Great drug debate results Fact Checking The Great Drugs Debate

This week a number of big names (and Peter Hitchens) joined for a marathon debate on the motion that “it’s time to end the war on drugs”. Those debating included:

 Juan Manuel Santos (current President of Colombia), Vicente Fox (former President of Mexico), Antonio Maria Costa (former Executive Director of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime), Jeffery Robertson QC, Misha Glenny, Richard Branson (speaking as part of the Global Commission on Drugs on behalf of 15 ex South American Presidents), Russell BrandJohann HariElliot Spitzer (former Governor or New York), Barry McCafferty (former director of US National Drug Policy Control), Ed VulliamyDr. Theodore DalrympleSandeep Chawla (Deputy Executive Director UN Office for Drugs and Crime), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Former President of Brazil, Head of Global Commission on Drugs), Dr. Bernard Koucher (Former French Foreign Minister, Former French Health Minister), David Eaglemen (Neuroscientist), Geoffrey Robertson (Human Rights Lawyer), Julian Assange (Wikileaks).

I have transcribed the key quotes from both sides to encourage fact checking and to help establish a public record. I’ve attached the relavent source materials where applicable – if you would like to add a source or post a rebuttal to a factual point, just transcribe and source appropriately in the comment section and I’ll paste the info in. Only strictly evidence-based rebuttals will be included.

Current President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos begun the debate by describing: the very high cost Colombia has paid for the war on drugs:

“We have lost our best judges, our best journalists, our best politicians, our best policeman, our best soldiers but this problem has not disappeared”.

Misha Glenny followed:

“Drugs are more available than ever and more powerful than ever”. He describes how Mexican narco-traffickers wish the prohibition to continue to participate in an illegal unregulated market because this type of market is so profitable. Glenny describes how according to UN estimates, to prevent drugs being profitable we would have to block 75% of the trade, the current estimate is between 20% and 30%.

Antonio Maria Costa Former Executive Director, UN Office of Drugs and Crime fought back:

Arguing that the illegal drugs market is smaller than it would be if drugs were legal and described his fear that pharmaceutical companies would cash in if drugs were legalised.

Misha Glenny later rebuked this point: “Before the other side gets too carried away attacking big pharma and big corporations, let us not forget Plan Colombia, a plan to deliver $1 billion a year from the US to Colombia to bring down the Cocaine trade. Of that £1 billion a year, $750,000,000 never left the US. It was instead given to companies such as Lockhead Martin and other big companies who then went on to make a fortune out of the war on drugs.”

Jeffery Robertson QC pointed out:

Quoting one of Costa’s own recent reports that stated that “250,000,000 people take illicit drugs and less than 10% have any problems which means about 225,000,000 people take drugs for pleasure or to relieve pain” without issue.

Richard Branson speaking as part of the Global Commission on Drugs on behalf of 15 ex South American Presidents:

Described how the war on drugs is “an unmitigated failure” and how “in Portugal 10 years ago they decriminalised drugs and they have reduced the number of heroin addicts by 50%”…, “they have managed to stop an enormous amount of people breaking and entering”, “the number of people under 18 taking drugs has gone down for all drugs”. The most important thing is there is a no sign of a major increase

Read the Global Commission on Drugs report in full below (PDF), read a further detailed analysis of the Portuguese situation here.

Russell Brand describes how (by criminalising drugs):

“You exacerbate and enhance the problem, I am a recovering drug addict and I know that drug addiction is an illness it is a disease, so by crimanalising that, you criminalise a large section of the population, you malign them and stigmatise them, you generate more crime, you create a criminal culture and speaking from the perspective of a sufferer, it’s simply not helpful”.

Vicente Fox, Former President of Mexico (2000):

Once described the war on drugs as the “mother of all battles” but now believes that it is “most urgent that we stop the war that has got 60,000 young kids killed.. among them many innocents, among them hundreds of policeman and hundreds in the military… the loss and the cost is incredible, the fear, the loss of hope for the future. This has put a heavy economic burden on the nation, the loss of tourism, the loss of foreign investment, the loss of our pace of growth. When I was president, the economy was 25% larger than the Brazilian (economy), today the Brazilian economy is 50% larger than the Mexican economy”.

