Friday, 27 December 2013

Julie Bindel and the War on Drugs

Julie Bindel was spreading Christmas cheer earlier this week, writing a scathing critique of affluent people who take cocaine at dinner parties. In an article titled 'Nigella, the chattering classes and the malign glamorising of cocaine' she writes:

They show apparent indifference to the human misery that cocaine spreads, both in Britain and abroad. Through their eagerness for a quick ‘high’, they are colluding in exploitation, cruelty, even death. 
What sticks in the craw with so many of these people is their hypocrisy. Most of them hold progressive opinions on human rights, gay rights and immigration, but they are effectively condoning oppression of the most brutal kind. 
Thanks to their self-indulgence, the big drug barons get richer, while the poor junkies on council estates lose all vestige of self-respect as they destroy their lives.

This pretty much sums up her entire argument. The drugs trade cause misery for lots of people, so for high-flying rich people who only buy free-range eggs to partake in them shows that they don't actually care all that much about the people whose lives are affected.

Of course she has a point - cocaine is about as far from an ethically-sourced product as you can possibly get, so if you're the sort of person who insists on only buying fairtrade coffee then snorts a loads of lines after then you might want to re-examine whether you can truly consider yourself a "progressive" "liberal" or similar.

The problem with this analysis is how it sets up a completely false equivalence. If you have a choice between an expensive 'ethical product' and a less ethical one, and you have enough money, you may as well buy the more expensive one. This applies to all sorts of products, like coffee or chocolate, or meat. But if you want to do cocaine, you can't buy an ethical version. Your only option is cocaine supplied via criminal gangs.

Ethically speaking you may as well go to Starbucks and ask for a latte made with orphans' tears.

Julie's solution to this is that nobody should take cocaine. She doesn't consider to what extent the negative social consequences of drugs is due to their illegality. In Julie's world, we should all just say no. If people just stopped taking drugs, then everything would be all right.

Another problem with this argument is the way Julie seeks to pit wealthy occasional cocaine users against "poor junkies on council estates", as if these are the only categories of people who take drugs. In a bizarre twist of logic, poor people only become addicted to heroin because rich people snort coke at parties. Poor people are susceptible to addiction, whereas rich people only dabble occasionally, just like Nigella.

Occasional cocaine user Daniella Westbrook

So how can we stop people taking drugs? With the War on Drugs, perhaps?

Politicians like to talk grandly of ‘the war on drugs’, but that is just so much empty rhetoric. There has been no ‘war’, barely even a skirmish.

Of course! There's been too much leniency! Tougher sentences, more money spent on arresting drug users, more stop and searches perhaps? Who cares if drug policing in the UK has time and time again been shown to be institutionally racist?

Julie goes on to say:

Money that could be spent on raising living standards, providing decent education and building a civic infrastructure instead has to be diverted into fighting a savage war against criminals bent on making a fortune from supplying drugs to the London coke brigade. It is the same story in Africa, where drugs wars are rife.

So there's "no war, barely even a skirmish" on drugs, but in the very same article, there is "a savage war", that wastes loads of money every year. I'm slightly confused by your argument here, Julie.

But wait a minute - isn't this article saying naughty people should stop taking drugs and then people would stop having their lives ruined by making the drugs? Why of course - this is the exact same "end demand" idea that sex work abolitionists are so fond of as a means to abolish prostitution. Here are two articles discussing the failure of "end demand" in sex work, but let's think for a moment what might happen if posh people did stop taking cocaine, thus reducing demand.

A rudimentary understanding of economics suggests this might lead to a drop in prices - will this mean soon those council estate junkies can move onto cocaine instead? How very glamorous.

Perhaps instead, people who take drugs don't think it's right that the state interferes with whatever chemical compounds they put in their bodies. Addiction is a real phenomenon and can ruin lives, but then why are alcohol and tobacco legal when there are far less dangerous drugs out there that aren't?

Found this on wikipedia innit

Nothing I have to say here is particularly new, but how about instead of lecturing people on the ethics of drug-taking we try to find solutions. How can we make drugs more ethical? If progressive liberals with Amnesty International memberships could buy ethically sourced, legal cocaine, would they continue to buy it off criminals?

The political Left is meant to be opposed to exploitation, abuse, brutality and violence, but these are the very qualities that the drugs trade breeds.

It is no exaggeration to say that cocaine supply is a form of hyper-capitalism, devoid of any humanity.

I agree. But prohibition doesn't work. People are still taking drugs. It's time to consider a more realistic drug policy than the laughable failure of 'Just Say No'.

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