2011-08-29

Drugs Part Three: A Personal Creed

If someone had told me a few months ago that taking a firm anti-drug stance would rub people the wrong way, I would have believed you easily. Our society is not intolerant of drug abuse. Our society tolerates it easily with a nudge and wink, perhaps a hug; then we pretend it will all go away.

But it hasn't gone away, not by a long shot, and this is one of the reasons I post on the topic so frequently.

One More Time, For the World!
The objections raised against what I wrote are as follows:
  1. Some suggest that drugs are no different from food.
  2. Some suggest that I cannot make an argument about a large group of people because a minority of them may have different motives than the ones I suggest. 
  3. Some suggest that my comments are flippant because, after all, some people have serious problems that cannot easily be solved. 
What do all of these counter-arguments have in common? None of them (none of them) claim that drug use is good. None of them claim that drug use involves taking a productive step toward solving one's problems. None of them claim that drug use is act full of responsibility and consciousness.

In short, none of them actually refute any claim I've made about drug use. Understanding that, it is difficult to see what the real opposition is. 

Difficult, but not impossible.

What Are Ethics, And Why Should We Care?
As human beings, we want to reach out to those who are in difficult situations and help them. We want to dole out hugs, assistance, medical recommendations, psychological recommendations, and so forth. We want to be a listening ear, we want to provide kind words. Sympathy, understanding, forgiveness, and love are virtues that have been held in the highest esteem throughout human history.

But ethics is the study of moral right and wrong. It is not the function of ethics to dole out sympathy, forgiveness, and understanding.

An ethical code may result in the handing out of peace, love, and understanding, but behind all of those warm and fuzzy feelings lies something cold and unrelenting: A creed, a moral code.

Creeds in and of themselves do not dole out warm-fuzzies. Creeds are the logical backbone on which all of our moral decisions are based. They are the pattern into which we weave our moral sentiments. They are the map that tells us when we've done something right, and when we've done something wrong.

Throughout our lives, we have many opportunities to be a good friend. We also have ample opportunities to develop and stand up for our moral code.

If you are willing to embrace the full spectrum of human experiences, you must acknowledge a simple truth: there is a time in life for being a good friend; and there is a time in life when we develop our creed. Both human experiences are necessary to live out a complete existence.

He or she who would stamp out friendship for the sake of a moral code is a cold individual indeed. He or she who would throw aside their moral code in order to keep on good terms with someone truly has no moral code in practice.

Both, I repeat, both, are necessary for a fulfilling life.

The Flippant Caricature and What It Really Means That Right is Right
It is easy to make light of Stationary Waves in order to trivialize the ideas here. Because I philosophize running and music, and also philosophize ethics, we could dismiss the whole ball of yarn and say that "going for a run or picking up a guitar does not always solve the problem" when people make mistakes.

The question is, what solves the problem?

Recall that my original blog article about Amy Winehouse suggested that Winehouse's troubles began not with drug addiction but with her decision to do drugs the very first time.

My suggestion was that philosophy and courage could have solved her problem. She chose drugs. This was a bad decision, it was immoral, and it was just plain wrong.

Saying so is neither flippant nor "judgemental" in the sense that I sit on an ivory tower pronouncing judgements from a place of moral perfection. That I have made plenty of mistakes is both obvious, predictable, and beside the point.

When I err, I say so. When I fall short of my moral principles, I feel remorse, I work toward earning forgiveness, and I go forward in life trying not to repeat my mistakes. I gain a clear head and a clear conscience not by running or playing music, but by acknowledging my mistakes and endeavoring not to repeat them.

It's really pretty simple.

A couple of days ago, EF wrote:
if we want to seriously understand self-destructive behaviours such as drug addiction, we can’t just write people off by saying ‘they were weak and lazy and chose this and therefore they need to live with the consequences of their choices and I don’t give a crap about them because they didn’t care about themselves when they were smart enough to know better.’
I very much respect EF as a person, and when I say that (philosopher that I am), that means I also respect her views and her opinions. I don't honestly believe she and I fundamentally disagree on anything about this issue. What EF objects to is that the moral line-in-the-sand I've drawn doesn't seem very kind.

But this is my position as an ethicist. My position as a friend reflects all the kindness and compassion for friends in trouble that I am capable of (which, if I say so myself, is a lot).

The fact of the matter is that none of this matters on the ethical point. I can be kind or cruel, forgiving or relentless, open-minded or judgemental.

No matter how I behave when I say so, drug abuse will always be a moral travesty and a philosophical aberration. I can say so because it is true, and because only a fool would disagree.

What I mean to say is this: Taking a moral stand on an issue, no matter what the issue, no matter what the stance, puts you at risk of upsetting people who disagree. But our values are meaningless if we quickly throw them aside at the first sign of adversity. If we don't stand up for our values, no one else will.

If ethics have a place in our society at all, we owe it to ourselves to stand up for them. In doing so, we make firm conclusions about what is right and what is wrong. Simply verbalizing that drug abuse is wrong and that belching in public is disgraceful puts you up on the wall among those people who stand firm for what they believe, notwithstanding their own personal shortcomings.

But a belief is a belief, and having one doesn't diminish a person's compassion or humanity. It simply means that such people are willing to go on the record. Are you?

Conclusion: I May Be A Sinner, But I'm An Ethical Sinner
When I spoke out about Amy Winehouse, I did so because I believe that drugs are one of the most destructive forces in the world today. You may disagree, and probably do. Feel free to post your thoughts about this in the comments section, or on your own blog.

Do I have compassion for Amy Winehouse? No, I do not. How can I? I never knew her. She is yet another in a long line of people who threw their lives away for the sake of a philosophical aberration. I do not have compassion for that.

Have I known anyone in Winehouse's position? Well, I never met anyone who over-dosed (if she over-dosed), but I have known plenty of addicts, and my beliefs speak from that experience. It isn't just the user who suffers from addiction; it is also the hearts and souls of every person whose lives they touch.

We can give any amount of effort and support to an addict. The one, universal truth of addiction treatment - the lone prerequisite for successful rehabilitation - is that the addict wants to be healed. Unless and until that happens, compassion and love are meaningless.

According to the world as I see it - my creed - philosophy comes first, human relationships second. A creed is logically prior to all relationships, and colors every human interaction.

Face it, folks: we need ethics.

That's why I write.