Some people just simply do not know when to give up. You know them the moment you see them: the singer whose voice is just a sad, flickering sample of what it used to be, but keeps on believing that ‘my singing has never been better’; the athlete who has broken every possible world record and now keeps being beaten by younger, fitter competitors, but hangs to his belief that ‘next time things will be different’, never mind that his body tells him otherwise; the boxer, the entrepreneur…
One has to admire their tenacity, their persistence and why not, their optimism. But what about when it comes to the ideas people hold and believe in, particularly when those ideas are demonstrably bad ideas? What to make of their unflinching desire to hang on to their ideas come what may, no matter how absurd, irrational or indefensible their ideas are? Should one admire them for their unwavering convictions, regardless? Should one respect them and praise them for clinging to their principles, independently of how discredited, obnoxious and hideous those principles are?
Nowhere is the issue of how hard bad ideas refuse to die more evident than in the current debate about the legalisation and regulation of the production, distribution and consumption of drugs. The stubbornness of the defenders and promoters of Prohibition to accept that the policies they have been supporting so feverishly for the past five decades are not only a total failure but have created havoc wherever they have been enforced, reminds me of that famous scene in Monty Pythonsâ masterpiece, âThe Holy Grailâ, in which King Arthur fights the Black Knight who, despite losing all his limbs, refuses to accept defeat, but even more tellingly, keeps behaving as if he has won the fight.
I am always left full of disappointment, disgust, not to mention anger, every time I try to understand why it is that those who defend and promote Prohibition and its gruesome creature, the so-called War on Drugs,Â find it impossible to get down off their moral high horses and recognise how irrational those policies are. I am sure you have already noticed it, but there is still a large number of prohibition zealots for whom the killings of thousands upon thousands of human beings; the relentless destruction of civil, legal and democratic institutions; the corrupted and corrupting practices of the criminal organisations that control the âillegalâ drug market, and the systematic violation of human rights are nothing but the “unintended consequences” of their moral enterprise. Thatâs right, foreseeable, predictable, expected, and still, they insist, unintended!
One could, for the sake of argument, consider that these puritanical, fanatical war-on-drugs-mongers are driven by good intentions. But you just need to read or listen to the premises of their arguments, and the logic behind their reasoning, to realise that they are not just misguided do-gooders, unwise citizens, or ill-informed policymakers, civil servants or government officials. Far from it.
Think about it. How else could one explain, let alone justify,the callousness and cynicism shown by zealots like Michele M. Leonhart, DEA Supremo, who a couple of weeks ago said:
Â«â¦ the unfortunate level of violence [in Mexico] is a sign of success in the fight against drugsÂ»
One would be sorely mistaken in believing that Leonheart is alone in unashamedly harbouring such despicable opinions. On the contrary, the idea that the more brutal the level of violence, the greater the success of the war on drugs is something that permeates the US government from top to bottom.
Moreover, such opinions are far from being isolated or idiosyncratic, they are common place among those who support and promote such policies â which includes a vast number of ordinary citizens not just in the US but around the world. And that is what is utterly baffling: how is it possible that otherwise rational, responsible and caring individuals are unable to understand that the legalisation and proper regulation of drugs CANNOT be as destructive and corrosive â socially, economically and politically speaking â as the current prohibition regime is? Call me naÃ¯ve if you want, but I am totally convinced that even those who believe it is evil will sooner or later surrender to the evidence and accept that the legalisation and proper regulation of drugs is the lesser of two evils.
There is no doubt in my mind that the battle for ideas, the battle to replace bad ideas with better ones, is a hard one. It is difficult, always has been, to convince people to reject old, familiar ideas, even if they are bad ideas, in favour of new, unfamiliar ones, even if they are good ones. As it is the case with the call to reject Prohibition in favour of Legalisation and Regulation, a large number of people still prefer to base their decisions on prejudice, narrow moral principles or ideology, rather than facts, science or rational principles.
I do not know about you, but it is clear to me that no matter how ingeniously prohibition zealots try to portray their self-righteous arguments in favour of the War on Drugs policies, sophistry is no match for fact based policies.
-  Transcript of the dialogue between Arthur and the Black Night:
ARTHUR: You fight with the strength of many men, Sir knight. I am Arthur, King of the Britons. I seek the finest and the bravest knights in the land to join me in my Court of Camelot. You have proved yourself worthy; will you join me? You make me sad. So be it. Come, Patsy.
BLACK KNIGHT: None shall pass.
BLACK KNIGHT: None shall pass.
ARTHUR: I have no quarrel with you, good Sir knight, but I must cross this bridge.
BLACK KNIGHT: Then you shall die.
ARTHUR: I command you as King of the Britons to stand aside!
BLACK KNIGHT: I move for no man.
ARTHUR: So be it!
[ARTHUR chops the BLACK KNIGHT's left arm off]
ARTHUR: Now stand aside, worthy adversary.
