Monday, September 7, 2009

Drugs and Personal Values

Gore Vidal's essay Drugs gives us a stark contrast to Morton Kondracke's position that we should not legalize the use of street drugs. Vidal argues that legalization is the only sane choice to make and that because it's the sane approach, he wryly concludes, we aren't likely to take it.

So we have two rather bright fellows arguing from opposite sides: one saying that legalizing drugs is insane and the other saying that it's the only sane thing to do. How do we resolve this conflict of opinions? By careful analysis and then looking to our own souls and values, I think, as with most important social discussions.

From my reading, both Kondracke and Vidal are after the same result: they both want a better society. They both are looking for a way to better handle a situation that damages society. They both agree that drug use can be harmful to significant numbers of people, but that criminalizing and fighting drug use also has harmful social consequences. They differ in which they see as the greater harm. Kondracke believes that legalization will only increase the number of people using drugs and becoming addicted to them, thus increasing the damage to society. Vidal believes that those who want to use drugs and become addicted already use them, and not legalizing drug use perpetuates a corrupt system that benefits only criminals and drug enforcement agencies. Kondracke, then, believes that the best way to manage street drugs is through law enforcement and prosecution. Vidal believes that the best way to manage street drugs is through legalization and removing the profit motive.

Which approach fits best with your values? I think I side with Vidal. Why? First, because I don't think there is much chance of Kondracke's position succeeding, not in a society that I want to live in. We Americans basically like the freedom to do as we please, and we don't like an overly oppressive government. I know of only one example of a country as large as ours eradicating illegal use of drugs: Communist China. When the Communists came to power in China in 1948, China was known world-wide for its opium dens. Being strict moralists, the Communist Chinese didn't like this reputation or situation, so they empowered their police force to shoot on sight anyone suspected of illegal drug use. They slaughtered thousands of people, including many innocents, but within a few years, the opium dens were gone, and the drug trade and use was almost non-existant. So the Communist Chinese traded illegal drug use for an oppressive police state. I think that was a poor trade, and I don't want the United States to make a similar trade.

Instead of shooting people on sight for drug trade and use, we put them in jail. I'm not sure this is much better. Prison is the very best training a pot-head can get for mastering a career in crime. A prison record pretty much precludes a pot smoker from ever getting a legitimate job after prison and teaches them all they need to know about making a living through crime. Prisons are great factories for producing criminals.

And they are expensive. Our prison population is a monstrous drain on our national resources. According to a US Senate report, "The combined expenditures of local governments, state governments, and the federal government for law enforcement and corrections total over $200 billion annually." This is serious money. And what is the major cause of this booming business? The same report says, "Changes in drug policy have had the single greatest impact on criminal justice policy." We are putting more users in jail (4 out of 5 drug convictions are for use, not trafficking).

I simply don't think that putting millions of users in jail is benefiting society as much as we think it is, and I am not willing to authorize the police and military to shoot drug users and traffickers on sight. So for me, the War on Drugs has been a monumental failure, and I favor trying a new approach: decriminalize drugs to remove the profit motive both for the Mafia and the prison industry, educate society about the dangers of indiscriminate and excessive drug use, and treat those who develop a drug problem.

And I don't fear an explosion of new drug users as Kondracke does. Like Vidal, I think that anyone who wants to use street drugs already does. My own experience and, I suspect, the experience of most young people today confirms that if you want drugs then you can easily get them.

Finally, by eliminating the whole War on Drugs effort and mentality, we can expand our approach to managing drugs to include not only street drugs but medical drugs. Our use of medical drugs is out of control. My youngest sister became addicted to OxyContin when she was given the drug by one of our nation's biggest drug pushers: her family doctor. My sister didn't drink alcohol, and she didn't smoke marijuana, but she grew to crave her pain killers. After years of struggling with her addiction, she died of an overdose about a year ago on September 5, 2008. The War on Drugs did not help my sister or the millions like her who are addicted to pain killers, tranquilizers, and sedatives pushed on them by pharmaceutical companies and doctors who are out to make a killing, literally. From my perspective, the War on Drugs has done little to improve society and has in many ways corrupted society and confused society about the real issues. Let's try a different approach, an approach based on personal freedom, personal responsibility, and common sense.

So what say you, scholars? You now have opposing points of view. So who do you favor, Kondracke or Vidal? Which side appeals to your basic values and fits your own experiences? You've heard my values and experience, now share yours.


Justin said...

My personal opinion is not so friendly because honestly i'm ok with shooting drug dealers on sight but only after there is undenyable proof. I kno that sounds grim but its cause like Professor Hamon I have watched a drug addict kill himself for 15 years of my life but i started before i was born. My father is a cocaine addict...wait let me revise that he is a crack cocaine addict.

Drug dealers deserve to be taken out by a officer of the law for the genocide that they help create everyday. They dont give a crap how many families they tear apart or mothers,fathers,brothers, or sisters they kill all they see is green and a car with shiny rims. Drugs are illegal for a reason because they harm you and the people that care most about you.

My opinon may not be the most compassionate because i have no compassion for domestic terrorist and if I could i would the first in line to start the destruction of the drug trade in America.

p.s. im sorry about your sister professor im sure you loved her and miss her i wish i could say the same about my father he is still alive but if he died today i would shed a tear he made his choice in life and i have made mine. The chioce to be sober!

Sharon said...

