“Junk yields a basic formula of “evil” virus: *The Algebra of Need*. The face of “evil” is always the face of total need. A dope fiend is a man in total need of dope. Beyond a certain frequency need knows absolutely no limit or control. In the words of total need: “*Wouldn’t you*?” Yes you would. You would lie, cheat, inform on your friends, steal, do *anything* to satisfy total need. Because you would be in a state of total sickness, total possession, and not in a position to act in any other way. Dope fiends are sick people who cannot act other than they do. A rabid dog cannot choose but bite.”
There is a large variety of recreational drugs available today and it is evident that they do not all have only detrimental effects. There are essentially two categories of drugs: mind expanding drugs and mind constricting drugs. It might also be useful to consider a category of drugs which are neither mind expanding or mind constricting, though, it would be difficult to find any recreational drugs which would fit in this category. The division of categories should be based on how the drug affects intellectual stimulation. The drugs in the mind expanding category should broaden the scope of perception and knowledge for the user. The drug should educate the user and “expand” the user’s mind. The drugs in the mind constricting category should deter the user from learning, and even if one did claim to gain some sort of knowledge from the high, the knowledge, in the end, would amount to meaningless, confused thought. The rare drugs which stimulate violence, such as angel dust, must definitely be considered mind-constricting because not only does the user not gain knowledge from the experience, but the user destroys self-control and liberty and triggers desires to act immorally. This division of drugs into categories does seem to be of the nature of platonic perfectionism but the ideology is not entirely based on this ethical theory and some arguments might seem to conflict with its philosophy.
Using mind constricting drugs leads to immoral outcomes and therefore, mind constricting drugs must be illegal in order to at least minimize the amount of such outcomes. Making mind constricting drugs illegal prevents people from using substances which can only lessen one’s quality of life and inevitably, destroy many societies. The use of mind expanding drugs cannot produce direct or indirect immoral outcomes and in fact educates the user. Drugs that are mind expanding or neither mind expanding or mind constricting must be legal. To make these drugs illegal would only unnecessarily infringe on people’s liberty.
Forming laws against the use of mind constricting drugs is actually necessary for providing liberty to citizens. It is generally the case that in retrospect, a previous user of a mind constricting drug, when sober, or even in some cases, when high, regrets consuming the drug. The opening quote of this essay describes William Burroughs’ view on opiates and he was in fact using them at the time when the passage was written. It is evident in his words that he realizes the immoral outcomes of using opiates and the “sickness” which it produces. Most users simply couldn’t resist the temptation of using the drugs because of either the desire to consume the “fobidden fruit” or the temptation of possible euphoria or relief from emotional or physical pain: “weakness of will”. In this case, a public policy preventing this possibility forces people to act upon their true desires, even when considering subjective values. The problem lies in the fact that the realization of this true desire might arise only after seeing the consequences or only in inchoate form. In an ideal world, effective police forces could eliminate any mind constricting drugs and this would unarguably be an ideal situation. Since an ideal world doesn’t exist, reducing the amount of mind constricting drugs available and creating troublesome consequences for dealing or using them, leans closer to an ideal world than allowing its use.
From a utilitarian prospective, the use of mind constricting drugs is immoral since it, if not immediately, eventually, diminishes collective total happiness. For example, if a country were in a recession and mind constricting drugs were legal, many people would turn to them to forget their problems and distress. People who would ordinarily not use these drugs may turn to them since they are readily available and legal difficulties would not exist. If there was an increase in addicts of mind constricting drugs, productivity would decrease. Even when considering that some people, such as Bill Nelles, a senior manager in Britain’s National Health Service, are addicted to opiates and lead functional lives, the majority do not and productivity would therefore decrease. If productivity were to decrease further during a recession, the society would collapse. They would have to turn to loans and if they wanted to treat their drug-addicted population, they would need extra money and they would find themselves falling deeper and deeper into debt and recession. This may seem like a rare case for affluent countries such as Switzerland, but nevertheless, a possibility.
