Monday, August 25, 2014

Something Thoughtful

Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts, or just life in general. You are free to agree or disagree with him.

Why, dear friend, do you take up particular positions on matters of moment in your own times?
I hope sincerely it is because you have thought long and hard about them, weighed up the available evidence, considered both the moral and the material consequences, and perhaps done a little original research, always being duly sceptical of some sources of information.
Well alright – I don’t “sincerely” hope all this, but I do at least hope it.
I know I have opinions on matters of moment about which I am no expert. You cannot research fully everything of importance, and sometimes you have to rely on the opinions of people who sound most credible. So I have often ignored my own advice. But if I were to express publicly strong views on matters of moment (as opposed to sounding off in private conversation), then I would try to base my views on evidence, rational arguments, due consideration of material and moral consequences and so forth.
I would NOT base my arguments on the idea that more people seem to be adopting an idea, so therefore I’d better jump on the bandwagon.
What has brought on this fairly obvious rant?
A week ago [at time of writing], Kim Hill gave generous air-time to an advocate of the
decriminalisation in New Zealand of the possession and trade in marijuana.
In fairness to Hill, she did ask her interviewee challenging questions about some of his views, although she failed to adequately challenge him on others, so that much of the broadcast became a mere platform for his advocacy.
In fairness to the interviewee, he did have a few cogent arguments about the consequences of criminalisation, although in other areas he struck me as hopelessly naïve. Repeatedly, he kept saying that all social ill consequences of widespread, legal use of marijuana would be neutralised by educational programmes on kiddies’ TV. To this I say a hearty and ironical “Yeah, right.” At one point, clearly trying to appeal to middle-of-the-road listeners, he said the police were the “real heroes” of the current situation because they rarely arrested people for mere use of marijuana. This clashed with his later assertion that many people were languishing in jail only because they had used to stuff. When Kim Hill pointed out the discrepancy, he became defensive and bellicose. Often I sensed the middle-class recreational user of weed who wasn’t all that concerned for the social damage done to kids in working-class and economically depressed situations. To point out (as I have heard many others do) that perfectly legal alcohol already does much damage to society is, of course, no argument in favour of other drugs. The notion that decriminalisation of marijuana will lead to a society in which drugs are used responsibly by all is simply nonsense.
But, as I have said with my usual impeccable fairness, he did make some reasonable arguments and I am not taking up a partisan position on the issue. Maybe decriminalisation with be for the good and maybe not. I don’t profess to know.
What alienated me from the advocate, however, was how often he appealed to the legislative decisions made in other countries. As if it were his trump card, he kept saying that New Zealand would “look very stupid” if it didn’t decriminalise marijuana because a growing number of US states had done so, and we don’t want to be out of step, do we?
This I regard as a particularly banal non-argument. It’s what I have previously referred to as the “20 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong” argument, referring to some advertising guff I saw when I was a kid. “You have to like this guy’s music because lots of other people do,” the ad was implicitly saying. “You have to decriminalise marijuana because Americans and some Europeans are doing so,” said the advocate implicitly.
Again, I am bound to report that Kim Hill challenged him by pointing out that often we have, as New Zealanders, expressed our pride in NOT doing what the USA does (being nuclear-free etc.). Again, the advocate became somewhat defensive at this point.
And again he lost nearly all credibility with me. “You’ll look silly if you don’t”. “Everybody else is doing it, so you’d better do it.” Etc. Etc. These are the arguments for a mob mentality. On issues of social concern, it’s often important to remain in the minority or even stand on your own. That is called moral courage. The alternative is mindless conformity.

No comments:

Post a Comment