If we all are for change it doesn't matter what method we are to use, the bottom line is change is going to come. I think this phrase could be use to describe Vidal and Kondrack.
Most people will like Vidal style or eradication; firstly, because is more or recent values while Kondracke's article is more of old things. Evolution happens everyday and a lot of people will like to go with Vidal's style of eradication. I love Kondracke's style of eradication of drugs but to some extent though I'm into Vidal's style but it too brutal. The reason why I like Vidal's style is probably because it's all about new experiences.
Vidal thinks killing people at point blank is the best way to eradict drugs well this is more of China the cummunist country. And peharps innocent people were hurt. There is one thing I believe caos can't solve caos, radicalism can't solve radicalism"
"Changes in drug policy have had the single greatest impact on criminal justice policy." I love this statement. Some people aree the jail and they thjink they were not suppose to be there while some things they deserve it. I don't think jailing people is the best way in contrary I also think is good to some extends. Lets take those drug lords...say if they are in jail....this doesn't mean the drug business will end there. Just like when great leaders are lost it doesn't mean there won't be any one to rule. Other rulers will come up and different and efficient ways of ruling. This alos works with the drug world. That is why i think Kondracke's method to some extend is good. As of Vidal's style.....the drug transaction will stop for some time but not for too long because the drugs lords will always find different way to get people to buy these drugs.

Justin you are right everybody has his or her choice of decisions. that is the society of America and to change the mantality of drug is the change the mind of those growing up. A psychologist ones said humans are so destructive upto the point they don't even care about themselves. Human don't want to be told that these thing that you are doing is wrong......
To my personal opinion though I think radicalism is good but not with regards to the ideology of Vidal. I think working with the government strictly could help to eradicate drugs. Shooting people because they are suspected of taking drugs is way out of hand. Perhaps I will cal that Vandalism.

Tyler said...

I quite enjoyed Vidal's essay. Within the first two paragraphs he presents both fact and experience. He admits to his own experimentation and proposes his theory in a clear tone of voice. I did, however see some parallels between his essay and Kondracke's. For instance, Vidal also seems to blame certain political groups for the problems in current legislation. Once again, I believe this foolish. It OUR duty as CITIZENS to monitor the course of our government.

As for the other issues, I think there are other ways to look at the relationship between drug users, drug dealers and law enforcement. Drug dealers, foreign cartels, and smugglers are not the problem. They will exist as long as there is a demand for their product. Drug use is a choice the user makes. There will always be drug addicts. Their addictions are reflections of their choices, not a reflection of failing law enforcement.

keith.hamon said...

One of the big problems with the drug issue is that it can be so personal and, therefore, people can be so passionate in their responses. After watching my sister die, I can understand Justin's point of view. However, I realize that giving the police the power to shoot people on-sight creates far more problems than it solves.

I think the answer lies in the direction taken by our third essay about drugs.

Corey said...

Mr. Vidal points out some very interesting issues in this article. I do not agree with him on the issues. The idea of just totally legalizing drugs is just not right to me. Mr. Vidal says that if a man wants to use drugs it should be his choice, but there are a lot of people that are not capable of making decisions on their on. Some people are born with mental problems. Mr. Vidal sounds as if he is okay with suicide. If a man wants to blow his brains out, he has a right to. This is how I think Mr. Vidal thinks in relation to just legalizing drugs.

I don't hate drug dealers or people who use drugs. My life has revolved around drug users, pushers, and people who have dedicated their lives to helping people break the addiction cycle. I had two uncles that lived with me basically all of their years and used drugs. One of them was changed by God through our outreach ministry in Atlanta, Ga., but the other one was not willingly whole heartedly to change his life. I've have seen what drugs can do to a family, and first hand what it can do to an indiviual. Mr. Vidal said that some people are going to become addicted anyway, but many can be saved with divine intervention from above. As for dealers, they are totally wrong and do not agree with the distribution of drugs, but drugs dealers are not just people that ride around in flashy cars. Their are many corporate and small business people of all races that put the money behind drug sales.

I feel that both of the writers are trying to get their own point across in their own little sneaky way. Their just like the average person wanting people to think their way and follow their direction. The way people feel about issues are not always right. We sometimes put too much emotion and time into meaningless things. We should choose the right thing to do in all situations, and not because the majority of the people like it, or to get fame. We should stick to our morals.

Tyler said...

Spot on, Corey. Drug addicts are not lost causes. I was an active cocaine addict for a good part of my early adulthood. It took the murder of one of my closest friends to wake me up and let me see what it was doing to me. I was a liar, a thief, a pusher and a basehead. I hadn't talked to my father in years and my relationship with my mother wasn't any better. So I sold everything I owned(which was a 1989 Ford Probe and a 16' TV) and went to Phoenix, AZ to clean up. That was 6 years ago, and I haven't touched cocaine or crack since. My addiction was my choice and I am not ashamed. Through the friendship and guidance of other recovered addicts, I was able to escape the cycle and better myself. What I think we need here in America is better drug education and treatment. Vidal seems to propose that we should just legalize everything and rake in the dough. Sure, everyone has the right to kill themselves, but does that mean we should provide them with the gun? Drug policy needs to be looked at, especially with marijuana, but we can't have heroin and meth sitting on the shelf right next to the aspirin.

tanora said...

i agree i vidals side. If they make street drugs legal then some crime will decrease. The people who want to do drugs are going to do them regardless so it might as well just become legal. Kondracke's method is never going to happen you can't possibly accomplish all the things he's is trying to do with the society