Friday, January 22, 2010

Prohibition and the Pleasure Principle

The Pleasure Principle by Kane Race (Sydney Alumni Magazine, Summer 2009) is an excellent article on the absurdities of drugs prohibition, in the context of policing of queer parties in Australia. It's starting point is a police raid on on the Azure Party in Summer 2007
part of the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney.

Race argues that: 'Dance parties have long been a central element of gay community life in Sydney, and recreational drugs have played a significant part in the formation of self and community. To thwart these events by seizing upon this aspect is to deprive a whole subculture of one of its most significant community-building rituals'.

More generally he discusses how he enforcement of prohibition results in a situation where:

'casual intimidation of ordinary citizens is, if not already normalised, then rapidly becoming so – at youth events, in migrant and racially marked suburbs, and in the recreational precincts and public transport arteries of numerous states and nations. What’s striking is how the status of certain substances as “illicit” provides an occasion for the state to engage in what could be described as a disciplinary performance of moral sovereignty. This performance bears little relation to the actual dangers ofdrug consumption – in fact, it often exacerbates those dangers...

The state allows many forms of dangerous recreation, such as hang-gliding, football and mountaineering. And then of course there are those legal, revenue-raising drugs like alcohol (much more likely to be associated with violent crime and aggression than club drugs, incidentally). We would be horrified if the state tried to make these activities as dangerous as possible in order to discourage people from trying them. But this is exactly what is allowed in the attempted enforcement of drug prohibition, which in its present form precludes quality control, puts the drug market in the hands of organised criminals, and threatens users.

The illicit drug user has become a special and symbolic figure for the contemporary state. Their consumption practices resemble the licensed (legal) pleasures of the market, but can also be made to represent their excess. In times of governmental stress, the state jumps at the chance to stage a drama between immoral consumers and the supposedly moral state. But this drama seems more like high-profile posturing on the part of the police, designed to reassure middle-class voters that the state is tough on law and order, and driven more by the state’s desire to be seen to be “doing something” than any considered response to the issues at hand. Indeed, the persistence of these policing practices despite the evidence accumulated against them suggests that their counter-productivity is beside the point. For the point is the public spectacle of detection and humiliation, the making-suspect of populations, and the desire to create a demand for authority in the sphere of consumption. The state confirms its image of itself and its moral constituency in these forcible attempts to expose its other'.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

interesting questions raised by the last paragraph for me... does the state have a desire to reassure the middle class because of people the middle class voted in? or does the way the system works favor people with those insecurities? who actually is worried about the drugs (or the voters), is there a point where that originates or is it all feedback loops of collective action...