Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The place where things happen strangely

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  • BenWilson, in reply to Sacha,

    what about other framing like improved self-knowledge, and joy, even? not all about narrow libertarian isms.

    I seldom hear those in serious discussions about drug policy. My entire point is that I should be hearing them. They should count for a lot.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Mikaere Curtis,

    You forget that we tried to prohibit alcohol and it was a complete failure and we aren’t going to do that again.

    No, I remember that we did prohibit alcohol, precisely to reduce its harm to society.

    Kind of like we had to have the Homosexual Law Reform Act and then almost 20 years later the Civil Unions Act and then less than 10 years later we finally got gay marriage.

    The Homosexual Law Reform Act never came about through harm reduction arguments. It came through the argument of it being a fundamental human right. If anything, harm reduction stood in its way at the time, all the people who could claim they could see some kind of harm coming from it, stacked up against a minority of people whose happiness would be improved enormously. I'm glad we considered the happiness the bigger part of the picture.

    These idiots who think the sky is going to fall in if we liberalise, even slightly, on matters around what you can do with your own body can be overcome, but only if we make incremental improvements.

    The incremental movements have to be in the right direction. It's perfectly possible to incrementally stuff ourselves down a deep, dark hole. Also, it's not true that change can only come by small increments. Every now and then, change comes fast.

    And that’s where harm minimisation comes in, the benefits outweigh the negatives.

    When the only benefit you can come up with is the reduction of another harm done by another substance then I can only think that you don't really have a good case for liberalization. You've got a case that could be used either for liberalization, or further prohibition. Depending where you already stand on the matter. Which, IMHO, is exactly why the hardline countries will continue to veto the shit out of liberalization. They already believe in hard lines, and proving harm from alcohol just means harsher punishments for drunks to them.

    Sure, I get your position, but I don’t think it is the one that will move us forward.

    I guess we'll see. Sometimes we do have to just try being wrong for an awfully long time before we try being right. That's incrementalism for you. I don't think what I'm suggesting is either impractical or even hard. It just involves seeing that there's even a problem with the ideology. I personally think people who vote for legalization would be doing it considering more than just harm reduction when they do. In the case of something like cannabis, they might even be doing it because they want to have a toke!!!!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to BenWilson,

    If anything, harm reduction stood in its way at the time, all the people who could claim they could see some kind of harm coming from it, stacked up against a minority of people whose happiness would be improved enormously.

    Harm reduction is about objective measurables, not subjective perceptions. You are therefore incorrect in your assessment - the harm that was reduced was the fact that homosexuals faced discrimination without redress, were sent to prison (at a measurable cost to the State), frequently turned up in A&E having been beaten outside a nightclub or a bar or even in their own home (measurable cost to the State), were regularly under medical care for mental health issues, for addiction issues and other matters, all of which can be costed. I was there and part of it. You are too young.

    I'm glad we considered the happiness the bigger part of the picture.

    You were correct when you said "fundamental human right". That's not happiness, it's only a basis from which you may seek happiness. Homosexual law reform was never about happiness. It was some of the grimmest political work I have ever seen.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2930 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to nzlemming,

    Harm reduction is about objective measurables, not subjective perceptions.

    Subjective perceptions are measurable. You ask people, collect data on the answers.

    I agree that there were significant harm reductions as a result of the law change. What I don't agree about is that the law changed because of these. It changed because there was a perception shift about the rights of homosexuals. Once it was seen that they had the right to be happy as they were, then it became insane to deliberately make them unhappy. Before that point, there was still a strong undercurrent (and really, there still is) that their unhappiness was actually an important and necessary thing to suppress their immoral behaviour.

    That’s not happiness, it’s only a basis from which you may seek happiness.

    Improving the basis to seek happiness from improves happiness. It's at least part of the justification for doing so. It's certainly not irrelevant that homosexuals who were not getting bashed or otherwise actively discriminated against are also far freer to live as they please. The "measurables" might be subjective, but they're still very real.

    Homosexual law reform was never about happiness.

    We might have to agree to disagree about that. I was not too young to know homosexuals before and after the law reform, and they were markedly very happy about it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    The Homosexual Law Reform Act never came about through harm reduction arguments. It came through the argument of it being a fundamental human right

    It was more that those in power came to the conclusion that gay people were no longer an Other that they could use to scare the greater populace. Drug users still are, and they've added Muslims.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to BenWilson,

    The Homosexual Law Reform Act never came about through harm reduction arguments. It came through the argument of it being a fundamental human right.

