Nov 9, 2010

definitional tricks; carrots and sticks: the LD mailbag

Regarding the illegal drugs resolution, a reader writes:
Would it be possible to argue on the affirmative that we use a joint system. As the resolution states, "The abuse of illegal drugs ought to be TREATED as a matter of public health not of criminal justice," wouldn't the debate settle on which means we need to treat with. Looking at the resolution with treating as the key point allows the affirmative to say we need to treat with public health but punish and mandate with criminal justice. Do you think this could flow in a debate and if so do you have any ideas on how to run it in a case?
Definitional tricks in LD have to pass the "eye-roll" test. If they make the judge roll her eyes and think, hoo boy, chances are your opponent--if at least minimally qualified--will have an easy way to defeat your definition.

I think this one barely passes, because the word "treat" does have a medical definition that works, somewhat, in the context of the resolution. The problem, as I see it, is that it's too easily defeated by a broader definition--"to deal with / handle"--and by the complete phrase "treated as a matter." Conditions are treated by (doctors, nurses, public health officials), or treated with (medicine, surgery, bed rest, kissing a boo-boo), not treated as.

A tricksy definition may not last beyond CX. For instance, today in practice, one of my debaters was trying to define the "abuse" of illegal drugs to include the manufacture and distribution of drugs. After all, he said, to "abuse" a drug is to "use it wrongly." So what does "use" mean? "Well... to inhale, or inject, or snort, or..." Or manufacture or distribute? "Uh... sure." To paraphrase the old song, "Two of these things are not like the other things."

Another reader writes:
I just debated the current topic last weekend, and a lot of negatives went for a permutation of criminal justice and a public health approach. They claimed that the only way to require people to go to rehab or to use another public health approach is through a court sentence or another criminal justice approach. Would you be able to post anything that can help the Aff maintain uniqueness? Thanks!
Lots of responses for that line of thinking.

1. Why require rehab? If we have a society in which government forces people to rehabilitate themselves, then we not only clear a path to authoritarianism, but we lose a sense of personal responsibility and moral agency. We fall prey to a mindset that drugs have incredible powers over us, and that addiction is a disease. (This line of reasoning is rebutted and rebuked in the excellent Pain Control and Drug Policy.)

2. On the other hand, maybe addiction is a disease--giving public health officials quarantine powers.

3. There are plenty of noncoercive public health approaches: education, needle sharing, community outreach, treatment centers, and, someday, quite possibly, anti-drug vaccination. Or why not offer economic incentives to help abusers clean up?

4. In a rights-based or retributivist framework, questions of efficacy are the wrong questions. Inviolable rights are inviolable, no matter how well intentioned, or how good the potential outcome. If drug abuse (the act of getting high on illegal drugs) is itself not a crime, then a criminal justice approach is not only morally wrong, but a category error.


Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to partly agree and partly disagree with the first response to the second mailer's question. It seems fairly obvious that addiction does have a real, tangible power over people who have taken these kinds of drugs. Not always just psychological addictions, but more tangible physical addictions that involve some fairly well researched brain chemistry (at least, near as I can tell). On the other hand, the Alcoholics Anonymous approach of saying that you're powerless before your addiction and need to appeal to whatever higher power you can think of is also far from correct.

It seems to me that, if you're going to lock people up for doing drugs in the first place, it's irresponsible to allow them to leave without attempting to rehabilitate in some way. It's easy to say that new exercises of governmental power are authoritarian or oppressive, but the idea of moral agency and personal responsibility could just as easily be applied to prison sentences. People certainly don't throw themselves in jail, but that doesn't mean that there isn't some responsibility to help both the criminal and others in the society by locking them up.

C said...

Do you think aff's that run into "criminalizing drugs deters use" and the like could argue something like this?

"My opponent draws all of his impacts from the criminalization of the use of drugs. However, this resolution is specific to criminalizing drug abuse and abuse only. Thus the only impacts my opponent can draw from must solely be through the criminalization of abuse in order to stay topical. Deterring drug use stems from criminalizing all use, therefore this is nontopical".

I plan on using this as my main refute against neg's but wanted to know if you saw any faults with it?

C said...

Oh and also, I have an idea for a strong neg argument but am unsure of where to go with it.

Currently there are a series of treaties in place (mainly, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs Act of 1961) that mandate all participating nations (73 nations, includes most major countries) criminalize drug posession outside of research purposes. The neg can argue that excluding criminal justice causes all participating nations to violate this treaty. The trouble I'm having is coming up with some negative impacts that could stem from this.

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, I'm not sure about your second paragraph. I'm not making the argument that criminals can't be "cleaned up" in prison. After all, they have violated others' liberties or persons, and must forfeit their own.

But those are criminals--people who have harmed others--not drug abusers. In the Mills-esque argument I'm making, mere drug abusers are not criminals, and so it is wrong to incarcerate them in the absence of actual criminal behavior.

I've seen debaters try to prove a strong positive correlation, or even causal link, between drug abuse and criminal activity. If that's true, then punishing actual criminals (with mandatory rehab for those failing drug tests) would have a nearly identical effect in the Aff world as in the status quo, without having to single out drug abusers for punishment because of drug abuse.

The research I've seen (in places like Pain Control and Drug Policy, which is really worth finding, or Sullum's Saying Yes, is that criminals with drug abuse problems are criminals anyway. Drugs don't cause people's issues; they only exacerbate existing issues. Or they don't. It really depends on the drug in question--which is another reason to be wary of a criminal justice approach to drugs as vastly different as marijuana and, say, PCP, especially given that the vast majority of illegal drug abusers are casual pot smokers.

Jim Anderson said...