BLACK KNIGHT: ‘Tis but a scratch.
ARTHUR: A scratch? Your arm’s off!
BLACK KNIGHT: No, it isn’t.
ARTHUR: Well, what’s that then?
BLACK KNIGHT: I’ve had worse.
ARTHUR: You liar!
BLACK KNIGHT: Come on you pansy!
[ARTHUR chops the BLACK KNIGHT's right arm off]
ARTHUR: Victory is mine!
BLACK KNIGHT: Come on then.
BLACK KNIGHT: Have at you!
ARTHUR: You are indeed brave, Sir knight, but the fight is mine.
BLACK KNIGHT: Oh, had enough, eh?
ARTHUR: Look, you stupid bastard, you’ve got no arms left.
BLACK KNIGHT: Yes I have.
BLACK KNIGHT: Just a flesh wound.
ARTHUR: Look, stop that.
BLACK KNIGHT: Chicken! Chicken!
ARTHUR: Look, I’ll have your leg. Right!
BLACK KNIGHT: Right, I’ll do you for that!
ARTHUR: You’ll what?
BLACK KNIGHT: Come ‘ere!
ARTHUR: What are you going to do, bleed on me?
BLACK KNIGHT: I’m invincible!
ARTHUR: You’re a loony.
BLACK KNIGHT: The Black Knight always triumphs! Have at you! Come on then.
[ARTHUR chops the BLACK KNIGHT's other leg off]
BLACK KNIGHT: All right; we’ll call it a draw.
ARTHUR: Come, Patsy.
BLACK KNIGHT: Oh, oh, I see, running away then. You yellow bastards! Come back here and take what’s coming to you. I’ll bite your legs off!
-  I do believe it is time people stop using âunintended consequencesâ every time they want to refer to, or call the attention to, the catastrophic consequences of prohibition and the so-called War on Drugs. And if they want to indulge in spreading such a concept, the least they can do is to qualify their using it.
Nobody can help but notice how ideologically charged the language used by the Prohibitionist camp is. It is intended not only to frighten and cynically manipulate peopleâs basic emotions, but also to misinform, obfuscate and more importantly, disguise the true consequences of Prohibition and the War on Drugs policies.
Reflecting on the way it is used in the Prohibition debate, it seems to me that the so-called Law of Unintended Consequences has now become ubiquitous amongst military sanitisers, obfuscating management consultants, PR apologists and Prohibition ideologues. If you ask me, it is a cynical attempt, alongside âcollateral damagesâ, to explain away the horror and destruction of war as the result of circumstances beyond the warmongersâ control â something tantamount to absolving them of any responsibility for the outcome.
It should not come as a surprise, then, that every time the issue is raised the usual counter argument is that even though the consequences may be foreseeable, even inevitable, they are nevertheless unintended. Some will argue, still, that the fact that they are unintended does not mean they are good, right or excusable. They are just unintended, period.
But that misses the point, entirely, for what is at stake here is the use of the concept of âunintended consequencesâ as a propaganda tool. And the only way to appreciate it is by going beyond its literal meaning. Moreover, one should keep in mind that for those at the receiving end of the war on drugs policies, such distinctions are not exactly pedantic details.
By way of example, think about drone killings. Say you plan to use one of this unmanned planes to fire a missile with the intent to kill an individual suspected of being a terrorist, but you realise that if you do that, the likelihood of killing the bystanders around him, too, is extremely high. Thus, if despite that you decide to go ahead and fire it, you cannot then say âOops! I didnât intend to kill themâ. The fact that you knew in advance that that was going to be the most likely outcome makes the whole argument that it was unintended totally irrelevant. More to the point, it obscures the fact that the act (firing the missile) is nothing but a criminal act, intended or not.
I do believe that by alluding to (the Law of) unintended consequences one is diminishing the responsibility prohibitionists and war-on-drugs-mongers have for the violence, corruption, destruction of civil and democratic institutions, and what have you. Prohibitionists will argue, of course, that none of those outcomes forms the basis of their policies, that if anything, their policies are informed by good intentions, that all is done for the greater good. And in this case, they mean it â¦ literally. ↩
-  It is unsavoury, under any circumstances, to find oneself in agreement with Gil Kerlikowske, the US Drug Czar. In this case, I am afraid, I have to concur with him as he candidly admitted in an interview with The Daily Caller:
Â«â¦the United States was founded in violence, and weâre a pretty violent country. You canât change that.Â»
Unfortunately, the same values that inform US attitude towards arms, pre-emptive actions, retaliation, torture, extraordinary rendition, use of unmanned drones to carry out extra-judicial killings, and so on and so forth, are the same values that inform the US War on Drugs.
One thing is for sure, the more violent people are, the more violence they want to inflict, and the more violence they inflict, the more normal violence seems to be. So, it is not surprising to see how true this rings when one looks at the spirit and intentionality of US War on Drugs policies in Latin America. ↩