    Humans rights arguments have been quite strongly advanced at UNGASS, if generally in condemnation of the most serious human rights deprivations – like being killed by the state.

    But I do think it's a useful avenue to pursue here in New Zealand. There will inevitably be more purchase in arguments about the right not to have your ability to work and travel impaired than in the right to get high because you like it, but it's a spectrum.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Anyway, good afternoon of Media Take interviews today.

    The Jamaican solicitor-general Kathy-Ann Brown – who is amazing – couldn't join us at the last moment, but they sent over one of their people with a couple of people from the Jamaican NGOs they're supporting, including a rasta called Ras Iya V. Really good folk, the Jamaicans. Nice to meet them.

    The Mexican journalist we interviewed was pleased with her President's speech, but observed "We need to hold him to it when he gets home." The same applies, I think, to our own Mr Dunne. The words have been very good, now perhaps it's time for the actions.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Russell Brown,

    It’s an article of faith in New Zealand that we have the best weed. I’d say it’s more likely we’re yokels these days, taking what we get.

    Depending on where you live might prove better strains than inner city. Some of the “yokels” around here are experts in their chosen field of employ. Their ability and dedication impresses me. Their knowledge of the worldly strains, extremely informative. But speak in public?, no way. Reality however is, that some of the perfumed strains of which you write, are indeed getting down here.
    I think it's great you take a proactive interest in this RB. The humble grower is always busy avoiding the law but advocates like yourself are appreciated.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    There will inevitably be more purchase in arguments about the right not to have your ability to work and travel impaired than in the right to get high because you like it, but it’s a spectrum.

    I don't think that's inevitable. I think it's a consequence of one approach that has been tried for a very long time now, and the progress has been, as Dunne put it, glacial.

    The only degree to which I agree that the purchase of harm minimization is greater is when trying to convince people who are strongly opposed. The people who already bought into harm minimization and applied it through to its logical conclusion, people who literally see no merit in drug taking at all, that it is simply an evil to be controlled. Then if you give them powerful arguments about how it might be controlled more efficiently, they will often bite. Always, though, the long term view is to return to the logical end point.

    But I don't think this is the majority of people. For starters, the majority of people drink alcohol, and are able to see the hypocritical nature of it's strange position as a legal yet very harmful drug. Yet they take it, because they personally like it. They can see that despite its downsides, it has also got massive upsides. It delivers many social goods.

    Certainly they don't drink it because it was once prohibited, but the harms created by organized crime rising to fill the demand outweighed the goods. That isn't why people drink. It may partially justify why they think it should be legal, but they personally drink it because they like it. Not just a little bit. It is drunk on a massive scale. It creates millions of hours of enjoyment for people in NZ every night. This can, and absolutely should, be set against the harms that it creates.

    So, ultimately, I think harm minimization is the weapon of choice of prohibitionists, not people who want liberalization. It's a fantastic framework for making it literally impossible to discuss the whole problem. The whole structure and language and practice of it is geared towards ignoring half of why humans decide things are OK or not.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to BenWilson,

    I was going to leave this, but you've made me very angry. Your paternalistic "straight boy knows best" attitude is insulting to my life experience and to the memory of those who never made it. I should accept your pronouncement because you're straight? Fuck off. That's the very bullshit we were fighting against - that people who weren't us were making the decisions that ruled our lives. That arrogance of straight entitlement is what drove us. The anger it generated fueled us, and the intransigence of "those who know best" is what we sought to, and to a degree, did break.

    You presume to know what drove us to seek change - you can't know, because you weren't part of it. Not part of the drive and, more importantly, not part of the community that suffered under.

    I was not too young to know homosexuals before and after the law reform, and they were markedly very happy about it.

    Well, yes, of course we were happy. We had legal status. We didn't have to worry about policemen peeking through our bedroom windows or setting up entrapment in public toilets. Hell, we didn't need public toilets to meet strangers for furtive sex. We could seek redress in discrimination cases and not be laughed out of court. We could fight back with the tools of the establishment that were denied us as queers. But happiness, or the chance of it, was a product of success, it wasn't the driving force. The driving force was survival and getting basic human rights. The struggle isn't over. It's a lot better than it was, but there is still discrimination, there's still beatings, and deaths. But we're taken as seriously as straight people when we seek redress, and that is what we wanted. Were we happy when we got it? Of course, but that was an effect , not a cause.