Robertson QC, comments how Mexico was placed under:

“pressure from the White house, in 2006 not to decriminalise small amounts of cocaine or cannabis”

Mexico Drug War Map Fact Checking The Great Drugs Debate

Click for interactive map of Mexico's drug war*

*Health warning: Mexican authorities have been accused of “under-reporting homicides and manipulating the data“.

Johann Hari:

“When you criminalise a really popular substance it doesn’t vanish, you transfer control from doctors and pharmacists to armed criminal gangs.. which are absolutely on the side of the war on drugs”. Hari describes how the head of Mafia Cruenza, one of the largest old drug cartels was caught on wire-tap stating his view that “this war is an absolute sham which keeps all of us in business”. Hari goes on to state that “any country which enforces the war on drugs has a significant rise in homicide rate, after alcohol prohibition ended in the US, the homicide rate fell by 20% and never rose to the same level until prohibition was enforced in the 70′s. China is currently detaining half a million addicts in what are effectively Gulags, torture is absolutely widespread.. that’s the face of the war on drugs in the largest country in the world.. Russia has the fastest rising HIV rate in the world because when you crack down on heroin addicts, they hide their needles, they don’t throw them away – they share them. The war on drugs is the biggest friend the HIV virus ever had”

Elliot Spitzer, former Governor or New York leads the debate against the motion along with Barry McCafferty, former director of US National Drug Policy Control:

Responding with the claim that they have reduced drug consumption by a third over the past three decades. Both Spitzer and McCafferty emphatically claim they “we do not incarcerate just for use, it is the violence that attends that use that sends people to jail” but admit a “discracefully high encarceration rate, 2.1 million people behind bars”. They admit that they estimate 80% of people behind bars have a drug problem but completely ignore the argument that this is a result of prohibition.

Misha Glenny later directly accuses Spitzer and McCafferty of outright lying, asserting “that the number of people arrested in 2009 (in the US) for non-violent drug offences was 1,600,000″.

Ed Vulliamy:

Continues Spitzer’s staggering ability to ignore all the arguments addressed so far, stating “the one thing that stands a chance of throttling all the misery” is to address drug profits through the banking system. He appeals to the audience shouting he wants to see “the bankers in the cells” but in a double act that has clearly been well perfected beforehand a grinning Spitzer interrupts him so he doesn’t have to provide any explanation of how this could ever work in practice.

Dr. Theodore Dalrymple (former prison doctor):

Challenges the idea that the relationship between crime and drugs is as simple as presented, arguing that the crime rate in Portugal has increased (Dalyrymple later cites Eurostat for this claim. Eurostat note that over the same period, comparable countries such as Italy and Spain have also seen rises in crime, suggesting that the rise in crime in general is not related to drug use.)

Sandeep Chawla, Deputy Executive Director UN Office for Drugs and Crime:

States that “while crime rates may come down, public health costs would go up”. In a spectacular failure to understand the notion of a debate, Chawla both ignores the fact that his statement about crime directly conflicts with his compadre Dalyrymple’s statement a moment earlier and goes on to blindly ignore all of the prior evidence based discussion about public health costs to the contrary. Chawla makes the good point that there is a prescription drug epidemic in the US but negates this with the weird argument that “tobacco use has gone up” when this is patently not the case.

Peter Hitchens enters the debate with a stream of bile and bigotry vilifying drug users and calls Russel Brand a “selfish kid”. Hitchens argues the case with Brand and shows his true colours (just in case we didn’t know them already).