Some people may think that the consequences previously mentioned of legalizing mind constricting drugs would be similar to the consequences of legalizing mind expanding drugs. There is a clear difference between the consequences though. For example, mind expanding drugs have affected some of the most influential literature and fine art of the twentieth century. Artists such as Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, Edgar Degas and Vincent Van Gogh were regular absinthe users for example. Their works are inspirational, influential and they broke societal boundaries. Without absinthe, the works of art created by these revolutionaries would not exist as they are. If a substance can have such an extraordinary affect on people and help to bring into this world exquisite masterpieces, then it would be devastating to prohibit its use. Mind constricting drugs do not have this effect. Although many significant writers of the “Beat Generation” used mind constricting drugs, they all concluded that its use led to horrible circumstances. In most cases, mind constricting drugs have the opposite effect on the mind as mind expanding drugs do. To put both of these discernible categories together would be ignorant. To prevent people from choosing to consume substances which, although might increase risks of bad health and communication problems, do not lead to unacceptable consequences and furthermore, stimulate creativity and thoughts which would otherwise not exist, is to infringe on rights of choosing one’s own values. If a person values perceiving the world through different eyes, for example, over being able to communicate efficiently with friends and family, that is a personal choice which should not be made by a government. There are far more injuries from sports than from the use of mind-expanding drugs, yet competing in sports is encouraged. On the other hand, if one wishes to consume a substance which affects one’s morality, rationality and ability to learn, such as mind constricting drugs, the consequences are that one infringes on the rights of oneself and others and in this case, the government must interfere.
The argument that drug use is a victimless crime and therefore should not be illegal is one of the stronger ones for legalizing all drugs, including mind constricting drugs. John Stuart Mill said that users who commit crimes should be punished for “real” crimes such as stealing or murdering, and not for using drugs. But what about the fact that, as Burroughs said, an addict will do anything to satisfy their need? It is not the users fault that s/he is committing the crime, it is the drug’s fault and had the user not consumed the drug, s/he wouldn’t have committed the crime. Furthermore, drug use is not a victimless crime except in the extreme case when a person consumes the drug in complete privacy and even then, the person’s personality might be altered and this could victimize the person’s friends, family and co-workers. In cases such as using angel dust, where the user becomes violent, the victim is obvious. In cases where a pregnant women uses mind constricting drugs, such as crack, she gives birth to crack babies (30,00-50,000 crack babies are born every year) and is statistically more likely to abuse her infants than mothers not using crack. Anyone using certain mind constricting drugs is more likely to abuse their children and less likely to fulfill their familial and social obligations . Mill said that “if he refrains from molesting others in what concerns them he should be allowed, without molestation, to carry his opinions into practice at his own cost.” Evidently, he, the user, is not “refraining from molesting others in what concerns them” in most cases. Furthermore, mind constricting drugs in themselves victimize users and therefore should not be legal.
A relativist view is that drugs are part of our culture and therefore, drug use should not be prohibited. Genital mutilation is part of some African cultures and as people are becoming more aware of this practice, people are fighting against it. Female genital mutilation or circumcision is usually performed without anesthesia on female infants, young children, or adolescents and involves the use of crude instruments in unsanitary conditions most of the time. It often causes lifetime discomfort, and it leaves women unable to function sexually in a normal manner and highly vulnerable to infection. There are less and less people who are dismissing this practice as part of their culture and therefore acceptable. Discrimination against women in countries such as Afghanistan is part of their culture yet it is found unacceptable to most. Relativism would never work in today’s world because the world is trying to become more unified. A practice being part of a culture is not grounds for allowing it. Furthermore, relativism leads to a contradiction because it states that there are no universal laws yet everyone is supposed to tolerate other cultures: that is a universal law.
Another argument advocating the legality of mind constricting drugs is that legalization would cut crime and there would be less people over crowding prisons. It is true that short-time crime rates would fall but big-time crime rates simply would not. There are far too many possibilities for making money in the criminal world to stop gangs and Mafioso groups from making money in other areas. They would, as the executive director of the U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Pino Arlacchi said, “quickly regroup and find other sources of profits – as they are already doing by expanding into corruption, extortion and trafficking in human beings.”
There are drug users who do not commit crimes, they take drugs recreationally, like alcohol, and go to clubs or parties or concerts during their free time. These users are feeling persecuted and discriminated against with the severe laws that exist in many countries today regarding drugs. They argue that the health risks of using many drugs are much lower than the risks of competitive and extreme sports. Legalizing mind expanding drugs would eliminate many of these pleads because most of the people who are taking drugs before they go out dancing and such are not taking mind constricting drugs. In the cases where they are though, it is fair to say that in most cases, their lack of contribution to society is inevitably going to cause criticism and it may not be so out of line. It is not the government’s duty to take care of people who made themselves sick by using substances which are illegal and if it has been decided that mind constricting drugs should be illegal then that is a warning not to take it. If they don’t like the consequences, then they shouldn’t use drugs. There are more and more organizations being created to inform and educate people on drugs, especially in Europe. Users are not being ignored any longer. At Berlin’s annual technofest, Love Parade, Eve ; Rave staff tended dancers who had bad trips, and social workers dispensed legal advice and kits to check ecstasy tablets and amphetamines for purity. The German Health Ministry has even asked Eve ; Rave to design a plan for pill-testing at parties. More and more of these types of organizations are springing up everywhere and hopefully, every country will eventually have groups like this.