C, I would be surprised if someone were to argue that criminalization deters mere use. They're going to say it deters abuse--or they're going to argue that abuse is use. When it comes to an illegal drug, the Neg will say that any use is abuse, and that you're drawing a distinction without a difference.

Regarding the UN drug treaties, about the only harm (a stretch, in my view) is that inconsistent enforcement or provisions would lead to a "race to the bottom" of drug-related tourism or somesuch. But I can't see how this is any different from the status quo, since not all nations enforce all the provisions of the agreements. Besides, in LD we have no obligations to the existing structure of the world; if the UN treaties are flawed, so much the worse for them.

Taylor Y said...

Hey Jim,
I have a question for you. My aff case is a value of liberty with a criterion of Mill's Harm Principle. I think it works well but I don't know how to beat it. Any suggestions? Also any responses for neg saying all drug abuse harms others? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

hi jim, i have the same problem as taylor except it is my aff case that has a value of autonomy and criterion of mill's harm principle. However how do I refute a neg argument of "my opponent can't achieve the criterion of harm principle because the abuse of drugs directly leads to harm to other ppl such as family members,society etc.."
so what responses can be made to the argument that all drug abuse leads to harm?
Also who would be the agent of action for public health approaches such as needle exchange,prevention programs..goverment?
Lastly would it be contradictory in my aff case that I have arguments that say drugs are bad so we should have prevention programs to stop the use of drugs, and to also have arguments that say although drugs are bad they are inevitable and unstoppable so we have to reduce the harm by having a needle exchange program??

C said...

About the abuse topicality argument, I was thinking in response to "all use is abuse" I could just point out that just because something is illegal doesnt make it abuse. Not wearing a seatbelt is illegal, but if you dont wear it, it doesnt mean you're abusing the car. Can I draw a distinction between use and abuse in this way?

Jim Anderson said...

Taylor, is it good to live in a society where people or free to destroy their own bodies or lives? Or should we value empathy over liberty, community over the individual? Why should we value a person's liberty if they're so willing to cede it to a substance?

Or, from a different angle, they have abused an illegal substance, taking advantage of "equal liberty for all" (linked at the original post on this topic), and thus must be punished regardless of whether they're harming themselves or another.

Or, as Anonymous below points out, there's always the anti-atomistic approach, the "no man is an island" view. A drug abuser's choices, 99 times out a 100, end up harming someone else. At the very least, an abuser of illegal drugs is helping prop up the market for illegal drugs (since the resolution seems to preclude complete legalization).

Anonymous, does the abuse lead to harm? Or is the the choices of the user to commit harmful acts? And why can't we punish the harmful acts themselves?

If an elderly widower living alone finds a mushroom in his back yard, (stupidly) ingests it, survives, and has some crazy visions for a couple hours, and resolves to never eat a mushroom again, and ends up dying in a week of an unrelated heart problem, how has he harmed anyone else? (Yet his action, in Washington state, would be considered the abuse of an illegal drug; psychoactive mushrooms are a controlled substance.) And, as I asked up above, where is the proof that the abuse of the substance is what harms another person, and not their other discrete choices?

And why isn't social pressure, moral censure, and economic pressure enough to discourage such behavior? Why involve the cops?

To your second question, it would appear that the government is the agent of action; public health programs are usually government functions, although there are plenty of private organizations involved in public health.

To your third question, those are not contradictory arguments in the slightest.

C, of course there is usually a distinction between use and abuse--hence the different words--but you'd have to explain why using an illegal substance is not abuse. For instance, it is perfectly legal in some states to smoke a joint to reduce AIDS-related nausea--legitimate use--while it's abuse to smoke it for fun. In other states, either use is considered abuse.

Anonymous said...

Alright, thanks for the insight.

Now in context to the blog, a definitional thought.

Can either side decide to define "decriminalization", "legalization", etc, saying that because they will likely be discussed, they are worthy of defining? The other side will likely stick to defining words in the res. This could allow for a biased definition to be automatically accepted for the round.

Jim Anderson said...

A "preemptive" definition might not be a bad idea. However, you could be wasting 30 precious seconds if your opponent never addresses the issue--and you also might open yourself up to an attack that your opponent hadn't considered.

oscar said...

You're blog has always helped me and always will till I graduate.Now to move on, I had question about neg. Say if I ran that illegal drugs should be treated as public health and criminal justice. Is that a much better approach than if I ran that it should be treated as criminal justice not public health? Thank You!

Jim Anderson said...

oscar, absolutely--there's no reason for the Neg to give up a public health approach (education, prevention, treatment), although the Aff will argue, of course, that the combination is counterproductive.

C said...

My aff is based around legalization, and I'm expecting everyone to try and hit me hard on topicality (since rez says "illegal drugs". I do feel that legalization gives you some ground, mainly the ability to advocate legal regulation. On topicality I'm planning to use a def. of illegal drugs that refers to them as psychoactive substances rather than drugs that are illegal. If I make this argument, do you think I can convince judges that illegal drugs is just said to refer us to crack, cocaine, etc?

Jim Anderson said...

C, I'll discuss legalization and topicality (or resolutionality) in an upcoming blog post. Apparently it's much more controversial than I thought.

Anonymous said...

I'm EXTREMELY confused about one aspect of the resolution. What does treating drug abuse as a matter of public health imply [the agents] should do?

Educate the populace about the harms of drug abuse?

Offer rehab?

What exactly does it mean?

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, you're on the right track. Education, prevention, needle-sharing, treatment / rehabilitation, free drug testing, and, more controversially, actually providing safe narcotics to addicts, as in the Vancouver experiment described here.