    Please don't presume to tell me how my life was lived.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2930 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Helen Kelly, on Facebook, was pretty angry that Peter Dunne's reported words, in her experience, do not reflect his actions.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3202 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I'm extremely sorry that I've offended you, nzlemming. I certainly had no intention of that. I absolutely was not telling you what your own personal motivations for fighting for rights were. My claim was intended to be about the vast bulk of people who made the right choice, and how they were motivated. This includes the majority of people who aren't gay. Most of the people who voted for reform in the end were not gay.

    Please don’t presume to tell me how my life was lived.

    I'm absolutely not trying to do that and feel sorry that it would even seem that way. I'm quite happy to leave off this example, even though to me it is one of the starkest examples of what I'm saying. That you're happier now is, to me, at least, one of the most important outcomes. Not just because you're not being harmed by the system (although that is clearly still very important), but also because you can do what you want openly and freely. Every day you do that is another day that the decision to let you do it paid off for society. Even if it's not how you think, it's how I think, and I suggest that it's how a whole lot of people think.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • andin, in reply to BenWilson,

    I suggest that it’s how a whole lot of people think.

    You, anyone can never know that, for sure. Unless you have the paper work on hand? But surveys are often a blunt instrument, too often.
    Introspection should never be about what others are thinking tho, examining oneself, when drunk maybe. Prejudices, attitudes reflected in one’s thoughts, words and action.
    And admitting when your wrong, now thats a biggie.
    Going for the ‘well a lot of people think like me’ Even if your blessing something positive. kinda blows ...chillax

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1881 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to BenWilson,

    Even if it's not how you think, it's how I think, and I suggest that it's how a whole lot of people think.

    Apology accepted, but it's not about what people think now - it's about what people thought then. That's where the cause comes from. Happiness was only an effect, and not the most important one, which was legal status and freedom from discrimination (still a work in progress, as with so many other minorities).

    If I have a nail in my foot, I don't pull it out because it will make me happy, though that may indeed be an outcome of the removal. I pull it out because it doesn't belong there, it may cause the foot to go gangrenous and because it bloody hurts.

    There were many gay people who would have said they were happy before reform and "best not to make a fuss", which is like Russian Jews not protesting the pogroms, or being forced to live within the Pale of Settlement. The reform activity was all about rocking the boat. In some countries, it might have backfired and caused greater issues, which is what boofheads like McCoskrie and Tamaki would like to see happen, but in NZ common decency prevailed.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2930 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to andin,

    You, anyone can never know that, for sure.

    Nor can you know it's not true. But let me ask you this: How do you personally make up your mind? Do you weigh only the negatives in all things you do?

    Going for the ‘well a lot of people think like me’ Even if your blessing something positive. kinda blows …chillax

    It's pretty much all anyone has got against the idea either. There's two possibilities, either people generally consider only harms in their moral calculations or they don't. There's no null hypothesis here. You don't get to automatically claim that just because there's this thing called harm minimization and it's had a stranglehold on the drug liberalization discourse that therefore this is how the majority of the world thinks and understands things. I suggest that it's precisely because they don't think like that, that it's had such glacial progress.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to nzlemming,

    Apology accepted, but it’s not about what people think now – it’s about what people thought then. That’s where the cause comes from. Happiness was only an effect, and not the most important one, which was legal status and freedom from discrimination (still a work in progress, as with so many other minorities).

    Hmmm ... but greater happiness was an outcome, and if you're measuring outcomes, you'd include it.

    I heard it more in the sense of "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," which seem a better, more human set of goals than those of comparable declarations.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to nzlemming,

    Happiness was only an effect, and not the most important one, which was legal status and freedom from discrimination (still a work in progress, as with so many other minorities).

    I don’t get this cause-effect thing you’re raising here. Very often the cause of us doing something is the effect that it will produce. I go to the shop and buy something nice to eat. That causes me to get something nice to eat, the effect. But I wouldn’t have gone to the shop if there wasn’t something nice to eat there in the first place. So the anticipation of the effect caused the cause. Effects are causes in human actions and choices. The two are intricately joined, and often in feedback loops.

