23 April 2010

On Drugs

For those who have access to high morality, the word "drugs" becomes a dispiriting concept. It leads me to think of melancholy moments when celebrities abuse drugs, while serving as our role models, we have to revere them for their works of genius, implicitly suggesting those works are the outcome of these harmful substances. However harmful drugs may seem, aside from their recreational and medical purposes, the Dutch have legalised marijuana for public use. In the Age of reason, perhaps one is supposed to ask two questions, has the time come for us to revise our long-standing prejudice against drugs? Are we confident enough not to be seduced by the satanic sophistry of drug dealers?

If drugs are associated with morality, it is perhaps because drugs inflict harm. From a religious perspective, because we were all made in God's image, drugs should be prohibited on the ground that they offend God's province. There exists in human nature a peculiar tendency to prevent people from inflicting harm upon themselves. Rather than regard life as a property of a free individual, they harbour a belief that life comes into existence for some sort of objective reason. That is how suicide and euthanasia fall under their tyranny.

Unfortunately, the British philosopher John Stuart Mill would have disagreed. Mill, in his book "On Liberty", suggested prohibition should not be justified on the ground of preserving the man himself from harm, but of preserving other people from harm. He thought he could draw a clear distinction between things that belong to an individual and things that belong to the society, that things which belong to an individual should not be interfered.

Of course, there are well-grounded reasons for the prohibition of drugs. However, the prohibition of all drugs under all circumstances is a horrible mistake. The fear of drugs is often disproportionate to the harm drugs can actually do as suggested by propaganda. Because opponents of this sort are easily open to being swayed into unhelpful directions by a mere glimpse at a picture. It is not hard to realise the consequence of smoking cannabis, as suggested by Henry's chart, is much less serious than taking alcohol and tobacco. All too often we hear car accidents inspired by alcohol. But cannabis? Not much.

If our society grants us the liberty for alcohol and tobacco, why, then, can't we say do the same for cannabis, given the fact it is milder than our commonly accepted "drugs"? If we are liable to grow addicted to them, it is perhaps because we are challenged by our inability to self-control. Though the concept of self-control has been discussed by philosophers for ages, our awareness of it stems from an exaggerated sense of the importance of healthy diets. Nutritionists often remind us of the cruelly confusing fact that everything we have eaten could be as harmful as drugs without self-control.

But one might argue that it is precisely the reason why we need to ban the use of drugs, that human beings are deprived of the ability to self-control. As to tobacco, in fact we have propaganda that tells us to quit smoking as well. Perhaps people use propaganda as a similar approach of how religions approach the problem. In order to turn us into good, compassionate beings, we need to be constantly reminded of what it means to be good or we will deviate from the path of moral goodness. But the fact that we lack the ability to self-control may have sprung from the hampering of our curiosity ever since we were children. Though not as strong as the prohibition of sex knowledge, it seems knowledge concerning alcohol, tobacco, and drugs are rendered impassable to children. Even when our curiosity demands it, we are more allowed the destructive aspect about them rather than the constructive part of them.

British philosopher Bertrand Russell invites us to look at morality from a more humanistic approach. Rather than laying down rules of conduct, morality should be about caring for good ends. "Say no to drugs" is no different from "abstain from sex". They are merely rules of conduct. Instead of telling us what we should not do, morality should tell us what we should do such as "Thou shalt love thy neighbours as much as thyself". By recognising what is good about drugs, we may discover ways that drugs are beneficial rather than harmful. It is not wise to legalise all kinds of drugs for public use, but we may do so for recreational and medical use. As to cannabis, I do not know how much longer I can write for the pub until it is accessible under our free-market model.



  1. "The prohibition of all drugs under all circumstances is a horrible mistake." Luckily, there's not a single country in the history of the world that has done made that mistake. All drugs made by corporations are totally legal in HK; all drugs not made by corporations are illegal. I could walk into a pharmacy right now and buy opiates without a prescription. That would be illegal of course, but that law seems to be completely unenforced. Not only that, but nobody seems to find it immoral. Also, selling alcohol and tobacco to minors seems to be much more accepted here than where I come from. Apparently, preventing harm to children or adults is a completely irrelevant consideration in these policies.

    This discussion has only added to my confusion about Chinese morality. At first, I thought it was simply that respect for authority and tradition mattered more than preventing harm to people. But the fact that pharmacies here routinely break the law without consequence or moral condemnation means there's something more complex than that going on. I just really don't get it. Can someone explain this to me?

  2. Wesley,

    I don't quite understand that either. I suppose that's because Hong Kong is a commercially driven society. After all, it's really hard to resist the temptation of money.


  3. Wes, if you ever understand our culture, you'll be earning big money like Wynn Hotel.

    My clue is, it's because our official morality standard is so high, inhuman, and contrary to our self-interest, in reality we don't find it practical to follow at all. And we choose to go to the exact opposite.

    While in the West, people still have Christianity which binds morals and self-interests together. It's more approachable.

  4. I would just like to say, slightly off topic but not really,

    regarding your Libertines Drug Poll - You left out one very important option

    'I never said NO to drugs in the first place'

    (not that that option reflects my personal views or past or present actions, of course)

    i'm just sayin though...gotta cover all the bases Libertines!.... :P :)


Commenting is sexy...or you may want to tweet us and like us in Facebook!