RhetoricalAnalysis: Four Points About Drug Decriminalization
Aristotle, as one of the greatest philosophers and scholars of alltimes, developed a model to assess the level of persuasiveness in agiven piece of communication. The model identified the three primarymodes of persuasion as ethos, logos, and pathos. Accordingly, pathosseeks to evoke certain emotions through what the communicator says.Logos is the appeal to logic and is achieved by presenting the truthand supporting proof. Evidence may be submitted in the form of dataor technical information such as examples. The third mode ofpersuasion is ethos, which relates to the character and credibilityof the speaker or author. Another method commonly used irony as ithelps emphasize points raised. Based on the understanding of thesemethods of persuasion, this paper looks at how well a paper presentedat the Annual Meeting of the American Philosophical Association’sEastern Division in Philadelphia, on 29th December 2002 byDouglas Husak titled “Four Points About Drug Decriminalization”aptly employs them. In doing so, the paper also reveals that theauthor relies more on logos to support decriminalization of drugs.
As aforementioned, pathos implies appealing to emotions. Husakrecognizes the sensitivity of the issue of drug use and the criminaljustice system in the US. He brings these two issues together byciting the number of incarcerated drug offenders which is a highnumber by any standards. However, he fails to capitalize on thisopportunity to juxtapose these figures to that of any country in theworld. Contemporary views claim that the US has one of the highestrates of incarceration in the world. At the same time, the authorapproximates that 80-90 million people have used illicit drugs atleast once in their lives. Ideally, the author seeks to imply thatdrug use is a relatively common habit among Americans andcriminalizing it would mean incarcerating even a bigger number ofpeople. Thus, he succeeds in showing that drug use is a widespreadproblem and criminalizing the behavior is not a sustainable solution.He thus opines that “The best reason not to criminalize drug use isthat, no argument in favor of criminalizing drug use is any good- noargument is sufficient to justify criminalization" (Husak, 2003,p. 23).
Husak insinuates that the law decriminalizing drug use is illegal asit contravenes some basic human freedoms. For the greatest democracyon earth, the individual rights and freedoms of Americans arefiercely guarded and treasured. Thus, any policy or law thatinfringes on these rights should not be entertained. Husak cites theCalifornian law on nitrous oxide that makes it a crime for any personto possess the drug with the sole intention of using it forintoxication or any other process that interferes with mentalprocesses (2003, p. p. 23). He believes that such a law directlylimits individual freedom of thought thereby labeling it asunconstitutional. For a population that has invested emotionally andpsychologically in the freedoms of the nation, such a revelation islikely to evoke anger against the government and such laws.Furthermore, laws on drug use seem to affect African Americans andminorities more compared to their white counterparts.
The author criticizes his work and weakness of his project to portrayhis human side and even seek empathy. He does this by saying that his“best reason to decriminalize drug use” is “necessarilyinconclusive” (Husak, 2003, p. 23). He explains that the currentscenario puts him at a disadvantage because he is always forced todefend his case which is a negative. He thus borrows from Hume bysaying that he is “fighting in the dark” because proponents ofcriminalizing drug use have not made their basis for taking such astand (23). Therefore, he appeals to proponents of criminalizing druguse to explain their reasons for taking such a stand so that he canrespond.
The preface of the article provides the author`s credibility andqualifications. This alone informs the audience that the author hasthe needed expertise and recognition among his peers to address thetopic. Most importantly, he is identified as the “lead presenter”and a “preeminent philosophical critic of the legal status quo”(Husak 2003, p. 21). Further to that, he is an accomplished authorand professor of philosophy at Rutgers University. While his academiccredentials are not listed, it can be assumed that his authorityalone as a university professor qualifies him as a scholar.
Despite a lack of interest from other scholars in addressing thetopic, Husak has openly encouraged scholars to look into the issue ofdrug decriminalization to promote better theories. Consequently, hehas continually raised the issue of decriminalization of drugs in hisundergraduate classes and discussed it with his students (Husak 2003,p. 21). This way, he can broaden the discussion and enrich itscontent. Furthermore, participating in the symposium as a leadpresenter offers him a higher platform to argue for his case thatdecriminalizing drug use is not effective in fighting this menace.
The author seeks to capture his bravery in tackling a topic that manyphilosophers shy to address. He makes it a point to show that he isalmost alone in pushing for decriminalization of drug use from aphilosophical point of view. From the beginning, he says that manyphilosophers tend to avoid any topic such as drug use because of thelarge empirical component involved. He also cites his desperation inlacking an excellent book or article in philosophy that makes aplausible case for punishing drug users. He writes, “When I amasked to recommend the best book or article that makes aphilosophically plausible case of punishing drug users, I amembarrassed to say that I have little to suggest” (Husak, 2003, p.23). In doing so, the author somehow seeks to be excused from failingto cite other supporting arguments by other philosophers ondecriminalizing drug use.
He desires other scholars to assess various philosophical principleson drug decriminalization to find a new way forward. He says, “Asphilosophers, I think we should be more interested in examiningarguments of principle" (Husak, 2003, p. 22). It is thesephilosophical principles that inform numerous views and laws insociety but have not been applied on the legalization of drugs byscholars. As such, Husak comes out as a pioneer in the field and thathe is determined to revolutionize how the drug problem is tackled nomatter the challenges pioneers face.
