Even if I did, I could never put it into print--too controversial for a public employee!

June 13, 2009 9:16 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

It seems to me that legalising small amounts of pot kind of misses the point. It's saying: 'we know a lot of people are going to do this anyway, so we might as well let it not be illegal,' whilst at the same time trying to pretend that the government disapproves, really. Far more honest would be to just say: 'there's a good chance drugs will fuck you up big time, but if you insist on trying them, we'll do our best to help pick up the pieces.' And then control the supply, so you can tax it to pay for the clean-up.

It would also help if people were a bit less judgemental about drug users. There are tried and tested therapies that allow heroin users to come off the drug without going through withdrawal, but many governments (and doctors) won't prescribe them because it's seen as letting the addict off too easily. Cold Turkey is thus a 'punishment' for the sin of becoming addicted (and I use the word 'sin' advisedly.)

June 15, 2009 1:14 pm  
Blogger swallowtail said...

my thought at coming to the end of your post: add another 3 miles!

because I would keep reading ;]

funny(ha?) that govts. have their tendrils in the "illegal" drugs & the legal ones.

think I'll go for a walk.

June 17, 2009 8:09 pm  
Blogger Vincent said...

I had an argument about just this topic with a work colleague a while back. Naturally, I won the argument, but afterwards I did some reading just to find out whether all the stuff I made up to win the argument was actually backed up by evidence.

As ever, it turned out not to have a cut and dried answer. There are good points both ways, but the most telling thing seemed to be that whichever policy you go for, whether it works is more dependent on how that policy is implemented, rather than the policy itself. Though of the cases I looked at, the common point for success for schemes on both sides of legalisation issue was providing support and rehabilitation to those with drug problems.

I was arguing for decriminalisation of cannabis by the way.

June 18, 2009 12:28 pm  

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