Antonio Maria Costa Former Executive Director, UN Office on Drugs and Crime:

“Stop all drugs wars.. In 2012, we celebrate a dreadful anniversary.. 150 years from the end of the Opium wars. When the west, our countries, forced China to consume drugs. At that time, greedy investors, it was the East India Company as you recall, wanted to make money by poisoning the Chinese with Opium. China opposed this, our countries won the war and forced the Chinese to consume drugs for a century, tens of million died in China from addiction, war and famine. The tragedy of drug legalisation we forced on China dwarfed what is happening in Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia etc. To conclude, when I hear drug investors in Europe and North America advocating drug legalisation behind the fig leaves of a campaign to stop the war on drugs I cringe and I say stop all drugs wars whether fought by bullets or by bombs, investors greed can be as harmful as Mafias guns. Drugs have come from both sides of the aisle, therefore vote no, against this motion.” This is a strange argument to make in the context of the modern day situation for a number of reasons, notably the East India Company was effectively a front for the British imperial government of that era.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Former President of Brazil, Head of Global Commission on Drugs:

I was surprised when hearing the previous case (Antonio Maria Costa) because in our case in Latin America.. people have been killed by the war on drugs, it is a complete failure of what the war was supposed to do – control cartels, as the president of Colombia just said before me. Our democracy is being undermined by powerful cartels.. We must explore legal and social models of regulation of drugs.. The point is that in Portugal they are being successful in reducing the number of people that are using drugs”.

Dr. Bernard Koucher, Former French Foreign Minister, Former French Health Minister:

“We have lost the war on drugs.. the drug consumers are more numerous and the consumption is higher.. we acted the same way against alcohol and tobacco, what was the result? Alcohol consumers were not so high after the end of prohibition, we had to enforce the mafia and we did, it was a stupid war. It has taken 40 years to convince anyone we are right about Tobacco but now (we have), it must be under the control of the state.”

David Eaglemen, Neuroscientist:

“What’s clear is the reason that we are losing the war on drugs is because we are attacking supply and that’s like a water balloon, if you press it down on one place it comes back somewhere else. We need to be addressing demand, the brain of the addict. At this point we know a great deal about the circuitry and the pharmacology of the addict’s brain. There are familiar pharmacological treatmets that obstruct the effect of the drug - you can block the high.. you can recruit the immune system to sop up the drug and there are new methods that use real time feedback via brain imaging… we can train a person how to deal with the craving. We could do a great deal with neuroscience with that money (the $40,000,000,000 spent on the war on drugs in America last year).”

Geoffrey Robertson, Human Rights Lawyer quoted former opposition candidates who have changed their views since winning office:

David Cameron: “I beg the labour government not to return to the war on drugs”

(House of Commons, 5th December 2002)

Barack Obama: “The war on drugs is an utter failure”. Before he became president and dedicated $40,000,000,000 a year to fighting it.

Julian Assange, Wikileaks (Via video link from house arrest):

“Any situation that has clearly come to an impart where there is a clear failure needs experimentation and trials with models around the world and there have been steps to do that but we have seen that the US through it’s diplomatic force has been exercising it’s force to prevent these trials.”

View the relavent cables here.

“We must have basic principles.. we as individuals have a right to our own self determination, we have the right to freedom of thought, we have the right to freedom of speech, provided we do not engage in some sort of violence to others, these are our rights to do what we will with our own thoughts and own bodies and this is sacrosanct. The state should not intervene with these rights. In order to keep our freedom of thought we should have the right to control our own mental states. (Drugs) give some people extra creativity and this is something that we need accross the world. We should look to marijuana as an example, this is a drug that is about as addictive as potatoes, yet it has been swept up in to this war on drugs. We have to remember we really do have a war on drugs and like all wars it is irrational, it is a raquet and there are industries that fight and lobby to keep the money flowing.”

References:

Jahangir, A. Fuentes, C. Gaviria, C. Zedillo, E. Cardoso, F. Papandreou, G. Shultz, G. Solana, J. Whitehead, J. Annan, K. Arbour, L. Cattaui, M. Llosa, M. Caspers-Merk,M. Kazatchkine,M. Volcker, P. Branson, R. Dreifuss, R. Stoltenberg, T. (2011). War On Drugs. Report Of The Global Commission On Drug Policy. (PDF)

HUGHES, C., & STEVENS, A. (2012). A resounding success or a disastrous failure: Re-examining the interpretation of evidence on the Portuguese decriminalisation of illicit drugs Drug and Alcohol Review, 31 (1), 101-113 DOI: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2011.00383.x

