If I tried venting about every part of Peter Hitchens’s output of the last couple of months which has bothered me, I wouldn’t get to bed until it was 4am and I couldn’t feel my fingers any more. “Addiction” doesn’t exist, apparently. No, I’m not explaining what he seems to mean by that. I’ll let you extrapolate from there. (The case of Mark Duggan also demonstrates why we should bring back hanging. Somehow. Oh god, I’m losing myself down a spiralling pit of inanity. Break away, break away.)
There’s one thing he said that I do want to touch on, though, if I can do so without getting carried away. In talking about the effects of illegal drugs, he uses the phrase “unearned chemical exaltation”.
Of specific interest is the word “unearned”.
Peter Hitchens has a great moral objection to the use of drugs. That itself isn’t so bizarre or insupportable, but what’s interesting is that the “unearned” nature of the high they provide seems to be a significant part of his complaint.
He’s not alone in this; it’s an attitude I’ve seen before. Part of what some people find unacceptable and morally abhorrent about this particular form of artificial manipulation of one’s brain state is that it’s unearned. You haven’t worked for your right to feel good. You just took some drugs.
Never mind any damaging side effects that drug use might have on yourself and society; the bottom line is, you don’t deserve any chemical alteration of your mood.
You think you can just shortcut your way to physical pleasure or mental stimulation, without undergoing the toil and pain associated with the traditional ways of achieving such states? That’s cheating.
And so on.
And then this is used to justify laws against such cheating. And thus a staid, parochial attitude becomes global tyranny.
If you believe the outcomes of a liberal approach to certain intoxicants are so negative that a centralised authority needs to step in and crack down on their usage, that’s an argument to be made. But don’t just sweepingly decide that nobody deserves to feel good until they’ve earned it by suffering enough first.
Classroom discussion questions
1. If a hypothetical drug provided the “chemical exaltation” of, say, cocaine, but without the addictive nature or risk of harmful overdose, is there any reasonable grounds on which it could be outlawed? Could its use even be considered immoral?
2. How little attention does someone have to be paying if they really think that caffeine does not “in any way alter consciousness or perception”?
3. Why is Peter Hitchens?