By Roland Watson
7. Drugs, including tobacco and alcohol
Still more form, but with an existential element. I am alive, and I should be able to control the circumstances of my life, including my participation in activities that put it at risk. No one should be able to tell me that I cannot expose myself to danger, even when there is a high probability that I will die, unless I also expose other people to it (without their consent) or harm them in some way. Therefore, I have the right to drink alcohol, even to drink myself to death, but not to do it in a way that puts other people at risk, e.g., to drive while intoxicated. Similarly, I have the right to smoke tobacco, but again, this does not extend to affecting others, including through exposing them to second hand smoke, unless they willingly accept this. (Restaurants and bars should be free to allow smoking, or not, or to provide separate facilities for each, since if you are a non-smoker and other people are smoking you can always choose to leave, or not to go.) However, such freedoms do not extend to the manufacturers of tobacco products and alcoholic beverages. They should not be allowed to manipulate us through advertising to want to smoke and drink, such as because it is "cool."
Drinking and smoking are enjoyable, so they should not be prohibited. And this extends to other drugs as well. People are free to try them, even experiment with them. There is no fundamental reason why society should prohibit this. However, society does prohibit it, on the grounds that it is protecting us, and itself, from the costs that are incurred.
Is this a type of protection that we need? I'm not sure. In a world dominated by form, experimentation often leads to abuse, but this would be much less likely in a world guided by reason. In any case, it is dependent on the specific drug involved. Marijuana, for instance, does not inevitably lead to social harm (it causes far fewer problems than either alcohol or tobacco), and as such it should be legalized. In this specific case, society is being overly protective, and also repressive, since so many people have tried and do use the drug. Other drugs, though, must be considered separately, since they have stronger effects and greater risks of addiction, which can easily lead to real anti-social behavior, such as crime. A basis for maintaining their illegality, at least at present, therefore may exist. But it is of course open to debate which world causes, or would cause, more harm. Making such drugs illegal has led to the imprisonment of huge numbers of people and the formation of a criminal class. Without their illegality, there would likely be more use, but also less real crime (and also a great reduction in government expenses, particularly for the police and prisons).
The underlying form which is objectionable is that society wants to control us, to eliminate our ability to take risks, and therefore to experience all aspects of life. And this should be resisted. But society does have a point about such behavior incurring costs. If you smoke, or drink, you must willingly accept responsibility for the consequences, including such risks as cancer and heart disease, and also higher personal insurance costs. And this brings us to the last aspect of form that is relevant to the issue. Any time you do such things it will affect you, including your mental clarity, your identity and your life. These are the costs that you incur for the benefit of artificially induced exhilaration. You should ask yourself, is it really worth it? (Also, aren't there any natural sources - non-drug - of such exhilaration?)
8. Corporal punishment, leniency to criminals, capital punishment
More cases of form, and also of social characteristics by which we can evaluate our development. For corporal punishment, given that you are able to - and do - provide the education that was described earlier, and also that you protect your children from negative influences, you should have few occasions on which you feel the need to punish them, and even less where a physical penalty is called for. But it is important to note that I do not say that there will be no such occasions, and that corporal punishment therefore should be prohibited. Children, at least some children, do behave very unethically (there is a chance element in this), and they should bear the consequences. Such punishment is in fact one of the best ways that they can learn that actions have consequences, because the source of the consequence is someone who loves them, and who therefore will act fairly and with restraint. However, in your role as judge, jury and executioner, i.e., as dictator, you must recognize the potential for abuse: for your abuse of your power through abusing your child. If you find that your child requires frequent punishment, the problem probably lies with you (including through not educating and protecting them). Rather than exact more punishment, you must seek other alternatives including, potentially, counseling, but you should resist pharmaceutical "cures," such as Ritalin, at all costs. There are always other options, and you will have to find them.
As to leniency to criminals, one is tempted to take the opposite view: off with their heads! For example, Islamic punishments presumably act as a deterrent, but I do not know, for certain, that there is little crime in such countries as Saudi Arabia and Iran, and even if this is so if it is due to the existence of such penalties. But to continue for a moment, you could even argue that the punishment should exceed the crime: off with their leg, for jaywalking! However, an existential issue surfaces here. Some countries - the dictatorships - do exact such punishments, such as torture and death for free speech, yet the resistance continues.
Therefore, regarding the extreme punishment of criminal activity, this represents a "dead" end, and a more enlightened approach is in order. In prisons:
- the security of inmates should be guaranteed. (There should be periodic news reporting of the number of inmates in local prisons, and how many of them have been killed, raped, committed suicide, and have AIDS.)
- the inmates should be educated about ethics - why their acts were wrong - and in a practical sense, so they are trained for an occupation other than crime.
- and, they should be treated leniently as to time-served, if they express real remorse.
In other words, we should strive to forgive as a society, as well as individuals. However, this leads us to the real issue of form, which is the treatment of convicts once they are released. Society, in fact, never forgives. Such people are never accepted back into normal life. And as long as this persists, the perpetrators of the crime that we do have, and as we have seen it is inevitable that there will be such perpetrators and crime, will never be reformed.
The last issue, of capital punishment, raises a distinct existential issue: are we ever justified in taking the life of another person, including as the punishment for a great crime? We have seen that killing someone is justifiable in the act of self-defense. In addition, in defending yourself you do not always have to wait until they actually point a weapon at you. If people have committed murder, and there is a high probability that you will be their next target, you can defend yourself proactively against them including, as one might have hoped would have occurred with Hitler, against any individuals who are directing them. Now, the question is: does this extend to killing such people after the fact, as retribution by others (the self-defense failed), and even by society as a whole as a deterrent? The answer is, if you accept natural law, absolutely. But if we strive for a well-designed and implemented human law, then no. Such retribution is revenge, not justice; the goal of forgiveness extends to the act of murder as well; such criminals should be imprisoned for many, many years, since this is the only way they will ever truly grasp the nature of what they have done; and there are other, better, deterrents, starting with the defeat of form to bring about a more equitable and harmonious society (and hence with far fewer cases where such a punishment would even be considered.)
© Roland Watson 2016