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Whose ‘freedom’?

This video features over on the OurKingdom website, with resident editor Guy Aitchison asking the Labour leadership candidates about their approach to drug policies, or to use the more inflammatory (yet wrongheaded) language of the website, if they are ‘willing to take drugs out of the hands of criminals and other unregulated capitalists, and bring them under public control.’ Thankfully the Labour candidates all answer in a sensible fashion, but I think the general idea requires a quick response.

Firstly, it’s worth drawing attention to the fact that whenever people call for an injection of ‘evidence and common sense’, they invariably mean an injection of evidence that reinforces their own approach, and common sense that reflects their own prejudices. As I have written before, ‘evidence’, despite all its connotations of balance and objectivity, all too often merely re-affirms the pre-investigative prejudices of those who produce it. As such, the drugs debate often has little to do with objective evidence, and everything to do with rationalising the priorities of those who have the most to gain by adopting it. You’ll notice, for example, that ‘evidence’ rarely extends to include the lived experiences and opinions of those living on the front line of the drugs war, and is usually confined to research conducted by that very body of people who are either supportive of legalisation from the outset, or are far removed from any future consequences when it all goes wrong.

And that is the key – because it is worth noting that it is nearly always middle-class urban trendies who press the case for legalisation, primarily because they’d like to enjoy jolly drug-fuelled jaunts to Stonehenge without the dreadful inconvenience of having to obey the law of the land. Yet in truth, it is precisely this group of society whom the legalisation of drugs will affect the least; that is, it is not the bourgeois young ‘radicals’ who are likely to suffer the sharpest consequences of what it is they claim would be best for everyone. And this is the ugly face of contemporary liberalism; the tendency to rationalise the whims and fancy of the petit-bourgeoisie, appropriating (or misapproriating) slogans and concepts such as ‘freedom’ in order to do it. And it would be churlish to point out that it is a curious definition of ‘freedom’ that thinks it acceptable for citizens not only to remain perpetually addicted to something so destructive, but also that the state should both control and supply that addiction.

As I like to repeat regularly, mostly because it is absolutely true, it was once said that modern broad-mindedness benefits only the rich, and benefits nobody else. It was also maintained that modern broad-mindedness was meant to benefit only the rich, and meant to benefit nobody else. And in this instance, those who may well find it a dreadful chore to have to go to Amsterdam to indulge their hedonistic desires, are not really the ones whose radically self-centred accounts of ‘freedom’ we should be worrying about – rather, it is those who have never been to Amsterdam, and are confined to seeking their thrills on the estates of Airdrie, or Aberdeen, or Accrington.

For if we do live in an unjust two-tier society, as many now contend, and if we accept that this fact is lamentable, regressive, a slur on our credentials as a civilised nation, then the further question has to be asked:  how would the legalisation of drugs help that situation? After all, if collections of young men on council estates up and down the land have taboos surrounding drugs suddenly dismantled, even have their habits funded and supported through legal and governmentally controlled outlets, then are they more or less likely to be successful in life? Are they more or less likely to be taken into polite society, to achieve at school and go to university, to stick their job and support their family, to succeed in the art of living well? Truth is, I don’t actually know, and nobody definitively can, but I have seen enough to have an opinion – and I do know that it is a question that all too rarely passes the lips of those ‘freedom-fighters’ who make the case for legalisation.

Of course, one is almost guaranteed to be confronted with the riposte that the criminalisation approach has been tried, and look where it is has delivered us. Which only goes to show the extent to which the metropolitan trendies not only disregard those who live on drug-riddled council estates, but also have absolutely no idea it is like to live on drug-riddled council estates, either. Because, as anyone who has grown up on those drug-riddled council estates knows all too well, the idea that drugs are effectively criminalised is complete nonsense – such a reality exists only in the mind of the theorists, and nowhere else. In truth, drugs are traded and used openly at the school gates, in the bus shelter, behind the shops, over the park, on the street corner… in essence, there is an almost complete absence of criminalisation, at least if by that one means the reality of there being predictable, swift and severe legal consequences. Indeed, anyone who gets caught can consider themselves damned unlucky; and anyone who gets caught and issued anything more severe than a warning can consider themselves doubly unlucky.

And this is why, despite all the promises of the legalisation-lobby that a more ‘grown-up’ attitude to drugs will solve the problems of crime and addiction and violence almost overnight (there’s ‘evidence’ for that, y’know), there is yet a noticeable absence of any enthusiasm for such a course from amongst those who suffer at the sharp end of drugs culture. For them, justifiably enough, common sense doesn’t dictate that we decriminalise criminal activity in order to better regulate criminality –  rather, the complete opposite is the case. Their common sense is rather more sensible than that: swifter action, more severe penalties, schemes that help people come off drugs completely and not remain forever enslaved by ‘managing their addiction’, and perhaps more importantly than anything else, the promotion of real alternatives to a life on and/or in drugs.

And that is the clincher. Or else, in the name of ‘freedom’, distribute the Soma. And when that happens, our reputation as a ‘civilised’ nation will erode just that little bit more.

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