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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Tuesday 12th June 2012


Without being immodest, I have often been complimented on the light-hearted way I write about poisonous plants and psychoactive substances. Those compliments have been applied to the A to Z section of this site, this blog and my book ‘Is That Cat Dead?’

Just for a bit of fun, I tried samples from each of those three at ‘I Write Like’ and was surprised to find all three returned the same modern, humorous American novelist. So it seems that computer software agrees with real people that I treat my subjects with a good measure of levity.

But not today.

Today, this is more likely to turn out as an ill-tempered rant because I have had enough.

I checked to see if the video from a debate entitled ‘Drugs: The War We Never Fought’ held on 16th May was available and it is. The debate was put on by the Institute of Economic Affairs, a think tank that supports free markets. I’m not sure ‘debate’ is the best description for this event because it was a dialogue between Peter Hitchens whose soon to be published book gave the event title and Christopher Snowdon.

I’ve written before about Peter Hitchens (16th & 18th March, 22nd & 24th April) and I’ve always stressed that my wish is to play the ball not the man. I’m even more determined to do that after watching just the first few minutes of the video because, as I’ve said before, Hitchens wants me to insult him. The moderator introduces Hitchens by quoting something he wrote in February about the typical tone of the abuse he receives and how this does not surprise him because, as far as he is concerned, it comes from people he calls the ‘self-stupified’ who aren’t capable of expressing themselves any other way.

I’m not a total believer in the idea of ‘body language’ but the way Hitchens slumps in his chair during the introduction and the contemptuous look on his face are a strong invitation to invective but I will disappoint him by refraining.

I didn’t bother watching what he had to say because it has all been said before and is as wrong as it has always been.

What is very apparent is that Peter Hitchens is interested in only one thing; Peter Hitchens. The worst thing that could possible happen to him would be for the rest of the world to say ‘Peter you are right; we’re going to do exactly what you say’ because that would remove his entire raison d’etre. I’m not interested in why he is like this. You could, probably, write a convincing 500 words explaining that it is all to do with his brother and that, knowing he can never achieve the love and respect afforded to Christopher, he deliberately looks for hate.

Mention of Christopher gives me the chance to mention the other half of this dialogue. I don’t know a great deal about Christopher Snowdon but I’m not that impressed by what I do know.

But it is not the personalities of the two ‘contestants’ that made me angry. Once again, we have what is presented as a serious debate on the topic being in fact two people standing on their respective mountaintops shouting at each other without any hope of their view achieving anything. When writing about Portugal I said that Hughes & Stevens had concluded that ‘debate on issues should take place in the centre where it may be harder to claim clear dominance of one policy over another’.

In that same entry I wrote;

‘At the risk of sounding as though I blame the media for everything, I do think that the notion that news is entertainment has a lot to answer for. TV, especially, wants two people with absolutely fixed views at the extreme opposite ends of any subject to harangue each other and make outrageous claims.’

Now, it seems, it is not just the media. The IEA may claim to be a serious organisation trying to contribute to the determination of public policy but, if it is, it has let itself down badly by staging this farce.

The present control regime for psychoactive substances harms people. Treating it as the opportunity for a knockabout producing nothing of value adds insult to those harms. I think I’m entitled to be angry about that.  

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