Eurostat: Portugal Crime Figures (PDF)

Return to Neurobonkers.com Fact Checking The Great Drugs Debate
  • Anonymous

    Elliot Spitzer used a couple of really dirty tactics during this debate. Firstly (I don’t know if this is technically “wrong” or not), he seemed to be desperately pushing an appeal to emotion by constantly associating any problem mentioned with kids (at around 32 mins in, “coming back to kids in particular”). There’s a few other points in this bit where he does much the same thing. Then there’s a point later on (again this may just be my qualms with his debating skills) where he’s speaking with Steve Rolles and badgering him into a black or white answer with regards to whether or not some form of black market would still exist under a regulated market. This one (around 1 h 42m in, “Yes or no, would there still be a black market?”) seemed particularly wrong, like he was simply trying to goad the witness into appearing to say something that he hadn’t.
    As for what your actually after, you seem to of hit all the major points I noticed during the debate. I’d personally be most interested at looking into the claims made with regards to Portugal and how things have changed for them in the past decade. Also it would be nice to see the actual figures regarding the back and forth about American people imprisoned for non-violent drug crimes. 
    Of course there is also the huge myriad of glaring errors in the babble that spilled from Hitchen’s foul orifice but then frankly, dealing with that man’s bile is waste of precious braincells. I’m still not exactly sure what he brought to the table in this debate?

    • http://twitter.com/PolicyChange Change the World

      It’s not wrong to use an appeal to emotion, it’s arguably one of the most effective arguing tactics. People who are emotional do not rationalise well. It’s certainly fighting dirty though. Don’t forget, he is a lawyer, and a pretty goddamn good one at that. His job is to bend the evidence to fit his argument. 
      I also noticed he worked hard to create a straw man regarding legalisation. I don’t think anyone on the reform side wants to see freely advertised drugs, but a regulated market. The prohibition side really pushed this false dichotomy and I though it was a real shame that Steve Rolles was the only person to refute this properly.

    • http://twitter.com/TransformDrugs TransformDrugPolicy

       I was actually fine for Spitzer to cross examine me – gave me an opportunity to make a couple of useful points. i think i came off the winner from the little exchange – but I guess im not completely objective.   cheers, Steve

      • http://twitter.com/PolicyChange Change the World

        I thought that cross-examination really backfired for spitzer – definitely a congratulations in order for you steve!

  • http://twitter.com/TransformDrugs TransformDrugPolicy

    Good summary – shame you didn’t mention Transform’s contribution – although I guess since it was essentially theoretical – stating what regulation is and isn’t (knocking down a few of the prohibitionist straw men) – I guess it doesn’t require fact checking as such.

    • http://neurobonkers.com Neurobonkers

      Indeed, this is far from a complete transcript, I’m hoping anything important that I’ve missed can be crowd-sourced. Are you able to deliver a transcript?

      My main aim was to record the statements of the current and former world leaders, drug tzars etc. so that any scholars looking to verify a quote taken from the talk that they read somewhere else can find this page using google and quickly verify that the information is correct. I know from experience that there is nothing more infuriating than seeing a perfect quote in a newspaper or online that is attributed to someone but being unable to verify it so therefore being left unable to cite the quote academically. For this reason I’ve prioritised the quotes from the public figures who so rarely appear in public speaking candidly about this topic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=689087836 William Trew Merrick

    At 29:30 minutes, Elliot Spitzer makes the point that ‘We [the USA] do not jail people for the drug use, but for the associated crimes’

    …then why have the drug possession laws? Breaking and entering, etc. are crimes, and trying to bust them up through the banks will be so long and costly.

    do away with the possession laws and you get rid of the fear that addicts have, the market throttles the cartels, and you can still do all of the treatment, banking system stuff, etc.

    the proper way to reduce use is not threatening people- use the carrot, not the stick.

