Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Drug Scourge - Moral or Practical Problem?

From Catastrophic Victory:

For those of you who have HBO, and are addicted like me to just about every show they make, you are probably also fans of The Wire. I think this is just about the greatest show I've ever watched. Generally, it follows a group of Baltimore police officers (they were all at some time in the same unit, but have scattered over time), and a few different drug gangs in Baltimore.

In the present series, a Major who is in charge of the western district decided that he'd had enough of the idiotic cyle of policing and violence that he'd dealt with in trying to stop the drug trade in his district, a battle he realized he was losing. After having one more series of citizen complaints about the whole area being controlled by drug dealers who prevent people from leaving their homes safely, he finally decided on a radical solution. He found 3 neighborhoods in his district that were uninhabited, and he pushed all of the dealers in his district into those 3 neighborhoods (the local kids called it Hamsterdam, when one of the officers pushing them there mentioned Amsterdam and the dealers garbled it). The result, that area turned into hell, with every ill you could imagine in the inner city bunched up into one area with the police turning a blind eye to all except crimes of violence. The 95% of the rest of the district that he pushed them out of? Paradise by comparison. Citizens are writing letters thanking them, crime's dropping by 15% in just weeks, people are able to go outside in the middle of the day, everything is just peachy.

This got me thinking, I've been in favor of legalizing drugs for a long time, but here's the question that The Wire raised for me. Do most people believe that drug use is a moral or practical problem. Here's the difference. Murder, rape, robbery, theft, these are all moral problems. Whether or not you personally are victimized, all of society is hurt by those actions, and they are clearly a moral wrong any way you look at it. Therefore, if someone only murders, or rapes, or beats their wife in the privacy of their own home, it is still a moral problem.

What about drug use? Is that a moral problem, in that someone smoking a joint or shooting up in the privacy of their own home (and not doing anything else wrong in their life), or is that only a practical problem, in that practically, it leads to future moral problems? You see, if you ask the question about murder, one would never say we can't allow murder because of the practical implications: the practical implications are that a moral wrong is occurring that destroys the fabric of society. But, drug use? Can we say that the use itself is the evil society is trying to prevent, or it leads to evils we wish to prevent, like murder, rape, etc....?

If drug use is a moral problem, then there is only one solution, we must fight it like we fight other true evils like rape. But, if it is a practical problem, then it is like
traffic, or pollution, or drinking (and driving, which is drinking's big attendant problem). If it is a practical problem, shouldn't we find a practical solution, rather than a zero sum game solution that involves either winning completely, or losing completely? What if we compromised so as to reduce harm as much as possible?

If drug use is a practical problem, then the solution would be to try and reduce the problem as much as possible, not to go to war. Methods of reducing harm are so obvious, too, that it hurts to see us chase our own tails trying to "fix" things by doing the dumb stuff we're doing. Now, instead of being able to focus on moral problems, we've created a greater market for moral problems, and we focus greater attention on the practical problem of drugs than we do with the moral problems of true crime.

Clearly this could be a rallying point for liberals and conservatives alike. I just don't see how it can be considered to be a moral problem what people do in the privacy of
their own lives that doesn't specifically hurt someone else. Will we ever get real on this?

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