Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Drug Legalisation

Bill Vallicella of Maverick Philosopher writes:
Is it not clear that drug legalization would lead to increased usage, to more addiction, to more driving under the influence? To deny this is to be a knee-jerk oppositionalist.

I'm not convinced that the issue is as clear-cut as he makes out. His argument consists of identifying four groups of people that would be more likely to use drugs if they were legalised: (A) those who respect the law, (B) those who fear legal punishment, (C) those who fear associating with criminals, and (D) those with health concerns "about the quality and strength of illegal drugs, the dangers of overdosing, etc."

This establishes that legalising drugs would cause some people to try them, who otherwise would not have done so. But that is not sufficient to establish BV's point. He must also show that this group is larger than its opposite: those who would not take drugs if legalised, who otherwise would have.

Is it plausible that some people would take drugs (if illegal), but not if they were legalised? I think so. People (especially teenagers) can be motivated by rebelliousness, or the temptation of 'forbidden fruit'. I suspect this group is indeed outnumbered by those BV describes, but I'm not sure. It's an empirical question, after all, and not immediately "clear" from the vantagepoint of our armchairs. BV's failure to even consider the alternative possibility is a glaring omission on his part - one which (to borrow a phrase) "undercuts his own credibility".

Another mistake BV makes is that increased usage does not necessarily imply "more addiction" or "more driving under the influence". It could be that removing the criminal taint from drug use would result in more responsible consumption. Greater regulation (including, say, compulsory warnings of the sort found on cigarette boxes) might well lead to more informed and cautious use of these substances. Or it might not, I don't know, but at the very least these are matters that warrant some consideration. That would surely be a better idea than making dubious assumptions and then calling your opponents names.

8 comments:

  1. > Is it plausible that some people would take drugs (if illegal), but not if they were legalised? I think so.

    ha-ha soon you'll be telling us that forcing people to take drugs will reduce drug usage and that telling your children to beat up their enemies is the best way to reduce school violence (or that we need to try it in order to see if it works). Anyway it is up to your side (as the one desiring a change in strategy and the counter intuitive theory) to demonstrate that this reduction in usage will occur - it is not that hard a survey that demonstrated a reduction in behaviour BECAUSE it became legal. (I have to say - "good luck" finding one).

    The studies have been done already regarding attitudes towards things such as abortions and attitudes reacted in the same direction as the legal change. So in the absence of better proof to the contrary (under normal situations the above represents a fairly strong argument - since how often to you have an exact empirical study proving your argument in a casual debate) it is a safe assumption usage will go up if it is legalized.

    > It could be that removing the criminal taint from drug use would result in more responsible consumption.

    It would result in more responsible consumption AND more irresponsible consumption - that seems to be the reasonable conclusion. It would decouple the activity with crime - i.e. stop making criminals out of those that use it - but is highly unlikely to stop people who are otherwise criminals from using them or make non users users in a desireto become criminal.

    Drug legalization may still be good but this is related to other reasons largely these - a person desperate to continue a drug habit might become criminal either as a result of
    a) Trying to avoid police prosecution
    b) Desensitization to being a criminal (possibly after realising that it is not that hard to avoid prosecution usually.
    c) as a result of being put in a criminal filled environment (eg prison).

    None of these reduce total usage BUT they may well reduce the effectiveness of the law in other areas.

    A second argument is that if you legalized cannabis you could use it to displace nicotine and regulate it to have low tar content etc there is a case to be made for that - but it should be easier jsut to regulate the nicotene companies.

    > Greater regulation (including, say, compulsory warnings of the sort found on cigarette boxes) might well lead to more informed and cautious use of these substances.

    These are just degrees of social sanctioning.

    Of course it is no good to just call your opponents names... 

    Posted by geniusNZ

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  2. Genius, you seem to have misread me. When I asked "Is it plausible that some people would take drugs (if illegal), but not if they were legalised?", I meant exactly that - some people, not more people. At that stage of the argument, all I was establishing is the existence of a relevant group of people that BV had entirely neglected to take into account. You cannot plausibly deny this point, so your laughter and inane analogies here seem quite inappropriate.

