Delaying gratification

I’ve been reading Robert McKee’s Story. McKee demonstrates a clarity of thought, and a level of certitude about what makes a good screenplay, that focuses your understanding. It took me a long time to commit, and read this cornerstone of screenwriting theory. I do that a lot, wilfully resist the imperative to do something just because people tell me I should.

I do it with films all the time. There are films I avoid just because people tell me I should see them. I did it with The Lives Of Others. I knew it was good, because everyone I spoke to told me it was good, but delaying its viewing made it all the better. Perhaps because all the hype that surrounded its release has died away, and let me see it with a certain freshness.

It could be that I just wasn’t ready. I have never really seen an Ingmar Bergman film. I know I should, but I have never been able to make that commitment. McKee talks about Bergman a lot. He makes the point that a neophyte audience find Bergman’s films difficult. You need a certain amount of life experience to be able to appreciate them.

The reason I haven’t seen one of his films could be something altogether different. In this world of now, where we get everything in an instant, delaying gratification has become something of an art. It’s the only antidote to the constant demand for our attention. I think it’s good it’s necessary to have something you know will pay dividends when you finally get to it, something that you hold in reserve until it is absolutely the right moment.

So next time you are told about a film you must see, perhaps hold off a while. See how much sweeter it is when you finally get to it.


Why they won’t stop the war on drugs

I read a headline in the Metro last week. “The war on drugs ‘just isn’t working’.” Apparently the Global Commission on Drug Policy has called for the legalisation of drugs. Noted elders argue that “the war on drugs has failed to cut drug usage”. Adding that it has filled jails, cost millions, fuelled organised crime, and caused thousands of deaths.

Despite evidence from Portugal, that problematic drug use and drug related deaths fall when drugs are decriminalise, they decriminalised drugs in 2001, a Home Office spokesman said they were going to ignore the report. “We have no intention of liberalising our drugs laws. Drugs are illegal because they are harmful. They destroy lives.”

I am not surprised by the Home Office’s attitude, it’s the patronising parental attitude always displayed, the blinkered vision that completely ignores the reality of drug use in the country.

DrugScope, the UK’s leading independent centre of expertise on drugs, “estimated that over 11 million people aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales have used illicit drugs in their lifetime”. That’s about 6% of the population. They estimate there 6408 drug related deaths between 2000 and 2004. In that same period there were anywhere between 25,000 and 200,000 alcohol related deaths.

The “drugs are harmful” mantra is repeated ad infinitum, as if repeating it makes it more true. It doesn’t, and not because drugs can’t cause harm, they plainly can, it’s because the “drugs are harmful” mantra masks the real reason drugs are illegal.

Drug prohibition isn’t about public health it’s about public control. I’ll say it again, it’s not about public health, it’s about public control. Think back to World War One, the government imposed closing times on the public houses, so munitions workers would go back to work in the afternoon. The government imposed limited prohibition to control its workers. Not because of fears for their health, but to get them back to work.

What’s the difference between that, and the laws that stop people dropping an “E” at the weekend? Ecstasy is a Class A drug because dropping an “E” at the weekend might interfere with your work on Monday.

If prohibition was about public health, they’d ban tobacco. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man. Its use causes no end of health problems, from heart disease, to strokes, lung cancer, to tumours. Ash, the anti-smoking charity, estimate there are 12 million smokers in the UK. That’s about 7% of the population. DrugScope estimate “that each year in the UK around 114,000 people die from tobacco-related diseases”. Yet you can walk into any corner shop, buy a packet, light up, and get high.

Cigarettes are proof, if proof were needed, that prohibition is not about public health, it’s about public control. Prohibition is a panacea of public control for governments around the world. It’s a device nations use to endo-colonize their population. Endo-colonization is a term coined by French cultural theorist Paul Virilio. In his text of Pure War he describes the general militarisation of society, in which economies, unable to expand by colonising other countries, start to colonise their own population. The state, in the form of a civilian military, that’s the police, have “come to settle among and establish political control over (the indigenous people of an area)”.

Drugs is not a public health issue, drugs is a civil liberties issue, and we should demand our freedom to take drugs if we so wish. I say legalise the lot. Regulate them the way we regulate cigarettes. From cocaine to tobacco, you should be able to walk into a chemist, order your desired brand, at your preferred strength, and go enjoy yourself for a few hours, without fear of retribution from the state.

The war on drugs is a war on freedom, and should be condemned as antithetical to an individual’s human rights.

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