The paper is largely based on the logos approach in delivering aconvincing argument. By appealing to logos, which translates tological reasoning, the author acknowledges that his audience iswell-educated and capable of reasoning logically. To succeed ininducing logical reasoning in the audience, one must bring to thefore the most relevant information and invite the people to digest itrather than processing it for them explicitly (Dowden 2011).Additionally, one must first express reasons and how they are causedbefore making any conclusions.
For Husak, the plan is simple. First, he provides figures of peoplewho have used illicit drugs and offenders who are in jail to capturethe audience’s attention. He approximates that about 80-90 millionindividuals have used prohibited drugs at some point in life, andmore than 400,000 are in prison for drug-related offenses (Husak,2003, p. 21). By any standards, that is a significant number ofpeople. Furthermore, by having such a large number of people servingtime in prison, it not only lowers the number of people economicallyengaged in the country but also increases the tax burden on thetaxpayer. Thus, it goes without saying that it is more desirable inany given system to have the smallest number of incarceratedindividuals.
Secondly, he cites California’s statute relating to the control ofthe use of Nitrous Oxide. He says that the law criminalizespossession of the substance with the aim of inhalation forintoxication purposes or other means that affect mental processes(Husak, 2003, p. 23). He acknowledges that such a statute does notrequire further elaboration to note that it is wrong. The statue doesnot seem to oppose the drug in its entirety but rather the outcomesof using the drug that somehow infringes on human freedoms. This way,the author is inviting his audience to scrutinize such laws morecritically. In one way or another, he is sowing seeds of a newapproach in the fight against drugs.
Thirdly, Husak claims that the harm principle in philosophy supportsdecriminalization of drugs. He says that the harm principle onlyhelps punishment if the outcome hurts others. The punishment processmust also compensate those harmed by such crimes. In the case of druguse, the most affected persons are the user and not others. Based onthis argument, drug users should be compensated in various ways asopposed to being jailed. Cases of drugs affecting others are mostlyexaggerated. He provides an example of work of fiction in which druguse turned users into homicidal monsters, such as the drug thatturned Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. Essentially, if such drugs exist,then there are strong grounds for criminalizing them as they haveadverse effects on humanity (Husak, 2003, p. 24). Given that there isa significant number of people who use illegal drugs, then it wouldmean that the harm principle is not met and the compensationrequirement is also not feasible.
Fourthly, he uses experiences from European countries, such asNetherlands, to show how punishing of drug users does not reduce druguse (Husak, 2003 p. 27). He also cites numerous surveys involvingpeople that have never used drugs that have indicated thatincarceration or fear of punishment does not deter drug use. Thus, itis illogical to fight this menace with a method that does not bearresults. According to Dowden (2011), a cause-effect analysis, asrequired of logical thinking, is necessary for designing solutions toexisting problems. Therefore, in the case of drugs, it would requiregovernment policymakers to investigate what causes people to engagein drugs and then seek ways of fighting these motivators to drug use.
Husak has employed a lot of irony in the essay. Irony emphasizescertain points that the author wishes to make. Ideally, his mainargument is that criminalizing drugs does not yield desired results.First, he says that people support the idea that punishing drug usersreduces use. On there contrary, there has been a reduction in the useof decriminalized drugs such as tobacco and cigarettes (Husak, 2003,p. 27). The fall in the use of tobacco and cigarettes can beattributed to public awareness campaigns and other measures that donot seek to punish users necessarily. Thus, it is ironical that theuse of illegal drugs remains high despite the prohibition.
Secondly, Husak notes the irony in making drugs inaccessible or tooexpensive in America. He notes that in European teenagers have accessto cheaper and higher quality drugs than their American counterpartsbut consume significantly lower amounts (Husak, 2003, p. 27). Thus,the author emphasizes the vanity of the current measures thatcriminalize drugs and have not achieved desired results.
Thirdly, Husak compares criminalization of narcotics to theprohibition of pizza (2003, p. 29). First of all, by using theexample of pizza, he captures the attention of the audience andcontinues to expound on this to highlight the absurdity of banningdrugs. He argues that banning pizza would not be a solution tofighting obesity. Fighting obesity would require engaging with theobese people on the best way to lose weight. Thus, it is ironicalthat the government is not only banning pizza but also punishingthose who consume pizza.
Even more ironical is the fact that approaches used are not tied toresults. Albert Einstein once stated, “Insanity is doing the samething over and over again and expecting different results” (Quotes2016). This is the same argument that the author is selling to hisaudience. He states that criminalizing drugs and punishing drug usershave been used over the years but have not achieved the desiredresults (Husak 2003, p. 26-27). For Husak, decriminalizing drugsrepresents a different approach and holds the ultimate solution tothe drug menace in amerce.
All in all, it is clear that Husak has raised some thought provokingideas to his audience. He not only criticizes the current approach tothe drug problem but also proposes a different approach and supportsit accordingly. It is also evident that the author recognizes theeducation level and interest of his audience as he strategicallyemploys logos noting that his audience can think rationally throughhis points. He also uses irony to emphasize points and provokethinking as desired.
Brainy Quotes(2016). Albert Einstein. Retrieved from
Dowden, B.(2011). Logical reasoning. Boston: Penguin.
Husak, D. (2003).Four Points About Drug Decriminalization. In Legalize This! thecase for
decriminalizingdrugs, London: Verso 2002.