    Circa 36:30, “continue to prosecute those who distribute and grow” …??? Grow what? Barley and Hops? Or Marijuana? The insistence on this argument to rely on empirics will make it go on forever- everyone can find studies to say anything, this is why a principled compass must guide us in places where the map is not understood.

    The cartels are where they are because of the laws against production. Duh.

    You can reduce use with targeted programs- communities can do this best. Duh.

    Yes, everyone is responsible for their own selves. Some “selfish kid” smoking pot in an American suburb does not support a mexican cartel, but some hippy who grew something in hydroponics. Duh.

    So many silly arguments to upkeep the ultimate contradiction that there is such a thing as consent of the governed…

  • Mario Martinez

    Excellent debate; Spitzer was fantastic, the best single debater, but the other side was overall more compelling. Hari, Rolles, and the French lady were quite compelling as well. I would hope this evolves into a list of verified misconstructions and lies. I would hypothesize that the “against” side lied more, because the evidence seems to be stacked against that stance.

  • http://twitter.com/thepoisongarden John Robertson

    I think Hitchens intended to be villified at the debate so he could go back to his audience and ‘prove’ how nasty reformers are. This http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2116459/Angry-gay-marriage-Mr-Slippery-SO-happy.html is his latest column and the fourth item is a condensed version of this blog piece http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2012/03/on-being-insulted-by-experts-and-non-experts-and-my-evening-with-russell-brand.html

    That interactive map of homicides in Mexico should be used with care. The ‘Drug War Homicides’ and ‘Total Homicides’ come from different sources and, in some places there are more of the former which cannot be. Diego Valle did a huge amount of work but it shows how hard it is to really know what is going on. 

    • http://neurobonkers.com Neurobonkers

      ..and possibly to promote his new book. Hopefully his appearance will have had the opposite effect, although unfortunately somehow I find that unlikely.

      Thanks for the Mexico info, have attached a “health warning”.

  • http://www.stopthewarondrugs.org Gart Valenc

    To avoid misinterpretations, I want to start by saying that I am in favour of Legalising & Regulating the whole chain of the drugs market; that is, not just the demand but the supply of ALL drugs, too. 

    I watched the whole debate and have to say found the format utterly frustrating. Too many voices trying to put their half truths and half lies across, and too little time to discuss and refute them properly. Quality (of both arguments and exposition) is what matters, not quantity. 

    It seems to me that the fact that 15% of the audience (the “don’t know” section) made their minds up in favour of continuing with Prohibition and the War on Drugs is a clear indication that those in the Drug Reform Movement need to think harder on how to debate the issue and how to win the hearts and minds of those who “don’t know” what to think about Prohibition and the so-called War on Drugs. Preaching to the converted is not good enough!

    Gart Valenc
    Twitter: @gartvalenc

  • http://twitter.com/C_Uniform Charlie Uniform

    Interesting reading. As a serving police officer I often deal with drugs and drug users. With the exception of those who sell and/or cultivate drugs many of them aren’t bad people, simply those who have made mistakes and ended up in not particularly desirable situations.

    Unfortunately I’ve been in situations where I’ve had no choice other than to arrest drug users. One such scenario was when I stopped a man who had been smoking (and had on him) cannabis and didn’t understand what was happening to him. I explained several times that I could give him a street caution and he would be allowed to leave, but he was confused and wanted to see a solicitor in police custody. Despite everything I tried to explain to him I was forced to arrest him and, to the reluctance of the custody Sergeant at the station, he was placed in our cells overnight.

    Going against him, he was on a motorbike when I stopped him and his mate sped off, leaving him with a tupperware box full of weed that he planned on selling on. However he wasn’t known to the p0lice for violence or dishonest offences (such as theft) and in all honesty he seemed an alright guy.

    It’s unfortunate but being in the job I have to enforce all the laws and not just the ones I agree with.

  • http://www.stopthewarondrugs.org Gart Valenc

    To avoid misinterpretations, I would like to start by saying that I am
    in favour of Legalising & Regulating the whole chain of the drugs market; that is,
    not just the demand but the supply of ALL drugs, too. 

