Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category


Tuesday, February 15th, 2005

From a friend's blog:

Psychotropic drugs are fundamentally destructive to a person who uses them, and anyone who does use them should be trying to figure out a way to get off of them.

That's a judgement call that might be valid for yourself, but don't pretend to know what's better for other individuals – it is harmful to your well-meaning premise (presumably that individuals should be ruled by self-determination instead of enslaved to external forces).

The body develops immunity to the beneficial effects of any drug, eventually requiring stronger and stronger doses, but never does so to the side effects.

This is a false, though oft-repeated, generalization. Every mind-altering substance is different in its effects, and only a few actually fit into that box that you've drawn out.

There are 3 components to substance addiction; reinforcement/habituation, withdrawal, and tolerance. Anything pleasurable is reinforcing: chocolate, sex, alcohol, etc. It becomes a habit when the person does not control their impulses to partake. Some drugs are extremely reinforcing to the point where natural rewards are irrelevant, and others not so much, complementing natural rewards instead of displacing them with drug cravings. Withdrawal is a combination of psychological and physical effects that occurs when a habitual user attempts to quit. You might be surprised to learn that alcohol withdrawal can actually kill the subject; no other substance withdrawal is as physically brutal. Opiates and tranquilizers also have very unpleasant withdrawal effects. Withdrawal causes continued administration of the substance to have a positive reinforcing effect proportional to the severity of withdrawal symptoms. The last criterion, tolerance, is a phenomenon that is most closely associated with opium derivatives. This is unfortunate, because coupled with the unpleasant effects of opiate withdrawal, it is responsible for the downward spiral that habitual opiate users tend towards. This effect is present with alcohol too. Most other substances that exhibit an effect similar to tolerance are actually simply saturated in the body – ingesting more has no effect until the body eliminates what is already inside. Since withdrawal symptoms for most substances are mild to non-existent, the user is inclined to moderate their usage or quit instead of OD-ing. The effects of tolerance in the absence of withdrawal thus have a negative reinforcing effect on continued administration of the substance; the user simply becomes bored or burned out.

So what's a beneficial effect? By definition, all recreational drugs produce pleasurable effects (such as psychedelic, painkilling, sedative, etc) to at least some users, or they would not be used. Does a beneficial effect imply a pleasurable effect in this context then? It is a false statement that the pleasurable effect of all drugs decreases over time (i.e., that all drugs foster tolerance). Each drug is unique in its effects and its addiction potential according to the habituation/withdrawal/tolerance characteristics of the substance. So maybe beneficial effect was meant in general, relative to the user's life. The user is responsible for evaluating his/her use and the associated consequences, just like with legal drugs such as alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. We aren't doing future adults any favors by propagating falsehoods and inaccurate generalizations. And we aren't doing ourselves any favors providing advice to friends that is based on false premises.

Even worse is basing public policy on false premises. Even worse than that is propping up unconstitutional actions of the federal government because drugs are felt to be some kind of special case. You would think a small-government advocate would get this, but Republicans are just way too hung up on the drug issue. As a result, they willfully contribute to the imbalance of power in this country and the imprisonment of peaceful individuals who refused to follow laws that are wrong.

Prohibition causes more harm than drugs cause. This is not the Great Society anymore where we can use public policy to meld individual desires to conform to some utopian vision. Drugs are real, people like them, and people sell and use them despite the law and despite the dangers of an unregulated black market. Only accepting that reality will bring us closer to ideal policy on the issue.


Thursday, December 23rd, 2004

I frequently read articles about people who threw themselves in the face of impossible odds or indescribable danger in order to rescue another person from a disastrous end. Every time I read one of those, I imagine myself in the position of that person, and realize that unless I was seized by emotion, I would not have acted in the same manner. In fact, I would probably stand idly by and call for help before throwing myself into danger over someone else's calamity. I wonder if this is good or not. First of all, is it simply self-preservation instinct at work to not want to be in a situation where I would die, or is there reason behind the decision? If I have correctly employed reason, that implies that I have either determined that the person is not rescuable by myself, or that I have judged my own life to be more important than the other person's. The first conclusion would be difficult to reach in many life-threatening situations because of the large number of unknowns (especially time until an explosion). The second conclusion seems callous on the face of it, but it tears me. Is saving a human life more or less important than risking my intellect and experience, which is wholly contained in nothing more than a sack of bones and some spongy neural tissue? To me, it's not a question of whether this particular life is worth saving or not, but how many lives I can save in the future through my knowledge and experience, and whether or not this is a valid rationale. Is it reasonable to trade one life now for many lives in the future, or is it never reasonable to bargain with even one life, even if that death may serve the greater good? And then I'm left with the thought that perhaps I'm just apologizing for what amounts to cowardice, by posturing that I might be some great savior of many lives in the future (the extent and possibility of which is obviously unknown). How would I explain to that person that I have just chosen not to save them because it would place myself at needless risk? Or, ironically, what if the compromised person was of much greater intellectual capacity than myself? I would be defeating the very end I wished to serve by making the devilish trade.

