It’s time for another Sunday secular morality post. Please feel free to share your opinions in the comments — tell me where I screwed up! — but remember to leave religion out of it. I’ve started a page for this feature; check there for easy reference to earlier discussions.
I personally eschew drugs of most forms, including alcohol. Even caffeine, schoolwork permitting, and even in extreme cases nothing stronger than Mountain Dew. (I had my share of energy drinks in college while pulling all-nighters, and it was gross.) I just really value being aware of my surroundings and my life experiences to the fullest. I want to be able to listen to what my body has to tell me, without some chemical interfering with my understanding of my own needs. I’d rather hang around with people I like than ingest some substance to make me feel more friendly. I’d rather find a way to calm down when I’m nervous, I’d rather sleep when I’m tired, rather than pump myself full of some chemical to suppress those feelings. And I see no reason to actively try to develop a taste for some drug so I can enjoy it socially in moderation; what’s the enjoyment I would supposedly get out of it?
But this all has to do with personal preference. All other things being equal, I don’t see a moral imperative not to take actions which harm only oneself. If you like attending loud rock concerts more than you like having a good sense of hearing, then go right ahead and blast out your eardrums. You might gain some sort of net personal utility out of any number of things I might consider stupid, but it’s your prerogative to assess your own costs and benefits.
That being said, in the case of illegal drugs I do think there is a moral obligation to follow the law. I don’t think there’s any deep, fundamental human right to, e.g., cocaine, so we ought to defer to the democratic will. Advocate for changes to the law if you want them, sure — but respect the law and the democratic process in the meantime.
Even if all drugs were legal, though, I think that most of the drug use that actually happens is immoral because it doesn’t meet the standard I mentioned before — taking actions which harm only oneself. Far too often, drug use puts other people into harm’s way, and “It’s fun for me!” just doesn’t excuse that. I’m not only talking about violent outbursts from drug-induced rages, or car accidents caused by someone driving while intoxicated. An important corollary to my belief that actions can be morally good (or even obligatory) or morally bad (or even impermissible) is that we each have a duty to evaluate our actions and choose the morally superior ones. Using drugs impairs your ability to make rational choices. In fact, while under the influence, your assessment of reality itself is likely to be flawed. Actively throwing away your ability to use moral reasoning practically guarantees that you will be behaving unethically and will hurt others in the process.
I can imagine limited circumstances under which using drugs might still be permissible. They would have to involve precautions against the sort of harms I just talked about: moderation of use; helpful, sober people to watch out for you in particularly dangerous circumstances (e.g. a designated driver), and so on. However, if you factor in the risks associated with addiction — through which your intoxication level itself would no longer be under your rational control, to say nothing of your decision-making abilities while under that intoxication — it seems to me that the use of these potentially addictive substances could not possibly be worth it. That’s why, speaking broadly, I would say that using drugs (including alcohol) is not okay.
Does that sound reasonable to you, or do you think I’m just a teetotaler who doesn’t get it? How have you handled this sort of dilemma in your own life? Let me know in the comments!