    As to the general point, I've already agreed that it seems most likely that legalising drugs would increase usage. My point was more that BV's argument to this effect contained some glaring omissions. (As any logic student will tell you, you can have an invalid argument with a true conclusion. Consider: Humans have two eyes, therefore humans are mammals.)

    But I stand by my point that increased use does not necessarily imply increased abuse. That's the "reasonable conclusion" only if one ignores all the other changing variables, some of which may tend to support more responsible drug use, as I suggest in the post. On this point especially, I don't think we can make a reliable guess one way or the other, absent further empirical support.

    Of course, the real justification for drug legalisation lies elsewhere, as you (and BV) note. But that is not what my post was addressing. 

    Posted by Richard

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  3. It is irrelevant to discuss such a group. And the example is no more inanane than your point itself since you cannot deny that there might be a child for example who upon being told to be violent would then decide not to be so.
    The fact that you consider that inane - speaks to your irrationality in regard to your own point.
    This sort of thing is basically hte same as these sorts of statements
    - if I pour dye into water it will disperse
    - if you give money to the poor they will be better off
    - if you give health care to the sick they will be better off

    All three are true and yet they also contain your counter examples for example some of hte dye in the water will condense some poor peopel will be worse off if they get more money, some sick people will die if you give them health care.

    This is true for most physics or social level questions. I would feel like i ws nit picking even for ME if I ws to take a phrase like

    "That would surely be a better idea than making dubious assumptions and then calling your opponents names. "

    and then reply with "but it is plausible that calling peopel names might be a good solution! - Sure it usually is not but no need to reject it based on that"

    As for if it would increace irresponsible usage I think that comes down to what exactly irresponsible usage is - if it is shere consumption then i think the odds are heavily against it going down - if your case is for more consumption just using filters and so forth then that is likely to be true IF the govt pushes through the legislation in those situations where there ae economies of scale for "good" behaviour.
     

    Posted by GENISUNZ

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  4. Genius, you have misunderstood the logical form of the argument under discussion. BV suggested four groups of people that would be more likely to use drugs if they were legalised, and on that basis concluded that legalisation would lead to increased usage.

    This is simply fallacious reasoning on his part. To demonstrate this, I pointed out that there are also groups of people that are more likely to use drugs if illegal. The question then becomes, which set of groups is the larger? (It was BV's failure to address this question that drew my criticism.)

    Now, I've already agreed that it probably is the former set. But your continued insistence that the latter set is entirely "irrelevant" simply highlights your poor grasp of the logic involved in the argument at hand.

    "The fact that you consider [the analogies] inane - speaks to your irrationality in regard to your own point."

    Oh, come on. You compared legalising drugs with "forcing people to take drugs". That's just plain stupid. (And, idiocy aside, what you were saying there simply wasn't relevant to the logical point I was making at that stage of the argument - as I pointed out in the previous comment.)

    "All three are true and yet they also contain your counter examples"

    Again, you entirely miss the point. My argument is not: "there are individual counterexamples to the generalisation 'legalising drugs would increase drug usage' therefore the generalisation is false". (That would indeed be a poor argument.) Rather, I was pointing out the flaws in BV's argument, which was effectively: "Some people would take drugs if legalised who otherwise would not, therefore drug legalisation would increase usage." I showed why that's an invalid argument. This is a matter of simple logic.

    It seems that your real objection here is to my suggestion that the empirical question (of which group is the larger) is contentious enough that we shouldn't presume to answer it with certainty from our armchairs. This is somewhat tangential to the central point of my post anyhow (since I was more concerned with the logical issue than the empirical one). But my point was merely that I don't consider it obvious that the "only if legal" group is larger. Frankly, I doubt any of the groups discussed here are of a significant size. Among my peers at least, the legality of marijuana (say) simply isn't an issue. Those who want to try it will, and those who don't, won't.

    So one needn't think the groups I mention are large ones, for them to nevertheless counterbalance those BV mentions. Thus there seems to be room here for some reasonable doubt (unlike in the analogies you bring up).

    (If you disagree about this final point, so be it. I really can't be bothered getting in a protracted argument about it.) 

    Posted by Richard

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  5. > Genius, you have misunderstood the logical form of the argument under discussion.

