Chris Snowden had a good post the other day regarding concerns about the aged drinking too much. Not only were the statistics suspect but the conclusion that such drinking would have long term health effects was laughable. Its no different that worrying about any drug use which has minimal immediate consequences, smoking included, past a certain age.
As he puts it: “If, God forbid, I live to ninety and some pipsqueak of a health researcher tells me to cut down on my drinking, I shall poke them in the eye with my walking stick. The biggest risk factor for virtually all diseases is age. For those who are elderly, every other risk factor fades into insignificance (which, perhaps, is why Leonard Cohen plans to start smoking when he’s 80). It is no wonder that they “do not care” about the trivial health risks of drinking a bottle of wine a day. Rather it is a wonder that they don’t drink more”.
Naturally those of us promoting harm reduction argue for users to substitute reasonable alternatives for harmful enough behaviors however this should not be construed as an actual argument against those behaviors. As human beings we have the right to pursue peace of mind as long as it does not infringe on the well being of others. And that well being of others does not encompass infringing on their right to be prohibitionist assholes.
I am currently reading a remarkable novel by Eugen Ruge (In Times of Fading Light), a family saga placed in what used to be the DDR before and after the fall of the wall. What strikes me as I read this, and other books like it, is how free of state interference our lives are (essentially when the state marginalizes most of the population), and also how few real difficulties we have in our everyday lives. I speak, of course, as a mainstream citizen (this generalization does not hold for the marginalized many in our midst).
And I wonder if it is this lack of having to deal with very serious issues that leads to forming campaigns like the drug wars, the anti-smoking wars and such. And of course like all things Western this globalized and started using up funding that should have gone to alleviating things like diarrhea and poverty.
Even in our affluent sphere, we can end up desiring respite from everyday life. I won’t even say need because want should be a sufficient defense for engaging in an activity that makes life a little better and harms no one else.
One of the principles of harm reduction is that we should have access to healthier alternatives to behaviors that have higher associated costs (methadone for heroin users, ecigs for smokers, seat belts for drivers, helmets for cyclists) but another is that movement to the safer alternative should be a product of exercising free will and not being coerced.
Harm reduced alternatives are not morally superior. They are simply alternatives to adopt if you prefer their balance of benefits and costs to the original. Not only are you in most cases the one best suited to know which behavior suits you better but In the larger scheme of things, whichever one you choose is nobody’s business but your own.
The Candi Staton song Sure as Sin (not about drugs but about an affair) says it very well: “Ain’t nobody’s business how we carry on….Cause 100 years from now we’ll all be dead and gone. They say I’m not a good woman. That I’m no good for you , Cause I just live it like I feel it. And there ain’t nothing else I can do, cause somebody put an urge inside me to satisfy your kind of man. Just as sure as sin. They call us lowdown and dirty. They even talk behind our backs, but the people are living a lie, just a pot calling the kettle black. But we ain’t gonna worry no we ain’t gonna pretend. Because we were made to be together just as sure as sin”.
We’re all going to die someday and you are not going to get brownie points for not having had that smoke or drink. Its all about choice and for some the correct and best and most pleasurable choice is to abstain but for many that is not true and in death whether you were a user or nonuser of whatever will be irrelevant.