    Anticipation of future happiness is a major motivator of actions. The actions themselves are typically the proximate causes of the happiness, but it would be crazy to suggest the happiness is just a random byproduct, rather than the whole point in many cases. Sure, reduction in harm is also important, and in many ways synonymous with increased happiness. But not in all ways. Pulling a nail out of my foot is not the only way my foot can feel good. Pulling the nail out might enable me to walk, something I get pleasure out of. The mere reduction in the pain in the foot might be the lesser evil to be got rid of in many cases, particularly if in walking I get other goods. Also, if there is some risk in the removal of the nail, a pretty strong argument to do it anyway is that having it in there takes away my ability to do things. It is the presence of positive things that I could do with my foot that outweighs the danger that in pulling the nail, even more pain could be caused.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Hooton, in reply to Russell Brown,

    “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,”

    It's more meaningful when "pursuit of happiness" is properly understood. "Pursuit" is meant in the "exercise" sense rather than "chasing" sense. And "happiness" is more the Aristotelian sense of being excellent and contributing positively to your family and community than the more hedonistic sense we may often think of today. So civil rights issues such as homosexual law reform in the 1980s can certainly be seen to have been partly about making it easier for people to pursue happiness in this sense (as well as the more contemporary sense). I'm not sure that's also true of drug legalisation which seems to be more about the liberty part of the motto.

    Auckland • Since Aug 2007 • 194 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen R,

    Some of the criticism of "Harm minimisation" aligning it with prohibition seems to me to ignore one of the biggest harms around drugs - the risk of getting busted, and having to deal with the criminal side of society to access it.

    The downsides of the "War on Drugs" are significant, quite apart from the actual affect of drugs.

    There was a National Radio interview by Wallace Chapman with an ex-doctor in the UK on a Sunday morning about a year ago (sorry for lack of details) where the doctor had taken over a general practice and discovered that there were about 40 heroin addicts on his books that would come in once a week for a prescribed heroin injection. He was initially horrified, but then met the people. They all were holding down jobs, they were healthy, they didn't have many of negative outcomes associated with Heroin use, they weren't involved in petty crime to pay for their habit etc. He continued the practice and added more addicts to his inherited program. In the following two years, nobody on his books died of an OD.

    Then he got invited to a conference in the US to talk about what was working and why, and he came to the attention of the FBI or DEA or similar. That TLA put pressure on the UK government (can't have drug stories that don't involve prohibition, eh?) who basically booted him out of his practice and stopped the prescription heroin provision.

    Within another two years, a bunch of his ex-patients had died, most had lost their jobs, or descended into the stereotypical heroin addict behaviours including crime to pay for their habits, and the doctor was somewhat depressed about the whole exercise.

    Another interview on the same day talked about how 95%+ of the violence around drugs is associated with the illegal nature of the trade and how the dealers can't go to the cops when they get ripped off or threatened, so they need to react with violence themselves (and how more and more extreme violence is a competitive advantage).

    This suggests to me that harm minimisation is definitely not aligned with prohibition.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2009 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Hmmm ... but greater happiness was an outcome, and if you're measuring outcomes, you'd include it.

    The discussion was about cause, not outcome.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2930 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to BenWilson,

    I don’t get this cause-effect thing you’re raising here. Very often the cause of us doing something is the effect that it will produce. I go to the shop and buy something nice to eat.

    Then you understand nothing, Jon Snow. Cause and effect are separate things when related to one action. An effect may be a cause for a following action (and often is) but it is a result of the first action. You stated that the reason for pursuing homosexual law reform was not about harm minimisation (e.g. getting arrested, having no legal redress, being assaulted etc) but about attaining happiness. I'm telling you, as someone who was there, that wasn't why we did it, and some people were just as unhappy with their lives after the event as they were before it. You don't want to listen, preferring your own second-hand (and selective) narrative. And now you split hairs. You are so wrong, but I'm done with the 'conversation' and you. Enjoy your rose-tinted reality, Ben.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2930 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to nzlemming,

    You stated that the reason for pursuing homosexual law reform was not about harm minimisation (e.g. getting arrested, having no legal redress, being assaulted etc) but about attaining happiness.

    I'm sorry, but you misunderstood what I'm saying there. I'm saying that it was not the only cause. And the people about whom I'm talking are not necessarily the people most directly affected, but the people who make the decisions. In a democratic society, this can be as many as all of the people who can vote. Their way of thinking, their reasoning processes are something that representatives often aim to embody, to understand, to capture. If you want to understand how and why they do the things they do, you have to understand the way that they think.