Sometimes I am asked how I can be so aloof regarding popular culture. Why don't I know that actor, that movie, that television show, etc. Occasionally I feel like I should be embarrassed that I don't know a particular bit of trivia, but I'm really not. I know this is because all of popular culture is only a temporary mark on history. The fads and entertainment fixations of today are gone in only a few short years as people's tastes yearn for something fresh and new. My capacity for reason compels me to ignore the noise of popular fads and distractions and to dedicate my life as a steward of knowledge and science instead. All we have today could be gone tomorrow, but with the help of the knowledge regarding the human condition and inherent capability accumulated over history, we could rebuild it again. This knowledge was gained through philosophy, insight, intuition, theory, and verified through science. Perhaps we will even transcend science someday as a metric by which to test our intuition against the real universe – perhaps we will be able to test classes of human insight that science cannot even begin to grasp. I feel compelled to contribute to this timeless and ageless body of human knowledge, and it is because of this that I cannot justify allowing my attention to be monopolized by the circuses and fads of today. Occasionally good recreation may be found in a fad, but I cannot allow myself to forget that ultimately popular culture is irrelevant. It is the here-and-now context of this generation. Knowledge and science is what we have to pass forth to all future generations. It is obvious to me which pursuit deserves the most attention.

Some people have speculated that the invention of the atomic bomb or meddling with DNA are just natural selection at work – by inventing these things we have selected ourselves out of existence in the long run. I would like to generalize this cynical theory: A species evolves until the point where it either develops a method wherein its extinction can be intentionally brought about (entropy guaranteeing the rest), or until the point where it accidentally brings about its own extinction. Regarding the latter, it is rather ironic when it is brought about as a side effect of the species attempting to extend its own livelihood.

Another interesting observation. The less inclination for rational thought one has, the more inclined that individual is to breed. Now the hypothesis: If Darwin is correct and furthermore if rational thought is a hereditary trait (as is commonly believed regarding the offspring of intelligent parents), then rational thought will eventually be selected out of the human species. Unfortunately, modern society is probably what permits this natural irony to occur – the stupid people were busy killing each other before we gave each other rights in the form of law. Now they aren't generally killing each other, so they engage the only other activity that an existence ruled by unexamined reaction permits – breed. Does this imply the end of humanity? Bonus points for a survival plan for intelligent folks. Breed more? An interesting corollary is that by this yardstick, the stereotypical self-centered and/or asexual geek is doing nothing more than selecting himself out of existence.

I dislike being in the company of females who act slutty. I don't believe in one night stands, or even “one night stands” that last months. By that I mean that my time, money, and emotional stability is an investment – I don't have any inclination to waste it on a relationship that provides me with no convincing evidence of its permanence, or worse, a relationship that is guaranteed by its nature to eventually fail. I feel that “love at first sight” is a hormone-driven deception. Occasionally, it works out by coincidence. Many of us would like to believe that we were driven together by some form of predestination, that a couple was somehow “meant for each other”. I believe that sentiment is nothing more than wishful thinking. Regarding slutty women, some men enjoy physical flirting especially in casual environments. Physical flirting renders me uncomfortable. Not because I have delusions of inadequacy, but because I want to be in control; when I am being physically flirted with, I am no longer in control because my senses and hormones have assumed control of my thought process. I avoid situations where I am unable to employ reason, and this is one of them. It's rather unfortunate that sex drive is not an optional component of the male physique, in that it cannot be selectively disabled for inappropriate situations. I would prefer for a woman (or anyone else) not to be able to attain power over me through my instinctual responses.

A tactic I frequently encounter in political debates to discredit one's opponent is using the slippery slope argument with respect to the opponent's agenda to avoid a compromise. For example, attempting to discredit a NORML representative arguing for relaxed medical marijuana laws by pointing out that NORML's agenda on the issue is full legalization; “You only want X because it brings you closer to Y!”. While emotionally compelling, this tactic falls apart under scrutiny. It employs a false dichotomy as a component – that eventually either the opponent's agenda will be completely realized or completely destroyed, and assumes further that by rejecting compromise, the opponent's long run loss is guaranteed. It also assumes that moving forth the opponent's agenda is the primary goal of the compromise, whereas in many cases such as med MJ, it is intended to help those immediately in need while secondarily providing evidence that may lend credulence to the opponent's position.

Even activists know that their ideal world will never be realized as long as significiant opposition exists. On a one-dimensional political spectrum as most issues are (two polar extremes with a compromise range in between), activists pick a point on the spectrum and attempt to shift the status quo towards that point. The knowledge that the point will likely never be reached is not a compelling reason to give up an otherwise reasonable ideal position; if the position is wrong, it should be proven wrong rather than simply labeled as too ideal and therefore rejected outright. It is also not reasonable to point to the activist's agenda position and attempt to use that as a basis for rejecting an otherwise reasonable compromise. Of course the activist is going to want to compromise towards his position? Does that imply that his position will be attained? Only if one employs a slippery slope fallacy, which dictates no reasonable implication, only coincidence.