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Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Failed War on Drugs

Should illegal drugs be legalized, or at least decriminalized?

In New South Wales, Australia, the Pharmacy Guild funds a needle syringe exchange program for injecting drug users. It provides a free exchange service for users of heroin. The rationale for this program is two fold. Firstly, it is designed to ensure that as many used syringes as possible are disposed of safely, and secondly, it aims to help stop the spread of infectious diseases among users. This program is largely unknown outside the ranks of chemists and drug users. Heroin itself has a fairly low profile these days. It is not fashionable: either for drug users or for media reporters. It is however still an illegal substance and there are heavy penalties for possession, use, and especially for trafficking. The question is why. Why have illicit drugs been demonised?

Is it because they cause people to act in an anti social manner? Is it because they damage people's health? Is it because, people commit crimes under the influence of drugs? Is it because of the violence that is associated with them? The answer to all those questions is yes, but how does that differ from the negative effects of alcohol abuse?

I'll tell you how it differs. Alcohol is much much worse. Although a legal and socially acceptable drug, it is a violent, and indiscriminate killer. Alcohol abuse is a rampant disease in our society. It is an evil curse.

Why don't we just allow people to use whatever substances they want? Almost everyone has something they use to dull the pain of past hurts, the weight of current expectations or the darkness of hopeless futures. If nobody else gets hurt, what's wrong with that? Could all the time, money and effort expended on the war against illegal drugs be better spent?

I heard about his guy named Norm Stamper who was a cop for 34 years and served as Seattle's Chief of Police from 1994-2000. He has written a book called Breaking Rank. He believes the war on drugs in the United States has done exactly the opposite for the people. He says, "tens of thousands of otherwise innocent Americans incarcerated, many for 20 years, some for life; families ripped apart; drug traffickers and blameless bystanders shot dead on city streets; narcotics officers assassinated here and abroad, with prosecutors, judges, and elected officials in Latin America gunned down for their courageous stands against the cartels; and all those dollars spent on federal, state, and local cops, courts, prosecutors, prisons, probation, parole, and pee-in-the-bottle programs. Even federal aid to bribe distant nations to stop feeding our habit."

This is typical of a society which has lost the ability to wisely choose which battles to fight, and which ones to walk way from. The situation in Australia is not as bad as that in the U.S. but surely we don't want to follow their lead.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Struggle Within

With apologies to Metallica for stealing their song title, I want to start by saying that I am not too hard on myself. People who know me often think that is the case when I start talking about my faults. The truth is that I have a totally realistic view of myself based on all the available evidence. I neither think too highly, nor too lowly of myself. I am honest with myself about myself.

Ironically that is part of the problem I want to write about. I spend a lot of time deep in thought. You could describe me as introspective but that is only one piece of the puzzle that is me. I also ponder other people and other situations. I analyze and mentally investigate life, and the way people interact with it and with each other. It's entirely possible that I spend too much time thinking but that is not a flaw or an excuse for inaction. It is merely a product of my life. I have time to think, so I do.

When I returned to work from long service leave, I realized that I had become excessively results driven. Overly achievement oriented. That is not necessarily a bad thing unless any lack of success, either perceived or actual, begins to cripple you and deter you from action. I am not easily put off. If I believe something is worth pursuing then I invest in the chase. I run. I hunt. Stubborn resolve comes easily to me but I am not very single minded. Sometimes I want the gold without having to dig for it.

People who achieve success in their chosen endeavours are single minded. They make tremendous sacrifices to get the results they want. Consider the discipline required by elite athletes. They compete to win and that takes dedication and discipline. It also takes confidence and ability and for most, assistance of some sort. Take these five ingredients and combine them in a bowl. Forty minutes in the oven and you have a Victory Cake. As a beaten egg binds the other ingredients of a regular edible cake together, so does single mindedness bind the ingredients of the Victory Cake. I want to eat the Victory Cake but soomtimes I can't be bothered following the recipe.

That's why I am not very successful. Even as I write this I am thinking about other things that I should be doing. The laundry, for example, is a short walk from me and at the end of a typically busy week for my family, is in desperate need of attention. It's messed up. Thinking about that makes it hard for me to write this because I am not totally focussed on the task.

The Struggle Within is the battle that rages constantly in my mind between what I am doing and what I would either like to be doing, or what I should be doing. It is also the fight between what I am thinking about and what I should be thinking about. I am acutely aware of this conflict and it is not an imagined one. It is real, and it is really tiring.

The funny thing is, I like the way I operate because I think it demonstrates balance. I am not so completely intent on any one thing that other important things in my life get ignored. I take care of my responsibilities before I pamper to my sensibilities. I do the 'have-to' before the 'want to'. Business before pleasure. Duty before delight. Work comes before play.

And now I come at long last to the point. I have a dream: a fantasy which involves the abolition of the distinctions mentioned above. In the film Parenthood, Karen and Gill Buckman have a heated argument one afternoon when she reveals she's pregnant with their fourth child and he announces that he has quit his job. Finally he says he has to go and take his son to baseball practice. The discussion has resolved nothing, achieved nothing except to get both Karen and Gill even more upset than they were, so she wants him to stay and talk some more. She wants to sort it out. It's important to her and its important to Gill also but he has something else important to do. A competing responsibility. Gill says 'I have to go.' Karen replies with a question, 'Do you have to?' Gill says, 'My whole life is have to.'

There it is. My whole life is 'have to'. I sqeeze in a few 'want tos' here and there but I am driven by my responsibilities. For me this is a huge problem because I am not enjoying it. I don't want to ditch my responsibilities but I would like to enjoy them more. I wouldn't mind having some fun.

The solution is simple, at least theoretically. I must convert all the 'have tos' in my life into 'want tos'. That is my dream: the obliteration of the division between what I have to do and what I want to do. I don't even know if it's possible but I'm going to try.