    You don’t want to listen

    No, seriously, I really do. I'm attempting to directly engage with your views, and I deliberately took the discussion away from the homosexual law reform angle because it's obviously distressing to you. I fully understand if you don't want to engage any more, but understand this: Just as you say that I don't get to tell you what your motivations or reasons are, so you also don't get to tell me. Nor do you speak on behalf of the entire human race on that. I am entirely within my rights to speculate about how humanity as a whole comes to their views, and how they ought to come to their views, and how they could come to better views. And I'm within my rights to do it here. I accept that it would be offensive to speculate about that for an individual, particularly an individual who is present and claiming otherwise. Which is why I didn't do that. If it looked like I was doing that, then subsequent clarifications should surely have made clear that such was not my intention. Those clarifications have been given.

    Again, I'm very sorry that I have offended you. Your contributions are among the ones I most value here, and your disengagement from discussion with me is something I'd consider a loss. I balance that against the loss of the right to my own views, knowing and expressing my own mind in a forum I love. To me, that loss would be greater.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I heard it more in the sense of “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” which seem a better, more human set of goals than those of comparable declarations.

    Well this is NZ, not the USA. We don’t have a constitution, and we also never had a revolution in which a bunch of aristocrats decided to rewrite what our society was all about, and set up a culture where people swear allegiance to that set of views.

    But that aside, my understanding of the rationale behind the wording “the pursuit of happiness”, rather than just saying “happiness”, is because you can’t guarantee happiness. Aristocrats are well aware that there are many people born with a silver spoon and every other advantage life can give, who are still miserable. So they set the lesser goal, the attainable one, that society can, at least, provide conditions where happiness can be pursued. They clearly thought happiness was an extremely important part of their system.

    But their system is just their system. It’s not the only system. It contains the truths that they consider self-evident, which by definition they offer no proof for, nor even discussion of. It can easily be seen to be very self contradictory in many ways, when the “inalienable rights” come directly into conflict with each other (the right to life and the right to bear arms, for instance*). Then it’s down to a fallible system enforced by fallible humans applying their own sense of morality and justice, to decide how to balance these things. Which they do on a daily basis constantly. We all do it. We’re doing it right now.

    ETA: *Not to mention the right to liberty being highly fraught in a society where slavery was still a common practice.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Matthew Hooton,

    And “happiness” is more the Aristotelian sense of being excellent and contributing positively to your family and community than the more hedonistic sense we may often think of today.

    Yes, hedonistic Utilitarianism is a highly specific form, which suffers from many obvious problems. The Swine Objection being one of the first, but the more serious one being the problem of Evil Pleasures. And that's the one that's the most salient to the drug reform discussion. Harm minimization can be seen of as a manifestation of "Negative Utilitarianism" as put forward by Popper. He always makes a good case, but I think Smart's refutation is very apt.

    There are many other changes and improvements to these ideas over the years. We don't have to be stuck with Popper's idea on morality and social order any more than we need to be stuck with his ideas on science. We should, at the very least, be able to consider other models. Hell, I'm not even convinced that Utilitarianism is itself, in any manifestation, an ideal system, because the devil is in all these details. I often consider that Nietzsche made a good point about Utilitarianism when he claims "Mankind does not strive for happiness; only the Englishman does that". But I do think it's fair to say that people do weigh up pros and cons when they're being serious about difficult decisions, and limiting what pros and cons we can all talk about is not something I've yet come across a good reason for, not in theory, nor in practice.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    It's been a strange interesting week and a weird day (Prince!), and the ever-changing security access rules (which it was hard not to see as malicious) made a saga out of getting up to the Level 4 gallery high above the General Assembly. It's a combination of the customary freakout when Heads of State are in the building and some institutional pissiness against the Non Governmental Organisations, or NGOs. In which I got caught up!

    But I eventually got up via the back stairs (no, really) and after only two hours of listening to speeches from peoples whose names started with "His Excellency", the civil society speakers were let on right at the end of the whole three-day summit.

    The third or fourth of those was Tuari Potiki, the chair of the NZ Drug Foundation, the Director of Maori Development at the University of Otago – and a former IV drug addict (and former Hep C patient) who was given his choice, treatment over prison, when he was 28.

    I cried, and I'm still feeling quite emotional about it. In a week of bullshit, it felt very direct, and the applause from the gallery was sustained. Papa Nahi was up on the same level as me and gave a karanga from the front of the balcony. It was a fine interruption to the grind of UN process.

    The video isn't up yet, but the text of the speech is here:

    https://www.drugfoundation.org.nz/media/statement-to-UNGASS2016

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

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