Another ground for making all drugs legal is John Stuart Mill’s opinion regarding liberty. He said that everyone knows what the best plan for his/her life is so the government shouldn’t interfere in decisions which only involve the decision maker. It would follow then that since the choice of taking drugs only involves the drug user and the drug, drug use should not be illegal. This assumes that firstly, individuals have privileged information with respect to their own desires. It may not necessarily be true that one knows what is best for oneself. Many times it is one’s friends and family or outsiders such as psychiatrists who can see the big picture better than oneself. Many people have attempted suicide and been saved by friends or family and then thanked them a million times over for not letting them kill themselves. They have said that they didn’t know what they wanted, they were confused. Shouldn’t one help someone who clearly is taking a wrong step, such as someone who decides to start smoking heroin? The argument also assumes that autonomy is to be valued in itself but that is not necessarily true for all people in all cases.
If one were to believe that free will exists no matter what the circumstances are, one might object to making any drugs illegal. If, no matter how addicted one is, one still has the power of free will and a conscious decision is made to commit a crime, it is the person and that person’s morals which are unacceptable and this is not due to the consumption of a drug or the power of addiction. But, even if we assumed that free will is never jeopardized and that person who committed the crime might have done so even if drugs weren’t involved, mind constricting drugs still hinder the person from learning and detracts rationality and morality. This alone is unacceptable and even if statistics didn’t show that many crimes are committed by people using drugs, and if hardly any drug users committed crimes, the fact that it deteriorates the mind is enough of a dilemma to make it illegal. Mind constricting drugs transform the person and though the person might still have free will, the person’s will might be different when on drugs.
The case on the legalization of drugs demands the exploration of liberty. Governments must restrict liberty in order to insure that people do not infringe on other people’s rights. In an ideal world, it would be possible to give everyone their total liberty and trust that they will be moral and judge situations with a clear, unbiased point of view, but the world as it is, and humans as they are, the outcome would not be so flawless. There must be sacrifices in order to strive for equal rights. One of these many sacrifices involves luxuries. I would love to throw a party at my neighbor’s house while they’re gone for the week but I can’t. Even if I cleaned up every mess and even if nothing was out of place, it would still be wrong because I infringed on their rights of privacy. It is the same type of situation with mind constricting drugs. By taking the drug, there’s a chance that since I am not myself completely, I will infringe on other people’s rights and most of all, I will infringe on my own rights. The drug will take away my freedom if it is addictive and it will take away my ability to be rational, moral and it will take away my time and my ability to be able to learn and be productive in society. Platonic virtue ethics may be an ethical theory which is nearly impossible to totally follow but the theory in itself is one which, when applied, leads to living a meaningful and precious life. Mind constricting drugs would only detract from this final goal whereas mind expanding drugs might help achieve this goal and if not, at least it would not divert the user’s path.
1. Arlacchi, Pino. “The Case Against Legalization.” Newsweek Nov. 1, 1999, 28.
2. Burroughs, William. Naked Lunch. Paris: Olympia Press, 1959.
3. Gill, Alexandra. “Absinthe Minded.” The Globe and Mail Nov. 20, 1999, R14.
4. Lafollette, H. “Drugs.” Reprinted in H. LaFollette. Ethics in Practice: An Anthology. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997).
5. MacDonald, Paul. “The Morality of Drug Use.” The Philosophers’ Magazine (Summer 1999), 21-24.
6. Mill, John Stuart. “Freedom of Action.” Reprinted in H. LaFollette. Ethics in Practice: An Anthology. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997).
7. Power, Carla. “Europe Just Says Maybe.” Newsweek Nov. 1, 1999, 25-30.
8. Southwell, Matt. “Human Rights for the World’s Drug Users.” Newsweek Nov. 1, 1999, 29.
9. Wilson, James Q. “Against the Legalization of Drugs.” Reprinted in H. LaFollette. Ethics in Practice: An Anthology. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997).