    OK you are arguing he should have included all the groups. That is ok he probably should have it would have lent mroe credibility to the argument (although I think your attack is a bit strong for such a technicality) but it is not as if people do that very often particularly when it is reasonable to assume that effect is irrelevant.

    > Oh, come on. You compared legalising drugs with "forcing people to take drugs".

    You alreadly know the point was regarding the methodology you are using for critique NOT the comparison that you mentioned above. You of course chose not to adress the point but instead to complain about the example thus wasting your time.
    Secondly as to YOUR method here - there are many people who would say "legalize drugs? that is just plain stupid" and they may well be correct but you cannot BOTH be correct - you now seem to be using their argument.

    Anyway if I can never give an example you dont agree with then I cant show you logical flaws with examples ie to give you an example you dont agree with using the logic that you use.

    >Rather, I was pointing out the flaws in BV's argument, which was effectively: "Some people would take drugs if legalised who otherwise would not, therefore drug legalisation would increase usage." I showed why that's an invalid argument. This is a matter of simple logic.

    what if BV's argument was

    "These identifyable groups would take drugs if legalised who otherwise would not, therefore (failing aditional information) it is reasonable to assume legalization would increase usage. and conversely UNREASONABLE to reject such a hypothesis"

    the latter was of course his main point since he was arguing against those who support legalization an "anti" argument if you like.

    > But my point was merely that I don't consider it obvious that the "only if legal" group is larger.

    Which you are welcome to argue - personally I think it is "a pretty safe guess" as does BV apparently. But I seriously doubt either of us would give you 1 million to one odds on it.

    > Thus there seems to be room here for some reasonable doubt (unlike in the analogies you bring up).

    I think the resonable doubt that you see is actually a creation of your vested interest (I am not sure exclty how that manifests itself). For example as a child I often contemplated the way parental teaching alowed me to second guess them and many a far right wing person might argue giving money to the poor does not help at all because they will waste it (just ask ny far right person) again I consider both of those were illogical even if I could give examples because the evidence just does not support it (but they are theoretically possible) - but you can see how allowing oneself to challange at will anything on one side and generally accepting anything on the other side results on ideological differences.  

    Posted by geniusNZ

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  6. "you now seem to be using their argument."

    Eh? I haven't even argued that drugs should be legalized, let alone said that to do otherwise is "stupid". I really haven't a clue what you're talking about here.

    Again, I wasn't advocating any positive thesis in this post. All I was doing was poking some holes in BV's one.

    what if BV's argument was
    "These identifyable groups would take drugs if legalised who otherwise would not, therefore (failing aditional information) it is reasonable to assume legalization would increase usage. and conversely UNREASONABLE to reject such a hypothesis"
    That still wouldn't be much of an argument. One could just as well reverse it to 'prove' the opposite:
    "groups E & F would take drugs only if illegal, therefore (failing additional information) it is reasonable to assume that legalization would decrease usage, and UNREASONABLE to deny this."

    It's just bad logic. You can 'prove' anything if you ignore the other side (by inserting "failing additional information" clauses, etc.).

    I don't have any vested interests here, I just thought it was silly of BV to dismiss his opponents as "knee jerk oppositionalists" based on such a poor argument.

    (As it happens, I do think some drugs should probably be legalized, but my reasons are nothing to do with whether this would increase usage or not.)

    And, for the record, I think it is entirely reasonable to doubt whether giving $ handouts to the poor is the best way to fight poverty. (It would be silly to say it does "no good at all". But one could reasonably argue that the harm done outweighs the good. However, that's a topic for another post!) 

    Posted by Richard

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  7. Depends on whether BV ignored the other side or whether he just had not thought of it yet. If it is the former and he did it intentionally then it is as you say and he tried to mislead his reading public (just like a politicians or other convincing speakers mislead the public to sell their ideas, a low standard for a philosopher)- if it is the latter then he used the information available to him and came to the reasonable assumption (one that we also came to even with aditional, but still not all, informtion).
    In the absence of such knowledge
    1) I am just a trusting guy...
    2) It reflects the standards that we demand from people. 

    Posted by GeniusNZ

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