    I watched the whole debate and have to say found the format utterly frustrating. Too many voices trying to get their half truths and half lies
    across, and too little time to discuss and refute them properly. Quality (of both arguments and exposition) is what matters, not quantity. 

    It seems to me that the fact that 15% of the audience (the “don’t
    know” section) made their minds up in favour of continuing with
    Prohibition and the War on Drugs is a clear indication that those in the Drug
    Reform Movement need to think harder on how to debate the issue and how to win
    the hearts and minds of those who “don’t know” what to think about
    Prohibition and the so-called War on Drugs. Preaching to the converted is not
    good enough!

    Gart Valenc
    Twitter: @gartvalenc

    • http://twitter.com/TransformDrugs TransformDrugPolicy

      A problem was that neither side was coordinated. Transform did attempt to organise some coordination so that we could syncronise messaging and not step on each otheres toes but we only managed to meet with Hari. The line up was rapidly changing and many of the speakers were inaccessible to us. The nature of the format also meant we werent really able to rebut or cross examine – so many of the straw men were left unchallenged. We also didnt know how much time we would have or whether we would get another bite of the cherry. So whilst I take your point remember this wasnt our show – we were fitting into a google+ marketing excercise as best we could so dont read too much into it. generally i thin the messaging of the movement is getting better and more nuanced. In the event I think it was a net positive.

  • London_Lad

    God, you people are so immature and facile. Even the heading of your article belies your supposed intelligence: ‘big names…. and Peter Hitchens’ (cue laughter and frothing at the mouth).

    The exchange between Brand & Hitchens was embarrassing, not through any fault of Hitchens, but because of the inability of Brand to reason. Hitchens teases him over his hat – the response is a philippic attacking against him personally. Correction to the authour of this facile article: Hitchens didn’t capriciously call the man a ‘selfish kid’; the point that Hitchens was making was that any action has ultimate recourse to ourselves as we are the sole architects of our decisions and pursuits – he candidly asks Brand whether he his responsible for his own actions? Why?

    Brand beguiles the semi-intelligent because he’s so garrulous and a bit of a polyglot, but the essence of what he said was singular: that I’m not responsible for my own actions, that I’m merely a passive agent and that ultimate recourse falls upon wider society. I’m not having that – and Hitchens brought him to town: he laid down succinctly – no verbose like in Brand’s case – the absurdity of externalising your own actions, hence the accusation of him being childish. (Children are the responsibility of adults; Brand thinks of himself as a child with ultimate responsibility being wider society or the state).

    The laughter of the audience from Brand’s puerility left me gobsmacked: I couldn’t believe the grimacing from the crowd as Brand laid into his diatribe. So deeply saddening.

    The next time the man appears in the discussion, to talk about morality, induced laughter from the audience and the mere mention of the word – my God, that sent chills down my spine. Who the hell were this audience?

    Incidentally, this wasn’t a debate -there were far, far too many people – it was almost an exercise in self-flagellation: a showing how smart and intelligent we all because of the principle of the thing. Need fewer people next time.

    • http://twitter.com/Neuro_Skeptic Neuroskeptic

      You seem to like the word ‘facile’. It doesn’t mean what you think it means (arguments can be facile, people can’t). Neither does ‘polyglot’ (it means someone who speaks multiple languages, not someone who talks a lot.)

      But more importantly, what do any of your… remarks… have to do with drugs?

      • London_Lad

         Dear oh dear, looks like we have a pettifogger on our hands. No my friend:

        fac·ile/ˈfasəl/

        (esp. of a theory or argument) Appearing neat and comprehensive by ignoring the complexities of an issue; superficial.(of a person) Having a superficial or simplistic knowledge or approach.

        I know the meaning of the words I use thank you very much.

        I meant polysyllabic, not polyglot. Christ Almighty, pretentious logomachies are something I’d hope to have left behind at High School.

        I haven’t made a case either way, my comments were direct at the debate itself: the way it was handled, the way it was presented, the way some individuals were treated, and the general ethos of the entire thing. I’m not going to present an argument either way: I’m not equipped with the necessary knowledge (and I doubt the vast majority commenting here are either); I can, however, pass comment on the structure of the discussion. It wasn’t a good debate: there were far too many people, some of questionable ability / discipline; it was more an exercise in self-flagellation.

