Everyone knows that drug addicts commit a lot of crime, so it is hardly surprising that those who sympathize with perpetrators rather than victims should conclude that the fundamental problem is the cost of drugs. As the distinguished British journalist James Cameron once put it in a slightly different context, “My drink problem is how to afford it.”
In early December, writing in the left-wing newspaper the Guardian, Polly Toynbee, the doyenne of British liberal journalists, proposed that the government give heroin and cocaine free of charge to all those who felt they needed it—free of charge, that is, to everyone except the taxpayer. We all know the arguments for and against this kind of proposal, but what struck me most about the article was its headline: ADDICTS SHOULD BE GIVEN DRUGS FREE SO THEY DON’T HAVE TO MUG AND BURGLE.
Addicts, in other words, don’t choose to mug and burgle; they are compelled to do so. They mug and burgle under duress, as it were. They are not like you and me: they are automata. Spare a thought for them as they break into your house under their terrible compulsion!
This deeply dishonest way of putting things is crammed with doubtful assumptions. It suggests that an individual cannot free himself from a heroin addiction unless aided by a vast, publicly funded apparatus of assistance. It suggests, too, that the withdrawal effects from heroin are so terrible that no person can reasonably be expected to go through them voluntarily. But in the vast majority of cases, the physical effects of withdrawal, even at their nastiest, are seldom worse than a bad cold. The suffering caused by withdrawal contains a large psychological component, arising from the dissemination of false ideas about its terrors. These ideas are highly convenient to the addict: “If the Guardian says I can’t stop my habit, you can’t expect me not to mug old ladies in the street, unless you give me what I want for nothing.”
By saying that addicts have to mug and burgle, therefore, the Guardian promotes burglary and mugging. Blaming not the addicts, but the meanness of those without addictions, it provides a ready-made excuse for criminals, a real burglar’s and mugger’s charter.
What then will an even more recent headline in the Observer, the Guardian’s Sunday sister, do for school discipline: CHILDREN FACE “EPIDEMIC” OF BEHAVIOURAL PROBLEMS?