The Festival of Dangerous Ideas was a wonderful long-weekend event at the Opera House here in Sydney, hosting many debates on some of the most contentious social issues and ideas: atheism, democracy, polygamy, drug reform, minorities, culture wars.
I like their motto:
‘Bombs, guns and bullets may be dangerous. Closed or complacent minds make them lethal.’
Today I attended the drug debate titled ‘Make all drug use legal’. Amongst the speakers was Norm Stamper who used to be the police commissioner of Seattle and who now heads the 13,000 strong organisation called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. His points need to be heard high up in politics and right around the public sphere: most on the frontline, lawyers, cops, judges etc know that the ‘war on drugs’ is a monumental failure, billions are squandered on fighting cartels and putting citizens behind bars without achieving anything at all, law enforcement is corrupt (cops themselves take part in drug dealing and criminal organisation) and capricious and the community cannot trust it and this lack of trust undermines democracy, that the whole system is completely bankrupt and untenable and only politicians and drug lords stand anything to win from it.
There needs to be a serious progressive reform if we are to put an end to bloodshed and money wasting, if we want to stop locking up addicts and casual drug takers instead of dealing with serious crime, if we want useful pragmatic information on drugs instead of hypocritical scare-mongering garbage, if we want to seriously structurally deal with organised crime that damages the fabric of society. Portugal is very successfully trialling drug decriminalisation (google it if you like!) as do several Latin American countries whose progressive reform is finally, first time in history, NOT blocked by the incumbent US president (Vincente Fox in Mexico previously had to block his own progressive bill in Parliament because of Bush’s phone call to him!!). The Portuguese example should delight drug reformers, it shows how decriminalisation across the board produces results: addicts getting treatment with less drug-related corruption and crime.
Now we just need the political will to push through with a more progressive agenda, and social movements behind to keep pushing politicians to finally fall in line with the population that is itself way more progressive on drug reform than their elected representatives. There are good signs, and this debate itself is a door opener for a wider Australian debate. Most of the mainstream media in Australia have been pandering to a strong moral panic on drugs which made this debate even more difficult to start up. But now it has been ignited and I hope the international progress on drug reform is going to grow and we will join it very soon. Years ago I never thought there’d be reasonable mainstream debate on drugs let alone any policy change, but maybe I was wrong… let’s hope I was and this time there’ll be results. My own views on drug reform are even more liberal than that of any of these public activists, so it’s unlikely that my ideas on pharmas producing good clean designer drugs (taxed and regulated, of course) would ever come into the debate, but any move forward is awesome.
The night before Hitchens was in conversation with Tony Jones about ‘how religion poisons everything’ which I watched live online. It was fantastic, Hitchens was in fine form, but unfortunately neither this, nor any of the other talks or debates are available online so far…. so you’ll have to do with this snippet form another Hitchens talk 🙂 I might take up the debate on atheism, agnosticism and religion another time… 🙂
Hope to be able to put up some videos from the festival itself a bit later… 🙂