        • http://neurobonkers.com Neurobonkers

          “Polysyllabic”  doesn’t make sense in that context either.

          • London_Lad

             I would have worded it differently. Get off the semantics, seriously, it does you no favours.

          • Compass

            people laughed at hitchens speaking of morality because they know his occupation as ENTIRELY DEVOID of morality. 

        • http://twitter.com/Neuro_Skeptic Neuroskeptic

          “pretentious”
          “logomachies”

          “Pot”
          “Kettle”

          Look, you clearly have a high opinion of yourself, and, well, everyone is entitled to their opinion; but that’s the only thing that’s clear about what you’ve written.

          What are you actually trying to say about the debate in question? “it was more an exercise in self-flagellation” – by Brand? Hitchens? Both? The audience? The chair? And what does that actually mean?

          The thing about words, as you should have learned in High School, is they only make sense when they express a thought.

          • London_Lad

             Spare me the repartee’s please.

            Clearly you’re an aggressive man so let me be blunt:

            The debate was an exercise in self-flagellation – that isn’t a rarefied term – because it seemed to me to be nothing more than a showcase for a wide variety of experts, a panoply of experts infact, but to such an extent that none of them were able to offer a detailed or substantial exposition of their points; in short, there were too many eggs in one basket. It was form over substance.

            Secondly the entire thing was far too long (a little over two hours, I believe); the debate would have been better served if it housed only a third of the participants spread over two one hour segments, each of which focused on one particular topic. The way in which the debate was structured meant it was desultory and vacuous: short bursts of opinion from one expert abutted by another. It meandered.

            Thirdly, there were questionable individuals of questionable ability – you cite Hitchen, well, that highlights your own prejudice more than anything else: you clearly don’t like the man and not many people do. Get over it. The questionable individuals were the likes of Branson, Assange or Brand. Very mediocre and not equipped with the knowledge or skill to effectively partake in the debate. Assange & Brand were an embarrassment: Brand for his diatribe, and Assange for throwing profanities at Hithens (he called him a ‘twat’ – pathetic).

            It was too big, too ostentatious and bloated in terms of content. The point the audience is a subjective one; personally speaking, I was horrified at the burst of laughter from the audience when Hitchens mentioned that bane of the trendy middle class: morality. It really did send chills down my spine.    

          • http://twitter.com/Neuro_Skeptic Neuroskeptic

            Well that’s still not self-flagellation, that’s public masturbation; I’m sure you’re right about that, but really, what did you expect? It’s a public debate. Serious arguments are written down. Public debates are theatre. I mean literally – just as in a theatre they hire big name actors not because they’re necessarily good but because they get bums on seats, that’s why they invited Brand. And Hitchens. And… well, everyone.

            The fact that all of those people are best known, not for their expertise on this issue, but for entirely unrelated stuff, just proves it.

            It was theatre.

          • London_Lad

             It’s a figure of speech my friend; do please try and stop these infantile logomachies – self-aggrandising over words is very ’6th Form Common Room’. I’m sure you catch my drift.

            Serious arguments are also the purview of orators. No, I don’t think that point you make stands at all.

            I don’t think there’s much sway in the idea that public debaters are akin to thespians (well, at least they shouldn’t be).

            It was theatre? Have you ever seen an intellectually rigorous public debate? Because I have and believe me, they’re not a fiction, they do exist. ‘Public debates are theatre’… unbelievable.   

  • http://www.stopthewarondrugs.org Gart Valenc

     Neurobonkers, 

    Forgive me for being pedantic, but it’s Colombia not Columbia. It may be a small issue for some of us, but I doubt Colombians will look kindly on having their country name being  constantly misspelt, specially in the context of a debate on Prohibition and the so-called War on Drugs.

    Gart Valenc
    Twitter: @gartvalenc:twitter 

    • http://neurobonkers.com Neurobonkers

      Thanks, fixed.

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