Headlines here are about the 7th member of the Drugs Advisory Committee to resign out of principle. Now I’m no great fan of the committee anyway – it’s nobody else’s business if people want to poison themselves, so long as they’re not being tricked into it. But the scientific advisors are – finally – starting to stand up to the tendency to ban even stuff that apparently is not even poisonous.
For those who don’t follow the British media – and who could blame you? – it’s all about a drug called Mephedrone, or 1-(4-methylphenyl)-2-methylaminopropan-1-one. It is what is known as a legal high, a euphoric that has not yet been banned. There is a continual arms race between the black market chemists who search for new variants to sell to those people who want them and the governments who race to find evidence to ban them.
Many governments already have. It is already illegal in Australia (de facto, if not de jure), Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Israel, Jersey, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Romania, Sweden, and North Dakota in the US. It is odd, then, that the UK scientific committee are saying they know of no solid evidence linking it to harm. On what basis have all those other governments banned it, then? This is clearly not a UK-specific issue.
So far as one can tell the only problem with the drug, what people are really objecting to, is that it is pleasurable; and the solid belief that enjoyment is bad for you – a belief in some sort of inverted cosmic karma – has led people to conclude that this must be bad for you, and it is their duty to seek out the evidence to prove it and have it stopped. This is the defining belief of Health-Puritans. As HL Mencken quipped:
Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
It is an old problem, founded on an ancient tendency in the human psyche to interfere. Obviously the people so oppressed have always objected. What is in comparatively short supply, though, is the organised urge to fight it – also not a new problem. Bertrand Russell:
But no organized body represents the point of view of those who believe that a man or woman ought to be free in regard to enjoyments which do not damage other people, so that the Puritans have met with no serious opposition, and their tyranny has not been regarded as raising a political issue.
The Home Secretary has declared his intention to have it banned anyway, despite there being no evidence, no support from the scientists they specifically employed to give them cover for their totalitarian policies, and despite that doing so without a properly constituted advisory committee is of questionable legality. An election is coming. Law and order is popular. He’s not about to let the facts get in the way of a good knee-jerk ban.
And all the fuss is about whether they can or should ban it without scientific backing. But surely the fact that they are even trying should raise the question of whether they should be doing it at all? Why do we trust these people to make such decisions on behalf of us all? They have no greater moral standing, no greater scientific understanding, no greater knowledge, or wisdom than the average. They would appear to be far below average in many such regards. And yet we all follow them. Do what they say.
I am wondering whether it is a coincidence that the committee has broken ranks just before an election. Is it some faint stirrings of a desire for liberty, expressed at a time when it is most likely to have an impact? Or merely a play for more power? Or an ingratiation with the anticipated new government?
There is a great deal of talk about the “public demand” for banning the drug, but I haven’t personally heard any myself, I haven’t seen any polls. And you can be sure that if there were favourable polls we would hear about them. Is there a public demand? Is there anything more than a few campaigners, and a lot of people going along with what they think they ought to say? I haven’t even seen the usual vox pops, from members of the public giving their opinions. There are plenty of people in favour of liberalisation – surveys of clubbers show it to be one of the most popular. Who exactly is it that’s against?
We libertarians are often told we are a minority view, and judging by votes cast in elections that seems to be the case. But is it possible that we are less of a minority than we are told? And as the state encroaches ever more on liberty, growing larger?
How many times can a dog be kicked before it turns?